INSIGHTS FROM BONHOEFFER AND LEWIS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10)
Part One

. THE BEATITUDES: Introduction

Meaning of "Beatitude"

Just exactly what is a beatitude and what is the function of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount? First, a beatitude is a blessing pronounced upon someone. For example, in the beatitudes what is the first word in each?

This word is actually a translation of the Greek word makarios (pron. mah-CARE-ee-ahs). It was used by the Greeks to describe the very life of the gods, that is, this is the life which the gods themselves experienced, the life of blessedness. This is the life that Christ came to give us: "I came that they might have LIFE and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10). According to 2 Pet. 1:4 Jesus has made us partakers of what?

In other words, the abundant life Christ wants us to experience (John 10:10) is nothing less than the life that He Himself experiences daily.

Now notice that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is talking to His disciples (this Sermon which the nonChristian can hear is not address to him though). Jesus is claiming here that all His disciples are blessed.

That sounds great EXCEPT for the fact that it is hard to see how all of Jesus' disciples are blessed. For example, when I was in Ethiopia I came across numerous disciples of Jesus. Now the daily income for 80% of the Ethiopian people is less than $2 a day; for 50% it is less than $1 a day. Fortunately, though, the Christians in Ethiopia (because they are blessed according to Jesus) are making over $50,000 a year. Wrong! Guess how much the Christians in Ethiopia made daily? You get one guess. And yet Jesus said that they are blessed. Isn't that claim illogical? How can you claim that anybody making less than $2/day (with gasoline costing $4/gallon in that country) is blessed?

Simple. Some people are blessed whether they know it or not, and some people are cursed whether they know it or not. For example, suppose you are down to your last penny. You have no more food in the cupboard. Your children will go hungry for many days in the near foreseeable future. And yet you are blessed. How? Suppose that I were to tell you that in just a few seconds you are going to walk come upon a lottery ticket which will win the Tri-State lottery of $150 million dollars. Now are you cursed or are you blessed? You might not know it, but you are blessed (please don't parse this illustration). That person may not know that he is blessed; however, in reality he is truly blessed.

Now another person is living the high life. In fact, he is travelling on the Orient Express, from Paris to Istanbul. He is eating in the best diner, drinking the finest champagne, dressed in the finest clothes. How could this person be cursed barreling down the tracks at a speed of 60 mph rubbing shoulders with the glitterati of Europe? Suppose I told you, though, the bridge just around the corner has collapsed and no one will be able to get the word to the conductor in time to alert him as to the impending disaster. Happy people indeed who nevertheless are cursed. Happiness and misery have nothing to do with whether or not a person is blessed or cursed. It all has to do with the total picture: in the one case a $150m lottery ticket, and in the other a bridge that has collapsed. (Lewis speaks of the person driving a car which is running smoothly and which looks great on the outside but is running on its last drop of oil. No matter what the outward appearances may seem to indicate, that car is about to break down. The same is true about a lot of other people.) Another example would be that of a person who looks like the picture of health on the outside--a person who can run a marathon, but unbeknownst to him, he has a congential heart disease and is going to drop dead at any moment.

Well, Christians are like the first lot. We may feel miserable at times, but we are blessed. Our present circumstances, especially if they are evil, are not indicators of our true condition. Jesus' word that we are blessed is the true indicator of our condition.

Today, I was working out at the Navarro College gym, when one of the attendants came and asked me a few questions about politics. After the discussion was over, she told me: "It's all going to be alright, though, isn't it?" Knowing that she was a Christian, I said: "Yes, ma'am, it is. As Christians we KNOW that it is going to turn out great in the end." As Lewis would say regarding Christians: "If Christianity is true, then we ARE going to live happily ever after." It's not a matter of "if"; only a matter of "when." This is what Jesus means when He claims that we are blessed.

According to Jesus, because it is only a matter of "when" and not a matter of "if", what are we to do in the meantime (Matt. 24:13)?

No matter what the circumstances are, there is to be NO giving up because whether we feel like it or not, no matter what the circumstances may seem to indicate, we are "blessed."


Function of the "Beatitudes"

How do the Beatitudes relate to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount? Are they just an intro really unrelated to the rest of the Sermon, or is there an intrinsic relationship between the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon? The latter. Just like the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of the teachings of Jesus are the fountain from which spring the rest of the teachings in the NT, so the Beatitudes are the fountains from which spring the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, a fun exercise would be to go through teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and relate them to the different Beatitudes.

For example, from which Beatitude would Jesus' teachings on giving to the poor spring? (Remember that the Beatitudes are found in Matt. 5:3-10.)

If you memorize the Beatitudes, for all practical purposes you have memorized the Sermon on the Mount.


POOR IN SPIRIT (Matt. 5:3)

Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
.


This beatitude has been unfortunately misinterpreted to mean that the Christian is basically worthless, that he is basically helpless in all areas of life. I once heard one teacher claim on the basis of this beatitude: "I am nothing; I can do nothing; I have need of all things." That sounds sooooo spiritual, but it is false.

First, not only is the Christian "not nothing," the non-Christian is "not nothing" too! Each and every one of us is God's creature. That makes us valuable. Each and every one of us is directly descended from Adam whom God placed over this earth. The old adage is true: "God doesn't make junk." Yes, something tragic has happened to mankind; however, that tragedy didn't make him worthless.

Second, forget for a moment about Christians not being able to do anything; think about non-Christians. (If non-Christians can do something, then surely Christians can too!) Can non-Christians do spectacular feats? Yes. The NASA space program is not a Christian program; although I am sure there are many Christians involved in that program. Einstein wasn't a Christian, and yet he was a genius. Stephen Hawking is an atheist and yet he has been able to prove mathematically the Big Bang Theory. (Actually, a 12-year-old boy with Asberger's Syndrome, Jacob Barnett, is undermining Hawking's theory.) "I can do nothing" is a misreading of this beatitude.

What does Jesus mean by "poor in spirit"? In the Gospel of John, man apart from God is called "the flesh." According to John 6:63 what does the flesh profit us?

On the other hand, what does the Spirit do (John 6:63)?

The flesh and the Spirit are opposites. The Spirit of God can give us the life of God, the blessed life; the flesh, man apart from God cannot produce that life. I can be extremely successful in THIS life APART FROM GOD; I can scale to great heights of achievement in THIS life APART FROM GOD (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are prime examples). Yet, I will never be able to experience the life which God gives apart from Him. Since His life is the only life that is eternal, my eternity is going to based upon the source of that life. According to Isaiah 55:1 what does Jesus bid us do?

According to Isaiah 55:1, how expensive is that milk and that wine?

They are sooooo valuable we cannot purchase them.

This reminds me of a friend who is extremely wealthly. Every now and then he will rent out a villa/palace in Italy for a month-long vacation. He invites along with him some of his friends and relatives who are not at all wealthy like him. When they offer to chip in on the expense of the villa, he refuses to accept their money because it really wouldn't make a dent in paying off the villa. Taking their money wouldn't be worth the time, effort, and energy it would take to deposit their checks because the villa is that expensive. It could really only come to them as a gift. In the same way, because God's salvation is so expensive, either God gives it to us as a gift and we receive that gift, or else we won't be able to experience it.

I personally have been coming to grips more and more with this. At times, when I have to get in front of people, I almost feel paralyzed because I feel the burden of giving the Spirit of Christ to other people. I have come to realize, though, that this is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to obey; the giving of God's Spirit is God's responsibility, not mine. The cool thing is that God wants to pour out His Spirit much more than we want to receive it.

According to Jesus, when do the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven?

AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER

From "The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes, pages 105 following

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from now on designated as DB) goes much further with this beatitude. Although we have looked at it as being "poor in spirit" DB takes the poor as being literally poor: "Privation is the lot of the disciples, in every sphere of their lives." According to DB, what do they possess?

According to DB in order to follow Christ, what have the disciples lost?

This talk of poverty may really sound strange to our Protestant ears; however, some of the most influential thinkers in Christianity have promoted the concept of poverty or at least simplicity in the Christian lifestyle for over 1,000 years. The most notable of these was St. Francis of Assisi; the other was St. Thomas Aquinas, the architect of Roman Catholicism. G.K. Chesterton claimed that Aquinas was a true Catholic because he cared for the poor. Whether being a good Catholic is a matter of importance is one thing; being a good Christian is the other. According to Jesus where was He able to lay His head (Matt. 8:20)?

Surely that gives us some insight at least into what Jesus' attitude towards wealth is. Either your money controls you or God controls your money.

Bonhoeffer is not the only Protestant who emphasized simplicity and relinguishing of wealth. As Lewis writes in his autobiography Surprised by Joy: 'Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even 'All or nothing.' I think that stage had been passed, on the bus top when I unbuckled my armor and the snowman started to melt. Now, the demand was simply 'All.'" This includes even money; Lewis ended up giving away 2/3 of his wealth to the poor.

If that is not enough to convince you, look at matt. 19:23. In that verse what does Jesus say it is hard for a rich man to do?

If this is true, then we need to be careful about storing up riches for ourselves here on earth. (Be careful about bashing Roman Catholics. The reason Chesterton converted from Protestantism to Catholicism was that he claimed that only the Roman Catholic Church could produce a St. Francis. I don't necessarily agree with that assessment; however, St. Francis was a Catholic.)