If you were to divide Jesus’ roughly three-year, documented, earthly ministry into three general sections, you’d have the first year being a Period of Relative Obscurity, the third and final year proving to be a Period of Profound Opposition, with this second year of ministry tucked in between known as being a Period of Soaring Popularity.
At the end of the fourth chapter, Matthew sums up this middle season the following way. He writes, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria” and “great multitudes followed Him — from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.”
Because Jesus’ primary ministry in Galilee was formally “teaching in their synagogues” and “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” with the miracles coming as a secondary function, Matthew transitions into chapter 5 by giving us an example of one of Jesus’ sermons.
Traditionally known as the Sermon on the Mount on account Jesus delivered it atop one of the many mountains that surrounded the Sea of Galilee… And while likely just an outline of a much larger sermon Jesus gave at the time and presented by Matthew to be an example of the content that dominated His teaching ministry… Matthew 5, 6, and 7 records what is undoubtedly the most famous dissertation we have of Jesus Christ.
As I noted last Sunday, there are a few things you need to understand about this sermon that will aid in your understanding of what Jesus was articulating as well as the appropriate way in which these heavy ideas should be applied to our lives in a practical sense.
Initially, the way in which Matthew 5 sets the scene establishes for us an important context. We read, “And seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying…”
While the reaction to this sermon in the last verse of chapter 7 indicated the crowds were able to listen in to what Jesus was saying, fundamentally the Sermon on the Mount was a message Jesus crafted for His disciples out of a concern for the hurting multitudes.
Though the day will come when Jesus the King finally returns to this earth, establishes His throne, puts an end to the chaos caused by sin, and rules in righteousness, until that day arrives, it is our job as the citizens of the kingdom to bring a taste of heaven to this world!
Again, as we work our way through the weighty things Jesus shares, it’s critical you keep in mind this was not a sermon for the unbelieving world but for the believer — Jesus’ disciples. As such, never forget Jesus was not describing an ethical ideal fallen societies could work to implement, but a foreign moral that would have to come from heaven itself!
In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes what the lives of His disciples should look like as the citizens of His Kingdom living on earth — men and women who’ve rejected this world, accepted Him as their sovereign King, and live their lives accordingly!
And yet, in light of the fact this description of who we are called to be will often leave us deeply aware of our own shortcomings and serious inadequacies, know this sermon was not a declaration of the life Jesus wanted His disciples to work hard to live out, but a description of the life He’s presently working out in His disciples! You see the ability for our lives to be like Christ can only happen as Christ works in our lives by His Holy Spirit.
One more thought before we dive into the text… In many ways, Matthew is recording the second Sermon on the Mount. Years early, from an entirely different mountain, God spoke to His people during the Exodus and gave to them the perfect law or code to live by.
Sadly, by the time of Christ, the Hebrew people had twisted what was God’s description of a holy life into a religious structure by which a person could work to achieve holiness!
Instead of the law being the depiction of who God wanted His people to be, the Jews had turned it all into a list of things they were to do. What resulted was a fake, false moralism.
Because of this, in the person of Jesus, God now returns to the mountain and issues a new set of laws for His people with the specific intention of bringing them to the place the first set was designed to. Not only will you find the refrain “you’ve heard it said of old, but assuredly I say to you” used often, but Jesus will take things said from Sinai (thou shalt not murder, don’t commit adultery, love your neighbor) and make them even more intimidating and daunting (anger is murder, lust equates to adultery, love your enemy).
I’m only scratching the surface to this important reality, but as we go through this sermon Jesus wants your reaction to be, “I can’t do these things… Look at my life, I fall woefully short of this righteous standard… Honestly, apart from God’s involvement, I’m damned!”
Now that’s not to say the Sermon on the Mount presents an unattainable ideal… While it’s entirely true you have no ability to manufacture any of these things in and of yourself, because Jesus was the perfect embodiment of them it means He’s more than able to make you into this person. This sermon is not a mandate of things the citizens of heaven must do, but a description of the type of person we’re in the process of becoming.
