Matthew 5:1-12 Part 1

            As you’ve already noticed, the text reads a little different from the common readings that we’ve heard all our lives.  And that is mainly due to the fact that the verb forms that have been supplied in the common translations, such as “blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “blessed are those who mourn,” have been added to make the reading smoother.  They are not in the text.  And they aren’t there for a reason.

            And the reason is that Jesus is making a declaration of fact – or judgment of fact.  The apostle isn’t saying that men exist in blessedness because of some intrinsic value in these eight things listed here.  But he does say that Jesus has pronounced – or judged – or declared – men to be blessed who are described by these eight qualities.  “Blessed the poor in spirit.”

            So Matthew has made a studied, grammatical decision, quoting the Lord Jesus, to let everyone know the Gospel – that Jesus Christ pronounces men blessed.  The state of being blessed occurs naturally in no man; either by being naturally meek in character or lowly in spirit.  Neither do reviling, persecution, being poor and beggarly, or acting as a peacemaker make one blessed.  Blessed is a judgment of Christ – it is a pronouncement of the King on His Own subjects.  A man in mourning over his own state of life is naturally driven from Christ into his own sin and degradation.  But one over whom Christ rules mourns his own sin.  And the King pronounces him blessed.

            Our Lord begins the great Sermon on the Mount by making a clear distinction between His Kingdom and the world order.  His preaching had begun – “Repent, for the Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand.”  And this sermon, chapters five through seven, is an exposition of that.  What does it mean to repent and be in submission to the King, and live in His realm – the Kingdom, God, Heavens, Lord – interchangeable.  What happens when a sinful head of household sees the depravity that’s there and then turns to obey the words of the King?  What happens when an employer finally “sees,” and submits to every word that flows through the mouth of God?

            Now, there are many different views out there concerning the Sermon of the Mount, as it is called.  Jesus preached repentance, and He preached the Kingdom.  The nature of man, and his obedience to the King.  And every aberrant view of the sermon leaves out one or both of these two elements. 

            I just want to touch on a few of these, by way of explanation, so that you can see what I mean.

            For example, there is the view that leaves out a clear exegesis, or exposition of each and every verse in the sermon, and exegesis of the whole, preferring to “summarize” the sermon by choosing a few particularly pertinent verses – such as the “golden rule.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, (or some variation on it).  And the idea is that if everybody treats his neighbor right, then we’ll have the great society.

            Now, this is called the social gospel in which, I suppose, there is some loose form of a kingdom concept, but certainly not the Kingdom of Christ.  And there is no understanding of depravity or repentance – without which sin and degradation will continue to run rampant.  And for that reason the social Gospel doesn’t work!

            Another view, which is, perhaps, a little more serious for us as reformed people, is that the sermon is an elaboration of the Mosaic Law.  But this is a pharisaical, law-and-order interpretation of it which leads to autocracy, tyranny and human abuse.  I’ll say a lot about Jesus’ exposition of the Law and its Kingdom application from time to time, but, for now, it is enough to say that this approach to the Sermon on the Mount completely omits Jesus’ preaching of repentance first.  And without it the law and order approach to society only culminates in an abusive wielding of the sword.  Freedom disappears when men usurp the reign and realm of the true King, and install their own aberrant views of the Law.

            The next interpretation that I want to mention is one that is very popular today – in fact, most of the thousands of evangelical churches out there believe it in some form or another, and it’s taught from many, many  pulpits and TV programs.

            And it says that the Sermon on the Mount has nothing whatsoever to do with modern Christians.  They say our Lord began to preach the Kingdom of God, but the Jews didn’t believe Him.  They rejected the Kingdom preaching.  So Jesus, at that point, went ahead and submitted to death on the cross, and could not, therefore continue to preach and establish the Kingdom.  So the Church age came to pass – and that will persist up to a certain point in history. Then our Lord will return with the Kingdom and the Sermon on the Mount will be re-introduced and preached again.

            In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is not for us.  It’s for a distant Kingdom age.  It is not Christianity.  It is the Law for the age of the kingdom of heaven.

            And according to this interpretation I need not read this portion of Scripture.  Preaching it is foolish – indeed it is heresy!  Being the light of the world and the salt of the earth, chapter 5, was for the early disciples and it will be for people later on, but it doesn’t apply to us now.  We must never say, as Jesus says right here in this fifth chapter, that we should let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.  It is not for present-day Christians to receive Christ’s pronouncement of “blessed” for being persecuted for His sake.  It is not for present-day Christians that Jesus said “I did not come to abrogate the Law but to confirm it.”  It is not for present-day Christians that Jesus said we are to love one another as He loved us.  All in the sermon of the mount!

            But, just as a quick response to this, and by way of further introduction to this great preaching of our Lord, let me say that this sermon is a perfect picture of what submission to King Jesus is!  The Kingdom is now!  And the command is for everyone to repent and submit to His dominion.  And the sermon is a description of all who do so.  Christ died – why? – to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good words – Titus chapter two.  And the peculiar people, zealous unto good works is the description of believers in the Sermon on the Mount.

