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The Sermon on the Mount

January 5, 2020

1 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.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Like many of you I’m guessing, with the holidays and colder weather, I’ve been watching a lot of football over these past couple weeks. And there’s one commercial that I’ve seen over and over again recently. It’s not a new commercial, or at least the premise isn’t new. It’s a car commercial about a husband or wife who buys their spouse a new car for Christmas. Where out in the driveway to their spouses’ great surprise, is a shiny, brand new car with a giant red bow on top. Now here’s my question – Who does this? What kind of person purchases a gift of this price and magnitude without first consulting their spouse? Like, if it’s a Cuisinart, fine. Skill Saw, sure. But a car? What if they don’t like it? What’s the return policy on a new car? Does it come with a gift receipt? Honestly, I’m asking. I have no idea. Seriously, what kind of person does this? Now, to be clear, if any of you have purchased a car as gift before, please know there’s nothing wrong with that, and I by no means mean to pass judgment on your gift giving ways. Rather, I just question how realistic the commercial actually is. And of course, I’m sure that even the advertisers at Chevy would tell me I’m thinking too deeply about it and that I should just enjoy the football game.

Anyway, here’s where I’m going with this –

The same question that I’m asking watching that commercial is similar to the question that our scripture addresses today.

Yet, instead of asking, “What kind of person gives a gift like this?” we’re going to be look at the question of …

“What kind of person does Jesus call us to be? (Friends, it’s not my strongest transition, but it’ll have to do. I’m a little rusty after a week off).

Anyway, the question our passage today is getting at is …

What kind of qualities ought to characterize us as Christians? What does it look like to be a citizen of the kingdom of God? And specifically in regard to our scripture today, “What kind of person does Jesus say is “bless-ed”? (And what in the world that does word even mean?) “

They’re questions far more important than that preposterous car commercial and they’re the questions that we’ll be exploring this morning.

Sermon on the Mount: Context

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to spend some time setting the stage, in many ways setting the stage for the weeks to come, and just to warn you, this is going to take a few minutes, like any good football game with too many commercials would.

This morning we are beginning a shiny, brand new sermon series on what is arguably Jesus’s most famous sermon – The Sermon on the Mount. It’s a sermon that Jesus shared with his disciples early on in his public ministry, one that we find in Matthew chapters 5-7 and a sermon that’s going to carry you and I all the way to Easter Sunday. So yeah, we’ll be here for a while

Now, if the Sermon on the Mount rings a bell to you in any way, that’s because, truth is, you’re probably more familiar with it than you realize. For example, have you ever heard someone described as the salt of the earth? That’s Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever heard the command to love your enemies? That’s Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever heard the story about the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand? That’s Sermon on the Mount. In fact, friends, you’ve even memorized part of the Sermon on the Mount likely without even realizing it. The Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in Heaven?” That too comes from the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s a sermon that is often uplifting, encouraging and even inspirational, yet at other times incredibly challenging, sometimes frustrating and maybe even a bit unnerving. It’s a sermon spoken long ago that has profound wisdom for our modern world as it touches on everything from seemingly more spiritual and theological things like prayer or the significance of the Old Testament Law for Christians today to more material things like how to deal with our anger or how think about money and possessions. It’s a sermon with a little bit of everything and we’ll cover it all over the next few months.

And I think it will be a valuable series for us to focus on, not only because of just how relevant it is to our everyday life but also the way in which the entire sermon addresses the questions I just shared a moment ago -

“What kind of person does Jesus want us to be? What kind of qualities ought to characterize us as Christians? And what does it look like to be a citizen of the kingdom of God?

These are questions that are addressed not only in our scripture today, but really the sermon in it’s entirety.

This whole sermon, start to finish, is really getting at -

“What does it look like to be a citizen of the kingdom of God? What would our character look like, what kind of influence would we have, what would we care about, what kind of goals or ambitions or motivations would we have, what would our relationships look like? And in what ways should we be different from the culture or distinct from the world around us? Those are huge, important, practical questions that have implications big and small.

And ultimately, it’s all unified around this question - What does it look like to be a citizen of the kingdom of God?

And I keep using this word “kingdom” because it’s the word that grounds this entire sermon and helps us best understand the context of not only this sermon, but the entire gospel of Matthew.

The phrase “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” (both are really getting at the same thing) comes up 6 times in the Sermon on the Mount and 31 times in Matthew’s gospel overall. In fact, it’s the main thing that Jesus has been preaching on leading up to the Sermon on the Mount when he says, in Matthew chapter 4,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Now this is where you’re probably asking, “What in the world is the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven? What does that word kingdom even mean?”

Well, here’s what I hope is a helpful and somewhat fun way of making sense of it all, and I’m borrowing this from pastor and one of my former seminary professors Jeff Arthurs. In short, a kingdom is one’s sphere of authority or control. For example, in some homes, there is a room known as the “man cave.” And what is a “man cave” but another name for a man’s kingdom? It’s a place where he always knows where the remote is, the volume is just right, he’s got the perfect seat, where the right beverage is always near, where there will be no kids shouting during an important part of the game. It’s his space just as he wants it. Everything in his little kingdom within his authority or control.

And so this begs the question, what’s God’s kingdom? Where is it and what’s it called? Well, in short, it’s heaven. That’s why Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a place of absolute perfection. A place that perfectly reflects his character and values. Where God’s will and purposes for humanity are fully realized. It’s life as it was always meant to be. And so when Jesus is saying, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” he’s saying that it’s the beginning of God bringing heaven down to earth.

And so the Sermon on the Mount is building on this question – If God is bringing his Kingdom here on earth, and if Jesus is our King, what does it look like to be a citizen of this kingdom, to belong to this kingdom, to live under the authority of this kingdom?

That’s what this Sermon is all about. And today we’ll look at the first half of this first part, which are called the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes, we are given eight marks or characteristics of a follower of Jesus, or a citizen of his kingdom. We’ll look at the first four this morning, and the second four next week. In fact, each of the 8 are so rich and loaded with meaning that they could each be their own sermon, but we’ll save that for a rainy day.

Above all, right from the start, we will see that what is valued and celebrated in this heavenly kingdom is so, so very different from the kingdoms of our world today.

So let’s jump in. We’ll briefly touch on each of the four, breaking down their meaning, any relevant application and the connection between them as we go.

The sermon itself is introduced with Matthew saying …

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain (hence, that’s why it’s called the Sermon on the Mount), and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Remember, I warned you! This is a different kind of kingdom. You might be thinking, “Did I hear that right? Bless-ed are the poor in spirit?” You would think strongin spirit would be more like it.

So, what exactly is Jesus getting at here?

First things first, we need to understand this word “bless-ed,” since the way it’s being used here is different than the way we use it today.

For example, if someone were to say, “I got to see all my grandkids this Christmas, I’m so blessed.” That means something along the lines of “I’m so lucky, happy, thankful, or God has been so good to me, kind of sentiment.”

Yet, that’s not quite what bless-ed means here, although it may be a small part of it. And I say all this in part because of the next beatitude … “Blessed are those who mourn.” Surely Jesus isn’t saying, “Happy or lucky are those who mourn … “ That just doesn’t add up.

Rather, and I’ll fully admit to you there are some differences of opinion on this one, what “bless-ed” most likely means is, “The divine blessing, God’s blessing, rests upon this kind of person …” “that in God’s economy, in God’s estimation, in God’s kingdom there is something positive or favorable about being poor in spirit, or to be in mourning or to be meek … ”

So then, what exactly is so bless-ed about being “poor in spirit”?

Well, truth is, it’s really not that unique of an idea within scripture. After all, what is poverty but a lack of resources or to be in a place of need? Therefore, to be poor in spirit is to see your spiritual neediness, to declare spiritual bankruptcy, to see your need for a Savior and our utter lack of ability to save ourselves.

In a way, this verse is the spiritual cousin of the message of Christmas and what I shared with our church this past Christmas Eve.

That is, one of the most deeply humbling aspects of Christmas, the fact that God came down and dwelt among us, is that it reminds us that you and I needed help from the outside. And so, as I shared with you, are you struggling and in need? Well, I’ve got good news for you, Christmas is for you. Are you feeling hopeless, depressed, overwhelmed, or discouraged, well, the good news about Christmas is that Christmas is for you.

And the same principle is true here in this first beatitude.

That is, do you see your poverty, your neediness before God? Well, then, Jesus has good news for you, because the kingdom of heaven is for you.

Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “God, helps those who help themselves.” Friends, as friendly reminder, that is not in the bible.

But yet, this is … “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

So that’s the first. Here’s the second …

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Here again and maybe especially, we might initially ask, and “What so blessed about those who mourn?” Here the second half of the beatitude is particularly helpful …

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

This is one of the great promises within scripture. That for us as followers of Jesus, comfort can be found in midst of deep sorrow.

1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes, “Do not grieve as those who have no hope.” And Paul can say that because as he goes on to write, we believe in a God who rose from the dead and that through faith in Him death won’t have the final word with us either.

Even in our mourning, there is a glimpse of real and lasting comfort.

As citizens of a heavenly kingdom who live here on earth in a world that doesn’t fully look like heaven, there’s a lot to mourn, whether it’s our own sin, the broken relationships, systemic evil or even the ways in which the created world itself has been marred by sin itself. So maybe we mourn a personal struggle with greed and how it’s hurting our relationships, or maybe we mourn when we hear the neighbor next door swear at their kids or maybe we mourn when we hear that friends our ours had a miscarriage.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but there is plenty to mourn in our world today. And my sense is our worldly wisdom would say, “Blessed are those who have a pain free, a happy all the time kind of life. And that If suffering does come near, run away from it, avoid it, push it aside.” But yet, as Christians we are called to run towards pain and suffering, mourning with those who mourn, because,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

That’s the second, here’s the third.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Here, yet again, is another counter cultural beatitude which completely runs in the face of the prevailing wisdom of the day, which would say,

That if you want to be in power, if you want to be in control, well then, you’ve got to be strong, aggressive, don’t back down, don’t take no for an answer, it’s my way or the highway.

Friends, Jesus says just the opposite,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Now, if we were to play a game of word association here, the word that may come to mind, one that rhymes with meekness, would be weakness. But no, meekness and weakness are not at all the same thing.

Meekness is hard to define in just one word – it’s some combination of patience, gentleness, humility, submission and self-sacrifice.

Pastor Brian Wilkerson, in his sermon on the Beatitudes uses this story to describe meekness. He tells the story about Sam, who was from an African country, who was enrolling at a Christian college here in the U.S. Sam was a bright young man with great promise, and the school felt honored to have him. When he arrived on campus, the President of the University took him on a tour, showing him all the dorms. When the tour was over, the President asked Sam where he would like to live. Sam replied, "If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me." The President was shocked. No one had ever made such a request.

"If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me." Friends, that’s meekness. It’s a humble willingness to give up our rights and privileges for the good of another.

You see, meekness is …

I’ll do the job that no one else wants to do. I’ll sit with the kid at lunch no one wants to sit with. I’ll take the butt of the loaf of the bread that no one wants to eat. I’ll take the parking space that’s far away at church that no one wants. That’s meekness.

So you all, what’s the thing that no one wants to volunteer for? What’s the chore that everyone in your house magically hopes will be done by someone else? What’s the opportunity out there to serve that everyone else looks at and thinks, “No way, not me.” To do that thing, with a humble heart, that’s meekness.

And unbelievably, Jesus says,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

That’s the third, and here’s the fourth and final one for today and we’ll keep it brief because Lord knows we’re running out of time.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Some commentators argue that there’s a logical progression in these first four beatitudes. That is, if you truly recognize that you’re poor in spirit, that if we truly see our sinful state before God and how sin itself has marred our entire world, we will mourn.

And therefore if we are a people that see our brokenness and mourn because of it that will create a gentleness and graciousness and warmth within that will impact both our relationships with God and one another. That is, it’ll make us meek.

And that if we’re truly in this desperate, mournful, humble state … we’ll long for something better. We’ll hunger and thirst for something better. Something that will last. Something that can truly satisfy our hearts, something only God can give. A righteousness from the outside, that’s not of our own.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

And what better extension of this beatitude, what better way to live out this verse, than to come to communion table itself.

Are you hungry? “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” Are you thirsty? “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Come to the altar, for the Father’s arms are open wide.

Friends, this is what life is like in the kingdom of heaven. This is what it looks like to be a citizen, this is what it looks like to be bless-ed in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

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