Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 "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 meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
(Matthew 5:1-6, ESV)
This morning as we approach the Lord's Table, we will begin the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7, which is the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever preached. This sermon is the most quoted passage of Scripture (more so than John 3:16, Psalm 23, or any other favorites). When you hear phrases such as:
"Blessed are the meek," (Matthew 5:4)
"Blessed are the peacemakers," (Matthew 5:9)
"Salt and light," (Matthew 5:13, 15-16)
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)
"Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1).
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and ye shall find;
And I'm sure that all of you could find other meaningful passages that minister greatly to you, but as far as in the main these Scriptures are known by most everyone, especially to Christians.
Yet, aside from that, this Sermon affects people in good and bad ways --- all at the same time. D.A. Carson says, "The more I read these three chapters ... the more I am both drawn to them and shamed by them. Their brilliant light draws me like a moth to a spotlight; but the light is so bright that it sears and burns. No room is left for forms of piety which are nothing more than veneer and sham" (The Sermon on the Mount, 19). And as we go through this Sermon over the next few weeks, we will see that our standards for the Christian life that we may have set up in our minds will crumble before the Kingdom Living principles established by our Savior. And this also shows how incapable we are of achieving them and why we need a Savior in the first place.
This Sermon is basically about the Kingdom of Heaven. Some say that Jesus is talking about a future kingdom He will set up, possibly the millennial kingdom mentioned in Revelation 20:1-7. Yet, when Jesus gets into the specifics of Kingdom living, it is clear that Jesus is speaking about the here and now. Yes, a millennial kingdom is coming, but Jesus also tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come when He came to bring salvation and for Him to be our King in this age.
Jesus was a Master Teacher. And the people were so hungry to hear the truths of God that they flocked to Him. And when Jesus began His Sermon, He started His Sermon off His Sermon with a string of statements that are known as the Beatitudes. The term "beatitude" comes from the Latin beatus which means "blessed."
These Beatitudes upon first glance seem like a string of unrelated sayings that belong either in the book of Proverbs or on a Hallmark(tm) card. Yet, upon closer look we see that they are not unrelated, but in fact are a progression of what the Christian life is from start to finish. They are divided into two sections of four verses each. This morning, we will look at the first four, which deal with our conversion leading to salvation --- something we should definitely ponder as we come to the Table.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
To be blessed does not simply mean to be happy, as many say. It means to find approval from God or to give it to another. Matthew was writing to the Jews about the Messiah and using the terms "blessed" would connect the Jesus with the Old Testament use of the word. All through the Psalms, we see how the Psalmist blesses God --- not that the Psalmist is trying to say that he "approves" of God, but that He is worthy of praise and that praise resounds in heart.
While the world says, "You're blessed if you're rich," Jesus says you're blessed if you are poor in spirit. What does this mean? It means that we have to realize and acknowledge that our spirits, our souls, are in abject poverty. That without Christ, we must see that there is nothing in our souls that we can offer to Him that is of any value at all.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
As John Stott says, "We do not belong anywhere except alongside the publican in Jesus' parable, crying out with downcast eyes, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
How many of us when we came to Christ came because we saw our spiritual bankruptcy? How many of us, when we were convicted by the Holy Spirit of our condition, had broken hearts over the time we had broken God's law? How many of us maybe now who are running because we refuse to see how impoverished we are?
A certain atheistic barber was conversing with a minister as they rode through the slums of a large city. Said the unbeliever, "If there is a loving God, how can he permit all this poverty, suffering, and violence among these people? Why doesn't he save them all from this?"
Just then a disheveled bum crossed the street. He was unshaven and filthy, with long scraggly hair hanging down his neck. The minister pointed to him and said, "You are a barber and claim to be a good one, so why do you allow that man to go unkempt and unshaven?"
"Why, why ..." the barber stuttered, "he never gave me a chance to fix him up."
"Exactly," said the minister. "Men are what they are because they reject God's help."
By being poor in spirit you realize that that old saying of "God helps those who help themselves" is not true in this case, but God helps those who cannot help themselves --- He helps the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
So, taking our definition of what blessed it, Jesus is telling us, "You will be happy and find approval from God when you mourn." Does this not strike you as rather morbid? God likes it when we are grieving? I don't like to grieve. Some of you were here this past Wednesday when we mourned the death of Henry's mom. Last October, I mourned the death of my nephew. Yet, we live in a world that loves to laugh and those who are sad-sacks are real downers --- raining on everyone's parade. "Blessed are those who laugh and have fun," the world says.
Why do we mourn? Jesus is not saying that we have to walk around like gloomy gusses all the time. We mourn over our sin. When we see our spiritual poverty, we realize that we are not holy before God, but sinners deserving death. When Isaiah saw the thrice holy Lord high and lifted up in the Temple, he cried out, "Woe is me!" He grieved about his sinfulness before God.
We also grieve over the world's sinfulness. We don't rejoice and delight in it by taking part in their sinful activities, but we mourn over it. Remember when Jesus pronounced those seven woes on Jerusalem in Matthew 23? After this, he is found weeping over the city. How often has your heart ached over the wickedness not just in your own heart, but also in society in general? It almost makes you want to take "In God We Trust" off the money because the way society lives, that motto is an outright lie.
There is no comfort however that compares to being comforted while you're mourning. A simple touch on the shoulder, a hug, a kind word --- those things go a long way to those who are grieving. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about comforting those who mourn over their sin with His marvelous grace. He comforts us by showing us that there is mercy with the Lord and salvation to be had. That's the greatest comfort of all.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
I don't know about you, but when I think of the King James Version of this verse, which says "blessed are the meek," at first I though God wanted us to be a Charlie Brown-like wishy-washy individual. Yet, meekness has been defined as "power under control." Carson says that meekness "is a controlled desire to see the other's interests advance ahead of one's own." It determines our relationships with God and with others.
Our recognition of our sinfulness --- the grieving that it could be so --- and the embracing of the sweet comfort of salvation does not generate any sort of pride. This comfort is in spite of ourselves. This brings about a humility and a gentleness that is rare in this world. The world says, "Blessed are the powerful." Not so with the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, we are more concerned with building others up rather than tearing them down to make ourselves look better. We are better at advancing God's Kingdom than we are at advancing our status in life. Instead of seeing himself as "all-that," and others as beneath him, he sees that all people are loved by God and made in His image and this effects the way he approaches them and life in general.
And these gentle Kingdom people (not the powerful) will inherit the earth! We already have everything we need in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). We will one day reign with Christ in His millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:1-8) and have been called heirs of God and jointheirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17). Our stock is not in this materialistic world whose philosophy is that one is content when they have power and have more stuff. With Christ as our all and with us as nothing due to our sin --- and with His great mercy --- we gladly rely not on stuff and things, but on Him who is the Creator of all things.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
In our day, many hunger after some spiritual experience that lifts them to lofty heights --- almost as if they are looking for some spiritual 'buzz.' Yet, we are to hunger and thirst for something that sometimes doesn't come with this type of spiritual ecstasy --- righteousness.
What is this righteousness? Morally, righteousness is having a Christian character and conduct. Legally, it means that through being justified by His grace we are right before God. Socially, it means that we do what we can for those who are oppressed, in poverty, suffering from injustice, and basically just being the hands and feet of Christ as mentioned in Matthew 25:31-46 (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison).
To sum it all up, hungering and thirsting after righteousness basically means that we desire to be conformed and shaped to the very will of God. This is the essence of Christlikeness as Romans 8:29 says, ""For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." That should be what we thirst for. Remember Psalm 42:1, "As the deer pants for the waterbrooks, so my soul pants for You, O God." Psalm 63:1 says, "O God, you are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my sould thirst for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
As we approach the Lord's Table, notice how all these Beatitudes we've covered are found here. While Jesus was never poor in spirit, we do see our spiritual poverty in that His blood had to be shed and His body had to be broken in order for us to have any life whatsoever. We do see how Christ mourns over our sin. We see how He suffered on that tree in Isaiah 53 and at the end of the Gospels --- He knows firsthand the effects of sin not because that sin was His own, but ours.
He is our meek and gentle Savior in that, while having power, He sought the interests of His children (their need for reconciliation with God) at the expense of His own (being obedient unto death on a cross). We also see how He hungered and thirsted to be conformed to the will of His Father (John 5:19) through this obedience unto death so that we might have life.
The Beatitudes give us hope and put us to shame because whatever standards we have set up in ourselves that give us the illusion that we are living a good Christian life are ultimately shattered. We must be changed in the way St. Augustine was changed when he ready Romans 13:14: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." When that truth sank in, He was never the same.