October 20, 2020

Not Your Ideal Crowd, I’d Say


not your ideal crowd, i’d say

so many people come to hear him
from everywhere, of every kind
no religious crowd this one!

check out that bloke over there
loser if i’ve ever seen one
not an ounce of righteousness in him
wouldn’t know a tithe from a toothbrush
couldn’t find genesis if you handed him a bible
a rough time of it, he’s had
surely the teacher won’t waste any time on him

and look over there, what a pitiful wretch
if it weren’t for bad luck, she’d have no luck
grim reaper took her husband
then came after her child
it got so nobody knew what to say to her
couldn’t take hearin’ another bit o’ bad news
you rarely see her out and about any more

and have you seen all the yokels?
brought ’em out of their shacks, he did
i’ll wager they’re lookin’ for a free show —
funny talk, a miracle or two —
keep ’em happy for a year!
sure enough they don’t have much more
i’m surprised their masters gave ’em an afternoon

hey, there’s the widow lady from town
she sure got a bad shake didn’t she?
thought her husband had set things up for her
then some shyster tricked her out of it
got her to sign some paper
thinkin’ she was makin’ her money secure
secure in his pocket, all right!

and there’s a bunch of people here
been tryin’ to help these folks
takin’ pity on ’em
tryin’ to make ’em religious
tryin’ to get ’em to quit their fightin’
carin’ even when the door gets slammed in their faces
spinnin’ their wheels, gettin’ nowhere

seems like what we have here
is nothin’ but a loser’s convention
not your ideal crowd, i’d say

then jesus stood up
looked around, and said to the lot of them
“you, above all, are blessed”

* * *

“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.

“No one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, or so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”

– Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy


  1. Christiane Smith says

    this post reminds me of WHY Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ is considered prophetic . . .


  2. Dallas Willard’s take on the Beatitudes was, for me, revolutionary , the first time I read ‘The Divine Conspiracy’. I love it and our Abba for, once more, revealing through Mr. Willard that He doesn’t think the way we do (Isaiah 55:8).

  3. Second big mistake to avoid ( first is to not take this as a list of what to do in oerder to be blessed) is pushing these words into some utopian future eschatology. The words were meant for their immediate audience: the Kingdom welcomed those rabble NOW. The kingdom was inaugarated, the wait was over.

    • “…the Kingdom welcomed those rabble NOW”? Perhaps we agree but something in your choice of words… I might rather have written, “the Kingdom is here NOW and, in particular, its for those like you, the ‘rabble’.” Everyone else is flying standby, if at all.

      • Not sure how , or if, we see this differently. I would say that it’s not as if Jesus was making a guarantee to individuals so much as HE was describing the Kingdom, and how that impacted everyone. It was not a “how to get in” instruction, more like “people like yourselves are REALLY going to like this…”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Second big mistake to avoid ( first is to not take this as a list of what to do in oerder to be blessed) is pushing these words into some utopian future eschatology.

      “In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye,
      You’ll get Pie in the Sky when you Die…”
      — “The Preacher and the Slave”, an old Wobbly march song

      • one of my favorite comments posted on IM is when someone mentioned that there is this lingering questions of what blessings they missing since they quite going to a certain evangelical church.

  4. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.

    And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone, were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.

    Flannery O’Connor – Revelation

  5. Jesus’ words condemn us ALL.

    The poor and the rich. Those who have their act “together”…and those who do not.

    In his description of those who are blessed he is describing Himself. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

    Does that sound like anyone that you know? I haven’t met that person.

    “If you are angry with your brother then you are a murderer.”

    I have met that person. I am that person.


    But then Jesus comes down from the mountain. And he comes in contact with a real sinner (a leper) who pleads, “Jesus, heal me if you will.”

    And Jesus says, “I will.”

    Law…then gospel. It’s all right there in a wide open, crushing, and wondrously gracious way.

    • We’ve had this discussion before, Steve, and we thoroughly disagree. The Beatitudes are 100% grace, pure Gospel announcement of God’s blessing on those the world despises.

      Your take on the 4th beatitude is also a misreading IMO. To hunger and thirst for justice is to be someone who has been crushed by injustice and who longs for a day when all will be put right.

      I do agree, however, with your idea that the Beatitudes also reflect Jesus himself. He identified fully in his incarnation and sufferings with all the unfortunate people pictured here.

      • So, because we’ve had this discussion before…I am the one who has to change his mind?

        My take on it is the Lutheran take on it. Aren’t you a Lutheran pastor? Maybe you’re the only Lutheran who truly understands the SoM.

        • I didn’t say you had to change your mind, Steve. If anything, I was trying to avert a protracted argument over ground we’ve already covered.

          I understand that many Lutherans have view SoM in a law/grace manner. While I appreciate the benefits of distinguishing law and grace, I don’t think it is a Lutheran requirement to view this text in that fashion.

          I actually think my reading is thoroughly Lutheran because of its emphasis on grace alone.

          • Mike,

            I’m all for avoiding an argument. But I cannot let something go that I believe is wrong, without giving the readers another take on it. The right take, in my opinion.

            Lutherans are all for grace alone (I am too) . But AFTER the law has done it’s job.

          • And then sometimes God just swoops in and catches a person up into His love and grace without taking them first through “the Law.”

            ‘Cause He’s God, you know….

          • Richard Hershberger says

            For whatever it is worth, this cradle Lutheran pastor’s kid goes with Chaplain Mike’s reading. I have not made a special study of this question, but it seems more the more straightforward reading of the text, and also consistent with the theology I grew up with.

          • Gotta go with what CM and Richard H said – never in my life have I heard any other interpretation in my synod (LCA, now the ELCA).

        • I would like to think this site allows for interpretations and theologies other than Lutheran. Am I wrong in that? If so, why so much talk about Lutheranism here?

    • Nether condemnation, nor commendation. I don’t thinnk what WE do figure in here…. I would think that you’d be OK with this one, Steve. As mentioned, this is more of a Kingdom proclamation, good news, given to an unlikely audience (because they had done nothing to merit such a Kingly announcement of blessing).

      Odd that you would see “condemnation” in a paragraph stuffed to overflowing with “blessed/favored/to be envied….” I don’t get that.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As mentioned, this is more of a Kingdom proclamation, good news, given to an unlikely audience (because they had done nothing to merit such a Kingly announcement of blessing).

        The King is telling all the messed-up losers “YOU’RE INCLUDED! ALL OF YOU!”

        And there are a lot more of us messed-up losers than there are of the Righteous uncontaminated by the world with their perfectly-parsed theology.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Gotta agree with the others, Steve; you’ve missed the point of the Beatitudes by a mile. If the Sermon on the Mount had a thesis statement, it would be, “The kingdom of heaven is near, and it is accessible to everyone.” This is Jesus acting like Oprah: You get a blessing, and you get a blessing…everybody gets a blessing! To reduce this list to a mere system of benchmarks by which we can be blessed (if we “get our hearts right”) drains it of its hope and promise of redemption.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Turns God spreading the blessings around like Pinkie Pie at a party into one of Twilight Sparkle’s hundred-plus item Checklists.

        (And no matter what comment he writes, Steve still sounds like he’s giving us all a sermon…)

    • “’If you are angry with your brother then you are a murderer.’ … I am that person.”

      This is true.

      “Law…then gospel. It’s all right there in a wide open, crushing, and wondrously gracious way.”

      This is not true. It is an interpretation based on a particular theology. If that theology makes sense to you, Steve, then fine; God can use anything to bring people to Himself. But is this the true picture of God, as revealed in fullness in Jesus Christ? To maintain that Jesus operated this way, in the Beatitudes and elsewhere, is to disregard his kenosis, his statement about not coming to condemn the world but to save the world, and St Matthew’s exegesis of Isaiah 42.3 as applying to Christ and by extension to the Father:

      He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
      nor will any one hear his voice in the streets;
      he will not break a bruised reed
      or quench a smoldering wick,
      till he brings justice to victory;
      and in his name will the Gentiles hope.

      I find no hope whatsoever in the law/gospel dichotomy (or, for that matter, in the theology of grace/glory dichotomy). Perhaps that’s why I have generally not been attracted to Lutheranism. I have been blessed to know some fine, Jesus-centered Lutherans, and I really get Luther’s need for assurance. But there is no grace in crushing. None, none, none.


    • Law…then gospel

      Or in this case: Gospel, gospel, and more gospel….. No hoops or contracts or rules: just the King being ridiculously extravagant with what’s HIS…

    • You have much too high opinion of the human, Mike.

      The beatitudes, as Luther rightly said, are “pure proclamation of law”.

      There’s no grace in that sermon. It comes after he comes down from the mount.

      • David Cornwell says

        So, it gets us to heaven and that’s about it? Not much in the gospel for life in the here and now? Hmm.

        • No, of course not. But ‘what we should , ought and must be doing’ is law. It exposes us. Then we need to hear the gospel. The free gift of grace.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            After you’ve beaten them down in Room 101 with LAW, LAW, LAW, LAW, LAW.

            How does this differ from brainwashing? Break down the old personality completely, then sweep away the pieces and rebuild into the Correct personality?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          So, it gets us to heaven and that’s about it? Not much in the gospel for life in the here and now?

          “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,
          You;ll get Pie in the Sky when you Die…”
          — “The Preacher and the Slave”, old Wobbly march song

      • Mule Chewing Briars says

        Yeah, put me there too.

        I decamped from the Reformation because of its pessimistic anthropology. You couldn’t drag me back with threats of hell fire.

      • Here’s a case where I think Luther missed it. Law is rightly understood as God requiring something of us. The Beatitudes, on the other hand, require nothing and promise everything. A proclamation of blessing is not the giving of a command.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Luther was one step away from the “Romanism” his followers denounce, and in his pre-95 Theses years shows every sign of “Excessive Scrupulosity”, a form of OCD where you compulsively sin-sniff yourself and dwell on your Sin and Unrighteousness. Like Augustine, he brought a lot of personal baggage into the equation, and also like Augustine, those who built upon his words and deeds often don’t take that into account.

    • The entire story of Jesus is Gospel. He expound on the Law within it, but The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is a somewhat veiled allusion to the type of world God is setting up, and the type of Person Jesus is, and what he’ s doing for the people of God. If it’s couched at times in imperative language, that’s partly because Jesus is referencing the Law as the script from which he’s working (which is a re-affirmation that God is with them, that he loves them enough to self-reveal in the Law), and partly because that’s one way of communicating what IS happening as they speak- they are becoming the kind of people who do these things.

      Any statement beginning with “Blessed are the…” is good news. Especially if the statement is completed by a class of people who in no world they could imagine would consider themselves “blessed.”

      The fundamental difference of opinion on the SoM seems to boil down to, not Law vs. Gospel, but the question “did the Kingdom announcement actually mean anything, for real life?”

      If’ it’s just a “spiritual” or “future” kingdom that we just have to grit our teeth and believe is there, though “invisible,’ or dismiss for a future time, then we will inevitably have to undercut the Messiah’s own on-the-ground program of redemption in order to preserve our “don’t be legalistic” theology.

      I submit that the Kingdom IS a real, historical, society of people that has been inaugurated in and around Christ, and that any true description of that Kingdom is GOOD news. The beatitudes certainly qualify.

  6. “what we have here is nothin’ but a loser’s convention not your ideal crowd”

    I can’t help but think of the quote from the Irish character Stephen in Braveheart: “The Almighty says this must be a fashionable fight. It’s drawn the finest people.”

  7. David Cornwell says

    Beautiful truth here today. Thanks.

  8. Oh, now I get it. These folks aren’t downcast and dejected, they’re praying. For the guy in the wheelchair. I thought maybe Steve Martin had just finished explaining to them what a bunch of vile worms they were. I mean we all are.

    • Those are the probably the expressions that were on the faces of those hearing the SOM.

      They must have been dumbfounded, “What do we do now!?…”

      “How in the world are we ever going to live up top that!”

      • Live up to what?

        Being spiritually bankrupt (poor in spirit)?
        Being filled with grief (mourn)?
        Having no power or status in the world (meek)?
        Being crushed by injustice? (hunger and thirst for justice)?

        I don’t see anything but people who have been ground into the dust. Jesus’ proclamation of the Gospel blessing lifts them up.

        • Mike,

          Even the poorest are filled with pride…even if it’s because they think they’ve got something because they are poor. There is no merit in being poor…or rich. Poor in spirit means that one realized their sin and great need of a Savior.

          After that sermon I would hope that they would realize that when it comes to their having any righteousness of their own because of anything that they’ve done, they do (what they are), or what they might do…they would realize that they are bankrupt, and need a Savior.

          Do you think that any of us, or them, hunger and thirst for righteousness?

          I never met one like that.

          Jesus went so far as to say that their righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees…considered to be the most righteous men of the day.

          • Christiane Smith says

            ‘God giveth grace
            to the humble’

            Proud people have no room in themselves for God’s grace.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            >Even the poorest are filled with pride

            Nah, I do not see that.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Even the poorest are filled with pride…

            At least Luther was obsessed with sniffing his OWN sin, not those of everyone else.

            And a lot of his recorded words sound a lot more Earthy than Spiritual. (Kind of Jewish, in a way; though Luther, a man of his time and place, didn’t have much good to say about Jews.)

  9. I’m guessing the guy with the St.Louis hat turned backwards (satanic, maybe ??) turned in his Cubs/Devil Rays/or Royals hat after he got to the shelter….. I mean, what is lower caste about the Cards ???

  10. Final Anonymous says

    Oh my gosh, this is the exact way I have come to interpret the Beattitudes! Wow. Holy cow. Pardon my excitement, it’s just nice to know I’m not completely flying solo theologically sometimes. Can we discuss Job next? Lol

  11. Hey Mike,

    We are studying the Sermon on the Mount in our small group. I will use this on Saturday. Thanks!

  12. Assuming that some here are right, and that many of those folks were truly poor in spirit and hungering and thirsting for righteousness…what does it do when Jesus tells them point blank that “you MUST BE PERFECT, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”?

    No “try to be perfect”…or “you must work on being perfect”…but you must ‘be’.

    That must have really thrown them for a loop. Which is exactly what the law is supposed to do.

    • Steve, I agree that the Sermon on the Mount includes much law.

      But Jesus does not say, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” until 5:20. 5:17-20 introduces the subject of the law and Jesus’ relationship to it.

      But what comes before that — 5:1-16 — is his pronouncement that God’s blessing in the Gospel has arrived, and that it is coming to the most unlikely people.

      Please read this: you are defining “poor in spirit” and “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” wrongly in my opinion. These phrases are not describing character. They are describing conditions of life. Just like “mourning” and being “meek” are describing conditions of life. These are talking about the circumstances in which people find themselves: they are the unfortunate ones.

      If you read Luke’s parallel, this becomes abundantly clear. Jesus is lifting up the downtrodden.

      • By proclaiming unmerited favor on this crowd , HE underscores the upside down nature of the kingdom. The religious leaders had already typecast them as losers and lower caste. Then Jesus comes with this new proclamation..

      • The command with regards the law beginning in 5.20 are impossible to comply with. Hate is now murder and lust is now adultery, both of which are capital crimes in the here & now and eternal damnation in the hereafter. It appears to me that Jesus said these things to lead us to the cross to beg for grace and mercy from the One–and only One–who kept the whole law and paid the penalty for everyone else who did/could/would not. In other words, it is the first use of the law (from a Reformed perspective).

      • CM,
        But why is God’s Gospel “coming to the most unlikely people”? I don’t think it’s because they’re more virtuous than the others. What Steve said is correct: the poor are no more noble or deserving than the rich, their hearts are no purer, they are no less sinners. Poverty does not equal virtue, nor is it a school of virtue.

        But one thing is true about some, though not all, of the materially and/or spiritually poor: they’ve given up. They are as surprised as the virtuous and privileged to find Jesus in their midst speaking to them, because, knowing themselves, they know better than anyone else that their own hearts stink, that they are sunk in selfishness and addictions, that they love vice and the darkness, that they’ve made a mess of things and there’s no way to make it right. They no longer have any secrets to conceal, because they lack the power to conceal them.

        They hunger and thirst, but have no idea that what they hunger and thirst for is what they lack: righteousness. It is Jesus who identifies the only thing that will satisfy them, who appears in their midst and names their deepest need, and the deepest need of the whole world of humanity, and gives the blessing that will fill that need to them because they are the only ones desperate enough to take it, however grumblingly and resentfully because they have been humbled, humiliated. Their real poverty is their inability, and the awareness of their inability, and that’s why their poverty is an “advantage,” if we must talk in such terms.

