June 3, 2007
INTRODUCTION – In our Quest to know and follow Jesus Christ, and to experience more of His heavenly kingdom – here on earth in this community – in this day– we have been working our way through the gospel of Matthew. This morning we are ready to jump into chapter five, which introduces us to one of the most famous portions of all of scripture – commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. I think it is safe to say that no sermon that has ever been given by man has impacted more people than this one.
It is within this long sermon that spans 3 chapters in the gospel of Matthew that we find well known passages like the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the golden rule, which exhorts us to treat people the same way we would want to be treated.
I’m excited about what God is going to do in our midst as we live in these pages together. But I am concerned that we not lose the forest for the trees. There are some very important questions that we need to answer before we jump into the specifics of this sermon. The four I want to tackle today are: Why did Jesus stop His quickly growing ministry to give such a long teaching? Who was He targeting? What did He hope to accomplish? And why did He start it the way He started?
I. The Setting for the Sermon on the Mount – the Why of it. vs. 1 & context
Vs. 1 of chapter 5 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to him.” If we go back and look at chapter 4 vs. 23-25, we find that huge crowds were following Jesus probably initially because of His healing ministry. They had never seen anything like this. There seemed to be no limit to what He could heal – every sick or infirmed person brought to Him was healed.
What He proclaimed about the kingdom or rule of God coming to earth was demonstrated by the healing of every kind of sickness and the casting out of any and every kind of demon, sometimes with just a word.
So why would a person having such success, and having such huge crowds enamored with His every move, withdraw up to the top of a mountain and then spend all the time it must have taken for Him to give this long teaching that we find in chapters 5-7?? The answer is Jesus Christ knew that unless He could build a kingdom culture – – unless He could build a people and a community with the characteristics necessary to ensure that these crowds turned into fruitful disciples, His efforts would have been wasted. Unless He could form a church that took on His likeness in every way, and developed the character necessary to be able to produce disciples and not just converts, He knew these people would not be able to finish the race, and overcome the huge battles they faced in life. As sincere as their initial interest and enthusiasm might have been – once things got tough, and the enemy unleashed his fury upon them, and the world sought to squeeze them into its mold – their chances of fulfilling their eternal destiny and being agents of the kingdom of God were slim to none.
You see, Jesus Christ knew that the only hope the crowds then (and in the future) had to discover and fulfill their destiny in God was for Him – in the few short years He had left on the earth – to fully invest His life and heart into some men and women who could carry the torch on. Jesus knew that what the world needed most after He ascended to be at the right hand of the Father – – was still Jesus. So in the few years He had left, He had to pour His life into a group of men and women who would be willing to be conformed to His image, and to be His arms, tongue, feet, eyes, ears, and hands on the earth. And he knew for them to accomplish that, He had to build a kingdom culture and community that would foster such transformation. The sermon on the mount was the manifesto for that objective.
II. That’s why Jesus was willing to put this amazing healing ministry on hold for a while and focus His attention on these who were willing to climb the mountain and sit under His teaching . The scriptures say, “His disciples came to Him.” And by the way – that’s one of the major characteristics of a disciple. A true disciple constantly comes to Jesus. We know that Jesus pursues us. But a disciple reciprocates or responds to Jesus’s overtures and invitations.
Who were these disciples? Well at first glance I figured it must have been His 12 and perhaps the 70 that we know He sent out later by twos, and perhaps a few of the women who followed Him that Luke talks about in chapter 8 of his gospel. But if you look at the end of the sermon on the mount in chapter 7 vs. 28, it says, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching;…” Evidently He gave this long teaching to the crowds of people who chapter 4 vs. 25 says were following Him around from town to town – perhaps minus the ones that didn’t want to climb the mtn. The important thing to note is this sermon was not directed at unbelievers trying to get them to be believers. It was directed at disciples – men and women and probably some young people and children – who already knew that Jesus was unique, sent from God, and who were already responding to His commands and authority to some extent.
