(Used with permission from the Bible Advocate, Jan-Feb 2010)
“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.