Expository Sermon on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5
Bellevue SDA Church 1/20/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the little “play” triangle at the left end of the line just below.)
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5.
Today’s sermon is the second in the series I’ve called “Red Print.” Back in 1899, the editor of the Christian Herald magazine got the idea of printing the New Testament with Jesus’ words in red ink. Since then, many Bible versions have been printed this way.
During the next few months, I would like us to take a close look at the actual words Jesus spoke. After all, in the last few verses of Matthew 28, He urged His disciples to go into all nations, making disciples and baptizing people and teaching them to observe everything He had commanded.
That means that if you and I are going to move into 2018 and be effective as His disciples, we had better remind ourselves of what it is He has commanded us. It’s so easy — and I’ve made this mistake many times – to assume that if we have read certain Bible verses years ago, and maybe even memorized them, we have learned everything we can from them, or enough to get by with.
But I’ve discovered, and maybe you have as well, that this is a mistake. Each year we grow older and more mature, we are able to understand more about a particular Bible verse than we were ever able to before. Back when I was 11 or 12, I took a firm grip on my little King James Bible and read it all the way through. I felt kind of proud of myself, but if you think I picked up every nuance in every verse, you are badly mistaken.
I find how much I am missing every time I get a sermon ready on even the most familiar Bible verses. Take the Beatitudes for example, which we’ll be looking at today. I discovered that there’s a lot in these verses I really had no clue about until I settled down and studied them in the past few days.
Today’s sermon has a title which is actually a combination of two separate titles I had been planning to use. The last part of the title is “Mixed Blessings.” You know what a mixed blessing is, don’t you? Here’s the Dictionary.com definition: “something that, although generally favorable or advantageous, has one or more unfavorable or disadvantageous features.”
And I think that’s true of each one of Jesus’ Beatitudes here at the beginning of Matthew 5. By the way, they’re called the Beatitudes because in the Latin version each of the verses starts with “Beati.” For example, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is Beati pauperes spiritu. Beati means “blessed” or “happy.”
And even though I know these paradoxical Beatitudes fairly well, and used to have them memorized, and even though I have preached on them a number of times, this week I found what is to me a new and very important way of looking at them. Let me show you what I mean.
To set the stage, we need to look at the context, which we always need to do when studying a Bible passage. When you see the Beatitudes printed anywhere, such as on a poster or a plaque, all you see are always verses beginning with “blessed.” Those verses are great by themselves, of course, but they become even more meaningful when we see what happened just before.
Glance back at the last few verses of Matthew 4, starting with verse 23:
Matthew 4:23 – 25 [NKJV]: And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
So this is what was happening immediately before Jesus started teaching His Beatitudes. Notice what happens next.
Matthew 5:1: And seeing the multitudes . . . .
Now, what does Jesus normally do when He sees multitudes? He does what He’s been doing in the last couple of verses of Matthew four. He goes out to those multitudes, and He helps them and heals them.
But notice what He does this time:
Verse 1: And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain . . . .
Why is He going up on the mountain? Is He taking a well-deserved sabbatical? Is this like the later time when He and His disciples were on the shore with another multitude, and He told His disciples that they needed to come apart to a separate place and rest a while?
No, that’s not what He does this time. He looks around, sees those multitudes, those what must’ve been staggering crowd sizes by this time, and He makes a decision. He doesn’t go hide. He doesn’t go home—He no longer has a home. Instead, with the picture of those multitudes in His mind, here’s what He does.
Verses 1 – 2: And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them . . . .
So what does Jesus do when He sees the multitudes? He immediately begins to teach His disciples some very important truths which the multitudes need to hear – not only all those people down at the foot of that particular mountain, but all the throngs and throngs of people who will populate the planet in the centuries ahead.
So this “red print” Jesus is speaking is not just for us to thoughtfully meditate on. It is for us to share. Of course, in most cases we won’t find a receptive audience if we simply go out and stand on the street corner and start reciting the Beatitudes. These are principles we first of all need to build so completely into our lives, and season them into our personalities, that we will unconsciously live them and demonstrate them as though we were Jesus Himself.
If you study through the New Testament and look at all the times the word “blessed” is used, you will discover that this word is used to express the highest happiness, the deepest joy that a person can feel. This is enjoyment far deeper than the chuckle you get from a humorous story, for example.
Yesterday Shelley and I were driving our car, and as we passed through an intersection we saw a man on one of the corners holding two leashes. At the end of each leash was a tiny puppy. And those little puppies were just jumping for joy, just delighted to be outside with their master.
But the word “blessed” talks about an even greater joy than that – a deep, serene sense of spiritual satisfaction.