I say this because this sermon is a call to a supernatural life to be lived in the confines of a kingdom that is ruled by the risen and exalted son of God – Jesus Christ. Only disciples – people who are following and responding to Jesus Christ – can understand, accept and experience this kind of life.
This sermon is not a bunch of rules that if we can follow them we might earn our way into heaven. No, this sermon is an explanation of what life looks like for people who have been born again, and have already entered into the kingdom of God. It is a picture of what truly saved people live like.
III. So what kind of life is this sermon leading us towards? Well one clue we get early on is that it is a blessed, happy or joyful life. The life Jesus Christ offers to those who would follow Him and submit to His kingship is a life of joy that no earthly circumstance can hinder or affect. It is a joy that comes from within, not from without. The greek word translated “Blessed” that we see repeated in vs. 3-11 is the word “Makarios”, which means blessed, happy or blissful. But it is a state of happiness far different from the happiness the world speaks of, and advertisements on T.V. are based on. Homer for instance used the word to describe the Greek mythical gods as being blessed in themselves, a state unaffected by life’s circumstances or anything that any being could do against them. As you study the history of the word it is clear that it is a state of happiness and joy and fulfillment that comes from within, and cannot be adversely affected by adverse circumstances.
Unlike Charlie Brown – who pondering his plight in life recalls, “Yesterday, for one brief moment I was happy. But just when I thought I was winning in the game of life, there was a flag thrown on the play and life dealt me a blow.”
What I really find interesting about this word “makarios” is that twice it is used to describe God. Both are in I Timothy.
“according to the glorious gospel of the blessed (makarios) God, with which I have been entrusted.” I Tim. 1:11
“that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time – He who is the blessed (makarios) and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of lords.” I Tim. 6:14,15
The life Jesus Christ wants to form in us is the very same life that is in our God – and that life is a blissful, joyful life.
While we have overall been thrilled by the ministry of the Master’s Commission the last two times they have visited us, a few of us have been a little uncomfortable with some of their depictions of God. I remember three years ago when they came, one of the female interns described God as “a party animal.” This year there was a lot of emphasis on Him being happy, and not in a bad mood. I certainly was not comfortable with the party animal phrase three years ago, and there might have been a little overemphasis on the happy/giddy side of God this year. But what they were after is this tendency for man to think of God as an always in a bad mood, sour, condemning, judgmental God.
Now there are things that make God angry. There are things He hates. And when He comes at the end of time to judge the world His wrath will be such that grown macho men will try to hide under rocks and anywhere they can to get away from such awful terror – the book of Revelation tells us.
But the fact is God’s nature is that of joy and happiness. Nothing could ever make God depressed or discouraged or cause him to be in a bad mood for hours or days. The writer of Hebrews says that God the Father said this of Jesus, and I quote, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions.” Jesus, according to this passage, was more consistently joyful than any other man on the face of the earth. He walked in gladness of heart regardless of the circumstances He faced. In fact that is one of the big reasons why He as man (while He was on earth) was able to fulfill His calling and finish the race that had been set before Him. And I believe it is one of the reasons so many were drawn to Him.
If we are going to fulfill our calling, and see His kingdom come and His will done in our community in our day, we must learn to send discouragement and depression and sulking and complaining and moaning packing. The joy of the Lord is our strength. God’s kingdom will never be established on earth without it. One of the reasons Jesus Christ gave this sermon was to show the way to that kind of joy.
IV. But you’ve probably learned by now as I have that joy doesn’t come easy. Or at least it doesn’t stay easy. Well our gracious King knows this. So to ensure that His kingdom is established in our lives and in our communities of faith, He starts off this sermon by explaining what the conditions are to achieve it and keep it. Are you ready for the first one?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, (vs. 3) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (repeat)
“Blessed – happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous (that is, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) – are the poor in spirit (the humble, rating themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amplified Bible
Do you want to experience the blessings of the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ rules from heaven in the here and now – whether you are at home or work or school or wherever you might find yourself? Then learn to be, and stay – poor in spirit.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit means to be humble and always aware of your very great spiritual need. It is the opposite of being proud and self sufficient. Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with economics or financial status. But it has everything to do with your willingness or lack of to fully accept everything the Bible says about you and your spiritual condition and need.
4 truths that a person who is poor in spirit embraces without hesitation
1. A person who is poor in spirit first recognizes that he is born in sin, and that no amount of good works or sincere effort on his or her part will ever solve the huge problem that that sin has caused between him and the holy righteous God of the universe. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23
2. A person who is poor in spirit recognizes that they not only have a sin problem, they also have an ownership problem. Until Jesus Christ delivers and rescues us, the Bible says we are all “of” the most hideously evil and powerful being known to man. Jesus Christ in a rather “in your face” reality check with some contentious Jewish religious leaders put it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” There are ultimately only two rulers in the universe – Satan and Jesus Christ. All of us get our inspiration from one or the other.
Some of you may feel a bit offended right now. Perhaps in your life you have never done anything that could be termed hideously evil. Well it is not my intent to offend you, but the Bible’s definition of evil and what we in America tend to think of as evil are often miles apart. Let me give you one example.
God said through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 2 vs. 12,13 of his book these words about how what He considers as evil. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, And shudder, be very desolate,” declares the Lord. For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
3. A person who is poor in spirit recognizes only Jesus Christ can save them both from their sin problem and their ownership problem. The Bible says in I Timothy “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all..” Peter boldly announced to those who had arrested him as recorded in the book of Acts, “..there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
4. A person who is poor in spirit recognizes that they have a 24/7 desperate need for everything that Jesus Christ has for them. They quickly recognize along with the apostle Paul (Romans 7) that in their flesh dwells no good thing (even though they are born again and have been made complete in Christ as Colossians 2 says). They quickly agree with Jesus’s words in John 15 where he said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” They passionately aspire to Job’s testimony when he said in chapter 23 of his amazing book, “I have not departed from the command of His lips, I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” They agree with Jesus Christ when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In other words they daily throughout the day recognize their need for all that Christ is, and go to whatever lengths to acquire that which they need in Christ.
One of the most sober warnings in scripture given to a church is the warning Jesus Christ gave to the church in Laodicea as recorded in Revelation chapter 3 where He said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that your were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
A person who is poor in spirit = no matter what he or she has acquired or attained or accomplished in life – will be quick to say – their greatest need and desire is to cling to Jesus Christ 24/7. He is our only hope, our only good.
V. So why did Jesus Christ start out this way do you think? Why did He choose this characteristic to be His first? The answer I believe is because – if you are not poor in spirit – you cannot see the King nor His kingdom. You are truly and seriously spiritually blind. That’s why Jesus said to that Jew of Jews – Nicodemus – “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That’s why Jesus followed up His stinging rebuke to the Laodicean church in Rev. ch. 3 with this remedy (vs. 18), “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.”
Listen, Jesus Christ’s burning desire for each of you is to have your spiritual eyes wide open so that you can see in ever increasing brilliance and clarity the glory and majesty of your great King. Once you see it, you will never want to settle for anything less.
His burning desire for each of you is that your spiritual eyes might be increasingly opened so that you can see the glory and surpassing wisdom and beauty of His kingdom. He wants you to rule and reign with Him in this kingdom. He wants you to work with Him to expand this kingdom. He wants you to experience the power and righteousness and joy of this kingdom. But He only gives grace to the humble. Some of the greatest promises in the Bible are for those who are poor in spirit. Actually there are no promises in the Bible for anyone of any other kind of spirit. Everything – our personal destiny and the destiny of our families and our church families, and our communities and our nation hinges on our acquiring this most crucial trait. It is the primary building block of the kingdom of God. And thus it is first in line.
Oh people, the only way to be rich in the kingdom of God is to be poor in spirit.
Corporate prayer time