Rehoboam’s Folly

But [Rehoboam] forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men that were grown up with him, that stood before him (1 Kings 12:8).

The hearer or reader of the narrative in 1 Kings knows what is about to happen; in 1 Kings 11:26-40 Ahijah’s prophetic declaration to Jeroboam that he will rule over ten of Israel’s tribes is recorded. How the division would come about is what is left to make known, and its story is found in 1 Kings 12:1-19.

All Israel meets with Rehoboam at Shechem to install and affirm him as king, and there Jeroboam spoke to him on behalf of all Israel asking for relief from the heavy yoke of Solomon upon the land (1 Kings 12:1-3). Rehoboam asked for three days to get counsel; he began with the older men who had served his father, and they told him to be the people’s servant and speak good words to them and they would serve him as they had Solomon (1 Kings 12:4-7). Yet Rehoboam did not listen to their counsel; he turned to his peers, those young men who grew up with him, and they suggest that he ought to magnify himself over the people, declaring that his little finger is thicker than his father’s “loins,” most likely a crude sexual reference, a way of trying to proclaim that he is much more of a man than his father was, and that whereas Solomon disciplined with whips, he would discipline with scorpions (1 Kings 12:9-11). Rehoboam speaks as the young men suggest, and Israel predictably rebels, and the United Monarchy is dissolved into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1 Kings 12:12-19).

Rehoboam commits the ultimate folly of politics: he told people he was going to add to their burdens and demand more from them and did so in a most immature and off-putting way. No one leaves this narrative wondering why Israel would have wanted to not submit to Rehoboam’s yoke! How could Rehoboam have been so foolish?

The Kings author gives us the answer in 1 Kings 12:8: he forsook the counsel of the old men and took up the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him and surrounded him. We can certainly see that such is what took place, but we are easily left baffled as to why Rehoboam would have ever thought this was a good idea, and, for that matter, how wise Solomon, the author of Proverbs, could have allowed such a foolish son to follow him!

Yet the reasons for the folly are distressingly easy to see. Rehoboam took counsel from his peers; they had grown up together and had shared experiences. They likely saw the world in similar ways. They had lived in the palace complex in times of great prosperity and unity. The reader may know division is on the horizon, but it does not seem to have crossed Rehoboam’s mind. Rehoboam does not know what he doesn’t know, and because of that is led down the foolish path. Sure, there are men around who know some things that Rehoboam does not know, cannot know, and perhaps cannot even envision: the old men who gave counsel to his father Solomon. They knew how to massage the crowd; they may not have actually expected Rehoboam to be any more lenient than his father, but they knew better than to have him go out and say stupid things.

According to 1 Kings 14:21 Rehoboam is forty-one years old at this point in his life. He will reign for seventeen years; his son Abijah reigns for three; his grandson Asa then rules for forty-one (1 Kings 14:21, 15:1-2, 9-10). This tight time-frame between Rehoboam and Asa most likely means that Rehoboam is even already a father by the time he ascends to the throne of Judah. He is no teenager or even twenty-something; by every measure he should know better, both he and his associates. Yet they have lived in the palace and have almost no connection with the people over whom Rehoboam reigns. All they know is luxury and being served. Rehoboam lived for 40 years in the shadow of his highly successful father, and therefore Rehoboam’s desire to try to “one-up” his father is quite understandable. Yet it all comes crashing down. Rehoboam is not remembered for virtue or greatness; he’s remembered for his folly and for the dissolution of the United Monarchy.

Rehoboam’s folly is a cautionary tale for all of us. His story is normally used as a morality tale for young people to understand why they need to recognize the wisdom of those who have gone on before them, and for good reason. Young people do not know what they don’t know; it is understandable but is quite dangerous. Young people have a tendency to believe that things are “different” in their time, that somehow older people just can’t understand. It may be true that some experiences or technologies are different, but life is distressingly consistent (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9). The wise young man will be willing to hear out older perspectives and consider their value even if they do not fully understand. Foolish is the young person who looks only or even primarily to his or her peers for counsel, guidance, and direction in life; how are they qualified to provide such counsel? Not a few young people have gone down the path of Rehoboam’s folly to tragic ends!

Yet it was not just that Rehoboam listened to his peers; he also listened only to those who would agree with him, wanted to flatter him, and who shared his general worldview and perspective. It is always easiest to get counsel from those who share your presuppositions, assumptions, and worldview; everyone likes hearing from yes-men. Yet Rehoboam’s father Solomon wisely declared that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). It is hard to see one’s own blind sides, and if a group of people share blind sides, they cannot help each other see them. It requires a person with a different background and different experiences to point those things out. Yet that is an unpleasant task and not something people like to hear. It is always easier to be like Rehoboam, hear what you want to hear, associate with those like you who have similar experiences as you, and live in that bubble. Yet, at some point, as with Rehoboam, reality will intrude, and you will be exposed for the fool you have been by staying within the echo chamber.

One of the tragic ironies of Scripture is how the one to whom the Proverbs are ostensibly written, Solomon’s son Rehoboam, proves to be one of the biggest fools in Scripture’s pages. Let us not share in Rehoboam’s folly; let us recognize the wisdom of those who have more experience than we do in life, those who have different experiences in life, and above all entrust ourselves and our ways to God in Christ who is the Source of all wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-32), and thus be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Immanuel Sign

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:14-16).

The Kingdom of Judah seemed to be in deep trouble.

Around 735 BCE, faced with the ascendant power of Assyria to the north, Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel solidified their alliance and not so subtly suggested to Ahaz king of Judah that he should join their league. Ahaz resisted, and Rezin and Pekah retaliated by invading Judah and fighting against Jerusalem, intending to depose Ahaz and install a more compliant pretender on the throne (ca. 735-732 BCE, sometimes called the “Syro-Ephraimitic War”; Isaiah 7:1-6). Just before the invasion, when Judah was told of the confederation, they were terrified: Israel was likely stronger than Judah, let alone a Syro-Ephramitic alliance against Judah. How could Judah stand (cf. Isaiah 7:2)?

In the midst of this trial YHWH God of Israel sends a message to Ahaz through His prophet Isaiah. YHWH knew the plans of Aram and Israel and wanted to assure Ahaz that nothing would come of it (Isaiah 7:7). Within 65 years YHWH would see to it that there would be nothing left of Ephraim in Israel (Isaiah 7:8). All Ahaz needed to do was to do nothing, put his confidence in YHWH, and all would be well (Isaiah 7:9).

Yet Ahaz is famous (or infamous?) in Scripture for not putting his trust in YHWH but instead into the gods of other nations and what seemed like intelligent foreign policy (cf. 2 Kings 16:1-20). Now, it seemed, he was facing an existential threat to not only his own life but to the throne of David and Jerusalem itself. To do nothing while his adversaries encircled him and destroyed him? It seemed preposterous!

YHWH wishes to give a sign to Ahaz so that he can have confidence in the word He delivered through Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-11); Ahaz, attempting to appear humble and pious, demurred (Isaiah 7:12). In so doing he wearies YHWH (Isaiah 7:13), yet the Lord will give a sign regardless: a woman will conceive a child, bear a son, called Immanuel (“God with us”; Isaiah 7:14). Before he knows how to choose good and refuse evil, likely within eight to fifteen years of his birth, he will eat butter and honey, signs of prosperity, for the land of Aram and Israel will be forsaken by that time (Isaiah 7:15-16). The danger will pass away if only Ahaz would just sit tight and trust in YHWH for deliverance.

Ahaz does not put his trust in YHWH. Rezin and Pekah invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem yet prove unable to overcome it (2 Kings 16:5-6). In distress Ahaz ends up beseeching the agent YHWH intended to use to judge Aram and Israel, Assyria, but does so at a high cost: he collected the gold and silver in the Temple and his own palace to give to Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria and became a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8). Yet Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria did not really need inducement to attack Aram and Israel; he would have likely done so without Ahaz’s appeal. In 732 BCE, Tiglath-pileser invaded Aram and Israel, exiled the inhabitants of Damascus and killed Rezin, then invaded Israel and made all of the land save for Ephraim part of his own empire (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 16:9). About ten years later, in 722/721 BCE, Sennacherib king of Assyria finished the task by overcoming the defenses of Samaria and fully conquering the northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6). A child conceived in 735 BCE and born in 734 BCE would have been about 12 or 13 in 722/721 BCE, at the age of knowing to choose the good and refuse evil. YHWH made sure that the Immanuel sign was accomplished in its own time, but Ahaz’s foolish action cost Judah dearly. Had Ahaz listened to YHWH and done nothing, his foes would be gone and his (relative) independence would be maintained. Yet he voluntarily submitted to Assyria as a vassal; when his son Hezekiah rebelled against Sennacherib king of Assyria and stopped paying tribute, the full force of Assyria was unleashed against Judah, leading to the destruction of the walled cities of Judah save for Jerusalem (ca. 701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:7, 13-19:37). Ahaz sought a worldly way to maintain his throne and his head; it nearly cost his son both. They only obtained deliverance because God was with them.

Over the next seven hundred years there were many times when the Jews could have easily doubted the idea that God was with them: Babylon accomplished what Assyria sought to do, the people were exiled, returned to the land, remained under foreign domination, and experienced intense persecution at the hands of pagan oppressors for maintaining their confidence in YHWH their God. Yet through all of this the people hoped for the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel sign: the Child born of a virgin who would truly represent Immanuel, God with us, and He was born in a most humble way to a Galilean peasant girl in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:21-25, Luke 2:4-20). Yet again the people of Israel were beset with foes that seemed to threaten their very existence, but the time for their concerns had passed. The sign was no longer that the child would see prosperity and the destruction of the national foes of Judah by the age of 15; the Child Himself is the sign, for He is Jesus, the Immanuel, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He came in the flesh to overcome the enemy of all mankind, to deliver them from sin and death, if they would only put their trust in Him to that end and stand firm (Acts 2:14-38, Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-10). By persevering to the end, Jesus obtains the Kingdom promised to the descendants of David, an everlasting Kingdom, and He serves as its Lord (Daniel 2:44, Colossians 1:13).

God was with Judah: He provided the sign of the child who would be able to enjoy peace and security at 15, and it came to pass. YHWH was able to defend and protect Judah without Ahaz needing to go compromise himself through the pursuit of what passed for human wisdom and sensible foreign policy. The cost of Ahaz’s foolishness was high, but God remained faithful to Hezekiah and preserved a remnant of Judah. Yet YHWH’s presence among His people was only ultimately demonstrated through the embodiment of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is through Him that God provides the ultimate deliverance for all mankind. We can only obtain that deliverance by trusting in Him and doing what He says; attempting to establish the fulfillment of the promise through what passes for worldly wisdom is foolhardy and can only postpone the ultimate end and danger we all face. Let us be thankful for the Immanuel sign, and unlike Ahaz, let us put our full confidence in God and seek to serve Him and glorify His name through His Son Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and that he had said these things unto her (John 20:18).

The burial had been accomplished, yet in haste. While the body had been anointed with aloes and spices, more were necessary. Mary Magdalene, with some of the other women, went to the tomb with them to finish the job.

There had not been much to say on the dark walk to the tomb; they all were quite aware of the events of the previous few days. It made no sense. How could it have all happened this way? Yet none of this needed to be said. Instead, there was a more pressing and present concern: how would they move the stone away from the mouth of the tomb? It was very large and heavy.

Yet something very strange has happened: as the women arrive and the day begins to dawn, they see that their concern is now academic, for the rock had been rolled away from the opening. Mary could tell that the body was no longer there. So she ran back to the upper room where she and her compatriots were staying and informed Peter and John that the body was no longer in the tomb and she did not know where it was.

Peter and John run to the tomb and verify that not only was it empty, but also that the linen cloths were still there, and the face cloth even rolled up in a place by itself. Surely tomb robbers would not go to the trouble of leaving the cloths, and properly rolled up at that! They left convinced that the body was not stolen but did not perceive the importance of what had taken place.

