1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
1 Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2 and He began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Today we begin a series of sermons based on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Jesus began what is known as the Sermon on the Mount by making eight statements, and these statements have become known as the Beatitudes. Some have labelled them the “beautiful attitudes.” Each Sunday during the next 8 weeks we will be looking at each of these beautiful attitudes, and today by way of introduction to the series we’ll look at the beatitudes in general. We’ll cover some of the misconceptions of this teaching by Jesus, and of course this is more than just a history lesson. We need to apply the radical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in particular to our own lives.
Jesus did not teach us these things to fill our heads with information and knowledge. His motive for teaching was to change lives.
One of the greatest problems in the Christian Church today is superficiality, and the remedy for superficiality is found in the Beatitudes.
The Bible scholar John Macarthur wrote in one of his commentaries, “In any given generation only a handful of people make an impression on the world that lasts more than a few years. The person who stands out above all others is Jesus Christ. Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.”
The Sermon on the Mount, which takes up chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s gospel, is probably the best-known, but least understood and least followed, of all the teachings of Jesus.
The Beatitudes are a collection of eight characteristics or qualities of life that separate the children of God from the rest of the world.
These eight beatitudes describe the blessed state of those who humbly submit themselves to the will of God.
It’s important to note that Jesus is not talking about eight different groups of people – the poor, mourners, meek, etc, but rather every Christian is meant to manifest or live out each one of these characteristics.
Many Christians today regard the Sermon on the Mount as a contrast to the Ten Commandments. Another common mistake is that some Christians turn it into a modern version of the Ten Commandments. In so doing they have done to the Sermon on the Mount what the Pharisees did to the Law - they have drained the life out of it. They have turned the teachings of Jesus into a series of “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots.”
But giving us a set of new commandments to live by was never the intention of this teaching of Jesus.
When we get into the beatitudes properly and see what Jesus intended, we soon realise that rather than being a series of sayings meant to comfort us, they are really a serious challenge as to how we should live our lives for Him.
Let’s look at the historical context of the beatitudes for a moment.
First century Judea had many problems. The land was occupied by the Roman Empire, a cruel and tyrannical military government. It was a world of absolute rulers, and the very concept of a democracy just didn’t exist in those days. It was a dictatorship, a world of persecution, and the people in the lands ruled by Rome had virtually no rights. They were heavily taxed, and cruelly oppressed by their Roman occupiers.
Racial prejudice was rampant, as was slavery. Some historians have calculated that there were approximately three slaves to every free man.
The social and political climate in Judea in those days helped define and shape the thinking and teaching of the different organisations of the day.
The Zealots, the terrorists of their day, said, “Don’t worry about your spiritual life - our hope is military might.”
The Sadducees said, “We can only survive by compromising with the world. Be cautious and negotiate the best bargain you can.”
The Pharisees said, “Live a clean, ritually pure life, (as defined by our Rabbis), trust in God and He will do the rest.”
Someone once said that the only difference between Sadducees and Pharisees is that the Sadducees bargained with Rome, while the Pharisees bargained with God.
In much the same way as the truth of God is being diluted in our world, the same was happening 2000 years ago.
And so, in the middle of this social and political turmoil, a time of real struggle for God’s chosen people, along comes a lowly Galilean carpenter turned preacher.
The end of Matthew 4 provides the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching 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 paralysed, and He healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him.” (Matthew 4:23-25). This was during the second year of Jesus’ public ministry, and He was at the height of His popularity.
He’d already had a few run-ins with the Pharisees. These self-appointed religious custodians of Israel taught that absolute, ritual obedience to their interpretation of God’s laws was the key to eternal life, but Jesus, in Matthew 4:17 said something radically different to what they taught. “From that time on, Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’” This message gives us a glimpse of the radical teachings of Jesus that were to come.
Just yesterday at our men’s fellowship meeting we were talking about how so many people still don’t get it. We still think we can earn our way into God’s favour by religiously sticking to the thou shalts and thou shalt nots. Jesus challenged this empty religion 2000 years ago, and He still does so today.
He taught about the need for genuine repentance.
What is repentance? Various Bible dictionaries and lexicons define it as “to change one’s mind and purpose, to have a change of heart, turn from one’s sins, change one’s ways, to change any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitude, thoughts, and behaviours concerning the demands of God for right living.”
Jesus was not just asking people to change a few of their behaviours. He was asking them to radically change their entire lives and worldview.
There is often a misunderstanding of just what repentance means to us. Yes, part of the process of true repentance is facing up to just how much our sin has ruined our lives. It is a dreadful thing to look into our own hearts and see the extent of darkness and depravity we find there. When God breaks our hearts for what breaks His, we feel overwhelmed, but we must also remember Jesus’ words in John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” He takes the brokenness and despair we experience when we repent, and He replaces those things with a new joy as we learn to live life the way God intended it to be lived.
One New Testament commentary says, “However absolute the call to repentance, it was a message of joy, because the possibility of repentance exists. Because God has turned to man, man should, may and can turn to God. Hence conversion and repentance are accompanied by joy, for they mean the opening up of life for the one who has turned. The parables in Luke 15 bear testimony to the joy of God over the sinner who repents and call on men to share it. God’s gift to men in their conversion is life. When the parable of the prodigal son pictures conversion as a return to the Father, it can be said of the man who has repented, ‘This my son was dead, and is alive again.’”
As Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, He challenges people to a standard of living that is radically different from anything the world had ever seen before.
A key principle we need to keep in the forefront of our minds as we work our way through the Beatitudes is this: Jesus does not say, “Live like this and you will be a Christian,” but rather, “Because you are a Christian, live like this.”
This sermon shows how Christians are meant to live, and the way Jesus taught it was so different to the tactics used by the Pharisees. The Pharisees demanded obedience to their warped interpretation of God’s laws. In contrast, the Sermon on the Mount sounds rather friendly, but don’t let that fool you. God never has and never will compromise His truth.
The Bible commentator Robertson Whiteside wrote, “It seems certain that no other speech ever delivered has so influenced man as has this Sermon on the Mount. Its contents, so superior to any production of man, proved the Deity of its author. Its teaching is out of harmony with any school of religion or philosophy of that day; hence, their brightest lights could not have produced it. It is not eclectic, that is, its contents are not a collection of the best thoughts of that and previous ages. Its teaching is distinct, revolutionary, challenging every school of religious thought of the times, both Jewish and heathen. It is not a product of the times, but of Deity.”
Matthew chapters 5 to 7 may make us “feel good,” but if they do, this actually means we’ve not really understood the radical teaching of Jesus in these 3 chapters.
This teaching of Jesus, when properly understood, should crush us, as it exposes our utter helplessness before God. It condemns us for falling short and drives us to the Cross.
However, as mentioned earlier, Jesus wants us to change our lives for the better, so if you want power in your life as a Christian - if you want to be blessed, then go to the Sermon on the Mount, and start with the Beatitudes.
The Sermon on the Mount shows the way of blessing for a Christian.
We do not find happiness in the same way the world does, because our standards are different to theirs.
Jesus teaches us that it is the poor (not the arrogant or superior), the meek (not the proud), the merciful (not the cruel), the peacemakers (not the agitators) who are blessed by God, because our view of God determines how we view the world.
The biggest mistake most people make in studying the Beatitudes is in misunderstanding the very first word in each verse.
In the original Greek the word makarios is used where we use the word blessed. It is a much deeper word which means blessed, happy and fortunate all at once.
The Life Application Bible commentary says, “Each beatitude tells how to be blessed. Blessed means more than happiness. It implies the fortunate or enviable state of those who are in God’s Kingdom. The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. Being ‘blessed’ by God means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To Jesus, ‘blessed’ means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.”
Our modern idea of ‘happiness’ is a dependence on circumstances. The happiness and blessings Jesus is talking about is dependent on the assurance of God’s blessing (sometimes present, often future), and not on current circumstances. When you spend time talking to a believer who has that deep-seated inner joy and peace, you can sense it almost immediately.
