The Beatitudes: The Poor and the Mourning
Passage: Matthew 5:1–5:4
Grab your Bibles and turn with me to Matthew chapter 5. We’re going to start a new series that I’m really excited about; a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I’m as excited about this series as any that we’ve done. It’s obviously Jesus’ most well-known sermon, and I think it’s going to be incredibly relevant for us. And we’re going to see why in a moment.
We’re going to spend the majority of our day doing a little bit of an intro. I’m going to get to one, maybe two of the Beatitudes today. But really most of today we’ll be doing an intro, to get ourselves thinking in the right way about this sermon.
So what I want to do is ask a few questions as a way of bringing the background to the sermon. So the first question, very simply, is: What is the Sermon on the Mount?
You say, it’s a sermon. Well, we know that, but why is it here in the text; why has Matthew placed it here in the gospel, and what is the purpose of this Sermon on the Mount?
To get a good understanding of what the Sermon on the Mount is, we have to see it in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. So, to get a running start: In Matthew chapter 1 you’ve got the genealogies, you’ve got the birth of Christ, you’ve got the rescue of Jesus from the hands of Herod, you’ve got the preparation for Christ’s ministry, through the ministry of John the Baptist, you’ve got the baptism of Jesus.
You’ve got the beginning of His ministry in chapter 4, where He calls His disciples to follow Him, and He promises to make them fishers of men.
Then, right before chapter 5, you get a summary statement of Jesus’ ministry. It’s in Matthew 4:23; look at it real quickly: “And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease, and every affliction among the people.” So the summary statement is this, that Jesus was busy teaching about the kingdom of God, declaring the kingdom of God, and then displaying the power of the kingdom of God, through His works of healing sickness and affliction.
Now what I love is, John Piper notes that if you turn to Matthew 9, in verse 35, I want you to see this: In Matthew 9:35 you get a very similar verse. “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
So what John Piper says is, if you look at Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, it seems to be that this is a section of the gospel of Matthew that is devoted to those two aspects of Christ’s ministry: Proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and displaying the power of the kingdom through His healings.
So guess what? Matthew 5, 6, and 7, the Sermon on the Mount, is teaching about the kingdom of God, and Matthew 8 and 9 are accounts of the incredible healings and miracles that Jesus performed. So you’ve got, again, teaching, and the acts of power.
We’re not going to do 8 and 9 in this series, but we’re going to focus on 5 through 7. So I said all that, to say this: The best way to understand the Sermon on the Mount is that it is essentially Jesus detailing for His disciples what the kingdom life is all about – what it looks like to be in the kingdom of God.
So the Beatitudes that we’re going to study, first, are the blessings for those who have been brought into the kingdom of Christ and have submitted their lives to His lordship. So this sermon that we’re going to be studying for the next few weeks is basically describing for us what human life and human community look like when they are brought under the lordship of Christ. That’s what it’s about; that’s what the Sermon on the Mount is.
The second question is very important: Is it relevant? Why is it relevant for us today in 2017? (It’s weird to say that, 2017. Wow.) Why is it relevant for us today? Here’s why: In order to show you the relevance of this sermon, let me first start with who we are as a people, a church, and what our calling is. Stay with me. I’m gonna get back to the relevance of the sermon, but I want you to be reminded what Christ has called us to as Christians, as His church.
1 Peter chapter 1:14-16, listen to this: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
So the first thing we see is, the calling of Christians is, we are to be holy. I’m gonna come back and explain what that means – hold on to that. But in chapter 2 of 1 Peter it goes on to say that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
So it goes on therefore to say, to see yourself as a “sojourner and exile, and do not fulfill the passions of your flesh.” And it goes on to say, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation.”
So here’s what I want you to see. There’s a lot there in 1 Peter that I read, but here’s what I want you to see: We’re called to be holy. That word doesn't mean to be “holier than thou.” It means to be “set apart.” In other words, we are to be set apart from the world. The people of God, the church, is to be an outpost of the kingdom of God in the world. So that’s what we are to be. And as holy people, set apart, we are to keep our conduct honorable among the Gentiles, so that they will see our works and glorify God.
So the reason we’re called to be holy, set apart, is to display for the world around us what God’s design for life is. And so this is the incredible relevance of this scripture for us. I mean, God’s people have always been called to be holy, so that the world would see God. God came to His people in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 13, when He called them out of Egypt and brought them to the land of Canaan, the promised land. He said, “Do not follow the ways of the people of Egypt or the people of Canaan. But keep to My statutes.
And the Old Testament shows us: The people of God kept conforming to the people around them. They continued to reject God. They demanded a king, to be like all the other nations (Isaiah 8). They worshiped idols, like all the other nations (Ezekiel 20). And finally, friends, they were driven out into exile because they didn't keep to God’s way, but succumbed to the world’s way.
In fact, it says in 2 Kings 17 it says this about the exile: This occurred because the people of Israel sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of Egypt and had feared other gods and had walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before them.
So the reason they were sent into exile? They didn't remain holy. Now friends, again, it’s not so that we can be smug and turn up our nose and look down on people around us. It’s not that we would be “holier than thou,” but we are meant to display to the world around us what God’s design for life is. And friends, if we look just like the world, then they’re not gonna see Christ. We’re not going to be able to have our light shining out as Matthew 5 says, “let your light before men so that they would see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”
And in this sermon, guys, as we study it, you’re going to see that Jesus is going to teach His disciples that they’re to be set apart from really two groups of people: One, the secular world, but Two, and probably just as importantly, the religious, legalistic Pharisees. You see this throughout the sermon.
So first of all, He says, man, you are to be set apart from the secular world. You’re going to see later in Matthew 5, Jesus says, Hey, look, if you only love people who love you, what more do you do than the tax collectors? But you are called to love your enemies. So friend, what Jesus is saying, if you only love people who deserve your love, that’s what the rest of the world does. But if you’re going to be set apart, if you’re going to stand out so that the world would see Me, you’re going to have to love people who DON’T deserve your love.
Or what about prayer? He says, man, the Gentiles, they pray heaping up empty phrases. You’re not to pray that way. Or what about pursuit, what we pursue in life? He’s gonna say that the world pursues material possessions. But you pursue the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. You see it?
So friends, our pursuits in life ought to look different than the world. But not just to be separated from the world. In this sermon again, Jesus is gonna come against the religious establishment. And as a church, we are to stand out from a hypocritical, legalistic religiosity. You see this in Matthew 5 where Jesus says, look, I didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He says, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Now how does that look? He goes on to say, you’ve heard it said, do not commit murder; I say do not hate. You’ve heard it said, do not commit adultery; I say, don’t lust. In essence, what Jesus is saying is, look, the Pharisees are so fixated on keeping the letter of the law, but they miss the heart; they miss the spirit of the heart that God was after.
In Matthew 6, He says, man, the Pharisees, they give, they pray, they fast in order to be seen by others. But that should not be you. You should do all those things in secret, for an audience of One: God.
In other words, the hypocritical piety of the religious Pharisees, that should not be your way. They’re focused on the outward; focused on getting attention for themselves.
So friends, the kingdom life that’s gonna be spelled out for us in Matthew 5 through 7 is very important for us. It’s going to show us how we do not conform to the secular world, or to legalism, but we follow Christ’s plan, Christ’s way, so that He would be manifested in the world.
So, what is it? It’s details of the kingdom life. Is it relevant? You better believe it is.
Thirdly, Who is the audience. Let’s look at verse 1. I think this is important for us to see.
“And seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”
So it’s very important for you to see, first and foremost, that the primary audience of the sermon that we’re going to study for the next few weeks, is Christ’s disciples. In other words, this is a sermon for those who are already citizens of the kingdom of God.
However, you also see a mention of the crowds. So the disciples came to Him, and He’s teaching His disciples, but Jesus is well aware that there are onlookers – there are crowds who are listening in to His conversation.
In fact, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:28, it says, when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching.
So here’s a couple of things I want you to see. A lot of people will look at this, and say “This sermon is not practical. No one can meet its ideals.” No one can hit it.
In a sense, you have to first hear that, you’re right, because we all are sinners. And left to our own devices, we can never follow God’s standard (we’ll get to that later). But this sermon is first to show us that we must be born again, as the scripture says. We must be made a new creation. We must be regenerated; God must do a work in our hearts and change us first. That's what happens when you become a follower of Christ. The Bible says that you are given a new heart; you’re given the Holy Spirit to enable you to follow His ways. But I also want you to see that Jesus is teaching kingdom living to His disciples. But Matthew wants us to know that this was astonishing to the crowds who heard.
And so, listen, as a church, that’s what we want to do. We want to preach the word of God, not water it down, and we want to preach it to people who are part of God’s kingdom, so that they would grow in their faith, all the while keeping in mind that there are going to be people who come to our church, who are investigating – who don’t yet know Christ.
And I think that churches make one of two mistakes: Either they focus too much on non-Christians, so they water down the scripture maybe, trying to make it “accessible” or whatever.
Or you go all the way over here, and it’s just a nerd-fest about theology, and you’re not thinking at all about the non-Christian.
And so I think there’s a balance here, that I think we see. We preach the word of God here unashamedly. Because at the end of the day, we believe that non-Christians who come, that’s what they want to see. And so if you’re listening to this, going, wait a minute, the audience is Christ’s disciples.
So does that mean for the next few weeks, I shouldn’t invite a non-Christian? If you’re a non-Christian here, just investigating, and you’re saying, well, why am I here? Listen, no, there is a reason you’re here. I believe that when you see what the kingdom life is, our prayer is, not only would we be inspired to live it, but you would look at it and long for it, over and against the way of the world.
And so this is the audience. Now as we turn our attention to the Beatitudes, again, I'm only gonna hit one or two of them today. Now I'll kind of intro the Sermon on the Mount. Now if I may say a few introductory remarks about the Beatitudes, and then we'll jump in.
Here's what I want you to see about the Beatitudes. First of all, I want you to see that there are eight Beatitudes. In case you're saying, Wait a minute, I count nine "Blesseds," the ninth one that you read there in verse 11 is actually expounding on verse 10, which is the eighth one. There's eight Beatitudes, and largely the first four are about our relation to God, and the second four about our relation to our fellow man.
But here's what I want you to see -- that each one of these Beatitudes, "Blessed are the (blank) for they will be (blank)" I want you to see that there is a spiritual quality, a characteristic that is commended in the kingdom, and then a corresponding blessing. And so, let's look first of all at the qualities. I want you to see that they are spiritual qualities. The word there that says "Blessed are . . ." the word does mean "happy" -- some of you may have heard that.
But I think in the context, most Biblical scholars would say it's much more than mere happiness. Happiness is a subjective thing. These are objective pronouncements of God. These are all saying that there is a certain characteristic that is blessed by God. What I want you to see is that these eight characteristics are characteristics of kingdom citizens -- of Christians. In other words, they're not like the gifts of the Spirit, where the Spirit gives some gifts to some Christians, and some to others. No, these eight are qualities that should be exhibited by ALL Christians.
I want you to see that they are first and foremost spiritual in nature. Remember that Jesus, when He came, came to usher in a Heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. That's why in the wilderness when He was tempted to turn the stone into bread, He said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Jesus was interested in the spiritual fulfillment over a physical one. That's why when He fed the five thousand, they wanted to come and make Him a physical king, and he had to withdraw Himself from the crowds. He wasn't interested in setting up a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one. And that's why, before Pilate, when Pilate asked him, "Are you a king?" He said "My kingdom is not of this world." And I say that just to say this: That's why the qualities that are commended are spiritual: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
This does not mean that God does not care about the physical poor, or that He doesn't care about physical poverty. Yes, Jesus obviously cares about physical poverty, if you read the scriptures. But I want you to understand that first and foremost, what is being commended here are spiritual qualities: The poor in spirit; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Now, that's the quality. Let's talk about the blessing. I want to say first of all that the blessing also is for all kingdom citizens. The first and the last Beatitudes, verse 3 and verse 10, they both say "For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” And the six that are sandwiched in between? They all say something different. And I think what's being said to us here is that what you get in verses 4 through 9, are the blessings of those who are in the kingdom of God.
So again, just like the characteristics are to be exhibited by all Christians, these blessings come to ALL of us who are part of the kingdom of God. And I want you to see that these blessings have a present and a future tense. Now this is important. Verse 3 and verse 10 both have a present blessing: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who are persecuted, for theirs IS the kingdom of Heaven.
But verses 4 through 9 all have a future blessing: They SHALL be comforted; they SHALL inherit the earth; they SHALL be satisfied. Now why is that important? Here's why. I believe what Jesus is teaching here is that in some sense the kingdom of Heaven IS present with the disciples now, but yet, they haven't experienced the full blessing of the kingdom until the age to come.
And this, friend, is a truth that is all throughout scripture, that you've got to hold on to, to be able to understand scripture: the "already but not yet" nature of the kingdom of God. In other words, yes, we receive some comfort in this life, but we're not gonna be fully comforted and away from pain, until that day, in the age to come, when He wipes away every tear from our eyes. Yes, there is some measure of righteousness that I can attain in this life, but at the end of the day, I'm not gonna be fully glorified, fully Christ-like, until the age to come.
And, yes, we are God's children now when we accept Christ, but yet Romans 8:23 says we still await our adoption as sons of God. You see it?
So it's important for us to hold on to this. Many people take some of these promises and they run to a degree that I believe scripture doesn't want it to go. There's a sense that we experience the blessing, and there's that the fullness of it doesn't come until the age to come.
Now one final thing, and we're gonna actually get to a Beatitude. And this one is very important. Again, I think all this is intro is very important to frame our mind as we walk through these weeks. One more thing is very important for us to grasp:
Are these blessings, especially in the Beatitudes, are they spelling out for us conditions that we are to meet in order to be saved? In other words, is Jesus laying out a works-based salvation that really goes against all the rest of the New Testament? I mean, after all, he does say, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God," or how about this one, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will RECEIVE mercy." So is this saying that the way to be saved is that you've gotta do these things?
I'll tell you right away, the answer is NO. The answer is NO. And I think the first Beatitude actually makes that crystal clear for us -- that Jesus is not teaching a doctrine of salvation by human merit. You see it in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” The "poor in spirit" means the spiritually bankrupt that has nothing to offer in the way of good works. Right? Those are the people that receive the kingdom. So how are we to understand the Beatitudes? John Stott is enormously helpful for me in this.
He basically says you ought to come to the Beatitudes in the same manner, so to speak, as we come to the Old Testament law. Let me explain what he means. He says that the Old Testament law, just like the Beatitudes, is first to show non-Christians that we cannot please God. We cannot meet these standards, and therefore it's meant to drive us to call out for mercy and find justification in Christ. That's Galatians chapter 3, that the Law came to confine all under sin, to be a tutor to drive us to Jesus.
So the first purpose of the Beatitudes is to show you that you can't live this out in your own strength, and to turn to Jesus for justification. However, the second purpose of the Beatitudes and the purpose of the law is to direct us who HAVE been justified by Christ, on how we are to live life pleasing to God. Or as the reformers and the Puritans said it, listen to this: The Law sends us to Christ to be justified, and Christ sends us back to the Law to be sanctified. So the Beatitudes, they set forth the blessings which God bestows.
This is why the stress is on "Blessed are..." they are to NOT be seen as a reward for merit, but to be seen as a gift of grace. "Blessed are." And friend, really quickly, I'm about to get into the Beatitudes, but listen: This is the essence of Christianity. The indicative is first. It's the foundation by which the imperative comes out. That's how Paul wrote all his letters. He divided it with these. Like in Ephesians, chapters 1-3 are the indicatives. In other words, this is what Christ has done for you. This is gospel.
Then in Ephesians 4-6 is now commandments. This is how you are now to go live. This is imperatives. But it's not a means by which you're saved, but it's because of what Christ has done, fueled by what Christ has done, I want to live a life pleasing to Him. That's why Ephesians 4 says, "Walk in a manner worthy of the gospel." Romans, same thing. Chapters 1 through 11 are all that's God has done for us. Romans 12:1 "Therefore, in view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice." And 12 through 16 is how we live a life pleasing to Him. Again, not to try to EARN His salvation, but out of worship, to be pleasing to Him.
And this is the same thing with Israel. They were brought out of Egypt. That's gospel, that's grace. And then they were brought to the mountain at Sinai, to be given the law, to be set apart from the world.
See it? I've said a lot there, and that's the intro for the sermon series. So here it is: This sermon, chapters 5 through 7, is detailing for us kingdom living, so that we will know, first of all, that I've got to be born again. Second of all, we'll know how to live life to shine Christ to the world.
So let's look at the first one really quickly.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Now let me say quickly, this verse has been misused by many. Some people say that we're to seek poverty. The people who are totally destitute in this life, poor, have no possessions, they're the ones who are going to see the kingdom of Heaven. Let me just say that I don't think that's what's being said. You can have zero material possessions and still not have the quality that Jesus is commending here.
And it doesn't mean, be depressed, like be bummed, continually be depressed. That's not what's being commended here. What's being commended here, the poor in spirit, means the spiritually bankrupt. It's like Psalm 34:6 says, "This poor man called and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles." The “poor man” in the Old Testament is the one who looks at himself and sees that he's unable to save himself. He acknowledges his spiritual poverty, his spiritual bankruptcy before God. He understands that he's deserving of wrath for his sin, and he turns to God with nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of God.
This is like the old hymn, Rock of Ages, says,
Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
Naked I come to Thee for dress, helpless I look to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me Savior, or I die.
And this is what is being commended. Listen, friend: The people who are part of the kingdom of God are people who come to this awareness of their spiritual bankruptcy. It's like in Jonah chapter 3, the king of Nineveh heard the word of God, he got off the throne, he took off his robes, and he put on sackcloth. Which is what the people of God would do when they were fasting. They would put on sackcloth as if to say to God, "God, I'm gonna wear clothing on the outside that reflects my inner brokenness, my spiritual poverty. I'm not gonna dress up my sin." That's true repentance. That's coming to the end of yourself.
That's why Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. Children are helpless. They are totally dependent people. And so we are dependent on God's mercy. That's what spiritual bankruptcy means. That's why Jesus laid out the gospel in Luke 18, by saying, it's like a Pharisee and a tax collector in the temple. And the Pharisees prays, "Thank You God that I fast, I tithe, I give to the poor, and that I'm not like this man." And he points out the tax collector. But the tax collector beat his chest and said, "Be merciful to me God, for I'm a sinner." Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, that man went home justified rather than the first." For all who want to exalt themselves will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself before the Lord will be lifted up.
So this is what God is looking for. You say, How do I come into the kingdom of God? You come to the end of yourself. Listen to me, friend, it is a dangerous thing. We can be easily deceived into thinking that we have something to offer to God, and that can keep us away from grace.
Paul, in Philippians 3 said the same thing. He said, look, all the things that I thought were to my gain, all the things that I was holding on to, my religious heritage, my works, I saw that they were actually LOSS for me. What that means is that my good works were actually working to destroy me. You say, how can anyone's good works work against them? Here's how: If they make you think that you are righteous in your own works, and never draw you to call on God's grace. Your good works will destroy you.
That's why Jesus tells us the church in Laodicia, in Revelation 3, you think you are rich and you've prospered and you need nothing. The truth is, you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. That's why Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, and the Pharisees, who thought they had something to offer to God, wanted to kill Him. But the prostitutes and tax collectors and the social outcasts that had nothing to boast in, turned to Jesus.
Friend, this is what we are called to be: Poor in spirit. And one more, and then we'll pray.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Now what's the mourning that's being commended here? It's not just the mourning over the loss of a loved one. It's not the mourning over going through suffering. I believe in the context of this passage, it's mourning over your SIN. Mourning over your sin. Friend, it means this: It's the sorrow of a repentant heart. It's one thing to acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy. It's quite another thing to grieve and mourn over it. Are you with me?
So this Beatitude is moving us from confession to contrition -- to being broken, devastated, grieving about our sin before a holy God. This is what is being commended -- it says "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." It's a huge quality for any believer to have, this kind of mourning over our sin.
Why? Let me tell you why: Because the opposite is very dangerous, where you lean on grace so much that you pervert grace and you become callous toward sin. Remember Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 5 to the church in Corinth. He said, "It's being reported that there is sexual immorality among you that is not even tolerated among the pagans. For a man has his father's wife. And he says, "Ought you not rather to mourn?" There it is. And so it's a beautiful thing for us to be that kind of sensitive, that kind of aware of our sin.
And, friend, it is a godly sorrow that God is commending to us. Not one that says, Man, I hope that my consequences aren't so great for this sin. Not one that says, I hope that I'm not found out. But it's a sorrow, a mourning because we have sinned against God who sent His Son to save us. And THAT'S what moves us to tears. That's why Paul says, "Wretched man that I am; who will save me from this body of death? But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" And that's why he writes this in 2 Corinthians 7, listen to this very carefully: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” For worldly grief produces death. Worldly grief says, again, "Shoot, I got caught, and now I'm grieving because of my sin." Godly grief produces something different. See what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you. The eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal. You see it?
And that's the way we ought to be broken over our sin, keeping short accounts with God, turning to Him who is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Ready to share and confess our sins to our brothers, so that we may be healed, as James 5:16 says.
And before we pray, let me say this, friends, we should also mourn over the sins of all the world around us. We are all sinners. But some are sinners who do not know that there's a way out of it. And we ought to mourn for them. Just as Paul says, there are some of whom I tell you, with tears in my eyes, that walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Or as he says in Romans chapter 9, I wish that I myself could be accursed for my countrymen. He has that kind of grief over his countrymen who do not know the gospel. And so we ought to grieve over sin this way. And Jesus says, man, Blessed are you when you do that. That kind of godly grief, you get comfort. There is forgiveness; there is renewal. Turn to Jesus. Bow your heads with me and let's pray.