Mary had returned to the tomb as well; whether she had run with the two men or walked and arrived later is not known. After the men departed, she stayed at the tomb, weeping. As if the indignities of the past week were not enough; now His body was taken away as well? Had He not experienced enough humiliation at the hands of the Jews and the Romans? Or perhaps it was even a thoughtless matter: maybe someone knew the tomb was Joseph’s and yet the body in it wasn’t Joseph’s, and so thought it should be moved somewhere else. What an ignominious end!

She again looked into the tomb, but it was no longer empty! Two persons in dazzling white sat there, one where His head had lain, and the other where His feet had been. They were angels, and asked Mary why she was crying. “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him,” she mournfully responded. She then turned around, perhaps still trying to make sense of all that she was experiencing.

Now another person, this time a man, was standing in the area in front of the tomb. This man also asked Mary why she wept, and also wanted to know whom she sought. Perhaps this was the man who moved the body! Mary, unable to look at him, yet asked him if he had taken away the body, and if he had, to tell her where it was, and she would take it away.

But then the man says but one word: “Mary.”

Mary turns around.

That man is no gardener.

“Rabboni!” “Teacher!”

Jesus the Lord told her not to touch Him, for He had not yet ascended to the Father, but told her to go and tell His followers that He is alive and would soon ascend to God the Father.

It all made some sense now: the tomb was empty not because someone had taken the body away, but because the body had come back to life. The rock was rolled away by God’s power, and Jesus came forth raised, or resurrected, from the dead. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, everything had changed. The Lord died, yes, but the Lord is risen. The Lord had not been conquered; the Lord instead had conquered sin and death. Another dream of God’s Kingdom had not failed; the means by which God’s Kingdom would come had instead been fulfilled. Sorrow had been turned into joy; joy of others turned into sorrow. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Such is the account of the resurrection of Jesus as found particularly in John 20:1-18 along with some aspects of Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-16. We do well to consider how the resurrection of Jesus completely and instantaneously transformed the lives of those who followed Him, and meditate upon the majesty and wonder of this very profound moment. Let us then recognize how Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything for the believer, and ourselves be thoroughly changed and transformed by our spiritual encounter with the Risen Lord. Let us proclaim the Lord Jesus as risen from the dead, and ever serve Him to the praise and glory of God the Father!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Salt of the Earth

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).

Everyone knows sodium chloride when they taste it.

As far as we can tell, salt was the first flavor additive people used; it also served as the means by which many foods were preserved. Salt plays a critical function for all living creatures: it regulates the water content of the body, and the sodium ion is the means by which electrical signals communicate through the nervous system. It is not found naturally in many foods; it must be added to the diet, and our tongues appreciate the flavor. It is therefore unsurprising to see how important and valuable salt has been for humanity throughout its existence; before modern processing methods, when edible salt was more challenging to find and use, it was highly prized. One word we use to describe someone’s wages, “salary,” comes from the Latin salarium, referring to the money paid to the Roman soldiers so they could purchase salt.

Salt was therefore known as an important preservative and seasoning in the ancient world, considered quite precious and valuable, and prized for its distinctiveness. But not all salt is made equal: one has to have almost pure sodium chloride for what we call “table salt,” and most naturally occurring salt deposits contain other elements as well. To this day the majority of the salt mined and processed is not for human or animal consumption but for industrial processes and for de-icing streets and sidewalks in colder climates.

Jesus understands these things, and He also knows that His audience understands these things. Having declared “the Beatitudes” in His “Sermon on the Mount” (cf. Matthew 5:1-12), He begins a series of metaphors describing how the disciples should conduct themselves among others and to what effect (Matthew 5:13-16). The first image used involves salt and its distinctiveness (Matthew 5:13): Jesus declares that His disciples are the “salt of the earth,” and then wonders what will happen if the salt loses its taste. At that point, its essential properties no longer able to be restored, its only value is to be thrown underfoot in order to be trodden upon by men.

Jesus begins with this declarative statement: “ye are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). There is no doubt or question about it. While Jesus might have the preservative function of salt in mind, suggesting that just as salt preserves food, His disciples are the reason the world is preserved, His expansion on the theme shows how He has the distinctive taste of salt in mind. The disciples are the “salt of the earth” in terms of being that distinctive flavor which is immediately recognizable when perceived. The distinctive flavor of salt is both unique in itself and uniquely satisfying to the palate. Its particular value is in its distinctiveness and difference, and that value exists on account of its purity.

While the disciples are declared to be the “salt of the earth” without any expression of doubt, Jesus goes on to ask what will happen if the salt loses its flavor. Can the saltiness be restored? He declares how it is now useless for food and preserving life and can only be used on the ground, just as we do today in order to keep the roads and sidewalks ice-free. Jesus therefore opens up the possibility that the “salt” may not maintain its “flavor” and will thus be rendered almost useless. What we call “table salt” loses its distinctiveness when it is no longer almost pure sodium chloride and other elements are introduced; when it is impure, it cannot be used for food preparation, and is only good for industrial or street use.

Thus we have the key to understanding Jesus’ imagery. Jesus’ disciples are called, justified, and sanctified, cleansed and made pure through faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:25-27, Titus 3:4-6). Jesus’ disciples are therefore distinctive, bearing the name of the Lord, seeking to serve Him in all they think, feel, say, and do, representing the new creation order even in the midst of the old (cf. Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 5:16-19, Colossians 3:17). Such purity, holiness, humility, love, and service is distinctive: it is immediately recognizable when perceived, utterly unique, and ultimately most satisfying both for the one engaged in the practice and those who see and are blessed by it. Such holy and righteous thinking, feeling, and action will draw people toward Jesus the Source of all life, holiness, and righteousness, to the praise of God the Father (cf. Matthew 5:16). When Jesus’ disciples conform to the image of Jesus and present the image of Jesus to their fellow man, their distinctiveness is evident and most satisfying. Perhaps not everyone will agree with Christianity and the Christian lifestyle, but when it is faithfully practiced, it at least garners respect.

