The Person of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

No description of God would be complete without an understanding of the role of Jesus Christ that starts with God’s transcendent nature. God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe as revealed in the Genesis creation account:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space. Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us. Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates from a Holy God and motivates our confession when we ask God to draw us to himself.

Thus, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. No path reaches up the mountain to God; God must come down. As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. 

For example, the Prophet Job wrote: 

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”  (Job 19:25-27)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

Who then is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen now to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  (1 Cor 15:3-5)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is accordingly the story of Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecy and how through him God came down from outside time and space to dwell in our hearts.

The Person of Jesus

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

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Monday Monologues: God’s Ethical Image, June 4, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a prayer for congruity and a reflection on God’s Ethical Image.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: God’s Ethical Image, June 4, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Transcendence_2018

 

 

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Monday Monologue, Image Theology, May 21, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Pentecost prayer and a reflection on image theology.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologue, Image Theology, May 21, 2018 (Podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Image Theology

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Who is God?  And what does it mean to be created in the image of God as male and female?

Let’s start with the reference in the Book of Genesis:

“Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:26-28 ESV)

The context here is important. We are in the first chapter of the first book in the Bible so every implied by these three verses about what it means to be created in the image of God has to appear in the prior verses. How does the text describe God?

First, verse one tells us that God is a creator who, being eternal, sovereignly stands outside time and space. Second, verse two shows us that God can through his spirit enter into his creation. Third, having created heaven and earth, verse three describes God speaking to shape the form of creation beginning with light. Note the exact correspondence between what God says (“Let there be light”) and what he does (“and there was light”)—God is truthful, authentic. Forth, verse four tells us that God judged to be good and he separated it from darkness—God discriminates good (light) from the not so good (darkness). God cares about ethics.

God later describes his ethical character in detail to Moses after giving the Ten Commandments a second time:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

God’s self-disclosure was important for understanding how to interpret the Ten Commandments, should questions arise, but it also underscores the creation account providing insight into whose image we are created to reflect.

Going back to Genesis 1:26-28, two aspects of God’s image are highlight in our own creation description. We are created by a sovereign God who creates us to participate in his creation in two specific ways: we are to “have dominion” over the created order and we are to “be fruitful and multiply.” How are we to accomplish these things? Following God’s ethical image, we are to be discerning of the good, merciful, gracious, patient, loving, and truthful. 

Although God created animals prior to Adam and Eve and they were also commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22), they could not reflect God’s ethical image and God did not give them dominion. 

At this point in Genesis, God also intended us also to share in his eternal nature. However, before God conferred immortality on us, he posed an ethical test. Would Adam and Eve reflect God’s ethical nature?

The test came in the form of a command:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they ate. Because Satan had done this, God cursed him:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

The “he” in this verse is singular and points to a future redeemer (Job 19:25), who Christians identify as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3). After this point in the narrative, God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden where they were subject to the curse of death. We thus see that the original sin of Adam and Eve separated us from the Garden of Eden, eternal life, and fully reflecting the image of God.

Jesus underscores this image theology in several important ways. First, he is revealed as the ethical image of God with God during creation:

“He [Jesus]was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John. 1:2-5)

Second, Jesus uses image theology in teaching prayer to his disciples: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) In this phrase, the word, “kingdom,” is a commonly used circumlocution to avoid referencing God directly, which in the Jewish faith was considered too holy to be used in common language. In the Old Testament, for example, we often see the term, Lord (adonai in Hebrew), used instead of God’s covenant name, YHWH, often pronounced Yahweh.

Third, just like Jesus asserts God’s sovereignty over heaven and hell in his death on the cross, the disciples are commissioned to assert God’s sovereignty over the earth after the ascension. Right before he ascended, Jesus said:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This parallel ministry is also discussed in John’s Gospel: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) In other words, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”, is not an incidental footnote in Jesus’ ministry or a latter addition to the text as some allege, it is a direct consequence of the image theology in Genesis 1. Likewise in the Apostle Paul’s writing we see a dichotomy between a putting off of the old self and a putting on of the new self in Christ (Eph 4:22-24), as we are transformed by the image of the living God.

 

Image Theology

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Lenten Prayer 2018

Paining of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

Have mercy on me, oh Lord, while I observe Lent,

the forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, open my eyes as I pray; unstop my ears; may my heart and mind reflect on your infinite mercy.

For mercy, defines who you are and enlivens your other attributes–

“merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

Because your are merciful, you offer us grace.

Because you are merciful, you are slow to anger.

Because you are merciful, you abound in steadfast love.

Because your are merciful, you display your faithfulness.

We especially see your mercy in the death and resurrection of your son and our savior, Jesus Christ.

