Part 1 of a series on The Sermon On The Mount by John Lavric
Rather than searching for which particular subject to consider next, I have decided to look at topics as they naturally arise in the Bible, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount? I don`t apologise for this even though I have preached though it at Celebration and Ashgrove and we have studied it at house group. Because its focus is on the citizens of the kingdom we should always keep it before us. It has influenced many ‘good’ laws since Jesus spoke it and is relevant for every generation. Let us first put it in its historical setting. This is one message, given in one location to a people waiting for a king to come and bring in his kingdom. For that reason I think a better title would be The Sermon of the Kingdom. Matthew records it as one complete sermon but I am sure parts of it were repeated. Jesus seeks to establish what are the pre-requisites for people to be part of that kingdom.
It begins with the Beatitudes, what someone called the ‘be-happy-tudes,’ nine statements that start with the words “Blessed are.” One very good definition is ‘having divine approval,’ and if that doesn`t make you happy, nothing will.
I read this beatitudes for the twentieth century. See how different they are.
Blessed are the pushers, for they get on in the world.
Blessed are the hard-boiled, for they never let life hurt them.
Blessed are they who complain, for they get their way in the end.
Blessed are the blasé, for they never worry over their own sins.
Blessed are the slave-drivers, for they get results.
Blessed are the trouble makers, for they make people notice them. (J B Phillips)
Let us look at the characteristics of those whom Jesus said had divine approval (blessed) and examine ourselves in the light of His words to see how we match up.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (vs. 3)
Years ago most people never locked their doors, mainly because they had nothing to steal, they acknowledged their poverty something we often find hard to do in spiritual matters. The Lord, speaking to Isaiah, said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” (Isa 57:15) “All God`s thrones are reached by going downstairs.” (G Campbell-Morgan) To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to truly know ourselves, to recognise that we are spiritually bankrupt. It is the answer and solution to human pride. To know that in and of ourselves we have absolutely nothing to offer God and the only thing we deserve is His judgement. How well the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ by A M Toplady puts it.
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Jesus illustrated this in His story of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector. (Luke 18:10-14) It was the one who knew his state, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” who went home justified. Jesus advised church members who thought they were, “rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” that they were actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17) and to do something about it quickly before it was too late. The kingdom that they so eagerly desired was not going to be won by the best warriors in dramatic battle or bought by the richest citizens, instead, God gave it as a free gift to those who knew they didn`t deserve it and could never earn it. To those who are ‘poor in spirit.’
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (vs. 4)
This is not looking at a different group of people but at the same group from a different aspect. Its context shows it is not referring to sadness in general but to an attitude of the citizens of the kingdom. This takes the first step one stage further. When we consider how God made us to have a relationship with Him, and how we see sin in ourselves and others marring that relationship, it should cause us to mourn, to grieve. This is having a right attitude towards sin. The OT prophets often wept as they saw the sin of the people. “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” (Ps 119:136) We too should be grieved by how our sin, even as born-again believers, spoils our lives and worse still grieves our Heavenly Father. Cranmer wrote “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” (1662 Communion service) Not exactly PC for the twenty-first century. This is not the ritual of the confessional but the reality of seeing our sin as God sees it and being truly contrite about it. Rather than being totally depressed by our sins we will then know God`s promise to “comfort all who mourn” and to give “the oil of joy instead mourning.” (Isa 61:2-3) It is worth mourning over sin to know the comfort of God.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (vs. 5)
Meekness is defined as courteous, considerate, gentle or humble. The meek usually get pushed out, as in the programme ‘The Apprentice’ where Alan Sugar loves to say “Your fired!” The hymn ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ could easily make us imagine this is talking about weak people who wouldn`t say boo to a goose. Or the Uriah Heep type character, ‘your ever so humble servant’ who are so creepy they make you sick. Don`t be fooled. Jesus could be gentle to those who were in need but he threw the traders out of the temple and called the nations religious leaders hypocrites and white-washed tombs. Hardly the words of a wimp. Meekness is not weakness, but power under control. “The meek man is the one who has stood before God`s judgement and abdicated all his supposed ‘rights’. He has learned, in gratitude for God`s grace, to submit himself to the Lord and to be gentle with sinners.” (S Ferguson) As Jesus willingly laid aside his glory (Phil 2:5-11) so the meek do not seek to exalt themselves before God or men but rather are willing to be taught by God. A simple test can be done to see how meek I really am. Do I mind telling people what a sinner I am? No! Do I mind them telling me what a sinner I am? That is not so easy, the old pride raises its ugly head. Here is how Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums it up: “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.” Paul wrote, “I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are.” (Rom 12:3) Here again we must not think in terms of a new category of people who are “blessed” but rather a clarification of the blessed ones. Remember also that this is not a promise of a second rate blessing, the ‘poor in spirit’ get heaven the ‘meek’ only get the earth. Jesus is saying in my kingdom rather than be pushed out you will inherit. As gentleness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit then meekness should be ever more evident in the lives of those who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit.