MEET THE MAKARIOI (DISPENSERS OF GRACE)
The new heavenly kingdom, or project on earth, will call for a new breed of people that will believe and do what the author, namely Jesus the Christ, has set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. At the time, Jesus spoke about being “makarioi,” his disciples and those to follow had no inkling what it would take to survive as a follower of Jesus in this world. In time, however, circumstances and condition will necessitate the adoption of Jesus life and teaching to build God’s kingdom on earth. They are not born as special people or made so by a divine decree, but they will become by their choice to loose their lives for Christ and their fellowmen’s redemption.
Before I take us into the life and conditions of these special people, I would like you to know that I have tasted similar tragedies and triumphs during my eighty-five years; but they were not for Christ or his kingdom, just to stay alive in a world that fears strangers or people that differ. If I had been a member of the “makarioi,” I would have simply been shut like my father-in- law and dumped into a mass grave. At that time, being between nine and fifteen, I was too young to understand the very meaning of the word “makarioi.” Now, that I have lived as a Christian author, pastor and teacher for sixty-four years, and I did fancy myself as being a member of those who are in but not of the world, I regret to say that I do not regard myself as being worthy to be included into that crowd that is even now in the presence of God because they died for their Lord as “makarioi” (Rev. 6:9-11). Let us visit some of these “makarioi” and learn from them; for we may yet need their insight to share in their destiny.
The “Makarioi,” who were and are they? Our English translations of the Greek called them “blessed” or “happy.” Martin Luther called them “Selig” or “blissful.” Such translations and interpretations are well suited in a congenial environment, but not under the hostile conditions the disciples lived. The Greek has two words that deal with blessing: ”eulogetos” and “makarios” and so does the Hebrew: “baruk” and “ashir.” The Latin equivalent to the “eulogetos” and “baruk” is “benedicere” or the English “benediction.” Benefactors used these words to praise those that deserved recognition for merits. Such acknowledgements did and do result in joy and the Hebrew “ashri” and the Greek “eulogetos” fit that application.
The “makarioi” in the New Testament are not the recipients of blessing but they are the blessings themselves. They are not being blessed with happiness but they are being praised for their attitude and aptitude under unbearable conditions and difficulties. These followers of Jesus faced humiliation, persecution and death. In spite of these adversities, they endured, encouraged others to remain steadfast in their faith and deeds and were willing to lay down their lives like their Lord had done. It was by losing one’s life that one regained it. Jesus told his followers, “The reason that my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord” (Jn. 10:17-18). Paul advised Timothy, “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (II Tim. 2:8-10). That was and still is a true “makaros.”
The “makaroi” are a product of “exousian.” Years back in my doctoral studies, my supervisor challenged me to dive into the Greek word as it relates to the activity of God in a human being. My studies took me beyond the mere meanings of “authority, power or granting the right” to be a child of God. These were satisfactory translations, but the real essence of qualifying a person for the Kingdom of God is a re-creative process. No man, only God can create new life. God gave that power or authority to Jesus. It is in Christ that a person is being turned into a child of God. The same life that is in the Father has been granted to the Son. How does Christ administer his authority? This how John Zebedee remembered how Jesus put it, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). It was to that same Spirit Nicodemus was told to subject himself. Paul regarded the work of the Spirit as God’s working in Christ to make humans fit to do his kind of work. The new creature is God’s product and not man’s. It is a complete being that has left the old behind. When a person enters God’s grace, he/she leaves sin behind and begins a new life. The “makarioi” are people who live in grace by practicing the way of grace. One example is, “Forgive to be forgiven.”
The “makarioi” are a special people. Their specialty rests in their willingness to accept the Words of God as the Words of Christ and as the Words they are privileged to pass on. Not only do they live by them, but they also help others to live by Chris’s Words. To them, his Words are alive and life itself. They are the very breath of God or Spirit of the Lord that caries them on their way to their reward in eternity. Jesus’ Words are indeed “a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path.” Someone said, ”There’s a big difference between the books that men make and the Book that makes men” (Kn. 9). That Book contains the Words of God that not only makes men, but it also saves them for eternity. The words of Cowper come to mind,
“What glory gilds the sacred page?
Majestic like the sun!
It gives a light to ev’ry age,
It gives, but borrows none.”
