QUALITY IS JOB ONE

 

Week of October 7, 2007

 

Bible Verses:Matthew 5:1-12.

 

Biblical Truth: Believers demonstrate qualities of the blessed Christian life.

 

Learn from Jesus the Teacher:Matthew 5:1-2.

 

[1]When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. [2]He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,[NASU]

 

The crowds are those referred to in 4:23-25. Here Jesus stands at the height of His popularity. Although His ministry touched the masses, He saw the need to teach His disciples closely. The word disciple must not be restricted to the Twelve, whom Matthew has yet to mention [10:1-4]. In the Lukan parallel we are told of a large crowd of His disciples and a great throng of people. Those who especially wanted to attach themselves to Him, Jesus takes aside to instruct, but we should not suppose that all of these disciples are fully committed to Him. At this point in His ministry, Jesus could not escape the mounting crowds; and by the end of His sermon [7:28-29], He was surrounded by yet larger crowds. This suggests that His teaching covered several days, not just an hour or two. One must not draw too sharp a distinction between preaching [4:17] and teaching [5:2]: see the linking of these two categories in 4:23 and 9:35.

 

Live the Upside-Down Life:Matthew 5:3-10.

 

[3]ďBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [4]Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. [5]Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. [6]Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [7]Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, [8]Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [9]Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. [10]Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Ē[NASU]

 

[3-4] In the Old Testament to be poor is to be weak and helpless, to be dispossessed and to lack the resources to defend and save oneself. The poor are the needy and the captives who seek God as their only refuge and salvation [Ps 69:32-33]. They are the bankrupt of this world, who know themselves to be so, and who therefore trust in the Lord as their only hope of protection and deliverance. By speaking of the poor Ďin spirit,í Jesus underlines the fact that He is not speaking about a lack of material prosperity. Jesus is describing the person who sees his spiritual bondage, is conscious of the debt of his sins and knows that in himself he is dispossessed before God. All he can do is cry for mercy, and depend upon the Lord. No one can be a Christian without this spirit. The sad truth is that we know so little of the blessing of which Christ speaks (and which He gives) because we are all too often full of ourselves and our own means of blessing. But the man who is poor in spirit is the man who has been silenced by God, and seeks only to speak what he has learned in humility from Him. If you would be rich and possess a kingdom, you must first lose all Ė including yourself and your self-centeredness Ė and become poor in spirit.

 

Similarly, the grief Jesus describes is manís mourning over his own sinfulness; it is regret that he has proved a disappointment to the Lord. Numbed by the discovery of his poverty of spirit, he learns to grieve because of it. Here, then, is another characteristic of the Christian. He does not excuse his sin, or belittle it, or ignore it. The man who genuinely mourns because of his sin has been drawn out of himself to see God in His holiness and grace. It is this Ė his sight of God Ė that has made him mourn. Paradoxically, it is the same sight of God that will bring him comfort. The God against whom he has sinned is one who forgives sinners! There is a classic example of this in Psalm 130. The sinner hates his sin, and grieves over it because it is an offence against God. But he mourns over it all the more because this same God forgives sin. It is grace that makes us mourn for our sinfulness. The law of God convicts us of our sin. But it is the grace of God that melts our hearts and causes a right attitude toward that sin, in sorrow, shame, and mourning. Three things should be emphasized here. First, whenever the Christian is conscious of his own sin, he will be grieved by it. Second, no single beatitude should be isolated from the others. Jesus is describing the whole Christian life in this sermon. Third, a rounded spiritual experience involves stretching our emotional response to the gospel, not narrowing it. The child of the kingdom knows higher joys as well as deeper sorrows, more sensitive mourning but also more profound comfort, now that he is the Lordís. His emotional sensitivity becomes greater, not less. Being spiritually stretched involves pain Ė the pain of discovering the effects of our sin, the shame and grief of knowing how twisted we have been. That is the first stage in discovering the comfort of the gospel.

 

[5-6]Poverty of spirit and mourning over sin have a pervasive influence on our lives. Their immediate effect is to make us meek. Meekness is the humble strength that belongs to the man who has learned to submit to difficulties (difficult experiences and difficult people), knowing that in everything God is working for His good. God wants us to be meek. But first He may have to break our pride, destroy our sense of self-sufficiency and humble us under His mighty hand before He uses us for His glory. He sends trials, reveals the secret ambitions we have hidden in our hearts, and uncovers our reliance upon ourselves. Then, as He patiently changes us, He develops within us this meekness of character. Now He will use us for His glory and for blessing othersí lives. Only as we come to know God and His presence do we begin to discover ourselves as we really are. When we know what we are before God, and look to Him for grace and salvation, then we become poor in spirit; then we mourn for our sins; then, having seen ourselves as we really are, we bow to His will in all things. And as we experience the gentleness of His grace, we are meek and gentle with others. God does not intend that our lives should be paralyzed by our sense of need. Instead He intends that we should be turned away from ourselves to His righteousness, and finding His righteousness, we should be turned toward others in their need of mercy. This change from a heart dominated by and absorbed with itself, to a heart that reaches out for God and to others marks the turning point from immaturity to maturity in spiritual experience. So in spiritual life the mature Christian is one whose life is centered on God and His will, and who seeks to serve others by Godís grace.

 

The idea of righteousness occurs with some regularity in this sermon. It is one of the major themes. The idea behind the biblical word righteousness is probably conformity to a norm. In the Old Testament, righteousness is associated with Godís covenant. He is faithful to it. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is multifaceted. It means, first of all, to long for a right relationship with God, and consequently to be righteous before Him. But it also means to desire to live rightly before Him in the world, and to desire to see right relationships restored in the lives of others. In a fallen world, to hunger and thirst will be continual in the Christianís life. The righteousness we seek has three dimensions. First, it is provided for us by Jesus Himself. This is the center of the gospel. We lack righteousness, but God provided it for us. Second, He saves us from sinís power and its influence. He not only brings pardon, but He works in us to make us live in our right relationship with God. Godís grace reigns, and it does so through righteousness, never apart from righteousness. Right living is what we hunger and thirst for, as well as forgiveness. We cannot take Christís gift (forgiveness), but neglect His demands (right living). The third aspect of Godís righteousness for which we long involves our seeking to see it established everywhere. Our desire should be for righteousness to prevail in Godís world.

 

[7-8]Does Jesus mean that we will receive mercy only if we ourselves are merciful? Certainly that is His meaning. But this does not imply that the cause of our receiving mercy will be the fact that we were merciful, as though we had earned Godís mercy. Being merciful is the natural result of receiving Christ and experiencing the grace of God. If we are not merciful, we cannot have received Christ's mercy, and therefore cannot look forward to receiving His mercy in the last judgment. What is mercy? Mercy includes kindness, but it is more than that. Mercy relieves the consequences of sin in the lives of others (both sinners and those sinned against). Showing mercy to the poor and needy is a touchstone and hallmark of a true conversion to Christ. How is it that we claim to be Christians, yet show so little mercy? Why are we so self-seeking, choosing a lifestyle of convenience rather than a self-sacrificing lifestyle of showing mercy? Is it because we have felt our own need of mercy far too little? Is it because we have only a superficial understanding of the riches of Godís kindness to us.

 

Who are the pure in heart? Purity in the Old Testament is not only a matter of cleanliness but also a matter of the commitment of the heart and will to the Lord. The impure heart is not simply unclean; it is undecided and divided. To be pure in heart is to be uncompromisingly dedicated to Christ! Being pure in heart means letting nothing stand in the way of our vision of Christ. Jesusí teaching here provides us with a simple test of the strength of our Christian lives. How clearly do we see God in all His glory?

 

[9-10]The good news of Jesus Christ is the greatest peacemaking message, and the Christian who shares his faith is, fundamentally, a harbinger of peace, a peacemaker. Yet there is nothing in the context to argue that in this verse Jesus is restricting Himself to gospel peacemaking. Rather, the disciple of Jesus Christ must be a peacemaker in the broadest sense of the term. The Christianís role as peacemaker extends not only to spreading the gospel, but to lessening tensions, seeking solutions, ensuring that communication is understood. Peacemakers are blessed because they will be called sons of God. In Jewish thought, Ďsoní often bears the meaning Ďpartaker of the character of.í The peacemakerís reward, then, is that he will be called a son of God. He reflects his heavenly Fatherís wonderful peacemaking character.

 

The blessing of the final beatitude is restricted to those who suffer persecution because of righteousness and not because of their own objectionable behavior [cf. 1 Peter 3:13f; 4:12-16]. The believers described in this passage are those determined to live as Jesus lived. The persecution can take many forms. The reward for being persecuted because of righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this beatitude serves as a test for all the beatitudes. This final beatitude becomes one of the most searching of all of them, and binds up the rest; for if the disciple of Jesus never experiences any persecution at all, it may fairly be asked where righteousness is being displayed in his life. This basic principle reappears again and again in the New Testament. The Christian lives in a sinful world; therefore if he exhibits genuine, transparent righteousness he will be rejected by many. Genuine righteousness condemns people by implication; small wonder that people often lash out in retaliation. Christís disciples by their righteous living thus divide men: men are either repelled or drawn to our precious Savior [John 15:18-20; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Thess. 3:3f.].

 

Willingly Suffer for Godliness:Matthew 5:11-12.

 

[11]ďBlessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. [12]Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Ē†† [NASU]

 

How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution? We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child; not to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, nor just to grin and bear it like a Stoic, still less to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should rejoice and even to leap for joy (Luke 6:23). Why so? Partly because our reward is great in heaven. We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven. Partly because persecution is a token of genuineness, a certificate of Christian authenticity.

 

The major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering on account of our loyalty to Him and to His standards of truth and righteousness [Acts 5:41]. Since all the beatitudes describe what every Christian disciple is intended to be, we conclude that the condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful. Every Christian is to be a peacemaker, and every Christian is to expect opposition. Those who hunger for righteousness will suffer for the righteousness they crave. Suffering is the badge of true discipleship. Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of His grace.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††† List the condition and the blessing in each beatitude.Think about the great exchange that takes places in each of the beatitudes: e.g. condition (poor in spirit) and blessing (kingdom of heaven). What does this tell you about Godís grace?

 

2.†††† What is Jesus telling us by putting the condition of spiritual poverty first. Why is it so difficult for us to admit our spiritual poverty? What does God do to enable us to admit our spiritual poverty?

 

3.††††† Why is verse 6 called the turning point in the beatitudes? According to this beatitude, what is the solution to selfís needs? In what sense does it define a Christian?

 

4.††††† Persecution, by itself, is no virtue. We may be persecuted because we are objectionable, argumentative people who always ask for a fight. Jesus is talking about being persecuted because of righteousness. Recall from Matthew 5:6 what righteousness means in this context. Compare verse 10 with 11. What slight variation is there in the reason for persecution? What does this comparison tell you about righteousness and the type of persecution that is blessed?

 

References:

Jesusí Sermon on the Mount , D.A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

The Sermon on the Mount, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.