He taught them, saying…

On the 30th of January I am preaching on Matthew 5:1-12. Otherwise known as the ‘beatitudes’, these constitute to some of the most stirring, most memorable words of Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew’s Gospel, these statements are the prologue to Jesus’ whole teaching. These statements make sense of the rest of his life and ministry, and show the reason behind his actions

I am pretty anxious about preaching on these words. I’ve heard a dozen sermons on these words – each one different, each one illuminating and I’ll probably hear dozens more. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite this nervous about a passage I am going to preach.

So, I am going to spend the next few days exploring these statements here, because maybe my reflections can be helpful to others and it would be nice to have some feedback.

At this point in Matthew’s account of Christ, he has already recorded Jesus’ credentials as the Messiah, the promised king of David’s line. He has already shown how Gentiles are welcome to bring their offering to God. Matthew has shown Jesus as vanquisher of the devil and caller of men. By the end of Matthew 4 (Matthew 4:23-25), Jesus has gathered a large following aside from his disciples, drawn perhaps to his teaching, his healing or maybe drawn by the crowd.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. (Matthew 5:1)

So, Jesus has a following and he brings them to a place in order to teach them. This strikes me immediately in it’s similarity with the Mount Sinai meeting between Moses and Yahweh (Exodus 19:20) however on this occasion God didn’t descend on the mountain. He climbed it, wearing human flesh. Yahweh at that time has liberated Israel from slavery, but stops them before they reach their promised land to tell them the Law. Similarly, Jesus has announced that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17) and takes his people to a place where they can be taught how they ought to live in this new kingdom.

It should be noted that we see two groups of people: The crowds and the disciples. The disciples were called and the crowds were drawn. There is a difference. The crowds came because they had seen Jesus heal, teach and declare the good news. The disciples were taken by Christ from their lives into his service. As I go on with these reflections, I’ll try to imagine how the disciples heard these words, and differentiate between how the crowd might have heard them. Perhaps therein is a lesson for believers today. But I digress.

Jesus is on the mountain. Jesus: Messiah for all nations who brings victory over sin and Satan, Son of God and perfect lawgiver.

What shall his declaration be?

Matthew goes on:

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: (Matthew 5:2)

Who is Jesus teaching? Are these words for the masses? For the disciples? If for the masses, the disciples are simply sitting close by their master. If for the disciples, Jesus has taken his followers away from the crowd as if to teach them what they ought to know when they continue in their ministries. Is Jesus teaching reserved for those who are his called disciples, or can anyone listen and hear him? We can find an answer to this question by looking to the end of this sermon. We know the crowds heard his teaching from their amazed response (Matthew 7:28-29).

Jesus seems to have no concerns about teaching any and all who would come to hear. His is no secret wisdom, but a word for everyone.

What kind of a man can do such a thing? And what is he going to tell them?

Check back tomorrow for more.

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14 Comments

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  1. What a wonderful passage to be honoured to talk about – first Ian I pray for you 2 Thessalonians 3 v 16 that you will experience God’s peace as you plan , and also 2 Thessalonians 3 v 1 as I know it will be your aim that the Word of God has free course and is glorified rather than your own words.
    As you say – Jesus sets out these words to introduce Kingdom Living. He has come to establish his Kingdom and doesn’t mince his words about what he expects of those who want to be Kingdom people. What I also like is that Jesus doesn’t interpret this teaching – and the disciples don’t ask – unlike the parables. We are told that the people were astonished at his doctrine because he preached with authority unlike their current leaders (Chp7 v 28 & 29) so we I presume must assume that the message was clear to the original hearers.
    Like you I have heard many sermons (probably more than a dozen!) on these words – and I struggle that so often they seek to put so much more into the verses than we find in the text. Perhaps we need to put ourselves in the position of the original hearers and realise that the message whilst extremely challenging to obey is a simple one. As I have continued in bible study over the years – the Lord has instructed me more and more to just read the words on the page – there are no hidden meanings – Jesus says what he means and means what he says. His Word tells us any hidden mystery has been made plain to us followers and that we have the mind of Christ and the Holy Spirit will reveal all truth.
    What strikes me first about the verses is the present tense – not blessed will be, but blessed are. This isn’t a future pie in the sky vague hope. This is present reality to all those who choose to trust Jesus. What a fantastic thing to know that us kingdom people are already blessed.
    Secondly that we are blessed because…… we gain rewards – we are not left in our pre-kingdom state. And what rewards – the kingdom of heaven is ours, we are comforted, not only do we get the kingdom of heaven we get the earth, we are filled with righteousness, we get mercy, we get to see God, we get to be part of God’s family, (yeh ok we get persecuted – but isn’t it worth it for those rewards!!)
    Thirdly – an important spiritual law is revealed in verse 12 – We are commanded to rejoice and be exceeding glad – because of our reward. No matter what persecution we face – our reward is greater – we have more reason to praise than to moan. Put our rewards on one side of the scale and our persecution on the other and guess which side goes down. We realise what we’ve got and join Paul in referring to bad stuff as our light and momentary afflictions.
    Interesting parallel between verse 3 and verse 10 – is there a link between being poor in spirit and being persecuted for righteousness sake – the reward seems to be the same – or does verse 3 tell us how we get into the kingdom (through recognising our need for God and a Saviour) and verse 10 confirm that once we are in – the only bad thing we can expect is persecution?
    Verse 9 is interesting in the light that Jesus said he didn’t come to send peace on the earth (Mat 10 v 34 to 36) so maybe peacemakers doesn’t mean what so often is explained as trust trying to be at peace with everything. Maybe more in line with Luke 2 v 14 where we are told that it’s God’s peace TO the earth – not man’s peace among the earth. So to be peacemakers may not mean to try and make peace among men but to show men that God has made peace with the whole world because he has punished Jesus in our place so he is no longer showing his wrath to us – we live in the age of Grace – hallelujah.

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    • What I noticed is that at this point, Matthew hasn’t told us what Jesus meant by ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. He puts Jesus’ helpful parables much later (Matthew 13) where Jesus describes what the Kingdom is like. It’s almost like when reading the beatitudes we are expected to shake our heads and say “why exactly should I care?” It is the blesser not the blessing which gives credence to this teaching, as the first four chapters really identify Jesus.

      In other words, these blessings are only blessings if the one hearing them understands the identity of Jesus. Unless one understands that identity, they will not take their poor spirits to him, and they certainly will not endure persecution for his sake. Indeed, in a pragmatic sense I can think of better blessings, Yet Jesus assumes himself to be the sole reason for everything his people will endure.

      It is hope, for a believer. For an unbeliever? They could probably find something ‘better’ elsewhere.

      The hope hinges upon Christ and his kingdom. In this kingdom the reward is great, and so the Christian should celebrate. I wouldn’t call that a command or a law so much as the expected overflow of a Christian’s spirit.

      I found the verse 3/verse 10 similarity very interesting indeed. My first thought was that it seemed ill-fitting to give the poor in spirit the same reward as those who endure hardship for the sake of righteousness. I suppose that is the point, no? Maybe it tells us that the promised hope is the same for all? From the least to the greatest?

      I’ll do more research into verse 9 when I get to it.

      At the very least I read these statements as declarations about the kingdom of God. Some may see in them commands, whilst some may take comfort in them. I think both can be true. I picture it as the ‘doorframe’ of the Kingdom of God – these Beatitudes denote how one ‘enters’ his kingdom.

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    • I would suggest that verse 9 does indeed mean peace among men in some sense of the term. Spiritual peace that is, and not the cessation of physical violence between nations. Verse 44-45 extends the principle very clearly.
      As far as Matthew 10 verse 34ff is concerned, it explicitly says that it is NOT Jesus bringing peace to earth. The coming of Christ certainly brings peace to the heart, but the matter being dealt with here is a matter of priority; Jesus demands allegiance that takes priority over any the natural ties of life.

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  2. Can we assume that Matthews origianl readers (assuming we agree it was written to a mainly jewish audience) would have understood the concept of Kingdom? Certainly the original hearers seemed to understand because they noticed he spoke with authority – there didn’t seem to be a question about the content just his authority. And of course John the Baptist had just had the biggest revival for four hundred years – and all he seems to say is repent because the kingdom is at hand – so one assumes they had a working knowledge of the kingdom to come!! (Mat 3 v 5). Does it matter that we as current readers don’t yet understand what the Kingdom is? Am not sure that my reaction would have been to shake my head and say do I care – more – well this sounds good – how do I join it? Just to read that there is a new kingdom with new values being established by Jesus is enough to inspire us.

    Not quite sure what you mean by an unbeliever could find something “better” elsewhere? Surely at this point this is good news for anyone listening to it – the fact that there is a kingdom with kingdom values and kingdom rewards that is different and better to the life we are living – that is surely hope for everyone isn’t it?

    Totally agree that praise comes from the overflow of gratefulness – but I do believe the bible places a bigger emphasis on thanksgiving than this – but hey we have agreed to differ over that before.

    Intrigued at your thought that it seemed “ill fitting” guess we approach the bible differently. I don’t find myself judging what God says more being intrigued why he said it. Don’t quite get your link between poor in spirit and persecuted and why this means its the same for all – surely the only people who are promised persecution is those who become members of the kingdom (ie: the righteous) and the only people who get entry in the kingdom are the poor in spirit? Maybe I’ve misunderstood your point.

    Yes I agree both commands and entry requirements – bringing comfort to all who abide by them and obey them.

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughs.

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    • Perhaps they did have a concept of the ‘Kingdom’ which Jesus/Matthew was trying to deconstruct? It would be intriguing for this grand introduction of Jesus to then be contrasted with the humility of the Beatitudes – as if we’re being set up to expect a revolution and Jesus transforms that understanding.

      What I mean about an unbeliever finding something “better” elsewhere has to do with what a person really values. One who has no regard for Jesus and couldn’t care less for his kingdom obviously wouldn’t find great hope in his promise. It might be like wanting a cheeseburger and being offered a glass of water if you catch my meaning? Now, as a Christian I share the idea that the human soul reconciled to God brings the deepest and most satisfying joy a person could desire. This kingdom is only desirable if you see something desirable in Jesus. Paul tells us that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

      If the Kingdom of Heaven is promised to the poor in spirit, shouldn’t the persecuted get a greater reward? They endured a bitter struggle to do what was right. The poor in spirit implies helplessness. As it is, Jesus promises one kingdom to both. In a sense, this does away with spiritual hierarchy. Also, these statements serve as bookends to that part of the teaching. Perhaps it’s saying that the idea of the kingdom of heaven encompasses everything between those two statements?

      These are general announcements (verses 11 and 12 are very different), leading me to believe that Jesus is throwing the door wide open for any who can ‘fit’ through. Maybe it’s an exposition on what was said earlier (Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand) and is a description of what repentance means?

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  3. Ah I see we have a different view of persecution. I don’t see persecution as the bitter struggle to do what was right and I am not sure that is how the bible views it. I find in the bible persecution is just the natural result of walking in the opposite direction to Satan – our daily expectation -we observe degrees of persecution in the world today – but I would suggest that is more to do with Christians in the west not seeming to be a threat to Satan!!!! Persecution only comes for the Word’s sake nothing actually to do with “us”! Satan isn’t intersted in us just interested in making sure the Word doesn’t take seed. It is our willingness to speak the Word that brings Satan against us – not a bitter struggle to do what’s right. Speaking the word should be second (if not first) nature to us – persecution should be just the natural expectation of any one speaking the Word.
    So if persecution is just a natural extension of being in the kingdom – then no greater reward is necessary. It isn’t as if we are in the kingdom to earn rewards for our own deeds!!!! The rewards are God’s gifts freely given to us through grace and totally undeserved – once you start talking about reward for doing the right thing you get into the faith and or works debate!

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    • In regards to ‘righteousness’ I would actually maintain that it can mean both of the above. I believe verse 9 refers to the actions of anyone trying to right, because it is the next verse where Jesus specifies there is blessing for those who are persecuted on his account. I was describing perhaps one aspect of the concept but I think the term, biblically, is a broad one covering both beliefs and behaviours.

      In a sense, persecution is the struggle against satan and death. We meet it when we try to fight for those who are held in his cold grip, and when we stand up to the giants of our culture who would seduce us into sin. AAll of this is for – and in response to- God, whether the individual recognises it or not.

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  4. Not sure i have come across those definitions in the bible. can you point me to these biblical references that you are using to support your view.

    As I see in the bible time and again – the only righteousness that counts with God is His righteousness (the righteousness of Jesus) which is given to us as an undeserved gift – we are covered with it – its a robe given to us, so the righteousness mentioned in verse 9 has nothing to do with anyone trying to “do right”.that is self-righteousness. That counts for nothing in God’s eyes. It’s either total reliance on God’s saviour or it’s nothing – Jesus plus anything equals nothing.

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    • Abraham was counted righteous because of his faith (Genesis 15:6). This was not a belief but an action. Faith is found in obedience – that is where is is proved to be faith. Indeed, the faith of ancient Israel was expressed in practice. If a person did not practice the faith, how could it be said he had faith at all?

      So, in this regard, the one who is persecuted for righteousness sake is expressing faith by obedience. One might object, stating that righteousness is a gift. I say ‘of course it is’. That doesn’t negate the fact that obedience is the sign of faith.

      My original point was to contrast the one trying to obey with the one who clearly isn’t and to say that the kingdom of heaven is for both of these groups.

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  5. ps – I would suggest that the very reason Jesus adds the next verse is to clarify that the only persecution that counts as persecution is that for his (the Word’s sake – he is the Word made flesh) sake just in case the audience start thinking about self-righteousness. Jesus confirms this in the parable of the sower.

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  6. Sorry – don’t understand why those who are poor in spirit are “clearly not obeying”?

    Also don’t understanding how Abraham fits in to your suggestion that rigteousness is the title of one “doing right”.

    Abraham’s faith earned him the righteousness of God – not his “doing right” in fact he did wrong in several recorded cases (so presumably in several unrecorded places to).

    The righteousness we have as you say is a gift – but not a result of doing right. doing right has nothing to do with the righteousness of God we are given as a gift.

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