“Can’t Get No Satisfaction”

This remnant of an old song by the Rolling Stones floats to the surface of my mind every so often.  I have no idea why.  I’ve never been their fan, nor do I like the kind of music it represents.  Nevertheless, there it is.

This morning it surfaced again as I was reading Jeremiah 31:14, where God prophesies of a time for Israel that “My people shall be satisfied with My goodness,” says the LORD.  

It’s a common practice to view Old Testament prophecies for Israel as having been fulfilled in the Church because God’s done with Israel. Such a viewpoint really isn’t the focus of this post, but it seems to me that portions like Jeremiah 30-34 are stripped of any meaning if they’re interpreted like that.  Nor will it do to dismiss that portion as having been fulfilled by the Return from Babylon.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi indicate otherwise.

There are many references to  “satisfaction” in the Old Testament, but I’m thinking of Psalm 17:15, where David wrote, I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness. 

The reason that the Rolling Stones, like so many others, couldn’t, and can’t, find any satisfaction was because theyre looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place.

 

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Blessedness: The Beatitudes – Attitude for Blessing

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:3-6 (NKJV).

As you see, we’ve only listed the first four beatitudes.  That’s because we believe they can be divided into two groups.  In the first four, our Lord describes the attitude required for blessedness.  Indeed, some have called the Beatitudes, “Be-atitudes.”  The second group refers to the activities resulting from the blessings brought by the attitude.

We’ll only look at the first four because of the length of the posts about them.  We’ll look at the other four, Lord willing, in a later post.

Just a couple of things before we get into the study itself.  First, the word translated “blessed” is plural: “makarioi” instead of “makarios,” which is the singular form.  Some have translated it “oh, the blessedness of….”  I think it speaks of abundance, of the lavish blessings God pours out on those our Lord describes in these eight verses.

Second, some translate this “Happy are the….”  One author even titled his book on the Beatitudes, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  I think this is inadequate, and he himself said that “happy” doesn’t translate the word accurately.  “Happy” is related to words like “hap” – an obsolete word, I grant, but it means “that which comes suddenly or unexpectedly; chance; fortune; accident; casual event.”  (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, unabridged, p. 824.)  I don’t think these words are what the Lord had in mind here.  “Happy” depends on our circumstances, our situation, what “happens” around us.  If they go well, we’re “happy,” if they’re not, we’re not.  To the ancient Greeks, the word was used to describe their gods, who were unaffected by the goings on in the mortal world.

The Lord was teaching that true blessedness is not dependent on things outside of ourselves: our wealth, our health, our families, our job, our house, etc.  Indeed, the worldling may have these things, but they are not blessings to him, cf.Luke 16:25.  True blessedness from God comes from things on the inside, which then affect things on the outside.

Having said that, the beatitudes seem to divide themselves into two sections, as we noted above: the first four, which describes attitudes of the heart, and the second four, coming from the first, which describe activities of the hand.

Attitudes of the heart, vs. 3-6

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I think this attitude was supposed to be the result of centuries of the Mosaic Law.  Looking at his nation and himself, the wise Jew would say, “Who can do that?  Who can do those things the Law requires?”  The sacrificial system itself was designed to teach them that, that no one kept the Law perfectly and only through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute were they able to be forgiven of a particular sin and to continue to live.  It was designed to show them their need of a Savior.

“The poor in spirit” literally means “those who are spiritually bankrupt.”  Such know that they have nothing to offer to God, that they are unable to do even one thing He requires perfectly – and imperfectly won’t do.  They’re like the tax-collector in Luke 18:33 who standing afar off [as if he weren’t fit to approach], would not so much as lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  I wonder if there isn’t something here in the word translated merciful.  It means “propitious” and was the word (“hilasmos”) used to describe the mercy seat above the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s Temple.  The mercy seat was where, once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice.  The tax-collector wasn’t pleading for mercy because of anything he was or could do, indeed those things brought him under judgment.  He was pleading for mercy on the basis of that sacrifice.

On the other hand, the Pharisee in the story was proud of himself and his accomplishments.  Just listen to him, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector.  [Here I think there was a derisive gesture toward him].  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess,” Luke 18:11, 12.  Yes, sir, he was something – and not slow to tell you and God all about it.

The Apostle Paul had been like that.  Before his conversion, he himself said that he must do many things contrary to name of Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 26:9.  He had a whole list of things he thought were on the positive side of the ledger, so to speak, 1 Philippians 3:5, 6.

A strange thing happened to him.  Though he doesn’t specifically say when it happened, something happened to him.  In Romans 7:9, he wrote, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.

I died.

What does that mean? Certainly, it doesn’t mean physically.  I think it means that he began to understand the comprehensive nature of the Law, that it requires more than just form and ritual and habit; he also began to understand that all those things he thought were good were of no use at all in giving him the righteousness he thought he had.  Like Nicodemus before him, he learned that he needed something he didn’t have and couldn’t produce.  He was bankrupt.  And he was dead, spiritually.

There are many descendants of the Pharisee and Saul today.  Their hope of heaven is based entirely on their belief that they have done something which will get them there.  The list of such things is endless.  They’ve never seen that, like Paul, they have absolutely nothing to commend themselves to God.  They haven’t yet declared spiritual bankruptcy.  And they don’t understand that they are “dead” as far as God is concerned, cf. Ephesians 2:1.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

This is the result of the realization of our sinfulness before a holy and righteous God.  Instead of being so proud of our religious accomplishments, so ready to list them on the credit side of the ledger, we see them for what they are in God’s sight: filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6.  That word translated “filthy rags” refer to a menstrual cloth or to a rag that a leper might use to wipe his sores.  Not a pretty picture, but graphic, demonstrating what “our righteousnesses,” those religious acts, that we’re so proud of, are like in the sight of God.  Our very best, religiously and apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, is as offensive to God as those rags would be to us.  And these are “our righteousnesses.”  When it comes right down to it, we have to admit that we really have very few of those, and a lot more of the other kind.  If our very best is offensive to God, then what must these other acts, the ones which aren’t so “righteous,” be like in His sight?!

Perhaps even more offensive to God is the idea that we CAN do something to get to heaven; that we can work up some sort of righteousness which will get us into the pearly gates, because God has already provided a righteousness, the only righteousness He will accept: the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus.  Besides that, there is no other righteousness, period.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

Meekness.  It is not the same as weakness.  Our Lord referred to Himself as meek and lowly of heart in Matthew 11:29 (KJV).  Other translations say, “gentle and lowly of heart.”  The Lord was anything but weak.  He was humble and gentle, but never “weak.”  Read His scathing denunciations of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, His throwing out of the Temple those who had turned it into a kind of WalMart, John 2:13-17.  The word is the opposite of those who are always demanding their “rights.”  Such people will never understand the saying by one of the Puritans that anything outside of hell is better than we deserve.  Meekness will defend other people’s rights, but isn’t so concerned about securing her own, or about herself.  Meekness isn’t “MEekness.”

What does being “meek” have to do with “inheriting the earth?”

Simply this.  Those who are “meek” are the ones likely to be taken advantage of, cheated, by those are not meek, not selfless.  Our Lord is just assuring such that they will not be the losers in the long run.  After all, this life isn’t all there is to “life.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. 

This is the other side of being poor in spirit, being hungry for that which we lack and can’t provide for ourselves.  It’s instructive that our Lord uses these figures of speech.  Hunger and thirst are characteristics of life; the dead never hunger and thirst.  That’s why there is so little, or no, desire for the things of God in the world.  Religion, yes; the true God, no.  It is dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. But there are those in whom the Spirit of God operates, which is evident in their hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In the words of the hymn:  “O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer, This is my constant longing and prayer….”  This is the longing of every true believer: to be more and more like the Savior.  And the Lord promises they will be filled; they will be satisfied.  Not the “foretaste of glory divine” that we have now, but satisfied, full to the brim.  Though true believers are truly saved, they are not yet “entirely sanctified,” as some put it.  John put it like this: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [we’re not there, yet], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Such are the heart attitudes and characteristics of those who are blessed.  Acutely aware of their spiritual need, mourning over their spiritual faults, failures and shortcomings, yet not selfishly focusing on themselves, hungry and thirsty for that which only the Lord God can provide, yet knowing that one day, if not now, they will be comforted and satisfied beyond this world’s ability of understand or provide.

Such are the blessed.

Sticks

The verses we’re looking at in this post seem to many to be an excessive punishment for a relatively minor offense.  They’re found in Numbers 15:32-35 (NKJV):

“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.  And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation.  They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.  Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.”

“Whoa!” these folks say, “That’s harsh!”  And, in truth, perhaps a case could be made for the man, as is done in modern trials during the “penalty phase,” where men and women convicted of the most heinous crimes have folks testifying about what wonderful persons they really are at heart.  Perhaps this man was just trying to gather some sticks to help feed his family.  Perhaps, with so many Israelites, firewood was in short supply, and so the man was taking advantage of a time when fewer people were looking for it.  Perhaps this was the only time he could do it.  Etc., etc.

All this misses the point.  The man broke the Law.  Yeah, but “sticks”?  Such a minor thing!

There are no “minor” things.  After all, wasn’t it a relatively “minor” offense that started this whole catastrophe in the Garden of Eden?  Religious man may have divided sins into “venial” and “mortal,” but God knows no such distinction.  He was the One Who gave the final judgment in this “minor” case.  

There are no “venial” sins.  Even a little thing like picking up sticks on the Sabbath, in defiance of His command against it, was a “mortal” sin.  Any sin is “mortal.”  Every sin is “mortal.”

Our world, even the “religious” one, has lost sight of most of Who God is and what He requires of us.  I thought about different words for that last sentence: “wants,” “asks,” but that is just symptomatic of what the sentence describes.  God is pictured as waiting for man to do something so He can act, patiently waiting on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.  Wanting to bless us, but unable to unless we “let Him.”  He must be amazed, if we can ascribe such a feeling to Deity, at our arrogance.

There is such an unScriptural emphasis on “the love of God,” and such a humanized definition of it at that, that we have lost sight of what Paul called, “the goodness and severity of God,” Romans 11:22, something Paul told his readers to “consider.”  He’s calling attention to what he says in the verse, that is, that we’re not to forget the two sides of the Divine character:  “goodness” and “severity.”  When was the last time you heard a sermon that mentioned “the love of God”?  Probably the last one.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on “the severity of God?”  Ever?

In the Numbers account, God is emphasizing what it means to follow His Law.  Even the least infraction merits death.  The Law is a unit.  Break even one part of it, and the whole thing is gone – so far as making it to Heaven, or being “pleasing” to God, James 2:10.  I was in a Bible study class that was discussing the attributes of God.  Someone mentioned His immeasurable love.  The teacher wrote that down on the blackboard.  I mentioned His inflexible justice.  The teacher said, “Ooh, I don’t like that,” and would only write down “justice.”

If you want to know something of the severity of God, consider Who It was on the Cross.  There’s only ever been one Individual Who could truthfully say, “I always do those things which please” the Father, John 8:29.  And God put Him on a Cross.  Preachers always emphasize the love of God in the death of Christ, and that is true.  If God hadn’t had a love for mankind in general, He wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble He did to save it.  The Lord Jesus wouldn’t have suffered as He did, if there were no “love for His own,” cf. John 13:1.  At the same time, was that all the Cross was: a demonstration of “love”?

Not at all.  It was also a demonstration of the “severity” of God.  Paul put it in a nutshell when he wrote, “For He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  The Cross was as much a matter of justice as it was of love, or grace.  We’ll never get the bottom of that verse.  God put the Only One Who ever pleased Him on a Cross, to pay for our sins, who never please Him, in and of ourselves, don’t want to please Him and couldn’t please Him even if we tried.  There’s just nothing in us responsive toward God apart from His grace.

Some churches talk about the “merits of the saints,” as if there’s some sort of heavenly bank where all their extra good stuff is stored up, ready to be taken out by those who don’t have enough good stuff.  I’m sorry, but there’s only been One Who had any merit, any “good stuff,” to begin with, let alone having any “extra.”

Jesus Christ did on that Cross what none of us could do – satisfy God’s justice, His “severity.”  He did that to the extent that not a single person for whom He died can ever perish.  Their sins have been paid for.  Their debt has been cancelled.

You’ll never appreciate the goodness of God if you don’t have at least a little understanding of His “severity,” that is, that He can, will, and does, judge “sticks”.