But what happens if people profess to believe in Jesus but do not advance in righteousness, holiness, humility, love, and service? Such a “disciple” looks no different from anyone else in the world; there is nothing distinctive about their thinking, feelings, and actions. When there is nothing distinctive about them, of what value do they serve for the Lord’s purposes? Not much: these are the people who bring reproach upon the name of Jesus, besmirching His good name with their worldliness, giving cause for unbelievers to blaspheme. Such people are the “salt” which has lost its flavor; they are thus “thrown out,” to be “trampled upon” like the rest of the world. Impure salt cannot nourish, sustain, strengthen, or provide a distinct flavor; such is only possible with pure salt.

Jesus’ words, therefore, provide assurance and a warning. We cannot be distinctive in holiness or righteousness by ourselves and by our own standing; we must humbly submit in trusting faith before God the Father through Jesus the Son to receive the cleansing that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice in order to begin walking down the path of holiness and righteousness. When we turn to God and begin serving the Lord Jesus we become the “salt of the earth.” But we can only remain beneficial if we remain distinctive, and we can only remain distinctive by maintaining purity. We must seek after pure Christianity through humble service to God, seeking to align our will to His in every way. If we do not maintain that purity, but turn and follow after the lusts of the world, the assumptions and ideologies of the world, or other vain worldly pursuits, then there remains nothing distinctive about us. If there is nothing distinctive about us, we end up suffering the same fate as all of the salt that has always remained impure!

Pursuing justice, righteousness, and holiness is not optional; it is the means by which we maintain our distinctiveness in a world saturated with impurity and vice. Let us remain the distinctive salt of the world, seeking after purity, praising the name of the Lord and being the reason for others to praise the Lord as well!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and the Tax

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, “Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel?”
He saith, “Yea.”
And when he came into the house, Jesus spake first to him, saying, “What thinkest thou, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? From their sons, or from strangers?”
And when he said, “From strangers,” Jesus said unto him, “Therefore the sons are free. But, lest we cause them to stumble, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matthew 17:24-27).

Jesus is often described as a radical and a revolutionary, someone who seeks to actively disrupt the system. And, in many ways, Jesus is radical and revolutionary. He is living and preaching the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that proclamation is radically opposed to the aims and actions of the world. He is constantly at odds with the religious authorities, partly regarding their teachings, and partly regarding their hypocrisy.

But Jesus is not radical for the sake of being radical; He is not revolutionary just to stir things up. There are times when Jesus, despite having an opportunity to further challenge aspects of the system, instead demurs. One such incident is recorded in Matthew 17:24-27.

The Jewish collector of the half-shekel Temple tax was in Capernaum. The tax was commanded in Exodus 30:11-16 to provide for sacrifices for atonement. The collector asked Peter if Jesus paid the tax; the tax, and Peter indicated that yes, He did.

Jesus then takes an opportunity to teach Peter. He asks if kings receive toll or tribute from their children or from strangers. The answer is easy enough: from strangers. Kings are not in habit of taxing themselves or their family members, but they receive money from taxes levied on his subjects, tribute from conquered nations, and/or tolls from transportation of commerce. The king’s family, however, remains free from taxation.

The implication is evident: since Jesus is the Son of God, which Peter recently confessed (Matthew 16:16), He is not under compulsion to pay the tax. He would be in the right to refuse payment and to declare why. Yet He does not want to cause offense; He provides, through money to be found in a fish, the shekel to pay the tax for both Peter and Himself.

That Jesus handled the situation through miraculous means is noteworthy; did He not have a shekel on Him, or could He not have found one in another way? We cannot be sure; it is possible that He was just out of money at that particular moment and that was a convenient way of handling the circumstance. Yet that seems rather unlikely; Jesus could have come up with the money in much easier ways. Perhaps since Jesus, as a Son, has no need to pay the tax, and no need for atonement anyway, that He has no need to expend the effort to obtain the money for the tax; Peter, who is liable, should at least do some work in his own profession (fishing) to pay the tax.

But this should not distract us from the thrust of the story. Does Jesus have confidence in the Temple system? Absolutely not; He will soon go to Jerusalem, will ritually cleanse the Temple, and then set forth the prophecy of its condemnation (Matthew 21:12-16, 24:1-36). The chief priests will use the Temple money first to pay Jesus’ betrayer, and then to pay off the soldiers in an attempt to deny His resurrection (Matthew 26:14-16, 28:11-15). Even its ability to atone has been bankrupted; the curtain between the holy place and the most holy place will tear when Jesus dies (Matthew 27:51).

But does that challenge really concern the Jewish men who collects the Temple tax? Jesus does as He does to not cause them to stumble (Matthew 17:27). Regardless of the state of the Temple system and those making the sacrifices, the tax is lawful under the Law of Moses, and this is not an issue where Jesus believes it is worth it to challenge for His right or to make a stink regarding the system. Therefore, even though He does not need any sacrifice made for His atonement, and even though He is free as God’s Son from the tax, He pays it anyway. It does not hurt, and making it an issue causes more difficulty than it is worth. Furthermore, the explanation is more for Peter’s benefit than anyone else’s– Peter blithely assumed that Jesus paid the tax, but Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter understood that it was not because He was somehow responsible to pay the tax, but in order to not cause offense.

This lesson is important for us as well. There are times when insisting on liberties and rights is simply not worth it; to cause any fuss may make people stumble in ways that are unnecessary (cf. Romans 14:1-23). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a stumbling-block for many people because of its essential truths and what it takes in order to conform to the image of Jesus; we should not add any more stumbling-blocks. Like Jesus, we must think about the ultimate goal for ourselves and those with whom we interact in life. Is our stand really honoring Jesus or is it just to assert our own rights? Is this really going to help someone become better acquainted with the path of Jesus or not?

Jesus, even though His message and work were radical and often revolutionary, always had the goal in mind. He wanted people to change their hearts and minds and return back to God (cf. Matthew 4:17). Many times that demanded strong stands and strong words; other times it demanded to go along with some things so as to not cause unnecessary offense. He was not radical for the sake of being radical, nor revolutionary just to keep the pot stirred. And so it should be with ourselves: we should not insist on things just because we can, but only when it is necessary for the advancement of God’s purposes. Let us seek to glorify God in all we do, learning when to take the stand and when to not provide a cause for stumbling!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Betrayer, Betrayed

Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.”
But they said, “What is that to us? See thou to it.”
And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood.”
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (Matthew 27:3-10).

Judas Iscariot is a good reminder to us that people tend to be more complicated than we often imagine. As the betrayer of Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16), and a greedy man who was known for stealing (cf. John 12:6), it would be easy to just write Judas off as purely evil. It would be easy to have no compassion on him whatsoever; it would be easy, as Dante did, to relegate him to the complete bottom of hell, as one of the most evil people to ever walk the earth.

Yet Judas is not a psychopath. He is not pure evil. Yes, he does terrible and sinful things; yes, he is rightly deemed an adversary, or devil, by Jesus (cf. John 6:70). But when the realization came upon him that Jesus was not getting away this time, that he really had just betrayed an innocent man, Judas acutely felt his guilt. He was deeply sorrowful for his actions (Matthew 27:3). He tried to return the thirty pieces of silver he was given to betray Jesus; to us, this may not seem like a significant act of repentance, considering what he has done, but let us remember that he is known for being covetous and a thief. After being spurned by the religious authorities, he went off and took his own life (Matthew 27:4-5). He perceived what he had done: he had betrayed the Christ of God into the hands of the men who would kill Him. The weight of guilt and pain proved too much for him.

So why did he do it? The text never says. Certain possibilities come to mind. He is most likely called Judas Iscariot because he hails from Kerioth, a village in Judea (Joshua 15:25). Jesus’ Galilean disciples were ready for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, defeat the Romans, and restore Israel’s political fortunes; how much more so would Judas, a native of Judea itself? Perhaps Judas thought that by betraying Jesus he would spur the Lord and Messiah into finally standing up to His adversaries and to establish that Kingdom about which He kept talking. Perhaps he was hurt by Jesus’ rebuke regarding Judas’ criticism of the waste of Mary’s ointment (cf. John 12:1-8), and he wanted to get a little even. Perhaps the money was the motivation: he wanted to know how much the chief priests would give him in order to hand Jesus over (Matthew 26:15), and perhaps he just saw an opportunity to make a quick buck. Perhaps it was just the voice of Satan tempting him and he proved unable to resist (Luke 22:3-6). Or perhaps, as with the rest of Judas’ character issues, it is a mixture of some of all of these reasons.

Regardless of why Judas did it, based on his reaction, it does not seem that Judas really thought that it would lead to Jesus’ death. Judas was there to see Jesus escape from the crowd in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30) and in Jerusalem (John 10:31-39). At least one of these events involved miraculous action. Judas most likely surmised that Jesus would either escape His enemies or defeat them outright. Judas believed, after all, that Jesus was the Christ; he saw the power Jesus manifested; he knew that the soldiers coming to get Jesus were really no match for Him.

But Judas did not know that Jesus was submitting to the plan of God, and that he was the catalyst, however willingly, of the terrible sufferings that Jesus would experience. When that realization came upon him, he saw the horror of what he had done.

Matthew has set up two very intentional parallels regarding Judas in his account of these events. The first is with Simon Peter. In Matthew 26:69-75, Matthew describes how Peter denies Jesus three times. Peter feels immense guilt for doing so; he goes off and wept bitterly. He had let Jesus down. And then, a few verses later, in Matthew 27:3-10, Matthew relates how Judas felt guilt for what he had done. Both Peter and Judas felt guilt. Both proved repentant at their actions– they were both very sorrowful. But Peter’s repentance led him to turn back to Jesus, receive forgiveness, and to change from a denier of the Lord to a full confessor and witness of Jesus before the Jews and the nations (cf. John 21:15-19, Acts 2:14-36, 3:11-4:22). We have little doubt that Peter, despite having denied Jesus, entered into His glory. Judas, however, did not turn to Jesus. He did not wait to see what would happen, to beg for forgiveness before the Risen Lord. Had he done so, is there any doubt that Jesus would have forgiven him if he was truly repentant? Instead, his guilt led him to seek atonement from the very ones who gave him the money, those who also had Jesus’ blood on their hands, and was spurned even by them. Drowning in guilt, Judas kills himself. Despite repenting of what he had done, Judas did not turn back to God in Christ for forgiveness. Crushed by worldly guilt, he takes his own life, and what hope can we have for him in eternity on account of it? Thus Paul will later teach the Corinthians that there are two forms of guilt– worldly guilt that leads to death, and godly guilt that leads to true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

Yet it is the second parallel that Matthew is making that is often missed if we are only focusing on Judas and his character. Judas is not the only actor here; we also have the example of the chief priests and elders.

We have declared that Judas feels great sorrow for what he has done. This sorrow is very deep because he knows who Jesus is and therefore the enormity of the transgression he has committed. He wants to make good in some small way, and so he takes the money back to the Temple (Matthew 27:3). He desperately seeks atonement for what he has done.

One would think that he has done wisely in heading to the Temple. After all, according to the covenant between God and Israel, the Temple is where God dwells and where sacrifices are to be offered for sin (cf. Leviticus). Atonement and forgiveness of sins are to be found by bringing one’s sacrifice to the Temple and having it offered before God. One of the most important reason for the Temple’s existence is to facilitate this atonement, and the chief priests are the very ones who have been given this task (cf. Leviticus 16).

Yet Judas does not receive any such comfort. Judas confesses to them that he has sinned by betraying innocent blood (Matthew 27:4). What do they tell him? “What is that to us? See thou to it” (Matthew 27:4). The very priests who are to minister to God on behalf of the people, offering the sacrifices brought by contrite Israelites, show complete disinterest in Judas’ problem. They declare that he has to see to his own atonement himself.

