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“Lack of success and enmity cannot dissuade the messengers from the fact that they are sent by Jesus.  As a mighty strength and consolation, Jesus repeats: ‘Behold, I send you!’  It is not their own way or their own enterprise; they are sent…

BonhoefferWho can always distinguish between spiritual wisdom and worldly cleverness?…Wherever the word is, that is where the disciples are to be.  That is their true wisdom and their true innocence.  If the word must retreat, because it is obviously being rejected, then the disciples should retreat with the word.  If the word remains in an open struggle, then the disciples should remain.  They will have to act wisely and simply at the same time.  But the disciples should never set out on a road out of ‘wisdom,’ when that road cannot be approved by the word of Jesus.  They should never justify with ‘spiritual wisdom’ a way which does not correspond to the word of Jesus.  Only the truth of the word will teach them to recognize what is wise.  But it can never be ‘wise’ to break off the smallest piece of the truth, for the sake of some human prospect or hope.  Our own evaluation of our situation cannot make us see what is wise; only the truth of the word of God can do that.  The only thing that is always wise is staying with the truth of God.  Here alone is the place where of God’s faithfulness and aid are promised.  At all times it will prove to be the ‘wisest’ for the disciples at this time and in the coming time to simply stand by the word of God…

The good news will be propagated by suffering.  That is the plan of God and the will of Jesus…Jesus’ messengers can receive no greater consolation in all this than the certainty that in their suffering they will be like their Lord…So Jesus will be with them and they will be like Christ in everything.” (Dietrich BonhoefferDiscipleship, pp. 193-95, in the section entitled “The Suffering of the Messengers”)

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Wayne Meeks argues that this is the particular strategy and purpose of the book of Revelation:

Common“The business of this writing is to stand things on their heads in the perception of its audience, to rob the established order of the most fundamental power of all: its sheer facticity.  The moral strategy of the Apocalypse, therefore, is to destroy common sense as a guide for life.” (Wayne Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians, p. 145)

Robert Jenson contends that all Christian theology is meant to share in this subversive task:

“The gospel’s contrariness to human proclivity [means that] the history of Christian theology within any culture can always be read as a sustained effort to dislocate that culture’s ‘common sense.'” (Robert Jenson, “A Reply,” in Theology as Metaphysics, p. 3)

The audio for my take on Matthew 5:13-16–Jesus’ call to his followers to be salt, light and a city set on a hill–can be found here.

SermononMountI argue that Jesus alludes in these images to the profound ancient vision of Isaiah that the destiny of Zion (see Christopher Seitz’s work on Isaiah for this framework) is the key to unlocking God’s purposes for the rest of creation.  Until God’s people get on track, the nations stumble in the darkness.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is calling his followers to finally be what God has always intended Israel to be, but until now in the story has utterly failed to be.  The city of God must be different from the city of man, precisely for the sake of all that is not yet the city of God.  As Augustine put it:

“We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self.  In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord.  The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience.  The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the heavenly city says to its God: ‘You are my glory, the lifter of my head.’  In the former, the lust for domination lords it over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other both those put in authority and those subject to them serve one another in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience.  The one city loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’ (AugustineCity of God, 14.28)

What Is The Gospel?

Robert Jenson“The gospel is the telling of Jesus’ story–as the decisive event in the life-stories of teller and hearers.  The gospel tells of Jesus’ death and reputed resurrection–and claims therein to recount the crisis and resolution of the story am now living.  Therefore the telling of the Church’s story requires two kinds of words.” (Robert Jenson, “Proclamation Without Metaphysics,” in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics, p. 4)

The audio for my take on Jesus’ beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 can be found here.

SermononMountDale Allison’s comments on the beatitudes are a good appetizer for meditating on this remarkable opening salvo in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Matt. 5:3-12 does not…so much list the entrance requirements for the kingdom as it offers comfort to the saints…The first half of each beatitude depicts the community’s present; the second half foretells the community’s future; and the juxtaposition of the two radically different situations permits the trials of everyday life to be muted by contemplation of the world to come.  This hardly excludes the implicit moral demand: one is certainly called to become what the beatitudes praise.  But Matthew’s beatitudes are not formally imperatives…The imagination, through contemplation of God’s future, discovers hope and so finds the present tolerable.  In other words, before readers face Jesus’ hard imperatives they are built up, encouraged, consoled…We have here not commonsense wisdom born of experience but eschatological promise which foresees the unprecedented: the evils of the present will be undone and the righteous will be confirmed with reward…So structurally the beatitudes come before the detailed commands of the Sermon proper; that is, they are separated from the main body of imperatives.  This is because 5:3-12 functions less as demand than as blessing.  It is only after hearing the comforting words of 5:3-12, words that tell of rewards that human beings cannot create for themselves but can only receive as gifts from God, that one is confronted by the Messiah’s demands.  So when Jesus speaks in 5:3-12, the chief result is not the burdening of the faithful with moral imperatives.  Rather, 5:3-12 instead brings solace.” (Dale Allison, The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination, pp. 29-30, 42, 44)

SermononMountI’ve recently begun teaching a new series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Each week I’ll link to the audio of the teaching here, as well as upload any instructional handouts I create.  Here is the audio of my introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.  See below for my 1.) teaching outline and 2.) a structural overview of the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, which is the crucial context for the Sermon on the Mount:

Sermon on the Mount_Outline

The Structure of Matthew

“The history of the impact of the Sermon on the Mount can largely be described in terms of an attempt to domesticate everything in it that is shocking, demanding, and uncompromising, and render it harmless.” (Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?, p. 3)

SermononMount“In following this history [of Christian interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7] we find ourselves faced with the question whether the times when the Sermon on the Mount has had special historical significance were not always those in which men allowed themselves to be challenged by Jesus’ demand and commandment in a radical and direct fashion, and sought, with the most thorough-going personal decision, to put the Sermon on the Mount into practice…In these moments the attack was always directed towards a Church which, with its sophisms and theologisms, sanctioned the existing world and its ‘orders,’ and which had put the dynamic power of the Sermon on the Mount, so to speak, under lock and key…

Time and time again Christianity, with the assistance of its theology, has known so well and still knows how to intercept, so to speak, the thrust of Jesus’ challenge, to divert it and to settle down peacefully in spite of it…We are most certainly in danger, to put it drastically, of putting the Sermon on the Mount away in storage by means of dogmatics.  Looking back on all the aforementioned expositions of the Sermon on the Mount in their diversity, we soon discover a dangerous tendency running through them all, which at least in its effect can be noticed again and again.  They all aim at limiting its application, they all contain a characteristic ‘only’…This manifold ‘only’ is obviously highly suspect.  Again and again it became a shock absorber, which made the real meeting with Jesus’ word bearable and therefore illusory.” (Gunther Bornkamm, “The History of the Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount,” in Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 221-25)