Have you been able to keep Christ in your consciousness since our last post, or have the currents of this world swept you away again? There is no need to be ashamed of that or even afraid because of it. Remember that our human nature remains native to this world even while our regenerate soul is of the kingdom of heaven. Remaining in the Word and contemplating the Word is the essence of our lives as ambassadors and ever raises in our consciousness the mind of Christ. In today’s podcast episode, we’re considering two texts: the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3) and the yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-29).
Most people recognize the pattern in the beatitudes: blessed are people who may not seem very blessed for they have a good future and hope . . . in various ways. You should know that there are two words in Hebrew and Greek which are both translated “bless” in English. Sometimes English translations use various English words for the same Hebrew or Greek word and sometimes translators use the same English word for different words in the biblical text. The word translated “blessed” in the New Testament means “to be happy in spite of your circumstances because of what lies ahead.” There are lots of examples of this in everyday life. Athletes know the saying, “no pain, no gain,” which is urging them to appreciate the pain of a workout now because you will have good results when you compete. Jesus used the example of a woman in labor who is happy that her time has come, not because of the labor pain, but because a baby will soon be in her arms.
The first beatitude is especially interesting. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This might be especially interesting to us because we are ambassadors of that kingdom. Is anyone poor in spirit blessed, really? Doesn’t spiritual poverty get in the way of everything in the Christian life? The majority of evidence for what “poverty” and “spirit” mean in this passage is actual material poverty and the Holy Spirit, which does not make sense as translated. But what if the preposition “in” actually means “by” as in “by means of”? Happy is the person who has become poor by the activity of the Holy Spirit?
Is Jesus suggesting that the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit is to sneak into our house at night and take everything (like the Grinch who stole Christmas)? Is the Holy Spirit the ultimate computer hacker who will also empty your financial accounts? No wonder translators wouldn’t dream of translating this verse as I am suggesting, even though the common English translation makes no sense.
What if thievery is not the Holy Spirit’s means? There is another way. What if the Holy Spirit makes people materially poor by giving us something infinitely more valuable? At least two other New Testament texts verify this possibility. Jesus described us as those seeking pearls (Matthew 13). When we found one pearl of incomparable worth, we sold all (including all the other pearls we had) for joy and bought that pearl. Paul also abandoned and considered rubbish all the material successes he had achieved for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3). Thus, the first beatitude is the foundation for all that follows. Happy, exceedingly happy are people who are poor by this world’s standards in spite of that circumstance because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. If you can’t die and all things are yours (which is what the New Testament says to us), then how or why would we ever think possessively about material things?
The second text for today comes at the end of Matthew 11: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest; take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your weary souls for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Like the first beatitude, upon closer examination the verse is hard to make sense of. Any reader might assume that the yoke of Jesus is obviously His cross, which includes not just the cross He carried like a yoke but the entire burden of the sin of the world. But how would that be light or easy? Can we think of a yoke that would be as difficult and heavy for Jesus as it is light and easy for us?
What about a yoke that isn’t physical in nature but determines all things, spiritual and physical? What if the yoke of Jesus is honesty? The truth about Jesus’ nature, which He is always perfectly honest about, is that He bears all things at all times, climaxing in His crucifixion in place of us all. The truth about us is that we are entirely dependent on His life and provided for comprehensively by Him—thus our yoke is honesty about dependence, like a child. Jesus did say that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Old Testament prophecies about Jesus bearing our sins and infirmities were all fulfilled by Jesus, including the nearly constant practice of Jesus healing people by taking their sicknesses into His own person, thus bearing them (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17). On the other hand, we are relived from all worry and every burden of the law and conscience (1 Peter 3:21).
The Bible is extraordinary in so many ways. Having a look at two texts brought to mind four or six (or infinitely) more! Our lives as ambassadors for Christ and the kingdom of heaven centers on a growing understanding of His kingdom and that understanding, provided by His own Word and Spirit, motivate and equip us to invite others in.