        This is why not only the very affluent but the middle-class, enamored of their own kinds of competence and mastery, are always and everywhere in danger of missing the Gospel, or of taking it in their manipulative hands and twisting it into something unable to bear grace to the those who hunger and thirst.

        • I think you’re reading too much into it, Robert. The Beatitudes are similar to Jesus’ announcement:

          ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
          because he has anointed me
          to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
          and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free,
          to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

          • Christiane Smith says

            you are right, Chaplain MIKE

            but I can see that people with evangelical to fundamentalist backgrounds are not as familiar with the beatitudes as ‘gospel’,
            because, for them, ‘the gospel’ has always had a smaller more intensive and limited meaning

            to open up the concept of ‘the good news’ to include the beatitudes as ‘gospel’ also,
            that is new for them, and it takes some time to assimilate a concept that doesn’t seem to fit in so well with the old limited definition of ‘the gospel’ . . . they need time, and encouragement

      • CM,
        How is “Blessed are the pure in heart…” descriptive of a “condition in life” rather than “character”?

        • In fact, isn’t purity of heart a state of being? And doesn’t it imply a moral excellence? I accept that I read too much into the passage, I’ve been known to do that before with many biblical passages. But I’m not sure the text of the Sermon on the Mount can be fit into a neat explanatory framework. Is purity of heart a normal result of being crushed by life?

          • Robert, you have a good question.

            I see the first four Beatitudes as conditions of life experienced by the downtrodden to whom Christ brought Good News. The second four are a bit different. They represent those who have tried to overcome the injustices of the world using means that the world considers hopelessly ineffective.

            Rather than using power, they offer mercy. (the merciful)
            Rather than engaging in activism, they pursue a quiet piety. (the pure in heart)
            Rather than using violence, they seek to make peace. (the peacemakers)
            Therefore, the world despises them and persecutes them. (the persecuted)

            These four Beatitudes, then, are directed toward the remnant of God’s people that quietly trust God and do his will and suffer for it. These four qualities are therefore to be imitated and formed in us.

            What I see, then, Robert, is that Jesus is bringing to fulfillment the three great messages of the prophets in his introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-16) —

            1. He announces Good News to the poor. (first 4 Beatitudes – 5:1-6)
            2. He gives hope to the remnant of God’s people who trust in God. (second four Beatitudes – 5:7-12)
            3. He declares that herein lies the hope of the world. (the Similitudes – 5:13-16)

            If you read the poem again, I tried to capture this. There are four stanzas that describe the first four Beatitudes, and then the fifth tries to capture the second set of four.

          • CM,
            Very good. Very interesting. A lot here to ponder. Thanks.

  13. Mike,

    Law comes before gospel…not after it.

    Your view of the nature of mankind is far too generous, Mike.

    “No one is good, no not one.” “No one seeks for God.” “All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.”

    We believe that is the proper anthropology. And we all stand convicted…and all of us have zero wiggle room. and we all desperately need a Savior.

    • Steve, it’s hopeless trying to have a conversation. You’ve got one line and you’ll stick with it no matter what I say. So I’m not going to try to discuss this any further.

      • We just disagree, Mike. It’s ok, friend. I still love you as a brother in Christ.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Steve, it’s hopeless trying to have a conversation. You’ve got one line and you’ll stick with it no matter what I say.

        Ees Party Line, Comrades.

  14. I may agree with Steve M with respect to some of Matthew 5. But Matthew 5:3, I believe, is simply what it appears – reassurance to a young guy I’m getting to know who lives on a heat vent in downtown St Louis. Jesus wasn’t convicting Phil. He was reaching out to him.

  15. I see the first four Beatitudes as conditions of life experienced by the downtrodden to whom Christ brought Good News. The second four are a bit different. They represent those who have tried to overcome the injustices of the world using means that the world considers hopelessly ineffective.

    I have spent a lot of time on this passage over the past couple of years, so I wanted to offer my two cents on this discussion. Chaplain Mike’s thought that there are two groups of beatitudes is supported by another part of the text that I don’t think has been mentioned yet.

    Note that only the first and the last beatitude are in the present tense. “Theirs IS the Kingdom of Heaven.” We often see in Hebrew poetry a thought repeated in the first and last lines of the poem. They serve as summary statements. (The technical term is inclusio)

    Here we are seeing a description of those who have already attained the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. Being counted as members of God’s Kingdom is the blessing of their present reality. Other blessings will be attained in the future.

    So who is mentioned in the present tense and why would that be?

    The two that are mentioned in the present tense are “the poor in spirit” and the “persecuted because of righteousness”.

    I like John Stott’s take on “the poor in the spirit”. He understands the phrase to mean “the spiritually poor”. Those who realize that they can’t make it by themselves. That spiritually they are bankrupt and that they need to throw themselves on a merciful God. In my own life, when I have doubts, I look back on when I had a serious drinking problem, and finally got to the point where I said, “God, I can’t do this on my own. I need your help.” In spite of earlier professions of faith, this was the point in which I truly put my trust in God.

    Jesus tells a parable reported in Luke 18, which underscores this point:

    9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

    13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

    14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

    The tax collector was someone who recognized his own spiritual poverty, and as a result was considered part of God’s Kingdom.

    The second group is the persecuted. I point to my drinking problem, as the key point in my Christian journey, my brother points to the time when he went to Eastern Europe as a Bible Smuggler. He mentioned to me that it wasn’t until he saw people being willing to die for their faith that he realized what being a Christ follower was all about. He doubts that he was even a Christian before that missionary trip!

    Why are these people considered part of Jesus’ kingdom in the here and now? When you are willing to undergo persecution for the name of Christ, you are in fact saying to him that “No matter what happens to me, I am going to follow you.” These people have arrived. They are members of the Kingdom of Heaven now.

    I should mention that Baptism is similar to this. In Baptism you are saying publically “I don’t care what the world thinks, I belong to Jesus.”

    Both persecution and baptism would fit with what Jesus is reported as saying in Matthew 10:32-33:

    32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

    So then I see the beatitudes as describing those who in their spiritual poverty have thrown themselves at God’s mercy, and have demonstrated that no matter what happens they are going to follow God.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Why are these people considered part of Jesus’ kingdom in the here and now? When you are willing to undergo persecution for the name of Christ, you are in fact saying to him that “No matter what happens to me, I am going to follow you.”

      Just be careful you don’t start actively seeking out persecution to show everyone else how Righteous and Christian you are (and they’re not).

  16. Yikes, this is a depressing read (the comments, not necessarily the original article). Religious people telling other religious people what the scriptures mean. Isn’t this why people have fled the evangelical world, to avoid stuff like this?

    • T.E. Lawrence: Sherif Ali, so long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.

      (Peter O’Toole to Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Mohammed attempted to put a damper on the “tribe against tribe” blood feuds. Unfortunately, he did so by redefining all Muslim believers as a single Muslim tribe (the Umma) and focusing the “tribe against tribe” fighting outward against the Infidel. Whether this was his intention or just an unfortunate side effect I don’t know.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Religious people telling other religious people what the scriptures mea

      ??? Is this not what discussion looks like?


      There is nothing negative about this.

      And there is plenty of disagreement outside of Evangelicalism. There will also me disagreements about anything people mutally care about.

      • Debate is good. I usually love reading views that are different than mine. I guess what I was sensing was more of a “I am right, you are wrong” tone here. THAT is negative.

    • I can only speak for myself on this. What I fled was mean spiritedness and circle the wagons defensiveness. I welcome a place that invites discussion, real discussion, and sometimes that gets messy, as we learn to be Christ-hearted in our discourse.

      If all that depresses you, find a blog where it’s all worked out, down to the details. Those blogs are easy to find, as I’m sure you are aware.

  17. Christians have always, and will always contend for the gospel and what it means. It doesn’t mean that we are ‘judging’ each other, or that we are saying “I’m a Christian…and you are not”.

    If we can’t discuss these matters of faith, then Martin Luther should have kept his big mouth shut.

    (I know probably a couple folks here would say, “Amen!” to that :D)

    • I agree with you. If we can’t discuss the value and implications of different scriptural interpretations on this blog, then what’s the point of continuing the discussion? To be confirmed in our own viewpoints, without challenge? I don’t need anyone else to do that for me, I can do it all by myself.

    • Steve, I don’t know how you perceive my give and take on this (and other) post, but I assure you that I’m as big a champion for discussion as you’ll find. That’s one of the big draws for me in this blog: real discussion typically does not happen in the church. If you’ll allow me this observation: your allegiance to your theology and paradigms make discussion with you difficult.

      I’m glad we have this forum for give and take.

    • Contending for the gospel is one thing. Not listening to others and not being willing to discuss possible interpretations of a certain passage of Scripture is another.

      I do not want to impose more stringent moderation on this blog, but it has happened before when certain commenters proved themselves unwilling to participate fully in a true discussion. That means listening well in addition to sharing your opinion. It means interacting with what others are saying and not just repeating your views over and over again. It means showing a willingness to consider what someone else is saying and responding to their actual words and ideas, not just spouting yours and claiming that it’s the gospel.

  18. hmmm… a conference that IMONK endorses… Chap Mike on the record as saying “Luther missed it… Atlanta hit by deep (almost 1.7 inches..) snow….. and then Peyton held to under ten points

    APACOLYPSE !!!!!! Steak for lunch, we’re almost gone….

  19. Part of taking the bible seriously is the willingness to revisit the text in the light of what we have lately learned. Luther didn’t have some of the tools and many of the papyri that have been discovered in the last 150 years that have helped our understanding of scripture, including looking at the NT text again with some understanding of its Jewishness. 1C Jews did not think “the law” was bad. Even on a surface reading, Jesus does not seem to think that “the law” is bad; he said it must all be fulfilled. What does that mean? St Paul says “the law” was a tutor that could only go so far, but had done what it was meant to do, not that it was something inherently evil, or that should be used in the future to pound people over the head with so they would see how morally bankrupt they are. Anyone with a shred of honesty will admit to moral shortcomings; a “law code” is not needed for that. “The law” must mean something else.

    So what does “righteousness” mean? Does it mean “moral perfection”? There is only one word with its various grammatical forms in Greek that is translated as both “righteous” and “just” in English; having two different English words contributes to confusion about what God is “up to”. We need One Idea in English to account for this, not two. Under N.T. Wright’s influence I ask, What if the meaning is “faithful in the way God meant for humans to be faithful” (and similarly when referring to God)? Try that reading on. A lot of St Paul becomes much clearer.

    And what does Jesus mean when he says “Be perfect the way your heavenly Father is perfect?” Is he enjoining sinlessness as the starting point? First of all, the word translated “perfect” is actually better expressed as “mature, complete.” This does not necessarily mean “sinless.” Jesus tells us rather explicitly what he means in 2 places in the Gospels, but you have to read the whole pericope, not simply select a verse.

    Matt 5:
    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Verse 48 is the “topic sentence” of the previous paragraph, all about how God loves all and does good to all, even those who “persecute” him.

    And again in the parallel passage in Luke 6:
    27 “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. 31 And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.

    32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return;[b] and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

    Again, the “topic sentence” is found at the end. In both places, we are told that God is merciful, and loves his enemies and does good to those who are faithful *and to those who are not*, even to those who hate him. ***That’s*** what it means to be “perfect” – to act toward one’s “enemies” the way God acts toward His. When we do *that*, we are like our heavenly Father.

    And what was God’s ultimate act of love, good-doing, mercy, kindness, for his “enemies”?

    It was not holding himself up as the Only Sinless One (though he was) and looking down his nose at everyone who was not. He was lifted up in a different way…


    • Great job with this reply, this makes so much more sense than Jesus slamming us over the head with something HE knows, and we know, is flat impossible. Most of us have had teachers/coaches/co-workers that gave us that schmiel. That’s the necessary prerequisite for grace ???? Yeah, riiiigggghhhhht….

    • Glossing “Torah/nomos” as “law” and “tsedeq/dikaiosun?” as “righteousness” has led to many misconceptions.

  20. CM,
    Does the interpretation you give here have a connection with the posts you’ve done on the “Second Use of the Gospel”?

    I find what you’re saying here very interesting, because it seems to veer away from both works related righteousness, and antinomianism. It suggests that the gospel is proclamation of salvation by grace alone, along with the invitation to live a life formed by, and in congruity with, an awareness of that grace.

    I’d be interested in hearing more of what you have to say about the “Second Use of the Gospel,” and how it connects with this subject.