The Sermon on the Mount
“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 gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3-5
The Sermon on the Mount contains the most profound statements ever spoken. Jesus discloses infinitely precious truths about the nature of God and our relationship to Him. He makes these teachings the bedrock of His discipleship training. If we wish to follow Jesus, this text provides the essential elements that must mark our lives.
This passage opens with the word "blessed." For a Jewish audience, this word brings to mind a depth of Old Testament texts, including Psalm 1. In the first Psalm, the writer describes the life of the blessed as a life delighting in the Word of God. In verse 3 of this Psalm, the psalmist provides this illustration from horticulture. If we delight in God's Word, we will be "like a tree firmly planted in streams of water." Similarly, Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with His own illustration of the blessing for those who listen and obey this sermon's teachings. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27. As the psalmist uses the picture of a tree, Jesus uses the picture of a house. In each case, the health and spiritual condition of the individual is related to their connection to the Word of God. A tree firmly planted by streams of water parabolicly depicts a person firmly living according to God’s Word. A house built on a firm foundation illustrates a life established on hearing and doing what Jesus says. The words of Jesus in this set of teachings become the foundation for all disciples of Jesus. If we wish to follow Him, if we wish to know this divine blessing of certainty during the crises of life, we must hear these words and we must following them.
The first 10 verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as the beatitudes. The concepts presented in the beatitudes follow a progression through the spiritual life of each disciple of Christ. The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” All discipleship begins with an awareness of spiritual poverty. We are bankrupt. We possess no spiritual worth apart from the spiritual work of God. Sin separates us from God. We can never be right with God on our own merit. Like a debtor with millions of dollars in unsecured loans, we stand before God in a position of great need. The blessings from God begin to flow when we embrace this truth. We must be humble before God, acknowledging our own inability, our own spiritual poverty and His resources. The poor in spirit possess God's kingdom. Out of our willingness to embrace our impoverished condition comes God's willingness to share His immeasurable kingdom with us. Second, our spiritual brokenness must produce an appropriate contrition and repentance. We cannot be happy debtors. We cannot live under the weight of mounting debt and shrug it off. If we really see our poverty the way God sees our poverty, we will have our hearts crushed. We truly see sin as it truly is when we see it as a heartbreaking violation of the very person of God. Sin violates our Creator's character. Moving from poverty and brokenness, the third beatitude, which is dependent on the first two, is that we must be humble toward others. The word "gentle", sometimes translated as "meek", speaks to the true impact our spiritual poverty should have on us. Those who have acknowledged spiritual bankruptcy before God, who have been broken by their bankruptcy before Him, realize that all of us are in the same mess. If you cannot repay a million dollars, it is foolish to judge your fellow debtor who owes a few dollars more or less than you do. We are all spiritually broke. Gentleness marks a disciple who understands their own poverty and gently responds to other bankrupt sinners.
“6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:6-9
We are spiritually bankrupt and so is everyone else. That knowledge produces gentleness toward spiritually impoverished souls. However, our bankruptcy is not a license. We must be humble before the word of God. Acknowledging our spiritual poverty while responding gently to others does not give us a license to run right past the law of God. Thus comes the fourth beatitude, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” Just as when a debtor humbly confesses their helpless plight, this does not give that poor manager of resources an excuse to double down. Yes, we are spiritually impoverished. Having come to that realization we now battle against the very actions that put us in that position to begin with. Now living under God's grace, we battle to honor Him by obeying His law. Our humility before God and gentleness toward others drives us to hunger and thirst for doing the right thing in our relationship with God and with others. What are the right attitudes toward God and others? If we are hungering for the right things, what does that look like? Consider the next three beatitudes of mercy, purity, and peacemaking. When we hunger for doing the right thing, we must do the right thing while allowing mercy to drive our actions. It is possible to do the right things but lack mercy toward others. We must also have a purity of heart. It is possible to do the right things outwardly and even demonstrate mercy while having impure motives. What should be our motive? Jesus tells us in this blessing, “for they shall see God.” The glory of God is the pure motive of the heart. And the purity of heart for the glory of God will receive from God the fulfillment of that desire. God will reveal His glory to those whose hearts are passionate for Him. Lastly, in this set of four beatitudes, God blesses the peacemakers. Peacemakers are individuals that seek restored and healthy relationships between themselves and others. In the pursuit of righteousness and mercy, with purity of heart, they seek to imitate God in their efforts to restore broken relationships. That is why Jesus declares this blessing on peacemakers. “They shall be called sons of God.” There is nothing more imitating of God than pursuing individuals in broken relationships, seeking to bring restoration. Again, there is a growing maturity to the discipleship described here in these beatitudes. It takes a maturing believer to pursue righteousness while acting with mercy toward others. It takes maturity to pursue God and others with a purity of heart. It also takes great maturity to be a peacemaker.
“10Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12
In these last two beatitudes Jesus presents a realistic view of the disciple’s life in this world. If we would live as Christ has called us to live, according to these beatitude principles in the opening to the Sermon on the Mount, we might expect the people around us to speak kindly about us and to treat us well. In fact, there are many times when others will be thankful for our brokenness over our own sin, our humility, gentleness, grace, peacemaking and even our pursuit of righteousness. However, even pure hearted disciples can face the anger of a fallen world. Persecution for the sake of doing the right thing comes with a blessing, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That promise from Christ connects us back to the initial beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” According to Jesus, having a sense of our own destitute nature - our own spiritual bankruptcy, marks us as kingdom citizens. Now, in bringing the beatitudes full circle, Jesus says that being persecuted for doing the right thing also marks us as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We might not feel like we belong to an everlasting kingdom when we are overwhelmed by our own spiritual poverty or that we are facing persecution in this life. However, God’s kingdom stands in striking contrast to the current kingdom that governs this world. Jesus tells us we are blessed when persecuted for doing the right thing because it demonstrates our citizenship. Persecution for following Christ also demonstrates our association with Him. If we follow Him we will face opposition, persecution, slander, and hatred. Jesus told His disciples in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Persecuted for doing the right thing and being hated for our association with Christ, what are we to do? Incredibly Jesus says to “rejoice!” Why would we rejoice over such awful consequences? Rejoice because “your reward in heaven is great.” He will not leave our faithfulness and suffering without divine commendation. Every act of sacrifice, every battle for personal righteousness, and every humble and merciful act will be recognized by Christ. In fact, if we walk according to the standards presented in the beatitudes there is great reward.