Summary: In the Beatitudes, Jesus states eight or nine things which result in us being 'blessed' - meaning, happy or fortunate. They are right at the heart of being right with God and they are very different to the things which most people think will make them happy or fortunate.
Last week we finished our series of six talks on the theme ‘Great Messages of Encouragement’. We’re now starting a new series of talks on the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t know how many talks we’ll have on it, but it will be more than six!
What is ‘the Sermon on the Mount’? Well, it’s a sermon Jesus taught from a mountainside! It’s also Jesus’ longest sermon that is recorded in the New Testament.
Given that it’s Jesus’ longest sermon it’s a fair assumption that it’s important. And Jesus made it clear that it IS important. At the end of his sermon he told the story of a wise man who built his house on a rock. The wise man is the man who pays attention to what Jesus is teaching and puts it into practice. The foolish man, in contrast, doesn’t do that. His house collapses.
What Jesus said applies to ALL of his teaching. We need to listen to ALL of it and put ALL of it into practice. But the fact is that Jesus gave this scary warning at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It strongly suggests that THIS teaching is vitally important. Fail to listen and put this into practice and what happens? Our house collapses.
In our Bibles, the Sermon on the Mount starts at Matthew 5 verse 3. But we can’t skip verses 1 and 2!
In verse 1 Matthew tells us, ‘Now when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain.’ That’s a significant detail. Many commentators point out that God gave Moses the law – the Ten Commandments – on a mountain, Mount Horeb. So, Jesus is following that pattern. But what role is Jesus in? Is he taking the role of God, GIVING the law, or of Moses, RECEIVING the law to pass on to the people? Clearly, Jesus isn’t in the role of listener; he’s in the role of speaker. He is in the role of God!
HOW MANY BEATITUDES?
In many Bibles the section that follows has the heading ‘the Beatitudes.’ Jesus says, ‘Blessed are’ nine times. So it looks like there are nine beatitudes. Many commentators think the eighth and ninth beatitudes are about the same thing and join them together, so they count eight beatitudes. But either way, there aren’t ten. If there were ten beatitudes, we might think that Jesus was replacing the Ten Commandments. He isn’t doing that.
Jesus is going to tell us nine – or perhaps eight – things which will lead to us being ‘happy’, ‘rich’ and ‘blessed’. As we will see, Jesus’ list is completely different to what most people would think will make them happy! Today I aim to cover the first three Beatitudes.
So, let’s get started! In each case I’ll try to unpack what I believe the Beatitude means. I’m going to link the Beatitude to the Old Testament. Then I’ll briefly suggest a possible application.
BEATITUDE NUMBER ONE
Beatitude Number One is ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
Poor means different things in different contexts. It might mean that we don’t have much money. Or we might say that a fisherman has a poor catch or someone has poor health. But what does Jesus mean by ‘poor in spirit’?
Let’s have an Old Testament reference. David, in the psalms, writes:
‘The Lord is near to the BROKEN-HEARTED
and SAVES the CRUSHED IN SPIRIT’ [Psalm 34:18]
There are a number of similar verses in the Old Testament. [For example, Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 66:2.] These verses tell us that God does various things for the broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, humble, contrite. These words all express the idea of being poor in spirit.
People who approach God broken-hearted, crushed in spirit, humble, contrite – in short, ‘poor in spirit’ – end up blessed! Why? Because – these verses tell us – God draws near to them, saves them, doesn’t despise them, dwells with them, looks to them. It sounds good, doesn’t it?
That’s the picture these verses in the Old Testament give us and that is what I believe Jesus is describing. God calls us to approach him with an attitude of being poor in spirit.
Jesus told a story which I think illustrates what he meant. It was about a tax collector and a Pharisee. The Pharisee was very self-righteous. But the tax collector beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ [Luke 18:9-14]. He shows us what being poor in spirit looks like. The tax collector hadn’t got anything to offer God and he knew it. The only thing he could ask for was God’s mercy. Jesus said that he – not the Pharisee – went home justified.