Matthew 5:1-12 are the introductory remarks to what many, secular and religious, consider to be one of the greatest moral teachings of all times. As Christians we know, or at least I hope we know, that the Sermon on the Mount is not simply a teaching on morality. The Sermon on the Mount stands as a proclaiming of the Kingdom of God and the life that is to be lived out within that Kingdom. Many scholars believe that the Sermon on the Mount sets an impossibly high standard of morality so as to cause us to recognize our sinfulness. Others believe it speaks of a distant future reality in the so called Millennial Kingdom. Still others believe it provides an ethical standard Christians must adhere to in the now. I disagree with these views for various reasons, of course I am just a young aspiring theologian, so I do not expect you to accept my position, but I do encourage you to consider my position.
First, I believe that the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven, is presently here and active. We do not look ahead to a Kingdom that will come, rather we proclaim and live life as citizens of a Kingdom that has come. The Gospel message is that Christ has come and inaugurated His Kingdom, that by His death and resurrection the way has been made open for those who are near and far off to enter into the Kingdom and life eternal. Those who have surrendered mind, body, heart, and soul to this King, those who have renounced sin and the devil, those who have truly repented with changed heart and mind can now enter into the rest of the Lord of Glory. The Sermon on the Mount does not speak of life in some future and distant Kingdom.
Second, Christianity, that is life in Christ, is not about living according to some high standard of morality or specific code of ethics. Christianity is about being made into the likeness of Him who has given us life and brought us into this Kingdom. C.S. Lewis had it right when he spoke of the Christian life as one that is a process of being changed into a certain kind of creature, a heavenly creature. We are image bearers, and the image has been marred, yet as those who are in Christ the image is being restored, and through that restoration we are being transformed into a certain kind of creature. The Sermon on the Mount is not a call to an impossible standard, or a high code of ethics that serves to condemn and convict us.
So what is the Sermon on the Mount? I would argue that with the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reveals the radical nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. He turns conventional thinking on its head and disrupts the status quo. “Oh, you don’t murder? But you do hate. Well to hate is to harbor murder in your heart.” “You don’t commit adultery? Yet you lust after others. To lust is to commit adultery in your heart.” Jesus shows that this Kingdom is not about changing outward appearances, instead it will bring about a transformation of a person’s heart and soul. He starts the Sermon on the Mount off with the Beatitudes, a series of blesseds that initially reveal the radical nature of this Kingdom.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, them who hunger, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled. These people are weak, poor, soft, dismayed, downtrodden, lacking in aggressiveness and ambition, and are outcasts. These are the people society looks down on, or simply overlooks. They are not the mighty or the popular, they are not the powerful or elite, they are not the pious and holy. These are a bunch of ragtags, pacifists, and those who get treaded over. Why would anyone want to attain to these things? Why would anyone aspire to these virtues? Again, I disagree with the way the Beatitudes have commonly been taught. They are often presented as virtues to practice or qualities to have, yet I must agree with Dallas Willard when he says that:
[The way the Beatitudes are often taught] reflects our intense need to find in the condition referred to something good, something God supposedly desires or even requires, that can then serve as a “reasonable” basis for the blessedness he bestows. But that precisely misses the point that the very formulation of the Beatitudes should bring to our attention. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.” He did not think, “What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality[,] it makes people worthy of the kingdom.”
The Beatitudes highlights those who are least likely, in our minds, to gain entrance into the Kingdom, and says that they are the very ones to whom it will be given. These “spiritual zeros” as Willard calls them have been granted entrance into the Kingdom, and that is the blessing.
This upside down thinking is the basis for so much of Jesus’ teaching. The first are last, the last are first; the least is the greatest, and the greatest is the least. It is not the wealthy, pious, and powerful that were so captured by Jesus’ message throughout His ministry, although some of those people did respond. But we often see that it was the poor, corrupt, and weak that came falling at His feet. It was not the pious religious leader, but rather the dishonest tax collector; not the rich ruler, but the poor widow; not the mighty soldier, but the cripple man.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, them who hunger, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled. Why? Because mankind views them as unworthy and unfit for the Kingdom, yet the Kingdom of God has come near to them, and the way made open for them to enter into this Kingdom. Is that not a blessing? Are any of you poor in spirit, destitute and lacking in any spiritual good? Blessed are you, Christ has come near. Do you mourn because of the many troubles that plague you, are you hopeless and downcast with no faith in a God that could allow such pain and suffering? Blessed are you, Christ has come near. Are you meek, are you a gentle and weak person who is walked all over lacking the courage to stand up and be bold? Blessed are you, Christ has come near He will be your strength.
Do you hunger for righteousness yet are consumed by your sin and failure? Blessed are you, Christ has come near to quench your thirst and set you free. Do you show mercy yet receive truculence? Is your heart pure and loving yet you are taken advantage of? Do you make peace yet reap turmoil? Do you pursue the things of God yet suffer persecution? Are you spit on, cast aside, rejected, despised, hated, ostracized, marginalized, torn down and beat up? Are you destitute, weary, despondent, worn down from life and the world caught in the doldrums seeking relief and refuge? Blessed are you, Christ has come near and the Kingdom is yours if you will have it.
Revelation 7:13-17 speaks of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people group, and language gathered around the throne of God. John then records the conversation he has with a man there:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:13-17 ESV)
We all fit into some or all of the conditions named in the Beatitudes. Not because we are holy or because we have somehow attained to some higher spiritual state. We are fallen men and women who, in our humanity, are spiritually destitute. We strive to do good yet experience pain and hurt. We follow after Christ and are rejected and despised for it. Yet we find that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and Christ has brought us in to this Kingdom and made us sons and daughters of the Most High, and this is a blessing we neither earned nor deserve.
What we want to do is take the nine Beatitudes and look at their attributes and implications. From there we want to zoom in to a specific character in the Old Testament who fits the specific Beatitude you are writing on. For example, Moses was meek, and it actually caused him to try to avoid what God was calling him to do. However, God used Moses in his meekness to do great things, this is a blessing for Moses.
Below is a list of who is writing on which Beatitude, and the date each will be published. Some of the articles will be published in two, maybe even three parts. In this case part 1 will be published on the date listed, part 2 will appear on Wednesday of that same week, and part three will be posted on Friday of that week. We all look forward to sharing with you what God has placed on our hearts and minds concerning The Beatitudes. We hope that this series will be thought-provoking and convicting, as well as an encouragement and blessing.
Grace & Peace,
Dr. Tim Brophy– Blessed are the poor in spirit- July 9th
Márcia Smith– Blessed are those who mourn-July 16th
Mike Kunzinger– Blessed are the meek-July 23rd
Adena Giles– Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness-July 30th
Chad “Wailer” Giles– Blessed are the merciful-August 6th
Shane O’Neill– Blessed are the pure in heart-August 13th
Jeff Benson– Blessed are the peacemakers-August 20th
Amy Justice– Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake-August 27th
Vic Stanley– Blessed are you when they curse and revile you- September 3rd