Shout for Joy
“The prospect of the righteous is joy; but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing” (Proverbs 10:28).
Before we turn to the joy associated with righteousness and the disappointment that lies ahead for the wicked it will be helpful to identify the terms we are using. The proverb compares two kinds of people, the righteous and the wicked. In commenting on other proverbs I have defined the righteous as those who consistently do the right thing. They are not a small group of super-saints that have achieved a level of moral perfection so lofty that we have to declare them righteousness (sinless). Over against that unreal expectation, the righteous are those who consistently do the right thing. In the other category are the wicked, those who consistently choose the more nefarious and shocking alternatives. They could be those who live a corrupt and scandalous life, or the more genteel who display the polite forms of wickedness such as greed, envy, and ill-will. In either case the future is not bright. While the categories are clear-cut there are degrees of righteousness as well as degrees of sinfulness.
Solomon turns first to those who have decided to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. They are committed to making right choices. Every ethical decision is a chance to say by what you do that God’s way is best. Not only at the end of one’s life journey but all along the way the result of that mind-set is sheer unadulterated joy. One dictionary defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” That comes close, but even then when we try to define it, it seems to diminish the true experience. I find that joy sneaks up undetected. It can’t be scheduled it can only be experienced when it happens. The joy of the Lord is pure, uplifting, and deeply satisfying. It is the atmosphere of heaven. We’ll be breathing it forever. But there is joy along the way as well for every believer.
As for the wicked, the future holds no rewards. Solomon says that the expectations (the hopes) of the wicked “come to nothing.” They don’t pan out. This, of course, is for them a great disappointment. While the righteous are blessed with a joyful fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations, the wicked mourn a life contrary to the will of God. How good of God to guide us in a way that is pleasant for the present and will ultimately break out in eternal joy. That is not true for the wicked. For them life turns out to be nothing but preparation for eternal disappointment. Solomon, you’ve done it again! We’d like to sing, so how about, “Praise Gods from whom all blessing flow.” It is time for us to lay hold of the joy that not only awaits us but is ever present. In one of his oft-quoted remarks C. S. Lewis chides the weakness of our desires, writing, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.”
“Blessed are those who work for peace, for they will be known as children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
What needs to be pointed out immediately is that the peace that Jesus enjoins is not a passive acceptance of everything that comes along, but an active involvement that confronts the problem and works through to a satisfactory resolution. It is one with the psalmist who wrote, “Strive for peace with all your heart” (Psalm 34:14, TEV). Contemporary culture has been cluttered for quite some time with those who carry signs regarding some aspect of nature – and they have a right to do that, but protest has to merge into something a lot more helpful before the “dream” swill can come to fruition. Common sense encourages positive involvement in that which helps change to happen.
The peace of which Jesus is speaking in this verse is not the eradication of some global problem or even the absence of war (and both are desirable), but in context he is referring to the establishment of right relationships between members of the human family. Human nature drives a wedge between people by appealing to the beneficial aspects of an issue to one person or group rather than to the community at large. Unfortunately, we are people who find it amazing easy to accept whatever benefits us. It runs contrary to one of Jesus’ basic teachings –concern for the other that restores the group to personal and corporate health.
It is a peace that restores. Broken relationships rob people of the deep joy of life. They take up the valuable time that could have been used for the betterment of all involved. They lodge in a person’s mind and heart in a way that makes it impossible to think seriously about reconciliation.
“Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they are the ones who will see God” Matt. 5:8
Pure gold is gold that is pure – all the way through. There is not a trace of impurity in it. The pure in heart are those who are devoted to God without reservation of any kind. They are single-minded in their commitment to the Lord. The primary reference is not to sexual impurity, although that is brought up a bit later (Matt. 5:28), but to an undivided heart in its relationship to God.
It’s quite widely agreed that the western world has entered a stage of immorality that began with the widespread demise of absolutes. What custom had kept me from doing, I did, and in doing, custom redefined itself. In the Christian world it wasn’t quite that easy because the shift left us with hearts that want to follow Christ, but are resistant to his call for moral purity. It is this moral schizophrenia that the beatitude addresses. The syntax of the second phrase (with autoi after the connector) stresses that it is the pure in heart (and only them?) that will see God. God calls as followers those who “leave their nets” (Mark 4:20), their “tax-collector booth” (Matt. 9:9), their family connections (Luke 9:59, and “everything they have” (Luke 18:22) He expects from them their undivided loyalty. Half-hearted believers are not the ones who “see God.”
The promise of seeing God is primarily, but not exclusively, eschatological. There never will be a moment more glorious that when when we stand in the presence of God and “see his face” (Rev. 22:4). Purity of heart is the basic requirement for seeing him not only then but now. Like so many other truths of scripture, this one is eschatological in fulfillment, but available in a limited sense now. Present life anticipates life eternal.
Most of us enjoy an electronic personality called Siri. She lives in our mobile phone and can be called upon night or day for the explanation and evaluation of anything. This has a certain parallel in spiritual life. From time to time when we ask, we become existentially aware of what lies ahead for the believer. God allows us to sense the wonder of the eternal state – that which is eternal enters time. We perceive the heavenly banquet although we are sitting quietly with him here below. How blessed we are as we await the ultimate blessing of his eternal presence.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matt. 5:7.
The 5th Beatitude has to do with the “merciful.” God promises mercy for all who show it to others. Behind the Greek term is the Hebrew hesed that speaks of God’s “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love.” In its original setting it describes the fidelity of a covenant relationship. God’s hesed is not a surge of emotion but an act of intentional kindness. As used in this beatitude it promises that God will show mercy to all who in their lives have shown mercy to others. One writer calls it a quid pro quo ethic that should be taken seriously but not legalistically.
To be merciful is to withhold what can be called proper retaliation. We recognize that a person who without reason harms another should be punished appropriately. Our entire system of jurisprudence is built upon the principle that harm cannot be dismissed but must be balanced by a proper retaliation. It’s “an eye for an eye,” not more, not less. Few would deny that the approach has been effective in the development of western civilization. But God doesn’t see it quite that way. He is merciful, that is, he withholds retribution (at least for the moment) and expects his people to act accordingly. Life is not an arena for getting even, but the opportunity to withhold retaliation for the benefit of both parties. The wrongdoer is to receive what he doesn’t deserve so that he can become what he has never been. It is love in the courts of ethical growth.
Calvary’s cross have given us the ultimate expression of mercy. The victim (Jesus) should have been shown mercy since the charge against him was false, yet on the cross he extended forgiveness and mercy to those who had him nailed here.. Dying for our sins, his mercy reached out to all who would receive it. Wherever forgiveness is extended we have another illustration of mercy. Even though the offence is real retaliation is not the divine reaction. Rather than getting even God encourages us to extend mercy. That’s what he has done for the entire population of the world, so why shouldn’t we? All too often we relish the pleasure of getting even. But to withhold forgiveness is, as someone put it, like drinking rat poison and then wait for the rat to die.
The text reminds us that it is to those that show mercy that mercy will be shown. It is not that our act of mercy entitles us to receive mercy from God; it is that, in the end, God will show mercy to those who have followed this practice through life.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled” Matt. 5:6
It will be well to pause a moment to explain more specifically the word that gave its name to the Beatitudes, markarios. Cyprus was called he markaria, the “Happy Isle,” because it was so fertile and beautiful that everything a person could want was found within its coastline. The word represents a joy that has its secret within itself. When God says that a certain type of person is “blessed” he means that in their relationship to him they experience a deep and personal sense of peace. We have already noted that the poor in spirit, those that understand sorrow, and the meek are blessed in their relationship to God. To that group Jesus now adds those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
For most people of the ancient world, hunger was a possibility that always lay just around the corner. That being the case, we can better understand Jesus’ prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In today’s beatitude God recommends that we long for righteousness as a hungry man longs for food. To say that a person “hungers and thirsts” pictures a deep longing for that which will bring the greatest pleasure. What God desires in us is a heart aflame with passion to do what is right. Reality is structured so that only those who meet the requirement receive the satisfaction of fulfillment. Righteousness is not an ethereal concept that floats in the world of philosophical thought but a genuine desire to do what is right. It is not a theory but something we do. It is when our desire to fulfill the will of God is like that of a starving man’s desire for food that it is rewarded with complete satisfaction of soul.
Unfortunately this level of passion for what is right finds little fulfillment in today’s culture. The desire is there, but has been redirected to such tawdry things as having, seeing, and wanting. So we “long” for certain musical environments, for travel to exotic areas, for a wide assortment of things. God calls us to long for righteousness and when we do we find that even a deeper desire is being fulfilled. In my gospel harmony I put it this way: “How blessed are those who long to do what pleases God, for God will satisfy them completely.”
Robert H Mounce