Matthew 5:1-2 – 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,
Chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel are collectively known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Jesus did not call it that; it is a title that was given much later by those who studied the scriptures.
The name is simply taken from verse 1, which states that Jesus went up on a mountain to speak to his disciples.
If Jesus were going to speak to a crowd today, we would have him in a large auditorium with lights, a microphone/sound system and lot of enormous TV screens. Jesus did the equivalent of that for his day. He sat down on the mountain/hillside, which elevated him a bit above the crowd. In this way, everyone could see him. The acoustics of the area probably let his words go forth for all to be heard.
Clearly, the place Jesus chose was not extremely remote, because we see that crowds were able to get there. On the other hand, it was certainly removed from the busyness of their daily lives. This is a good principle for all of us. Take time to shut yourself away from the busyness and distractions of everyday life. When you do, you will find it is much, much easier to hear what God is saying to you.
Jesus sat as he taught; that was the normal method employed by all Jewish teachers.
Many scholars make note of the fact that the Old Testament Law was given on a mountain (Sinai) with God’s people in attendance. During that encounter, God was hidden from them by dark clouds; it was a time of great fear.
Jesus also delivers the principles of the kingdom of the New Covenant on a mountain with God’s people present, but this time he is plainly visible and there is an atmosphere of blessing and peace.
While the Holy Spirit prompted Matthew to write down the teachings of Jesus orderly and concisely in chapters 5-7, there is no indication that all of this teaching was delivered at one time. There is so much teaching in these chapters, no one could have comprehended it all in a single sitting. If it was delivered all at once, that would have been one long church service!
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
This is the first of the 9 ‘beatitudes’ listed in verses 3-12 of chapter 5. The beatitudes are a section of teaching within the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Beatitude refers to a state of bliss or happiness. Therefore, these 9 things will tell the Jewish people what will make them truly happy. Each principle builds upon the one before it.
Keep in mind that the Jews still had a lingering expectation that the Messiah was going to immediately set up an earthly kingdom and expel the Romans from their land. Therefore, these teachings were a bit like a splash of cold water on the face. It wasn’t at all what the Jews were expecting. Jesus’ teachings showed that his kingdom was a spiritual one; the kingdom of heaven is really the rule of God through Christ.
While these teachings applied to the Jews back in Jesus’ day, they also have lessons to teach the modern day Christian.
Let’s get started! The beginning of all happiness is to be poor in spirit. In this case, the word ‘poor’ has nothing to do with earthly wealth. A person can be rich but still be poor in spirit.
Poor in spirit deals with three main issues: humility, submission and gratitude. To be poor in spirit means to be humble or to have a humble opinion of ourselves. Those who are poor in spirit understand and acknowledge that they are sinners and have no righteousness of their own. They cannot save themselves (gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven); they must rely on God to do it for them.
Romans 3:23-24 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…
Not only are the poor in spirit are willing to depend on God for forgiveness of sin, they are willing to submit to him, doing what he commands, giving as he instructs, going where he leads and bearing the light burdens he places upon us.
Those who are poor in spirit will exemplify gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon them by Christ. One who is truly poor in spirit will be actively involved in praise and worship of God.
What is the result or reward of being poor in spirit? Those who are poor in spirit are ready to accept forgiveness by the blood of Jesus and consequently, will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.
At the close of this age, they will find themselves in heaven, in the presence of Jesus, Father God and the Holy Spirit where there is no more sin or death or sorrow. Scripture tells us that we cannot even comprehend what God has in store for us in the next age.
Isaiah 64:4 – For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God, besides you, what he has prepared for him that waits for him.
So, the beginning of blessing starts with an acknowledgement of our sinful nature and our dependence on God.
Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The bible speaks of two different kinds of mourning or sorrow. One is worldly sorrow and the other is godly sorrow.
2 Corinthians 7:10 – For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world works death.
How do we know the difference?
Godly sorrow involves sorrow for our own sin, the sins of others or the sin of a nation. Sorrow is caused when we understand and view sin as God views it – something that is putrid or rotting and, if left unchecked, produces death. Strange as it may sound, godly sorrow has a good outcome. Though unpleasant for a time, it produces true repentance and a return to the ways of God. This leads to spiritual life.
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that those who mourn or express godly sorrow, are blessed for they shall be comforted. God comforts the sinner by removing the sin as far ‘as the east is from the west’. Once that burden is removed, the sinner is no longer sorrowful. Through Christ they can win victory over the sin, which no longer holds any power over them. They now have full assurance that regardless of what earthly life holds, they will be blessed for eternity.
Worldly sorrow is different. Worldly sorrow is mourning for failure, not sin. It includes things like life’s disappointments (if only I had sold that stock), loss of property or people (my house burned down, my spouse died), or guilt and disgrace (I was publicly chastised for theft in office, I was arrested for vice, etc).
Worldly sorrow leads only to the hopelessness of guilt and despair, which in turn leads to a broken heart and eventually death – death of the body and death of the spirit.
I encourage you to turn to Christ immediately – he is the only one who can turn your mourning into joy!
Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
How do you define meekness? Does it conjure up images of people who are like ‘wet noodles’ – powerless and unable to stand up for themselves? Do you imagine people who are weak and afraid of confrontation or people who are over run by anyone who challenges them?
If so, you may be in for a surprise. Meekness is not weakness. The best definition for meekness is ‘power under control’. What you may be mistaking for weakness is actually forbearance and self control.
Let me give you an example. Do you think that Jesus was meek? We would say yes, wouldn’t we? So when the Romans and the Jews conspired together to crucify him on the cross, was he weak and powerless and unable to stand up for himself?
No! The scriptures tell us that Jesus was in total control of that situation.
Matthew 26:53-54 – [Jesus asked Peter] Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?
When the Romans came to arrest Jesus, Peter pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus healed the man’s ear, and plainly told Peter that he had the power and the authority to call down thousands of angels at any moment. Before Peter even blinked, Jesus could have been rescued from the crucifixion.
But Jesus chose not to do that. He chose to overlook the offence of these men so that he could accomplish his plan of redemption. Jesus had his power and his authority under control; he could decide what kind of action to take against these men.
The scripture says that you and I can find happiness by exemplifying meekness. We too, can control our passions and emotions. Rather than reacting to an attack, we have the ability to take a moment and decide the best way to act. It is possible to treat others as we would like to be treated. All it takes is meekness and self control.
Why don’t you watch yourself this week and determine your level of meekness? Find out if this is an area where you need to grow. If so, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to assist you in gaining control over your passions so you can glorify Jesus.
Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
What is righteousness? First of all, it can be defined as freedom from sin/guilt.
The Bible says that we have righteousness (freedom from sin) through the sacrifice of Jesus. We do nothing to earn or deserve it; it is a free gift from God. This righteousness is instantaneous; we are righteous in God’s sight the second we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
2 Corinthians 5:21 – For He [God] has made him who knew no sin [Jesus], to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
There is also a second definition of righteousness, which is conformity to God’s will or acting in accordance with divine law. This includes personal purity/holiness and it takes the form of doing what is right. It is closely associated with justice which is integrity in our dealings with other people.
This kind of righteousness is formed in us little by little as the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:18 – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit produces righteousness that is a state of mind and heart; it is the soil out of which all virtues grow.
So, righteousness is both instantaneous freedom from sin as well as the continual sanctification of ourselves which leads to personal holiness, acting justly towards others and being aligned with God’s will.
Notice that Jesus compares our desire for righteousness to hunger and thirst.
Have you ever been so hungry you felt weak or ill? Maybe you skipped lunch and now your stomach is growling like a lion! When you are that hungry, even food you don’t really like starts to look appetizing!
What about thirst? Can you remember a time when you were so dry and parched that you couldn’t concentrate on anything other than satisfying your craving for some clear, cold water?
Here is some good news – Jesus promises us that if we intensely desire righteousness like we would food and water, we are blessed because we will be filled!
Conversely, if we hunger and thirst or intensely desire the things of the world like money and pleasure, we will be disappointed because these things cannot truly satisfy or make us happy.
What sort of things are you longing for? I encourage you to choose the things that are eternal, not the things of this world.
Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”
To be merciful means to pity, to help, to support or to give relief to people who are in difficulty, want or distress. It means to assist and deliver from suffering.
That being the case, we don’t have to look very far to find instances in which we can show mercy. All around us there are hurting people who need food, shelter and clothing. All around us are people who are slaves to addictions and diseases. All around us are people who need love, hope and words of affirmation. And everywhere you look there are people who need to know Jesus as savior.
In fact, each day brings new opportunities for us to help alleviate some of the suffering that we see in the world. Do you need some motivation to get involved? How about this – Jesus promises that if we will reach out and help others, we too shall obtain mercy in our hour of need. Are you actively involved in showing mercy?
Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
To have a pure heart means that your motives and thoughts are pure. This is in contrast to a person who is externally pure by obeying laws and rules. The Pharisees and Sadducees are good examples of those who were outwardly pure, but who had hearts full of corruption and sin. Remember, these were the people that John called to repent for the kingdom of Heaven was coming!
Those who are pure in heart receive an incredible blessing – they shall see God. To see God implies being in his presence; the pure in heart will be God’s friend and experience his favor and blessing. The pure in heart will dwell with him forever in his kingdom.
Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Peacemakers are those who not only seek to eliminate conflict in their own lives, but also labor to settle differences among others. Instead of fanning the flames of strife, the peacemakers use their influence and wisdom to reconcile the separated parties and restore them to a state of unity and peace.
Since all men are in a state of conflict or hostility with God (and each other), the gospel is called the gospel of peace because it reconciles men to God and to each other. Since God is the Father of peace, the peacemakers would naturally be referred to as his children.
Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
To persecute means to pursue someone with the intent to grieve, afflict, vex, torment, oppress or put them to death. Religious beliefs of all different kinds are often the basis for persecution.
Let us take a moment and consider a Christian who has been closely attending to the beatitudes found here in Matthew.
Such a person is a peacemaker. He is one who sows mercy in a hurting world. He is meek, holding his power in check and acting according to God’s wishes; he loves his neighbor as himself. He mourns over sin and evil. He is poor in spirit, meaning humble, submissive and grateful for what he has. So why would those in the world persecute such a person? If all people exemplified these virtues, wouldn’t the world be a better place?
The bible tells us that Christians will be persecuted because those in the world love darkness/evil and hate light/righteousness.
John 3:19-20 – And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
So, it should not come as a surprise when Christians are persecuted.
In these last verses Jesus is warning and urging us to walk worthy of our calling. Those who are persecuted are considered as one of the prophets of old. We share their calling as people who illuminate darkness by shining our lights brightly before a lost and dying world. It is our duty to bear witness to the truth of God, even though the world does not want to hear about it. It is our pleasure to remain pure in our faith, not being stained or defiled by the world. The purpose in all of this is to lift up the name of Jesus so the world may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Our motivation for enduring suffering is our love for God. We love him because he first loved us, forgave us and blessed us with eternal life in his presence. While this would be reward enough for eternity, God graciously grants us even more.
In fact, Jesus says the persecuted will have great reward in heaven. This tells us that the reward is positively assured. At the present time it is out of sight (as are all of our heavenly rewards), but it is real nonetheless. The persecuted will have an everlasting, abundant recompense for all that has temporarily happened on earth. The persecuted Christian is laying up treasure in heaven where moths and rust and thieves cannot touch their reward.
So let me give you some encouragement: Don’t give up on yourself or others! Every single day the Holy Spirit is working in your life to transform you into the image of Christ. This process takes time and there will surely be some failures along the way, but eventually, you can become the Christian described in the beatitudes.
Let me give you some relief: When you stand for the truth, the world will notice and they will most likely hate you for it. Don’t worry – this is normal, so continue to stand firm. There will be those who come to accept Christ through your witness.
Let me give you some strength: We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that God is right here with us, even to the end of this age. We also know that he will not place any burden upon us that we cannot carry. So take heart – no matter what we may face, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!