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“Beatitudes (A) – Abased Attitude”

Jan.22, 2017 – Matthew 5:3-6(1-12)


What qualities would you recommend someone seek to develop in order to succeed in life? What attributes would you say are essential for real satisfaction in life?

             This week, in our neighbouring nation to the south, a man made it to the top of the hill. Capitol Hill in Washington. President Trump is an interesting case study in terms of character. What qualities have helped him achieve the position of president of the United States of America?

             He is certainly controversial; people seem to either be strongly ‘for’ him or ‘against’ him. He is outspoken; his Tweets have made news. He must have a smidgen of business acumen, for the Wikipedia article about him lists him as “the 324th wealthiest person in the world (113th in the United States), with a net worth of $4.5 billion.” He has failed numerous times in business and a few times in marriage. While having owned casinos and beauty pageants, and seeming to have a penchant for marrying models, he has a certain personal moral code in that he doesn’t smoke or drink (his brother died of alcoholism). His father’s middle name, strangely enough, was “Christ”! He identifies as Presbyterian and declares “nothing beats the Bible” yet he has not asked God for forgiveness for his sins, stating: "I think if I do something wrong, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture."

             Whatever your opinion of Donald Trump, one thing is for certain: he is not quiet, modest, gentle, and unassuming. The Washington Post concludes that concluded that "Trump is a mix of braggadocio, business failures, and real success." One dictionary defines braggadocio as “the annoying or exaggerated talk of someone who is trying to sound very proud or brave”.

             Trump has made it to the top, so some would say he has reason to boast. But arrogance in a ruler can be a costly mistake.

             King Solomon was one of the greatest kings in the history of the nation Israel. When he died, his son Rehoboam came to the throne. The people of the 10 northern tribes appealed to him to lighten their heavy yoke. Rehoboam consulted 2 sets of advisers. The older ones, who’d served his father Solomon, responded: 1Kings 12:7 “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” But Rehoboam instead followed the advice of the young men who’d grown up with him. Consequently he told the northern tribes: 1Kings 12:14 “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier.My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” Consequently, the northen tribes mutinied, abandoning Rehoboam, and setting up their own king.

             Even those at the top of political power need to keep learning about servanthood. When God had offered Rehoboam’s father Solomon a “blank cheque” so to speak, Solomon had not asked for long life or wealth or the death of his enemies. Instead he observed, 1Kings 3:7-9 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” Solomon asked for wisdom, a heart to recognize righteousness. God was pleased by this, and promised to grant Solomon not just wisdom, but long life and riches and honour besides, so that in his lifetime he’d “have no equal among kings” (1Kings 3:13). A willingness to serve made him fit for the top of the heap.

             This past week, outgoing President Barack Obama shared some advice for the president-elect. He noted a lot would depend on Trump’s advisers and Trump’s willingness to learn from them. Obama said, “This is a job of such magnitude that you can’t do it by yourself...Reality has a way of biting back if you’re not paying attention to it.”

             As we begin to look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have another Man who goes to the top. In this case, to a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee where crowds follow Him. This is the “Sinai of the New Testament” - the mountain of blessing rather than (in Moses’ case) the mountain that could not be touched (Ex 19:12). Moses passed along to the people at Sinai the Ten Commandments, the heart of their law code. In the Beatitudes, we hear Jesus cutting through the centuries of laws and interpretations that had been added on to the Old Testament revelation, cutting through to the essence of what God is really looking for in human character. He makes these thoughts as prominent as the Ten Commandments. Matthew has organized Jesus’ teaching into five main blocks sort of like the five books of the Pentateuch, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. How Jesus begins this pivotal Sermon on the Mount is very important.

             Today we’re looking at just the first four beatitudes; next week we hope to deal with the other half (vv 11-12 are kind of an expansion on v10). This week’s focus on our HOLLOWNESS: next week’s, on our HELPING; this week’s, what we’re LACKING, our heart’s preparation and need for God’s indwelling and supply: next week’s, on our LOVING, how we respond to others once we know God, sharing the outflow and shalom He plants inside us when we turn to Him.


Before we look at particulars, first a general comment, especially if you’ve heard these Beatitudes before so much you’ve forgotten just how striking they are. The format Jesus repeats over and over is, “BLESSED are...[some condition/characteristic]...FOR they...[some response by God].” Jesus uses a passive stylistic manner of speech, “blessed are” – yet this is due to polite Jewish respect for the divine Name. A more direct way of expressing the same idea would be to say, “God blesses the person who is...because...” So the question behind the beatitudes might be put this way: “What do I need to do or be in order to receive God’s blessing?”

             Note the answer to that question is not, “Go live a perfect life” or “Go become president / prime minister” or “Go make billions of dollars” or “Go become a household word, most frequently mentioned person on the news.” None of that. Instead, “God blesses those who are poor in spirit...” “God blesses those who mourn...” “God blesses those who are persecuted for the sake of what’s right.” REALLY? That’s ODD! Those just aren’t what normally comes to mind when people dream of living a “blessed” life.

             Even the word ‘blessed’ used in the translation here can be a little misleading. The Greek term that would normally be translated ‘blessed’ is one that means “to speak well of”. But here the Greek term is more related to what would tend to make a person “happy” in response to some positive event; our English word ‘happy’ goes back to ‘hap’, chance, good luck, as seen in words like ‘hapless’, happily, what HAPpens. Often people become ‘happy’ in response to circumstance, what’s been happening for them. In church we tend to want to make Jesus’ speech here sound more noble so translators used “blessed”, which seems higher rank than just ‘happy’, more spiritual or religious. But actually Jesus’ intent may have been for it to sound like, “How fortunate are the poor in spirit...How fortunate are those who mourn...How fortunate are the persecuted...” Which kind of makes you tilt your head at first and say, “Such crazy talk!! How can mourning or suffering due to persecution at all be seen in a positive light? It’s not ‘fortunate’ or a ‘happy happening’ at all!”

             Most odd...Yet if you look at Jesus’ other parables, it’s exactly the same sort of striking statement that He used elsewhere to make a memorable point. Causes you to stop and tilt your head and say, “Huh? What’s He getting at?”

             Jesus wants to turn our normal way of looking at life upside-down. His intent is to begin a spiritual revolution, to help us begin to see things from God’s perspective rather than our daily / weekly mortal perspective. What’s really most important from the point of view of ETERNITY?

             These aren’t just a collection of good moral advisements. Not a ‘top ten list of how to succeed in life’. Much of the Sermon on the Mount, if you look at it closely and take it seriously, seems practically impossible, unfeasible, not common sense, ridiculous. That’s because it presupposes the Holy Spirit inside a person’s life. Jesus’ teaching drives us to the limit, to the point we admit we simply cannot carry out such high practices on our own. It’s a set-up to lead us to call out to God for His help, His intervention in our lives, because we can’t do it on our own.

             Robinson comments, “The Beatitudes assume a new heart, for the natural man does not find in happiness the qualities mentioned here by Christ.” John MacArthur adds: “The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is opposite the worldly path people normally follow to find happiness.The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things.The real truth is the very opposite.In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes the character of true faith.”

             So, if you’ve come here hoping for a lecture on “how to get rich” or “how to become president” – I’m sorry, that lecture’s up the hall! But if you’ve come to find out from God’s heaven-sent Son how to get right with God and live a life fully pleasing to your Saviour – let’s carry on.


Jesus’ very first Beatitude - His opener - is found in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Remember, ‘heaven’ is a euphemism or polite Jewish way of referring to God without actually saying His Name. Paraphrase... “God makes happy those who are spiritual beggars, for He gives them His kingdom.” The word for ‘poor’ is used of the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:20,22. Do you consider yourself a ‘beggar’ spiritually speaking? Or are you like the Pharisees, proud of how many rules you’ve kept today and are able to check off your list, your brag-board?

             Matthew has ‘poor in spirit’ while Luke’s version has Jesus saying flat-out, Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” There might not have been a lot of gap between the two categories anyway; riches have a way of weaning us off of dependence on God. One commentator notes the term would refer at that time to “the pious in Israel, for the most part poor, whom the worldly rich despised and persecuted.” For some support in local context, put that alongside James 2:5-6 “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” And James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Worldly rich, but spiritually poor.

             On that note – my bank machine reminds me that RRSP season is upon us! But we can’t presume we’ll get to enjoy those laid-up riches, can we? This week I received a note from a Facebook friend that a high school classmate had passed away due to cancer. And then those things we have laid up for ourselves – whose will they be? (Cf Lk 12:20)


Second beatitude, 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Sounds so strange more directly translated, Young’s Literal - “Happy the mourning – because they shall be comforted.” Happy – really? How can someone who is experiencing grief at the death of a loved one be happy, feel blessed?

             Yet this is a promise from God in the Old Testament too. Read for example Psalm 6 and see how calling out to God makes a difference for one whose “soul is in anguish”, who floods their bed with weeping. Hear God’s pledge in Isaiah 61:1-3 “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, ...to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

             We have more promises in the New Testament. Jesus introduces His disciples to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete or Comforter / Helper; that’s what Jesus is saying here literally in Mt 5, those who mourn will be “paracleted”. Paul experienced the Holy Spirit’s comfort in his many trials that were enough to make a grown man cry. 2Cor 1:4f God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

             And our hope is reflected in verses such as these which we cling to at funerals: Rev 7:17 “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."” Again, Rev 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

             By way of recent example – I’ve been saying to people that Gaye Datema’s was “a good death”: we’re sad to lose such a beautiful caring person, but she lived her faith in Christ, at her funeral the Gospel came through loud and clear, and the testimony of her life-works follows her: knowing God, there was a real outflow that touched many other lives and spread the blessing she felt. The Holy Spirit was present, comforting those who mourned.


Press on to the next verse for another quality that is much undersung today. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” MEEK? When was the last time you watched a Hollywood product where MEEKNESS was celebrated? Yet Jesus is saying THEY actually are the ones who will ‘inherit the earth’, get it all in the end, be the “last man standing” (perhaps when the other combatants have managed to kill each other off?).

             Clarification here – ‘meekness’ is not weakness, or wussiness, but strength under control. No one was stronger than Jesus, who could calm storms and cast out demons; yet He described Himself as “meek”. Mt 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle [lit.MEEK] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 21:5 “See, your king comes to you, gentle [lit.MEEK] and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

             A lexicon points out, “Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time.(Isa 41:17, Lu 18:1-8) Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will.(Ga 5:23)”

             Remember those ‘fruit of the Spirit’ Paul lists in Galatians 5? Includes - “kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS [MEEKNESS], self-control.” You don’t have to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger! Emulate Jesus, live Jesus by His Spirit – ‘strength under control’.


We close this week with Beatitude 4, Mt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” What are you hungry for, ravenous for, besides food? What would you happily put off having a meal for if it meant something could get accomplished? What’s at the root of your soul-yearning, your deepest passion or need? One commentator notes, “Hunger is a felt want, in this case, the want of righteousness before God.”

             What is righteousness? To be upright, innocent, faultless, guiltless, approved of or acceptable by God; your thinking / feeling / acting is wholly conformed to the will of God. In the language of Romans 12:1f, you’re offering your body as a living sacrifice, pleasing God, your mind is renewed, not lining up with this world’s bent and broken pattern but testing/approving God’s good, pleasing, perfect will.

             Are you tuned in to what your soul’s yearning for? Like the Psalmist - wanting ‘more God’ - Ps 84:2 “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

             Jesus is saying, when we thirst for what’s right before God, God will fill us / satisfy us – like cattle get filled when pastured on good grass. We eventually get bored and dissatisfied with even the priciest toys in this life, but God can satisfy the inner person at the deepest level, because that’s how He designed us – with a God-shaped vacuum only He can complete. Ps 4:7 “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” Ps 63:5 “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods...”


Wrapping up – the Beatitudes change the world, by changing first of all how we look at the world. One commentator notes the Sermon on the Mount “stands out as the greatest single sermon of all time, in its penetration, pungency, and power.” Search your soul to see if your root pursuits, your key passions, resonate with what our Lord and Master are describing.

             In the early days of the Apple Computer company, co-founder Steven Jobs offered the position of CEO to Pepsi chairman John Skully. Skully wasn't really interested in the position; he was satisfied with his work at PepsiCo. Finally, in exasperation, Jobs looked Skully in the eye and said, "Are you telling me that you would rather sell sugared water for the rest of your life, when you could lead a company that will change the world?" Skully made the decision to leave Pepsi and went to work for Apple.

             Well, I suppose Apple has ‘changed the world’ – to some degree. But Steve Jobs is gone, and Apple’s market share will no doubt get a bite taken out of it at some point. Allow Christ’s teaching to challenge the purpose you’re living – to lead you to what’s most worthwhile, in eternity. Let’s pray.