            And nothing shows sinful man the need for repentance unto life more than this sermon.  People turn away from this preaching of Christ because it crushes.  But crushing is what is required.  All of us must be crushed by the preaching of Christ, and He spares no one.  From those who hold doctrine of human origin, to those who teach the Law incorrectly to the little ones, to those who have hatred for a brother, to those unjustly terminating a marriage, to those not fulfilling contracts and agreements, to those bringing gifts to God while offending his brother, to those not fulfilling contracts and agreements, to those dishonoring their parents, and the list goes on and on, in all these chapters and no one is spared!

            And when one is crushed and becomes poor in spirit, one is pronounced blessed!  And the Kingdom expands!  And the dominion of Christ is furthered, for, when people repent, they turn to the cross of Christ and live in subjection to the King of Kings.

            But this is a terrible sermon, this Sermon on the Mount.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that its form and content are bad.  Not at all.  It’s perfect.  But it is a terrible sermon.  It’s my feeling that if no one knew of this sermon, and it were preached word for word in the pulpits of the country, most of the people in the pews would get up and leave and never come back.

            And let me say this.  If you find yourself disagreeing with it, or upset by it, or arguing with it, or criticizing it at any point, that means there is something wrong with you!  Your whole spirit is wrong.  And your criticism says a lot about you!  The preaching of Jesus is not wrong.

            (And I pledge to you that I will strive to interpret it and preach it correctly.)  I am not prone to speculation or unique interpretations.  And I don’t even like allegorical preaching.  But I am as susceptible to sin and delusion as anyone else.  And I will be watchful for that.  And I will be among you as a part of the body when our spirits are crushed by the Words of Christ.  None of us, including me, are to sit in judgment on the preaching of Jesus; but we ourselves are under judgment.  This is the life to which we are called.  That is the very definition of the Kingdom – to be under the judgment of the King, to be in submission to what He said.

            Now, as we finished last Lord’s Day, we found that the Lord Jesus had turned His back on Jerusalem and had turned toward the Gentile nations.  He preached the Gospel of repentance and the Kingdom to those who were sitting in outer darkness. 

            And He cast out demons and healed the sick, showing absolute control over sin and death, in order to attest the fact that He was the Son of God, and to demonstrate that, in Him was light and life; and to illustrate the nature of His Kingdom.  And because of these demonstrations of the power of God over the physical ravages of sin, people were coming from inside and outside Galilee by the thousands.  And Jesus was healing every kind of disease common to man.  And His fame spread to far-away nations and tribes of Gentiles.

            As we come to our text this morning, Matthew records for us a very significant occasion of Jesus’ teaching.  As Jesus was prone to do throughout His three years of ministry, after giving verification of His identity, He withdrew from the crowds – either to be alone or to teach smaller groups.  This occasion is called the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five, six and seven, because Matthew states that He went up into a mountain.  (verse one)  Now, the mountains in Galilee, and especially around the Sea of Galilee, aren’t too high – ranging from a couple of hundred feet to two or three thousand feet.  But however high it was, Jesus climbed up into it, says Matthew, and set Himself.  In other words, He got set to teach.  More than likely it was an area chosen to appropriately gather a smaller crowd around Him on a lower level so He could be seen and heard.  And He called His disciples to Himself.

            Then Matthew says that He opened His mouth and began teaching them.  And what flows out through His mouth is probably the most famous passage in all of Scripture, and, as we’ve already heard, one of the most misread and misused passages.  It describes the nature and conduct of all of His subjects.

            And the word with which He begins, “blessed” is, in itself, a summary of the nature of one who follows Him and brings Him honor.  As I said, it isn’t a term which describes an innate characteristic of man, but is a pronouncement, or a declaration, by the King, of a certain state of being.  The word is similar in meaning to that word at the beginning of Psalm one which is translated “O how very happy – is the man whose delight is the Law of God.”

            There is, indeed, a certain degree of the meaning of happiness here, because the pronouncement of ‘blessed” by the Son of God imparts to His subject a new state of existence in which he is described as being the bearer of life.  Blessed by Christ is life itself.

            And the disciple and follower of the King, having been pronounced “blessed,” is to manifest all of the characteristics that Jesus lists here.  And, as you can easily see by just a superficial reading, the entire description of the one who has been declared “blessed” is set in a milieu of absolute contrast.  The one who bears life as a result of the judgment of “blessed” is definitively described in complete contrast to human nature and tendencies.   He is said to be happy and content and exultant in the fact that he now bears life as a gift from His Master, and that his nature, his temperament and his disposition are patterned after That Master!

            And the contrast is so vivid here that it leaves no doubt that there’s not very much that’s admirable to the natural man of the world.   In fact, there’s nothing further removed from this description than what the world admires.

            The world automatically aspires to and admires position, and autonomy, and money, and status, and self-confidence, and self-expression, and intellectual and physical mastery over life.  But the one whom Christ pronounces “blessed” hungers and thirsts after righteousness!

            Now, please erase from your mind any perception that you might have that Christ might be preaching against the gender differences with which God made us.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The masculinity with which God made men, and femininity with which He made women is unaffected.  Except maybe it is enhanced.  Through the light and life of Christ, the genders remain distinct and diverse.  But through the darkness of the world-view they take on deadly distinctions and similarities. 

            In the satanic world-view the male head of household may control by coercion, anger, verbal abuse and physical superiority.  But the real, masculine man, the one designed by God, patiently and consistently leads his family by teaching and by Godly example.  And he does that with broad enough shoulders to take whatever comes his way, understanding that the path to family righteousness is rough and sometimes long!  It takes a real man to do it!

            I don’t mean to get into family issues here, but we needed to make sure that nobody was confusing poor in spirit with weakness, and a lack of masculinity.

            Blessed the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of the Heavens is theirs!  Exclusive!  There’s an order to what Jesus is preaching, here, and this one is first for a reason which I think will become very clear.  But this is the fundamental characteristic of all who belong to the Kingdom of the Heavens.  All of the other seven are, in a sense, the result of this one.

            And what our Lord is speaking of is a person’s attitude, or belief, about himself.  You see, Christ condemns before He gives freedom.  And that condemnation produces a poverty of spirit which reacts to Christ in the same way the apostle Paul reacted, when he says that he was untimely born, a wretched man, and the chief of all sinners!

            He didn’t say, “But I now have redeeming qualities – I am an apostle of the Church and a worker of many miracles.”  But he deemed himself the worst of the lot!  Here the God-Man, the second Person of the Triune Godhead, had come to die for him and had graciously pronounced him blessed, and there’s only one admission that everything the “self” held to was darkness and death!

            David said, “Lord, who am I that You should come to me?”  Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips!”  Woe is me.  Jeremiah – “I cannot speak, Lord, for I am a child.”  Moses hid his face from God and cried out “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”  After God speaks to Job, Job answers:  “Behold, I am vile, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  And Peter, after he truly saw the Lord said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”  Even the publican – tax collector – would not so much as lift his eyes toward God but smote his breast saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

            This is what it means to be “poor in spirit.”  I am unworthy to be in the presence of God, who am I that He should consider me; “my house is unworthy that you should step inside, just say it and my daughter will be healed” – the Roman army officer.  It is to know that we are nothing and have nothing.  It is the perception that we are as “one dead” in the presence of God, as the apostle John did.

            The sin and the foulness-of-who-we-are becomes apparent all at the same time, and the natural self is seen as weakness, and as loss when exposed to the light!

            Blessed.  Bearers of life!  Receivers and bearers and owners of the Kingdom of the Heavens!  You see, the poor in spirit place their faith in Him.  A Gift!  And the poor in spirit are filled with the power of Christ in His Kingdom.  The more we look at Christ, the Ancient of Days, the more hopeless and poverty-stricken we become!  That’s hated.  It’s shunted off as stupid mythology!

            It is ignored and ridiculed and despised and passed off as insignificant fanaticism.  It’s paradoxical to human reason that man should see himself as corruption!

            The world ways, “I am somebody” – the poor in spirit admits he is nothing before God.  The world says “exude self-confidence” – the poor in spirit has confidence in every Word flowing through the mouth of God.  The world says, “the answer to your problem lies within you” – the poor in spirit says that Jesus is the Way the Truth, and the Life!  The world says, “find out who you are and live!”  The poor in spirit sees and knows that it’s only death in there!

            Poverty of spirit is blessed because it is the only way the Kingdom is ours!  The only way for us to be filled is for us to be crushed and emptied.  Christ reigns when self-esteem is drained away.  Instead of self-exaltation, Christ exalts the lowly – the poor in spirit.  And if you’ve not been on your knees before God – seeing and knowing and feeling your own depravity, then the Kingdom isn’t yours!  For this is the entrance into the dominion of Christ.

            You can see for yourself that the next six of these are set in the future tense – “Blessed the mourning ones, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed the hungering and thirsting, for they shall be filled” – and so on. 

            But “blessed the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom” – present tense.  The first step.  Lowliness of spirit – beggarliness of spirit – poverty of spirit.  Recognition of loathsomeness in the presence of God.

            Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.  Take My yoke upon you, and you shall find rest unto your souls.”

            Matthew Has here brought us to the initial occasion of Jesus’ teaching of his disciples.  And it oughtn’t be remarkable to us that Jesus opens this first event with man’s perception of himself.  That depraved man falsely knows, reasons and feels anthropo-centrically – man centered.  And that’s a false world order, contrary to reality.

            But that the real world is Theo-centric – God centered!  And man must be brought to that reality by Christ.  The light of Christ must be shined in order that man takes the full impact of the futility and hopelessness of his false existence.  He has to be brought to see that the life which he knows to be real, is, in reality, inane, superfluous, valueless, worthless and empty.  He must see that all his thought and all his reason and all his practice is against the reality of God and His Christ!

            And that is poverty of spirit.