As it relates to Judas himself, we see that the betrayer is now betrayed. Jesus put trust in Judas, allowing him to maintain the money bag even though he pilfered from it, establishing him as one of the select Twelve, and Judas betrayed him. Now, the religious authorities to whom Judas entrusted himself, getting their money for handing Jesus over, whose “day job” it is to facilitate atonement for sin, refuse to do anything for him. They do not deny his claim; they “piously” refuse to put the money back into the treasury, for they know it is the price of blood, and that is why they buy a field with it (Matthew 27:6-10). If Judas’ claim of betraying innocent blood is true, than their guilt is not much less than his own. But they are content– regardless of Jesus’ conduct, He was a threat to the “system,” and that threat was being removed. The show would go on. The chief priests and elders maintained their authority and stature among the people.

Yet, in reality, they have just sold themselves out. As this relates to Jesus and the office of the Temple, Matthew is making it clear that the Temple and its authorities are being superseded. The chief priests and elders are more right than they imagine when they cast Judas off, for in reality, their sacrifices and their attempts toward atonement now prove insufficient. Salvation and forgiveness are coming through Jesus who is being crucified; the sad irony is that the cost of Judas’ atonement was being paid for as he was going through these actions. The Temple system, with its corrupted chief priests, was morally bankrupt. Within forty years, the Romans put an end to the whole pretense. Matthew is showing that God’s sentence against them was just.

The betrayer is betrayed; in the process, the whole system proves its own condemnation. At that moment it was hard to imagine that their machinations were really leading to the opportunity for all men to receive salvation through the redemption for which Jesus was paying with His life. The great tragedy is that, as far as we can tell, none of them proved willing to receive true forgiveness. Judas was repentant but directed it wrongly; he took his own life. The chief priests and elders, as a whole, never seemed to humble themselves, and the Romans would do it for them. Let us learn from their examples. Let us repent with godly grief, turning to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness, and changing our ways for the better!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Enoch

And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: and Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him (Genesis 5:21-24).

It is not long after the events surrounding Adam and Eve that we start to get the beginning of the genealogies of the Bible. While some of Cain’s descendants are listed in Genesis 4:17-24, the real focus begins in Genesis 5 with the descendants of Adam through Seth.

We are first struck by the ages of the people involved– they start having children when most people today are dead or dying (cf. Genesis 5:3-9)! They themselves live for hundreds of years (cf. Genesis 5:1-20).

But we are supposed to be noticing a depressing monotony at work: X lives y years, begets z child, also other children, lives a years afterward, and dies. People live, they beget children, they die. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, and Jared.

And then there is Enoch. And we notice quickly that something is different with Enoch.

Enoch lives, begets Methuselah, but then it is said that he “walked with God” for three hundred years after begetting Methuselah (Genesis 5:22). The text says he has other children, and then reiterates that he walked with God (Genesis 5:23-24). Where we would expect to hear, “and he died,” we see no such thing; instead, we are told that “and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

That is all. The text moves on to Methuselah down to Noah. In the Old Testament, his name is mentioned again only in 1 Chronicles 1:3, in another genealogical passage.

The Hebrew author provides a bit more information about what happened in Hebrews 11:5:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him: for he hath had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing unto God.

This is a sensible explanation of what Genesis 5:21-24 means. Enoch “walked with God”; he was found well-pleasing before God. He lived his life by faith, and on account of that faith, he never needed to taste death. Jude indicates that Enoch prophesied to some extent as well (Jude 1:14-15). He spoke for God; he lived for God; he received a great reward.

People have been speculating in all sorts of ways about Enoch based on these few verses. What was so special about him? Why did he get translated, and why is it that he and Elijah are the only ones who have received the honor of being translated without having to experience death?

We cannot know for certain. But we can know that Enoch was distinctive for his day. Others before him lived, had children, and died. Others after him would live, have children, and die. But he lived, had children, walked with God, and after 365 years, was not, for God took him.

Odds are that we will not be translated; unless the Lord returns first, we will most likely experience physical death like everyone else. But the promise of Enoch still holds true: if we walk with God, we have the opportunity to obtain eternal life and glory (John 3:16, Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). We have the opportunity to be distinctive people in our own day and age. Let us be encouraged by the example of Enoch and walk with God in faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Bankrupt Treasury

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said, “What are ye willing to give me, and I will deliver him unto you?”
And they weighed unto him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15).

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city, and told unto the chief priests all the things that were come to pass. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave much money unto the soldiers, saying, “Say ye, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’ And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and rid you of care.”
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews, and continueth until this day (Matthew 28:11-15).

The past few years have seen a lot of bankruptcy or threats of bankruptcy. Many corporations and banks are no more; even countries have come perilously close to default. Even in America there is wrangling about the debt ceiling and whether the U.S. Treasury will default.

Yet there was a treasury about two thousand years ago that was bankrupt. It still contained money– in fact, it had a lot of money. But it had become morally bankrupt because of the practices of those who oversaw it.

This treasury was originally established from the beginning of the time of the Law. Moses established that every male in Israel should pay a half-shekel a year for an offering to God and for the functioning of the Tabernacle, and then the Temple (Exodus 30:11-16). This was on top of the tithe that went for the care of the Levites and priests (Leviticus 27:30-32), of which a tithe of the tithe was given to God (Numbers 18:26). Other offerings for maintenance of the Temple and other sacrifices were also given (cf. Mark 12:41-44). All of these offerings– by Roman times, mostly offered in money– were intended to provide for the priests who ministered to God and for sacrifices to God. In all things the offerings were to honor the God who commanded them!

By the first century, those in charge of the Temple treasury thought that they were using the money to honor God. And yes, they still did offer the required sacrifices, and the Herodian version of the Second Temple was still being constructed (John 2:20). But something had become more important to the chief priests than honoring God: their standing amongst the people and the power that went with it.

During the week of Passover around the year 30, Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem, hailed as the Son of David (Matthew 21:8-9). And what is the first thing that He does when He enters town? He goes into the Temple and ritually cleanses it by casting out the money changers and merchants there (Matthew 21:12-14). The chief priests were not amused; they were indignant at Jesus (Matthew 21:15). Throughout the week, Jesus would teach the people in ways that undermined the moral standing of the Jewish religious authorities. No matter that the things He did were marvelous and testified to the power of God working in Him; He was a threat to their power and to all the structures they had built, physically and socially. They plotted to get rid of Him, and when one of His own disciples provided the opportunity, they jumped at it (Matthew 26:3-5, 14-15). They weighed out money that had come from the treasury designed to honor God and gave it as the payment for betrayal of the Son of God.

Based on that act Jesus would be arrested, tried, and executed. On the third day He would rise again from the dead. This was even more inconvenient for the chief priests; they had tried to rid themselves of Jesus, and now things were only getting worse! Their credibility and standing would take yet another hit if this news was made legitimate!

Therefore, they acted as they did before. This time, they did not buy off a greedy Judean; they bought off Roman soldiers, inducing them to claim dereliction of duty, that they had fallen asleep and the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15). Even more money was given that had come from the treasury to cover up the work that God was doing, to hinder people from coming to the knowledge of the truth so as to perpetuate the lie!

The moral bankruptcy of the chief priests is evident; and that is precisely what Matthew intends. Jesus has predicted that the entire structure that sustains those priests– the Temple and its sacrificial cult– has been judged and its condemnation evident when they would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-36). Forty years later, the Romans accomplished what Jesus prophesied, and the priesthood and the Sadducees all but vanish from the scene. That treasury, having already been declared morally bankrupt, was now fully plundered by the Romans.

The “transfer” of moral authority is plain. It is no longer in the Temple and in those who minister to God there; it is now in Jesus of Nazareth, at whose death the veil of the Temple rent in two (Matthew 27:51). He allowed for the forgiveness of sin through the death He experienced; it would not be based on Temple sacrifices (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 10:4). Everyone everywhere should listen to Him and seek to follow Him, for God made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36); the chief priests should have listened and not condemned.

The warning is also plain: the religious authorities thought that maintaining their place and their power was more important than honoring God and His work. By dishonoring God and His work, they sealed their own fate, and went on to lose their standing and their power. At some point in existence, either now or in the hereafter, moral bankruptcy results in complete bankruptcy. Let us not be found in opposition to God and His work; let us serve His Son today and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Suffering for the Name

And to [Gamaliel] [the Sanhedrin] agreed: and when they had called the apostles unto them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name (Acts 5:40-41).

The pattern was repeating itself yet again.

As it happened during Jesus’ life, so it was happening after His death and resurrection: the proclamation of salvation and life in His name went forth, people heard it gladly, and it earned the jealousy and ire of the Jewish religious authorities. Jesus was delivered into their hands, and they had Him executed (Luke 22:47-23:49). Peter and John had previously been arrested for preaching and teaching in the Temple (Acts 4:1-22); now, on account of the continued popularity of the message of Jesus, all the Apostles are imprisoned (Acts 5:17-19). An angel sets them free and they go preach to the people in the Temple (Acts 5:20-25), but the Apostles do eventually stand before the council– the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:26-39). Wise Gamaliel dissuaded the Sanhedrin from killing them, but that did not stop the Sanhedrin from having the Apostles beaten (Acts 5:40). The call made for them to stop preaching Jesus was in vain; they would soon again be proclaiming the message that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of Israel (Acts 5:42).

How would we have felt had we been standing there with the Apostles? Ancient beatings were not pleasant– perhaps up to thirty-nine lashings on the back (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24). Today such behavior would be considered “cruel and unusual punishment”; in ancient times, it was probably understood as cruel, but it was all too usual. The thought today makes us cringe. But what would we have done had we been compelled to experience such abuse?

It would be easy to be angry; we might want some form of retribution. The carnal aspect of us would want to see them beaten in a similar way. It would be tempting to take solace in the idea that they would experience such in the hereafter, if not sooner.

It would also be easy to just deal with the pain and be quiet. Sure, we might not want to break out in anger, but we would not necessarily be cheerful about it either. We would probably want to go home, nurse the wounds, perhaps complain and whine about the pain and the humiliation a little bit, and then move on with our lives.

But how many of us would react as the Apostles reacted– rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor because of the Name of Christ (Acts 5:41)?

Dishonor is not something most of us want to experience. If we have to suffer, then we will suffer, but we will hardly glory in it. The last thing most of us would do is think about suffering in terms of being “worthy” to suffer– if anything, we would equate “worthiness” with a lack of suffering!

Yet the attitude of the Apostles is precisely why their message was turning the world upside down. They had understood not just what Jesus’ death and resurrection meant for the world; they also understood what life should be like because of how Jesus lived. They experienced Jesus’ humiliation, in a way, having had their feet washed by Him (John 13:1-17). They saw through His life and death how the greatest among them was their Servant, since Jesus had come not to be served but to serve and to be the ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28). To be humiliated and to be degraded was to be like Jesus; to suffer unjustly was to follow in the path of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-25). Even though the Apostles would agree that the beating was unpleasant, they would point to Jesus’ own scourging so that they– as well as us– could be healed from our transgressions (cf. Mark 15:15, 1 Peter 2:24). Suffering with Christ was the means by which they would be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17); therefore, to be counted worthy to suffer for the Name means that they are counted worthy to obtain glory in salvation.

This is completely foreign to the world; nevertheless, in light of Jesus and the life He lived, it makes some sense. In Christ we can glory in degradation and humiliation; in Christ we can rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for His name.

