Sermon On The Mount

Moving Beyond Mockery

Moving Beyond Mockery
Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

———————–

Our American society revels in its ability to poke fun at itself and others.  We have a reputation as a sarcastic, condescending, and sneering culture.  From Stephen Colbert to Rush Limbaugh to South Park (with multiple sitcoms, celebrities, pundits, and bloggers wedged in between), we are a society that laughingly embraces mockery as if it was art.  But it’s not; far from it.

mockers

Mockers Mocking

Following in the genre of Wisdom Literature, Psalm 1 (the “Introduction” to the entire psalter) lays out two opposing choices: Sinfulness versus righteousness.  This contrasting between two options occurs often in the the Old Testament and is seen also in the New Testament.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has a very strong Wisdom tone and structure to it as well, as it also begins the same way with “Blessed are…

Though the Bible often lays out these opposites of sinful -vs- righteous within its stories and lessons, scripture is not naive about the fuller complexity of human nature.  Look carefully at the venerated “heroes of the faith” (Heb.11) and you’ll find complicated humans who exemplify a messy mix of both good and bad;  Abraham with his lying, Moses with his murder, and David with his adultery prove that obvious point.

But even so, the Bible still sets forth the plumbline of righteousness to guide us.  Cue Psalm 1.

In Psalm 1:1, there is a fascinating ramp-up of evil:  It’s a threefold layer of sin beginning with a lingering “walk”, followed by stopping for a curious “stand”, and ending with a comfortable “sit”.  In that order God warns his people. And then in the verses that follow (vs.2-6), he lays out the good news within the construct of His righteous alternative.

1. PROBLEM: The Man-Centered Life.

Without God’s active intervention, each of us will gravitate towards living a life apart from God, centered on self.  We see this negative progression playing out in verse 1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers”.  Notice the use of action verbs in this threefold evolution.

First, walking in the “counsel” (the Hebrew ‘etsah also translates as “advice”) of the wicked; actively listening to, and living according to, the guidance or opinion of those with man-centered philosophies that steer us away from the full life Christ offers. The psalmist continues.

Second, standing (the word ‘amad can have a militant tone; “remain, take a stand”) in the way of sinners.  This is the same word used of Ruth who stood firm in fields all day long gleaning grain (Rt 2:7).  Within this paradigm, the standing progresses beyond mere listening into joining in the chorus of evil; swaying others away from the pure path of God by our own example.  Again, the psalmist continues.

Third, sitting (yashab is also used of stubborn Jonah sitting in the shade; Jon. 4:5) in the seat of mockers.  The word for “seat”, mowshab, translates “dwelling place” and is also used in Ezekiel 34 to signify the location where the true good shepherd will bring his sheep (vs.13).  The word is used to describe a place of resting and remaining; a parking spot for the soul.

Mockery of Christ Duccio 1311

Mockery of Christ –Duccio 1311

To dig even deeper, we discover that this Hebrew word for mockers (also scoffers), lê·ṣîm, only appears in the Bible one time (here in Psalm 1), but that a variety of forms of the word appear elsewhere, rounding out our understanding:  In Job 16:20, Job’s friends are called scoffers and in one of the Proverbs (1:22), Wisdom personified cries out in the street, “How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”.  Even more incriminating is elsewhere in Proverbs (14:9) where it translates,  “fools mock at the guilt offering” (NRS & ESV) or “fools mock at making amends for sin” (NIV).

The progression of sin is easy to see.  It begins with being open to, listening to, and letting bad advice (contrary to God’s Word and ways) shape our thinking.  Then it transitions into more of an active participation.  And lastly, it settles comfortably into the place of mocking at righteousness; even mocking at the need for God and the guilt offering that Christ provides on the cross.

2. SOLUTION: The God-Centered Life.

There are many etymological tidbits related to the word roots and usages in this Psalm, but let’s not lose the forest for all those trees.  The solution to the problem of verse 1 is found in the verses immediately afterwards and it’s all about prayerfully and humbly letting the Word of Christ (the scriptures) transform us from the inside out, by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Notice the significance that the three-fold problem of verse 1 are all action verbs, yet the righteous alternative that follows are all cognitive or being verbs.  This because the solution is not something we do, but something that’s done to us, that we allow to refocus our lives. Not a passive “being”, but an active “being”.

First, one who becomes blessed is one who delights in the law of the LORD (vs.2).  Here “law” (elsewhere, “law and prophets”) is a synecdoche, a part standing in for the entire whole, and signifies the entire scriptures.  The psalmist here isn’t suggesting a delight or pleasure in the Ten Commandments, per se (though that is part of it), but in the full revelation of God across the entire Old Testament.  Also, the strong case can be made to include that which was to be encapsulated in future writings (the coming prophets along with the gospels and epistles, the New Testament).

