on signs and laws

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“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 for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1-12

If we’re super honest, sometimes it feels like God is a little inconsistent with his miracles. Almost like he had a quota of miracles to perform, and it seems like he used them all up during Bible times, and he’s basically run dry nowadays. Why can’t God part traffic like he parted the Red Sea? Why can’t God multiply red marks like he did with the loaves and fish? 

Why can’t he heal me with a word? 

Or, as some might say, maybe that just means these miracles never actually happened. But… that’s a discussion for another time.

Maybe God is being inconsistent with his miracles. Or maybe we’re approaching miracles the wrong way. Often we might see them as eye-catching magic tricks to show off God’s power, or to convince Simple Simons that God is real. But remember that what we today call miracles, the authors of the Bible called signs. What do signs do? They point somewhere. Every miracle was supposed to tell the audience something specific about God. And when Jesus, who was God in human form, performed miracles, he was again saying very specific things about himself. It was usually to prove to his audience that he is the promised saviour sent by God to rescue his people. Often Jesus performed miracles that referred to specific prophecies in the Old Testament. By performing these miracles, Jesus was telling his audience: I’m not just some trickster, I’m not just here to entertain you, I’m not here just to heal you, I am the saviour that God promised since long, long ago, I am God, here to save you from your sins.

The same idea goes for today’s passage: Jesus’ action here, speaking wise words on a hilltop to his listeners, is a little bit like a miracle, a sign. What he says is good, but why he’s doing it is also important — because think, does this remind you of someone else? When was the last time we’ve seen another Jewish prophet standing on a mountain, telling his audience ten (or in this case nine) things?

Jesus is doing what Moses did. Or rather, Moses was foreshadowing what Jesus would do — Moses saved God’s people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus would save all people from slavery in sin and death; Moses led his people across the sea and fed them in the desert, Jesus fed five thousand men and their families in the wilderness, and then walked across the sea; Moses on the mountain gave God’s law to his people, Jesus here stands on a hill and tells God’s people to follow his law.

Like the miracles, this passage tells the reader loud and clear who Jesus is: he’s the one promised from long ago by God, and like Moses, he will save God’s people, only this time the saving will last forever. And like miracles and signs, this passage points us to Jesus. The laws you see here are good, and Christians must follow them, but simply being a good person and following the law won’t save us. Because who here is good enough to follow all these laws by themselves? Instead the laws here point us to the man who can save us — they point to Jesus.

So what does any of this have to do with us? Non-Christians, I hope this shows you that the Bible isn’t about being a good person. When we see big, long passages like this, commandments on how to do this or that, remember that the commandments shouldn’t point to you and how good you can be. Like the miracles, they point to something greater, someone greater. They point to Jesus, they remind us that through him, God laid out his rescue plan, and slowly, faithfully, over thousands of years, carried it out, just as he had promised. Christianity is not about what we can do for God, it’s about what God has done for us.

Christians, I hope this adds some perspective on who Jesus is — he’s not just a magician, he’s not just a teacher, he’s not just a law-giver, he’s not just someone who can get you through life’s troubles, he is the Son of God who takes away our sins, he’s the one promised by God from thousands of years ago. He’s the one that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David could only look forward to. He’s the one who brings together the Old Testament and the New, brings together justice and mercy, brings together a holy God and sinful humanity.

He may choose to heal us of our illnesses now. If he does, praise God! But if not, we know who to look to for our ultimate healing, for eternal life.

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