This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached on Sunday 13 September 2020. The Bible Reading is Matthew 5:1-12 and is a passage known as ‘The Beatitudes’ taken from ‘The Sermon On The Mount.’ You should be able to watch this on Emmanuel YouTube or Facebook.
This sermon explains the other posts this week that link to ‘The Beatitudes’ in different ways!
Jesus gave His most well-known, and most famous, teaching, which we know as The Sermon on the Mount, after he was followed by crowds of people who wanted to hear more about what He had to say about the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is not a random collection of wisdom sayings, but a radically different outlook from that of the world.
And this ‘sermon’ is as counter-cultural today as it was then. The Sermon On the Mount is a Christian value system, looking at ethics, attitudes, ambition, lifestyle and living as kingdom people. Jesus focuses on our hearts, who we are, and provides us with encouragement and reassurance that we can put our trust in the God who loves us and who will take care of us.
Today we look at The Beatitudes, from the Latin for ‘blessed’. They describe the ‘priceless’ qualities Jesus wanted to see in his followers. I’ve called them ‘(Be) Attitudes To Follow’. They are the Be – Attitudes! They are to be done!
But The Beatitudes don’t come naturally. They are the result of God working in our hearts and lives and Jesus challenges us to show to others that we are Christians, his disciples, by living in this way.
The first thing to notice is how they follow the same pattern. The first line says blessed are ‘so and so’ and then we have the crucial link word ‘for’ which introduces the reason the blessing is given. And, most importantly, we see how they all have something to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The Poor In Spirit vs 3
5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In the Bible, wealth and worldliness, poverty and godliness often go together. The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich; the feeble, not the mighty; to little children humble enough to accept it, not those in positions of power.
But to be poor in spirit is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and to acknowledge we are sinners before a Holy God who deserve His judgment. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, from which to buy the favour of heaven. The hymnwriter Augustus Montague Toplady puts it this way in his hymn ‘Rock of Ages’:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly:
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
This is the language of the poor in spirit.
- Those Who Mourn vs 4
5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. What kind of mourning will be blessed with God’s comfort? We might think Jesus is referring to those who mourn the death of a loved one, but I think the answer’s linked back to Poverty of Spirit. Those who are poor in Spirit, will be deeply sorry, or mournful, about their sin.
I love the way Thomas Cranmer puts this is the words of the Communion in the Book of Common Prayer when he writes “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” Those who mourn over their sin, will be comforted; they will be forgiven, because they acknowledge their poverty of Spirit and seek refuge in the Jesus.
If we are to experience the fullness of Jesus’ promise of comfort to those who mourn, we need to rediscover what it means, as individuals, and as a church, to mourn over the sin of our nation as well as our own wrong doing. Jesus regularly mourned over the corporate sins of whole groups of people:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate.
We’ve heard a lot about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade in recent months through Black Lives Matter. Before he started his campaign to abolish the slave trade, William Wilberforce broke down and wept at the utter depravity our nation had sunk into. He feared the Lord’s punishment of us as a nation if the corporate sins he was exposing were not rooted out and dealt with. And, as we know, he devoted his life to doing just that.
How mournful are we about the corporate sins of Britain today: about the exploitation of immigrant workers by unscrupulous middle men; about the trafficking of children in to the sex trade; about the spiralling amount of personal debt and gambling; about an increase in alcohol and drug addiction?
- The Meek vs 5
This beatitude promises that the meek will inherit the earth – if that’s all right with you! Genuine poverty of spirit and mournfulness over sin will naturally lead to meekness. And immediately we see what meekness can’t mean. Because if we are bothered about sin, then like Wilberforce, we won’t be weak and timid.
After all, Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and he was perfectly meek. If poverty of spirit and mournfulness over sin affects the way we relate to God, meekness is the outworking of those virtues in the way we relate to each other. As theologian Don Carson puts it
Meekness is a controlled desire to see the other’s interests advance ahead of our own.
- Those Who Hunger And Thirst vs 6
The poor in Spirit, who mourn over their sin will be meek in their relationships with others. And to maintain that meekness they will hunger and thirst for righteousness, vs6. They will devour God’s word. They will develop a spiritual hunger and thirst for what is right in God’s sight. In many ways, we in this country haven’t a clue about what real genuine hunger and thirst is like because, if we did, we’d understand, in much more depth, what Jesus is saying. Those blessed few that hunger and thirst for the things of God will receive what they desire, and it will fill their hearts and make them complete.
- The Merciful vs 7
And it’s the same with mercy in v7. There are many people who think that being merciful means being easy-going, or to turn a blind eye to wrong things – Stephen spoke about this last Sunday. However, mercy is not a matter of temperament or smiling at law breaking or crime, or condoning evil. The mercy Jesus speaks of is the mercy we have received from God and because of that we’ll naturally be merciful to others. But the opposite is also true.
- The Pure In Heart vs 8
Society says our problems come from the outside, and solutions come from the inside. The Gospel says the opposite.
Many people today seem to be obsessed with improving themselves, whichever way they can. Whether it be: surgery, implants, liposuction, personal shrinks, fitness trainers, personal shoppers, etc. Magazines and TV are full of it! People are looking for a new image so they can enhance their self-worth and become one of the beautiful people.
But Jesus isn’t taken in by celebrity. He tells us that the pure in heart will see and experience God. It’s not what’s happening outside that matters, it’s what’s happening internally that matters. The use of the word ‘heart’ is a word that refers to the whole person. It is our mind, will, and emotions – not what we look like. As 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us:
The word ‘pure’ literally means clean. The Jews placed a great emphasis on the washing of hands and feet and washing their food (kosher observance). Through doing these ‘religious acts’ they believed that they were purified. But purity is more than the absence of dirt – it is the presence of the good things of God in our lives: the fruit of the Spirit.
- The Peacemakers vs 9
Notice it’s not blessed are the peaceful but blessed are the peacemakers. And of course, the greatest peacemaker was the Lord Jesus who made peace between God and His people through His death on the cross.
The context of vs2-9 is relationships and so peace-making in this context primarily means to be making peace between people. Every Christian is meant to be a peacemaker both in the community and, more especially, in the church. And of course, the hardest act of peace-making is when you’ve personally been offended or hurt by someone, especially if that person is a Christian. I have to be honest and say Christians have hurt me more than non-Christians over the years. This is when the rubber really hits the road so to speak. But no one said the Christian life would be easy.
Paul writes in Romans 12:18:
The key words here are as far as it depends on you. Sometimes it’s not possible to live at peace with everyone, simply because some people are never willing to forgive, or simply unwilling to forget the wrongs of the past. We can build a bridge to others, but sometimes people don’t want to cross over. Sometimes, full reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship might not be possible.
We are not responsible for the sins of others, but we are responsible for how we react to the sins of others, even when we’ve been badly hurt. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God, because they reflect God’s character of peace-making.
- Those Who Are Persecuted vs 10-12
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, vs11 makes it clear this means being persecuted for living a Christian lifestyle. True discipleship, for Jesus, was costly. It involved suffering and persecution. Jesus never shared the Gospel without first telling people the cost involved (Luke14:25-35). Jesus said that the world hated Him and will hate us.
Since all the beatitudes describe what every Christian disciple is intended to be, we conclude that the condition of being despised and rejected, slandered and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful.
No-one has understood the inevitability of suffering better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a German Lutheran Pastor, before and during WW2, he never wavered in his Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, although it meant imprisonment, the threat of torture, danger to his own family and ﬁnally death. In fact, he was executed under the direct order of Heinrich Himmler in April 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp, only a few days before it was liberated. It was the fulﬁlment of what he had always believed and taught:
Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship.
We say we live in a tolerant society but not when we stand up for Christian principles. But the winds of anti-Christian attitudes are blowing and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a Christian in this country, whether that be at work, school, university, neighbourhood. Persecution can be the snide comments by family, friends, or work colleagues.
It can be the social exclusions by those who find your morals and values too challenging. It could be that you’ve been passed over for promotion or a job move because you’ve taken a certain ethical stand based on the Scriptures.
[ Remember Jeremy Hunt’s Persecution of Christian’s Review when he was Foreign Secretary in July 2019? It’s well worth a read as is the Bishop of Truro’s independent review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO support for persecuted Christians: final report ]
But whatever form persecution takes, Jesus assumes that Christians will be persecuted. And so when we are, we’re to remember that it’s always been the case for God’s people throughout history; and when you are persecuted for being a Christian, remember that you will be blessed eternally with your reward in heaven.
Heavenly Father, help us to retain an eternal perspective on all we’ve thought about in this passage. Help us to be thankful of the blessings of eternal life. Help us to be poor in Spirit, mourn over our sin and be meek and merciful in our relationships with others so that we might make peace on earth. Help us to hunger and thirst after your righteousness so we may be filled with more fruit of the Spirit. Give us the strength and endurance to endure persecution and the humility to turn the other cheek so that we may receive your reward in heaven. In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Further Reading …
A Prayer based on The Beatitudes
The Beatitudes in the time of COVID