This is why Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount with what is known as The Beatitudes… Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I know it’s cliche to say but it’s true nonetheless that we refer to the next nine verses as the be-attitudes and not the do-attitudes. In this opening, Jesus provides His disciples with a description of who the citizens of heaven were to be and not a list of things for them to do.
With each of these Beatitudes, you will notice they begin with an identical tag and are presented using the same structure. First, they each start with the phrase “blessed are” in conjunction with a particular characteristic. In verse three, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In the original, the phrase “blessed are” is one Greek word — a descriptive adjective. A more modern translation would read, “The poor in spirit are blessed.”
While the word “blessed” can be loosely interpreted as happy, this is misleading and fosters the wrong conclusion — as if I’m supposed to be happy about being hated and persecuted.
As a unique blessing given to a person by God, Jesus was describing an objective state of being and not necessarily a feeling or emotion left to one’s subjective perspective. The structure of “blessed are” presents a definitive statement… You are blessed!
With that in mind, following Jesus’ statement of fact — “blessed are,” the uniform structure of each of Beatitude was then crafted to provide an explanation for the particular divine blessing… “Blessed are _________, for _________” and then Jesus gives the reason.
Returning to this first Beatitude, Jesus says in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, (so why are “the poor in spirit” blessed by God) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Right from the jump, Jesus is saying a central characteristic concerning the citizens of heaven, His disciples, Christians, you and me is that we’re to be “poor in spirit.”
Note, the idea behind the word “poor” in Greek was to describe an individual completely impoverished and destitute. This was a person with absolutely nothing of any tangible value.
And yet, we understand Jesus was not speaking of a monetary poverty but a spiritual one… “The poor in spirit.” Keep in mind, Jesus is not describing a form of religious self-hatred or superficial loathing. He’s not advocating we self-deprecate or adopt an Eeyore spiritualism. Instead, Jesus is describing a person who is keenly aware of their true spiritual condition. In a true act of humility, this person realizes they have nothing to offer.
Now, why is such a person blessed by God? Jesus says of the truly humble — the person who has a correct estimation of their spiritual state, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”
You know it’s not an accident Jesus begins His sermon with this particular Beatitude because in many ways the spiritual life must begin with humility for the Scriptures attest that “God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.” To be “poor in spirit” means you’ve come to the place where you understand who you are apart from Jesus!
And yet, it’s amazing that to such a person “poor in spirit” with nothing at all to offer, Jesus affirms an incredible reality… “For theirs is (presently) the kingdom of heaven.” Understand, the kingdom is not given to the mighty, wealthy, or able, but to the poor who can do nothing and must humbly receive from God what they could never have attained on their own.
Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Regarding this idea of “those who mourn,” what we have being described here by Jesus is a person who isn’t sad or bummed out, but is rather experiencing a deep lamentation of the soul.
Before we go any further, we should consider what would motivate such an appropriate grief in the heart of the citizen of heaven… First, I think it’s safe to say, initially, it would be the true cost of our poverty in spirit, our sin and brokenness, that our salvation required the sacrificial death of God’s only Son. This fact should be sufficient to elicit such a response.
Additionally, it’s also worth pointing out, concerning Jesus, we read in Isaiah 53:3 that He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” As Jesus lived out the human experience, He was constantly moved by the pain and suffering around Him. His heart broke to see the state of humanity, to witness how poignantly sin had marred His creation.
In this second Beatitude, Jesus is saying a central character trait of His disciples is that we’d possess a sensitivity to the effects sin is having on the world around us. It’s interesting Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those with a righteous anger!” Friend, we should mourn over this sad state of affairs and that mourning should motivate our actions.
To this point, I think as the citizens of heaven living in a fallen world a deeper mourning over the tragic state of sinners would likely make a greater impact than righteously protesting sin.
