by Dennis Gresham
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The sermon on the mount is the greatest sermon of all time. It was preached near the beginning of the ministry of our Lord. The place where this sermon was preached cannot be positively identified. It was somewhere in the vicinity of Capernaum, and the hill pointed out by many is on the road between Nazareth and Tiberias. It is commonly called the Horns of Hattin. The hill is high enough that it could be called a mountain, and there is a level place of sufficient size to accommodate the multitude of people who followed Jesus and heard him on this occasion.
The content of the sermon on the mount is of unusual interest. We may sum up
the content by saying that it deals with the nature of the kingdom of God.
I. BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT (v3)
Pride was basic in the fall of man. Man assumed that he was self-sufficient to make decisions independent of, and contrary to, the will of God. Man thought that he, rather than God, knew what was best for him. Humility is essential in man's return to God, for in humility he renounces any idea that he is self-sufficient in knowledge or righteousness. Therefore the first beatitude is not only the first in point of time, but the first in that out of it, the others grow. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".
As William Barclay pointed out, at least two different words were used for poverty. There were the poor who lacked wealth and for whom life was a struggle. There was another class of poor who literally had nothing, they were in abject poverty, "In imminent danger of real starvation," they had no man to whom they would look, and could look only to God.
The poor in spirit were the spiritual beggars who had abandoned pride and the sense of self-sufficiency in knowledge or in righteousness. Acutely conscious of their own spiritual bankruptcy they realised that God and God alone could meet their spiritual needs. Therefore, they were willing to seek first not their own will but the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM
Jesus did not mean that the kingdom was established at that moment, but that those with poverty of spirit had the basic qualification for entrance into the kingdom. For the poor in spirit should go on to mourn because of their sins, hunger and thirst after righteousness, and find it in Christ. The kingdom is not given to them arbitrarily. In other words, it would not just as easily have been given to the proud. The kingdom is composed of redeemed sinners, and if one is proud in spirit it is impossible for him to acknowledge that he is truly a sinner in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus.
The fact that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit shows that it is not a worldly kingdom of pomp and pride, or one of race or nation, but a spiritual kingdom whose citizens have recognised their own poverty of spirit and have found the true riches of spirit in the grace of God. This is the reason that men must be convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment before they can become Christians. How could one who denies that he is a sinner, seek cleansing from his sins through the blood of Jesus?
II. BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN (v4)
O the happiness of those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus was very skilful in catching the attention of his hearers by the use of paradoxes: He that saves his life will lose it; He that would be great must be your servant. Now he tells of the happiness of the unhappy - those who mourn.
In the first Beatitude, Jesus depicted people in some sort of destitution - the poor in spirit, the mourners, even the hungry. Couched between the poor in spirit and hungry for righteousness are those who mourn. But what type of mourners does Jesus have in mind? Certainly those who suffer because of their own misdeeds are not to be called blessed (1 Peter 4: 15). Only those who mourn in the service of Christ are truly blessed.
The poor in spirit and the meek describe inward attitudes. It is more in keeping with the contest to suggest that those who mourn are those who mourn out of a penitent heart for their own sins and unworthiness before God. Only those aware of sin will find relief from it. Only those who experience godly sorrow find repentance (2 Cor. 7: 10). The mourning that Jesus pronounced blessed comes from deep concern. It is not an end in itself. It is intended to lead to comfort. Mourning for one's sins turns into joy at forgiveness.
Mourning over one's failures and own inadequacies is relieved in the strength that Christ supplies (Phil. 4: 13). Reliance upon Him can make all situations tolerable - even to singing and praying in a dungeon (Acts 16: 25)! Pain can bring healing. Bad tasting medicine can cure one's ills. The pain of surgery can be the means of saving one's life. The same is true spiritually.
Adversity has varied effects on people. Some, it embitters. Still others endure it thinking it is payment for their sins. But it is not what happens to you that makes the difference; it is what you do with what happens to you. Often the greatest spiritual growth comes under the most stressing of circumstances. The chastisement of God may be painful, but it yields the fruit of patience (Heb. 12: 5-11).
What great comfort there is for those who mourn in Christ! The comfort of His approval and forgiveness is theirs - the comfort in His continued presence and care over His children. There is even the hope of life eternal where there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21: 4). We can certainly rejoice with the Lord: "O the happiness of those who mourn, for they shall be comforted".
III. BLESSED ARE THE MEEK (v5)
This beatitude is one of the most difficult to understand because of the modern equation of meekness with weakness, indolence, peace at any price, etc. The Biblical meaning is far removed from these current misconceptions. Meekness is one of the greatest Christian virtues and has been possessed by great men of God in all periods of Biblical history. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture.
Three times meekness is directly said to be characteristic of Jesus (Matt. 11: 29; 21: 5; 2 Cor. 10: 2). Jesus could be the non-warlike, non-violent king of peace and salvation (Matt. 21: 5) and the tender forgiver and comforter of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-12). At the same time, without changing his nature and personality, he could radically cleanse the temple in the name of God (John 2: 13-17).
Jesus exhibited extraordinary patience toward his captors and Judas (Matt. 26: 47-56) and toward those who condemned and crucified him (27: 11-14; 27-44). Perhaps his greatest meekness is seen in his complete submission and obedience to his Father's will, even to the point of death itself (John 8: 29; Matt. 26: 39; Phil 2: 8).
Meekness is no relation to weakness. Moses is said to be the "meekest man in all the earth" (Num. 12: 3) because he was God-controlled and humbly obedient to the Lord. Yet he could unleash furor against the rebellious Israelites (e.g. Exod. 32: 15-28).
THE PROMISED BLESSING
This beatitude is quoted from Psalm 37: 11 where emphasis is placed throughout the chapter on receiving the Abrahamic lands (vs. 9,2,29,34). The promise is thus figurative and Messianic (cf. Isa. 57:13; 60:21). The "new heavens and the new earth" are reserved for those who obey the Lord (2 Pet. 3: 13). "The saints shall judge the world" (1 Cor. 6: 2) because they are "joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). A.V. Hunter interprets this beatitude to mean: "How blessed are the gentle ones! They shall have a share in Messiah's kingdom".
There is the possibility also that Jesus means in this present life that saints will inherit special spiritual privileges. Paul says that in Christ "all things are yours" (1 Cor. 3: 21-23). Christians know "how to abound" and "can accomplish all things through Christ" (Phil. 3:12-13). Jesus said. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11). Whatever the exact interpretation of the promise may be, we know that it is only for those God-controlled persons who are "meek and lowly in heart".
IV. BLESSED ARE THEY THAT HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS (v6).
Our Creator designed food and drink for the body, but He also arranged for nourishment for the inward man. Righteousness and holiness are food for the soul. Jesus is the "bread of life" (John 6: 38). He declared in John 6: 51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world".
When one becomes a child of God through the new birth (John 3: 5) and receives life as a new creature (John 1: 4; 2 Cor. 5: 17), he then partakes of the milk of the Word. Peter states in 1 Peter 2: 2 "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby". As we grow we are to hunger for the meat of the word according to Hebrews 5:14: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil". The word of God is sweeter than honey to him: "More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).
REAPING AND SOWING
In the Beatitudes is found the principle of "reaping and sowing". What will result when we "mourn"? We will be comforted. When we hunger and thirst, we will be "filled". All of our spiritual needs for salvation and happiness will be meet. We have the blessed assurance we will be satisfied. Those who thirst are invited: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness" (Isaiah 55: 1-2). "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled".
V. BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL (v7)
The predominant use of the word "Mercy" in the New Testament is the indication of compassion on the unfortunate. For example, the Canaanitish woman with the devil-vexed daughter cried to Jesus in Matthew 15:22 "... saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David...". Similarly, the man with the lunatic son cried out in Matthew 17:15 "Lord, have mercy on my son:...".
A special extension of this meaning is the use of the word "mercy" to denote the sparing of punishment for one who justly deserve it. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter refers to his audience as ones who once walked in darkness having not obtained mercy, but who are now the people of God having obtained mercy. This beatitude likely encompasses both the general and the extended meaning of the term. That is, happy are those who show compassion on the suffering and those who forgive those who trespass against them, for they in turn shall receive compassion in their suffering, and they shall be forgiven of their trespasses.
Christ taught mercy to the erring both by his parables and by his example. In Matthew 18 Jesus told the parable of the unmerciful servant. This servant owed his lord an enormous debt, and he prayed to his lord for patience. The lord had mercy on the servant and forgave him all the debt. But this same servant then went out and found one who owed him a small debt. Refusing his pleas for mercy, the wicked servant cast this man into prison. The lord, hearing of his unmerciful deed, said to him "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredest me: Shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?"
Jesus concluded: "And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses". This parable illustrates the fundamental relationship which exists between God and man and between man and man because of the life and death of the Son of God. The huge debt which the wicked servant owed exemplifies the unpayable debt man owed to God because of sin. Just as the servant could never hope to pay the debt he owed his lord, so man could never hope to pay the debt he owed God.
Sin against God was an act of so grievous a nature and consequence as to make it impossible for man to redeem himself. Man was thus in a helpless, hopeless condition. Then the Son of God came to earth and by his exemplary life and vicarious death made possible man's forgiveness, and man's great debt was forgiven him. How grateful man should be for this unparalleled mercy! Often a man will hate another for years, and even to the grave, for a trespass which he considers great. But how trivial even the most major crime committed against us appears when compared to our sin against God. And since God has forgiven us, surely we ought to forgive our brother! Even on the cross, Jesus was merciful toward those who were crucifying him. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). So let us, his disciples, be merciful from the heart to those who trespass against us.
VI. BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART (v8).
The pure in heart are those whose desires and motives and intentions are pure. The heart is the spring or source out of which the life flows. If the heart is kept pure, the life will be pure. "Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The pure in heart are happy because it is they who shall see God, since the heart is the source of life. If the heart is pure, the life will be pure; and those who live pure lives are ready for association and communion with God.
Not only is the Word of God pure, but its very intent is to purify and sanctify the heart of man to be a fit dwelling place. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Tim. 1: 5 "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned". Here is summed up the whole thrust and direction of the Word of God, and that the initial purification of heart that one receives at the time he becomes a child of God is to be extended and developed is declared by John in 1 John 3:3 "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure".
It was of this same initial purification of heart and its extension that Peter said in 1 Peter 1:22: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently". Blessed, indeed, is that man whose heart has already been purified by God's Word, and blessed is that man who maintains that purity of heart by continuing to walk by the direction of the Word.
What is the grand outcome of this purity of heart in man? Jesus expressed it in the words, "...they shall see God". It is evident that Jesus is projecting the reward for purity of heart into the next world. We may see God through "the eye of faith" in this world, but it is not seeing God in this sense that Jesus has in mind. It comprehends a much greater blessedness than that. Just what is Jesus promising in these words?
Some might think that there is no particular blessing, on the ground that all men shall see God in the resurrection and general judgment (2 Cor. 5: 10). Jesus used "seeing God" in another sense, however, and it is one that has both a literal and figurative meaning. When Pharaoh in Exod. 10: 28 told Moses and Aaron to leave his presence and to be careful not to see his face again, he was not saying that they might not view him, should he pass in procession in the street. What he was telling them was that they were in such disfavour that they had better not come into his court again, if they knew what was good for them. It is in the sense of one's being in divine disfavour that we are told in 2 Sam. 14: 28 "So Absalom dwelt two full years in Jerusalem, and saw not the king's face". Absalom could see David from afar, should chance make it possible, but he did not dare come into the kings presence in court.
With these facts in mind, we can now appreciate what Jesus is really promising. He is saying that those of pure heart are going to dwell forever in the divine presence and favour of God. It will be a literal presence, and the last chapter in the Bible, in giving a description of the great and joyful blessings of those finally redeemed from the earth, it says in Revelation 22:4: "And they shall see his face...".
VII. BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS (v9).
A peacemaker is one who is actively engaged in bringing peace and calm and quiet in his family, in his community, and his country. He is one who had rather suffer injury than to inflict injury upon others. He had rather settle difficulties through prayer than through force. The reason why the peacemaker is to be happy is the fact that he shall be called the son of God. This means that he has the nature of God, that he looks at things the way God looks at things, that he acts like God would act if he were in our place.
The Bible makes it quite clear that part of God's punishment upon the wicked is His denial of peace to them. Isaiah 48:22 says, "There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked". The Scripture makes it equally clear that part of God's blessing upon the righteous is the giving of peace to them. Psalm 29:11: "The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace".
WHAT IS PEACE?
As is so often the case, our Lord's idea on a given subject does not line up with the world's. Concerning the peace which he gives, Jesus said in John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid". The peace which comes to men through Jesus Christ is not the same thing that men of the world seek in the name of peace.
It is apparent that out Lord had a particular type of peace in mind in this Beatitude. He was talking about peace in the sense of right relationships among men. Further, the blessing promised in the Beatitude is not for those who merely love peace but for those who make peace.
Some people are quarrelsome and contentious troublemakers. They stir up strife in families, communities and churches. Such people are doing the bidding of Satan! But those godly men and women who work to eliminate bitterness among their brethren and to unite men in love and goodwill are doing the work of God!
The troublemakers will always reap the fruits of their labours in strife and unhappiness. The peacemakers, on the other hand, will experience the happiness which comes of sharing in the efforts of God to bring about wholeness, harmony and the achievement of good among men.
THE REWARD OF THE PEACEMAKER
The reward promised to the man who becomes a peacemaker is magnificent indeed. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God". The New Testament frequently refers to God as the God of peace. (cf. Rom. 15: 13; 16: 20; Heb 13: 20). Since peace is so much a part of the character and work of God, no man could be his son who did not share this attribute. The world may misunderstand the efforts of the peacemaker. People may try to take advantage of him. He may have to suffer ridicule from men who are bent on achieving evil purposes which run counter to the business of peacemaking. But in the eyes of his heavenly Father, he will be viewed as a son! And in the last day, he will be publicly acknowledged and rewarded as such!
Another brief passage will serve as a good commentary on this Beatitude. Matthew 5: 43-45 states: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven...".
VIII. BLESSED ARE THEY WHICH ARE PERSECUTED (v10).
In these verses Jesus tells us to rejoice in our sufferings for Him. This reminds us of James' admonition in James 1: 2 "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials". Peter gives us the same admonition when he tells us to rejoice in our sufferings for the Lord in 1 Peter 4:12-16: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other peoples matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter".
There are many reasons why men suffer. At times, men suffer because of their
own sins, while, at other times, they suffer because of the sins of others (cf.
1 Peter 4: 14-16.) Jesus taught that suffering because one faithfully stands for
Him and His word (because of love for Him) is a source of great blessing (Matt
5: 10-12; cf.: 1 Pet. 1: 6-9; 4: 12-13). Suffering may be either beneficial or
destructive to the one who suffers. Suffering is much like a hot poker: it will
be helpful or destructive, depending upon whether one grasps it by the cool or
the hot end. Let us now consider some of the blessing which may come to the
sufferer when he reacts to suffering as God would have him to react:
Suffering provides the sufferer with an opportunity to "begin anew" the monumental task of building the kind of life God would have him to build. Instead of reacting in bitterness against God (as some men have done), each sufferer should recognise that (because of suffering) he and his family may be richly blessed. May God help it to be so in the life of each of us. May we be able to say with Job in Job 13:15: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him".
LESSONS TO LEARN