“We must hang together, or we’ll hang separately.”
“. . . ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
These statements identify (and in some cases, define) those who spoke them. But no one has ever uttered more impacting words than Jesus Christ, and no statement of Jesus’ more defines His life and what it means to be His disciple than the Sermon on the Mount. It may be the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings, though arguably the least understood and obeyed.
The sermon has been called Christ’s Manifesto – His platform speech outlining the character of those under His kingdom rule. The events that led up to it — His rabbinic training, baptism, wrestling match with Satan, and selection of a cabinet (twelve disciples) — give it the feel of an inaugural address. We speak of a person’s seat in Congress and of a professor’s chair at college, so Matthew’s note that Jesus “sat down” for this sermon is quite significant. This is no small talk. Here Jesus reinterprets the law, redefines spirituality, and calls His followers to a radically different lifestyle in which we love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and offer our coat to the one who steals our cloak.
Before we get too far into the body of the sermon, let’s linger at the introduction: the Beatitudes. There are eight of them, each beginning with the word blessed, commonly rendered “happy.” Yes, these two words are related, but Jesus has more in mind than merely feeling good. The Beatitudes were crafted for their shock effect. The kingdom belongs to the poor; the truly joyous are those who mourn; the meek, not the rich and affluent, are the true owners of the earth’s real estate.
This isn’t a treatise on social ethics, nor the random sayings of a preacher who’s run out of steam. The Beatitudes are the description of a true disciple. If you’d heard of Christian disciples but never met one, here’s the profile. These qualities aren’t optional; every believer will possess each of them in some measure.
The Beatitudes’ sequence is important; each one lays the foundation for the next. Like climbing a mountain with God at the top, our journey toward Him begins with poverty of spirit, declaring spiritual bankruptcy – recognizing that we bring nothing to the table except our sin. Humbled, we weep tears of repentance (mourning). Then we quit calling the shots in our own lives and for others (meekness). Contrary to popular opinion, meekness isn’t weakness but a total surrender to God, illustrated by the two people Scripture calls meek: Moses and Jesus. Humbled, repentant, and surrendered, we hunger and thirst for God Himself and His righteousness.
We’re now at the mountain peak where disciples like to camp, but we can’t stay here. We must go back to the valley where life is lived and our discipleship is tested. So the first four beatitudes move us toward God; the last four point us to others. The descent begins with mercy and compassion for those in need. Purity of motive, protecting and preserving our relationships (peacemaking), and rejoicing when persecuted: These are where the rubber meets the road.
Matthew (7:28, 29) notes that those who first heard the sermon were amazed. May those who hear it now be radically transformed, becoming a nearer copy of the One whose disciples we are.
*Used with permission from the Bible Advocate, Jan-Feb 2010