We will suffer; this much is assured (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12). How far we have grown in Christ and matured in our faith will be evidenced in our reaction to that suffering. Will we get angry, harbor resentment, and demand retribution, as people of the world would? Will we instead decide to turn inward, nurse the wound, and act as Stoics regarding the whole situation? Or will we rejoice in that we have been counted worthy of suffering for the Name of Jesus, assuming that our suffering is for that cause, and glorify God that we are joining with Christ in humiliation and suffering? Let us grow and mature in our faith and rejoice in God no matter what circumstances may befall us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

And seeing the multitudes, [Jesus] went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-3).

Jesus’ ministry had begun, and His renown had spread far and wide. Matthew had been speaking in generalities about Jesus’ preaching the “Gospel of the Kingdom” and how He healed the sick and cast out demons (Matthew 4:23-24). Multitudes began to follow Him (Matthew 4:25), and Jesus felt it was time to systematically proclaim His message to them. He climbs up a mountain, most likely to provide for better acoustics, and begins teaching His disciples and the multitudes as well (Matthew 5:1-2). So begins what we popularly call the “Sermon on the Mount.”

The “Sermon on the Mount” begin with what are popularly called the “Beatitudes,” or blessings, since verses 3 through 11 begin with the Greek word makarios, meaning “blessed” or “happy.”

Yet this is not your average list of blessings. This is how Jesus begins this particular example of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that good news was quite different than anything the Jews had heard before.

The first group of people who are “blessed,” or happy or fortunate, are the “poor in spirit.” Jesus says that they are fortunate because the Kingdom of Heaven is “theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

There is some disagreement about Jesus’ emphasis in Matthew 5:3, whether poor in spirit is a categorical way of speaking about the poor in general or whether the emphasis is on the poverty in spirit and not poverty in general.

If the emphasis is on the poor in spirit, Jesus is addressing the value of humility and the realization that, on their own, people do not have a lot of spiritual strength on which to draw. Jesus will frequently paint a dire picture of man’s natural condition: full of daily anxieties (Matthew 6:25-34), without proper spiritual direction (Matthew 9:36), heavily burdened (Matthew 11:28-30), and in great debt (Matthew 18:23-35). While that is distressing enough, the difficulties are compounded when people deceive themselves into thinking that despite such challenges they are really spiritually healthy and strong, like the Pharisees and other religious authorities (cf. Matthew 9:10-13). They will not be blessed, but those who understand their true sinful condition– that they are sick– are more likely to turn to the Physician and be made well (Matthew 9:10-13). Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who understand that they are poor in spirit and are in need of healing and strength from God in Christ, and until people come to that realization, there is not much that Jesus can do for them (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:15)!

While all of that is true, Jesus may use the phrase poor in spirit to refer to the “pious poor,” those who remain devoted to God despite not having many material blessings. In what is called the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:20-49, a message very similar to the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus there says that “the poor” are blessed without adding “in spirit” (Luke 6:20). We can find many examples in both testaments of such people– the widow of Mark 12:41-44, and the Psalms are often written with the poor in mind (cf. Psalm 34:6, 40:17, 69:29).

In the first century, this would be a startling statement indeed! For generations, conventional wisdom associated blessedness with wealth and prosperity. This was a message reinforced in the Proverbs– wealth came to those who worked hard and lived righteously, while poverty was an indication of idleness or wickedness or both (e.g. Proverbs 10:4, 15). Granted, the author of Proverbs says that the rich should not despise the poor but should take care of them (e.g. Proverb 14:21, 31), but the prophets indicate that oppression of the poor was commonplace in Israel (Isaiah 3:14, 10:1-2, Jeremiah 2:34, Ezekiel 22:29, etc.).

Conventional wisdom reduced everything into a deceptively simple paradigm: if you were rich and prosperous, you were blessed, and since God is the Giver of all good things, you are blessed before God. If you are poor, you are clearly deficient in blessings, and since God is not providing those blessings to you, it must be on account of your sin. It might be that some people are poor by no fault of their own, but even then, they are to be objects of pity; no one would ever consider people in such a condition fortunate or blessed. Jesus turns this conventional wisdom upside down.

According to the Gospel of the Kingdom, the poor are the ones who are blessed, while the rich are the ones who ought to mourn (Luke 6:24, James 5:1-6). While this reversal seems bizarre to people in the world, now as then, it makes perfect sense in terms of the Gospel of the Kingdom, where what is humble is exalted, and what has been exalted is humbled (cf. Matthew 23:12, etc.).

But how can poverty really be a fortunate state? Most of the time, those who are poor would desperately love to escape from poverty! What could be so romantic about poverty?

It is not as if Jesus is glorifying poverty in and of itself; after all, one can be poor, embittered against God and man, and be exceedingly sinful. The poor do not get an automatic pass into the resurrection of the just.

Yet poverty is a great teacher– it strips man of many of his delusions. When one is poor and dependent on the goodwill of others for continued existence, one cannot be deceived into thinking oneself truly independent, truly without any kind of accountability, or self-sufficient in any way. It is very hard to maintain pride in the face of poverty; it is a very humiliating experience to have to beg or to constantly be reminded of how one is deprived of the world’s goods (cf. James 1:9). Poverty easily strips man of his pretension and pride– and that is the first step toward realizing how one is really dependent on God His Creator and why he must serve Him!

Such is why Jesus can say that the poor in spirit are blessed, for the Kingdom belongs to them– they are of the right disposition to hear, accept, and obey the Gospel of the Kingdom. They will comprise the bulk of the first century church (cf. James 2:1-9)!

We do well to remember this lesson. Most of us enjoy relative prosperity. Many of us are not rich according to American standards, but according to the standard of the entire world, and especially according to the standard of the first century, we are all quite wealthy!

We must not allow our relative wealth, prosperity, and ease keep us from the Kingdom of God. We must not, as so many do, believe that we are fine and spiritually healthy because things are going well for us. We must understand that we are pathetically weak on our own and utterly dependent on the mercy of God not only for our survival but also for our prosperity. We must humble ourselves before God so that He will exalt us at the proper time, lest we exalt ourselves now and be humbled by Him (cf. 1 Peter 5:5-6)!

Fortunate are those who learn humility and who remain dependent on God. Let us pursue such blessedness and serve the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry