* Why is the Sermon on the Mount so important?
* How did Jesus begin the Sermon on the Mount?
* What are the Beatitudes?
* Why are the Beatitudes important?
* How many Beatitudes did Jesus recite?
The Sermon on the Mount is the heart and core of Jesus’ teaching. Indeed it is the heart and core of Christianity. This is what it is all about. There is no summary teaching in the Bible that is more complete in expressing what we should do in our daily lives than Matthew, chapters five, six, and seven. These chapters are commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.
The first section of the Sermon on the Mount begins with the beatitudes. These “beautiful sayings” express completely the attitude and frame of mind the Christian should have. The beatitudes begin by pronouncing blessings upon those who put these principals to practice in their lives. It is God and His priests who have the power to bless. Jesus Christ is our great High Priest (Heb. 4:14). These beatitudes are the blessings He pronounces on those who live up to God’s instruction. Blessed means happiness and joy to those who manifest these attitudes and characteristics.
Jesus began by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). What did Jesus mean by poor in spirit? Poor in spirit means to be humble or lowly in attitude of heart and mind. This is contrasted with one who is “high-spirited,” that is, one who is proud, self-willed, dominating, or arrogant. Such people tend to be unhappy because they are easily offended. They are competitive and constantly agitated. They are not blessed. Consequently, they find little joy and happiness in life. The frame of mind that leads to the true practice of Christianity, with its resultant joys and happiness, begins by being poor in spirit. What must be realized is that it is easy to profess Christianity and to attend church but quite another thing to practice what Jesus taught. Notice the contrast between the proud and the poor in spirit in this example. “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14). The publican did not feel worthy to be in God’s presence. He did not have an exalted opinion of himself. But look at the bragging Pharisee. Who was the one justified in the sight of God? The publican, of course! The one who humbled himself, not the one who exalted himself.
In spite of what men may think of themselves as exalted and righteous in the sight of God, the Bible says otherwise. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags . . .” (Isa. 64:6). What is necessary in comparing ourselves with God is to recognize our human weaknesses, our flaws and faults, rather than to think we are upstanding, marvelous people who have all the answers. Few such men exist in today’s world.
Next, Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). What did Jesus mean by “those who mourn”? All Christians experience trials of one type or another. Peter wrote, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). The promise Jesus made by this beatitude is that we would be comforted when we experience these trials. We all remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented” (Luke 16:25). Jesus said in this second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” The parable of Lazarus and the rich man illustrates an application of this principal, but is by no means the only one. The Bible tells us “. . . we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Those who go through the trials of this life, as they build the necessary character to gain eternal life, are the ones who now mourn. They, Jesus promised, shall be comforted. They shall be rewarded. By contrast, those who live for the physical pleasures and amenities of this life are the ones who will eventually mourn. For, in the end what remains? Nothing! There is more to life than a good time. God grants us this physical life to learn what we need in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Sometimes these human experiences are painful, requiring sacrifices and disassociation from things that are touted in this world as great. So, we must be willing to pay whatever price is necessary to achieve the goal of God’s kingdom. We may mourn now, but we shall be comforted.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Meek refers to those who are gentle or mild, not people who railroad their way through life, running over everything and everyone in the way. The meek are not like abusers who constantly mistreat people just to be number one. Such people will not be blessed; they will not be happy. Jesus said the meek shall inherit God’s kingdom, not those who are arrogant and proud, and who constantly demand their own way. The meek are willing to share and are willing to give. They do not always think of themselves first. They are compliant and willing to be at peace with others. Notice how Paul instructed Titus in these matters. He said it was necessary, “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2). This is what the Bible calls a meek and gentle spirit. It means being polite, considerate, mannerly. Meekness is manifested even in how one dresses. Peter admonished that the adorning of the Christian woman should be “. . . the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4). One who is of a gentle and quiet spirit, and who thinks that way, will not have the unhappiness and agitation experienced by those who are not so.
The next beatitude Jesus illustrated was, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). This refers to those who thirst after personal righteousness. What does it mean to thirst? The greatest human drive is hunger, which certainly includes thirst. In fact, thirst should be first because one can go longer without food than water. Thirst, then, is the strongest human drive. People will do more to satisfy thirst and hunger than anything else. So, what is Jesus saying? He is saying that one who desires the happiness and the blessings of God will hunger after righteousness in the same way he hungers after food and drink. He refers to those who desire to be personally righteous. But, Jesus is not talking about self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a curse. Now, what does the Bible define as righteousness? “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Psa. 119:172). So, righteousness is obeying the Law of God-the Ten Commandments. Happiness and joy result from obedience to the Ten Commandments. Blessings accrue to those who thirst. “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright” (Psa. 11:7). God loves righteousness in human beings because He loves right doing. Those who do right are blessed. What is the advantage of obeying the Law of God? “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psa. 19:7-11). The only law that can change a man’s character and one’s entire approach to life is the Law of God. This is the blessing Jesus pronounced in the quest for personal righteousness.
The fifth beatitude relates to mercy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). Some of the people who are the most unhappy are those who cannot forgive and are constantly seeking revenge. They are not merciful. They live for one thing-to get even. Are people who constantly seek revenge happy? Not at all! One who fails to make leeway for another’s mistakes will be constantly dissatisfied with his or her fellow human beings. The result will be agitation and unhappiness, all due to the failure to comprehend or practice this fifth beatitude. The merciful are those who can forget about the mistakes of others and can go on with their lives. Consider mercy from this viewpoint. How do we view the poor? The Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble” (Psa. 41:1). The human tendency is to look down on the poor, to hold them in contempt, to have no mercy for their plight. But, if our attitude is, “there but for the grace of God goes you or I,” there will be mercy and consideration shown regardless of one’s status in life. There may be a thousand reasons why some are poor, but it is not in our province to judge. God is the judge. Our duty, according to Jesus in this beatitude, is to be merciful. Those who are contemptuous toward the unfortunate are not merciful, and they are not happy. How does God view the unmerciful? “. . . He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy. With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright” (Psa. 18:25). The treatment we manifest toward others is the kind of treatment we will get from God.
The next beatitude is found in Matthew 5:8. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” What do we mean by pure in heart? Whoever they are, they shall see God. The Apostle John expressed it, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In this present fleshly state we cannot see God, but in the resurrection and the change that takes place at that time we will. But, we must first be changed (1 Cor. 15:50-51). But who will be changed? Those who are pure in heart. Who, then, are the pure in heart? For one thing, they are not self-deceived. Note the contrast here between the self-deceived and those who are honest with themselves. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:6-8). Jesus said the pure in heart will see God. Who, then, will be in His kingdom? “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psa. 24:4). Those who are sincere in heart are not sullied by hypocrisy and insincerity. Such are absolutely sincere and completely honest with themselves. Those who are honest admit their own faults and begin to clean up their hearts and minds. One who refuses to own up to his problem will never face that problem. Spiritual mastery requires complete honesty. This is the meaning of a pure heart.
Verse nine of Matthew five considers the beatitude of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). This refers to those who strive to bring about peace and tranquility rather than discord and disruption. Those who constantly agitate are not peacemakers, and they are not happy. Happiness comes from being a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker. Peacemakers go out of their way to avoid trouble. Not so, the troublemaker. The troublemaker lacks wisdom. He purposely goes about to create trouble. He demonstrates by this practice a lack of wisdom. What is the source of real wisdom? “. . . The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (Jas. 3:17-18). Those who are peacemakers enjoy a relaxed peace of mind. They are not constantly stirred up, or upset all the time. People who do not make peace have no peace. Who does the troublemaker abhor? Men like David. He wrote, “My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war” (Psa. 120:7-8). Blessedness (happiness and joy) is the reward of peacemaking-a direct result of putting to practice the principal of living at peace with all men. Paul admonishes, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
The beatitudes express those principles of Christian living that enhance the enjoyment of life. When practiced diligently they bring about blessings-happiness and joy. This is what Jesus promised when He enumerated all who are blessed, who are poor, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are merciful, pure in heart, and are peacemakers. These beatitudes set the stage for the entire Sermon on the Mount. When we understand the significance of the beatitudes, we will be able to grasp the significance of the Sermon on the Mount-the heart and core of Christianity.