For example, imagine a scene where you had Christians outside the abortion clinic on their knees weeping over the loss of innocent life, what kind of desperation it had to of taken for a woman to see this as her only option, the pain and regret you know will be on her horizon as opposed to yelling obscenities as you hold up signs that read, “Baby Killer!”
I love the fact Jesus says the blessing in such an outlook is that the person “shall be comforted.” In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul wrote something very applicable to this idea. We read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Did you notice Christians are called to comfort others in their tribulation and trouble because we were first comforted by God when facing similar experiences? What this means is the real blessing in sharing in the sorrow that Christ has for this lost world is that it yields a deeper connection with Jesus. We mourn and as a result, He comforts!
Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Admittedly, this is one of those famous Beatitudes that makes you feel like you have to check your manhood at the door in order to even be a citizen of heaven. “Blessed are the meek” — me-ek!
Sadly, this notion comes from a false way of interpreting what it means to be “meek.” In our tongue, meekness is defined as a “quietness, gentleness, and one easily imposed upon.” In turn, we often see meekness as a negative trait — that you’re a pushover or a pansy.
What’s interesting is the original word in Greek is very difficult to translate into English. Case in point, of the three times the word is used in the New Testament, you’ll find it translated using three different words. Aside from “meek” here in Matthew 5:5, in 1 Peter 3:4 the same word is translated as “gentle” and then as “lowly” in Matthew 21:5.
While there is no question the word describes a person who chooses to be submissive, please don’t mistake meekness for weakness. If you study the word, you’ll come across all kinds of wonderful definitions that get to the same point. Meekness is strength under control. It’s constraint under pressure. Meekness is the willingness to disregard one’s own rights and privileges in the preference of a greater will and authority.
Meekness is a wild, powerful stallion yielding to the control of the reigns of the rider. In the end, meekness is best understood by looking at the person of Jesus. As God, He had complete power, but it was a power under the submission to the will of His Father. On the cross, Jesus could have called down angels from heaven but He decided not to!
As citizens of heaven living in enemy territory, weakness is not the ideal Jesus is describing, but a strength we allow to be controlled by the will and purposes of the King. As disciples, whatever our rights or unique privileges happen to be they must come secondary to His!
This is why Jesus said the meek will be blessed by “inheriting the earth.” In Greek, the coupling “shall inherit” is one word in the future tense. In fact, it’s a verb meaning to receive by lot. In this, Jesus is promising all those who’d lay aside their earthly ambitions for the enactment of His heavenly will a wonderful, practical inheritance — the earth itself!
Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” In this character trait of a citizen of His kingdom, Jesus says we should have an active “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You see Christians should possess an internal passion or longing for the right things. Righteousness should be our driving force. Jesus adds the blessing in this pursuit is “they will be filled” or literally satisfied.
While I think the essence of what Jesus is saying here is self-explaining, the power in this particular Beatitude is that it speaks into what fundamentally motivates or drives our actions. Not only will such a hunger and thirst lead to a passionate defense of what is true, but it will seek out what is right regardless of whatever consequences might be yielded.
Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” If judgment is defined as a person getting what they deserve… And grace is demonstrated when a person is given the very thing they don’t deserve… Then mercy is best understood as a deliberate withholding of a righteous judgment that person undoubtedly deserves.
While I think it’s safe to say we all love to be the recipients of both grace and mercy because they each manifest independent of our worthiness (we merit neither), I have found it’s often much harder to demonstrate mercy towards a person as opposed to grace.
Here’s why… When I grant grace to a person who doesn’t deserve it, I’m bestowing a blessing at a personal cost. In the end, grace is free to the recipient only because the cost is assumed by the giver. And yet, when I demonstrate mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it, I’m bestowing a blessing by withholding a judgment at a personal loss. Mercy only exists if the offended party is willing to forgo what would have been a righteous recompense.
Think of it this way… If you and I were in a car accident and it was without question your fault, practically grace and mercy would work out in two very different ways. Mercy would be the decision not to rightfully sue you for damages which would leave me at a personal loss. Grace would then be the decision to buy you a brand new car at a personal cost.
In such a dynamic, grace is only able to manifest from me to you out of an abundance of blessings I have and am willing to pass along. On the other hand, mercy comes from a willingness to bless you by choosing to absorb your debt at an expense to myself.
Grace is an act whereby the giver and receiver share in the blessing. In contrast, mercy is an act whereby the receiver is blessed and the giver is not made whole. Grace says, “I’m going to bless you even though you don’t deserve it.” Mercy declares, “I’m going to let go of what I deserve so that you can be blessed.” As a result, being merciful is hard!
One of the reasons Jesus wants His disciples to be merciful centers on how contrary and foreign this is to the way the sinful world operates. Understand, if our natural reaction to being harmed was the pursuit and execution of a righteous judgment and a proportional recompense, things would be fine — but this isn’t exactly the way of the world.
You see most of the time, our response to being harmed is not the pursuit of justice but vengeance or worse still, revenge! If we’re being honest, we typically want the person who’s harmed us to experience the same level of pain PLUS a little more for damages.
Since this isn’t right, what it creates is a cycle of pain, hurt, harm, and more harm. You hurt me so I hurt you a little more. Now since you’ve been hurt more than you originally hurt me, you feel the need to come back and hurt me again a little more. Around and around we go!
Christian, what the world needs in order to break this terrible cycle are people willing to demonstrate mercy by absorbing the hurt, taking the loss, and choosing not to act even when it is within their rights. In effect, the merciful are people willing to be pain sponges!
I love the way Jesus articulates the blessing… He says, “Blessed are the merciful (those willing to bless others at a personal loss), for they shall obtain mercy.” In context, Jesus isn’t saying those who show mercy will receive a reciprocal measure of mercy from God.
Instead, more relevant to the person who’s now absorbed a loss because they showed mercy, Jesus is promising to help the afflicted or provide aid. In a way, Jesus is saying, “The blessing in being merciful is that you’ll get to see God work to make you whole!”
Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This word we have translated as “pure” is the strongest word you could use to articulate cleanness and purity. As citizens of the kingdom, Jesus is saying our “hearts” (which was a way to analogize a person’s internal desires) are to be undefiled, free of corruption, blameless — pure!
If at any point in this sermon you felt good about your ability to be the type of person Jesus is describing on your own, this Beatitude presents a real challenge. As was observed by the prophet in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked!”
Because we were all born into a sin nature, from day one our hearts came out warped and impure — which explains why it’s more natural to do the wrong thing than the right!
In effect, this Beatitude is a perfect example of how really all of these character traits Jesus is describing can only result in our lives through a work of God in us. You see apart from a radical work of God through the indwelling of His Spirit, you can’t be “pure in heart.”
In fact, in Psalms 51:10, King David who’d been caught in a terrible sin, cried out to the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” What’s fascinating is the Hebrew word David uses for “create” is the same one we find back in the creation narrative in Genesis 1. The idea is to create something from absolutely nothing!
One component to all of this I find encouraging is the way Jesus says it… “Blessed are the (definitive article) pure in heart, for they shall see God.” You see Jesus isn’t saying purity of heart is a process. He didn’t say, “Blessed are those whose hearts are becoming pure.”
Quite the contrary. How glorious it is that the Bible says the moment we accept Jesus and are born again we are made righteous as the old man of sin is replaced with the Holy Spirit which provides me a pure heart and therefore unlimited and unrestricted access to God!
For the sake of time, we’re going to close with just one more… Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This word we have recorded as “peacemakers” is really interesting and, in fact, extremely rare. Most notably, this happens to be the only time in the entire Bible the word “peacemakers” is used.
In the Greek language, what we have is a compound of two different words making it a strange coupling. While the first is the predominant word used throughout the Scriptures for “peace,” the second translated as “maker” is a bit more nuanced. More often than not, the original word is translated into English as “do” which would make a more accurate translation of this Beatitude as blessed are those who do peace or are peaceable.
Now if you think I’m splitting hairs a little on the translation, I’m convinced there is a significant difference in the way we apply this verse based upon whether or not Jesus is calling Christians to be makers of peace or to simply be peaceable people.
Culturally, the very idea of peace is such layered onion… While it’s true our world longs for peace conceptually, practically how peace is achieved is another idea entirely. You see peace is more often than not the result of a decided conflict between parties.
Sure, theoretically, we’d like to think of peace as two opposing forces making the decision to co-exist with one another in spite of any differences that would divide or foster conflict. And yet, if we’re being honest, peace often follows war with one side winning and the other losing. As such, peace is won through battle and enjoyed by the victor.
Before you contend I’m only describing a worldly understanding of peace, consider how the Bible describes the process by which we are able to have peace with God. Jesus had to come from heaven, battle sin on the cross, conquer death, and emerge victoriously. We have peace with God because of a cosmic war waged by Jesus and won on our behalf.
In the end, consider how the entire story concludes — how this fallen world will at long last enter a period of true peace for 1,000 years… Jesus, the Prince of Peace, returns to earth, destroys all of His enemies, and binds Satan in a bottomless pit for the duration! Even within its Biblical presentation peace is something that’s won through conflict and war!
One of the reasons I don’t like the translation of this compound word “peacemaker” is that it ends up placing what I believe to be an unrealistic, borderline “puff the magic dragon” ideal onto Christians that’s completely unfeasible and largely unfair.
To this point… If, as so many claim, it is the job of Christians to make peace with secular forces active in our society whose ideals are completely antithetical to all that we believe as citizens of the kingdom it can only happen in one of two very different ways. Christians can be “peacemakers” by becoming more politically active so that we can crush the opposition and win or we make peace by getting out of politics, ceding control, and deliberately loose.
To be frank and contrary to factions that have deep foxholes dug on both sides of the argument, I don’t believe either position is all that appropriate as I contend bringing peace to this crazy planet wasn’t what Jesus was articulating in this Beatitude anyway!
As citizens of the kingdom living on foreign soil behind enemy lines, our role is not to seek peace with darkness, play nice with the enemy, or find a moral middle ground with the forces of evil who are actively seeking to destroy lives… The Bible says we’re in a spiritual battle we cannot avoid, meaning peace-making is not the Christian objective!
I believe (and you’re free to disagree) in this Beatitude Jesus is describing the manner in which we’re to conduct ourselves in the battle itself. You see we’re called to engage in the war; and yet, were to be peaceable in the manner in which we do so! Regrettably, while no one has ever been called to be a Jerk for Jesus, we have way too many in our ranks.
Christian, there should be a contrast between the way we engage in the conflict and the way in which the world does. As we’re quickly learning, the forces driving this world are becoming known for their growing intolerance towards those with whom they disagree. They’d rather cancel dissenting views than debate their merits in the public square. Sadly, when arguments fail the world reverts to name-calling, generalizations, and stereotyping.
And yet, what we’ve seen happen in the last few years provides the citizens of the kingdom a wonderful opportunity… Yes, we’re to stand for truth and defend what is right, but what a contrast it would be if we were just as willing to disagree with others agreeable. What if Christians refused to fight as the world and were determined to be peaceable?
Imagine the impact if Christians became known as being more focused on loving people, winning them to Jesus, and seeing lives transformed than simply winning an argument! Never forget, the way we engage in the fight is just as important to our King as the fight itself. “Blessed are the peaceable, for they shall be called sons of God.”
You would think people who are “poor in spirit” in that they possess true humility… “Those who mourn” by having a genuine heart for the hurting and lost… People who are “meek” with their strength under the control of a higher will… Men and women so passionate “for righteousness” they’re willing to see the right things done no matter the cost…
People willing to end the cycle of pain in this world by being “merciful”… Those with a “pure heart” and honest intentions… People who, while firm in their convictions are “peaceable” in the way they engage those they disagree with… You would think the world would LOVE these types of people!? As we’ll see next Sunday, quite the opposite is true!
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