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The Beatitudes: an Introduction

Tom Pennington • Matthew 5:1-12

  • 2011-09-25 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


Well, I invite you to turn with me again this morning to Matthew 5 as we continue what we began last week—a journey that I'm sure will last a number of months, maybe even years—through the Sermon on the Mount.

On October 15, 1852, just two weeks before he died, Daniel Webster, the great American statesman and senator from the state of Massachusetts wrote and signed his name to the following words. "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief. My heart has assured me and reassured me that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be a divine reality. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be a merely human production. This belief enters into the very depth of my conscience and the whole history of man proves it to be true." It's interesting that the moral grandeur of the Sermon on the Mount has impressed itself upon, and been acknowledged by, both believers and skeptics of Jesus Christ, alike. For example, one skeptic writes this: "The Sermon on the Mount will never be surpassed." even though he himself was skeptical about the claims of Jesus Christ, as to who He was. But for us who are in Christ, I think we ought to begin by asking ourselves this question. Why is it important for us to study this sermon? Over the last number of weeks I have been reading a number of books about the Sermon on the Mount, and a number of commentaries, and one of those books that I would whole-heartedly recommend to you, is probably one (in fact it is) one of the ten books that have most impacted my life. I read it first when I was a young seminary student. It's Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book called The Sermon on the Mount If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it to you. It'll change your life. But in that book, Lloyd-Jones mentions several reasons we ought to consider studying this sermon, and why it's important to do so. He said, first of all, it shows the necessity of the new birth. When we study the Sermon on the Mount and when we see God's standard set forth by Jesus Christ, we find that standard to be completely impossible. And it drives us to Jesus Christ and to the gospel, because that's our only hope of ever meeting God's standard– is through the life and death of Jesus Christ. A second reason Lloyd-Jones mentioned, was that it tells us (this sermon tells us) the only way to true happiness. All of us desire true happiness. We make decisions because we think those decisions will bring us happiness. Tragically, because we're sinners and we live in a fallen world, we often choose the very things that will bring us the greatest misery. But here is marked out the path to true happiness. This sermon, Lloyd-Jones says, becomes the most powerful tool for effective evangelism. When believers understand these truths and live them out in our lives, it makes a powerful apologetic for the gospel, because it makes Jesus Christ attractive. The fourth reason Lloyd-Jones gave as to why it's important for us to study the Sermon on the Mount, is simply this. Living out these truths is, for us who are in Christ, the way to please God. Jesus says this is how My subjects live. This is what I expect of you as your king. So it's so important that we work our way through this wonderful sermon.

Now last Sunday we began that journey. I reminded you that the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in two places in scripture—in Luke 6 as well as in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Even though Matthew's account, which we're studying together, is much longer than Luke's, what Matthew recorded for us in fact just a brief summary of all that Jesus taught that day. In fact, if you look at chapter 15, you discover that on one such teaching experience of Christ's, He spend three days teaching the people. We don't know how long this was, but it was definitely longer than the ten minutes it takes to read through this sermon out loud. What we have here is the abridged condensed version. Matthew includes it in his gospel in this lengthy form because of his purpose. Matthew is writing this gospel to Jewish people. And he's writing to them to prove, as he says in 1:1 that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the one long promised. He is the rightful king of everyone.

Now, last week we studied what is, really, the setting for this sermon. We're introduced to the setting at the end of chapter 4–Matthew 4:23-25. And we looked at those last week in great detail. They are a summary of two years of Jesus' public ministry in Galilee. Two years. And those verses really show us why Jesus needed to preach this sermon in the first century, (why it was necessary in His day) and why it is still so important today. They provide a setting for the sermon. Let me just remind you of what we learned there—the reasons Jesus needed to preach this sermon. The first reason we found in 4:23 was because Jesus' great priority was teaching. He said this is what I came to do. In fact, I showed you from Luke's gospel, He said we must go to other cities in Galilee as well, to preach there, because I came for this purpose. The priority of Jesus ministry was teaching God's truth to people. This sermon was also absolutely crucial because Jesus' popularity was confusing. At this point in Jesus' ministry, great crowds attached themselves to Jesus. And those crowds created great spiritual confusion about who, in the crowds, really belonged to Him,who were truly His subjects in His kingdom—and who were not. It's clear when you look at 5:1 that it was the combination of these large crowds and Jesus' true disciples all mingled together, that compelled Jesus to preach this sermon. The third reason we saw last week that this sermon was necessary, was because Jesus' kingdom is demanding. Jesus says, you're in My kingdom, and here's what I expect of you. You need to understand what your king expects of you. Luke mentions that there was a large crowd of His followers there that day, and the twelve newly selected apostles, as in newly selected that very morning, the same day He preaches this sermon. They needed to be trained and educated about what He expected of them That's the setting, the background for this sermon.

Now, with that said, let's look at Matthew 5:1. And here we have the specific circumstances given to us. "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him" Now in Matthew's summary of those two years of Galilean ministry, he tells us that there were large crowds that were always accompanying Jesus. Back in 4:25, "Large crowds followed Him from Galilee. . ." as well as all the surrounding area. Here in 5:1, Matthew takes us to a specific crowd, one of those large crowds, one particular day when large crowds had gathered. Now, we learn more about this specific crowd in Luke's gospel, so turn over to Luke 6 and you get a feel for what was going on here. Let me start in Luke 6:12. Luke writes

It was at this time that Jesus went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, He called His disciples to Him (all of His disciples) and He chose twelve of them whom he named as apostles. (And then they are named there. Verse 17) "Jesus then came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all."

Now that's the crowd and the context. Look at verse 20 "And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to teach them." Now, when we put Matthew's account and Luke's account together, apparently, this is sort of the chronology, the order of what transpired. The night before, Jesus left the city of Capernaum, where He stayed, where He lived, where He had a home, that didn't belong to Him, but was either the home of Peter, or perhaps a home that was loaned to Him by someone else. He leaves His home there in Capernaum, and He goes up to the mountain. Literally, it's the hill country north and east of Capernaum, to pray. This sermon has traditionally been called the Sermon on the Mount, because here and in Matthew 5, it says Jesus went up on the mountain. Understand that the Greek word for mountain can describe anything from a hill to a huge mountain like the highest peak of Mount Hermon in Israel. In this case, the mountain wasn't really a mountain like you would think of it. It was a very high hill near Capernaum on the northwest corner of the lake that we call the Sea of Galilee. We can't know for sure where it was, but this is one of those times (and there aren't many of them) that when you travel to Israel they take you to a site and say this is the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount. And in this case, there's a very real likelihood that it is. I've been to that place several times. It's unusual. It's in the right place, near Capernaum. It's an area that's sort of an outdoor amphitheater going up from the lake, and it is also very acoustically sound. It'll hold up to probably 10,000 people and you can speak and be heard without amplification over that whole natural amphitheater, there where the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount is. It may have been there, or it may have been one of the nearby hills rising up from the lake where Jesus taught this sermon.

But Jesus went up that hill near Capernaum, and there He prayed all night. The next morning early, He called all of his disciples, and when I use the word disciples there, I'm not talking about the apostles. I mean all of those who had become true followers of His—a fairly sizeable group, Luke calls it a great number—came up the mountain to Him. And out of that crowd, Luke tells us He picked twelve that would be His apostles. Jesus is now more than halfway through His earthly ministry. The twelve, as we know them, have traveled with Him but this is when He constitutes them as His official representatives, His apostles. Then the entire group, Jesus, the newly appointed twelve, and that large group of disciples all come down the hill, and when they get to that bottom of the hill, they discover this huge throng of people that have come from all the neighboring areas, as well as from Galilee. He heals many people and casts out demons, and they are trying to press Him and touch Him because they want to be healed. Then, apparently, according to Luke, He goes back up the hill to some extent, finds a level place—a flat place. They surround Him, the crowd does, probably the twelve closest to Him, then His disciples, the larger group of disciples, and then outside of them and around them, gathered all around were those in the crowd who came to hear Jesus teach. Then, we're told, He sat down. That was, in the first century, the authoritative position of a teacher. You remember when Jesus taught even in His home synagogue, in Luke 4, there in Nazareth, it says He read from the scroll of Isaiah, and after He'd finished, "he closed it, gave it back to the attendant, and then sat down and all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began to teach." It was the authoritative position. If I were in the first century, I wouldn't be standing this morning. I'd be sitting. That was the position of a teacher. So Jesus sat down. All His disciples gathered round Him. Matthew 5:2 says "He opened His mouth and began to teach them" Having assumed the position of a teacher, Jesus began to teach. And notice, He's teaching—the antecedent of them, there–is His disciples. That's the focus of His teaching; clearly it was His disciples. The crowd is there, but they're simply listening in. They're watching and listening, over the shoulder, if you will, of those who were his disciples.

Now, before we actually get into the sermon itself, we need to make sure that we are approaching the entire sermon correctly. Because there are a number of ways throughout church history, that this sermon has been approached and interpreted. Let me mention just a few of the most common ways to interpret the Sermon on the Mount. We'll call the first way the liberal way. That's been just the last couple of hundred years, but throughout the history of the church, there have been people outside the church, who have loved the Sermon on the Mount and wanted it to frame sort of their ethic. That's what the liberal church and the social gospel has done. This view says that this sermon is this wonderful ethic that every human being, whether they follow Jesus Christ or not, should try to emulate and follow. And in fact, you have the power to do so. You don't need to embrace Jesus as Lord to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of this moral teaching, and you should try to follow it. Now, there are a number of problems with that. Two immediately come to mind. One is that it's contrary to the clear teaching of the rest of scripture. If you have not been changed by God—if you have not repented of your sins and believed in Jesus—you don't have the power to live out the ethics of Jesus. Romans 8:7, Paul says this. He says "the mind set on the flesh (that is an unregenerate person—a person who has not been saved) is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, (and then he adds this) "for it is not even able to do so." You understand that an unbeliever does not have the power to live out the ethics of Jesus? Can't happen. It's also contrary—this view is contrary– to the context of the sermon itself. I just showed you, Jesus, in both Matthew and Luke's account, spoke these words to those who were already His disciples. That's who it's intended for.

A second view throughout church history has been the Roman Catholic view. The official view of the Roman Catholic Church is what we could call the double standard view. Sadly, the seeds of this view appear in the writings of Augustine, who got many things right, but who was certainly not perfect. But it was fully developed during the medieval period in the writings of a man named Thomas Aquinas. Essentially this view, the Roman Catholic view, divides the sermon into two categories. They go through and they pick individual commands Jesus gives, and they divide them into two categories. The first category they called general precepts. The second category they call specific counsels. And here's what they say. "Obeying the general precepts is essential to your salvation, but obeying the specific counsels is only essential for perfection, not for salvation." So, here's what it looks like. They say: part of the way you become a Christian is by keeping the general precepts. But those who are really spiritual, who are already Christian but really spiritual, like priests and monks, also keep the specific counsels. So there's a set of commands here you have to follow to be saved, and there's a set of commands here you have to follow to be more spiritually perfect. Now, as we work our way through this sermon, you will see that this view doesn't hold water. In fact, later this morning, you will.

Let's go to the third view. We'll call this view the absolutist's view. This is the view of the Anabaptists in the time of the reformation as well as today the Mennonites. Those who take this approach, in reality, deny that Jesus uses any figures of speech in this sermon—any hyperbole. So they interpret Jesus' words in the sermon with a wooden literalness, denying figures of speech. For example, there have been those who have taken this view, through the history of the church, who've said: 'well, Jesus said if your right eye offends you, pluck it out. We ought to take Him at His word. If your right eye offends you, pluck it out, literally. If your right hand offends you, cut it off.' Tragically, there have been those in the history of the church who have done just that and worse to their bodies in hopes that somehow, that would gain them spiritual progress. They look at a passage like 5:39. It says don't resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. And they say that verse, taken literally means, you should never act in self-defense. In fact, to be a true disciple of Christ, they would say, you must be a pacifist. Or they look at 5:40 and they say if someone sues you, you always have to give them more than they ask for; that's what Jesus says. They look down at verse 42 and the command to lend. They say that's absolute and should never be tempered. There's never a time when somebody asks you for something, that you shouldn't give it to them. Even if it means you empty your closet and empty your garage, which wouldn't altogether be a bad thing, I suppose. The problem with this view is that it fails to recognize the primary tenet of interpretation of scripture, and that is that scripture always interprets scripture. So whatever Jesus means by what He says in the Sermon on the Mount, it cannot be in contradiction to what other passages teach. Because the Bible is, after all, the product of one mind—the mind of the Spirit. It's not self-contradictory. So whatever Jesus means by those things, He can't mean what other passages contradict. In fact, Jesus Himself did not practice this sort of wooden interpretation of His own teaching in this sermon. For example, look down at 5:34-37. You read verses 34 to 37 and it looks like Jesus is saying you should never ever take a vow of any kind, and that's what the absolutist approach says. So they even refuse to take an oath in a courtroom. Well, fast-forward to chapter 26 of this same gospel, and what does Jesus do during his own trial. He allows Himself to be put under oath, and answers under oath. So, clearly, this view is not the right approach.

A fourth view, we'll call the dispensational view. And I really should call it the classic dispensational view, because we are dispensationalists, in the sense that we believe there's a difference between Old Testament Israel and the church, and that God still has promises that are yet unfulfilled to the ethnic people of God—to the physical descendants of Abraham. But the classic dispensational view is different. It's really the one under which I was raised. I was raised with a Scofield Bible. Still have the first one I ever had, in my office. Some of you have read that, or maybe you still have it to this day. Scofield, and other classic dispensationalists teach this. When Jesus came, He came first to offer a literal, geo-political, earthly kingdom to the Jews. And, if at that time, during the first century, the Jews had accepted Him as their Messiah, He would have blown the whistle, stopped the play, and set up an immediate physical earthly kingdom. But because the Jews rejected Him, that kingdom was put on hold into the future, and instead, Jesus went to the cross. This view says that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, then, was intended to prepare the Jewish people for life in that literal kingdom that Jesus would have hypothetically set up. But since it didn't happen, this sermon is not appropriate for us. It's not appropriate for Christians in the 21st century, sitting in Dallas. Its teachings are only now appropriate for life in that future literal kingdom, that has been postponed into the future because the Jews didn't accept Him. Scofield puts it like this. The Sermon on the Mount in its primary application, gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the church. Just out of curiosity, how many of you have heard or been taught that view. Yeah, in this area, that's not surprising. Let me just say, these men who teach this view are brothers in Christ. Okay, I want to make that clear. They are not enemies. They are brothers. But I find this view, this classic dispensational view, offensive. And I find it offensive because it makes the cross an afterthought. It makes the cross plan B. What does the scripture say? The scripture says that Jesus was the lamb, slain—when?—before the foundation of the world. What did Jesus Himself say, about why He came? In Mark's gospel, He says, I came to offer up my life as a ransom for many. That's why I'm here. That's why I came. The classic dispensational view of the Sermon on the Mount is so rife with problems that some classic dispensationalists, like Dwight Pentecost and John Walvoord eventually wrote a book in which they tried to mediate it in some way. And they came to this position. They eventually argued that the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount was for every Christian in every age, but the sermon itself was still for a different time—for that literal kingdom. And the reason for that is: you read the Sermon on the Mount, you find no mention of the new birth, no mention of the gospel, no mention of justification by faith, explicitly. Well, I disagree with that. I think as we work our way through it you will see that, but frankly, even if you take their argument, on that basis, we shouldn't study the epistle of James either. Now there are a number of problems with this classic dispensational view of the Sermon on the Mount. First of all, there is nothing in the context of this sermon that indicates or implies that its teachings are for some literal physical reign of Christ on the earth. Secondly, Jesus commanded these things of His disciples, who were clearly not living in the millennium. Thirdly, every command in the sermon is taught somewhere else in the New Testament where it clearly applies to every Christian without exception. I think the biggest argument against it, though, is this. The sinful issues Jesus addresses in this sermon don't characterize the future millennium, but rather the sinful age in which we live. Think about it for a moment. Jesus, in this sermon, addresses the problem of ongoing sin in the lives of His disciples—anger, adultery, divorce, the breaking of vows, evil people who strike you, enemies who persecute you, hypocrites who pray and give to be seen, idolatry in the form of worshiping money and wealth. There are dogs and swine and false teachers. That doesn't sound very much like a millennium that I want to be a part of.

There's one other view. And it's the one that best fits the biblical data. We'll call it the reformed view because it's held by most of the reformers of the Protestant Reformation. This view is sometimes called, in our day, (don't be scared by this term) the realized eschatological view. Let me explain what that means. This view recognizes the reality of what theologians call the already but not yet principle. Let me explain. Some aspects of the kingdom of God have already been realized. They're already here. For example, we already live in a spiritual kingdom. If you're a believer, you live in a spiritual kingdom over which Jesus rules today. That aspect of the kingdom of God is already here. But there are other aspects of the kingdom of God—the reign of God—that are still in the future. That are not yet. For example, when Jesus establishes a literal, geo-political, earthly kingdom on earth. So there's the already but not yet. And here's the thing about this sermon. What Jesus teaches in this sermon applies to both aspects of that kingdom. The ethics He lays down are good for us, as believers today in 21st century America, because we live under the spiritual kingdom over which He reigns. And the same ethical principles will be right for us to live under in the future earthly kingdom of our Lord as well, even though the sin as it's described here will not be present, as it is today. So what Jesus teaches here is that, by God's grace, we can begin to live like the kingdom citizens we are, right now. But, because of our sin we will never manifest all that this sermon demands of us until the future, when we are in Christ's presence. So, to summarize how we ought to interpret the sermon, let me put it like this. Jesus intends this sermon to accomplish two great objectives. Number one, to show unbelievers how impossible it is to merit acceptance with God. And secondly, to teach all believers in every age, who have become that by grace, how we should live in the spiritual kingdom over which Christ reigns today—and in every age.

So, with that background, today, with the time we have left, I want to just begin to introduce to you the first section, what we call the Beatitudes. Look at Matthew 5 and you'll notice from verse 3 down through verse 16, Jesus describes those who are truly citizens of His kingdom. Notice verses 14 to 16. There, Jesus describes their influence. They are salt and light. But go back to verses 3 through 12, because in verses 3 through 12, Jesus describes those who are truly subjects of His kingdom, in their character. This is who they are. Let me read it for you. Look at Matthew 5:3.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 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. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Now you recognize those sayings as what we commonly call The Beatitudes. The English word beatitude comes from the Latin word used to translate this word blessed—first in the writings of Augustine, and then in the Latin versions of the Bible. This Latin word beatitudes came into English through Miles Coverdale. When he published his English translation of the Bible, he put over this section of scripture the heading, from the Latin, Beatitudes. And that's how we have come to know and use that word. Now, how many beatitudes are actually here? Well some say there are nine, because nine times the word blessed is use. It seems best however, to take verses 10 through 12 as one beatitude, and I'll develop that when we get there, but it appears to be simply a repeating of a longer beatitude as opposed to a second one. The theme seems to be the same. So that means, if that's true and I believe it is, that there are eight beatitudes presented here.

Now, I hope next week to study the first of these absolutely magnificent statements of our Lord. But today, I want us to make sure we understand them as a whole. Because to properly interpret each individual beatitude we must first understand—lets call– four guiding principles of interpretation. If you want to interpret them correctly, you need to understand four guiding principles of interpretation. Principle number one: The beatitudes describe all true Christians. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean several different nuances. First of all, I mean that all true Christians are like this. In these condensed powerful statements, Jesus describes what those who truly belong to Him are really like. Notice that six of the beatitudes have a promise attached to them. Notice verse 4 "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be. . .(future tense, they shall receive the fulfillment of this promise. They shall be) comforted" Verse 5. They shall, in the future, inherit the earth. Verse 6, They shall be satisfied, and so forth. Six of them point to a promise of a future blessing. But it's interesting because the first beatitude and the last beatitude don't have a promise of a future blessing; rather, a statement of a present reality. Look at verse 3—the end of verse 3–regarding the poor in spirit. Jesus says, for theirs—what?—is the kingdom of heaven. It's a current reality. It's not a future promise. It's a current reality. And notice how he ends. Look at the second half of verse 10–speaking of those who are persecuted. For theirs—what?—is the kingdom of heaven. That means the kingdom of heaven—the spiritual reign of Christ over their hearts is currently theirs. It belongs to them right now. They are part of Christ's spiritual kingdom today. Now, by attaching that statement to the first beatitude, and the last beatitude, Jesus is wrapping them all into a neat package. He's saying that these qualities belong to all who are today in His spiritual kingdom. But not only are all true Christians like this. Another nuance of this first guiding principle is this. All true Christians display all of these qualities. Every one of these eight qualities are found to some degree in all of Jesus' true followers. Again, by enveloping it all in the words of those who currently are in the kingdom, He makes that clear. A third nuance of this reality is that all true Christians are to grow in these qualities. Although every Christian displays all of these qualities to some degree, there are also in our Lord's words here a note of exhortation. There's an implied command that you and I are to excel still more, in pursuing these qualities. They're desirable. Blessed is the person who manifests these qualities, and therefore, not only do we already manifest them to some degree, if we're Christians, but we should desire, we should seek them in greater measure. So the first guiding principle to properly interpret each of the beatitudes is this. They describe all true Christians. It's a description primarily, as opposed to a command.

The second guiding principle of interpreting the beatitudes is this. The opposite of each beatitude describes every unbeliever. Now, to set this up let me just remind you of what we talked about last week. And that is, the New Testament is clear, that if you simplify the world from God's perspective, there are only two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of Satan and there's the kingdom of His beloved Son. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes that God rescued us from the domain of darkness—from the reign of darkness, ruled over by Satan himself, and transferred us into the kingdom of His own beloved Son. So there are only these two kingdoms. There's the kingdom that all of us were born into, over which Satan rules, and it's characterized as a domain of darkness. Or, for some of us, we have, by grace been transferred out of that kingdom into the kingdom of God's beloved Son. Do you understand that every person who has ever lived in the history of the world belonged to one of those two kingdoms. There is no neutral ground. There's no neutral territory. Every single person—every person alive today belongs to one or the other of those two kingdoms. You belong to one or the other of those two kingdoms. You are still either in the kingdom of Satan, into which we were all born, controlled and dominated by him and your sin; or you are in the kingdom of God's own Son, under His spiritual reign. That's it. Now, the point here, is, the beatitudes describe those who are in Jesus' spiritual kingdom, and the opposite of the beatitudes—the opposite of those eight qualities, describe those who are still in Satan's kingdom. Let me show you why I say this. Turn over to Luke chapter 6. Jesus makes this very clear. Luke 6:20. And let me just read this section to you because I want you to see Luke's version of the beatitudes, and I want you to notice the differences between Matthew's version and Luke's version. Luke 6:20.

"And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward in heaven is great, and in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Now notice verse 24) But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way."

Now did you see the differences? Notice first of all, obviously, Luke only records four of the beatitudes of the eight that Matthew records. But he does something else that's very interesting. He also includes four woes that correspond to those four blessings. Now what does that tell us? That tells us that when Jesus originally preached this sermon, for every one of those positive descriptions—those eight positive descriptions of those who belonged to His spiritual kingdom, He gave eight negative descriptions, their opposites, that describe those who were still in Satan's kingdom. So we can test ourselves then. We can test ourselves to see which kingdom we belong to. Unbelievers don't see themselves as poor in spirit. Rather, they think they're rich in spirit. They think they have something to offer God. They don't mourn over their sin. Instead they laugh about it, and they joke about it, and they take it lightly. Unbelievers are not humble and meek. Instead they are proud, and arrogant, and self-assertive. Unbelievers don't hunger and thirst after righteousness, because they see themselves as already full of righteousness. Unbelievers don't show mercy to others. Instead, they are brutal in what they say. If you doubt that, read the blogs on the internet. They are brutal, and caustic in their thoughts, and in their actions toward others, and they are unforgiving and absolutely unmerciful. The unbelievers do not show mercy; instead, they act like that. They are not pure in heart, but their hearts are consistently dirty and filthy. Unbelievers are not peacemakers. Instead, they create arguments and strife and turmoil in all of their relationships. Unbelievers are not persecuted, ever, for righteousness. Instead, other unbelievers like them and get along well with them. So understand then, that the beatitudes describe all true Christians—those who are in Jesus' kingdom. And the opposite of the beatitudes describes all unbelievers—those that are still in Satan's kingdom. Jesus is very black and white. Two kingdoms, you belong to one or the other, and here's the qualities of those who are in My kingdom, and here are the qualities—the opposite of those—if you're in Satan's kingdom.

There's a third guiding principle for interpreting the beatitudes, and it's this. The qualities in the beatitudes are received by grace alone. They are not natural. What did we just see in Luke 6? What are we naturally, as we're born into Satan's kingdom? Unbelievers naturally consider themselves to be spiritually rich. They laugh about their sin. They make jokes about it. And so it is with all the qualities that Jesus lists in the beatitudes. So these qualities are not natural. We are born into Satan's kingdom, characterized by exactly the opposite qualities. Something has to happen to change us. They're not natural; they're also not achieved or merited. You don't just change yourself or merit these from God. How do I know that? Well, the very first beatitude makes this very clear. Look at the first beatitude in verse 3. It says that to be in Jesus' kingdom, to have the kingdom of heaven belong to you, you first have to be poor in spirit. You have to be a beggar in spirit. You have to admit that you are spiritually bankrupt, that you haven't achieved anything spiritually valuable; you haven't merited anything from God; that not a single thing you have done spiritually matters to God in the sense of His accepting you; that whatever you have to sell, spiritually, He's not buying. That's how you get in. That's the first characteristic of those who are in. Instead, it has to, then, be all by grace, because we come in with nothing. We're beggars, we're spiritually bankrupt. So all of these qualities have to be from God; it's by grace. That was the good news Jesus was preaching, wasn't it? We studied last week. You can belong to God's kingdom, even though you have rebelled against Him all of your life. Jesus said you can be reconciled to God through Me. You can belong to His kingdom through Me. How? Because Jesus said: I came to give My life as a ransom in the place of many. I'm going to die for those who will repent and believe, so that they can be reconciled to God. It's all grace. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes "We are not told in the Sermon on the Mount, live like this and you will become a Christian. Rather we are told, because you are a Christian, live like this." If we're going to interpret the beatitudes rightly, we must remember these guiding principles. They describe all true Christians. The opposite describes every unbeliever, and these qualities are not natural, they're not achieved, they're not merited, but they're all by grace alone.

The fourth and final guiding principle is this. Jesus is the only one to perfectly live out the beatitudes. Jesus, of course, never admitted to being poor in spirit—to spiritual poverty–because that wasn't true of Him. But otherwise, Jesus is the only one to perfectly manifest these qualities. We do in some measure; all believers do. But Jesus is the only one who met God's standard. Although He never mourned over His own sin, because He never had any, He often mourned over the sins of others. And Jesus was the meekest person to ever live. From childhood, He hungered and thirsted for righteousness. And, thank God, He was always, and still is, merciful. He never broke a bruised reed and he never snuffed out a smoking wick. No one has ever been purer in heart than Jesus Christ, and He was history's greatest peacemaker. He brought peace between God, our offended creator, and we, who were rebels against our rightful authority. He's also the one who brought peace in the church between Jews and Gentiles—something that has never happened anyplace else. Ephesians 2 makes that clear. He is our peace Who brought us together in one body. He is the Prince of Peace. And because no one has ever been more righteous, no one has ever been more wrongly persecuted than He was. So then, understand this, as we begin to study the beatitudes, only Jesus has met God's standard. But through the gospel, by repenting and believing. . . Today, if you're not in Christ, you haven't met this standard, and neither have I, perfectly, in a way that would satisfy God. But if you will repent of your sin, and if you will believe in Jesus, then at that moment that you're willing to lay down your rebellion and bow your knee to Him, He will forgive your sin and He will take the perfect obedience of Christ to all of these things and credit it to your account. And He will treat you as if you had met all of these standards. That's the gospel. And then, once he does that, by grace He changes us internally. He changes us; He gives us new life so that we begin to reflect the moral character of Jesus, and we begin to personally display these qualities described in the beatitudes.

Let me ask you, do these qualities, all of them, describe you to some degree? Are you poor in spirit, are you a beggar spiritually? Do you understand you have nothing to offer God? Or do you think you are spiritually rich, and that God should take you because you're a pretty good person. Do you mourn over your sin; do you hate it? Or do you laugh at your sin; you make a joke about it? You take it lightly, enjoy reveling in it? Are you meek and gentle, or are you proud, and aggressive, and self-assertive? Do you really hunger and thirst to be right, to live right? Or do you think your are already filled with righteousness, so you don't need any more? Are you merciful, or are you hard and brutal in your thoughts toward other people, quick to judge them and be harsh against them in your thoughts, and your comments, and your actions, and unforgiving toward them? Are you pure in heart, or, if we could open up your heart and display it before all today, would it be more consistently dirty and filthy than pure? Are you a peacemaker, or are your relationships filled with conflict and anger and unwillingness to reconcile? Are you sometimes insulted and ridiculed because you are trying to be and to do what's right, or do you so completely blend in with unbelievers that they like you, and they don't really see any difference between what you are and what they are? Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes this "My immediate reaction to these beatitudes proclaims exactly who I am. If I feel they are harsh and hard, if I feel that they are against the grain and depict a character and type of life which I dislike, then it means I'm not a Christian. If I do not want to be like this, I must be dead in trespasses and sins. I can never have received new life. But if I feel that I am unworthy, and yet I want to be like that, however unworthy I may be, if this is my desire—my ambition, then there must be new life in me. I must be a child of God. I must be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and of God's dear Son." And he ends by saying "Let every person examine himself."

If your life is characterized by the beatitudes then the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. You are in the spiritual kingdom over which Jesus rules. But if your life is characterized by the opposite, then you are in Satan's kingdom. But the good news is, today, if you are willing to repent, God will transfer you from the kingdom into which all of us were born—the kingdom of Satan and darkness, slavery to sin. And He will transfer you into the spiritual kingdom of His own beloved Son. That can happen in a moment's time, when you're willing to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for such amazingly clear teaching—for these magnificent words of our Lord's. Father, open up our hearts to receive them. Lord, help us to see who we really are. Hold the mirror of Your word against our souls, and Lord, help us to see our reflection in it. And Father, I pray for those of us who are here today who, although haltingly, see those qualities in our lives. We see that You have produced those changes in us. We still want to produce them more. We want to excel in them, but Father, for those of us who see those things, I pray that You would encourage our hearts that we really do belong to Jesus' kingdom, that we're His, that You've changed us. Father, for those here today who are characterized by exactly the opposite of these beatitudes, Father, do not let them see themselves. By Your spirit, open their hearts and minds to see who they really are before You, who Jesus would say they are, if He was here today. And Father, I pray that before this day is out, they would come in repentance and faith to You, crying out to You as a spiritual beggar, asking You to do to them what they do not deserve. I pray that You would do that in many hearts today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

The Sermon on the Mount