Sermon on the Mount (Part 1): A Blessed Life

Sermon on the Mount (Part 1): A Blessed Life

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with statements that are commonly called the Beatitudes. In these verses, He described those who were blessed. This word does not merely mean that one is happy. Rather, to be blessed means to be approved of God. This results in true joy that surpasses the temporary moments of “happiness” in this life. This is particularly important because, as we will see, there will be times when those who are “blessed” are those who are suffering. Let us consider the Beatitudes and see how the life of a disciple is a blessed life.

The Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

To be “poor in spirit” means to be humble. This is the first – and arguably the most fundamental – characteristic that one must have in order to be a disciple of Christ. There are two reasons why humility is vital for disciples. First, we must recognize our place before God. The psalmist wrote, “Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3). Elsewhere he expressed his recognition of his insignificance in God’s creation: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). This type of humility that understands the greatness of God and how vastly inferior we are to Him is necessary if we are to serve Him acceptably.

Second, we must approach His instructions with humility. James wrote, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). We must have humility when studying the Bible. If we do not, then we will feel no reason to change our lives to conform to His standard. If we fail to recognize that continuing to follow our will leads to destruction (cf. Proverbs 14:12), we will not follow God’s way that leads to life.

The “poor in spirit” are blessed in that they can be part of “the kingdom of heaven.” This term is used throughout Matthew’s gospel to refer to the church (cf. Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 16:18-19; et al.). This is the greatest of all kingdoms and humility is required to be part of it. This is the opposite of pride that is characteristic of human kingdoms in general. Jesus told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). We must avoid this attitude. Instead, we must remain humble in heart so that we can be a faithful citizen in the Lord’s kingdom.

Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

In this context, to “mourn” is primarily referring to one having sorrow over sin. Paul described it as godly sorrow in his second letter to Corinth: “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” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is the mourning of repentance – guilt over the sin that one has committed that motivates one to make corrections in order to be right before God.

However, it is also true that we sorrow over the hardships and trials of life. Job said, “Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil” (Job 14:1). Jesus recognized this as He made His appeal to those who are “weary and heavy-laden” (Matthew 11:28).

Those who “mourn” are blessed in that they will be “comforted.” Those who sorrow over sin can be comforted in the fact that the Lord offers forgiveness. Before healing the paralytic, Jesus told him, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). If we appreciate the great gift that forgiveness is, we will see it as a great encouragement to us. Paul, in quoting from the psalmist, wrote, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (Romans 4:7-8; cf. Psalm 32:1-2).

Also, if we suffer in life, the Lord offers comfort. Paul wrote, “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 affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Ultimately, if we follow the Lord we will be comforted in heaven, a place where God “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Though we may suffer in this life, if we are of the attitude where we sorrow over our sin, we can receive comfort from the Lord.

The Gentle

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

When we read Jesus’ words of one being “gentle” or “meek” (KJV), we should not immediately associate it with passiveness, weakness, or timidity. This characteristic is related to humility. Those to whom Jesus referred here are those who have a quiet determination to obey the Lord regardless of the consequences. He expects His disciples to follow Him no matter what might come as a result. He said elsewhere, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). [We will notice more about the consequences of discipleship at the end of this lesson.]

Those who are “gentle” or “meek” are blessed in that they will “inherit the earth.” The word translated earth means “the land.” As Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience, this would have brought to their minds the land of Canaan – the promised land. However, Jesus was using figurative language. The land that they would inherit was not the physical land of Canaan. Rather, the inheritance of “the land” was symbolically referring to the inheritance in heaven. In his first epistle, Peter wrote about this “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

Jesus said that the inheritance of heaven was for those who are meek and gentle. Remember, to be meek and gentle is to have a quiet determination to obey the Lord, even though it is often associated with weakness by those in the world. However, the Lord’s disciples recognize that our reward is not obtained by our own strength – even though we are called to obey – but by trusting in God. Paul wrote, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Those who are meek and gentle will have enough trust in the Lord to continue in faithful service despite the hardships that come as a result.

Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

To be righteous is to be right by God’s standard. Paul told the saints in Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17). Since the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, we are to obey the gospel in order to be righteous. As John wrote, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

Righteousness is the state in which one is following God’s standard. It is not the result of following man’s standard. Paul addressed this with regard to his Jewish brethren: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:2-4). Pursuing a standard of righteousness that has been invented or adopted by man prevents one from conforming to the standard of righteousness found in Christ.

As Jesus said we must “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” He emphasized the need for us to have an earnest desire for it. Disciples of Christ must have a zeal for doing the works of God. Paul told Titus that those who have been redeemed by Christ are to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).

Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” are blessed in that they will “be satisfied.” It is not just that they will reach a state in which they are righteous, but that they will receive the reward of righteousness. John wrote, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:28-29). The way we can have confidence as we look forward to the return of Christ is to practice righteousness. This is important for us to remember. Salvation is not by grace alone, we must live righteously. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).

The Merciful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Those who are part of the Lord’s kingdom are to show mercy to others. In essence, Jesus’ point is that we are to practice what has become known as the “golden rule” – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus made this point later in His sermon: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

When Jesus taught about prayer, He said that one of the things that should be included in the prayers of His disciples is an appeal to God to forgive us of our sins (Matthew 6:12). He then explained that showing mercy to others is necessary for God to forgive us: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Those who are “merciful” are blessed in that they will “receive mercy” from God. To receive mercy means that we will not receive what we deserve. The Scriptures teach that the punishment for sin is spiritual death. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The gift of eternal life is part of God’s grace – giving us something we do not deserve. Yet His mercy is necessarily connected with it because He allows us to avoid eternal destruction for our sin – withholding from us what we do deserve.

On this point of the grace and mercy that God extends to us, it is certainly true that salvation is a free gift because we cannot do anything to earn it on our own. However, this does not mean that salvation is unconditional. As the gift of salvation is in Christ, we must remember who it is that He will save. The Hebrew writer indicated that Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). God’s mercy does not negate the requirement He has given to obey Him.

The Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

To be pure is to be free from sin. While it is true that “all have sinned that fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), the people of God are to strive diligently to remove sin from their lives (cf. Matthew 5:48; 1 John 2:1). This is essential because of the nature of God. John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Because of this, He cannot have fellowship with darkness. So John continued, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). The disciples of Jesus cannot be content in sin, but must aim for purity.

However, purity is not just about one’s outward appearance. As Jesus said, we are to be “pure in heart.” We are not (or should not be) making an outward show of righteousness while continuing to be corrupt on the inside. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for this: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). It is important that our hearts are clean as this will impact our lives as a whole. The wise man wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Those who are “pure in heart” are blessed in that they will “see God.” This is emphasizing the blessing of fellowship with God. This is what John meant when he wrote, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). This fellowship with God eventually leads to a home in heaven where we will actually see God. Later in his first epistle, John wrote, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3). As we hope to see God and spend eternity with Him, we strive to keep our hearts pure before Him.

The Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

The people of God are to be peacemakers because God sought to make peace with us. Paul told the brethren in Colossae, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). We can be reconciled to God and have peace with Him if we will obey Him (cf. Hebrews 5:9). As Paul wrote a few verses earlier, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10).

Because of the emphasis that the Lord has placed upon peace, His disciples are to be peacemakers. Paul told the Romans, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Of course, as we will notice in the next point, peace is not always possible. However, it should not be the fault of God’s people when peace is not present. We are to “pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14).

Those who are “peacemakers” are blessed in that they will “be called the sons of God.” There are two reasons for this. First, we can prove to be “sons of God” by sharing a common purpose with Him. As Jesus always did the things of the Father (John 8:29), we must do the same. Paul encouraged the saints in Rome to do this: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Second, those who are “called the sons of God” have the blessing of sharing in the inheritance from the Father. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4). If we will be born again – becoming the children of God – and continue to follow Him, we can look forward to that inheritance.

Those Who Have Been Persecuted

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 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).

The other Beatitudes have been about what we do, say, and think. This one is different in that it is based upon our response to what others do and say. It should also be noted that Jesus spent more time discussing this one. It is harder to see how being persecuted is part of a “blessed” life. Yet we see from Jesus’ words that this is the case.

In these verses, Jesus brought attention to a pattern of persecution. Just as the prophets were persecuted, His disciples should expect to be persecuted as well. Even today, we should expect persecution ranging from insults (Matthew 5:11), slander (1 Peter 4:4), and in some cases even death (Revelation 2:10). The Scriptures plainly warn us that God’s people will suffer persecution from godless men. Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter wrote to prepare Christians to face persecution as well: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” are blessed in that they will have their place in “the kingdom of heaven.” This reward brings us back to where Jesus started the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3). As His disciples, we need to remember that no matter how much we have to suffer in this life, we cannot be separated from Him. Paul wrote, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Furthermore, though we may be persecuted, we can look forward to heaven. As Paul was imprisoned and facing death, he told Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). This reward is available to all of us if we will remain faithful to the Lord.

Conclusion

The life of a disciple is a blessed life, though it is not always evident in this life – particularly when we are facing persecution for our faith. Yet if we humbly follow after the Lord and submit to His will, He will be with us and will bless us richly.


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