I have an unusual question for you as we get started today, “How many of you know of a family who has lost someone due to heroin in the past several years?” Most of you probably know this, but Ohio leads the country in heroin-related deaths. Ohio accounts for 1 in 9 of the nation’s heroin fatalities. I have a nephew who has been involved with heroin and a friend from high school who died two years ago as the result of a heroin overdose. This is a horrendous and extremely dangerous epidemic that is going on as we speak.
I wanted to ask you about this, because I wanted to ask you a second question, “If you had the opportunity to talk to someone that was hooked on heroin, what would you say to them to try to convince them to change?”
Particularly if it was someone close to you, you would likely beg and plead with them. You would try to explain that this is a life and death decision. You might show them pictures of themselves before and after their usage of heroin so they could see for themselves the consequences of using this drug. You would try your best to help them see that their life hangs in the balance of their decision about whether or not to stop using. You would try to help them see that an incredibly better life is available for them they would only look for it.
How to Have a Blessed Life
I want to return to this idea later, but first I want us to jump into today’s passage and take a look at Jesus’ first major sermon in the book of Matthew. If you still have your bulletin bookmark from the first couple of weeks of our study, you will remember the structure of Matthew is such that beginning here in chapter 5 we will hear a sermon from Jesus and then there will be a subsequent narrative and that pattern will repeat five times. So, today we begin the first sermon and it is a very famous sermon – The Sermon on the Mount. This sermon goes from Matthew 5:1 – 7:28 where we will see a refrain that marks the end of each of His sermons by stating, “When Jesus had finished saying these things.”
As we begin the Sermon on the Mount today, we will only be covering the very first part which is known as the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are almost like the Preamble to the Constitution. They are just the beginning, but they are perhaps the most famous part. What we will find today is that in these Beatitudes, Jesus teaches His followers what the life of a disciple should look like. This is a picture of the best kind of life you can live – the blessed life. When Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came to give life and give it to the full – this is the type of life He was referring to. What Jesus has to say here was immensely practical for the Jewish crowd that surrounded Him, because He had just gone about preaching the good news of the kingdom and they wanted to know more about this kingdom. If they were going to begin following Him, they had questions like: Am I eligible to enter your kingdom? Am I righteous enough to qualify for entrance? The only standard of righteousness they knew of had been introduced to them by the scribes and Pharisees, so they wondered: Would one who followed the standards of the scribes and Pharisees be acceptable in the Messiah’s kingdom? So, as we read this first sermon of Jesus, we have to understand that we must read it in the context of His offer of the kingdom to Israel and their need for repentance to enter into that kingdom.
Here is the main thing I want you to leave remembering today as Jesus talks about the righteousness that is required to enter His kingdom:
RIGHTEOUSNESS COMES FROM WITHIN, NOT FROM AVOIDING SIN.
The type of life Jesus is about to describe cannot be produced in our own power, it is the product of a new life that is energized by the Holy Spirit. Righteousness starts with a changed heart and works its way out into the attitudes and actions of our hearts.
WHAT IS A BEATITUDE?
The name for this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, comes from the Latin word for “blessed,” which is beatus. These statements that we will study today are an expression of the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, which once again, will point to Jesus as the Promised Messiah. Isaiah 61:1-3 says,
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
So, as we read these words from the beginning of Jesus’ sermon, understand that He is bringing Isaiah 61 to the minds of his listeners and He is presenting His kingdom as the fulfillment of the hope they had held onto for so long.
POOR IN SPIRIT
The first statement Jesus makes is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3) There are a couple of words or phrases that we need to translate here.
First of all, what does it mean to be blessed? The Greek word that is used here describes the joyful condition of a person for having fulfilled certain obligations or living in an exemplary manner. It refers to a sense of inner peace or joy.
Secondly, what is Jesus talking about when He refers to the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven refers to Jesus’ messianic rule and reign. This is something that exists both now and into the future. Jesus is our King now. He reigns now. His kingdom exists currently, whether we are aware of it or not. However, while He came the first time as a Lamb, there will be a time in the future when He will return as a Lion and firmly establish His kingdom and extinguish all others.
So now let’s consider, what does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” He is saying, in opposition to what the Pharisees proclaimed, you are blessed when you recognize that you are dependent on God. You are blessed when you humble yourself before God and confess your need for Him. You are blessed when you stop trying to do life on your own terms, according to your own rules, and submit to God. “Poor in spirit” refers to a recognition of one’s spiritual poverty. In other words, it is the recognition of one’s spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is the recognition that, spiritually speaking, we have nothing to offer God, we stand before Him dependent and broken.
Why does this humility and confession of dependence lead to a blessed life? Because that’s how you begin a relationship with God. You have to recognize that you are wrecked by sin, you need to be forgiven, and that only way to find forgiveness and be made whole is through a relationship with God through faith in Jesus and a life lived in submission to Him. This is the life you were created for, this is life to the full, so once you come to this realization and connect to your Creator, your life begins to make sense and you will have a sense of peace that you’ve never experienced before.
THOSE WHO MOURN
Next, we read, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Blessed are those who mourn? It doesn’t feel like a blessing to be mourning, does it? So, what does this mean? Jesus is referring to our sinful state. He is saying that those who mourn their sin and desire to turn away from it are blessed because that will lead to their comfort through the forgiveness available through Christ. Blessed are those who mourn for their sin, because when they are forgiven of their sins, as far as the East is from the West, they will be comforted.
It’s helpful also to realize that these first two beatitudes point very clearly to the messianic passage of Isaiah 61:1-3 which tells of the Messiah comforting and assisting the poor, brokenhearted, and those who mourn. It says,
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Once again, we find that Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the messianic hope of Israel.
The next beatitude is, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meekness suggests gentleness and self-control. To be meek toward others implies freedom from malice or a vengeful spirit. Martin Lloyd-Jones pointed out that meekness has to do with our attitudes toward others. And notice that it is the meek—not the strong, aggressive, harsh, or tyrannical—that will inherit the earth. This idea relates to entrance into the Promised Land, but the specific OT allusion here is Psalm 37:9, 11, 29, a psalm recognized as messianic in Jesus’ day. So, this idea of the meek entering into the Promised Land became a pointer toward entrance into the new heaven and the new earth as mentioned in Revelation 21:1, which is the consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom.
THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Next Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” To hunger and thirst points to a strong desire, and in this case, it refers to those who long for righteousness and justice, not just for themselves, but for everyone. Jesus’ promise is that these people will be filled. Their hunger will be satisfied, their thirst will be quenched because in Jesus’ kingdom there will be a day of justice and from that day forward righteousness will rule in the place of sin.
The fifth beatitude is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Mercy embraces the ideas of both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the needy and suffering. To be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners, to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too. To be merciful is the ability to put one’s self in another’s situation and act with compassion. Note that showing mercy to others doesn’t earn a person entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but it is a heart attitude that opens a person to receive the offer of mercy that Jesus has proclaimed in His gospel. Mercy sets aside society’s belief that it is honorable to demand revenge.
THE PURE IN HEART
Next, we read, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This beatitude reminds us that Jesus is focused on our hearts. Obviously, He wants our actions to be pure as well, but He understands that our actions come from the attitude of our hearts. You might be thinking, “Well, how can I make my heart pure so I will stop sinning so much?!” The answer is – you can’t! Only Jesus can! That’s why we have to receive a new heart, a new nature from Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 tells us that “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…” When you submit yourself to God by confessing your sin and placing your faith in Jesus, God gives you a fresh start. Now this isn’t magical, you still have the same brain you’ve been using to sin and the same habits you have developed over the course of your life, but God implants His Spirit within you and that gives you the desire to do His will. The difficult part of this is that this begins an inner battle between your flesh and your spirit, which is why it’s so important to feed your spirit and starve your fleshly desires. You have to strengthen the new muscles of your faith and allow your thoughts to be transformed by replacing the lies of this world with the truth of God’s Word.
Jesus says that as you grow in this way, as you become more single-minded and focused on His kingdom, you will see God. How does that work? Let me explain by pointing to one of the most misused verses in all of Scripture. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that if you delight in the Lord you will wake up to a new Corvette. It means that when you delight in the Lord, His desires become your desires. And when your desires are the same as God’s, you’re going to see your desires coming to fruition. When you are looking for God in the daily routines of life, you will begin to see His hand at work all around you.
Next, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called sons of God.” Jesus’ concern in this beatitude is not with the peaceful but with the peacemakers. Of course, in light of the gospel, Jesus himself is the supreme peacemaker. He made peace between God and man. As we think about being peacemakers, we must recognize that one of our primary hopes of peace is to take gospel to others, in hopes that they might find peace with God. But the idea of peacemaking must also extend to seeking all kinds of reconciliation. Instead of delighting in division, bitterness, or strife, disciples of Jesus should delight to make peace wherever possible. Be sure to understand that making peace is not simply appeasement, our model is God’s costly peacemaking in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus. Those who undertake this work are acknowledged as God’s sons.
THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
The last beatitude is stated in verse 10, but stretches all the way into verse 12 saying, “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.” Why would Jesus say that we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness? Because He us to understand that persecution for living a counter-cultural life is to be expected. When you are living with kingdom values in a world of sin that values the exact opposite values you need to know that you will be persecuted. But we also need to know that it will pay off. Jesus tells us that if we are persecuted on earth, as He was, our eternity in His kingdom is secure and we can put our hope in His promise that our reward in heaven will be great. Understand that these verses neither encourage seeking persecution nor permit us to retreat from it. They simply tell us to expect it, but to understand that it will all pay off.
HOW CAN WE RESPOND?
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ indictment on the false, external righteousness that the Pharisees were trying to saddle the people with and an explanation of the type of life a follower of Christ should lead. But these are not prescriptive rules that we are supposed to follow, they are simply descriptive of what should naturally come about in our lives if we seek Jesus above all else. Remember, you cannot make these things true of yourself, you have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by allowing Him to change you from the inside out.
RIGHTEOUSNESS COMES FROM WITHIN, NOT FROM AVOIDING SIN.
Our goal in life is not sinning less, it is loving Jesus more, the rest will take care of itself.
So where should you begin to seek this kind of life?
I want to suggest that you focus on “resetting your center.” Here’s what I mean:
Remember the heroin addict we imagined earlier? Well, I want to suggest that you’re an addict too. Chances are, you’re a comfort addict. You live to please yourself. You live to make yourself feel good. Pride is the root of all sin. For most of you, your biggest idol in life is…YOU! And here’s the problem: YOUR LIFE IS AT STAKE!!!
Just like you would tell a heroin addict, with that same intensity and passion, I want you to understand that the problem here is even larger, because eternity is at stake. We’re talking about eternal rewards or eternal consequences, so wake up to the importance of this and hit the reset button in your life by removing yourself from the throne.
“But seek FIRST his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”