Matthew 5:1–16. The Beatitudes. The Sermon On the Mount.
Key Notes: Memorizing the Beatitudes. He opened His mouth. The welcome.
Like I Corinthians 13, the Beatitudes are so beautiful that the message is easy to overlook. Whatever is said about it feels clumsy and inadequate. In our efforts to master the disarmingly simple text, we will divide the work into three steps.
The first step is to memorize the Beatitudes. If we succeed, we will understand the passage much better. The second is to interpret it. The third is to try to fit the passage in into the whole Sermon on the Mount, and the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew uses "Heaven" avoiding the word “God” in deference to his Jewish audience. Because the third commandment forbade the misuse of the name of God, the Jews preferred not to say it at all. Matthew is sensitive to his audience.)
“Blessed” is a hard word to define. The Greek word (makarios) comes from the word “makar” meaning a god, suggesting a state of bliss in which the gods live. It does not mean lucky or happy, both implying chance. But it is clear that goodness is meant and is being given. The Lord loves His own. "Blessed" is the first word of the “Gospel of the Kingdom”.
First, let us develop a memory crutch. It is relatively easy to say the end of each sentence of the Beatitudes if we can say the first phrase, since they are about as familiar to us as the 23rd Psalm. If we study the “Blesseds”, they appear to be a sequence, starting at a low point and reaching a kind of pinnacle in the eighth. We will divide them into two parts, 1–4 and 5–8.
*5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit...." Such a person is at rock bottom, spiritually bankrupt and begging God for help. “ Poor and needy” is a similar phrase used seven or more times in the Psalms.
”This poor man cried and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. " (Psa.34:6)
“God be merciful to me a sinner.” That was the poor-in-spirit publican. Lk.18:13
*5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn...." Mourning may be for our own sins and our desperate spiritual condition, or for the situation in the Church or our Country. “Woe to those…who are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” Amos 6:4–6
*5:5 "Blessed are the meek...." One step up from mourning is accepting our status, not fighting back or being defensive. Two who are noted in Scripture to be meek were the most outstanding, Christ (Matt.11:29) and Moses. Num.12:3
*5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness...."
“For He satisfies him who is thirsty and the hungry He fills with good things.” (Psa.107:9)
Now we are reaching up to God for real spiritual growth, like a plant struggles to get into the sunlight where it can grow rapidly.
Together, this set of four represents a progressive development of our spiritual needs:
poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
The second set has a different perspective, of giving out.
*5:7 "Blessed are the merciful...." The merciful reaches out to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Matt.10:42; Mk.9:41
*5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart...." A huge step up is to be able to fend off the pollution of the world and present a heart dedicated to God in His service. "Purity of heart is to will one thing"—holiness. Seek "holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb.12:14)
Pure salt and pure light are our best contributions to the world.
*5:9 "Blessed are the peace-makers...." Not the peace-lovers, the peace-wishers, or the peace-livers, but the peace-makers are blessed. “Peace-maker” is a rare expression in Scripture. Peace-making is a dangerous business, because it puts one into the middle of conflict. Police responding to a domestic dispute are often in peril. Players who try to break up a fight on the baseball field are likely to get hurt. But the fighting must stop, even at personal risk.
*5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake...." Who can imagine persecution as a blessing? But if we understand that the persecution is not directed at us, but at the Lord we serve, we may rejoice to have a share in His battles. The pressures we feel in secular society against Christians are a stimulus to the growth of the church.
5:11 The eighth beatitude is elaborated and amplified, focusing on “you” , so that we understand that all the beatitudes were directed at the disciples sitting at Jesus’ feet.
The second set of beatitudes is not focused on our needs, but on the needs of the world. In the first four beatitudes, our hands are lifted to Heaven for help. In the second four, our hands are reaching out to the World to help others. After our own spiritual needs are met, we are intended to reach others in service. We are progressively developing, reaching out, doing more and more difficult spiritual work.
If we think of the members of each set as progressing in intensity, memorizing is easier.
Needy → mourning → meek → thirsting for justice.
Merciful → pure in heart → peace-making → persecuted.
Look now at the outcome phrases that end each of the beatitudes. “…theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” ends the first and eighth beatitudes, book-ending the text. This assures us that the other outcomes also belong to the members of the Kingdom. So “inside” the Kingdom, as it were, we find the blessed of the Kingdom comforted, satisfied, obtaining mercy, seeing God as children of God, being persecuted for the King’s sake, inheriting the earth and being rewarded in Heaven. They will get their needs met.
Two additional short homilies are given to amplify the Beatitudes.
“You are the salt of the earth.” “You” assures us that Jesus is speaking to these neophyte disciples. The job of spiritual salt is to keep society from rotting. That is the first priority. The second is to add flavor and taste to the society. We have to be careful not to lay it on too thick. Too much salt burns.
Pure salt is prized. Salt dredged from the Dead Sea is a mixture of minerals. Salt is more soluble than the contaminating minerals and can be leached out. Some Christians have lost their true salt, NaCl, and have only MgSO4 (Epsom salts, a bad-tasting laxative) and CaCO3 (powdery chalk, an antacid) left to flavor society.
“You are the light of the world.” No finer compliment has ever been given to a disciple of Christ. Our light comes from the Son. It is all derived. But we borrow the flame and make it shine in dark places. And we must remember that men love darkness rather than light (Jn.3:19) so we must not naively think that people are begging for our bright ideas.
Overview of the passage.
5:2 And He opened His mouth….
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth, it shall not return to Me empty but shall accomplish that which I purpose.” Isa.55:11. "...for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it” is an arresting OT phrase, found at the end of each of the quotations below:
“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together....for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. “ Isa.40:5
“I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father...." Isa.58:14
“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make them afraid........
.....for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken it." Mic. 4:4
“If you refuse and rebel you will be devoured by the sword....for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” Isa.1:20
When the Lord opens His mouth, we are to listen. It is important.
Compare the beatitudes with the preferred attributes of secular culture. This highlights the goodness of the Kingdom.
Poor in spirit / rich and proud
Mourning / indifferent
Meek / defensive
Hungering for righteousness / money-hungry
Merciful / hurtful
Pure in heart / “adult”
Peacemakers / "in-your-face"
Persecuted / freedom from religion
In Jesus’ previous message, He proclaimed “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We are now hearing the next word, the introduction to a sermon on the Life of the Kingdom. The blessings are not celebrations of personal success, but celebrations of God’s grace. The first word given to this green bunch of would-be disciples is ”Blessed." Congratulations. God loves you. That is probably not what we would have said.
When we introduce a new group of students or athletes to their programs we are very prone to start with a hard sell. The university orientation commonly tells new students “Look to your left and to your right. By the end of the first semester one of these people will be missing.” My first class in inorganic chemistry, with mostly pre-meds, was introduced with these chilling words: “Gentlemen, this course will make you or break you and frankly, it will break most of you.” My introduction to medical school was warmly different. “You are all going to graduate. We make it our business to see you all safely through.”
Jesus gave them an orientation but did not give them entry instructions, “How-to’s”. He merely described their situation. How are we supposed to deal with that? How does one enter the kingdom? What conditions must be met? Who is in the kingdom and who is not? There appears to be no rite of passage. What is the kingdom anyway? It is all quite mysterious. Jesus does not tell us here. ( Jesus typically offers substantial information, but never tells the whole story at once. We are often unwise trying to say too much .)
Let us enlarge the context. John the Baptist came preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He thundered God’s judgment in anticipation of Christ’s coming. People responded and were baptized for repentance. That was the rite of passage. Then Jesus came and was baptized so that His Deity was announced by the Father and the Spirit. Now John could point to Him as the Lamb of God without doubt. Jesus picked up the theme: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He was starting the real work, healing large numbers of people and collecting an audience. Part of the Gospel of the Kingdom is the healing of people. He then proceeded to announce God’s blessing on them, and began to elaborate on the Kingdom and their place in it. More thunder, more hard sell was not needed then, but a warm welcome and blessing.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven really?
Is it the Kingdom Israel? Or the Church? Matt.21:43
Is it the dynasty of David? IISam.7:16
Is it the kingdoms of this world? Rev.11:15
Is the Kingdom the Millennial reign of Christ? Rev.20:4
Some questions can be answered at once from the beatitudes.
The kingdom is at hand. It was present in the world in 30AD. The kingdom is also future, with rewards in heaven. The kingdom is not for designed for royalty, but for the poor and needy and they will grow and prosper.
Their rewards are mostly future.
There are other clues to the Kingdom further on in the Sermon on the Mount.
“…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20). Morality is not enough. Not every sincere person gets in.
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well. “ (6:33). The kingdom has priority over food and clothes.
“Thy kingdom come.” (6:10). The Kingdom is yet future.
‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “ (7:21). Obedience is crucial.
We are being oriented by One who would rule our lives. He comes with a warm welcome, in grace and blessing. Has Christ blessed you? Does Jesus love you? Does God love you? Absolutely.