The New Moses and the New People (John Frye)

The New Moses and the New People (John Frye) June 6, 2014

John Frye, our friend up in Grand Rapids, is working his way through my Sermon on the Mount and I look forward each week to his post about what he’s seeing and how he’s responding. Over to John…

The New Moses and the New People

Scot McKnight instructs us to begin reading the Sermon on the Mount at its end. We will consider chapter one and chapter two of McKnight’s SGBC: The Sermon on the Mount.  It’s vital to set the context for the SoM. Matthew arranges his Gospel in segments of Jesus teaching/preaching (message) and Jesus healing/exorcizing (ministry) with repetitive summary statements at 4:23-25, 9:35 and 10:1. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is here (good news) and demonstrated that the kingdom of God is here (good deeds). In true Jesus style, he extends his famous invitation, “Follow me.” Following Jesus is defined by doing what Jesus says to do. We can’t read Matthew 7:24-27 in any other way. In classic wisdom style, Jesus issues the same invitation with a positive and negative image: the house that stands and the house that falls with a great crash. A house standing or a house falling hinges on “hearing [Jesus’] words and putting them into practice.”

Scot substantiates how Jesus is the new and better Moses going up on the mountain, sitting, and issuing a new kingdom of God moral vision. Jesus actually expects his new people to live out that vision in the world. Jesus didn’t give the conclusion to the Sermon and not really mean it. Nor did Jesus do a head fake with Mega-Law so we would crumple and cry for grace. Radical obedience to Jesus is the claim on our lives. The Sermon thrives on and requires a robust Christology: Who exactly is Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus embodied the Sermon and enables his followers to so the same.

Who are the new people of God? Jesus actually defines “who’s in” and “who’s out.” Defining “who’s in” is the function of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) and “who’s out” in Matthew’s Gospel is spelled out by Jesus in chapter 23 (“Woe to you…”). The Beatitudes are where Donald Kraybill’s phrase “the upside down kingdom” kicks into gear. Scot, as a Jesus scholar, sockets the Beatitudes into the 1st century Jewish culture of Jesus. The scholarship here is gripping and fascinating. “The Beatitudes, then, are a radical revisioning of the people of God” (31).  Scot prefers to order the nine Beatitudes in three groups of threes so that in summary they concern humility (the poor), justice, and peace. Finding the right word to translate makarios (“blessed”) is an interpretive challenge. If we get that word wrong, according to Scot, the whole Sermon is jeopardized. One choice is “Happy,” as in “Happy are the poor in spirit…” Yet, Scot has to deconstruct happiness as a modernity-shaped concept far removed from what Jesus had in mind (50-51). Kingdom life is not about feeling good, but being good (51). “Being blessed by Jesus may have nothing to do with one’s observable condition in life and everything to do with whether one loves God, loves self, and loves others as the self” (51). We find in the Beatitudes, then, a “revolution of evaluation” and “a divine perspective on the true people of God” (52). We know we’ve tapped into the radical nature of the opening of the Sermon when we walk away from the Beatitudes asking, “Just who does this guy Jesus think he is?”

Scot ends chapter two on a sober observation that something has gone “terribly wrong” in evangelicalism as some systematicians have driven a deep wedge between justification and sanctification. We must not perpetuate the old Law versus Grace model. God tells us what the demands of kingdom living entail. The sharp claims of kingdom ethics cause us to lose our breath. God does not lessen the demands; “God graciously provides the power for us to do what Jesus teaches as we live in the Spirit and in light of the coming kingdom…” (54). Disciples (students) do what the Teacher does and commands.

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