We’re not going to take the time to go into detail with each of these Beatitudes this morning, but we’ll just look at a few. After all, whole books have been written about them, including Ellen White’s classic, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing.
What we’re going to do this morning is to try to look at these Beatitudes through the eyes of Jesus. Because if we read them without doing that, each of these Beatitudes turns out to be a mixed blessing, containing advantages, but apparently also disadvantages.
But as we look at these Beatitudes, let’s remember that Jesus looked out upon the multitudes of people, and decided that His disciples needed to learn and later model, and teach, this deep spiritual joy, so the multitudes could experience it too.
So let’s gather there on the mountainside and listen as Jesus speaks.
Verses 2 – 3: Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Still thinking about those multitudes down on the plain, Jesus speaks this first Beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
This beatitude always confused me when I was younger. “Blessed” is good. I could understand that this meant “happy” or “favored.” But “poor in spirit” was a little harder to grasp. I would say to myself, “Okay. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? If the spirit in this verse is the Holy Spirit, then it’s not a good thing to be poor in. So this spirit must not be the Holy Spirit. Then what kind of spirit is it?”
I had read enough books and stories by that time to know what being in “high spirits” was, or being “low-spirited.” So did Jesus mean that it was good—or “blessed”—to be low-spirited?
When you think of the people who made up all those multitudes who came into His presence during His ministry, they could probably be divided into two basic groups.
The first group was relatively small, but contained a lot of influential people, such as Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin and the priesthood. People in this first group believed that they were spiritually rich. They believed the same thing that the Revelation 3 Laodicean church believed – that (spiritually speaking) they were “rich and increased with goods and had need of nothing.”
This self-righteous group contained people like the Pharisee in Luke 18, who went to the temple to pray and loftily thanked God that he was not like the lowly tax collector over there in the back pew.
That poor tax collector, of course, knew how sinful he was. He was part of the other group of people who listened to Jesus, who understood all about being poor in spirit. He knew how bad he had been behaving – skimming a huge and grossly corrupt fee for himself from the taxes he collected for the Roman government. He knew he had much for God to forgive.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, made the potentially fatal mistake of forgetting that there are such sins as pride and self-sufficiency. The Pharisee’s prayer contained no confession, no repentance, because he didn’t think he needed any.
So when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He must’ve surprised a few of the people who were listening to Him. But if people like that tax collector had been listening, they probably said to themselves, “Wait a minute. Can I believe what I’m hearing? Jesus considers my poor, spiritually needy soul a candidate for God’s kingdom?” Hearing such astounding news, that person would make a decision to follow Jesus all over Palestine to learn more about this wonderful hope. And many did.
So the bottom line – this morning, right here – if you feel spiritually needy, Jesus has you where He wants you. You are first on the Beatitude list. You are not home free, of course, because you need to do like many Israelite people did in Jesus’ day – you need to follow Jesus from where you are to where He wants you to be. You do that by reading His words, and gathering with other people who are following Him too.
Let’s move down through a few more Beatitudes, again trying to look at them through the eyes of Jesus, whose eyes looked at the multitude and knew what they needed.
Verse 4: Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Again, this is a bit confusing. Mourning and grieving happen – how can we avoid them? But how can this be called a blessing?
Well, since it follows directly after the Beatitude which talks about spiritual poverty, this is probably the kind of mourning that penitent tax collector was doing in the temple that day.
Luke 18 showed us this tax collector, and Luke 19 shows us another equally penitent tax collector, named Zacchaeus. He was so anxious just to set eyes on Jesus that he climbed a tree. And when Jesus walked under it, He called the Zacchaeus down and invited Himself to the tax collector’s house for lunch. Zacchaeus – who seems to have been doing quite a bit of mourning and grieving over his own sins – got up after lunch and announced that he would restore all the money he had cheated out of his victims, and more.
In the opinion of Ellen White, the Beatitudes are about growing spiritually. First you recognize how spiritually impoverished you are, and this causes you to grieve and mourn. But when you learn about Jesus and His sacrificial death for you, you are comforted.
And this leads directly to the next beatitude.
Verse 5: Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
I have met quite a number of Christians who have discovered their spiritual poverty, and have grieved about it, and then were comforted by learning about Jesus and how much He cares. And these people become meek. They lose that façade of “I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.” They’ve tried living without Jesus, and they have crashed and burned. And that makes them humble and meek.
Meek people are whole lot more fun to hang around with than proud people. When you walk into the room where a proud, supercilious, hypocritical person is, your stomach tightens. You certainly wouldn’t want that kind of person to inherit the earth!
Back when Shelley and I first came to this conference, in 1982, I served as an intern pastor at the Auburn City Adventist church. Those were good people, and one of the sweetest of those folks was Lee Siefke. He would have already been in his mid-60s at that time, and he was the kindest person. He was also one of the most faithful members of that congregation. He was always at church Sabbath morning, and he always helped with the clothing bank which is located near the church. There was something wrong with Lee’s right hand, so he would always give you his left hand to shake.
Lee was the classic example of a meek and humble person. He wasn’t a doormat, but he wasn’t pushy. He was one of those people who always wore a smile. It wasn’t an artificial grin he could turn on and off when he wanted to. It was a genuine smile – it was as though he had started smiling as a young person and never stopped. I never remember him with a scowl on his face, or even a serious look. He was always smiling.
A couple of Sundays ago Shelley and I attended Lee’s memorial service there at Auburn City. He had died this past December at the age of 91. And when I picked up a program which said what was going to happen at the memorial service, there was Lee’s picture on the front. And there was that famous shy smile, that smile that said “You are my friend. I may not know you yet, but I like you. Let’s get acquainted.”
Not everybody who’s 91 has a lot of people come to their memorial service, the main reason being that at that age, a lot of their friends and acquaintances have passed away already. But as Shelley and I sat toward the back of the Auburn City sanctuary that Sunday, that church begin to pack with a respectable number of people. Many were other people Shelley and I had come to know back then.
But quite a number of people had gotten acquainted with Lee when they came to the clothing bank behind the church. They came to Lee’s service to pay their respects. There were people Lee had given Bible studies to, and had brought into the church. And one woman put it into words when she said, “If ever there can be an Adventist saint, that was Lee.”
Meekness pays off. Meekness gets you nowhere in an action movie or suspense novel, but according to Jesus, it is not the superheroes but the meek who will inherit the earth.
Jesus’ next beatitude shows what else happens when you get better acquainted with Jesus.
Verse 6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Remember that old gospel song? “Be like Jesus, this my song, in the home and in the throng. Be like Jesus all day long, I would be like Jesus.”
Can you hunger and thirst for righteousness with a smile on your face? I’ve known people who seem to hunger and thirst for righteousness, but they wear a worried frown and a tense mouth and sometimes a crabby disposition. These folks are missing the point. They are looking at themselves and their good deeds, and they are not looking into the face of Jesus. They have not come to know the depth of His undying love.
We leave for potluck in just a few minutes, and it’s interesting that this beatitude uses food language. In the original Greek, “hunger” and “thirst” are food talk. Back when I was a kid, my favorite of Mom’s food was mushrooms and noodles. Mom didn’t love cooking, but she did love us, and she cheerfully served us what we liked.
Her mushrooms and noodles were not fancy – all she did was boil some noodles and open a can of Campbell’s mushroom soup and mix them together. But it had a glorious flavor, and a superb rubbery consistency. I constantly hungered for Mom’s mushrooms and noodles, and I thirsted for the fruit punch which she would pour out of the store-bought carton into our glasses.
Are you hungry and thirsty for the righteousness Jesus talks about? Then Jesus uses another food word as a promise. “You shall be filled.” That Greek word for “filled” is the same word used later, in Matthew 14:20, where it talks about the 5,000 men (plus women and children) who ate the food Jesus miraculously created. Matthew 14:20 says, “So they all ate and were filled.” That’s that same Greek word. And remember, those mountainside lunchers were filled so full that they simply couldn’t eat any more, and twelve baskets of food was left over!
So when Jesus promises that if you hunger and thirst for His righteousness you’ll be filled, you know that He has the power to completely satisfy you. Just ask Him to, and stay in touch with Him, and with the rest of us who have these same longings.
And what happens when you begin allowing Jesus to fill your hunger for righteousness? Look at verses 7 and 8.
Verses 7 – 8: Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Look at that. Jesus is saying that it is possible to have a pure heart. If you are really concerned about your own heart, and wonder if it can be made pure again, I have a very precious Bible passage that will not only encourage you but will tell you exactly how this happens.
This passage was written by one of the very disciples who were sitting on that mountainside listening to Jesus say these challenging words about being pure in heart. Three and a half years later, this same disciple will burn with horror and shame at the memory of his three denials of Jesus.
As he staggered away from the temple courtyard that terrible night, Peter knew very well what it was like to be poor in spirit, and to mourn because of his sins. He must have despaired at ever having a pure heart.
But this same Peter learned how a pure heart is born within us. Turn to First Peter chapter 1:
1 Peter 1:22 – 23: Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,
Notice how to have a pure heart? Obey the truth through the Holy Spirit. Sincerely and fervently love your fellow Christians. Let yourself be born again through God’s Word. Because God’s Word reveals Jesus the Savior.
What about you? Do you need your heart purified by the Holy Spirit? I know that I do. Raise your hand with me if you would like this to happen within you during the days ahead.