“To read the Sermon on the Mount is to discover what it means to be Jesus’ disciples; to read it with faith is to receive power to be Jesus’ disciples.” – Frederick Dale Bruner
In the Beatitudes, we are first given God’s grace amid our brokenness. Then we are called to respond to the grace we have been given by sharing it with others. If we are faithful, we will be persecuted.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that God gives us grace while we are broken.
Understand that we are called to respond to the grace we have received by giving it to others.
Faithfulness to God’s kingdom will bring about persecution.
Catching up on the Story
Matthew has prepared us for what we hear in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While last week’s passage, Matthew 4:12-23, is not a part of the Sermon, it is indispensable to understanding what will follow.
In that passage, Matthew announces that Jesus is the light that has dawned over a dark world. This light comes and exposes for us the world’s sins and the way that God would have it work.
The image we used was that of a dark room. You get used to a dark room, indeed, you may even be able to navigate it, but you cannot fully perceive it. Jesus, as the light, reveals the world for how it is and should be.
Then, Jesus issues two consecutive calls. The first call is to repentance, a turning from the things that distract us from participating in God’s kingdom. This is our call to salvation. The second call is a call to move forward in faithful obedience. The call to follow Jesus is a call to a life of constant learning at the feet of the master teacher. This is our call to discipleship, the slow process of learning to understand and practice what we can now see because Jesus the light has come.
Matthew also clarifies for us that our obedient response will cost us something. The two sets of brothers who respond leave everything they have behind, including their family. This kind of obedient following will be hard for some. The cost is high, but the reward is great. We get to participate in what God intends to do in our world, healing the sick, curing diseases, and welcoming the outcast (the demoniacs, epileptics, and the paralytics (4:24)) back into society.
Our learning of what it means to be a follower of Jesus has just begun. What follows in the Sermon on the Mount will be a primer on the specifics of kingdom living. We start with the Beatitudes.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessings on the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessings on those who are devastatingly brokenhearted (mourn), for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessings on the the insignificant little people (meek), for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessings on those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessings on those who are steadfastly loyal and loving (merciful = hesed)), for they will receive steadfast loyalty and love (mercy).
8 “Blessings on those who watch and ponder what God says and replace their own ideas with the ways of God (pure in heart), for they will see God.
9 “Blessings on those who seek shalom –peace, well-being and wholeness for the whole world (peacemakers), for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessings on those who are subject to ill treatment, banishment, or rejection (persecuted) for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessings on you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. *Pastor Jason’s paraphrased version.
Over the next few weeks, we will be challenged by Jesus in some significant ways. At times, it will be tough going, and we will be tempted to sugarcoat some of Jesus’ sayings as impractical. Or, we will be tempted to over-spiritualize them, thinking that they only apply to super Christians or the ultra-holy. Finally, we may begin to believe that the commands that Jesus will give are not for us here and now but for the future when Jesus comes back and all is made right. Following any of these paths will mean missing the point of the Sermon on the Mount.
Make no mistake, Jesus is talking to us here and now. He addresses not the super Christian but the fishermen he just called and the crowds who have witnessed his healing power. He addresses us. Fear not.
Before we begin any discussion about how we ought to live, before we start any conversation regarding what we are commanded to do, we receive words of grace and peace from Jesus.
The Beatitudes are those words of grace and peace. The Beatitudes come to us, not as those who have it all figured out, but to us who are failures, who are desperately poor, in spirit and otherwise, and to those of us who have hurts that words fail to express.
The Beatitudes come to us first as those who are insignificant. The beautiful thing about the Beatitudes is that as Jesus speaks to us in our current pitiful condition, he offers this promise that he will be with and for us both now and forever.
Indeed, this is the meaning of the “blessings” we receive. We can only ever experience true blessing when God arrives in our dismal situations, and we are drawn to depend more on him.
We can split the Beatitudes up into three sections. In the first section, 5:3-6, we will call The Beatitudes of Grace. The second section, 5:7-9, we will call The Beatitudes of Response, and in the third section, 5:10-11, we will counter-intuitively call, The Beatitudes of Pushback. You will undoubtedly have noticed the translation offered in the Scripture section above. It is my own paraphrased and expanded version. These words are familiar to us, but we sometimes need help understanding them properly. Or, we think we know what they mean only to miss out on the much richer meaning that lies inside these words. Either way, a good slow reading of this passage will help us discover who we are because of God’s grace.
The Beatitudes of Grace
“Blessings on the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.”
We must start first by defining a few words. We are most likely familiar with the rendering “Blessed are” or “Happy are.” I have chosen to translate this and each of the following as “Blessings on…” because the whole sentence is in the present tense. Jesus offers us God’s “blessing,” not in a past tense manner, but in a way that shows that God’s blessing is for here and now.
Also, we must read “blessings” here as a promise of God’s continued presence for those who are “poor in spirit.”
God promises to be with and for us amid all sorts of struggles. The main sentiment we get from reading similar blessings in the Old Testament is that God’s blessings go before us to assist our attempts at being faithful (Bruner, 157).
We could offer up a sentence like this, “I will always be with and working for those who are poor in spirit.” We must keep this understanding in the forefront of our minds as we look at each of the subsequent Beatitudes. Who are the poor in spirit? Here’s where we need to expand our understanding of poverty to include both the physical and the spiritual. If we reduce “poor in spirit” to either economics or spirituality, we will entirely miss the point.
The “poor in spirit” are those who understand their current poverty, either physical or spiritual, in conjunction with an absence of the presence of God. Their poverty is most profoundly felt because they perceive that God is not near. They bear this state but hope and long for God to intervene on their behalf (Nolland, 200-201).
The “poor in spirit” are those who are down and out in various ways, yet those who, despite their circumstance, cling to the hope that God is working. Theirs is a pitiful yet hopeful state.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are desperately poor. Literally, this kingdom belongs to them. The “theirs” is in the genitive case, denoting possession. Some would argue that the kingdom of heaven exists especially for those who are poor in spirit (Bruner, 164). With that line of thinking, only those who place their chances at survival squarely in the hands of God will find themselves in God’s kingdom.
The takeaway is twofold. First, at the outset, we are offered grace. Christ’s light has revealed the pitiful state of our existence. We are a mess. Yet, Christ’s light also shows us his promise to always and forever be with and for us. As we come to grips with our brokenness, we are not left in it but given the strength to move forward.
Second, we are cautioned that living a life that resists dependence on God for our survival puts us on the fringes of God’s kingdom. If we think we are not poor in spirit, we may find ourselves on the outside looking in.
“Blessings on those who are devastatingly brokenhearted (mourn), for they will be comforted.”
Christ’s promises to always be with and for us continue. We could use the first Beatitude as a heading for these next three, as we could easily say that each person described is “poor in spirit.” In this second Beatitude, we are told that those who are “devastatingly brokenhearted” will be comforted.
Perhaps we have become a little desensitized to the word “mourn.” While it is an accurate word to describe what Jesus intends, it fails to communicate the entire scope of what Jesus means.
Jesus promises to always be with and for those who, because of loss, are suffering unspeakable pain. Chances are that each of us has experienced pain so deep that words have been inadequate to express our feelings fully. This deep, world-shaking pain is what Jesus describes.
Again, we are offered grace. Jesus’ promise to us requires us to do nothing, only to acknowledge that we have this deep pain. It is amid that pain that the comfort of our God rests upon us. We must own this pain, knowing that we can never overcome it. Yet, like the “poor in spirit,” we live with the hope that God is acting to address it.
“Blessings on the insignificant little people (meek), for they will inherit the earth.”
As with the first two Beatitudes, Christ promises to always be with and for those of little account. Often, we understand meekness as a weakness. This is the wrong way to understand what Jesus is talking about. Meekness, or those who can be described as