Bless us now with the strength to abstain from sin and to reflect on Easter.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Lenten Prayer 2018

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Lent-2018

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notion that Christianity is irrelevant and extreme feels odd, having grown up at a time when things were different. In the course of one generation, the consensus about how the world worked and our place in it changed dramatically, not only on the street but in the church. Snap, one morning you wake up and, after the coffee kicks in, you realize that the “invasion of the body snatchers”[2] occurred while you slept and pod people now control everything. What do you do now?

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divide their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section (the invasion of the space aliens above). In the next review (part three), I will address the third section. In this review (part two), I will focus on this second section.

Living Good Faith.

Kinnaman and Lyons offer an interesting contrast involving six principles, which illustrates why Christian faith feels so out of sync today.

Cultural principle 1:

“To find yourself, look within yourself.” (57)

Christian principle 1:

“To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself in Jesus.” (60)

Cultural principle 2:

“People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” (57)

Christian principle 2:   “Loving others does not always mean staying silent.” (60)

Cultural principle 3:

“To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things that you desire most.” (57)

Christian principle 3: “Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others” (60)

Cultural principle 4:

“Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” (57)

Christian principle 4: “The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.” (60)

Cultural principle 5:  

 “People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” (57)

Christian principle 5: “God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.” (60)

Cultural principle 6:   

“Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.” (57)

Christian principle 6: “God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.” (60)

The scariest part of this observation is that many Christians have bought into the cultural principles, first articulated by Roman philosopher Lucretius one hundred years before Christ, and abandoned the Christian ones (59, 62). People forget that the church has been struggling with pagan philosophies from the very beginning.

How do we live the good faith?

Kinnaman and Lyons write:

 “The secret recipe for good faith boils down to this: how well you love, what you believe, and how you live.” (72)

Double Love Command

This is an old recipe for dealing with an old problem and should come as no surprise to those who spend time with their Bible. The authors point to Matthew 22:37-39, which cites the double love command: Love God; love your neighbor. But most people ignore (or misinterpret) the next verse:

“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40 ESV)

“The Law” is a rabbinic reference to the Books of the Law (of Moses), which are the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” is a rabbinic reference to all the other books of the Old Testament. If you understand what Jesus is saying, then what you believe is not up for grabs—you cannot just interpret love anyway you want. The Old Testament context for love is found in Exodus 34:6 where God provides an interpretative key to the giving of the Ten Commandments:

Interpretative Key to Ten Commandments

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6 ESV)

In this context, love (וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד; rav hesed) is better translated as “covenantal love”—keeping your promises. Keeping your promises is another way of saying living them out, as Jesus’ younger brother James famously says:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)

Consequently, Kinnaman and Lyons’ secret recipe for good faith is no secret to practicing Christians, who naturally spend a lot of time with their Bible.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers.

 

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Prayer for the Church

Ceramic_church_April_16_2012Almighty God, Beloved Son, Spirit of Truth:

We praise you for your mercy, compassion, patience, covenantal love, and truth.

We give thanks for your church, especially Centreville Presbyterian Church, the manifestation of your Holy Spirit, the nurturer of our faith, the community of believers, the organizer of service, the refuge in the storm.

We confess that we the church have not listened to your spirit; we have not always cherished your word; we have not always been salt and light; we have not always borne the burden of others or been a refuge to the weary.

Reconcile her to yourself; revive her faith, return her to your word, embolden her salt and light, strengthen her in perilous times, grant her peace in the midst of chaos.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Living into the Image

Doug_and_Christine_08272016bLiving into the Image

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Service for Recommitment of Vows for Christine Nousheen Hiemstra and Douglas Warren Ferrer,

Centreville, Virginia, September 4, 2016

A quiet little secret in this postmodern age is often overlooked by those of us who seldom read our Bibles: marriage is God’s idea, not ours. Marriage was not enacted by an act of Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court; marriage was not invented by some church committee way or some really popular saint way back when. Marriage was God’s idea which we know because the Bible begins and ends with a wedding.[1]

How do we know? (2X)

The short answer comes in verse 27 of the first chapter of Genesis:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 ESV)

In other words, God created us together in his image and, in case there is any misunderstanding, this image couple was given a mission-statement in the next verse:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 ESV).

The vows are then repeated in chapter 2 where we read:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:23-24 ESV)

So after the wedding ceremony is over, Adam and Eve are a couple on their own, not living with mom and dad in stark contrast with the custom in pagan societies of the ancient world.[2]

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? (2X)

The answer to this question is found in our second reading from the Book of Exodus. The context for this verse is that after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (and after Moses broke the first set of tablets), he says to him directly:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)

Much like Congress after passing legislation will publish a “conference report” explaining how to interpret the new law, God reveals his character in five key words as a tool for interpreting the Ten Commandments. These five character traits are repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments in different forms, which is the Bible’s way of saying stop and pay attention here. Let’s take a moment to reflect on each of these five traits, as they give insight into God’s prescription for marriage.

The first of these traits is: mercy. Mercy is what you ask the judge for right after you have just admitted that you are guilty. Mercy is unwarranted and undeserved forgiveness.

Christine, offer mercy to Doug when he screws up; Doug, extend mercy to Christine when she has just done it again. When you offer mercy to one another, you honor God and make love possible.

The second of these traits is: compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin expression, with passion, in the sense of having passion out of understanding for someone else. A great example of compassion was going around on social media earlier this year—a policeman was called to grocery store to arrest a woman for shoplifting. She explained that she stole food to give her kids a meal and, instead of arresting her, the policeman bought her a cart load of groceries and drove her home.

Doug, take time to understand Christine when she screws up. Christine, walk alongside Doug when he does not seem to be himself. Understand each other before you criticize each other. Remember the policeman’s heart.

The third of these traits is: patience—be slow to anger. The Hebrew used here literally says:  be long nostrilled!  In other words, take a deep breath; listen; and count to ten before responding when something is not quite what you were expecting. Patience is so under-practiced in our “I WANT IT NOW” generation.  Be a rebel: practice patience!

The fourth trait is two Hebrew words, rav hesed (‎רַב־חֶ֥סֶד), which does not translate well into English. It literally means “great love”, but the context suggests something other than “abounding in steadfast love”. God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments—kind of like a superpower promising a military alliance to a small country in a dangerous neck of the woods. Love here means that you keep your promises—especially when it hurts. I call this “covenantal love”.

In my case, I told Maryam when we were married that I did not believe in divorce. I told myself that I would not let anything come between us in our marriage—not our friends, not our families, not even my own ego. Keeping our marriage vows was the priority over everything, short of my faith in God. For me, that is covenantal love.

The final trait is translated faithfulness. The Hebrew word, emeth (אֱמֶֽת), also means truth.  When the Apostle John says that: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV), he is making an allusion to this very same verse in Exodus and, by inference, is making a divinity claim in reference to Jesus.

Faithfulness and truth go hand-in-hand, yet truth should only (2X) be told in a context of grace, otherwise it will simply not be heard.

Doug, Christine—be truthful with one another, but speak truth only out of love.

In closing, bear the image of God in your life with one another. Practice mercy and compassion, be patient with one another, honor your vows, and speak truth only in the context of love. Bear God’s image and draw closer to God and to one another as you do so. Amen and Amen.

[1] Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. (New York: Dutton, 2011), page 13.

[2] The Bible ends after the Second Coming with the wedding feast of the people of God. (Rev 21:2, 9; Rev 22:17)

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43. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHeavenly Father,
We praise you for your gift of salvation available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is our great high priest that transcends our weakness having also been tempted yet without sin (Heb 4:15) For out of Him, by means of Him, and into Him are all things created, sustained, and restored (Rom 11:36). And we are grateful. In the power of your Holy Spirit, work in us to complete our journey from isolation in ourselves to the person that we were created to be, from isolation from others to full persons able to offer hospitality to others, and from isolation from God to people of faith able in your power to cast off sin and idolatry. In the power of your Holy Spirit, enable us to follow the example of Jesus Christ who in life, in death, and in resurrection was merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exod. 34:6). Especially in teachable moments, like persecution. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Jesus Models Image Ethics

Life_in_Tension_web“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does,
that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus loves image ethics.

Because we are created in the image of God, God is our model for ethical behavior. In Genesis we read:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

The pattern is simple—God does A, we do A; God does B, we do B. Jesus applies this pattern in the Lord’s Prayer several times. For example, we read:

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10 ESV)

The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” models this pattern. Also, we see:  “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12 ESV)

Here Jesus gets stuck and repeats himself, in case one is hard of hearing:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15 ESV)

In six simple verses (Matt. 6:10-15), Jesus repeats this pattern four times! Does a harden heart preclude one from salvation from sin? These verses certainly hold up that possibility.

An obvious application is to reflect all of God character traits:

“…The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

If God is merciful, then we are merciful; if God is gracious, we are gracious…Notice how the fifth beatitude reverses this pattern:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

The inclusion of the fifth beatitude of mercy to the exclusion of God’s other character traits establishes mercy as God’s priority. Breaking the pattern through reversal also adds emphasis.

Do you want a blessing? Then, be a blessing! [1]

Simple. Clean. Convicting.

Jesus loves image ethics.

 

[1] One is reminded here of Abraham’s blessing: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:2 ESV)

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