Jesus calls “blessed” what we usually call “NOT blessed.”
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Matthew #10 . Chapter 5:1-2
Chapter five is the beginning of what many people call “The Sermon on the Mount.” At the end of chapter four, we saw large crowds of people following Jesus around, mostly because he healed people. Matthew records that Jesus took his disciples aside, up a nearby mountain and spent some time teaching them. It isn’t spelled out, but it the picture seems to be of more than just the twelve apostles here. Instead, this teaching was for everyone who wanted to follow him. I think the main point Matthew was making was that there was a difference between “the crowds” and “Jesus disciples.” In other words, this teaching was given to people who trust Jesus and want to continue to trust him and be related to him. These are not standards we should try to apply to people who are not Christians. They are, however for all disciples of Jesus. Today, if you believe in Jesus and trust him, you are one of his disciples. This teaching is for you.
I’ve always heard Matthew 5:3-12, (the first part of the Sermon on the Mount) called “the beatitudes.” This never made any sense to me, because the word “beatitude” doesn’t appear anywhere in this passage in the English translations; it is a word of Latin/French origin anyway, not a Greek or Aramaic term. Besides that, until I looked it up in a dictionary, I didn’t know what “beatitude” meant.
What Jesus is really teaching in this first section of the Sermon on the Mount are attitudes of the heart that ought to mark every person who is a Christian. Once again, we need to recall that He is speaking to people who are already in relationship with him. I don’t believe that the “blessings” which he pronounces over these heart-attitudes can be separated. In other words, he is not saying, “some of you are blessed because you are poor in spirit, and others are blessed because they are pure in heart…” No, the truth is one cannot be pure of heart unless one is also poor in Spirit. Likewise it may not be possible to be a peace-maker unless one is also gentle or meek. So the point is, Jesus wants all of his followers to be growing, and possessing all of these character traits in increasing measure. Certainly, some people may find it easier to be a peace-maker than to maintain a pure heart, while others have trouble with the idea of persecution, even while they desperately hunger for righteousness. Jesus certainly takes us just the way we are. It is also true that when we come into relationship with Jesus, he begins to change us by the power of the Holy Spirit, to help us to become more like the original blue-print he had when he made human beings, before Adam and Eve sinned. In other words, if we are tune with the Holy Spirit and with the Bible, we will continue to grow.
Before we look at what Jesus pronounces “blessed” I would like us to briefly consider what most of our culture might say about these same topics, if we were honest with ourselves. I am sad to say that many of us who are Christians often fall into the same patterns of thought, myself included. So an American version might read like this:
- Blessed are the financially secure, for they have no worries, and money sets them free to pursue who they want to be.
- Blessed are those who never experience any grief or pain, for life is easy for them.
- Blessed are those with ambition, for they will get what they really “go for.”
- Blessed are those who remain outwardly moral and upright, for they will be respected by all.
- Blessed are those who are kind when it doesn’t really hurt them, for we think they are both good and smart.
- Blessed are those who “seize the day” and are not encumbered by prudish moral distinctions, for they get to enjoy all things.
- Blessed are those who can arrange circumstances to get what they want.
- Blessed are those who never face persecution.
I honestly believe that most people in America, even many Christians, would find themselves agreeing with some, or even most, of the statements above. As I just mentioned, in unguarded moments I even find myself thinking this way, especially with regard to the first two and the last one. But this just one example of how Jesus’ thinking is so counter-cultural. Many of the blessings above are diametrically opposed to the statements Jesus makes in Matthew 5. And some of them, while not precisely opposite in meaning, completely miss the intentions of Jesus. So what does Jesus say? We will begin to look at that in detail right now.
The sermon on the mount continues through all of chapters five, six and seven. It includes the teaching that to lust is equal to the sin of adultery, that to hate or call someone a fool is the same as murder. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As we read these things, I think you will be continually struck by one recurring question: Who could actually live like this? Who is truly capable of living up to these holy standards?
We are meant to ask that question, and to struggle with it. The standards of the sermon on the mount show us our spiritual poverty. They make us hunger and thirst to be that righteous. This shows us clearly that we do not have the resources to be that Holy We are meant to realize that the answer is “not me.” In fact, only one person could possibly live up that standard: Jesus himself.
So where does that leave us? We need Jesus to live his holy live “inside” of our lives, through our lives. We need to recognize our deep spiritual poverty, our desperate need for Jesus.
And that is why Jesus begins his whole discourse with this sentence:
“The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matt 5:3, HCSB)
We begin to have the right attitude when we realize that we are utterly without resources. We cannot be perfect. We cannot attain to the standard of Jesus. Instead, we recognize that we are dependent upon Jesus to manifest his holy and perfect character in and through our lives.
To be poor in spirit means to realize our true position before God. Consider Revelation 3:17. This is part of the message Jesus gave to the church in Laodicea.
“You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched, and miserable and poor and blind and naked…”
It is so easy to come before God thinking we have something of value to offer him. We think the fact that we live basically moral lives ought to count for something. We think that we are certainly not as bad as some people, and that ought to be a bargaining chip for dealings with God. Sometimes if we do something particularly noble or self-sacrificing, we suppose God has to recognize that. This is not the attitude of someone who is poor in spirit. The poor in spirit know that before God, we have nothing. They know that we are in fact wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked when it comes to spiritual things. Now, if this were our physical condition, I imagine we would be desperate. We would urgently seek help for our impoverished situation. In the same way, the mark of spiritual poverty is desperation for God. For the poor in spirit, all back-up plans have failed, all safety nets have broken, all contingency actions have been fruitless. The last drop of water is gone from the desert traveler’s broken canteen; the safety line of the rock climber has snapped in the fall; the last bullet is gone from the gun of the soldier, and the enemy is advancing.
Does this describe your spiritual life? Are you desperate for the Lord? Do you cling to his promises as a shipwrecked sailor clings to his life-ring? Do you truly believe that without the great mercy of God you have nothing, that without him you are utterly lost? And do you believe that you have no claim on him, that nothing you have or are can manipulate him to act on your behalf? Jesus once asked his disciples if they wanted to leave him. Peter said:
“Lord, to what person could we go? Your words give eternal life. Besides, we believe and know that you are the Holy one of God” (John 6:68-69)
Peter and the others were desperate. They knew that they had no where else to turn. And they knew also that they had no claim to make on God, no basis by which to demand deliverance. Desperate, they threw themselves on the mercy of God. The words of the old hymn, Rock of Ages put it very well:
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.
The Kingdom of heaven belongs to the spiritually poor because only the spiritually poor are willing to come on God’s terms. I encourage you this week to think of yourself as poor in spirit, and to receive the blessing of all of God’s fullness poured into all of your emptiness.
Hold on to this lesson, and return to it during these next weeks as we continue through the Sermon on the Mount.
 If you want to know, look it up yourself!