Sermon Matt 5:1-12
The whole Book of Matthew has been leading up to this point. We are finally going to hear what Jesus came to say in the sermon known as the Sermon on the Mount. Up until now the Lord has barely even spoken.
Our anticipation has grown because in the first four chapters Matthew has presented Christ as the fulfillment of Moses and Israel. Like Moses, Jesus was persecuted as a baby. Like Israel, Jesus went into Egypt and was called out of Egypt. Like Israel, Jesus was baptized in the waters. Like Israel, Jesus was tested in the wilderness. And now like Moses, Jesus ascends up the mountain to deliver God’s word to the people. Everything in Matthew has been leading up to this point.
The parallel to Moses in vv. 1&2 is clear. Moses went up the mountain to receive God’s word and deliver it to Israel. Now Jesus ascends the mountain to deliver God’s word to his disciples. But while the parallel between Moses on Mt. Sinai and Jesus here on the Mount are obvious, what should stand out to you are the contrasts between the two. Consider the contrasts.
When the Lord gave the Law on Mt. Sinai, God instructed Moses to come up alone to receive it. The people of Israel were not allowed to approach the mountain lest they die. The giving of the Law was accompanied by thunder and lightning so that the people were afraid to come near the mountain.
The warning, the thunder and lightening, reminded Israel that God was holy; he required obedience if you were going to come near him. The people were not allowed near the mountain because they were sinners; they needed to keep their distance. The giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai was not a happy occasion.
Now contrast Mt. Sinai with Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus doesn’t warn people to stay away; he invites the disciples up the mountain with him, and the crowds are allowed to follow. There is no thunder and lightening this time.
Why such a stark contrast? Why did the Law of Moses come with such fear, yet Jesus’ words come with such grace? What do we do with this contrast?
Well, a man named Marcion, who lived in the second century, concluded from this that the god of the Old Testament was not the same god as the god of the New Testament. The god of the Old Testament was fearful and holy; he required perfection. But the god of the New Testament is forgiving and gracious, and he only requires sincerity. The church rejected Marcion’s solution, so Marcion formed his own sect.
The problem of the contrast is solved when we remember what we have seen so far of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, he was symbolically entering the waters of judgment for the sins of his people. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he was passing the test of obedience that both Adam and Israel failed.
After Jesus showed that he would die for sinners, and that he himself was perfectly righteous, he announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Do you see? Jesus could bring grace because he came to fulfill the demands of the Law for his people.
You see, the Law of Moses demanded perfect obedience; God never changed that demand, for he is holy. But God sent his Son to meet that demand in our place. The Law pronounced a curse on all who broke the Law. Jesus came to take the curse of the Law upon himself at the cross.
This explains the contrast between Mount Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount. The Law said; if you want God’s blessings you must obey the Law. Jesus comes and fulfills the Law for us, so now he comes speaking grace.
When Jesus finally speaks he does not give a list of laws that must be obeyed before receiving God’s blessings. Jesus comes and promises blessings on sinners who cannot keep the law for themselves. These blessings, or beatitudes as they have come to be known, are not earthly blessings, nor are they psychological blessings. Jesus doesn’t speak of health, or riches, or long life.
Jesus speaks of heavenly blessings. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not giving us the keys to a happy, productive life. Jesus is giving us God’s eternal, unchanging blessings of grace.
When Jesus finally spoke on the mount, his sermon must have shocked the first disciples. They would have expected to hear something like, “blessed are those who obey me, for they will make it to heaven.” But how does he begin? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Who are the poor in spirit? The poor on spirit are those who confess that they cannot obey God’s law. The poor in spirit realize they have nothing good to offer God that makes them worthy of his love and grace. The first four blessings all come as gifts to those who simply admit their need for a Savior.
It doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter how evil you have been, Jesus comes and says, I will give eternal life to those who confess their sinfulness and call upon me to save them. The kingdom Jesus came to bring is a kingdom of grace.
The second blessing is like the first. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We mourn because we know that we have no good in ourselves. Even as Christians we mourn when we sin against God or against one another. We mourn because we don’t want to sin, but we find ourselves so weak. God himself will comfort all who mourn for their sin.
Jesus continues, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek are those who do not strut around in pride proclaiming their own goodness. The meek admit they are completely reliant on God’s grace. Jesus says, the meek will one day inherit the earth.
OT Israel was given Canaan as an inheritance. Canaan was only a picture. In the gospel we are given what Canaan pictured, the new heavens and earth. We will receive this inheritance when Christ returns.
The Lord continues; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Do you see the difference between the Law and the gospel? The Law says, blessed are the righteous, for they shall be satisfied. The gospel says, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The purpose of the Law was to make Israel hungry for righteousness. The Law was to show them that they were sinners; that they needed a better righteousness than they could produce themselves. The Law was to drive them to Christ. Jesus says, those who need righteousness and call out to God for it will receive it as a free gift; and they will be satisfied.
