DMLJ: Do we belong to this kingdom? Are we ruled by Christ? Is He our King and our Lord? Are we manifesting these qualities in our daily lives? Is it our ambition to do so? Do we see that this is what we are meant to be? Are we truly blessed? Are we happy? Have we been filled? Have we got peace?
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
There you have it. The Christian will answer yes to each of these. Others, who may display one or more of the characteristics found in the Beatitudes, will answer no to one or more of these. And this is how Lloyd-Jones makes the division – the Christian vs. the non-Christian.
Each author offers an overview of the Beatitudes, an introduction. Before getting into the first “Blessed are,” each author presents how we might understand this first section of the sermon. Once again, the whole – its meaning and purpose – must be understood before examining, or debating, the parts.
MHA: Even within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes constitute a complete spiritual program; in them Jesus enumerates the qualities that his followers are called to possess.
The purpose first is to understand the Christian character, before we consider right conduct. Focusing on the parts without understanding the purpose of the whole leads to heresy.
This idea of Lloyd-Jones has been one of the most helpful to me this early in the study. How often do I consider one of the “Blessed are…” statements and say to myself – no way, that doesn’t make sense; no one can live like that? Lloyd-Jones would say I am starting at the wrong place for understanding, and, in fact, any understanding based on this could lead to heresy.
DMLJ: The only man who is at all capable of carrying out the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount is the man who is perfectly clear in his mind with regard to the essential character of the Christian.
Character first, conduct later. This is the point being driven home. Lloyd-Jones describes the Beatitudes as a “delineation of the Christian man in his essential features and characteristics.”
Metropolitan Alfeyev offers a listing of dozens of beatitudes to be found in the Psalms. He notes that these texts were well-known not only to Jesus, but also to those to whom he was preaching the sermon. This was not a coincidence – Jesus was using a formula familiar to the audience.
There are further beatitudes found in the books of the Wisdom of Solomon and Proverbs as well as the Wisdom of Sirach. Metropolitan Alfeyev even points to a list from a recently discovered Qumran manuscript dating from right around the time of Christ. However, while there are a few overlaps, there is an important difference:
MHA: The former beatitudes (Qumran) praise the wisdom that comes from following the law of Moses, while the latter (Gospel) have as their central theme the kingdom of heaven. In the evangelical Beatitudes Jesus speaks of a reward for righteousness and sufferings on earth, while in the Qumran beatitudes this theme is absent.
There is no reversal in the Qumran: for example, the poor do not become rich. So, while Metropolitan Alfeyev points to all of these non-Gospel examples for the purpose of clarifying that this method of teaching was well-known, he does conclude that what Jesus taught was unique at least when compared to what else was being taught during His time.
In this sermon, Jesus is telling us that this is the only kind of man who is truly blessed, who is happy. Happiness – Beatitudo in Latin, Makarios in Greek. Metropolitan Alfeyev offers that this happiness is beyond earthly happiness – there is a clearly expressed religious dimension.
In my prior examinations of this word, I have come to understand it as meaning fulfillment through other-regarding action. In other words, love. The word “love,” however, is a rather empty basket – it can be and has been filled in many ways by many people. Think of today’s “love is love.”
Lloyd-Jones is making the point: do you want to live true happiness, beatitudo? It is love as delineated and described in these Beatitudes. Anything short, and it is a love that offers a door for sin to creep in; it ends in unhappiness and eventually misery and wretchedness. Once again, we see this already today with the damage done to young people who embrace and live the “love is love” mantra.
Certain general lessons are offered by Lloyd-Jones: first, all Christians are to be like this; it isn’t just for a few, special saints. Lloyd-Jones will not separate Christians into two groups – the religious and the laity, the exceptional Christians and the regular Christians. Yes, Scripture offers descriptions of offices – but the Beatitudes do not describe offices, the Beatitudes describe the character of a Christian.
Second, all Christians are to manifest all of these characteristics. Yes, some characteristics will be more manifest in some Christians than in others due to our worldly imperfections, but again, these aren’t offices nor are they descriptions of the different parts of the Christian body. Each part of the body is to embody these characteristics.
Lloyd-Jones adds as evidence: no Beatitude can be separated from any of the others – each one implies the other. For example, you cannot be poor in spirit without mourning, you cannot mourn without hungering for righteousness.
The third lesson: None of these descriptions refers to a natural tendency. Each is a disposition which is produced by grace alone. No one naturally conforms to these. Sure, some people do naturally appear as having one or another of these – they act like a Christian in some or another characteristic. But this goes back to the questions from Lloyd-Jones with which I opened this post – do they attend worship, do they read Scripture, do they pray? Are they in His kingdom?
So, how can this be? Just as people differ in physical appearance, we differ in temperament. I keep in mind that all men are descended from Adam – from the one in which God breathed. Despite the fall, we retain something of that nature.
Taken all together, and lived by one who answers yes to all of the above questions and you will find, as Lloyd-Jones writes, “the essential, utter difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.” And it is when Christians live this fully, display it in their worship and lives, that the world sees the difference. This, instead of trying to make Christianity seem as “normal” as any other entertainment choice or group activity or lifestyle we might take on.
DMLJ: Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian.
The Christian admires the man poor in spirit; the Greek despise such a man. the life lived by a Christian must be essentially and fundamentally different than the life lived by one who is not a Christian.
DMLJ: There is nothing, surely, which exhorts us more than this Sermon on the Mount to be what we are meant to be, and to live as we are meant to live; to be like Christ by being a complete contrast to everyone who does not belong to Christ.
In other words, the Christian and the non-Christian belong to two different realms. It is regarding Christ’s realm that Lloyd-Jones asked at the beginning of this post: do we belong to this kingdom, the kingdom under Christ’s rule?
DMLJ: If I feel they are harsh and hard, if I feel that they are against the grain and depict a character and type of life which I dislike, I am afraid it just means that I am not a Christian. If I do not want to be like this, I must be ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ ….
I have long read these words – the Beatitudes – and thought, gee isn’t that nice. What they described seem so far away from any reality I knew – this must be about heaven, or Jesus is talking to someone else.
The point made by both Lloyd-Jones and Metropolitan Alfeyev: on one hand, I was right – these point to a reality far away from any reality I knew; on the other, I was wrong – these are meant for me, right here, right now.
This is what I hope to rectify, by learning how to understand these and praying I can live these.