We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. We are now well-beyond the book, but continuing to explore its implications.
A light on a hill
Turn with me to the Sermon on the Mount.
(Mat 5:3-12) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
There are many ways to understand the Beatitudes, but one we rarely consider is to view them through the lens of the cross. Jesus is announcing the dawn of the kingdom, the new age long-ago prophesied by the Prophets when God would bless the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, etc. For centuries, God had been promising a new age when these very kinds of people would be blessed.
Well, these are cruciform people. If we mourn with those who mourn, it’s because we feel their pain, because we’ve been hung on the cross, too. If we show mercy, it’s because we know what it’s like to need mercy. If we work for peace, it’s because we’ve seen conflict. We may not have seen these with our own eyes, but we’ve learned to sympathize with those who have and to suffer with them intensely.
You see, Jesus is announcing that the rules are about to change. No longer will the blessed be the comfortable, the self-satisfied, the well-fed, and arrogant. In this age, those who’ve been crucified will be blessed beyond all imagining.
(Mat 5:13-16) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Unlike today, in the First Century there were no street lights or massive buildings bright wth electric lights. There were just people with oil lamps going about their business. But for a city on a hill, there were so many oil lamps that they could be seen for miles through the darkness.
Jesus’ point isn’t that we are so incredibly bright that people have to shield their eyes. No, the image is that together — a community that people can see as community — our separate, small lights together are so bright we couldnt hide the light if we wanted to.
The church is the city on a hill. And it’s the brightness of countless individual dots of light — good deeds — that make it shine. It’s a not a marketing campaign or TV show or radio broadcast of our sermons that draws people. It’s the goodness of a community of self-giving people who do what self-giving people do.
(Eph 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God’s purpose in saving us is not to forgive our sins. He does that (Praise God!), but he does that so we’ll “do good works.” That’s the goal — to create a community of people who do the works God had always planned for us to do in his name. And this certainly includes evangelism (of course!), but it also includes whatever you do when you care for others more than yourself —
Paul introduces his great hymn to Jesus as self-emptying servant in Phil 2 by saying,
(Phil 2:1-4) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
To “look … to the interests of others” means to care about other people’s problems enough to help them. But here’s the key. Paul and Jesus both emphasize the necessity of loving each other so we can then love others outside the church. We can’t credibly claim to love the lost of this world if we don’t love the saved. If we don’t love each other, we certainly don’t love our neighbors outside the church.
But, you know, it’s easier to love someone you’ve never met than the annoying person sitting next to you in the pew. But to be a colony of heaven that lifts up Jesus to the world, we have to be a community that so loves each other that the world finds us attractive.
There’s no fooling those who surround us. They aren’t stupid. Pretending to get along just for the sake of marketing isn’t good enough. No, we need the real thing. And we are so far removed from this that at times the whole idea seems hopeless. I mean, we’d far rather compete with the church down the road than help them. Which other church in town has your church served lately? And how can we claim to love those we don’t serve?
We have this peculiar, self-destructive blend of Americanism and Reformationism that tells us success is found in outcompeting, outgrowing, and outmarketing the church down the road — and that this is good because they have error — yes, ERROR! — somewhere in their classes. We, of course, are entirely error free, because we are the only ones who really try to please God and care enough to actually read the Bible and blah, blah, blah, and blah. And this vaunting of ourselves up over other believers, of puffing ourselves up, of boasting in our attitude, goodness, purity, and zeal is 100%, totally unbiblical.
(Hab 2:4) “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous will live by his faith–“
(1 Cor 8:1b) We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
(Jer 9:23-24) This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.
(1 Cor 1:28-31) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
(Gal 6:14) May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
As always, it comes down to the cross. If we boast in anything else, we don’t understand and know the Lord. If we boast in our superior knowledge of the Bible and our superior desire to please God rather than men, well, we’ve misunderstood — because the cross teaches humility.