By Anne Kennedy
All Saints-Matthew 5
Open with me to Matthew chapter 5, beginning in verse 5.
‘Seeing the crowds’, because if you look up a few verses, the crowds had been coming fast and furious, ‘seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountain and sat down.’ The Sea of Galilee is just off what was once the Great Trade Route of the middle east in the first century, the Via Maris, or way of the sea—a road visible from Capernaum and the house of Peter. So, on the one hand, you have the out of the way Sea of Galilee and its bustling, but, provincial, fishing towns and on the other hand you have a Very Strategic location. The whole known world, walking over that Road, would have heard of Jesus from people going by and could have walked over to see him, if they wanted.
Some went out of their way out of curiosity. On the information highway, its always nice to see that Latest thing, the Thing of the Moment. Jesus was the thing of his moment. Others came out of desperation. They were sick, or knew someone who was sick. The crowds grew and grew. Like an ER waiting room, or the Walk in at Flue Season, so inwardly tuned from pain and affliction, just coping with reality, they came and waited and hoped to be healed. The crowds became so great that Jesus went up onto a mountain. His disciples, fresh from being picked out of their boats and their lives, came to listen to him. The crowd filtered in to ‘listen in’ and find out what all the fuss was about.
When many people in the crowds of life think of Jesus, they vaguely like him. They profess, sometimes, to like his ‘teachings’ which we’re going to look at here. They don’t often like the people who follow him, that would be me and perhaps many of you here this morning. They might say that we are fanatical or that we have ‘corrupted the message’. Let’s look at this message, some of the ‘teachings’ of Jesus and see what we shall see.
Matthew says, in verse two, that Jesus ‘opened his mouth’. When God opened his mouth and spoke, the Word, the only begotten Pre-existent Word from before time and for ever, brought all things came into being. The Word, Jesus, has power. His words overturn the world.
Jesus opened his mouth and said, ‘Blessed’ or ‘happy’ or my own version, ‘Well’ as in, ‘it is well with my soul’. There is no good English word for what Jesus is saying. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’.
The poor in Spirit is the one who knows his or her need of God. For those of you who believe yourself able to get on without God, yours is the Kingdom of the Flesh, this world. Your reward is the pride of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and trusting yourself to get you through this life. I hope none of you find yourself there this morning. No, the Poor in Spirit, the one who knows he cannot draw breath apart from the mercy of God, who knows she cannot eat except God provide bread, who cannot be saved unless God comes to earth, the poor in Spirit is poor in pride. Pride is a meager foundation; the World of the Flesh is a glittering glass bauble that will shatter in your grasp. If you think you are rich in yourself, you are deceived.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’.
‘Mourning’ here is not just mourning over a loss. Those who mourn, in the time of Jesus, would have been anyone who was in need, material, spiritual, or in need of healing. Are you broken? Do you grieve over your own sin? Over a great loss? Over the waywardness of your children? If you look at Jesus and grieve, or mourn, or do not have enough, and then, and here is the key, do not rush in to fix it yourself, Jesus will be your comfort and your solution, your salvation.
‘Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’
Jesus is not saying, blessed are the ‘mousy’ or ‘happy is the pushover’ or ‘blessed is the quietly speaking person who never causes offense’. Meek means humble, one not constantly standing up for their rights, or out to get what’s ‘rightfully theirs’. The earth, as it stands now, belongs most generally to the rich, the powerful, the good negotiator, the person with a little penny in their pocket who can cut a good deal. But, it will not always be so. The one who meekly, humbly throws his full self onto the mercy of God in all things, this person will ultimately, remarkably, rule the earth with Christ in glory.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’.
God is righteous. He is Right about everything. He is perfectly just. He is good. If you are hungry for righteousness, for what is good and holy and true, your hunger will lead you to God. If you hunger for God and find Him, because if you seek him, you Will find him, all will be well, you will be in a good place, you will be blessed. The opposite bears out. If you are not hungry for goodness and truth and beauty, if you are caught in darkness and your soul doesn’t yearn for that which is greater than you, for God, you will not be well, you will be hungry, thirsty, tired, worn thin, unblessed, unhappy.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’
Mercy is the centerpiece of the Gospel. God didn’t have to create us. When we sinned against him, he did not have to set into motion his great Plan of Salvation, beginning with Abraham, culminating with Jesus. He did not have to become a human being. He did not have to die in our place. He did, out of Mercy. What business do we have not letting each other off the hook?
If you, having been forgiven, do not turn around and show mercy, do not make every effort to understand and make excuses for, do not go out of your way to help someone who doesn’t deserve it, why should God go on being merciful to you? Forgive and you will be forgiven. Be merciful and you will be given mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
Like righteousness, purity is a characteristic of God. Jesus was pure, perfect, holy, he was the pure unspotted lamb required for sacrifice. There wasn’t anything wrong with him. He didn’t sin. And in not sinning, he wasn’t cluttered by the ugliness of grief, brokenness, rebellion, and trouble. Purity of heart and mind comes from hungering after and seeking God. Purity makes you an uncluttered person. Imagine that your body, soul, and mind are a wide room.
You can clutter up your room with many things—sin, busyness, gossip, rebellion, attitude, anxiety. Your windows become dusty and foggy; you cannot walk from tripping over some wretched problem. Purity of heart requires that you clear out all the junk. You confess your sin, you trust God and let go the anxiety and worry, you exercise mercy and grace towards other people, you do not allow the junk of this world to clutter up your mind. Then you will be, on a very practical level, better able to see who God is and to follow him, rather than tripping everywhere, or becoming distracted by the bright glittery junk all around you.
This is one reason why Jesus encourages us to become like children in order to better enter the kingdom of heaven. Not because children do not sin, or are not in frequent open rebellion against reality, their parents and God, remind me to introduce you to my children after the service, but because they haven’t had as much time to clutter up their lives with sin and trouble. The small child is best able to see God. That is why Sunday school is So Important for the littlest of our church family. Bring them here while they can still see.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’
Peace is a necessary byproduct or side-effect of life with God. God is the ultimate peacemaker. He, through mercy, grace and power, overcame our rebellion and sin by dying for us, allowing us to make peace with him. This ultimate peace allows us to make peace with each other and with ourselves.
And finally, if you haven’t been paying attention, Here is where the World of the Flesh, which as been gradually tipping, blessing by blessing, is finally turned all the way over. Verse 10,
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad.’
I imagine that the crowd, after this remark, began to thin. Jesus goes on, from this moment, to say many more difficult things to his disciples and all the people about divorce, lust, anxiety, fasting, anger. Most of the crowd, after being healed and eating all the free food, decided that the teachings of Jesus were too hard.
Not much has changed. Just about the whole world has available to it the Teachings of Jesus. Missionaries are everywhere. The internet is abundant with good information. You can find a free Bible, if you really want one. If you are curious or broken or hungry or tired or sick, Jesus will be of interest to you.
But it’s easy to be apart of the crowd, to have your hand out for a good thing, closing it again quickly against the sacrifice of yourself, your pride. That is what, I’m sorry to say, is at the heart of these few verses we have walked through together. The cost of following Jesus, of knowing him and being known by him, is your pride, yourself. I encourage you to count the cost. If you’re willing to give up yourself, your pride, the world of the flesh, I congratulate you, you are well, you are blessed, indeed you are Rich. You have gained the everlasting Love,
Grace, Mercy, Peace, Righteousness and Purity of the Kingdom of God.
Sure, the world won’t like you any more. You might be called a fanatic, or be passed over. Some, remembered on this day, have even been killed. But mortal death is a small measly price to pay for the perfect presence of God and the everlasting community of believers from every time, every place, every language, every nation who worships around the great throne, the throne of the Lamb who died so that you might live. Amen.