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Sermon on the Mount: Happy

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -Matthew 5:1-12

So we'll begin this series by looking at this first section of chapter five that's commonly referred to as the beatitudes. Not a word that we use in our everyday vernacular. It's from a Latin word that means abundantly or blissfully blessed. And the Greek word in this original text is one of those many Greek words that's difficult to find an exact equivalency of what it means in the English language, blessed is a good word for it, but there are a lot of other implications or connotations to this. Some have suggested that it's as simple as saying happy are those who are... And we go into this list of these blessings that Jesus announces. Others have suggested that it could be almost like saying, Congratulations, you who mourn. Wait a minute, because it seems somewhat counter-intuitive to what our understanding about this world is of what's good and what a true blessing is.

Jesus lays out nine blessings in this section of Matthew, beginning in verse 3 through verse 11. Now you could say that really there are eight when we look at the first of those, because the ninth one is kind of a repeat of eight. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. And then he continues and says, Blessed are you when people reviled you and persecute you. Now, it is similar but different because the first ones are kind of general... Blessed are those. Blessed are those. And so if Jesus is just kind of speaking in general terms, but then in Verse 11... It's almost as if he looks him in the eye and points a finger and says, Blessed are you. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.

Now, when we look down this list, thankfully, Matthew is a little kinder and gentler, maybe it doesn't rub us quite the wrong way as much as Luke's version of these. Because in the Gospel of Luke in Chapter 6, he gives a series of blessings and woes. But Matthew, while it says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, Luke simply says, Blessed are the poor. I don't know if any of you have ever truly been poor, but I'm guessing most people would not consider that a state of blessedness. But Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the meek, and blessed are the hungry and thirsty, and blessed are the merciful and blessed are the pure in heart and blessed are peace makers, and blessed are those who are persecuted. And we listen to that list of blessings and think, Boy, this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to be one of His disciples.

If you ever watch that show, family fued, if they were to go and poll their 100 people and say, What are indications of someone who is blessed? I'm guessing that hungry and thirsty and meekness and persecution probably would not make the list at all. And yet, this is what Jesus is laying out before the disciples for those who gathered to hear him speak. So why these words, why these blessings when Jesus begins this sermon? Well, I think that part of that can be found or understood from the context a little bit. If we look back to chapter four, that's right before this, Jesus has called the 12 disciples. So we have the calling of those who are gonna be his closest disciples, but then he goes out and begins teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons and demonstrating who he is, and people took note and were gathering around.

Which brings us to the beginning of Chapter 5, when it says that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. He went up a mountain, and it says The disciples came to him. Now, that certainly included the 12, but my suspicion is if we're already told that it was a crowd, there were others who were drawn and who are coming. And Jesus sits down, which is what noted and reputable teachers of His day did. It was a sign of their authority, and he began to speak, and he lays out these blessings. I think part of the reason why is that Jesus is wanting them to recognize who they are and the place that they have in what he's getting ready to do. You see, I think when we look at this list of all of these characteristics, we could look at these as a prescription, where Jesus is saying You need to be this, if you wanna be blessed, then do this, but the problem is that kind of smacks of works righteousness, a little bit, that if you do this and do that, then you'll get your reward, but that's not how Jesus works.

I think what Jesus is doing in many ways is describing Himself to them and saying, There's blessing and meekness, there's blessing in humility, there's blessing in desiring above all else, this righteousness that only comes from God. He's describing how he lived his life. We often look at this list and think of these blessings and Beatitudes as milk toast, wishy-washy, weak people who get walked over in this world. And yet Jesus is saying, Guess what? This is what I'm looking for. These are the credentials that I desire in those who will be my followers. And he's talking about the here and now, all of these blessings that He lays out, our blessings that are taking place in the present in that very moment. Blessed are you now. Blessed are you who mourn and Blessed are you who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. But that current condition points to a future blessing, points to a time where those who are poor in spirit will be inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, that those who are meek now, will inherit the Earth, and those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be filled. And so Jesus in some ways is turning upside down the expectations of this world. He's saying, Blessed are you in this moment, all of you, even those who seem to be sitting on the fringes and the edges of life and society, even those of you who think life has just been tough right now, you're blessed, because Jesus is gathering and calling all of these people to Himself.

Sometimes we wanna see this list as a prescription. Do this, do this, do this, as if it's a pre-requisite that we have to be all of those things and have mastered them before we can then become a disciple of Jesus. But I think we've already been told the most important step in that Jesus went up the mountain, and after He sat down, the disciples came to him. These were people who were already hungry and thirsty for more than what life was, these were people who were already meek and humble enough to recognize, this guy has something to say, and I need to hear more of it. Jesus called to him the people that would listen, the people that responded, the people that came looking for something more, and he didn't say You have to have all of these perfect and right. But simply coming to Him, put them on the path to becoming the very things that he said they should.

I don't know about you, but trying to change things in our own lives is not always easy. We make those New Year's resolutions year after year. We commit to being a better person, a different person, to eating better or exercising more, or not flying off the handle when things don't go our way, but I'm guessing that nearly all of us have made those commitments and fail and try it again, and failed again. That's the thing, when we try to do things by our own ability and own accord, we don't always succeed. It doesn't mean we can't. But it's just difficult. Jesus doesn't just give us one condition of those who would follow him, he lays out these nine, and if you had to choose, boy, meekness, persecution, mourning, which one do I wanna start with?

Well, it would probably be a non-starter for us. We wouldn't get to work doing those things, we wouldn't go out and look for those opportunities to mourn, to be persecuted, to find ourselves in a position that maybe we don't wanna be in. And so I suggest to you this morning that rather than pursuing after these beatitudes, rather than pursuing the blessings themselves, the way that we actually live into and grow this, is to do like the disciples and become near Jesus, to seek Him and to pursue him and to draw near to Him. Because doing so, we're making a commitment to be His disciples, in doing so, we're saying, I'm listening, tell me more, show me more, help me experience and live into this, and it's only at the feet of the master that we truly are able to live into and grow into these blessings that he's prescribed.

I've seen this list laid out in a variety of different ways of what do these mean for us? And one of the best that I've found was actually Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. And he puts the Beatitudes before us in this way, he says, You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope, with less of you, there's more of God and his rule in your life. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you, only then, can you be embraced by the one most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are, no more, no less, that's the moment you find yourself proud owners of everything that can't be bought. You're blessed when you work up a good appetite for God, he's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. You're blessed when you care, at the moment of being careful, you find your self-care. You're blessed when you get your inside world, your mind and heart put right, then you can see God in the outside world. You're blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight, that's when you discover who you really are and your place in God's family. You're blessed when you commit to God, commitment to God provokes persecution, persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom, not only that count yourself blessed. Every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you, and to discredit me, what it means is that the truth is too close for comfort, and they're uncomfortable, you can be glad when that happens, give a cheer even fo though they didn't like it, I do. And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Boy that sounds like something that would be a much more compelling invitation, doesn't it? I love how Peterson puts those words and the excitement and enthusiasm, he infuses this with. Of this life that is different and yet blessed and happy, and one in which Jesus speaks to us. Congratulations, you're with me. And so I think this is a perfect way for Jesus to begin this Sermon on the Mount, as he lays things out for those who chose to listen, for those who chose to do draw near and to sit at his feet, because only when we're seeking him, only when we're beginning to live into and discover what these blessings are, are we the kind of people that can pick up and receive the message that he's gonna continue with in the remainder of this sermon and live different, and live for others, and live boldly that the life that we have discovered is a life that we help infuse into this world.

Author Dallas Willard and his book, The Divine Conspiracy, has this to say about the Beatitudes, he rewrites them, because as I mentioned often, these blessings are contrary to what the world would say a blessing should look like. And so Willard says Blessed are the physically repulsive... Blessed are all of those who smell bad, the twisted, the mishappen, the deformed, the too big, the too little, the too loud, the bald, the fat and the old. We could insert so many other things that probably would put people on the outside or put people at odds with one another, we could say the LGBT community, the red state, the blue state, the rich, the poor, to all of these things though, Willard says, For they are riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus. I love that phrase. They are riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus. It's not just that there's a party going on and they happen to be there, but each and every person that Jesus invites is riotously celebrated for who they are, because they responded to his call and they showed up.

We've got this beautiful window that we come and see each and every Sunday morning that we're here. I want you to think of that as an example for what Willard is talking about when he says that all of these eclectic people come together as a whole, the window is gorgeous and beautiful, and it tells a story and it's something to be admired. But pick just a single piece of that window, a single shape, most of them are irregular, they're a uniform and solid color, maybe some texture to it. If you ever have an opportunity to get up closer and look at it, they're actually thick chunks of glass, and the surface of them is chipped and fractured, so the rough surfaces are on them, a single piece of that window taken out of that window and by itself, it's a pretty color. It's a unique shape. But that's about it. And yet, when put and taken together, they make this beautiful image.

Friends, I wanna suggest that what Jesus is talking about in this sermon that he begins, is that the kingdom of God is just like that, it's a bunch of myth-shaped odd balls like you and me, that Jesus calls together. But by being a part of His kingdom, He's gonna do something amazing and beautiful with it, so let's see what this journey of being disciples is all about, Let's discover that even though the world might look back and say, Man, they are weird, there is happiness and blessing and joy in being a disciple of Jesus.


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