Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lucky You. Mt 5-7, Part Two of Seven.

This is week two of a seven week study on Matthew 5-7. If you are new to the study, welcome! Each week's study is intended to take around 90 minutes. They are best done in one sitting whenever possible. If you have not done lesson one, do it before doing this one by clicking this link. These lessons will build on each other. Think of it like a kid making a tower out of blocks. Make sure your foundation is solid before moving onto the next study. If you rushed through last week's lesson, take time to revisit it. This one will be here whenever you are ready to proceed.

OK. Ready to go? When you are in a comfortable place with limited distractions continue onto lesson two below:

week two. section one. discipleship.

We must fearlessly move past our assumptions about Jesus and search for him anew in Matthew's words. Last week we began to try to understand the arching ideas of Messiah/Christ and the Kingdom of God (what Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven). Unless otherwise noted I will use the word "heaven" in the Matthean sense throughout this study. I will not be speaking of "heaven" as some other-worldly, postmortem happy state of being, but rather God's real and dynamic coming to earth through the presence and reign of Messiah Jesus. Heaven is partially here now and will be here fully when Messiah returns again to judge and reign. This, in my strong opinion, is Matthew's understanding of heaven. It includes the afterlife, because it is an eternal reign, but Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is abundantly more concerned with the present life than the life than proceeds physical death.

We concluded our last study looking at Matthew 4:17 as Jesus' primary message and agenda. He came to call his people to repent (stop and turn toward God) because the Kingdom of Heaven is coming toward them. Let's begin this lesson by re-reading Matthew 4:17-25. (Just click the link and return back when you have finished reading.)

Throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus finds himself surrounded by crowds of people. They come because he heals them, feeds them and entertains them. The crowd is a safe place to admire Jesus from afar. The following link will take you back to www.biblegateway.com. I've isolated everytime the word "crowd" or "crowds" is used in the book of Matthew. Quickly scan through the references. Jot down anything you notice on a piece of paper or in a word processor window on your computer. After that, return back to the study.

Click this link: Crowd/Crowds in Matthew (This link isn't working exactly right for some people. It may show you every listing in the Bible, not just Matthew. If it does, start with #20.)

Matthew makes it clear from the beginning that Jesus is going to accomplish whatever mission he has by calling disciples to himself. (Disciples are learners/students/apprentices.) Twelve of the disciples were chosen to be apostles, but there were more than twelve disciples. Jesus' disciples were those people who were called by him and fully accepted his invitation to enter a teacher/student relationship.

Again, go to the following link and read every instance in the book of Matthew where the world "disciples" is used. I'm not asking that you do an intense study right now. (You may want to later if this captivates you.) Just take about five minutes and read through the verses. What themes or patterns emerge? Based on your first impressions, do you see any contrasts between the crowds and the disciples in Matthew?

Click this link and return after reading: Disciples in Matthew

Let's look at some teaching on what it would have meant to actually become a disciple of Jesus. I'm trying to make the case here that Jesus' ultimate strategy for bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth was and still is through the process of discipleship. Watch the following two youtube videos from Rob Bell back to back. (Sorry about the subtitles...this was the best quality version on youtube.)

week two. section two. matthew 5:1-11.

Now, with the background from week one and the current teaching about discipleship let's (finally) dive into Matthew 5. Notice how the section we will be studying for the next six weeks begins:

Matthew 5:1-2

Jesus has hit the ground running with the long-awaited good news that the Kingdom of Heaven has come. Not only that, he has backed up his statement with amazing miracles to prove that God is on the move and breaking into humanity in a fresh and significant way. The early stirrings of what is sure to be a great popular revolt against Israel's captors has begun in chapter four. Then something happens to Jesus that will happen to him again and again throughout the gospels. He grows weary of the crowds. He must retreat from them. He literally climbs a mountainside to get away. The crowds would never climb a mountain to get to him. The crowds simply aren't that into Jesus. However, his disciples will - that's what disciples do. Disciples are not simple crowd members, they are relentless mountain-climbing followers. They are students, learners, apprentices. In the ancient eastern world of first century Palestine, a disciple has one job - to follow his teacher wherever he goes.

Stanley Haurwas puts it this way in Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible):

"David's kingdom is now present in Jesus...It is a kingdom that requires repentance. Repentance, moreover, requires a training called discipleship. So we should not be surprised that Jesus now calls his first disciples. He does not call his disciples from the powerful or the elites, but rather he calls fishermen, promising to make them fish for people. Throughout his gospel Matthew is unsparing in his description of the incomprehension of the disciples, but they do follow Jesus. In that respect Matthew contrasts the disciples with the crowds that are attracted to Jesus...Those in the crowds will often be in awe of Jesus, they will express amazement at his teaching, but at the end of the day they will shout, "Let him be crucified!" (Matt. 27:22-23)"

So in Matthew 5:2, Jesus is now all alone with his disciples. Matthew is showing us that there is no need for censorship. He can now speak plainly. This is the locker room speech, the war room planning session, the family meeting, the White House security briefing. This is where we cut to the chase - this is where Jesus can tell those whom he will eventually trust to fulfill his mission of rebellion how it will all come about. And this is how he begins the speech to launch a revolution:

Matthew 5:3-11

There is a popular understanding of this passage (commonly called The Beatitudes) that goes something like this:

These are a series of commands or suggestions given by Jesus as to how to live life. Helpful attitudes that can teach us how to be a "Christian." Some see the suggested actions as spiritual steps that build on one another. This popular understanding breaks down the actions something like this:

1. Be poor in spirt (humble)
2. Mourn (over your sin)
3. Be meek (gentle - restrained but powerful)
4. Hunger/Thirst (desire to learn from God or the Scriptures)
5. Merciful (show grace)
6. Pure in heart (personal holiness)
7. Peacemakers (help others get along)
8. Be Persecuted (endure hardship for Christ)

This is a rather difficult portion of the study to write because several of you have already written me saying that you are excited to study the beatitudes because they have so positively influenced your spiritual growth. I have no doubt that most of you who say that were taught some version of the above interpretation. However, I do not think that the above interpretation is an accurate understanding of Jesus' intent. (Now, I should state that the above eight ideas are all generally biblical. If teaching on humility or grace or holiness has helped you, that is because those concepts are true and life changing. You may have been taught right truths from the wrong text - no harm unless you have not been taught the alternative - and in my opinion, the more complete - interpretation.) I do not at all believe that the point of the "beatitudes" is to try to get people to act or behave in a certain way, but rather that they are direct expressions of a new reality to those living within the reign and rule of the Kingdom of Heaven under Messiah Jesus.

In other words, the statements should be read not like this:

Blessed are those who learn to be poor in spirit because they will someday receive the kingdom of heaven.

But rather:

The Kingdom of heaven now belongs to them - so blessed are the spiritually bankrupt.

This is a huge distinction that sets the tone for the entire Sermon. Jesus is telling his disciples that they are already blessed (happy, lucky) because he has given them the Kingdom of Heaven. The gift of the new life he is giving them is great news because the world is now upside down. In the world of the Pharisees, being poor is spirit (think: unspiritual, never goes to church, doesn't own a Bible, never tried to pray) is a bad thing. In the Pharisees' world, the spiritually rich are blessed, not the spiritually poor. In Jesus' new world order, the spiritually bankrupt are now happy because YHWH himself has decided to come and be with them in his Kingdom. They get God. They get him even though they don't deserve him. (Lucky are the losers, for they get God.) Matthew will begin to juxtapose this idea with the painful reality that the Pharisees, those who think they deserve to know God, will completely miss him as he walks around in their presence disguised as a radical homeless Rabbi.

So it is with those who mourn because they will be comforted. In other words, lucky are the very sad - like the widow grieving her dead husband. She is lucky now because Messiah has given her two new gifts: YHWH himself in her presence through Jesus and a New Community of disciples who will take her in as their own mother. (In the ancient world, widows were often destined for a life of prostitution or poverty. In the Kingdom, they get comfort.) So Jesus can say what is becoming true in that very moment on the mountainside as his followers learn to receive from him: Lucky are the mourners because they too have the Kingdom and will receive comfort from those within it.

I have been profoundly influenced by Dallas Willard on this point. (I recommended his book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God last week.) John Ortberg is another teacher I have learned from in this area. John is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Your next assignment will be to watch his message on this passage from a few months back. This will take a little over 30 minutes, so make sure you have time and energy to devote to it. Follow the link below and click the arrow to watch the teaching. (You can also listen via audio or read the manuscript, but I recommend watching it if at all possible.) When you have finished, return back here for some closing thoughts.

Watch John Ortberg's Message entitled "How To Be Really Well Off"

week two. section three. assignments.

All done? Move onto your assignments for this week below:

1. If you haven't yet, go to the Facebook GROUP Page. This is different from the original Facebook Profile Page. The group page allows for an ongoing discussion with the students. You have to become a member of the group by clicking "join this group" below the picture before you can post.

2. Post this in your facebook/twitter update to help spread the word: "I completely screwed up my life and then I got really lucky. More at http://www.facebookbiblestudy.blogspot.com"

3. Send a FB message, e-mail or letter to someone in your life who modeled true discipleship to you. Let them know what they taught you and how it has changed you. Tell them that they were being like Jesus when they took the time to let you learn from them.

Bonus Extra - for you high achievers:

I'm a big U2 fan. In part because they are becoming pretty fair Kingdom theologians. You can listen to their new album for free this week at www.u2.com. Check it out and post some thoughts on their lyrics on Facebook. Do any of the songs resonate with this study at all? (No real sense judging the music itself - you don't want to upset your teacher...)

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