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Sermon on the Mount

Blessings - I

Matthew  5:1-5

Lesson audio

Matthew 5:1-5 NASB  When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.  (2)  He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,  (3)  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (4)  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  (5)  "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

 

Preliminary

Actions of Jesus

The reader will please note that we have selected the New American Standard translation of the Bible. This translation brings out details which are often glossed over in other translations. For example:

·         You will note that Jesus sees the crowds, and then reacts by going up onto a mountain. He is carefully planning to deliver teaching to them in a natural amphitheater. The implication of careful planning and a formal sermon (as we shall see) can sometimes be missed. These are not offhand remarks.

·         He sits down. In this time, this action that a teacher would take to command the respect of his students (who would remain standing, quietly). Again we see the formality of the occasion.

·         This translation records the phrase that he "opened his mouth and began to teach". It is an elegant flourish, suitable to the occasion, and usually missed in other translations.

A Psalm of Ascents

This section of the Sermon on the Mount has often been compared to some of the Psalms in the Old Testament, in particular the Psalms of Ascent. The phrase is somewhat ambiguous. It may mean simply a Psalm to be sung while going up the steps of the Temple. It's also possible that the Psalm was sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. (Jerusalem is "up" compared to all the geography surrounding.) It's also possibly just a simple musical notation meaning that the melody rose. But the Psalms have always been taken to be a picture of the wayfarer — the common theme in Christian thought. As the old Negro spiritual once put it, "this world is not my home; I'm just a passing through." As such, we can gain insight into the way in which we should live. If this world is our home, that makes sense to grub for money, fight for sex and live for pride. If it's not, then our minds should be on things above. The similar style is the clue to the parallel, but we should not neglect the thought behind.

Indeed, Hebrew poetry is clearly what is intended here. Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought (think of the 23rd Psalm.) We see the same thing here. This was done for at least one good reason: it helps you memorize the Scripture. The human brain likes to latch onto a structure which enables the memory.

Blessed

For the next three weeks we will be studying what are referred to as the Beatitudes. The reference is to the first word in each verse, "blessed." Note that this is in the indicative tense, not the imperative. There is no sense that we are commanded to bless someone; rather, this is a description of "how things are." It's more than that; the original Greek carries with it the idea that someone is "supremely blessed." What Christ is telling us here is the status and life of the wayfaring Pilgrim who enters the kingdom of God. It is quite obvious that from the world's point of view these things cannot possibly be true. How can the poor in spirit be blessed, when they are poor in spirit? Yet it is the assertion of God that if you follow his way you will be both poor in spirit and blessed. Let's take a look.

Poor in Spirit

"I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger, traveling through this world of woe." Much of the happiness of mankind depends upon the expectations of the individual. If I expect to be fabulously rich, surrounded by beautiful blondes and sycophants who feed my ego — I'm going to be very disappointed. Of the world's wealth I have very little; I am married to one beautiful blonde who is rather insistent that she will tolerate no competition; and where the proud have sycophants I have critics. So by the world's standards I should be very unhappy. But that presumes that my expectations are those of the world; they are not. The Christian should expect a life of service, trouble and pain. We are wayfarers.

Let's take a geographic example. Suppose you're going to cross western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Just to make your trip interesting, let's do it on horseback. What should you expect? You should expect long, hot days; great distances between waterholes and a remarkable sameness to the scenery. If your expectation was that you are about to ramble down the Shenandoah Valley, you will be very disappointed. If you expected to get to Los Angeles, you'd have it about right. The Christian's life is much the same. If your expectations are that things in this life are going to go very well — that God is obligated to grant you prosperity and health — you are going to be disappointed. That's because of your selection of objectives. God is trying to get you to heaven; you're trying to be comfortable on Earth. The question is one of objective.

What Is Poverty

The word used for poor in this phrase actually carries with it the connotation of cringing. It's used in the original to portray the attitude of a beggar approaching a potential donor. It is the attitude of a Christian who knows that he must appeal to his heavenly Father for all those things which is Father already knows he needs. We are poor in spirit by choice, not by accident. We can't help it; we are faced with God the Almighty — so are proper attitude is not one of pride. Rather, it is the attitude of one who has devoted his life to service for God. If you've ever wondered just how you can be poor in spirit, look at it this way. Suppose I'm not poor in spirit; how would you recognize that? Wouldn't it be the case that there would be certain things that were "beneath my dignity?" I would be just too important a Christian to stoop to some particular task. But our Lord was quite clear; if you wish to be the leader of all, you must be the servant of all. So it is in Christian service that we exhibit our poverty of spirit.

You can see what this does for the inner man: it opens the door for the Holy Spirit. If we retain our pride, it is difficult for the Spirit to enter and be full in our lives. Think of it this way: suppose the Holy Spirit knocks on the door of your life. Do you open the door as if you are about to answer some door to door salesman's plea? Or do you open the door as a host, graciously welcoming a cherished guest?

Kingdom of Heaven

We cannot leave this verse without discussing just what is meant by the kingdom of heaven. The reward of being poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven, and it is therefore fitting that we know just what the kingdom of heaven might happen to be.

·         One example is the pearl of great price.[1] Whatever else the kingdom is, it must be worth so much that you would give up everything else you have to get it. But as Christ says, it little profits a man to sell his soul for the world.

·         Another example is that of the wheat and the weeds.[2] We should not expect the church to be composed perfectly of perfect people; they're going to be some real stinkers in the church. It is God's choice to allow such so that the disruption of throwing them out does not harm the church. But we ought at least to know they are there.

·         A third example is that of the landowner paying the wages to the day laborers.[3] It will sometimes appear to us that God has inordinately blessed the least of sinners, and we wonder why we are treated the way we are. That is how God works; he chooses to reward as he chooses to report. Salvation is available to those who work all their lives for them, as well as those who are deathbed conversions.

·         Finally, remember that parable of the 10 virgins.[4] The kingdom requires the vigilance of its members, always being ready for the return of their Lord. Sadly, we find here from our Lord that not all of those of us who have attended church regularly are in fact going to inherit the kingdom of God.

We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven; but heaven is not to be found in this world. We are wayfarers, headed home. As long as we are on the journey, we shall be poor in spirit. But at the end of the journey we find that which we have sought: the kingdom of heaven.

Mourning

Permit me to introduce to you the concept of godly sorrow:

2 Corinthians 7:10 NASB  (10)  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

 

If you have ever said, "I shouldn't have…" and really meant it, you have expressed godly sorrow. It is a grief manifested for the purposes of God, which of course includes our own repentance. It also includes certain other things, such as grief for the sins and sorrows of others. A mother whose adult child is gone astray knows exactly what this means.

There are two other uses of grief; one of them is mourning for the dead. A Christian funeral is a celebration of hope, but it is also a time of grief for those who have lost someone they love. Is it unreasonable to say that the rest of us should be their comfort? This is probably the most immediate and practical help we can give, and it is certainly the most immediate and practical example of this beatitude.

Something which was taken for granted by the early church, and is greatly neglected today, is the sense of mourning for the state of the world. It is fashionable in the author's home church to pretend that the ills of society are none of our affair, a political mess to be handled by someone else. Rather, we should mourn and grieve over the state of our civilization. If you think we have nothing to grieve over, consider the millions of unborn children we slaughter every year. That alone should be cause for sorrow. But if we will mourn for those, can we not also be comforted? Are they not in the care of our Lord?

No Comfort Where There Is No Grief

Of course, we are not in the slightest interested in grief. We would much prefer to think that we don't need God to comfort us — because things are going great. Perhaps I might submit a contrary view:

·         If you yourself have never been comforted in grief, how do you learn to comfort others in their grief? You may indeed be the Fortune one who never suffers any grief. But isn't that really a handicap when it comes to dealing with other people? If you want to play the game, you have to practice.

·         When others comfort you, there is really nothing you can do to repay them. The only thing you can really do is pass that up for a long. So it is the one person comforting another grows as it is passed on from person to person to person. Comfort is self multiplying.

·         Jesus himself exhibited grief. He wept over Lazarus[5]; he wept over Jerusalem.[6]

Comfort by

Of course, there is the question of where this comfort comes from. There are, I submit, three primary sources:

·         First is the comfort of Jesus himself, delivered in the form of the Holy Spirit. You must remember that Jesus is fully man; that means he understands your grief. He is not God the Father reigning on high, distant and unfeeling. He is rather God the Son who walked the same hot dusty earth that we do.

·         For many Christians a great source of comfort is in the Scriptures themselves. This is particularly true in the Psalms. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of who God is and what he will do.

·         Of course, if the church does what she should, she should be the source of comfort for all those in grief. Christianity is not a solo flight.

Gentle, Meek

The word used for gentle or meek is found in a couple of other instances:

·         When Christ tells us to take his yoke upon us for he is gentle[7] he uses this same word. So whatever else gentleness or meekness might include it certainly contains within it the gentleness of Christ.

·         At the triumphal entry, Matthew records that Christ came in "gentle and mounted on the donkey"[8] — which would seem to imply the gentleness and meekness, with the spirit of peace.

The word itself seems to be somewhat difficult to explain. Robinson calls it the "gentleness of strength." It brings to mind the idea of a man who is superbly powerful in the physical sense, cradling a small infant in his arms. His power is not to impress but to protect; it's that kind of gentleness. Wesley saw it differently; he sought as that state of man in which "passions and affections are evenly balanced" — a man who has his emotions under complete control. Barnes remarks that such a person is patient in the reception of injuries – the kind of person whose pleasure it is to overlook the small insults and turns of life. We often forget that the word "gentleman" started with the idea of a gentle man. If you can conjure up in your mind the image of the old-fashioned Christian gentleman, you probably a pretty good idea of what Christ was talking about.

Fruit of the Spirit

One of the curious to us which Christianity has taken lately is the "name it and claim it" version of the gospel. It holds that God is obliged, somehow, to provide to you every blessing which you can identify and claim. But this is not the gentleness which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; such gentleness proceeds from a complete trust in God. I do not need to name it or claim it; He will provide it.

Indeed, if I show the fruit of the Spirit in my life should not be apparent that life's minor injuries and insults can be overlooked — for Christ's sake? The idea is not to be presumptuous, not always screaming "mine, mine, mine." Rather, we should be concerned about the needs of others.

Inherit the Earth

Christ promises such a person that he shall inherit the earth. Some writers see this as being fulfilled at the time of his second coming, when we shall see the new heaven and a new Earth. Certainly this is something we should expect. But is there more to it than that?

May I point out that the arrogant pass away but the meek continue? How often have we seen it that someone parades himself as a big shot on the local scene or the world scene, only to disappear a few months later? The proud have fallen for the lie of Satan, and think they can be like God. The Christian knows the truth on which that lie is based — that we have the privilege of imitating God. How can we do this? By the imitation of Christ, who was not only God but a man like us. Remember, you're just passing through — don't get suckered into the lie of Satan. The Christian wayfarer is meek, kind and gentle — just like his Lord.



[1] Matthew 13:45-46

[2] Matthew 13:24-30

[3] Matthew 20:1-16

[4] Matthew 25:1-13

[5] John 11:35-36

[6] Matthew 23:37

[7] Matthew 11:29

[8] Matthew 21:5

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