Second, he/she is also described as one who meditates on the scriptures day and night (vs.2).  The Hebrew hagah, translates as “moan, meditate, speak, and imagine”. This isn’t describing brief and shallow morning devotions, but a deep and ongoing relationship with the Word of God.  There is a purposeful, vocal, and creative element here; engaging the many senses and the fullness of thought. Much like in Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success”. A continuous cognition of and transformation by His Word.

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Van Gogh: Les Alpilles avec Olive Trees 1889

Third, he/she is compared to a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (vs.3). The word “planted” (shathal) means to be deliberately transplanted.  That the tree is there by the water is not by accident.  See also Psalm 92:13, “planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God”.  When we are delighting and meditating on the Word, we are like trees that drink in deeply of the streams (notice the plural) of living water, referring forward to Christ himself (John 7:38, Rev 7:17).  In and through us He yields His good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) to bless all of his creation.

That the leaf doesn’t wither (vs.3) speaks to the constancy, consistency, and reliable growth of a garden.  If the proper nutrients are present (sun, rain, soil), the plant will organically grow and bear fruit.  And there’s an intimation of quietness and longevity as well: We don’t hear or see a tree grow when we are watching it; but rather we see the growth in retrospect over the passing of time. This because the LORD himself (vs.6) is the master gardener who directs the spiritual health and growth of all his plantings.

In case we miss the obvious, the psalmist is ultimately pointing forward to Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus is both the complete fulfillment of the “law” of God and He is the living stream(s) of water which flow from God.

As followers of Christ, we too become truly blessed when we allow His Spirit to transform us beyond the progressing paradigm of the default man-centered life (manifested by mockery) and towards the refreshing and refreshed God-centered life which is only found in Jesus Christ.

#Wade

[the end]

NOTE: Lectionary Calendar for July 11:  “Benedict of Nursia” (Abbot of Monte Cassino c.540)

Advertisements
Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Living Water, Psalms, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising The Bar

Raising The Bar

Matthew 5:43-48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

—————-

If loving our neighbor wasn’t a difficult enough challenge, Jesus expands the definition of neighbor here in what we call his “Sermon on the Mount” to include our enemies (vs.44), and murder to include every angry thought (vs.22) as well as adultery to include even our most private lustful thoughts (vs.28). And then the unrealistic expectations rise higher and higher up into a wounding crescendo, a painful stabbing point, where in vs.48 the bar has now been raised beyond any conceivable reach. At precisely this point Jesus divulges to his hearers the necessary standard of righteousness that God requires of all: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wait… what?

This text describes a standard of righteousness which God does require, per Jesus, but that is utterly absurdly impossible for anyone to be able to reach. The result is that every single thinking person who hears or reads those words should be stopped dead in our tracks. We know intuitively it is not even within our DNA to come close.

So if Jesus knows we can’t do it, why does he command it?

Sermon-on-the-Mount

Sermon On The Mount

To answer that question, let’s be reminded of the socio-historical and religious context of first century Palestine. The Israelites, the people of God, had yet again missed grace and embraced works; the human nature defaulting to circumvent the grace of God by attempting to be good in our own strength and efforts. For the Pharisees of the day, this was done by observing the commandments (Ex.20, Dt.5), the Old Testament “Law” in general, plus the midrash; those many additional human religious rules, rites, and traditions layered on top of it all. But it didn’t work. Those hearers were obviously far from the Kingdom of God when Jesus came.

So how can imperfect human beings achieve this perfection that God requires?

The Greek teleios, translated “perfect” in vs.48, is defined as perfect, perfection, and also as complete or finished. It appears seventeen times in the New Testament and is the same word Jesus uses when admonishing the rich young ruler in Mt 19:21, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”. Those were very hard words to hear, even when spoken with compassion, for that earnest young man walked away downcast.

So this all seems so impossibly hopeless, and Jesus really does leave us hanging on verse 48 waiting for a resolution that doesn’t immediately come as it’s not spoken right afterwards. Instead we’re stuck in a conundrum; yearning for a perfection and completeness exceeding that of the Pharisees, but unable to muster it on our own.

sermon on the mount

Sermon On The Mount

But for those who rely on Christ, there is hope and here’s the key: While we do need to be perfect, perfected, holy and righteous, it won’t come from anything inside us at all. None of our attempts or efforts will even make a dent. Instead, what is given to us by the finished work of Christ on the cross is an external righteousness which comes from outside of ourselves; it is HIS righteousness, applied to us on our behalf.

Theologians speak of a double imputation that occurred on the cross and what they mean is simply this: When Jesus took our sin upon himself, he simultaneously applied his perfect righteousness onto us. It’s a big switch and this is exactly how we become perfect in God’s eyes; not by anything we do or don’t do, but by what Jesus did on our behalf. Very simple and yet extremely profound.

Jesus himself IS our perfection and our completeness as he lives his eternal life in and through us by his Holy Spirit. So when he calls us to “be perfect” (vs.48), in essence he is calling us to rest completely in Him. And that is good news.

#Wade

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Sanctification, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.