This post is part of the Living the Sermon on the Mount series.
Last week Pastor Ron introduced our new sermon series “Living the Sermon on the Mount” We are going to be working through Jesus’ most thorough and coherent teachings on the Kingdom of God. So far we took a look and saw that Jesus is introducing a Kingdom different than this world and if we are going to become part of this Kingdom we need to align ourselves with it. Enter the Sermon on the Mount.
We will be taking a look today at Matthew 4:25-5:16. My thesis is pretty simple: Explain the original concepts of the text and apply it to your lives today. A friend of mine called this week while I was working on it and he said “Well it should be a pretty simple message since you’re just plagiarizing someone else’s sermon.” [Give it a second]
Well let’s jump into then…
The context of this passage is utterly critical. Jesus is elaborating on what it means for the Kingdom of God to be at hand. Everything Jesus is teaching here is pit against the backdrop that something NEW is happening in Israel—and if you’ll believe it, it’s something bigger than Moses and the Ten Commandments. Biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount is the moment of explaining God’s new relationship with His people—the fulfillment of what the Old Testament always hoped for but never experienced.
Consider the following parallels:
- Moses and Christ
- Mount Sinai in the rocky wilderness, and the Mount of Beatitudes in the midst, of a populous district in the Holy Land.
- Moses alone, concealed from view by the clouds of an awful thunder-storm; Christ surrounded by His disciples, and sitting among them.
- Mount Sinai, with boundaries set about it, and the people at a distance; the Mount of Beatitudes encompassed by multitudes.
- In the one case, the people fleeing from the mountain; in the other, crowding toward its summit, and waiting on its ridge.
- The Law of Moses written upon tablets of stone, the word of Christ on the hearts of His disciples.
- The Law of Moses contains ten commandments. For Jews, ten is the number of the world. The Sermon of Christ contains seven blessings. For Jews, seven is the number of the sanctuary and completeness.
- The law terrifies the people, and makes them flee; the Sermon on the Mount addresses itself to their hearts, and draws them to the Lord.
The Sermon itself is broken into three sections:
- Section One (5:1-16): the nature, character, and result of the Kingdom of Heaven Life
- Section Two (5:17-7:6): the explanation of how the character of the New Kingdom is a fulfillment of the old one which only preserved the letter of the law, but not the spirit or heart of God.
- Section Three (7:7-23): how to avoid the false religion and choose the Kingdom Life
Let’s take a closer look at Section One then.
This is sort of the Sermon on the Mount in a nutshell—getting across the fact that external letter-of-the-law religion is out and a religion by relationship is in. The section is divided in the following way:
- Seven Beatitudes, or blessings consisting of a state of the heart and the result of it.
- An eighth blessing which results from the seven.
- A change from Jesus teaching about the Kingdom Life in general to applying it to the disciples and crowd. He begins to say “you…” instead of “they…”
- Finally, Jesus crowns this section by putting imagery to the life of a believer in the New Kingdom: Salt and Light to the world.
Let’s dig in to each one. And as we do, be sure to recognize that the “…seven beatitudes form an ascending line, in which the new life is traced from stage to stage, from its commencement to its completion.” Think of Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The beatitudes are building upon one another. Each is necessary to ultimately lead to the final ones.
Beatitude One: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
State of the Soul: Beatitude One is the crux of everything. It is a feeling of spiritual poverty—a recognition and a realizing that the world is missing something it desperately needs. The prophets of the Old Testament expressed the longing and never experienced satisfaction. In fact God’s true people are often styled as “the poor”, the “oppressed”, the “afflicted”, the “miserable”, and the “needy” This beatitude is characterized by a deep and inexpressible want of the Spirit and life the way it was designed to be lived.
Result: The Kingdom of Heaven is yours. In the present sense, the poor in spirit are rich as soon as they have the knowledge of their true state and the state of the world. They get to begin receiving the help of Christ and blessings of His Spirit. In the future, they will truly inherit the Kingdom of Heaven in a real and actual sense. They will be fully rich in spirit and truth.
Application: To begin your walk with God you must take a hard look around and come to the realization that this world is utterly lost without divine guidance and influence. You must realize that within yourself your conscience isn’t enough, your upbringing isn’t enough, and your willpower isn’t enough. It’s like the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous— Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable. You admit you’ve got a problem and you long for the solution. “…we have but to feel our universal destitution and cast ourselves upon His compassion.”
Beatitude Two: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
State of the Soul: Beatitude Two directly flows out of and builds upon beatitude one. If the first is a mental recognition of the poverty of our soul and world, beatitude two is a heart recognition of it. “Religion, according to the Bible, is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings, but a compound of both, the former giving birth to the latter.”
Result: In the present you will be comforted. Using some imagery from the Bible, we are promised many things through the work of Christ… beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Sowing in tears, we reap even here in joy. In the future we are promised all tears shall be wiped away.
Application: We must truly come to a place of mourning for our personal sin and for the brokenness of the world. After King David slept with Bathsheba, a woman who was married to another man, he wrote a heart-wrenching Psalm of mourning over his sin. Interestingly he says “against You alone O Lord have I sinned” While we realize he sinned against Bathsheba, her husband, and even his own body, David’s heart is heaviest that he sinned against the God who made each of them, who provides for them, who has cared for them.
Beatitude Three: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
State of the Soul: Once we have truly come to grips with our depravity and necessity of God’s help, we are able to live a life of meekness. Meek is not weak mind you. Only those strengthened and condition by the love of God could ever possibly hope to hold their tongues and lay down their jealousy in the heat of temptation. They who suffer in love, who love in patience, who bear injustice… ultimately conquer.
Result: The meek shall inherit the earth. This comes from Psalm 37. Most scholars know this to denote closer to “land” than earth with the connotation being that of the Promised Land. This is significant because God vowed the Promised Land to Israel but He was the One who conquered it for them. Similarly when we are meek, God goes before us and exacts judgement. In this present life we may not always see justice prevail for us, but even then we have an assuredness in our hearts that God is aware. And ultimately He will return and at length overcoming the saints shall, as Revelation 21:7 depicts “inherit all things” The little you have, even when despoiled of your rights, is better than the riches of many wicked. That is what Psalm 37 describes.
Application: Paul shares great encouragements for us through his letter to Titus: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us… so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Don’t seek to win that argument that is ultimately meaningless. Lay yourself down as Jesus was the ultimate example on the cross of the strength of the meek. An example of a Roaring Lamb.
Beatitude Four: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
State of the Soul: Of course when you live a life of meekness, the disparity between God’s ideal for the world and its actuality is heightened. You will begin to hunger and thirst, feel true pain about the state of the world. We often think of righteousness as guiltless. But the Bible shows righteousness to mean “right-ness”—for things to look the way God intended them to be.
Result: Even today we can be sure that God will do His fullest extent of restoration in as far as our corrupt world can be changed. On this side of eternity we can see justification of hearts, being made clean by faith in Christ. We can see sanctification of people’s lives as they let God align their lives with His Word. But one day, true justice and righteousness will spread throughout the world. When He returns all things shall be put to rights in the glorious resurrection.
Application: It is so easy to distract ourselves nowadays and not pay attention to the pain of the world. It is also easy to get used to the violence and evil we see on the news. Just as we feel the pain of hunger in our belly, Jesus taught His followers that they ought to feel pain in their heart over the shattered lives of others. Open yourself up once again to the pain around you and let it bother you. This is part of what it means to live in God’s Kingdom before He makes all things new and it leads into the next beatitude.
Beatitude Five: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
State of the Soul: We now turn a corner from thinking and feeling to action. “God’s method is to awaken in us compassion toward our fellow men by His own exercise of it.”
Result: There are many scriptures that explain this concept and all are the same. There is a link between God having shown us mercy and the expectation that we shall do the same to others.
Application: The merciful are the meek who were on the defensive of this dark and cold world, only now on the offensive. “The meek bear the injustice of the world; the merciful bravely address themselves to the wants of the world.” The merciful are those who when they come across someone who needs help, they help. Or if someone comes to them for aid, they have compassion. Realize that this is an expectation of God. Jesus shares a story about a manager who was forgiven a great debt who went back and had a man beaten for not returning a tiny debt to him. It didn’t end well for the manager. But on the flip said I like this quote that “[God] will not, He cannot disown, in the merciful, the image of Himself.”
Beatitude Six: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
State of the Soul: It is necessary for the sixth beatitude to be shared immediately after number five because it is when we begin practicing good works as a merciful Christian that we begin to wonder if anyone is noticing. We begin to keep tally on how good we are doing before God and wonder what blessings might come out way as we help those who need help. This is why the beatitudes build upon themselves, that if we lost our poverty of spirit and mourning we will quickly forget what this is all about—the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.
Result: But if you can keep, as one scholar put it “…that steady direction of the soul toward the divine life which excludes every other object from the…heart.” you will see God. There is debate about what this promise means exactly in the present but one thing Scripture is clear on is that those who live on in sin have no fellowship with God now or in the future. I take this to mean if we remain pure in heart, with a single focus on glorifying God by transforming the world we will get to know God better and better.
Application: Can you imagine how powerful this teaching was for a culture where exclusive attention was paid to ceremonial purification and external morality? Jesus is truly unpacking and re-appropriating—fulfilling—the Old Testament.
Beatitude Seven: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
State of the Soul: This beatitude is known as the climax of the beatitudes because it has moved so far from the passiveness to action and because the promise has moved entirely away from the Old Testament roots at this point to the entirely new teaching that the Kingdom of God is established via an intimate relationship rather than mediator ceremony. I see the state of one’s soul here at this level one who has all cylinders firing. The heart has matured through all the conditions of the Kingdom of God and have culminated in a desire to bring peace to the world.
Result: To be called a child of God is to be deeply associated with God as Father. People look at a child and judge the parent by the child’s actions. For those who bring peace they will believe their Heavenly Father is one who brings peace and not division.
Application: As children of the Father, and having matured through the Kingdom of God Jesus presents here, we ought to be co-laboring with Christ in the reconciliation of the world. All around you are people who have no peace with God. No peace with one another. Or no peace within themselves. To be merciful is to help when you happen upon someone or someone shows up at your door. To be a peacemaker is to go out and actively seek to transform the world. Which leads us to the results of living the Kingdom life.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We have ended up where we began… with the gaining of the Kingdom of Heaven, which shows quite concretely the coherency of the beatitudes as a summary of the Kingdom life which contrasts the current religious system. Unfortunately this Kingdom being so radically different than the systems of this world—religious and otherwise—shall result in the persecution of the Believer. But again, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.
Jesus does a cool thing at this point. While He was giving teaching about the Kingdom of God—His focus suddenly shifts from interesting teaching to personal application. He begins to use the word YOU.
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.
In this, Jesus is commissioning any who would have ears to hear Him—and still today. If you take up the Kingdom life… you… yes YOU shall be persecuted. And just so there is no mincing of words, it’s not just being persecuted because you are doing a lot of good things—it’s because you are living in accordance with the One True King—Jesus Christ. Jesus equates Himself with righteousness. And why is it that people would persecute those who do good? We have a plethora of answers to that question (Jn 3:20; 7:7; 15:19; 2):
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
But rest assured, as you are living this new life and being persecuted at times… you are making a difference. Jesus continues His direct teaching as the hearts in His listeners beat faster and faster realizing He is speaking directly to them—that He expects action to result.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
These humble listeners and you and I today are being asked by Jesus to preserve the earth from corruption. To season its blandness. To freshen it and sweeten it. You know, for the most part throughout Scripture mankind is called wicked. Before the Flood, after the flood, in the days of David, in the days of Isaiah. But here, Jesus says you are more than wicked… you are useful… you are needed… you are the remedy for wickedness. In the active presence of Jesus disciples among their fellow man is the cure enacted. It is in the character and principles of Christians that the festering corruption of humanity is arrested and its insipidity seasoned.
There’s a story recorded from 17th Century Theologian Henry Maundrell about a trip he took to the Holy Land. He explains how he found a salt-valley near Aleppo and broke off a piece of salt. Upon investigation he realized the outside which was exposed to the elements had lost its taste. But the inside which had remained pure was biting. Don’t be afraid to be different. You’re supposed to be different.
Jesus ends the first section of His Sermon on the Mount by moving from passive to active. While salt seasons wherever it lands, light travels to all places and all people. There is no stopping it.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
A city on a hill cannot supposed to have even been built on a hill without the purpose of it to be seen. Salvation is never meant to be for you alone. The same is true for a candle. One scholar shares that in the first century sometimes a basket would be used to cover a candle on the floor for a short period of time to limit its light. He went on to explain that this is like the current religious practices of Jesus’ day. The light of God was given to the Jews but they have it so deeply hidden under layers of stuff not from God that people can’t get to the relationship they need. What about you in that sense? Are you allowing the most important thing—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to shine before all men wherever you go? Or are you promoting a religious agenda? Or even your particular church? Take the bushel off and live a full, adventurous life in Christ. Splash “different” onto others. There is a fantastic summary of Matthew 5:1-16 from my favorite commentary “[Christians,] instead of hiding their light, are so to hold it forth before men that they may see what a life the disciples of Christ lead, and seeing this, may glorify their Father for so redeeming, transforming, and ennobling earth’s sinful children, and opening to themselves the way to like redemption and transformation.”
Pastor Kara—you can come up at this time.
We are going to transition into a time of Holy Communion together. Here is the deal. I hope you realize that none of this happens… this light thing…this salt thing… being able to show mercy or bring peace… without first recognizing your utter desperation for the Spirit—for God. In the act of communion we are receiving afresh the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—we are receiving the present blessings of all seven beatitudes—experiencing His salvation and tasting the New Life to Come. So as we continue, please consider the desperation of your soul and let it be satisfied now by receiving the Spirit of God through this sacrament.