When John was thrown in prison, Jesus backed away from Jerusalem, choosing to live in Galilee. At the same time, though, He took up John’s declaration: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). As he taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick (Matthew 4:23), people started to follow Him. Before long, the crowd grew so large that Jesus had to climb a little way up the side of a mountain so everyone could hear him.
He sat down, drew His disciples to the front row, and began to teach the people. I imagine He scanned the crowd, praying silently, and took a deep breath before He began. (With no amplification, He would have needed to project His voice, and that takes some lung power.)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” – Matthew 5:3
“The people were amazed at his
teaching, because he taught them
as one who had authority, not as
the teachers of the law.” –Mark 1:22
Wait, what? (Put yourself in the crowd, hearing Jesus’ words for the first time.)
That’s not what the Pharisees taught.
That’s not how the Torah phrased things.
That’s not the kind of thing Moses said.
Yes, there had been another guy—another prophet—thousands of years earlier who stood on the side of a mountain and declared God’s will to the gathered people…another sometimes-misunderstood spokesperson who led his people out of captivity into freedom and promise.
When the Hebrew people turned their backs on the Egyptian army flailing and drowning in the Red Sea, God led them to Mount Sinai. It took three months to get there (Exodus 19:1), but once they unpacked their tents, God called Moses onto the mountain and, among other things, gave him a set of ten simple commandments for the people.
With the Ten Commandments, God established the kind of relationship He would have with His people (Exodus 20:1-17). Maybe you can list all ten.
- No other gods.
- No worship of idols or images.
- No misusing God’s name.
- No work on the Sabbath.
- Honor your parents.
- No murder.
- No adultery.
- No stealing.
- No lying.
- No coveting.
Not to be critical of God, but that a lot of no and a lot of behavior-based restrictions. There are cultural and historical reasons for presenting the commandments as they are, but the essence is this: God wanted His people to be set-apart, their behavior recognized as God-glorifying among pagan, immoral peoples. Plus, He wanted them to be pure so they could get close to Him.
The requirements for a
relationship with God had
become murky and onerous.
Later on, God gave His people some details and clarifications (see most of Leviticus). Later still, the Pharisees added copious extra details, explanations, exceptions, and human-centered clarifications. The requirements for a relationship with God had become murky and onerous.
Then Jesus came.
Jesus stood on the side of a mountain and described the kind of people God would claim as His own, the kind of people He would bless, and the kind of people He wanted to represent Him. Look at this list (Matthew 5:3-12).
- Poor in spirit
- Longing for righteousness
- Making peace
- Enduring persecution
- Unjustly insulted, persecuted, and maligned
Jesus turned the
commandments inside out.
That’s a different kind of list, a new kind of relationship. Jesus’ list points to a person’s state-of-being, where Moses’ list pointed to a person’s behavior. Jesus turned the commandments inside out. He focused on being over doing. If you’re poor in spirit, you won’t be tempted to worship other gods. If you’re longing for righteousness, you won’t lie or commit adultery.
Jesus wasn’t trying to get rid of the commandments. In fact, He quickly added,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” –Matthew 5:17
When we, under the power of the Holy Spirit, live according to Jesus’ description here, we will respect Moses’ earlier commandments without consciously trying. The Holy Spirit knows the Law perfectly and will guide us to honor it as we become more the kind of person Jesus blesses. (See my earlier post, Guilt in Freedom.)
We could stop here, but I think we need to go one step further.
Were Jesus’ beatitudes as
radical as we think?
I’ve presented Jesus’ “blessed are” statements as radical, mind-bending almost contradictions of the Old Testament pattern. But were they really? Was Jesus as radical as we think, standing there on the side of a mountain? Did His comments perhaps sound familiar to those who truly knew their Scriptures? Were there some who already had “ears to hear” (e.g. Mark 4:9) and could recall figures from the Hebrew Scriptures who exemplified Jesus’ points?
I think there were. And I think we can reach back into the Old Testament to draw out those men and women. They lived out Jesus’ descriptions and saw the blessings He linked to each.
This year, I’m inviting some friends to join me in discovering these Old Testament examples of New Testament principles. You can look for one each month, starting in February. I hope you’ll join me in learning more about the link between the New and Old Testaments as we work through these nine parts of blessing together.
Have you given any thought to Jesus as the second Moses? I hadn’t before I started digging into this subject. What O.T.-N.T. connection fascinates you? I’ve love to hear from you in the comments below!