And so the first four blessings of the kingdom are given freely to sinners who have nothing to offer God; they only admit their need for a Savior.
The next three blessings are promised to those who are like Christ. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.“
Now do not take these three blessings out of context; you must remember the first four. Jesus is not saying that the blessings of his kingdom are only given to those who display a character like Christ. If so, these three blessings would be bad news, for I am not naturally pure in heart, I am not by nature a peacemaker, I am not a naturally merciful person.
But remember, the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit; to those who hunger for righteousness. The members of Christ’s kingdom have received the grace offered in the first three beatitudes. As a result they begin to live out of that grace.
True Christians are merciful because God has shown them mercy and forgiven their sin. Christians treat others the way God has treated them. If I am unworthy and yet Jesus loved me, then how I can I be harsh and unforgiving to others?
Jesus is pure, and now that he has given me his Spirit I desire to be pure. This purity is not hypocritical, only outwardly performing to impress God. This purity is from a God-given desire to please our Savior. And Christians are peacemakers. Jesus made peace with me, so now I seek to make peace with others. How can I not?
So the second group of heavenly blessings God pronounces on all Christians as they live out of the grace they are given. They love because they have been loved, they seek holiness because they desire to please their Savior, and they are peacemakers because God has made peace with them.
Now the Israelites would have been very confused about Jesus’ words here. In the first place, they did not understand that Jesus’ kingdom would come in two stages. They only saw heaven as something that began at the end of the world.
But Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as both a present possession and a future reality. These blessings are both present and future.
The first beatitude says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If you trust in Christ, the blessings of heaven are yours now; you are already citizens of heaven. But some of the blessings are still future; the meek shall inherit the earth; the pure in heart shall see God.
The Israelites were also confused because they expected Jesus’ kingdom to be a political kingdom centered in Jerusalem. But our Lord says his kingdom is among those who believe in him for salvation, regardless of where they live. Jesus spoke of a spiritual kingdom, but they were expecting a political kingdom.
That is why the final two blessings would sound so strange to those Jews listening to Jesus. They did not naturally put persecution and kingdom blessings in the same sentence, but Jesus did.
“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, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
What kind of kingdom are you bringing Jesus; a kingdom that brings persecution? But you can see why the first seven blessings would lead to the last two. As members of Christ’s spiritual kingdom we are still members of the kingdom of this world. That means trouble. If you are going to seek your blessings from God and not from this world, if you are going to be humble and merciful instead of using people to get your own way, you are going to give up things in this life.
If you are seeking to be pure, you are going to be persecuted in one form or another. Someone is not going to like you. If you are going to be meek, if you are going to refrain from fighting back but be a peacemaker, you are going to be looked upon as weak. As a result you will suffer in this life. In this way you identify with Christ, who although was the king, was persecuted and mocked by the world.
And so Christ pronounces blessings on his people as they suffer for him in an evil world. As you identity with Christ and suffer for it, God’s heavenly blessings are yours, his blessings of his love, his presence, of his strength, the fellowship of his people, and the glories of heaven to come.
So let us sum up this passage. Beloved, do not make the beatitudes another law that Jesus is laying down, as if the new law is that God requires inward obedience before he will give his blessings. No, the Sermon on the Mount is not another law; the Sermon on the Mount is the gospel; it is grace from beginning to end.
The Sermon on the Mount comes graciously because Jesus came to fulfill the demands of the Law for his people. The kingdom of Christ is given to sinners who call upon Christ to save them; who trust in his death on the cross for sinners.
And as you have received mercy and grace from God, show mercy and grace and forgiveness to others. How can you not? The next time someone hurts or angers you, ask yourself, “what if God responded to me the same way I am about to respond to him?” Have you not sinned against God much worse than that person sinned against you? But God has loved you and redeemed you in spite of your sinfulness. Respond to others in a way that reflects how God responds to you.
In this life, you will suffer and be persecuted in one way or another for living out of grace. You will miss out on many earthly blessings for seeking Christ and his kingdom. Do not be tempted to seek happiness by withholding mercy from people who hurt you. Do not pursue conflict, but peace. Remember, as you suffer, God’s eternal blessings are upon you from beginning to the end.
These words from the mountain are wonderful, gracious words. God would have been perfectly righteous if he would have forbidden us to ascend that mountain with Jesus. God would have been perfectly righteous if he sent judgment on all mankind from that mountain.
But our God is merciful. He saw that we could not obey him, so he sent his Son to obey the Law perfectly in our place, and to place upon Jesus the curse the Law pronounces on all lawbreakers.
Receive these words of grace. Live out that grace in your relationships with others. And be willing to suffer for Christ, for great is your reward in his kingdom, both now and in the glory to come. Amen