God did not convert angels into humans to give us impossible tasks. His Son too had to become flesh and blood to test the human waters. All the “Makarioi” were flesh and blood just like we are. God works with the living and not with the dead. Death can disable the living through sin. It is a choice we all must make. Come with me and learn how the “Makarioi” did it. They were praised for pleasing and honoring God in spite of the hostile world they lived in. Theirs were not easy shoes to walk in, neither was the path Jesus himself had chosen. That is why He himself was a “makaros.”
Jesus had those people in mind that not only endured hardships because of Him, but they made the best of it. They did not crumble like John the Baptist when Jesus did not come to rescue him from his dungeon, or like a Thomas whose faith rested on sight. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Then we will be no longer like infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind and of teaching and by cunning and crafty men in deceitful ways” (Eph. 4:14). Paul addressed his Corinthians as being fleshly infants that split hair over the tiny difference good teachers had.
James, half-brother to Jesus, came closest to understand a “makaros.” He wrote, “Blessed is the person that endures hardships; for when he or she has passed the test, they shall receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”(Ja. 1:12). Such a person practices what he or she believes. They are the blessed ones because they apply the laws of God to their lives and deeds. The Greek text has, the person is a “makarios” in living and doing within God’s set rules. Being a “makarios is a personal experience. To me, it is similar to the encounter between Philip and Nathanael. Nathanael on doubt was similar to Thomas, namely, what good could come out of Nazareth? Philip did not explain but invited his friend to come and see. It was that meeting with Jesus that convinced Nathanael that he was in the presence of the Son of God and that he too followed the Lord.
I am not a “makarios,” far from it; but in some things I can relate to the “makarioi.” World War II took from us our freedom; our home and some loved ones. We were persecuted because of race and were ridicules by some Christians for not endorsing their brand. Our misfortune was nothing like what the “makarioi” endured and paid for with their lives. One cannot imagine or perceive what it feels like when one merely tries to stay alive for one more day. I have been there and I cannot compare myself to a “makarioi.”
I could not see any happiness or blessings in my situation and I cannot far more see it in the “Makarioi.” We were persecuted briefly, the ones Jesus called “blessed” were enduring and suffering it all their life long. We felt blessed because we escaped or were spared death; they did not. It does not appear likely that the “Makarioi” could have regarded them as being happy. It was the Lord that regarded them as being special for how thy behaved and lived. In the face of adversity, they did that which pleased their Lord. They became an example for others, including us, of what God expects of his children. It is that kind of understanding that may also grant us some measure of gratification.
I have selected several cases for our study, in addition to the ten in the Sermon on the Mount. Each one is basic for our attitude, action and behavior. By them, we can measure ourselves where we are in relationship and scale to each other, to others and even to our Lord. Will He say to us, “Well done you good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21)? We have been told that most of these examples were intended for another world. The other world does not need them and without them we may not get to the other world. What God has given us to do is humanly possible. We preclude in our attitude that we cannot measure up to the “Makarioi” and therefore do not even attempt to be one of them. I have experienced in person that God has put within us an enormous resource of energy that can help us attain the impossible. I have met people that were like the “makarioi,” and so have others known of individuals that have overcome adversities.
I first preached on the “makarioi” in Fulton, N.Y. 1976. I revised my sermons in Suquamish, WA. 1996, and again in Maple Valley, WA. 2014. All quotations, that are not identical with accepted versions, are my compositions based on language, background and personal experiences, during similar events and human circumstances. I have lived and walked briefly like a “makarios” and it was not a life of joy; but it was a time that did prepare me to face all obstacles life, and not Christ, has put in my way. In that sense, I have been a recipient of a blessing from a “makarioi” instead of being a “makarioi” myself. In spite of our losses in World War II, my disability by a fire and even cancer, I have not suffered for Christ. The part of the world I live in has begun to restrict Christians, but no one has been killed for being a Christian. I did visit Dachau and was stunned by a dead list of 2,999 clergymen, the first victims of the Nazi purge. The Christian media has identified them as being “makarioi.” There is no doubt that their Christian convictions were the reason they opposed Hitler; but they did not die as Christ supporters; they died as enemies to the Nazi state. Jesus himself was not killed for being the Son of God, but for being an enemy to Rome. Jesus’ message to his disciples was a prediction of what it would take to be a “makarioi,” when they too will die as enemies to the state. James, brother of John Zebedee was the first to die at the hands of Herod. At the onset of the twenty-first Century, and outside our western world, Christians die everywhere as enemies against their states. How far are we away from becoming a genuine “makarioi,” one that is publicly marked as an enemy to the state?