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I. Old Testament Background for “Blessing”
A. The Beatitudes
Last Sunday, we heard the marvelous introduction to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” which we call, “The Beatitudes.” Jesus sat down, his disciples gathered around him, and “he opened his mouth.” And out of His mouth flowed one blessing after another, like the waves of the ocean breaking onto the beach.
One of the points that we made last Sunday was that this blessed word that comes out of the mouth of Jesus here on this mountain is perfectly consistent with the word of God throughout the whole Old Testament as well. In fact, what Jesus is doing here on this mountain is simply carrying His blessing forward from the Old Testament into the New through these disciples whom He has hand chosen. And we today receive the same blessings that they received from Jesus Himself, as we receive from them through the “apostolic word,” – the New Testament.
I’d like to begin this morning by building on this point because I think that it will be very helpful in understanding the words we heard Jesus speak in our Gospel reading this morning. I want to look at two examples where God pronounces His beatitude, His blessing upon His people in the Old Testament.
B. Adam and Eve.
The first example is in the beginning. Would you take your bible please and turn to Genesis chapter 1:26-28. (Page 1 in the pew bible.)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
There are two things we need to see here. First, what is the very first thing that God does after He creates the man and the woman? He BLESSED them. His ‘blessing’ is His divine favor. God pronounces His ‘very good’ upon the man and the woman – ‘blessed are you.’
So, BEFORE God tells this couple what they are to do in this new world of His, He puts His blessing on them. Before they go and do what God has created them to do, He blesses them – He places His divine favor on them.
What we’re seeing here is the divine order which God establishes right here in the beginning. First He gives His blessing and then He says, ‘go to work.’ To turn that around and think that first we need to go to work so that God will bless us is to get it all wrong. They don’t work to win God’s blessing and favor. He gives it to them entirely apart from their works, before they’ve done anything.
As they go into this new world that He has created, they bear His blessing. Through them, the world that includes their future children and grandchildren, as well as all nature, sees the blessing of almighty God through this couple. In other words, they are the embodiment of God’s blessing in the world. They are the visible manifestation to the world of what God’s divine favor looks like.
But it’s also more than this. Adam and Eve are more than just a passive example of what the blessed life looks like. They are also the active transmission of God’s blessing to the world. God will pronounce His great Beatitude upon the world, through Adam and Eve. Through them, God will bless their offspring and His whole creation.
To put this in a most concise way, “they are blessed to be a blessing.”
We see the same thing happening even more clearly a little later in the book of Genesis. Would you turn now to Genesis chapter 12. (Page 8 in your pew bible). Let’s just listen to Genesis 12:1-3.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God placed His blessing on Adam and Eve so that through them, their offspring and the whole world would be blessed. But, as we know, rather than being God’s blessing to the world, they brought God’s curse of sin and death upon the world.
But God, in His great mercy, washed the world clean with a great flood, and now, He’s beginning again. This time through a man named Abraham. Just like Adam and Eve, God tells Abraham what he is to do, but before Abraham does anything, God blesses him. And this time, God spells out it out much more clearly than He did with Adam and Eve, making it clear that Abraham is BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING. “I will bless you to be a blessing… ”
Now, God places His blessing upon Abraham so that through this ONE MAN, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
As we know, through Abraham, God raised up a people called Israel, and they are known throughout all the world as a people who are blessed by God. But sadly, they are not always the blessing to the world that they should be.
As we heard earlier, the prophet Isaiah complains that although Israel has been blessed by God, they are not being the blessing to the nations that they were blessed to be. ‘Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.” (Isaiah 58:3-4)
II. Sermon on the Mount
A. Jesus- the 2nd Adam and New Israel.
And that brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. What is going on here?
I’d like to challenge you to look at this from a different angle than you may be used to or than you may have heard it presented. The focus here is not on the disciples or the crowd but on Jesus. Who is He? What is He doing here?
I would submit to you that Jesus is the 2nd Adam and the “new Israel.” He is the One who is blessed by God and He is the embodiment of God’s divine favor through Whom the world is blessed. Jesus is carrying out God’s purpose from the beginning to bless His creation through One Man and One People.
Before Jesus began the work that He was sent into this world to do, the Father spoke His blessing upon His Son. In His baptism at that Jordan River, the Spirit descended on Him and “behold a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Mat.3:17). He is blessed to be a blessing.
Only after He receives the blessing of His Father does He begin the work He was called to do. He goes into the desert to confront the devil. And then from the desert, He gathers His disciples and blesses them. He is doing what Adam and Israel were blessed to do – He is blessing the world.
Jesus Christ is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He is the blessed One through Whom God blesses His whole creation. And here on the mountain, we see Him doing what Adam and Israel failed to do.
In fact, this is what God was pointing us to through Adam and Israel all along. It was through Adam and Israel that God was preparing the world for Jesus Christ – the 2nd Adam and “new Israel.” God Himself has entered His own creation in the flesh to be the One who is blessed to be a blessing. And He begins with His disciples.
He places His blessing upon them so that they may go and do the work He will assign them to do. Interestingly, it’s not until the very end of His earthly ministry, just as He ascends into heaven, that Jesus actually tells His disciples what they are to do. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.”
His disciples may certainly fail to be a blessing, and they certainly did. You and I may certainly fail to be a blessing. And we certainly do. In fact, Jesus is very realistic about this and addresses the inevitable fact that we will be just like Adam and Israel of old. Just as salt can loose its saltiness and become useless, and just as a light can be hidden under a basket and have no effect – so can we.
But He will not fail because He cannot fail. God has blessed His people and His creation through His Son, Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead, we see His good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
B. Not our righteousness.
So, this is not so much about us as we think. Which is a good thing really. It doesn’t depend upon our performance as Salt and Light. If it did, things would surely go no better than they went for Adam and Israel. It all depends on Jesus to be what we can never be. It all depends on Jesus, who invites His disciples to become what He is – blessed to be a blessing.
So, when we fail to be the blessing that we have been blessed to be, we may return to spring and the fountain from Whom all blessings flow. He has promised, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He has backed His promise up with the guarantee that not “an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until He has accomplished it.” And so, we are bold to confess, “we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” And because He has accomplished detail of the Law on our behalf, we have His forgiveness for all of our sins. And we return to our calling with His blessing upon us – “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” We are blessed to be a blessing.
So don’t worry that your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Christ’s righteousness does. And it’s because of His righteousness that God has blessed the world. He has washed away all of the unrighteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees and of yours, with a greater flood than the flood of Noah. By the flood of blood and water that flowed from Jesus side on the cross, He has blessed the world and all who are washed in that saving flood are blessed to be a blessing.
C. In our daily vocations.
But where are we to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’? Where are we to bless others with the blessing that we have received? The earth and the world is a lot of ground to cover. Eventually, Jesus will send His blessed disciples into “all nations,” to be a blessing.
But that’s far too general to be of much help for us. You can’t buy vegetables at the grocery store. You can only by carrots or peas or onions. Not one of the disciples went to “all nations.” In fact, each one went to a specific place wherever they were called. And collectively, through each of them, Jesus blessed the nations and continues to do so.
It’s the same for us. None of us can be the ‘salt of the EARTH or the light of the WORLD. We are blessed to be a blessing to the “world,” that is located right in our daily vocations, wherever God has put us. “You are the salt of the earth” to your spouse, your children, your parents. “You are the light of the world” to your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers and classmates. And as we are faithful to the calling we have received in these places, Jesus is at work collectively through each one of us blessing all nations, the whole earth and the entire world.