The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ most famous sermon, delivered to his disciples. One of the world’s great speeches. Many similarities with the way Moses brought God’s law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Matthew presents Jesus as a new Moses, giving a new law to the people of God. This Sermon doesn’t teach how to become a disciple (a follower of Jesus), but how we should seek to live, now that we are following Christ.
Today’s opening to the Sermon is known as the “Beatitudes”. Jesus describes certain attitudes and actions as ‘blessed.’ He means beliefs and behaviours that please God and are rewarded by him. Attitudes that are good, upright and esteemed in the eyes of the Lord, if not in the eyes of the world.
The first half of each sentence describes the characteristics of a disciple, the second half describes the blessings that are promised to Christians who adopt these character traits.
A portrait of a disciple – Christ-like attitudes and actions
To be poor in spirit (v.3) doesn’t mean that we haven’t got much money, but that we have nothing to give to God. To be ‘poor in spirit’ means remembering that we are completely dependent on God – like a child is on his/her parents. The poor in spirit are commended in the Old Testament as people who lack everything in this world, but are rich in faith and trust in God. In his own life, Jesus expressed total reliance on his heavenly Father. His life was saturated in prayer, and he lived in very public obedience and dependence on his Father. He was truly poor in Spirit.
“Blessed are those who “mourn” says Jesus in verse 4. Not mourning over a death (though right to do that, of course), but mourning over sin. Sin in our own lives, and sin in the world. To mourn over sin is to regret our own bad acts, words and thoughts, and to be upset about the sins we see other people do to each other. We should all be upset when we see the effects of evil in our family, community and even on TV news. Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem, because of the persecution God’s prophets suffered there in the past, and got angry when he saw people using God’s temple as a marketplace. He also literally mourned at the graveside of Lazarus.
Thirdly, Jesus says his disciples should be meek or humble (verse 5). This means putting other people’s needs before our own. People often talk about their “Rights,” but not much about their “Responsibilities.” It is selfishness to fight for our own rights and put less effort into helping others. Jesus was meek. As Son of God he had the Right to be in worshipped in Heaven. Instead, he surrendered his place of privilege and came to Earth so that we might be saved.
Next, it pleases God when people hunger and thirst for righteousness (v.6). To hunger and thirst is to strongly desire something. Just as we want food, God wants us to seek righteousness. Righteousness is another word for goodness. A righteous and good person wants to do God’s will and see God’s will be done. He or she will be able to say with sincerity those famous words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Your will be done on earth as in heaven”). Jesus himself displayed this hunger to do what is right in God’s sight. In the garden of Gethsemane, he was about to be arrested & executed, and tempted to run away. But instead he prayed 3 times, “Father, your will be done” and stayed. Jesus hungered for righteousness and so should we.
Showing mercy (v.7) meanwhile means helping people in need – physical, emotional or spiritual. Jesus showed mercy to many people – helping the sick, disabled, demon-possessed and even dead. Above all, he helped people to be forgiven their sin. If we seek to be merciful we need to alert to the needs of those around us. How can we help? Can we give more time, money or practical help to those in need of human kindness, grace and mercy?
Blessed are the pure in heart says verse 8. This means to be wholehearted in our love for God, and in our desire to serve him. So often we have split loyalties –desires to please ourselves instead of others (inlduing God)
Yet Jesus himself was pure in heart and single minded. Even when tempted by the devil, or tempted to avoid being crucified, he never disobeyed God or swerved from his Messianic vocation.
Peacemakers (v.9) seek to bring reconciliation between people. If we are in disagreement with someone, or see two people quarrelling, we should seek to bring peace, including asking someone’s forgiveness if appropriate. To be a peacemaker is to be hugely attractive in the eyes of God.
Ofcourse, Jesus was the greatest peacemaker, since through his death on the Cross, it was he made peace between us and God. Even to this day, he can reconcile repentant sinners with his heavenly Father – including you and me.
Lastly, Jesus said disciples should expect to be persecuted (v.10). In this sinful world people who try to follow Jesus or make him known will inevitably be unpopular. The church is persecuted in so many parts of the world. Yet Jesus says that to persevere as a Christian despite persecution pleases God.
Jesus himself faced opposition throughout his life. Herod tried to kill him as a baby, the Jewish religious leaders hated him, and the Roman army crucified him. But despite all this, Jesus never turned from his God-given mission.
As I finish, its worth noting that Jesus is more than merely a role model for us of a truly good and blessed man. He does more than that for us, doesn’t he?
For Christ came into our world to remove our guilt from the times when our behaviour has been less than praiseworthy. He came to bring us God’s mercy and peace when humanity needed it most.
And as he sits now at the right hand of his Father (no longer on a mountainside) he is pouring out his Spirit upon his disciples – upon Christian believers like you and me. His Holy Spirit is at work in us, making us more the type of people he wants us to be.
The Spirit’s fruit in our lives is seen in a growing hunger for righteousness, an increasing purity of heart and poverty of spirit. A rising desire to show mercy and to mourn over wrong doing.
It will take a lifetime, but God’s Spirit wants to make all of us the type of blessed individual described in our passage today.
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