June 22, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:1-12

After his baptism, Jesus is tempted in the desert for 40 days. He returns to the towns of Galilee and begins his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17). This is the same message that John came preaching. Repent...turn from your sins...because God’s Kingdom is near!

Jesus then begins calling followers, disciples, to follow Him, to learn what it means to live in this new Kingdom of Heaven. He invites them to leave the security of their jobs and homes and become part of something completely new.

Matthew 4:23-25 says,
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

There was...there is...something different about Jesus. He invited people to come in while the religious leaders of His day debated who had to stay out. Jesus spent time with the hurting and the broken while the religious leaders preferred the cleaned up people.



The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, is one of literature’s most well known examples of Jesus’ teachings. It has influenced thousands of people through the years. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at Auschwitz for taking part in a plot to kill Hitler. His exploration of this Sermon led to one of Christianity’s greatest books ever The Cost of Discipleship. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. found a tremendous statement of non-violent resistance that set India free and made the Civil Rights Movement possible.

It was interesting to discover that Gandhi loved the Sermon on the Mount. He said that reading the Sermon on the Mount “went straight to my heart.” There is a reported conversation between the Gandhi and the former British Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin. Lord Irwin asked Gandhi what he thought would solve the problems between Great Britain and India. Gandhi picked up a Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of Matthew and said:

"When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world."

The Sermon on the Mount is one of five major “teaching” section found in Matthew. It is most likely not a single sermon Jesus gave at one sitting, but rather Matthew’s collection of teachings from Jesus. This isn’t uncommon. Gospel writers were free to arrange their material around certain themes.

Jesus was a travelling or itinerant preacher...which means He traveled from town to town teaching and preaching, and most likely used the same core teaching passages in different locations with slight variations of emphasis. This is how the Gospel of Luke can have passages that are similar to Matthew with a slightly different emphasis...and still not make the Bible a contradiction.

When I was growing up we had men and women called evangelists. They would do week-long revival services at our church and then move on to another church and do the same thing. If you happened to like that evangelists, sometimes you would travel to a close church they were speaking at and listen to them...often hearing a sermon you had heard before. They would often preach the same messages at each of the churches they spoke. Or, they might have a core group of sermons or use different variations of a sermon.

Stand up comedians do a very similar thing. They develop a routine and then give that same routine over and over in the different cities with variations for the region where they are working.

So today we begin by looking at the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes

For years people have tried to understand the Beatitudes, and even today there are two camps of understanding them. The first group says, “These Beatitudes are things we, as the People of God, should become. We should become meek, peacemakers, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.”

This turns the Beatitudes into a spiritual “to-do” list. I become poor in spirit so that I can inherit the Kingdom. I try to become meek, hungry and thirsty...I try to become these things so that I can inherit these things...and we have done nothing more than create a new law; just as binding and unattainable as the old one.

Dallas Willard says,
“The greatest gift of Jesus, outside the gift of himself and 'regeneration' is the Sermon on the Mount. But the way most interpret it actually makes it sound like bad news. This extends for example to the Beatitudes. People read: 'Blessed are the Poor' and say, 'oh I've got to become poor in order to be blessed'. This is a total misunderstanding of his teaching. All of his teaching is about the kingdom of God, entering the kingdom of God through faith in him and the process of being transformed so that the kinds of behavior taught, and indeed the old law, are a natural expression of who we have become."

With these problems in mind the second group of people says the Beatitudes are for people when they find themselves in this situation not out of effort, but out circumstance. Jesus is looking at the disciples, at the crowd, looking at us, and saying for those of you who are beaten into submission by this world...I have great news for you. For those of you who passionately seek after righteousness...I have some great news for you.

As we grow in our faith...we should naturally come to a point of hungering and thirsting for righteousness...not because we are checking of a spiritual to-do list, but because God’s words and desires have embedded themselves into us and we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. There will be groups of people who are beaten up and poor in spirit...rejected by the world...and Jesus says, “I have good news for you...the Kingdom is for you!” There will be people who are mourning...not just sin...but hurting over losses of loved ones and friends...and Jesus says, “I have good news for you!”

Every Kingdom has people, behaviors and states of being that let you know who are in the in-crowd. There is no more clear example of the difference between those whom the world values and those whom the Kingdom of God values than the Beatitudes. We live in the United States where the rich, the power, and the famous rule, but the Beatitudes point out the poor, the broken, the mild-mannered, the misunderstood, those who desire peace, the persecuted...as being the ones the Kingdom of God cares about.

So the Beatitudes force us to answer the following questions
What do Kingdom People look like? Who is it the Kingdom values?”

The Kingdom values people who are completely dependent upon God.

The first thing we notice is that these blessings only come when God brings them about. The people on this list are in no position to do anything to help or to bring about anything...much less find any blessing in their situation. They are stranded...beaten up...in pain...they are not in a position we would normal consider to be blessed.

Let’s look at the Beatitudes that bring this idea of being completely dependent upon God to the forefront.

The first verse we are going to look at is Vs. 3 where it says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The phrase we translate as “poor in spirit” comes first for the word for those who are impoverished and needy. When we add “in spirit” we see that these people are broken. They are beaten up and trapped by their condition...and their only recourse...the only thing that will help them is to depend on God.

They are unable to do anything themselves to remedy their situation. They can’t work harder. They must depend upon God...because of their poverty they must trust God every step of the way to meet their needs, to supply for them, to protect and care for them. These are people, who in their deepest needs have turned to God for rescue.

The reality of it is we can’t do it on our own anyway. We only think we can. When things are good we believe we can do anything. We don’t depend upon God. Jesus told His disciples that it was extremely difficult for the wealthy to get into the Kingdom; like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. Why? Because when everything is going well, and that especially happens when we have enough money...we forget to depend upon God for everything.

Being poor in spirit forces us to come to the end of our proverbial ropes. It forces us to come to the point where we know we can’t go on...can’t do it ourselves...we have no resources to do what we know must be done...we are poor in spirit and in so doing become completely dependent upon God.

The next verse is Vs. 4 where it says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

When we mourn we are grieving the loss of something or someone important to us. There are times, when, through the Holy Spirit, we mourn deep within the absence of God’s justice and righteousness in our world. We may mourn the loss of a dream or idea in our lives. These can cause deep feelings of despair, depression, and mourning. More often our mourning comes from death. It may be a friend or loved one. We are overcome with grief at the loss of someone dear to us.

And there are times, in our grief, when the pain and hurt of the loss are so overwhelming we cannot bear it. It feels like we are going to break apart into a million unrepairable pieces. It hurts too badly...so deeply that words cannot comfort...time seems not to heal...and the pain too great. It is in times like these, though, that we must throw ourselves into complete dependence upon God because only the comforting closeness of God is able to hold us together.

We must be willing to do things in God’s way, and be completely dependent upon Him.

So the Kingdom values people who are dependent upon God...

The Kingdom values people who are holy.

Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” v. 8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Both of these verses remind us that God isn’t content for us to live sinful lives. He calls us to be holy. As we look at the rest of the Sermon on the Mount we will be challenged by some pretty high moral standards.

When we hunger and thirst for righteousness we are asking for God’s justice, His will, to be done. The more we know of God and how He wants things to be in our world...the hungrier we should be to see it happen. A world where peace rules. A world where people are cared for, the broken are healed, and people are genuinely loved. The more we understand what God wants to do...the more we should want it!

Being pure in heart means we are people of integrity who’s outer actions are a reflection of our inner most being. We have done the hard work of character development and becoming Christlike because being pure in heart requires action on our part. We have to resist temptation and choose to live God’s way. Being pure in heart doesn’t just come naturally. We have to get to the place where our outer actions don’t come from an exterior law with it’s punishment for disobedience, but instead they must come from a law that is written on our heart.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us some pretty high standards of morality, and many through the years have tried to soften it or excuse themselves from it...because it is hard.

Gandhi found it absurd that Christians believed the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount to be impossible to live out. He said,
“For many of them contend that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to mundane things, and that it was only meant for the twelve disciples. Well I do not believe this. I think the Sermon on the Mount has no meaning if it is not of vital use in everyday life to everyone.”

Christians felt they couldn’t live up to the high moral calling found in the Sermon on the Mount, but Gandhi believed it has no meaning if it we can’t use it in our everyday life!

As we study the Sermon on the Mount we should hear Jesus calling us, His listeners, into a new Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that is not of this realm, it has a high moral calling, that we are able to live out not because of a law or rule, but because His Holy Spirit dwells inside of us. He asks us to live a very different life than the world around us. This Sermon gives us a set of values that are not easy because they seem to be in direct contradiction to how we are “naturally” set up to function. But because Jesus is calling us to live them out...it certainly seems He believes we can do it.

We must learn to live in the power and the righteousness of this Kingdom in this world because we will be living it in God’s future Kingdom. We are preparing for the day when these values will be the defining principles of our society...when Jesus institutes the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. We must learn to love peace, to love our neighbors as ourselves...because this is how it will be when God establishes His Kingdom here.

Craig S. Keener says,
“Only those submitted to God’s reign now are truly prepared for the time when he will judge the world and reign there unchallenged. This sermon provides examples of the self-sacrificial ethics of the kingdom, which its citizens must learn to exemplify even in the present world before the rest of the world recognizes that kingdom.”

Here are two keys to this though...

We must allow God’s high moral demands to be seasoned with Grace.

No call to a high morality is any good without grace and forgiveness, and God understands our failures in living this out.

But...
We must allow Grace to be seasoned with God’s high moral demands.

While we sin and fail...this doesn’t excuse us from pressing forward and onward to reach this.

The Kingdom values people who are completely dependent upon God. It values those who are holy. Next...

The Kingdom values people who accomplish the Kingdom purposes in God’s way.

Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Some people don’t like this word. I grew up in a neighborhood where people who were meek were taken advantage of or beaten up. The modern English definition of the word meek is someone who is submissive, quiet, gentle. The word we translate as meek better understood as the person who is not seeking to win by their own means. They are waiting on God to move and accomplish His will His way.

Both of these definitions may look very similar in practice. The person who is submissive will look not too different from the person who is waiting on God to defend them. They are not submissive to the world around. They are dependent upon God.

It is easy to get carried away, to become impatient with God’s “slowness,” and begin to do things in our own way. King Saul was guilty of this in the Old Testament. He was ready to head off to battle, and the men were getting restless as they waited for Samuel to arrive and perform the sacrifices. So Saul performed the sacrifices. Because he was unwilling to wait for God’s way of doing things...Saul’s kingdom was taken away from him and given to David.

I am guilty of this. I want God to meet a need. I pray for God to provide, and when He doesn’t do what I think He should I start looking for other ways to meet the need. I pull out the credit card and pay for things rather than depend on God or be content with what He has given me. I want an answer to a particular problem, and when it doesn’t come I just make a decision; often with bad consequences.

We have to learn to wait on God...to be meek.

Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

There is a big difference between being a peacemaker and a peacekeeper. The peacekeeper is the one who simply wants to keep strife and tension at a minimum. This is the adult child who won’t confront a parent’s dysfunction because they just want to get through the holidays in peace. This is the person who allows that co-worker to keep being an idiot because they just hope it will go away.

Peacemakers are very different. They seek to bring peace to a situation of strife, but know that takes some hard work. It means naming the wrong in both parties...so that they can get past it.

Awhile back Bill Cosby took some heat for a comment he made to the African-American community. In essence he said that for African American men to truly be what the Civil Rights had worked so hard for, they needed become educated, stop living the thug life, and start being real men by being a father to their children. He was accused of being a traitor to his people...but he was trying to be a peacemaker by naming the problem and working to resolve it.

Peacemakers are not popular...in fact they are often martyred. Gandhi...Martin Luther King Jr....people don’t like peacekeepers because they can’t force them to take a side. If you are on that side then you are an enemy...if you are on this side then you are a friend...but trying to bring people together in the middle...we aren’t sure if you can be trusted.

Yet, the Kingdom values peacemakers. People who are willing to take the shots from both sides in order to bring them together in true peace and not just a quieting of the turmoil.

So the Kingdom values those who are completely dependent upon God, it values those who are holy, it values those who accomplish God’s will in God’s ways...and finally

The Kingdom values people who are persecuted for doing what is right.

Blessed are the poor in spirit...blessed are those who mourn...blessed are the meek...blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...blessed are the merciful...blessed are the pure in heart...blessed are the peacemakers...

These are not states of being that are normally considered blessed. People who live lives that reflect the values of the Kingdom are often persecuted. Jesus pronounces a blessing over those who are persecuted for righteousness, and then in verse 11 changes from a third person to the first person. v. 10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” and then in v.11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Jesus knew it would happen. People who lives these lives and value these things are not well liked in our world. He knows this because they have never been liked. People murdered the prophets because they were willing to challenge the people to do things in God’s ways. When we choose to value the things God values and live the way God calls us to live...we will be persecuted.

This is where we have to kick out the myth that God wants me to be happy...because We may lose our jobs because we are called to live with integrity. You may have to refuse to lie at your job.

There are pastors who, for fear of losing their jobs or because of pressure to grow their church, hold back on God’s word and its requirements.

As a teenager you may be made fun of or become unpopular because you choose to do what is right.

As a young adult you may face ridicule or insults from college professors because you dare to believe in an invisible God that has a book that we can pick apart.

Challenges are going to come when we choose to follow Jesus and live as the Kingdom People He has called us to be.

I think the greatest challenge, though, for the Christian in America is not the being persecuted, but acting like Kingdom people while being persecuted. We sense the slightest bit of persecution and we run to the court system or react in ways that are anything but meek or peaceful or merciful. We stop loving our neighbor if they don’t agree with us. We refuse to love our enemy.

But vs 12 says, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Rejoicing and being glad...that is not our first response. We complain and whine and moan about how bad people are treating us. Jesus says that when we are persecuted it is a time of joy because we have done something that places us in some very good company.

We have to allow God to accomplish His will in His way and trust that when we act the way He calls us to act...that we will see the Kingdom of God come.

Conclusion

The Kingdom of Heaven values people who completely depend upon God. It values people who seek to live holy lives. It values people who desire to accomplish God’s will in God’s way, and It values those who are persecuted for doing what is right.

In the Beatitudes Christ is calling us, as people of the Kingdom, to reject what our world says gives value...money, fame, and popularity, and give worth and value to those who are rejected, beaten down, and ignored by this world. He is calling us to live a life of contrary values.

There is value in the person who is so poor they can’t make the bills...and is trying to take advantage of the system. There is value in the person who is weeping uncontrollably because they have lost a loved one...and we can’t find words. There is value in the person who does what is right and gets put down and rejected because of it. There is value in people the world says has none...because the Kingdom of Heaven values them.

And we are called to rejoice in the persecution that comes because it means we are going contrary to the world’s way of thinking, but perfectly in line with what the Kingdom values. This isn’t an easy life He is calling us to live.

Father,

Help us to value what you value. To love those whom you love. To work and trust that your way is the best way even when we think we know how to do it better. Help us rejoice and not retaliate when faced with ridicule and rejection. And help us to live this out of your Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Amen.

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