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:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:28, 29 (ESV)
So there are two audiences here. The primary audience consists of Jesus’ disciples. But the crowds also get to hear Jesus’ words. And, as we’ll see this morning, Jesus’ words serve different purposes for the different audiences.
This morning, we’ll look at the opening words of Jesus’ sermon. With these introductory words, Jesus provides the theme for the rest of the message. Everything else we’ll look at in the coming weeks is merely a further commentary on the principles that Jesus lays out here. So with that background let’s continue reading in verse 3:
3 “Blessed 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 meek, 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 are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.