August 25, 2010

A Voice with a Difference

Many voices beckon to us with the siren song “Come here and see what we have to offer.” Everything from soap ads to blurbs for pleasure cruises promises us much but delivers precious little. I suppose it has always been that way since the first distorted claim made by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It seems that everyone has a different prescription for happiness.
That is also the way it was when Jesus delivered His sermon on the mount. There were many teachers in His time who stated, “Many paths lead to the reality of truth and life.” Even then (as now), Rabbi Wise, Doctor Philosophy, and Guru Mystic hypothesized that there is truth in each approach to life. “Take your choice,” they suggested. “There’s more than one way to look at things.” And the more people listened to that nonsense, the more confused they became. It was difficult to know what to believe.
Speaking From the Mountain—Again
Then they heard the voice from the Mount of Beatitudes—a voice with a difference. It was authoritative and convincing. Yet it phrased ideas in simple language that everyone could understand. Because truth carries its own verification, the people who listened that day to the voice of Jesus, and the multitudes who have listened ever since, recognized the simplicity and beauty of eternal truth.
2010 1529 page14The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ ordination address to His disciples. There on the mountainside, in words that all could understand and treasure, Jesus outlined seven simple steps for those who want to become God’s sons and daughters—citizens of His eternal kingdom. The first several verses of Matthew 5 contain Christ’s answer to such pressing problems of life as pride, insecurity, sin, guilt, despair, and disillusionment. The Beatitudes offer a line of progression that leads us step by step to the kind of happiness and peace that come from the realization that we belong to God.
“Christ proclaims that the main objective of the kingdom is to restore the lost happiness of Eden to the hearts of men, and that those who choose to enter in by the ‘strait’ gate and the ‘narrow’ way (Matt. 7:13, 14 [KJV]) will find true happiness. They will find inward peace and joy, true and lasting satisfaction for heart and soul that come only when ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,’ is present to keep their ‘hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:7 [KJV]).”1
To be peacemakers we must have Christ’s peace and contentment in our lives. When we have it, we will not hoard it. The seventh beatitude does not place God’s blessing on those who have peace, but on those who share it.
A strangely contradictory statement seems to follow in Matthew 5. Some-?how we have the idea that peace is the absence of strife, hardship, and trouble. But that reflects only a shallow concept of peace—the peace-at-any-cost philosophy. Jesus pointed out that the peace the children of God have comes from a strong confidence and sense of security in their loving God. They know He will care for and provide for them—no matter what happens.
When our lives begin to reflect the character of Christ, we can expect to ?be confronted with the same kind of opposition that He met. In fact, when there is no opposition to our witness, we might do well to question whether we are living as children of God should be living.
Jesus does not present us with the hope of enjoying a life free from trial. Instead He offers us the privilege of walking with Him in the pathway of self-denial and reproach. But He does promise us the strength to bear His cross and share His humiliation before we, at last, share in His eternal glory.
Just before His death, Jesus reminded the disciples that they would suffer many things because of their witness for Him (see John 15:20, 21). There’s a hidden purpose in it all. “Through trials and persecution, the glory—character—of God is revealed in His chosen ones. The church of God, hated and persecuted by the world, are educated and disciplined in the school of Christ. They walk in narrow paths on earth; they are purified in the furnace of affliction. They follow Christ through sore conflicts; they endure self-denial and experience bitter disappointments; but their painful experience teaches them the guilt and woe of sin, and they look upon it with abhorrence. Being partakers of Christ’s sufferings, they are destined to be partakers of His glory.”2
Sharing Christ’s Righteousness
As a result of their closeness to Christ and that which He does in leading them to become children of God, Jesus tells us that we will be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).* As the light of the world, Jesus said, “A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14). That was true long before the world knew anything about electric lights and neon signs. Many of the cities of ancient Palestine were built on hilltops for defensive purposes. So the people Jesus spoke to understood what He meant when He pointed out that their light could be seen from great distances.
What will they see? Jesus answers, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (verse 16). But it really is not our good works they see, nor is it our light. What they see is Jesus in us. The beauty and sunshine of His love and character so fill our souls that they overflow to those about us.
And what is to be the response of the world that is wrapped in gloom and despair? “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 60:3, NKJV).† It has to begin somewhere, sometime, and with someone. It can, here, now, with you and me, if we will let His glorious light fill our hearts and souls so that the glory of the Lord may be seen in us.
What Everybody Ought to “No”
There is not a word in the Beatitudes about being blessed or happy by strict, pharisaical obedience to the commandments. The Pharisees who were listening critically to everything Jesus was saying could not help observing this fact. They were about to accuse Him of doing away with the law of God, when Jesus, reading their hearts, brought up the issue before they could. “Do not think,” He said, “that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). He went on to explain that He was doing just the opposite, putting them back in their proper sphere after centuries of distortion and misunderstanding on the part of the Jews’ religious teachers.
The words He spoke were so simple: “For I tell you, unless your righ-teousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). But these words brought the monumental building blocks of the pharisaical philosophical castle tumbling about the ears of those pridefully pious people. From the time those words were spoken, no one has ever taken the Pharisees quite as seriously as they did before. There they stood, exposed clearly in all their pious pretensions as not being good enough.
All they could do was mumble. That’s ridiculous. No one can be expected to live the way He says we should live. Yet they dimly realized that standing before them was One who did live that way. For months their spies had trailed Him, reporting His every word and act. They knew how He lived.
Putting It Into Perspective
Actually, the Ten Commandments are merely God’s minimums of Christlike behavior. As Jesus pointed out, there are no maximums. The more Christlike we become, the greater the challenge that looms ahead. There always is room to become more Christlike. But it is impossible for us ?to accomplish it on our own. Only by God’s power at work in us can we achieve those ideals that are higher than the highest human thought can reach. That is what Jesus was trying to impress on the minds of those who felt that the highest ideal was to be like the Pharisees.
Satan wants to keep us from understanding the purpose of the law and from recognizing its thrilling promise. In fact, he tried from the inception of sin to convince the entire universe that created beings cannot live according to God’s law.
But Christ came to prove just the opposite. He demonstrated, not only in His teaching but also in His life and death, what it means to fulfill the law, to live according to its basic principles. He came to bring us a new perspective of the purpose, power, and promise of God’s law.
God’s laws, when properly understood, are recognized as evidence of His great love and concern for us. He is interested in every phase of our being—in the way we eat, sleep, dress, and play, as well as in the way we worship. He wants us to get the most out of life now as well as to enjoy the blessings of immortality in the world soon to come. Our happiness depends on full cooperation with and careful study of His guidelines to health and happiness.
Part of our problem is that our perspective is too limited. We settle for so little when God has so much in mind for us. We need to become experts in demonstrating the beauty and goodness of God’s laws in our daily lives. 
*Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
†Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1F. D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1956, 1980), vol. 5, p. 324.
2Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1956), p. 31.
Leo R. Van Dolson is a retired minister and teacher. He is a former associate editor of the Adventist Review and a former editor of the Adults Sabbath School Bible Study Guides. This article was published August 26, 2010.