Read text: Matt 5:1-12
We are beginning our study of the Sermon on the Mount, which spans from Matthew 5-7. It’s Jesus’ debut sermon so it’s packed. It’s the first sermon given by the best preacher who ever lived. And now I’m supposed to preach what Jesus already preached. That’s a tall order.
Trying to preach the Sermon on the Mount is like trying to tell Ronald McDonald how to make a cheeseburger. It just doesn’t make sense. Frankly, I feel like I am a kindergarten teacher whose training and background are things like the alphabet and vowels and suddenly I’ve been asked to teach a grad level course on Shakespearian poetry.
Here is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, describing salvation–
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ch. 5–
The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning…to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin…Put it right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out – as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you…It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when he created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has.
This is a great description of salvation. It’s not just reading the Bible and obeying it like we would the writings of other men. True spiritual life is not taking an oil can and squirting it on the squeaky places of a tin man. We are not trying to become fixed up, smoother running versions of our old selves. That’s tin. Our old selves have to be sent to the junkyard. If you encounter true salvation, our tin selves are replaced with real flesh and a beating heart. This is spiritual rebirth or salvation. You’re not version 2.0 of you. You’re a new creation.
Jesus is doing the same thing in this passage. He is showing what a true, born again disciple or a kingdom citizen looks like. It’s something totally out of this world. Try to obey these verses as a tin soldier, with your own strength and your own effort and you will fail miserably.
These verses in Matthew 5:1-12 are not ethical commands. These are not things that you are to do as disciples. Things we are to do will come later in the Sermon on the Mount. But before we get into doing, like being the salt of the earth and evangelizing and giving to the needy, we have to get to the core of what a disciple is.
Before you do the work of a disciple, you have to be a disciple. A rather obvious point. You can’t do the work of a disciple if you’re not a disciple. Being is always before doing. The doing flows from being, from who you are. So what is a disciple? A disciple is one who exhibits these 8 qualities. These are signs of a blessed life, a life where true spiritual life has been breathed into what was previously a corpse.
A few high level observations before we dive into the details. First, what’s the relationship between the 8 blessings? The 8 blessings are all inter-related and they’re revealed in a disciple’s life progressively. They’re inter-related. Like NBA superstar Kevin Durant, there is not just 1 characteristic to describe him. Is he a scorer, is he athletic, is he clutch when the game is on the line? He’s all the above. Likewise, these 8 blessings all blend together.
As a disciple, as a kingdom citizen, all 8 traits are expressed simultaneously in a progressive manner. Not jumping from one to another, or mastering one and then moving to the next. But we display all 8 qualities simultaneously and we exhibit each of these traits in increasing measure over time. Like if you’re an immigrant. You might be a FOB at first, Fresh Off the Boat. You still have a bowl haircut and bright neon shorts. But over time, as you become acquainted with this country, you learn to fit in. You get a normal haircut and you put on some gel and part your hair and you comb it. And you get a cap and turn it slightly sideways. Over time, you are showing progressively what it means to be a kid growing up in this country and eventually you become a U.S. citizen. Likewise, we show progressively what it means to be a citizen in the kingdom of God. The longer we are Christian, the more our lives ought to line up with these 8 qualities.
Second, what’s the structure of these 8 blessings? Each of these 8 verses start with a blessing–blessed are the blank. Like blessed are the poor in the spirit. Then, the second half of the verses contain the reward–theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
You can also divide these 8 blessings into two categories. Some are personal. Others are relational. Being poor in spirit is personal. You can be poor in spirit on your own. Being meek is relational. Meekness is displayed in your relationship with others.
The personal qualities include: 1) being poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and 4) being pure in heart. The second category, the relational qualities, are: 1) being meek toward others, 2) being merciful toward others, 3) being a peacemaker toward others, 4) being persecuted by others.
Third, what can we learn from the grammar? Verse 3 and verse 10 are in the present tense. The rest of the verses are in the future. Do you see that? Does Mathew need a grammar lesson on keeping the tenses the same? What is going on here? This intermingling of tenses points to the “already but not yet” nature of being a kingdom citizen. “Already but not yet” – it’s a theological term which basically says, we’re in the kingdom the moment we’re saved. In that sense, we’re already in. We are kingdom citizens. But the fullness of the kingdom won’t be displayed in its entirety until Christ returns. We’re in already, but not fully there. The kingdom is yet to be fully realized in our lives and certainly in our world.
I’m going to do a two part series. We read the entire Beatitudes which goes through v12. But today, I’m actually going to cover only half the verses–the 4 blessings that relate to personal qualities. Next time, we’ll cover the relational qualities.
Personal: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit (v3)
The first blessing is found in v3.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Who are blessed? Those who are poor in spirit. And what is the promise? Theirs IS (present tense) the kingdom of heaven.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Feeling empty in your spirit, feeling impoverished in your heart, feeling like something in me is broken, it’s not quite right, everything is a bit off. Yesterday, I felt close to God. Today, I feel like I am in a far country. Can you relate?
Maybe you can’t because you assume, if God is in my life, then shouldn’t everything be swell? Shouldn’t I feel loved and blessed in every sense of the word, blessed materially, socially, spiritually? All the time? Shouldn’t spiritual life be like a lifelong, unending, uninterrupted vacation to the Bahamas where you are basking in the light of God’s favor? And there’s never a cloud in the skies. No care in the world.
The verse doesn’t say, blessed are the rich in spirit. Those who are filled with an undiminishing, ever satisfied sense of the Spirit. It doesn’t say, blessed are those who smile all the time. You know people like that? Always smiling, never had a bad day in their lives. The poor in spirit – theirs is the kingdom of heaven.