William Barclay writes, “That Greek word for blessed, makarios describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and changes of life. The English word happiness gives its own case away. It contains the root hap which means chance. Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances and the changes of life, something which life may give and which life may also destroy.”
So just what are these blessings described in the beatitudes? The second half of each beatitude explains it. The blessed possess the kingdom of heaven and they inherit the earth. The mourners are comforted and the hungry are satisfied. They receive mercy, they see God, they are called the sons of God. Their heavenly reward is great. And all these blessings belong together. Just as the eight qualities describe every Christian, so the eight blessings are given to every Christian so that we can live out these eight qualities, these beautiful attitudes.
Interestingly, the beatitudes found in the Sermon in the Mount are not the only beatitudes in the New Testament. Matthew 11:6, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” And Revelation 14:13, words we are so familiar with as they provide comfort and strength in our times of mourning: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’”
The Beatitudes speak of a joy which comes in spite of sickness, pain, sorrow, loss of a loved one, or grief, and they give us a glimpse of the promises to come in eternity.
Jesus said in John 16:22, “No one will take away your joy.”
So beginning next Sunday we’ll take a detailed look at each of the beatitudes – the promises they make, and also the way they challenge us to live our lives for God.
An important point to remember is that the beatitudes do not describe different types of Christians. All of these beautiful attitudes are meant to be manifest in the lives of followers of Jesus Christ.
Christians are different in what we seek after and long for. Everyone hungers and thirsts after something. What is it that drives you? Is it wealth, power and prestige, or is it the righteousness of God?
The life and teachings of Jesus challenges us. He has rightfully been called the most influential person in history, but there is no doubt that He is also the most divisive and controversial person too. Follow Him and live like Him, and you will divide opinion.
I know I’m jumping ahead a bit here, but the last of the beatitudes tells us that we are blessed when people insult or persecute us because we follow Jesus. I found a story on a Christian website which illustrates this principle so well. Jim Caviezel is the actor who portrayed Jesus in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ He is a committed Christian, and this is what the article says: “Caviezel admitted that playing the role of Jesus in the film has seriously limited his career, saying that he has since been rejected in his own industry. Caviezel says he was warned by the film’s director, Mel Gibson, that this was a real possibility. Caviezel responded saying, ‘We all have to embrace our crosses.’ The actor wasn’t at all surprised by the reaction to the film. ‘Jesus is as controversial now as He has ever been,’ explained Caviezel. ‘Not much has changed in 2,000 years.’ While Jim Caviezel is an avowed follower of Jesus Christ, it was ironically not his personal faith, but his portrayal of the Saviour that landed him on the Hollywood blacklist. Usually, ‘playing’ at being a Christian elicits an innocuous response at best. It’s not until we get real with our faith that we begin to pose a real threat to the status quo. The Christian who is serious about following the Saviour can expect nothing less than scorn and disdain from the world. Jesus Himself clearly communicated not only the inevitability of such treatment, but spoke of the blessing that would follow saying, ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ It is a point not missed by Caviezel himself, admitting that he has no regrets. ‘We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth,’ adding that he is assured he’ll receive his reward in heaven.”
It is not enough to simply hear the words of Jesus. We need to allow His words and His teachings to transform us more and more into His likeness each day.
We close with Jesus’ closing comments in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 7: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Matthew 5:1-12
Many Christians think of the beatitudes as not much more than a list of encouraging sayings, intended to make us feel better about ourselves.
Why is this a mistake?
What do you think Jesus really intended with these opening statements to the Sermon on the Mount?
James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
At first glance, the beatitudes don’t appear to be commands or instructions by Jesus, so how do we apply James 1:22 to what Jesus teaches through the beatitudes?
The Bible scholar John Macarthur wrote “Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.”
Discuss this statement in your group. Do you agree with him?
What can we do to change things?
As we cover each beatitude during this series, do your own research during each week in preparation for the next time you meet. Next week’s beatitude is Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”