INSIGHTS FROM BONHOEFFER AND LEWIS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

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

. THE GENTLE (Matt. 5:5)

Blessed are the gentle
for they shall inherit the earth
.


In your opinion, what does Jesus mean by the word translated "gentle" (NASB) or "meek" (KJV)?

According to A.T. Robertson, the greatest Greek scholar Baptists ever produced, "The Greeks did not consider this [gentleness] to be a virtue at all. The Beatitudes assume a new heart, for the natural man [that is, the person not under the leadership of the Spirit of Christ] does not find in happiness the qualities mentioned here by Christ. The English word 'meek' [in the KJV] has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. . . . It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy." (RWP 1:41). In the Beatitudes, Jesus is turning upside down the very values which the world so highly prizes. (The word has actually been used to describe a powerful stallion under the rider's control because of the bit in his mouth; in our case, the bit being the lordship of Jesus Christ; or as somebody else put it, an iron fist in a velvet glove.)

Too often, scholars try to find parallels between Christianity and other religions or philosophies to “prove” that Christianity is not original but is rather a parasite, getting all its teachings from other religions. In other words, they are trying to prove that Christianity is not unique and has no more claim on us than any other religion. The whole premise of that claim really needs to be examined; however, for the sake of our present discussion, we just need to note that according to Schulz (TDNT), there is no parallel in other religions which emphasizes humility as being a positive virtue. “The mission of Jesus takes place on earth in lowliness and weakness . . . . His life is not a life at court; it characterises Him as the lowly in heart, i.e., the One who is fixed wholly on God .. . . the entry of Jesus is depicted as that of a non-violent, non-warlike king of salvation and peace. . . . (TDNT 6:649).

Again, according to Schulz, "To them Jesus promises the inheritance . . . of the coming [age], which includes secure dwelling in their own land. In contrast to the first beatitude (Mt. 5:3), the emphasis in the third beatitude is on the future promise: Those who are now oppressed and bowed down will be rulers of the world in [the end of time]" (TDNT 6:649).

Notice several things about this verse. In each of the beatitudes, Jesus doesn't just simply say, "They" shall receive these promises. He is practically saying, "They and none other" shall receive these promises. There is absolutely no universal salvation operating here. Only the gentle shall inherit the earth, and no one else.

Second, why do they inherit the earth specifically? Very few Christians realize the deep bond which exists between people and the earth. For example, what was Adam made from (Gen. 2:7)?

Moreover, think about another connection between man and the physical earth. In Revelation God punishes rebellious man. But exactly what else does God "punish" in order to get at man (Rev. 16:2-4)?

The earth hadn't done anything wrong; so why was it "punished"? Because of the integral relationship between man and the earth. Paul takes this even further in Rom. 8:18-25. As a result, it is only natural for man to inherit the earth because he is so tied to it.

Now many Christians rightly connect the suffering of the earth with the sin of man. That is a biblical principle. Where Christians get into trouble is connecting specific physical calamities with sin. For example, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of New Orleans, many well-meaning Christians claimed that God was punishing N.O. Maybe He was. I don't know. God didn't tell me directly that that was the case. One presidential candidate recently asserted that God probably let Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast as a punishment for our sins. Maybe so. The biblical principle stands, but I would be careful linking every natural calamity to sin unless God has specifically communicated that to you. A little humility is always nice. Each side needs to exercise a little humility here: the side which says that certain natural disasters result from God’s wrath and the side which makes fun of the first side.

A final and THE major illustration that there is a link between man and the earth, answer the following: did Jesus rise spiritually or physically from the dead?

What does Jesus possess that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit possess?

Jesus' resurrection points out that man and the earth are integrally linked FOREVER. The cool thing is that we are not merely linked to the earth; rather, one day we shall rule over the earth.

Moreover, the Christian man inheriting the earth actually fulfills God's original purpose for man. According to Gen. 1:26 God not only made man in His image; He also wanted man to do what?

Again, note that this promise is going to be fulfilled in the future. Right now we can to a real degree "reign in life" when we are led by and filled with the Spirit of Christ; however, the complete fulfillment of this promise lies in the future upon the return of Christ.

Too often, we smile at the "fantasy" element in Lewis' writings, but I cannot stress strongly enough to you that Lewis is deadly serious when he places the 4 children upon the thrones of Narnia at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. For an even more scholarly presentation of this claim, read Lewis' The Weight of Glory in which he writes: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted . . . to worship. . . It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

Finally, notice also the significance of the word "inherit." "Inherit" implies that someone has died, the person who leaves you the inheritance. In this case, God [the Son] Himself dies to give us the inheritance. Paul (Rom. 8:17), though, along with John (Rev. 3:21) claims that we are CO-heirs, CO-heirs with Christ. Because of our faith relationship with Him, we are being swept up into HIS destiny, into HIS inheritance. It may seem fantastical, almost preposterous; however, if Christianity is true, then this is true. Our heavenly Father never bypasses His Son Jesus to bless us. Rather, Jesus SHARES His sonship with us. Apart from Jesus, we will never inherit these blessings from God. (See TDNT 3:781-782 by Foerster)


AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER

From The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes, pages 109-110

With his usual gift of eloquence, DB writes: "They renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ. When reproached, they ____________ their peace; when treated with violence, they ___________ it patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they _________ their ground. They will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice; nor do they insist on their legal rights. They are determined to _____________ their rights to God alonenon cupidi vindictae, as the ancient Church paraphrased it. . . . Leave heaven to them, says the world in its pity, that is where they belong. But Jesus says: 'They shall inherit the earth.' . . . Those who now possess it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the new earth. . . . God does not _____________ the earth: he _________ it, he ________ his Son to it, and on it he __________ his Church. Thus a beginning has already been made in this present age. A sign has been given. The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for they have the Church and its fellowship, its goods, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persecutions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the meek One died, and from thence it will spread. When the kingdom finally comes, the meek shall possess the earth."


Just a word about some citations:

  1. TDNT: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. A massive 10-volume set from the greatest German NT theologians/scholars of all time. An in-depth study of major NT words, tracing them from their origin, their use in secular Greek, their use in the Greek translation of the OT, their use in the NT, and finally also their use in the Greek church fathers. Not for the layman.

  2. RWP: Robertson Word Pictures. From A.T. Robertson, one of the the greatest Greek scholars of all time, and definitely the greatest Greek scholar ever to come out of Southern Baptists. RWP is a 6-volume work which, although is a technical work, can also be used by the layman in addition to scholars.

  3. WBC: Word Biblical Commentary. One of the finest sets of commentaries in the past 50 years. Over 50 volumes from some of the finest conservative NT commentators of our time. Not for the layman.

  4. The C.S. Lewis citations: from many of his works (if Carey can remember them!). The Weight of Glory: in my opinion one of the greatest things EVER written. Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942. It is a powerful statement on who Christians really are. Easy to read but breath-taking in its scope. If you are interested in reading this sermon, go to http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf.