Last time we examined Christ’s statements regarding his fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and how his fulfillment on our behalf produces for us the freedom to pursue the righteous requirements of the Law not to be made righteous, but because we have already been made righteous. The section will go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and examine what has been termed in the church as the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes are found verses 2-12 of Jesus Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. These 11 verses are perhaps some of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted verses in the Bible. One popular way of teaching these verses is to cleverly call them the “be-attitudes.” This is to suggest that these are a series of attitudes that every good Christian needs to work on if they are truly going to be happy. Therefore if we will only discipline ourselves enough to be poor in spirit then ours is the Kingdom. If only we will work on being meek then we will inherit the earth and so on. The problem with this kind of theology regarding these statements in Matthew 5 is that it ignores two things: first of all the grammar of the text and secondly the theology of Christ’s gospel.
Notice first of all the grammar of the text. These statements are all indicatives. This means that they are simply statements of fact. The two major categories of clauses in the New Testament are the indicatives and the imperatives. The imperatives are commands to be obeyed. The indicatives are promises to be fulfilled. If the statements of this text are indicatives rather than imperatives, then Christ is revealing promises to his people, not placing upon them more law. The distinction between Law and Gospel is especially important in this text. If the beatitudes are preached as imperatives (which they are most certainly not) then Christ would have been ascending that mountain giving more law to the Law that Moses received at Sinai hundreds of years earlier.
When Christ ascends this mountain he comes as a better Moses not to give more Law that further condemns the people, but to dispense the covenantal blessings to those who would be recipients of a New Covenant. Who is this that can dispense the covenantal blessings except the covenant mediator himself? Christ begins much differently than Moses. When Moses descends from the mountain he gives the Law first and only if the Law is kept then the people will receive the covenantal blessings. In this text Christ ascends the mountain not to give law first, but to pronounce blessings. These covenantal blessings are only possible if someone has perfectly fulfilled the Law in our place. The basis for receiving the blessings is not our performance, but the active and passive obedience of Christ on our behalf. Christ’s active obedience is seen in his perfect righteousness and his passive obedience is seen in his wrath absorbing death.
If we must do these things outlined in this text in order to be blessed there is no Gospel and no grace. The Gospel lies in the statement of Christ that he came to fulfill so that we could experience the covenantal blessings and no longer sit under the covenantal curse. These are statements of promise based on the work of Christ for us.
Take heart therefore that because of Christ you who are poor in spirit are a part of the Kingdom of heaven and you who mourn will be comforted. Rejoice you who are meek because you will inherit the earth. For those who in Christ hunger and thirst for righteousness, in Christ righteousness you will be perfectly satisfied. You who through Christ’s mercy extend mercy to others are rewarded with receiving mercy. Those who have been made pure in heart through the work of Christ exalt in the promise that you will see God. The ones who love peace are identified as the sons of God. Rise up you who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Take joy in the promise of your place in the kingdom of heaven. When you are persecuted and reviled take heart for through Christ your reward is great.
These are all promises to cling to not commands to follow. Cling to these promises of grace made possible by Christ. Allow these to encourage your soul because of Gospel rather than condemn you. These promises are yours in Christ the better Moses and the perfect covenant mediator.