Matthew 5 – The Warped World

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Today’s PassageMatthew 5

Welcome to the Sermon on the Mount. I hope you like the teachings of Jesus, because up ahead we’ve got three chapters of nothing but red words.

I certainly like the teachings of Jesus. It’s not quite in the same way that I like ice cream or Mario games, mind you. It’s more like how I like running, or better still, how I like having run. It’s not easy stuff, but it is good, and I feel like I need it, because wringing out this intro from me has been like pulling teeth. Something is twisted inside me.

And it’s not just sin. Like King Lear (and yes, I’m aware of the irony in invoking King Lear), we’re both sinned against and sinning. Something’s very wrong here, and Jesus begins by acknowledging it. The Beatitudes are basically iterations on the theme “blessed are the cursed.” The world is twisted: people mourn, they hunger and thirst for a righteousness that the universe can’t provide, they suffer persecution for pursuing the kingdom of heaven.

Injustice is present here. Jesus is well aware of it. That’s why all his reassurances are in the future tense: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (4). In this life, you’re gonna have to suffer, and sometimes doing the right thing means you’re gonna suffer more than if you’d done the wrong thing. But in time, the world will be set straight.

At the risk of giving short shrift to all of the chapter but the Beatitudes, you’ve got to understand how Jesus is speaking to a first-century Jewish outlook here. The Jews, God’s chosen people, had seen their great kingdom ruined for centuries, and more recently, generations of Jews had lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire. So when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (10), his listeners hear that as themselves. They’re Israel, the children of Abraham! They’re suffering under Roman rule, persecuted for trying to live out God’s Torah! And Jesus is reassuring them that justice plays the long game, that in time God will set the world right.

But then Jesus drops a real record-scratcher. He tells his audience: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (11). It’s not about suffering for being a Jew. It’s not about suffering for following God’s law. And even suffering in submission to God himself isn’t enough. It’s about suffering for Jesus Christ. This kind of pointing directly to himself where you’d expect to find his teaching centered on God is mind-blowing.

And you know why I need that? It’s because Jesus Christ is the God who’s willing to play by his own rules. If the world is awry, if in the present age it rewards evil and punishes good, then the goodest being conceivable is willing to roll up his sleeves, get down into the warped world, do some good, and suffer for it. If Jesus Christ is going to straighten this mess out by suffering, bearing the full weight of all the world’s evil on the cross, and putting death itself to death, then get me some of that. Even if I myself have to suffer to receive it.

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