Summary: In order to inherit the blessings of the kingdom of heaven we must humble ourselves and admit our spiritual poverty.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Most of us have heard these words from the Declaration of Independence since we were in elementary school. In a sense, they represent what it means to be an American. But unfortunately, at the same time, they can be dangerous stumbling blocks for a Christ follower who truly desires to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Our culture has manipulated the idea of the right to pursue happiness into an unhealthy and unbiblical quest for those things that will make us feel good and be happy without regard for any kind of moral underpinnings that provide the proper foundation for that pursuit.
This morning we’re going to begin an examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. With those well known words, Jesus is going to describe a whole new way of life in which real blessing, joy and contentment come not from pursuing the things of the world or by trying to change our circumstances, but rather by entering into an intimate relationship with the One who created us. He is going to describe a new kind of kingdom in which things are turned upside down, where previous assumptions about the nature of that kingdom are going to be challenged and refuted. And in the process, He is going to teach us how we are to live in the midst of that kingdom.
Before we begin, let’s put this in context. After His baptism and His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus begins His public ministry. Matthew records for us the main message of that ministry:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 (ESV)
This must have been exciting news for the Jews who had been waiting for the Messiah to appear and usher in His kingdom. The expectation was that the Messiah was going to overthrow the tyrannical Roman government which persecuted the Jews and initiate a new governmental system here on earth.
But early in His ministry Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of heaven that is at hand is something quite different than what they are expecting. So let’s turn to Matthew 5 and read Matthew’s introduction to this amazing sermon:
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:
Matthew 5:1, 2 (ESV)
At the end of chapter 4, we learn that Jesus had become quite popular due to both the miraculous healings he performed and his authoritative teaching. As a result, large crowds began to gather around Him. On one of those occasions, He went up on a mountain and sat down to teach. Jesus is following the Jewish custom here where the teacher would sit down and his audience would stand as he taught. Seems we have things backward here, doesn’t it?
As Jesus sat to teach, those who were His disciples gathered around Him, indicating that the teaching that He was about to give was meant primarily for them. But we know that Jesus desired that the crowds would also hear His words. And we know that did in fact occur when we read what happens at the end of the sermon: