Our text for this morning is the account from Matthew’s Gospel which is the first part of what we know as The Sermon on the Mount. The text begins at a point in time where Jesus has become aware of the death of John the Baptist and He, that is Jesus, has begun preaching and teaching and healing the sick and casting out demons. And as a result of Jesus doing these things he has begun attracting large crowds. These large crowds of people are now following Jesus to see what amazing things he might do next. So let’s hear this account from Matthew 5.
So these large crowds of people were coming to hear what inspired word this traveling Rabbi named Jesus had to share. He went up on a mountainside the text says. He went to higher ground so that he could be more easily heard. Then the text says that Jesus sat down. This was significant because in those days, when a rabbi was doing formal teaching he would do so from a seated position. Now rabbis would have ongoing instructional conversations with their disciples as they walked from one place to another and there are certainly recorded accounts of Jesus having such discussions with his disciples as they traveled from place to place. So Jesus sat down because He was going to do some formal teaching. What we may not remember is that these crowds of followers were coming to hear the teachings of this traveling rabbi. It was early in the earthly ministry of Jesus so the people in these crowds had not yet come to see Jesus as the divine Son of God; in fact, they saw Him as just another inspired rabbi who had some very interesting teachings to share and they were attracted by the miraculous things Jesus was doing.
Then Jesus began this particular teaching session with a series of “Blessed are …” statements. An interesting sidelight to this text is the fact that in any of the “authorized” versions of the Scripture the word “are” is italicized. That is because in the Greek or in the Hebrew there is no equivalent word for “are” so that word had to be added to help us understand the meaning of the sentence. Of course Jesus didn’t speak these “blessed’s” in Greek, he spoke them in Aramaic, which was the form of the Hebrew language spoken by the people in His day. There is a common expression in both Aramaic and Hebrew which Jesus may well have used when He spoke these beatitudes. It is an exclamation which simply means, “O the blessedness of …”. The significance of that is that these sayings which we know as “The Beatitudes” are not virtuous, religious, hopes of what shall be, but they are celebrations of what already is.
Christian blessedness therefore is not some in-the-sweet-by-n-by, future world of glory type of blessedness. No, it is a blessedness which exists in the here and now! It is a present reality to be experienced and enjoyed in the here and now! In effect the beatitudes say; “O the joy of following Christ! O the satisfying peace of knowing Jesus Christ as Master, Savior, and Lord!” This blessedness, this joy, is untouchable, self-contained, completely independent of the situations and circumstances of life. It is not a superficial, Pollyanna, detached from reality, type of blessed joy; it is a deep seated blessed joy that comes with the indwelling presence of Christ. So, let’s look again at this blessedness of which Jesus speaks.
“O the Blessedness of the poor in spirit.” It is important to note that this blessed state is not about material things but about spiritual matters. You are blessed when you are poor in spirit, said Jesus. One of the keys to our salvation is to realize that we are completely poverty stricken when it comes to our spiritual capital! We are flat broke! We cannot earn, we cannot deserve, we cannot merit our own salvation! Its only when we come to that realization that we are ready to humbly and helplessly put our full and complete trust in God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s forgiveness to receive all that God has for us, including the eternal salvation of our souls! When we come to that decision, we become persons completely detached from things and attached to God-in-Christ! And when that is our state, we have entered the kingdom of heaven! O the blessedness of being poor in spirit!
“O the Blessedness of those who mourn.” Mourning is an emotion that is triggered by loss. The loss of almost anything or anyone can trigger this emotion of mourning. The severity of the sense of mourning is related to the value attached to that which was lost. The mourning being spoken of here is of the deepest, most heartfelt type. A sorrow, a mourning, as one experiences at the loss of one so sincerely loved that it causes an ache, an emptiness, that’s felt in the heart. As we saw in the first beatitude, with the sense of spiritual bankruptcy comes the profound sense of loss, of mourning; mourning, or sorrow, over the personal sin in one’s life and the mourning of the societal and cultural sin of the world that surrounds us. Perhaps the concept of this blessedness is best summed up in the following statement. O the blessedness of one whose heart is broken for the world’s suffering and for one’s own sin; for out of that sorrow, that mourning, one will find God. And at that point, one is greatly comforted. O the blessedness of such mourning!
“O the Blessedness of the meek.” In our language, our jargon, meekness has gotten a bad rap. We tend to hear the term meek used to describe those that are seen weak and spineless. In the Greek language the term for meek was communicating the concept of having been domesticated, having been trained to obey commands. It carries here the idea of submitting to the command, the control, of Almighty God. There is, additionally, the element of humility involved. In this context, meekness has nothing to do with being spineless or weak or being a doormat. It has everything to do with freely submitting to the will, the control, of the God whom we have come to know in Jesus the Christ. Blessed is the person who has the humility to know his own lack of knowledge, his own weakness, and his own need for deliverance. To live in this state is to inherit the earth.
