This is the first in a series of posts on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). This series will run through August 31, and will be published weekly on Mondays. The purpose of this series is to help us more clearly understand what it looks like to follow Jesus.
What is the Sermon on the Mount?
Before talking about what the Sermon on the Mount is, however, we must note what it is not. It is not simply a futuristic picture of the kingdom of God, but a picture of what Christians ought to be working toward while awaiting the future kingdom of God. It becomes clear in reading the New Testament that although Christ has come and the kingdom has been inaugurated, things are not yet perfect as they will be at His return. We live in between Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father and His visible return as King, where all peoples, Christians and non-Christians, will see Him as the rightful ruler of the universe. Realizing that creation will not be set fully right until that day, we are still called to work, both in our personal lives and in the world around us, toward that end. So, the Sermon on the Mount shows us how to advance the kingdom of God in our personal lives and in the world around us in the present day while awaiting the fullness of it at Christ’s return.
It is also not just meant to show us our need for Christ, though that is part of its aim. The Sermon on the Mount often reveals our need for the righteousness of Christ and His forgiveness. But the commands of Christ are not only meant to lead us to conviction, but, after receiving the righteousness of Christ, they have a proper place in sanctification, the living out of our righteousness in Christ, as well. His commands convict us and lead us to faith in Him alone for salvation, as well as lead us in the living out of that salvation, for our joy and His glory.
What does it mean to be blessed? Search Twitter for “blessed” and you’ll find memorable quotes such as, “Too blessed to be stressed!” or celebrities boasting about how they’ve just been so blessed to be where they are. There are athletes who say they’re “blessed” with athletic abilities or artists “blessed” with their talents.
Is this truly what it means to be blessed? Is blessedness something we have because of ever-changing, never-stable, temporary, worldly circumstances? Are you still blessed when the money runs out, or when the athletic or musical talent fades away? Are you still blessed when the doctor says you have cancer? Are you still blessed when your child dies before they take their first steps?
Blessed with Nothing But Christ (1-6)
Luckily, the biblical definition of being blessed looks nothing like the world’s definition. Jesus says the following in the first section of the Sermon on the Mount:
“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, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.'”
Those temporary “blessings” won’t make anyone right before God. They are worthless in light of eternity. Sex, money and fame won’t take away your sin problem. So are we truly blessed if we have creation without the Creator? Are we blessed if we have worldly treasure without salvation?
There is no joy in this world that can compare with the joy of being in right relationship with God forever, and no pain or suffering in this world that will compare with being apart from God for all eternity in hell.
Coming into right relationship with God must begin with the attitudes that Jesus describes here in verses 3-6: poor in spirit (recognizing our need for God), mourning (over sin), meek (depending on God), with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. As stated before, part of the aim of God’s law is to show us our need for a Savior, and to rid us of any self-righteousness. But the beatitudes show us that this is a sign of God’s blessing, not condemnation. If you’ve realized you can’t save yourself, and that your sin is wicked and offensive to God, and that you need righteousness that can only come from Him, that is a sign of God’s grace, God’s blessing, not His condemnation. Rejoice in that. Trust in Christ.
Why is this state of spiritual poverty and humility a state of blessedness? Because it leads to faith in Christ, and being united to Christ in faith is greater than anything this world can give. When we are united to Christ by faith, we become partakers of God’s kingdom (v. 3). We are comforted with the forgiveness of Christ, which is an objective act of God accomplished at the cross, applied through faith, not a subjective feeling (v. 4). We “inherit the earth,” that is, we will be with God forever in a renewed heaven and renewed earth. We will be satisfied with Christ’s righteousness and the working out of that righteousness in our own lives. This is true blessedness, to know nothing and boast in nothing but Christ, and all that comes with knowing Him.
Living a life transformed by grace (7-12)
God’s blessing is seen in showing us our need for Christ that leads to faith in Him and the rewards of that faith, but His blessing also extends to the new life that is transformed by the same grace. These next few verses show that this life is not an easy life, but one wrapped up in the pursuit of Christlikeness and the glory of God, which yields far greater reward than a pursuit of worldly things.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 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.”
Here Jesus describes the blessed life of the Christian, filled with extending God’s mercy, holiness and peace to others, while enduring the same persecution Jesus did during His time on earth.
Why is it blessed to be merciful? Because in showing mercy to others, we reflect the mercy God has shown us, and, in some way, we become more fully aware of God’s mercy in our life. Note that Jesus says this to those who are already His disciples (v. 1). So this is not Jesus’ way of saying that if you want to be saved, you better forgive everybody. Rather, if you are a disciple of Christ, forgiven by Him, the only right choice of action for you is to show the same mercy God showed you to others. This isn’t easy, in any sense of the word. Christians have been persecuted more than any group of people throughout history, and yet, the God of the universe calls us to respond with mercy and with the sharing of the gospel, not vengeance. But it is blessed to show mercy because we get to reflect the character of God and enjoy God’s mercy toward us.
Why is it blessed to be pure in heart? Why fight the sins of lust and anger and jealousy? Because those who set their heart on God will see God with their eyes. When we turn away from idols and settle for nothing less than seeing God, God promises that we will see Him. The fight of faith in God that leads us to destroy our sin is not easy, but it is worth it, because those who run the race will see God face-to-face.
Being a peacemaker means working, not for our personal gain, but for peace in the world, not through diplomatic solutions, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ that alone reconciles God to man, and man to his fellow man. This is not easy, for the work of the gospel is often opposed. But it is blessedness, because we give our lives up for the Savior.
Blessed are the Persecuted…Really?
In the last few verses, Jesus says perhaps the strangest thing in this section: Blessed are the persecuted. Blessed? How are the persecuted blessed, Jesus? They lose their homes, their jobs, their families, even their lives? How in the world are they blessed?
Isn’t it interesting that those who go through persecution are those who seem to love God more, while those who rest in their material comforts and lack of persecution seem to love God less? Isn’t it interesting that the church that is persecuted is the church that grows, while the church that is not persecuted is the church that dies?
Persecution is a blessing from God, not because persecution in and of itself is good, but because it is God’s design for His people to be more like Christ, for the gospel to spread, and for the world to see that believers value heavenly rewards over temporary, material treasures. Jesus says that those who are persecuted are blessed because in remaining faithful to God in persecution, they show that they are valuing God and the reward that comes from Him more than earthly comforts.
Persecuted believers, rejoice. There is a great reward that is coming. Part of that reward is seen in being more like Jesus in His sufferings, and in seeing the gospel go forth and Christ exalted as a result of persecution. But the reward of being with God in His presence, and experiencing His joy, His love and His eternal blessing is still to come. Remain steadfast. Rejoice in God. Don’t lose hope.
Are you blessed?
So are you truly blessed? Have you seen your need for Christ, and has that led you to faith in Him? If not, put your faith in Him today, and know the true blessing that comes from holding onto Christ alone. Are you seeing your life transformed by grace? Are you pursuing the blessing of being pure in heart that you might see God? Are you rejoicing in the persecution that comes as a result of following Christ? If not, pursue Him anew today. Pursue happiness and blessedness by knowing Christ and living for Him.
Matthew Henry sums up this passage well in his prayer:
“Blessed Jesus! How different are thy maxims from those of men of this world! They call the proud happy, and admire the happy, the rich, the powerful, and the victorious. May we find mercy from the Lord; may we be owned as his children, and inherit his kingdom. With these enjoyments and hopes, we may cheerfully welcome low or painful circumstances.”
Lord, may we be satisfied with knowing you as our Savior, trusting only in what you’ve done to save us. May we seek happiness, not in the things of this world, but in knowing more of who you are and being more like you, in thought and word and deed. May we always seek to make peace by sharing the gospel. May we endure persecution with faith in you and in the reward that you have promised. May we consider ourselves blessed because we know that you are ours and we are yours.