Summary: Preaching through a series on Jesus’ life, this is a message on the Beatitudes, as a whole. I do not subscribe to the "standard approach" taken by many; perhaps this message will give some different ideas.
The Jesus Series
The Greatest Sermon Ever
Matthew 5:3-12 September 12, 2004
Group Participation Time: would you gather into groups of 6-8 or so and work on a brief assignment for me? You’ll need to elect a secretary to record some stuff here. Please do this quickly; take a brief moment and introduce yourselves to one another. You have one minute. Go.
Take a look at Matthew 5; you’ll find the Beatitudes or the “blesseds” there. Here is the assignment: imagine what the Beatitudes would look like if written by someone other than Jesus, someone from contemporary culture. Let me give you a for instance: what if the Beatitudes were written by Donald Trump? What would his list look like?
Blessed are the cunning.
Blessed are the powerful.
Blessed are the efficient.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after the bottom line.
Got the idea? This exercise needs to take a maximum of 3 minutes.
Section 1: Oprah Winfrey
Section 2: A Hollywood producer
Section 3: Rush Limbaugh
Section 4: A group of 16-year-old American teenagers
When we ask this question, we are talking about what we alluded to last week; Jesus, in the Greatest Sermon Ever, answers the question, “what is the good life?” He sure answers it differently than most people would today in American culture, does he not? Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart…those things don’t sound like popular themes, do they? How is it that the good life can be lived by people like this? Stay tuned! Let’s pray.
Let’s take a look at Matthew 5 and the first portion of the greatest sermon ever. We said last week that the approach we take to this sermon will help us greatly in our understanding of it. It does not represent a list of ethical demands that we might satisfy in order to earn entry into Heaven and eternal life. Rather, it is Jesus’ manifesto of His kingdom; as we’ll see in a moment, the first word that Matthew gives as to the subject of Jesus’ preaching involves the simple declaration, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And our key verse is to be found in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus tells us that our stance must be to seek that kingdom first. Today we begin looking in earnest at it. Stand with me as we read together!
Did you recognize the singers as the offering was taken? Here are some of the “blesseds” Paul Simon wrote in 1966:
Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on
Blessed are the meth drinkers, pot sellers, illusion dwellers
Blessed are the penny rookers, cheap hookers, groovy lookers
Ready for a revelation? When I preached this a few years ago, I consulted a number of authors and preachers and commentators and built a series of messages, one per Beatitude, around the basic idea that each Beatitude, logically ordered and building successively one upon the next, represented ideals for which we ought to progressively strive as Jesus’ followers. You ready for this? Know what I think now? I think that maybe, just maybe, Paul Simon has got it more correct than some of the commentators! What is Jesus doing in the Beatitudes?
As we said earlier, He is answering questions related to His overarching theme, the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. It is near to us; it is immanent; it is at hand. But there is one thing that He consistently preached in relation to our preparedness for that kingdom, and we find that by looking back at Matthew 4:19. Notice
I. “Repent” –
The Kingdom’s Condition
“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” In view of the nearness of the rule and reign of God, the appropriate response, Jesus tells us, is that we repent. What is repentance? The word literally involves a true change of mind—a change of mind about sin, about self, and about God—a true change of mind that issues in a changed way of living if indeed it is real. That’s repentance. It is recognizing the bankruptness of my own way, the ugliness of my own sin, my own unworthiness as a result of my sin, the “error of my ways”. The blessedness that Jesus refers to is reserved for those who meet the kingdom’s condition, that of repentance. And while there is an initial repentance, to be sure, at the event of one’s conversion, for the kingdom subject, an attitude marked by regular repentance is essential. Such an attitude is undergirded by humility, an attitude that honestly appraises oneself in the light of God’s holiness and one’s own sin.
I fear that this is a neglected subject today. We live in an age of therapeutic Christianity, an age wherein we have so much majored on “felt needs” of individuals that perhaps we have neglected weightier matters. I have had times during the past few months when I have thought about that song, “The Heart of Worship”, and about the line that says, “it’s all about You, Jesus, it’s all about You”, and wondered if that’s really true for a lot of Christians, or if in reality, it’s all about them. Too many are approaching the church as consumers and not as committed servants; “what’s in it for me?” becomes the dominating factor. Yes, people need help with principles of raising their children and strengthening their marriages; yes, people need help with financial issues in this consumeristic age. Many are held captive to life-dominating sins, and there is good news for these, and the church ought to help. But at the core, at the root, our need as individuals is to come to terms with our own sin and repent thoroughly of it. That is Jesus’ way. Is there sin in this church? Absolutely. To what degree does our sin hold back the abundant blessing of Almighty God? Hard to say, but if there is unrepented-of sin in our lives, we are not living in accord with the kingdom; we are not living under the Lordship of its King. And thus Jesus’ message to His hearers—and to us—is this: repent, in light of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven.