Month 9:29, Week 4:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5937:266 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Tuesday 31 December 2013
The Heart of Torah II
What Yah'shua Most Loves
Part 1: The Poor in Spirit
Continued from Part 1
- (1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- (2) Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- (3) Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- (4) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
- (5) Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
- (6) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Elohim (God).
- (7) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of Elohim (God).
- (8) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- (9) Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt.5:3-12, NKJV).
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and may the grace of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be with us all as we assembly on this last day of the current ninth month to conclude the second and last part of the series, The Heart of Torah.
The Things Yahweh Hates
We are seeking to identify the core of New Covenant Torah. Last week we looked at the five things which Yah'shua (Jesus) hates the most - hypocrisy, spiritual pride, impurity, indifference to human need, and unbelief - the antithesis of righteousness. Solomon made his own interesting private collection of 'hates' and doubtless we would create our own lists:
"These six things Yahweh hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
- 1. A proud look,
- 2. A lying tongue,
- 3. Hands that shed innocent blood,
- 4. A heart that devises wicked plans,
- 5. Feet that are swift in running to evil,
- 6. A false witness who speaks lies, and
- 7. One who sows discord among brethren"
Heart Attitudes Yah'shua Loves
Today we are looking at the opposite - what Yah'shua (Jesus) loves the most in His talmidim (disciples). In my opinion these are beautifully summarised in parts of a couple of sermons given by the Master which history has come to know as 'The Sermon on the Mount' and 'The Sermon on the Plain', what Anglican Canon Liddon in his Bampton Lectures describes as "that original draught of essential Christianity". And who could argue with that?
B. THE NINE CHIEF BLESSINGS IDENTIFIED BY YAH'SHUA
In the famous Beatitudes (Mt.5:3-12), which preface the famous and much loved Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5-7), the Master identifies the nine most blessed spiritual conditions a talmid (disciple) can be in with their respective rewards given in the form of cryptic parables or proclamations. I want you to not only note what these 'most blessed things' are but to also note what they are not. That is not to say that other actions are unimportant but it is very much to say what we should always prioretise! Also, please, notice the order in which they are given. I am also going to combine a second set of beatitudes given by Yah'shua (Jesus) in the Lucan account of the Sermon on the Plain addressed to His talmidim (disciples) (Lk.6:20-26). Four of these are almost identical to the ones in the Gospel of Matthew but, as we will see, the target is different. Unlike the equivalent beatitudes in the the Gospel of Matthew, though, these four are followed by four woes. These same woes appear much later in the Matthean account (Mt.23).
Structure and Essence
Each beatitude is composed of two phrases: a condition and the result which have parallels with teachings in the Tanakh (Old Testament) but with a difference - they are elevated to new and higher spiritual levels never spoken of before. The focus shifts from the outer to the inner in Yah'shua's (Jesus') new teaching so that we can look beyond the visible to the invisible to the root of all behaviour. This is a new kind of Torah, not replacing the older one but bringing it to its spiritual completion or fulfilment. The focus is on the heart and on ahavah (love) with the promise that if we do this the outer Torah will take care of itself. In other words, if our focus is on ahavah (love) and humility, lovely things will result and we will find ourselves living the written Torah without any form of compulsion - we won't even be conscious of it. The written Torah still has its place, of course, like a reference map that can be consulted to see if we are in the right place, but the emphasis now is on their inner essence.
Blessedness as Inner Joy, Peace and the Reward of Good Character
To be 'blessed' is to be more than merely 'happy' in the psychic sense. To be 'blessed' means to have an inner simcha (joy) and shalom (peace) that comes with the revelation given to our innermost being by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) that we are right with Elohim (God). But more than even this, to be 'blessed' is to enjoy the reward to whose who have righteous spiritual character. I am sure you will agree there is not much that is more important than this - being filled with inner simcha (joy) and shalom (peace) because we are right with Yahweh, but knowing too that we are being praised by Him for this good character and that He is pledging divine rewards for it in the eternities. Knowing as we do now what displeases Yah'shua (Jesus) the most, let us discover what pleases Him the most in our discipleship.
1. The Poor in Spirit
Tthe First Beatitude, like many of the others, is properly understood first of all with the its Tanakh (Old Testament) background in mind where it is a messianic prophecy in the Book of Isaiah:
- 1a. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (v.3, NKJV).
- 1b. "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of Elohim (God)...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Lk.6:21a,24, NKJV).
"The Ruach (Spirit) of Yahweh-Elohim is upon Me, because Yahweh has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted" (Isa.61:1a, NKJV).
This passage was fulfilled in Luke 4:21 as Yah'shua (Jesus) read it aloud on the Sabbath to the synagogue in Nazareth. Their reaction was not unlike what you might expect today. Not only did His listeners fail to appreciatre the enormous privilege and blessing to witnessing prophecy fulfilled, but in their blindness, ignorance and spirit of religious fanaticism tried to murder Him by throwing Him of a cliff! That in itself was a portent of not just the kind of reception the Messiah's message was going to receive generally in times to come but was a pointer of the judgment they were going to receive too. And yet we too, before we meet the living Yah'shua (Jesus), are blind, we too are judgmental, we too like dogs prefer our own vomit to heavenly manna (Prov.26:11), because we are angry with our poverty.
Material Poverty Hiding Spiritual Poverty
You would have thought that the poor would have been the most receptive to Yah'shua's (Jesus') message, even upon being told that there were "good tidings" for them and that these were now concretely available to them from the moment He made the announcement in Luke 4. You will have noticed that there is a difference of emphasis in meaning between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. In the latter Yah'shua (Jesus) makes an attempt to point to a hidden spiritual meaning but lets His listeners potentially 'misinterpret' the messianic prophecy  by simply saying, "Blessed are you poor". Like those who had read Isaiah 61, where the Messiah is predicted to "preach good tidings to the poor", there is no hint that anything other than materially poor people were in Yahweh's mind. And yet obviously there is good news for materially poor people too. When Isaiah received his revelation, the people were in exile in Babylon and were naturally "poor" - after all they had lost their lands and their possessions - everything they and their ancestors had toiled for over the centuries - and had become slaves to a pagan master. When you lose everything and become poor materially, not surprisingly there is a spiritual counterpart of poverty too. They were afflicted and oppressed in body, mind and in their whole being. They were "poor in spirit" too, as Yah'shua (Jesus) singled out in Matthew 5, which marked the first step in their long return. Which kind of poverty was the worst of the two do you suppose?
The vast majority of the people in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day were poor materially but they were also poor in spirit. They were oppressed by a foreign occupying power (Rome), had little control over their own lives, and had even less hope. They longed for the redemption so often promised them in the Tanakah (Old Testament), and more especially the messianic prophecies. They had few resources to eek out an existence on and had to depend on others for survival. In the midst of their Babylonian captivity, which they had brought upon themselves because of their rebelliousness, they were promised by Isaiah a day when deliverance from slavery would come. Yahweh had innoculated them with a message of hope. What those Babylonian captives did not realise - and, worse, did not want to realise - nor those Roman captives generations later, was that this deliverance would come in two stages and not all at once: first, spiritual deliverance, and second, a physical deliverance two millennia later. The last one we are still waiting for - Babylonian, Roman and other oppressions have followed one after the other, and today the vast majority of the world still lives in material poverty, and those who have been prosperous, particularly in the rich West, are now experiencing the same stripping away that those Judahite captives did when they were ripped away from all they knew and loved. Yes, we in the West in particular are experiencing the same wrench from comparitive wealth and into poverty as those Judahites did all that time ago. And ministers like myself come with the same message as Yah'shua (Jesus) brought to that Roman occupation where people still prioretised a restoration of material prosperity and political independence over spiritual wealth.
Needs vs. Wants
There is a reason Yahweh has delayed material prosperity generally for the human race. There is a reason He ordained two comings of the Messiah and not one, and that reason is because man's greatest need is spiritual not material wealth. The fleshy, carnal, Adamic man always prioretises the material over the spiritual, blinding him to his real need. A man can obtain all the wealth in the world and remain spiritually poor and discontented, or he can have spiritual wealth and little or no material wealth yet know shalom (peace). That is not to say that Yahweh is not interested in giving us material things. He just wants us to understand that what we need and what we want are not the same. He wants us to understand that if we seek spiritual wealth first we will not pursue a frenzied and futile grab for material things but learn to be content with what we have and with what is adequate. For history shows that the moment we start craving for more than is adequate that we soon lose our spiritual bearing, descend into spiritual poverty and miss the whole point.
To have this right perspective means to possess humility before Elohim (God), and that is what being "poor in spirit" means. To be humble-minded is to realise that material things do not in any way contribute to spirituality or indeed to salvation. Rather wealth is such an oppressor in and of itself that Yah'shua (Jesus) declared that it was easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it was to try and thread a thick rope through the eye of a needle (Mk.10:25; Lk.18:25) . In other words a choice has to be made - do you pursue material wealth and become spiritually impoverised, or do you pursue spiritual wealth and let Yahweh take care of your basic human needs? Or these days do you try to pursue a third way, materialistic egalitarianism, or socialism, by forcibly redistributing wealth in a bid to be 'fair' and artifically create a collective Marxist happiness? The history of the 20th century has shown us, and the short history of the 21st century is still showing us, that socialism does not bring happiness because the foundation of happiness and contentment is not, as Marx claimed, materialism but spirituality. So 21st century man continues to miss the mark in the same way that first century Judea did in the dark days of the Roman occupation.
The Illusion of Western Materialism
Western materialism  has not brought anything but a temporary, short-lived and illusiory 'happiness'. Wealth brings corruption with it because wealth itself corrupts all but the most spiritually-minded who are few and far between. Very, very few men know how to handle wealth responsibly without being contaminated by the spirit of the love of money (1 Tim.6:10). Satan knows that which is why it is one of his most successful and most oft used type of bait to get men to turn away from Elohim (God). Mankind is still feverishly pursuing wealth in the hope of finding paradise. Every society that has pursued it has fallen. China, a land that has known immense poverty for millennia, has in our day hit the capitalist jackpot and is going through the same false hopes as the West before it. Brazil and India are fast on their heels.
Pandemia and the Love of Money
The problem with wealth is that it does not satisfy the deepest human need and cannot make any provision for eternity. You can't take an ounce of gold with you into the next world because we leave everything material behind us when we die. Even in the physical resurrection we almost certainly don't get back the goods we had in mortality. It's then that materialists belatedly discover what really matters and can do nothing about it. Just go to any deathbed scene for an illustration of this emet (truth). Someone dying doesn't say, "Oh, only I had bought this or that!" - he is more concerned with relationships, is he not? So no wonder poverty heads the list of Yah'shua's (Jesus') beatitudes. No wonder He starts His sermon here with it because so much hangs on our getting a proper grasp on what really matters in regard to material and spiritual things. We don't know which sermon was preached first - the one on the Mount or the one of the Plain - but there was clearly a difference between them in spiritual content, the former clearly pointing to the higher ground, and the latter hinting at it in order to separate out the true seekers from amongst the poor only interested in their bellies and in carnal pleasures.
Coming to the realisation that nothing physically tangible in this life contributes to receiving the Kingdom of Heaven is one of the greatest revelations of emet (truth) that a soul can receive. Solomon realised it after squandering most of his life away in its pursuit. Those who are "poor in spirit" are humble before Yahweh-Elohim which means they have humbled themselves - they have removed themselves off the throne of self-rule - and have repented in deep contrition because they have realised that every other path is vain and futile. They have come to the realisation that they are helpless, hopeless sinners, not just because of a written religious dogma (however true) but because they have discovered that it is a fact of life. They are lacking in arrogance, in self-righteousness and in self-sufficiency because they know these are meaningless ultimately. They are free from self-pretension which sets them free to be talmidim (disciples) for Yahweh.
The Only Way to Approach Elohim
Therefore everyone who wishes to be saved and to enter into the Divine Realm - the Kingdom of Elohim (God) must absolutely and without excuse be "poor in spirit" because only in this frame of mind is a soul able to receive salvation as a gift and not as something to be earned. Those who lack this unpretentiousness, who claim no self-merit, even if they may be, and truly are, of infinite worth to Elohim (God), have any sort of hope of approaching Elohim (God) and knowing Him. Approaching Him in any other way simply results in approaching self and the delusion that self is god.
Good News for the Genuinely Poor
This is very good news for the genuinely poor and oppressed in this world because to be in this category ready for salvation you can be either materially poor or materially rich. What qualifies a soul for salvation - for an emet (truth) encounter and a meeting with Elohim (God) - is not achievement but humility. And what is humility? To be conscious of ones failings, to be unpretentious (not putting on an act whether it be of superiority or inferiority ('victimitis'), for both are born of pride), to be lowly, to be deferential (respectful), to have a servant-heart, to view others as being more important that oneself, that is to say, to view oneself as being of lower status. Pride resists humility, often aggressively. Both the materially rich and poor must humble themselves to approach Yahweh but it is usually easier for the down-and-out to do it than those who are materially sufficient.
Who Qualifies for the Kingdom of Heaven?
So when Yah'shua (Jesus) says that "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" He's not, of course, saying that all materially poor people qualify for the Kingdom . That is the doctrine of Marxism, Communism and Socialism - entitlement based on physical circumstances. 'I'm worse off than him so it's my right to have a share of the rich man's fortune'. No, that is not what the Besorah (Gospel) is teaching. That's not humility, it's arrogance and contained within it is the spirit of theft and murder, as we know only too well from the history of socialism in this and the previous century. Yes, true believers have an obligation toward the poor and are supposed to pay a minimum of a third of ten percent of their increase for their support, but this is ultimately an obligation to Elohim (God) and not any man-made state. It's not the poor's 'right' as it is in socialism but the obligation ans responsibility of everyone. No one is 'entitled' to anything in the spiritual dimension because the spiritual world is one of humility and not of arrogance. Socialism makes you dependent on the fallible (and often thieving and murderous) state whereas the Besorah (Gospel) makes you dependent on the infallible, just and merciful Elohim (God) - there's a huge difference.
The Call to Return
And that, brethren and sisters, is how you come to possess the Kingdom of Elohim (God), "not by might nor by power, but by My Ruach (Spirit),' says Yahweh-tsevaoth" (Zech.4:6, NKJV) - not by forced taxation backed up by the barrel of a gun but by voluntary giving backed up by a humble and contrite heart filled with ahavah (love). If poverty were the main thing then only poor people would be saved, the good and evil alike. There is not a soul in the Kingdom of Heaven who did not have to become poor in spirit and remain poor in spirit to continue being there . Every one of them comes with "a broken heart...and a contrite spirit" (Ps.34:18, NKJV) seeking the Deliverer, the Saviour, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). In a word, they have to make teshuvah - they have to repent. The Hebrew word teshuvah literally means 'to return'. Repentance is returning to Elohim (God). Repentance is coming home, like the prodigal son when he finally admitted that his spiritual poverty was the result of his own wrong choices and not those of others, or of 'fate'. We alone are responsible for our returning.
Heaven's Negociating Table
Like the prodigal son, we have to recognise that we bring nothing of our own power, possessions, merit, earnings or rights to Heaven's negociating table. None who make authentic repentance can say they have anything with which to barter for their salvation. They come empty-handed. Only those who truly humble themselves and confess their need for Yah'shua (Jesus) can approach and subsequently enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These alone dwell in bliss and are cleansed of the guilt that in their stubborn pride they have been denying to avoid confessing to Elohim (God) and dying to self.
What Do I Do Now?
So here you are, perhaps, conscious of your sin and separation from Yahweh and His ahavah (love) and wondering what you must now do. In this simple yet infinitely deep beatitude and what the Master said before it implies that you have got to hear or read the message of the Kingdom, learn what kind of a Kingdom it is and how to enter it. How do you enter it? Through repentance for sinning (breaking the mitzvot or commandments Torah) and total submission to the will of Elohim (God). The first step is private confession that nothing can be done to be saved of oneself, and the second is to passionately ask for the gracious provision that Yahweh has made by seeking the Kingdom every day of your life, that is to say, to cultivate the right attitude of humility and submission by daily application of the principles of the Besorah (Gospel). This means the kind of living that comes of living life in total dependence on Yahweh, not man, for the supply of ones daily needs, through humility, emunah (faith), prayer and obedience to all the mitzvot (commandments), through Yah'shua (Jesus) the Redeemer.
Next time we shall look at the second beatitude. In the meantime if you are a prodigal running away from your Heavenly Father grovelling as a pig in the mire of hopelessness, self-defeat and unfulfilment, I invite you to change direction, repent, submit to Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) and receive the free gift of salvation being offered you by Him. Amen.
Continued in Part 3
 See Parables: Their Mystery Expounded
 See Camels, Ropes and Needles: Elements of the Hebrew Language
 See David Cook, Blind Alley Beliefs: Communism, Humanism, Existentialism and Materialism (Pickering & Inglis, London: 1979)
 See The Kingdom of Elohim in the Gospel of Mark
 See Once Saved, Always Saved
 Allen Ross, An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew, the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)