Today, we are starting a new series on the Sermon on the Mount, which, I must say, includes some of the most personally challenging teaching in all the Bible. I hope that you come today, and in the coming weeks, expecting God to mold your hearts. This sermon that Jesus gave is the heart of his teaching, and it’s found in Matthew.
Background of Matthew
Matthew wrote this gospel, the first book of the New Testament, specifically for Jews to read, which is why he keeps bringing up the kingdom of God. The Jewish people had a very worldly view of the kingdom of God. They thought that this Messiah they were expecting was going to free them from Roman oppression, and be a political or military savior. They thought of the kingdom as an external kingdom, so Matthew wants to try and make as clear as possible with them that the kingdom of God is spiritual; it’s more real and lasting than any sort of earthly kingdom.
So the kingdom of God, ultimately, is something that has not yet come, and yet it has. How so? Think about it: In the heart of every true Christian, God reigns. We don’t yet see the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God, but you and I are ushering in the kingdom of God by having Him reign in our hearts, which is where the Sermon on the Mount comes in. This sermon from Jesus is sort-of the transition between the message of the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament.
Old Testament Law and Christ
For the Old Testament, perhaps the best image to have in mind is that of Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai was where Moses went up and got the 10 Commandments from God. The Law. What does God’s Law ultimately do? It shows us that we don’t even get close to God’s standard. There is no such thing as being good enough, because our “being good”, our working really hard to be good people, it just doesn’t add up to God’s righteous standard. So, on our own, we’re hopeless.
For the New Testament, though, perhaps the best image to have mind is that of Mount Zion, or God’s spiritual Kingdom. The hope for God’s Kingdom is found in the Gospel of Jesus, who frees us from this condemnation that the Law brings because Christ fulfilled the Law. He never sinned, never broke any of God’s commandments. He took on our penalty, our sin, and died the death we deserved to die. This is why we see over and over in the New Testament this idea that, as believers in Christ, we are no longer under the law. We’re not bound by the Law, BUT we are still meant to live out God’s moral commands and even go beyond them as part of God’s kingdom.
It’s not like we’re robots that obey God for no other reason than that we’re robots. It’s that our hearts now belong to Jesus. We obey God because we love Him. We desire to obey Him, which brings us to this sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew.
Introduction to Sermon on the Mount
What we see throughout this sermon in Matt. 5-7 is that God does not just care about what’s going on on the outside. He cares about your heart. When we get to everyday life, things we all walk through each day, the only thing that will truly change our actions, is a heart that is captivated by Christ and therefore obedient to Him. We read near the beginning of this sermon that Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder.’ I say to you whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” A few verses later, another one we’ll look at in a few weeks: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ I say to you, whoever looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart.” Do you see that God is not just interested in the external (murder and adultery), but the internal (anger and lust)? He wants our hearts.
When our hearts are his, our actions will be his as well. There is a problem in the Christian faith when we emphasize the outside over the inside because the Gospel is the Good News about how God has won our hearts and has paid the penalty for us to be fully restored to Him through the shed blood of Christ.
Jesus starts his sermon with eight declarations of what it is to be truly blessed. Let’s read Matthew 5:1-12, something called the “Beatitudes.”
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This passage is called the Beatitudes, not because it’s the attitudes we should have or be, but because of the Latin word “Beatus”, which means “blessed.” Nine times in this passage we see the word “blessed.” This word means happy, or blissful. Gk “Makarios.” Happiness. Not simply an emotional or circumstantial happiness, or happiness that comes and goes. This is an inward satisfaction, a fulfillment that is not affected by our changing circumstances.
Our God is Himself perfectly blessed, perfectly happy and joyful. As much as we share in God’s nature, we too are blessed. This means that blessedness is not dependent upon how our day is going, or even how well we’re doing spiritually from day to day. It is something that comes from having a deep satisfaction and happiness in knowing that we are right with God because of Christ.
This is what makes each of these beatitudes so unusual. You’ve probably played “Opposite Day” before, maybe when you were younger. I’d say to my brother, “You’re cool, man. Just kidding, it’s Opposite Day!” It seems like Jesus said the opposite of what makes the most sense to us. What we naturally think brings us happiness, Jesus seems to say the opposite! What I want to do today is summarize these 8 beatitudes with 3 distinctions between what the world says will bring happiness, and what Jesus says will bring happiness. The 1st distinction:
- The World says: believe in yourself.
Jesus says: Believe in your inadequacy. (vv. 3-5)
The Bible very clearly reveals the dignity of man– that we were made in the image of God. That’s a big deal, that we are God’s image-bearers. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation! The most important part of His creation! And that part of the Biblical narrative might be something that most people agree with, that we’re kind-of a big deal! Which is why some of the most popular messages in our culture right now, in movies and in pop-psychology sound like this: “Believe in yourself!” This isn’t a bad message to send or bad thing to believe in, as long as it doesn’t become THE message and THE thing to believe in.
You see, the Bible goes on to reveal not only that we were made in God’s image and are the pinnacle of God’s creation, but also that we rebelled against God and marred that image. We have fallen from this perfect relationship we had with God, and this fallen-ness affects every part of our nature as humans. This is exactly why these first 3 beatitudes in verses 3-5 reveal our inadequacy. Let’s look at the 1st in vs. 3:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is the exact opposite of what we’d think, right? Blessed are the poor in spirit; basically, happy are the sad. What can this even mean? Well, it might help to understand the opposite of “poor in spirit.” The opposite of being poor in spirit is being arrogant. Spiritually, the opposite of being poor in spirit is thinking we have something to offer God, thinking that God created me a big deal, the top-tier of your creation, and, man, I’m still a pretty big deal. Being poor in spirit means being broken, knowing that we have rebelled against God.
This is why the first step in coming to Christ is realizing the extent of your sin. Nowadays we replace this step by telling people that “God has a great plan for you!” Or, “Jesus is awesome, you should follow Him.” Both of those things are so true, but we must realize that telling people why they should want Jesus is secondary to telling them why they desperately NEED Jesus. The Gospel, first and foremost, shows us our desperate need. We must be broken, poor in spirit, because only then can we trust in Christ fully and be part of the kingdom of heaven. This leads right into the 2nd beatitude:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Naturally, when we see our sin, we should mourn over it. Particularly when first coming to Christ, it’s a big moment when we see that we’re not as awesome as we thought we were! In fact, due to our sin, we’re totally depraved. When we see the extent of our depravity, it’s a time of brokenness and mourning.
This doesn’t mean that we’re to be sad and mopey. In fact, vs. 12 says that we’re to rejoice and be glad! The Christian life is a life of indescribable joy (1 Pet. 1:8). But that real, God-given joy does not come without realizing our rebellion against God, and mourning over that rebellion. That inexpressible joy in knowing that Christ died for your sin doesn’t come if you think you don’t really have that much sin! “I’m glad he died for me, but I don’t know that he died for much.” What?!
It’s only in seeing our depravity and mourning because of it, that we see the infinite value of Christ’s sacrifice. The very God against whom we have so savagely rebelled is the One who provided payment for our sin. Wow. There’s this very natural progression here from seeing our sin to mourning over it. They must go hand in hand, though. Confession is great. But are you contrite? Remorseful? Do you realize your guilt before God, without Christ? This is when the world’s calling to “Believe in yourself!” becomes rather scary. Jesus says, instead, “Believe in your inadequacy.” It’s the opposite of what you might expect. But what does it do? It points us to yes, our own inadequacy, but also to Christ’s sufficiency. Then the progression continues: This mourning in the 2nd beatitude makes us meek. Look at the 3rd beatitude, in verse 5:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
We so often misunderstand meekness. We often mix up meekness with quietness, or even weakness. Oftentimes we think the opposite of meekness is strength. Well this just isn’t it. Meekness doesn’t mean introverted, or quiet. It means a patience and a desire for God’s will, not my own. It means that I have subjugated my will to God’s.
In fact, it means that I so desire God’s will over my own that I prefer to suffer than to sin. Meekness doesn’t have anything to do with a passive personality or even an overly gentle demeanor. When Jesus talks about meekness, he’s talking about it in reference to our character. I humbly submit all of my will to God’s will. I prefer to suffer than to sin. I prefer obedience over comfort. I don’t come to God with an agenda of my own; I come to Him saying, “God, what is your agenda?” That’s meekness.
This definitely doesn’t fit the world at all. In the world, it’s expected that you look out for Number 1! Who’s number 1? You are! It reminds me of the Toby Keith song: “I wanna talk about me, I wanna talk about I, I wanna talk about number 1 oh my me my, what I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see. I like talking about you you you you usually, but occasionally, I wanna talk about me!” Meekness is seeing yourself in light of who God is, and desiring his will over your own, ultimately realizing your own inadequacy. So that’s the first distinction between what the world says and what Jesus says will bring true blessedness, or happiness. The World says: believe in yourself. Jesus says: Believe in your inadequacy without Christ. The 2nd distinction:
- The World says: You Need things!
Jesus says: You Need righteousness!
I want us to look here at the next several beatitudes in v 6-9. Let’s start with verse 6:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
With this poor spirit and mourning for our sin that we just finished talking about, naturally, should come a hunger and desire for righteousness. We see this broken relationship with God, and now we want that right relationship back. The world has a lot to offer, a lot that we can desire. But righteousness is only found in Christ. Do you desire Christ more than anything?
Lauryn and I just went to Branson, MO for two nights for our five year anniversary, and we stopped on the way at Lambert’s, just south of Springfield. Several of you suggested it to us, and we are very thankful that you did. But they throw warm rolls at you. They throw them! But you know what it’s like to fill up on rolls at a place like that, and then by the time your actual meal is there you’re no longer hungry! Or, when Lauryn and I lived in Texas, there were Tex-Mex places everywhere, we love Tex-Mex and real Mexican food as well. But it’s often the same story as the rolls but with what? Chips and salsa! What the world has to offer is nothing compared to the real meal. Being preoccupied with things other than righteousness is like filling up on the appetizer at a restaurant and missing out on the real thing.
We’re not here for the rolls or for the chips and salsa! We’re here for the real deal! Righteousness in Christ, the kingdom of God! In the next chapter, we’ll be looking at this in a month or two, verse 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus is speaking on anxiety and worrying about life. Don’t get distracted with the world, with things that the world thinks you should be going after. Feast on the meat, the heart of why we’re here on earth. That’s where real blessedness, happiness is found. Verse 7:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
The progression continues. We’re broken for our sin, we mourn, but we find righteousness and mercy in Christ, therefore, now, we’re merciful to others! I’ve mentioned this over the past few weeks, that our fuel for being merciful to those around us is the fact that God has been infinitely merciful to us! Here’s something else: You have sinned against God more than anyone has ever sinned against you. We’re broken for our sin, we mourn, we find righteousness and mercy in Christ, so we show mercy to others, and then, verse 8:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
This is when it gets into sanctification. Pure means to be given to one purpose, and that’s it. Purity isn’t just sexual or referring to other specific sins; it’s a heart that is all toward god! It’s not half of my heart is God’s and half is mine. That can’t happen. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. Part of receiving the righteousness of Christ is becoming someone marked by purity of heart. Something else that marks the heart of a righteous person, verse 9:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
We’re to be peacemakers! Now this doesn’t mean we avoid conflict. What it means is that we are called to make peace that isn’t there. It’s not just that we continue, status quo, avoid conflict, avoid confrontation. In fact, true peace sometimes comes through true hardship, real conflict! This doesn’t mean avoid conflict. It means that we make peace that isn’t there, particularly with the Gospel. We share the Good News that can bring peace between people and God! That’s the primary way that we are to be peacemakers.
But, also, particularly within the body of Christ, we will put aside our own opinions and desires for the sake of the fellowship. In that way, we are called sons of God. Why? Because this is what God does! He made peace where there wasn’t any! When we make peace, we’re acting and living like God, our heavenly Father. We’re peacemakers when we share the gospel, ultimately, and when we are patient with people that are different from us.
All of this comes with righteousness. Righteousness comes with Christ and Christ alone. The World says, “You need things. Owning things will bring you happiness. Achieving things will bring you purpose. Doing things bring you self-worth.” Jesus says: You need me. I am your righteousness! This brings us to the third and last distinction between what the world says will bring happiness, and what Jesus says will bring true happiness:
- The World Says: Fall In Line.
Jesus Says: Follow Me.
Two chapters over, also in this same sermon that Jesus is giving, Chapter 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” The World says, “Fall in line.” Jesus says, “Follow Me.” What will happen if we’re truly following Christ down the narrow road? Opposition. Back to the beatitudes, verse 10:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If we value Christ above everything else in the world, we’ll follow Him no matter the opposition, no matter what we may experience. We won’t give in to whatever is the cultural trend. I fear, though, that many of us have. The biggest problem in Christianity today, I’m convinced, is that we look too much like the world. I know some say that the biggest problem is that we don’t care about the world, which is likely a big problem. But think about this:
The main reason that we don’t experience persecution is because we live in the United States. We need to be thankful for the country that we live in, and especially on Memorial Day, we need to be thankful for those who gave the ultimate price to make this country what it is. We need to be thankful. Government-sanctioned persecution like in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, all over the world, doesn’t happen here. We need to be grateful for that.
But also part of the reason we don’t experience even social opposition much as individual Christians, is because, generally speaking, we’ve fallen in line with the world. Why would we experience opposition when we fit in with the culture? Many who claim Christ have given into the culture. I want to suggest to you today that maybe the reason we don’t care enough about the world to share Christ with them is because we’re no different from them. Even if we were to share Christ, it’d be like saying, “Trust in Jesus, even though it doesn’t really have any effect on my life.” We’re telling them how great it is to trust in Christ, and yet our lives look the same. They already have the life that we have.
The Bible makes clear that if we’re truly following Christ, submitting our entire will to Him, not only will we look very different from the world, but we will also experience opposition. And here’s the beauty of it. We are blessed in the face of opposition! In verses 11-12 Jesus gives a bit more explanation of the last beatitude we saw in verse 10. He says, “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.”
Rejoice and be glad. Be blessed, be happy, knowing you belong to God. In Luke chapter 6 Jesus tells us to leap for joy in the face of opposition! Why? “Because your reward is great in heaven.” Why do we rejoice? Like Christ, who suffered in this world, our eyes are on the Kingdom of God.
Again, we likely won’t experience government-sanctioned persecution in the United States as Christians, and we need to desperately pray for those all over the world who do. But, we may experience some social opposition, at least occasionally, Jesus says, be glad, be joyful, leap for joy, for great is your reward. The world says, “Fall in line.” Jesus says, “Follow me.”
Throughout this sermon that Jesus gave, we’re going to see how much Jesus turned things upside down. Over and over he challenges common understandings of faith and religion, and reveals that God isn’t just concerned about the outside, he’s concerned about the inside.
Do we look like Christ? If not, it’s not because we need to change a bunch of external actions. It’s because our hearts may be split. Trust Him with you heart, your will, receive righteousness that Christ bought for you o the Cross. Then you will begin to be transformed into the image of Christ.
As I mentioned earlier, the World says, “You need things. Owning things will bring you happiness. Achieving things will bring you purpose. Doing things will bring you self-worth.” Jesus says: “You need me.” True blessedness, true happiness, true human identity is found only in Christ. Not just external actions that LOOK like Jesus, but in hearts that belong to Jesus.