“O the Blessedness of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” Have you ever been really, really hungry or thirsty? I don’t mean that hunger for a late night snack or that thirst after mowing the lawn on a summer afternoon. No, I’m talking about being to the point of starving for food, or thirsting for a drink to prevent dying of dehydration. This beatitude is speaking of a hunger and a thirst that is a very real desperation. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness to that degree. But what is this righteousness? This righteousness consists of being honorable; being moral; seeking justice for all persons in all situations; being decent and upright; and being completely honest. Those characteristics are all fully present in only one person: Jesus the Christ! So the righteousness being described here is found in living the Christ-like life. And as one commits to following Christ, as one surrenders to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, one can in fact, be filled with these Christ-like qualities of righteousness. Life becomes more of Jesus, and less of me. O the blessedness of such hunger and thirst!
“O the Blessedness of mercifulness.” The mercy spoken of here by Jesus is a mercy best understood as forgiveness. So this statement reinforces a theme that runs throughout the New Testament: to be forgiven, one must be a forgiving person. Each Sunday we recite the Lord’s prayer in which we state; “forgive us our trespasses (our sins) AS we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” This clearly states that in order to be forgiven of the wrongs, the sins, that we have committed against others, we must be willing to forgive the wrongs, the sins, which others may have committed against us. In fact, Jesus states this axiom clearly in Matthew 6:14-15. This is not some casual, check off the box, I forgive, type of mercy expressed as forgiveness. No, the type of mercy, of forgiveness, of which Jesus speaks is much deeper than that. It requires investing in the other to try to “walk a mile in their shoes” and try to understand how they may see things, how they may have experienced things, to feel as they may have felt thing. This brand of mercy, this brand of forgiveness, requires an openness, an honesty about our relationships. O the blessing of mercy.
“O the Blessedness of a pure heart.” This beatitude must cause each of us to stop and think and honestly do some self-evaluation. The original word used for “pure” had several meanings, all of which add to our understanding of the Christian life. That word meant “clean”, it meant “sifted”, as the crops are sifted to remove all chaff. It meant “unadulterated”, as in free of additives. In Scripture we are told that we are made clean by our faith in the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. And in Luke 3:17 we hear how God will separate the wheat, the saved, from the chaff, the unsaved. And we Christians are to be unadulterated with the only additive being the Holy Spirit who lives within us. As individuals we need to examine the condition of our heart. That condition is most easily determined by looking at the motives behind our actions. Why do we do the things that we do? Answering that question; honestly answering that question, will help us determine the purity of our heart. O the blessedness of a pure heart.
“O the Blessedness of peacemaking.” Peace involves more than simply the absence of conflict or trouble. Peace as used here means everything that makes for another’s highest good. In the Bible peace means not only freedom from all trouble; it means enjoyment of all good. An important note on this beatitude is that it is not directed at peace LOVERS, but is directed at peace MAKERS. It is one thing to want peace, to enjoy peace, and another thing to actually work toward making peace in volatile situations or relationships. The beatitude says that peacemakers are to be called, or known, as the children of God. For us, this refers to our relationship with God-in-Christ as joint heirs with Jesus who was described before his birth in Isaiah 9:6. It is a high and noble calling to be a peacemaker. I believe that begins within each of us. For I believe that within each of us there is this inner conflict between good and evil; we are caught in a tug-of-war between these inner forces. It is a battle of war, inner strife, that needs to power of God in order for the good to win and bring the inner peace that will enable one to be a peacemaker. Making peace with God for our sin is only accomplished by accepting the fact that Jesus paid the price for MY sin. Then we may be used by God as a peacemaker in relationships between people and perhaps used in helping others to make their peace with God. O the blessedness of peacemakers for they are doing Godly work.
“O the Blessedness of persecution.” The blessedness of persecution?! Doesn’t that sound inviting? Probably not the most convincing recruitment slogan: the blessedness of persecution. Well, in this day and age persons are persecuted for a variety of reasons. From their ethnic heritage, to their gender, to their political beliefs, to their sexual orientation, and even to their religious affiliations. While persecution for any or all of these things may bring its own degree of blessedness, this is not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is talking about the blessedness of being persecuted for ones steadfast faithfulness to Jesus as the Christ, as ones personal Savior. We in the USA are fortunate compared to our sisters and brothers of the Christian faith in other parts of the world where being openly Christian can bring hostile persecution and which may even cost you your life! O the blessedness of persecution for the Way, the Truth, and the Life offered by faith in Jesus Christ.
Well, what does all this blessedness mean for you and me? To begin with, we are blessed when we accept God’s offer of forgiveness and new life by placing our complete faith and trust in the redeeming work of Jesus the Christ. And when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior; as Pastor Andy put it some weeks ago when he said that we accept the invitation of Jesus to enter into His life! When we choose to do that we get the blessing of the presence of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us. That is a blessedness in and of itself! But the Holy Spirit comes to bring about a transformation within us. Enabling and equipping us to experience any and all of these various forms of blessedness which Jesus describes here in the beatitudes. Christianity is not just another form of self-help religion. No, Christianity is accepting the fact that we are unable to change ourselves and therefore trusting in the power of God, working through the Holy Spirit, to change us, to make us evermore Christ-like. When we have committed ourselves to that journey of faith, we discover the blessedness to face all the experiences life offers us!
O the blessedness of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ!