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Blessed are you

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Matthew 5:1-12

  1. The blessed

When we think about those who we might regard as fortunate or blessed in this life, we often think of those around us who seem to be successful or are well off or well to do.

We think of those who have plenty of the good things that this world has to offer. They might be those who have plenty of natural talent or plenty of opportunities or plenty of resources to do what they want to do or to be what they want to be in life.

We often think of those who have achieved much and have much and have wanted for little and have suffered little. They are the trouble-free or else if they have suffered or been in want, then they’ve managed to rise above their troubles to live the sort of life that others might envy and want to emulate.

The blessed are often regarded to be people who seem to be surrounded by those they love and who love them. These are often those who are regarded as being fortunate or living the “the good life”.

Today we are beginning to look at the sermon on the mount in chapters 5 to 7 of the gospel of Matthew. This is the first of five blocks of Jesus’ teaching that have been recorded for us by Matthew in his gospel. In the opening 12 verses of chapter 5 that we are looking at today, Jesus begins to describe the blessedness of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven and what those who belong to the kingdom are like.

The word “blessed” (makarios = original Greek word) is used in the first 12 verses no less than 9 times to describe what those are like who belong to the kingdom. In some English translations it is sometimes translated as “happy” or “fortunate” however this is far too reductionist for there is more to it than just a state of “feeling happy” or being regarded by others as fortunate.

“The blessed” are God’s righteous people who enjoy his favour and belong to him and his kingdom with all that this entails. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have plenty or have a trouble-free existence in this world for Jesus expected that if the world hated and persecuted him, they would also persecute his disciples (Matt 5:11; 24:9; John 15:20).

What we commonly call the Sermon on the mount (chapters 5 to 7) is teaching that was directed towards his would-be disciples outlining for them what it would mean for them to follow him and belong to the kingdom of God. Today we are just going to look at the first 12 verses that talk about the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven and what those who belong to it are like while they wait for it come.

You might have heard these verses referred to as “the beatitudes” and that is because before the English language even came into being the Greek word, “makarios” that stands at the head of verses 3 to 11 in the original Greek manuscripts had been translated “beatus” in the Latin translations of the Bible and the word “beatitudes” is a rough transliteration of that Latin word into English.

  1. The blessedness of the kingdom

The blessedness of the kingdom and what those who belong to it are like is described in the 8 sayings or  “beatitudes” in verses 3 to 10. There are two lines to each verse and the same pattern runs through each of the verses tying these verses together as tight unit.

In the first line Jesus identifies those who are blessed and what they are like. For example, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit”. Notice the tense of the first line in our English translations is present and that’s how it is best to understand it. Right now, the blessed are those who are “poor in spirit” and “those who mourn” and “the humble/meek” and those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” etc… The first line describes the present experience of those who belong to the kingdom while they wait for it to come in all its fullness.

In the second line of each of the sayings the Lord explains why they are blessed. In the case of the poor in Spirit it is because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You might also notice that this blessing is repeated in the eighth or last in this set of sayings in verse 8…

“the kingdom of heaven is theirs”.

The kingdom of heaven is the theme of the sermon on the mount and here in the introduction these two sayings act like book ends or like the flags at the beach. The flags that the lifesavers put out define the area between them as the swimming section of the beach. If you want to swim on that beach in between the flags is where you are meant to go. When you see them, you know anything that is between the flags is the swimming area and safe to swim in. In a similar way the last and the eighth saying tell you what all the verses in between are looking at, the blessings of the kingdom which are theirs.

The other thing to notice in the structure is although the kingdom is already theirs the blessings mentioned in between are yet to be fully realised. Matthew uses the future tense in the second half of verses 4 to 9….

“they will be comforted”

“they will inherit the earth”

“they will be filled”

“they will be shown mercy”

Etc.

The kingdom of heaven is theirs. It is there present possession; however, they will need to remain steadfast and patient while they wait for it to fully come. What these verses assure us is that the waiting is worth it even though in this world the waiting won’t be easy for the righteous. But what are those who belong to the kingdom of God like here and now? That’s what we are told in the first part of each of the 8 sayings. The best way to look at what they are like and why they are blessed will be to just work through the saying one by one.

  • Blessed are the poor in Spirit

The first saying is perhaps first because it is key to understanding all of them. Jesus taught…

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs”[i]

The poor in Spirit are those who are spiritually bankrupt and who know that they have nothing to offer the Lord and can only cry out to him to have mercy on them. Like David in Psalm 51 what those who belong to the kingdom recognise is that the only sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). It’s those who recognise their own brokenness and their inability to do anything about it who repent and cry out to the Lord for forgiveness. It’s those who enter the kingdom of God.

Like the tax collector who went to the temple to pray who wouldn’t even look up to heaven but just stood their beating his chest and said, “Have mercy on me a sinner” (see Luke 18:13). It’s those who are willing to recognise their spiritual bankruptcy and who cry out to the Lord and put their trust in him to deliver them who are saved. The Lord Jesus says theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  • Blessed are those who mourn

What the spiritually poor are like now continues to be filled out in the other sayings along with the blessing that are theirs.

The spiritually poor are also those who mourn. We are not just talking about the sort of mourning that accompanies the loss of a loved one, but a mourning that accompanies personal repentance of sin and a grieving over all the wickedness and sin that we see going on in our world. We are those who know how things should be and what they one day will become, and we grieve the present state of our world and we long for Jesus to come. We weep over what sin has done to us and our world.

Luke tells us that when Jesus approached Jerusalem, he saw the city and he wept over it (Luke 19:41). The apostle Paul couldn’t write to the Philippians about those who were living as enemies of the cross without tears (Phil. 3:18). John Stott wrote, “The truth is that there are such things as Christians tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”

We are those who have had our eyes opened so we ought to respond to what is going on in our world differently to those around us. Our world dresses up sin, it hides it away, or it will try to excuse it or attempt to rationalizes or redefine it, but we are those who have had our eyes opened and we can see the ugliness of sin and the stain it leaves on our world and the affront that it is to a holy God.

Friends, we ought to be those who take sin seriously and be people who feel deep sorrow when we fall into it. The sort of sorrow that doesn’t just wallow in self-pity but the godly sort of sorrow that leads to repentance. We should be those who are deeply grieved over the sin we see going on in our world and the offence that our sin is to God who created us to be like him. It ought to deeply sadden us and it should lead us to prayer. But the good news is that that those who mourn now are blessed for they will be comforted. Things won’t always be this way. The kingdom will come in all its splendour and when it does sin will be no more. Its stain shall be washed away, and the Lord shall wipe away every tear.

  • Blessed are the humble (meek)

The poor in spirit are thirdly the humble or the meek as the Greek word is also sometimes translated. I personally like the word “meek” as the NIV has translated it. They are blessed for the “meek” will inherit the earth. The Lord Jesus seems to quote, or at least be influenced by, what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 37.

Psalm 37:8-11

Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated—it can only bring harm. 9 For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who put their hope in the LORD will inherit the land. 10A little while, and the wicked person will be no more; though you look for him, he will not be there. 11 But the humble [meek = NIV] will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity.

In this psalm the meek are those who exercise restraint. They refrain from anger and rage for they know that the act of vengeance or the temptation to take justice into our own hands isn’t the solution. It will only do more harm.  Even though the wicked person schemes against them and threatens them they don’t return evil for evil but keep on doing good even when faced with injustice. The meek wait for the Lord to put things right and to judge the wicked. They don’t become like the wicked dishing out payback and revenge themselves, but they look forward to the day when the wicked shall be no more and they shall be the ones to inherit the earth.

Waiting pays off. It might not seem like it in the short term but in the long term it is those who wait on the Lord who will inherit the earth. Meekness isn’t weakness but the strength to show restraint and to act blamelessly and to keep on doing good (Luke 6:27) in the face of evil trusting the Lord to what is right and bring judgement on the wicked. Later in the sermon Jesus will tell them to “love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:43).

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

What the poor in Spirit really want to see is the righteousness of God in their own lives and in the world at large. They hunger and thirst for his righteousness.

Here in Australia many of us don’t know what it means to really be hungry or thirsty. The closest I’ve come to it was once when bushwalking when I didn’t take enough water or food. But even then, it was only slight inconvenience not the desperate hunger of those who might starve because they just don’t have enough to eat. Here in Sydney, we have water on tap and most of us have much more than enough to eat (and many of us struggle with having too much to eat) but many in the ancient world (as many who are less fortunate than us in our world) knew what it was to go hungry and to be thirsty. This is the sort of hunger and thirst that the Lord said that those who belong to the kingdom have for righteousness. They have a deep ache in their bellies to see God’s righteousness not only to fill their own lives but to fill the whole earth.

Our goal in this world is not success in the way that the world defines success, and it is not to have plenty of good things, but its righteousness – it is to be like our God – to reflect what he is like in this world. It isn’t wealth but it’s Christ likeness or as Paul puts it to see Christ formed in us (Gal. 4:19).  This is what we are to be hungry for and to thirst after. The Lord Jesus will later even tell those who are anxious about what they will eat or drink to not worry about these things but to trust their father in heaven and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. It’s those who do who are blessed for they will be filled. God will make them righteous like he is righteous, holy like he is holy. He will forgive them and cleanse them so that they might be his image bearers in this world.

  • Blessed are the merciful

This is fifthly why those who are blessed are also those who show mercy because God has shown them mercy. What the sermon on the Mount will call disciples to do is to be like their Father in heaven, to be perfect like their heavenly Father is perfect (5:48). These sayings (beatitudes) introduce what this looks like. To show mercy is to have compassion others the way that God has had compassion on us.

Later in the gospel, Matthew in chapter 18 tells us of the time that Peter came to Jesus asking how many times he should be willing to forgive his brother suggesting that as many as seven times might be more than adequate for a wayward brother (18:21). The Lord Jesus answered him with a story of the unforgiving servant.

This servant owed his master a vast fortune that would have taken someone labouring in the fields every day for twenty years to pay back. However, when it came time to pay back the loan the man had nothing. I don’t what he did with all that money, whether he invested it badly or just had gone out and recklessly spent it, but when it came paying it back, he had nothing to pay his master with.

Now what usually happened with such debts in the ancient world was that you and your whole family were sold into indentured service until all of it was paid back. But the man fell on his knees, and he begged his master to be patient with him promising to pay back the loan. But his master did better than that. He took pity on the man and had compassion on him and forgave him the entire amount.

Just imagine what it would be like if someone gave you what equated to your wages for the next twenty years. You would probably retire now. Having experienced such generosity, you would have thought it would have left an indelible mark on the man. But it didn’t. He too was owed some money by a fellow servant, mind you it was just a fraction of the amount that he had owed his master (less than 0.2%) but when the man who owed him pleaded for him to be patient until he paid it back, the other man wasn’t willing to even extend him this concession and instead he threw him into prison until he could pay it all back.

When his master found out what had happened, he summoned the man and said this to the man.

Matthew 18:32b-33

You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?

This is the reason why those are waiting for the coming of the kingdom, are to be showing mercy to others. While we wait for the kingdom to come, we are to be spending the time learning to be more and more like our master whose mercy has been poured out on us in abundance. When the kingdom comes in all its fullness the merciful will be shown mercy. We will escape the coming judgment and inherit the earth.

  • Blessed are the pure in heart

The blessed are therefore also those who are pure in heart. This desire to be like our Father in heaven only comes from a heart that is pure, that is devoted to the Lord.

Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

The pure in heart are those whose hearts are not divided and given over to other loves or other treasurers but are wholly or exclusively devoted to the Lord. We want to be like him and its being with him that we look forward to. This doesn’t mean that our affection is perfect for we are still affected by sin while in this world, but it should be an exclusive love that doesn’t allow any rivals for our affections. I love my wife be it is an imperfect love, but it is to the exclusion of others.

There should be no doubt about who has capture our hearts. The promise is given to those who long for the Lord that they will see him.

  • Blessed are the peace makers

But while we wait, we will be growing more and more like him. So, the blessed are also peacemakers for God is the God of peace (Romans 15:33, 16:20). He has made peace with us reconciling us to himself through Christ so that we can be part of his kingdom. We therefore are to be spreading the message of peace, his promise of reconciliation so that others too might have peace with God, and as far as it is possible for us to do, we are to live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:8).  The peacemaker’s will be known as sons of God because they reflect their Father in heaven.

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness

The last of these eight beatitudes or sayings about the blessings of the kingdom is verse 10.

Matthew 5:10

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

I kind of think this sums up all the other verses. In this world you will find yourself persecuted for this sort of righteousness because it reminds people of the God who they have rejected and the sort of people that he calls us to be. But although in this world we will be persecuted for righteousness the Lord has reminded us that we are blessed because the kingdom of heaven and all its blessings are ours. We must trust God and faithfully wait for it to come.

While we wait these are the qualities or the character traits of those who belong to the kingdom need to be growing. We will need to show restraint and hold back from returning evil for evil and show mercy to those who don’t deserve it. We will also mourn over what we see in our own lives and sometimes experience at the hand of those around you, but our patient waiting and trust in the Lord won’t go unrewarded. The kingdom that we belong to will come in all its fullness and we will be comforted. Every tear will be wiped away and the wicked will be no more, and the meek will inherit the earth and be filled with righteousness. They will see God, shown mercy and be called sons of God.

These words are both assurance and motivation.  They are both a call to remain steadfast and faithful and a call to be cultivating these character traits while we are waiting.

We aren’t to be like those around us who don’t know God. We aren’t to join in with the wicked. We aren’t to go along with what they approve of. We aren’t to delight in what they delight in or to excuse what they want to justify. Instead, we are to grieve over own sin and repent of it. We are to shed tears over what we see going on around us and cry out to the Lord to change people hearts and for the kingdom to come. We are to be hungry and thirsty for his righteous, people who are devoted to the Lord who show mercy to others and are peacemakers not troublemakers.

The rest of the sermon on the mount will put more flesh on these saying filling out what it means to let our light shine out before others in this world, so that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. But cultivating such traits is what we are to be getting on with while we wait for the kingdom to come.

  1. Blessed are you

But the Lord Jesus does something else in the last two verses. He explains that those who are persecuted for righteousness are now those who follow him. The previous 8 collections of sayings defining the blessedness of the kingdom are all in the third person. They are general sayings rather than being specifically or directed at someone in particular. “Blessed are those who are persecuted…” It’s a case of, if the shoe fits wear it. But in verse 11 Jesus uses the second person plural to direct his words to his would-be disciples.

“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you”.

With the coming of Jesus God’s righteous people who belong to his kingdom are now the followers of Jesus who will be persecuted because of him. The Lord is the key to the kingdom of God and this sort of righteousness and it’s those who are persecuted because they belong to him who are those who now stand in line with the righteous prophets of old who were persecuted because they trusted in God and were waiting for his kingdom to come.

Matthew 5:11-12

11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It’s his disciples, his followers who are blessed when they are insulted and persecuted falsely because of him. In this world those who are persecuted because of righteousness will be those who follow Jesus and are persecuted because they belong to him. But Jesus tells them that they are to be glad and rejoice. For it is they and those who follow him who are the blessed.

You are the blessed and it’s worth whatever you might have to go through for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of Jesus. We aren’t to worry or to fret or to retaliate like those who have no faith returning evil for evil but to be glad because we know the kingdom is ours and our reward in heaven is great. We might suffer for a little while in this world for righteousness, but the blessings of the kingdom will all one day be ours. Blessed are you for great is your reward in heaven.

[i] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from Christian Standard Bible (2020). Holman Bible Publishers.