Considering Jesus' Teachings

For this week’s lesson on Jesus’ teachings and the Great Controversy, we have drawn our commentary from a 2008 article by Ernest J. Bursey in Spectrum entitled “The Adventist Community as the Light of the World: Claiming the Whole of Matthew’s Vision” in which he asked “What if our community of faith, the Seventh-day Adventist community, took more seriously its identity as a community of light and salt obedient to the vision of Jesus and Matthew?” Eds.

The austere rigor of the Sermon (on the Mount) has led many interpreters and lay readers to see it as law instead of gospel. The warnings against anger and against sinning with the eyes, the call to perfection—all these the beginning student finds daunting.

Should the Sermon the Mount be retained as preparation for the Gospel by setting the standard of righteousness too high for human achievement? Should it be seen as merely provisional, intended for the Jews of Jesus’ time, in the interim awaiting the end of the world? Why not admit that its author, a Jewish Christian scribe too closely tied to his perfectionistic past, misunderstood or even betrayed Jesus’ message?

Too loyal myself to both Matthew and Jesus to embrace any of these suggestions, I stumbled on the first beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Is.” Present tense. Estin. Not in the future tense, like all the other verbs in the six next verses. Present tense. Why? And why hadn’t I noticed the “is” sooner? Why take an “is” for granted?

Somewhere in the countless cycles of repeating the Sermon and the Beatitudes I heard the “is” in this first foundational Beatitude and began reflecting on its implications. All the calls to righteousness thought and action in the rest of the Sermon have to be read in light of that “is.” If the Beatitudes connect up with Jesus’ call to repent (4:16), then the first Beatitude is an offer of sheer grace, a present possession of our inclusion in the kingdom of heaven.

Membership in the kingdom of heaven is not based on the achievement of ethical perfection or even the performance of a mature believer but on the response of the humbled spirit to the presence of the kingdom. Those who acknowledge their brokenness in the presence of God are accounted as part of his kingdom. That kingdom is present, though its full flowering remains a promise—the reason for the future tense verbs used in describing all the other rewards in 5:4-9.

The gap between Paul and Matthew’s Jesus diminishes, if not completely disappears. Salvation becomes a present reality for the repentant. We can say we are saved. As I coined for my students, “You are not on trial but in training.”

Matthew presents repentance as the foundation for all spiritual and ethical progress. Repentance becomes normative for the disciple when understood as poverty in spirit and sensitivity to the consequences of our ethical and moral failures, and by an appropriate humility and an intense desire for holiness. From this point of view, it is healthy, normal, and right to repent, to be in the process of repenting.

It is morbid, abnormal, and wrong to live and act otherwise. Repentance is but acknowledging the truth of my spiritual poverty in the presence of the One who knows much more about my spiritual poverty than I imagine. To lightly paraphrase Ellen White, “Every advance in the life of the Spirit is marked by a deepening sense of repentance.”

However, to stop here would fall far short of representing Matthew’s vision. So far, I have written of the disciple in the singular, as if Jesus had said, “Blessed is the one who is poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to him.” Our English translations allow us to imagine that Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world,” really mean “This little light of mine.”

No, what Jesus had in mind was a community of the repentant. The Greek word humeis, “you” in “You are the light,” is plural, as the old King James Version clarifies, “Ye are the light of the world.” Even the call to “Be ye therefore perfect” is addressed to the community as a whole. One does not develop spiritual maturity in isolation. Jesus did not envision a solitary goodness, a singular maturity.

The purpose of the good works of an enlightening community of the repentant is to lead to the praise of our Father, just as the praiseworthy deeds of children bring praise to the parent who brought them to life, and fed and trained them. . . .

What benefits might then accrue from our taking up Matthew’s comprehensive vision of a community of Jesus’ apprentices? . . .

Denominational attention would be directed to the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). Local congregations would provide honest moral support in the journey to maturity (18:1-34). The church would be a safe place to grow. And a renewed appreciation might arise for the mature moral vision of Ellen White.

In summary, this would be a church with a balanced and realistic view of the normal spiritual life with the assurance of a present salvation for the repentant. It would be a church with humility in place of religious arrogance; a church with a sense of identity and mission beyond pointing out who and what is dangerous out there; and a church with members who are actively and creatively loving their evil world instead of isolating themselves from it.

Ernie Bursey is a Professor of Religion at the Adventist University of Health Sciences.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7318
1 Like

Thanks Earnie,
Many years ago a wise teacher at Avondale postulated the the most powerful words were the shortest. Is. Illustrates this perfectly Thanks again Jim.

"Is"
Now
Ownership
A King is only a King when one has subjects.
It is only when we are “Witnesses” that God is a King and has a Kingdom.
The “poor in Spirit” are the community of His Kingdom.

“To be poor in spirit means to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions in the wholehearted search for God. It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudice, your present way of life if necessary. Means to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of finding God.
Our “possessions” can keep us chained to the Rock of Suffering that is our exile from God. These “possessions” are in the way preconceived ideas — confidence in our own judgment, and in the ideas with we happen to be familiar; spiritual pride, born of academic distinction,; sentiment or material attachment to institutions and organizations; habits of life that we have no desire to renounce; concern for human respect, or perhaps fear of public ridicule; or a vested interest in worldly honor and distinction.
The poor in spirit have got rid of the love of money and property, of fear of public opinion, and of the disapproval of relatives or friends. They are no longer overawed by human authority, however august. They are no longer cocksure in their own opinions. They have come to see that their most cherished beliefs may have been and probably were mistaken, and that all their ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting. They are ready to start again at the very beginning and learn life anew.” — Emmet Fox, The Sermon on The Mount – the Key to success in life, pp. 19-23.

I am SAVED according to Paul. Romans 10:8-13.
If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Is it true that we can become a part of God’s kingdom, being “saved”, solely on acknowledgment of human weaknesses and follies? Does this mean that morality, creed or church affliction does not really matter? Then heaven will be swelled with billions more than Sabbath and Law keepers. How can this be when it says, “Here are they that KEEP the Commandments of God”?

Is it true that on Judgment day, those who are condemned by the Law, are usurer into the kingdom on the wings of humility? Gross moral failure is all pardoned due to brokenness? How can this be when it says, “To him who OVERCOMES I will grand the right to sit with me on my throne?” Which is it?

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I think one must first contemplate the significance of “the kingdom of heaven” before reading too much into the “is.” As I read it, I see Jesus presenting a two-fold message: 1) that Heaven belongs to those who recognize their humble spiritual state and long for better; and 2) “Heaven” includes all of the heavenly host who is more than willing to come to our aid when called upon, lest any sinner should be overcome by the Enemy.

the Sermon on the Mount was Christ’s Action Plan For Himself. He fulfilled every jot and tittle. then He invites us to build upon that Rock. T. z

4 Likes

“Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation. . . . Only he who endures the trial will receive the crown of life. (James 1:12.) Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves. They lose sight of their own weakness and their constant need of divine strength. They are unprepared for Satan’s devices, and under temptation many, like Peter, fall into the very depths of sin. We are admonished, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.’” COL 155.

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“On the wings of humility”. Humility is a loaded word. It can’t stand with integrity unless it includes repentance. Just as the light bulb will not glow without plugging the cord into the wall, humility will not be possible without a true connection with Christ. The “overcoming” happens automatically with the humility, repentance , and the connection to Christ through faith. The more we fiddle with the lamp and try to make it work, the more our attention is on ourselves and our accomplishments; and we will be unable to “walk that extra mile” with our fellow man.

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What? I can never have the assurance and joy of salvation? I have to wait til the very end to know if I’ve made it?
Thanks Birder That’s how I was raised, I’ve been trying for the last 45 years to change that mindset!

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Ah yes, I see the influence of the evangelical OSAS crowd on the thinking here.
Some or most have heard…“We don’t keep the law to be saved. We keep the law because we are saved.” If one does some thinking on these 2 sentences, they will discover something troubling.
So this article deals with the tension between present performance/behavior and high standards.
Why is it so bothersome?
Those who looked at the SS lesson for the week…notice 5 topics: R,S,R,J, L
rest, sower/seed/soil, Rock, judging, loyalty.

Most won’t look at the lesson…but which of the 5 topics gets the most attention and which topic is most relevant for people in church?

I will make comments on the J in class.

While growing up I wish I had carefully studied instead of just quickly read through the book of Matthew.
There is much to learn in this great Bible book. As Ernie Bursey points out there are many lessons to be learned in the Gospel of Matthew.

I find so much that is practical and inspiring in the book of Matthew. As a young boy named Samuel I struggled to understand on how I could understand the question of a calling from God. Soon after Jesus begins to preach the coming of the kingdom of heaven, he calls the first four of his disciples to follow him (Matt. 4:18-21). Others later respond to his call, making up the Twelve—the band of those called apart by Jesus to serve as his intimate students and the first servant-leaders for the renewed people of God (cf. Matthew 10:1-4; 19:28; Ephesians 2:19-21). Each of the Twelve is required to leave his former occupation, income, and relationships in order to travel with Jesus throughout Galilee. (The personal, family, and social sacrifices this required are discussed under “Mark 1:16-20” in Mark and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.) To these and other followers, Jesus holds out no hope of security or family ties. When Jesus later calls the tax collector Matthew, the implication is that Matthew will give up his work of tax collecting (Matt. 9:9).[3]

Does a call from Jesus mean that we have to stop working at our current job and become a preacher, pastor, or missionary? Is this passage teaching us that discipleship means abandoning nets and boats, saws and chisels, payrolls and profits? Ernie’s question “What benefits might then accrue from our taking up Matthew’s comprehensive vision of a community of Jesus’ apprentices?” needs to be answered by every Christian “apprentice”. Work is an essential element of God’s intent for the world. When God created Adam, he immediately gave him work to do (Genesis 2:15); throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were also given work to do (Exodus 20:9). It should not surprise us that Jesus, too, was a laborer (Matt. 13:55

The difference between work and a specific calling and what constitutes a life of service for God are ideas and lessons we should be teaching in our homes, schools and churches . Jesus’ baptism, his wilderness temptations, and his prior work experience as a carpenter prepared him for the public work he would now begin (Matt. 4:12). At the same time, we know that even during Jesus’ earthly ministry not all true believers in him quit their day jobs to follow him. He had many followers who remained in their homes and occupations. Often he made use of their ability to provide meals, lodging, and financial support for him and his companions (e.g., Simon the Leper in Mark 14:3, or Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Luke 10:38, John 12:1-2). Often, they gave him entry to their local communities, which is something his traveling companions could not have done. Interestingly, Zacchaeus was also a tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), and although his life as a tax collector was transformed by Jesus, I have found no evidence that he was called to leave the profession.

For the Twelve, following Jesus did mean leaving their professions and their families in order to itinerate with their roving master. Both then and now, there are professions that require similar sacrifices, including military service, sea trade, or diplomacy, among many others.

But this passage also leads us to a deeper truth about our work and following Christ. We may not have to give up our jobs, but we have to give up allegiance to ourselves or to anyone or any system contrary to God’s purposes. In a sense, we become double agents for God’s kingdom. We may remain in our workplace. We may perform the same tasks. But now we employ our work to serve the new kingdom and our new master. We still work to bring home a paycheck, but at a deeper level we also work to serve people, as our master did. When you serve people because of your allegiance to Christ, “you serve the Lord Christ,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:24).

We are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. He died for sinners so that we can be made righteous. The Power for Believers