The Blessing of Christian Discipleship (Introduction to “Blessings From the Sermon on the Mount”)

Yesterday I was walking my dog on trails at a local nature center. As I looked down at the river, or what’s left of it in our drought, I saw bright blue instead of the expected dark green. The water reflected the brilliant blue sky. I looked up at the sky through the trees, thinking it would be even brighter, but it wasn’t. I thought about how the sky looked through sunglasses—a bit duller still. As I walked on this quiet morning, watching GG sniff the brush under the trees with interest, I contemplated how our spiritual vision is dull when we read the Bible through corrupted eyes and old, not entirely correct teachings. We often get a dulled understanding of Scripture, as if through sunglasses. If we pray for clarity through the Spirit, we have a more accurate understanding of Scripture’s teaching and see more clearly, as if looking at the sky unaided. After we have grown in Christ, with the Spirit working, we can catch his reflection even more brilliantly to grasp God’s profound truths,  seeing Christ. When Jesus taught in parables, “the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-17) Some of the most misunderstood and misused teachings of Jesus are in his Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes. Over the following weeks, we will dive into the blessings described in Matthew 5:1-12. However, as an introduction today, we will use Luke’s sermon summary sermon, one that was very similar to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew. (1) Both teach us that Jesus blesses his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who are willing to be hated on his account. I pray that we will be blessed by being humble, spiritually poor, and hungry, willing to be mocked or maligned on Jesus’s account.

Blessings Resulting From Christ’s Salvation and the Spirit’s Sanctification

“And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23) “Immediately after his baptism and temptation [Jesus] had begun to announce the good news that the kingdom of God, long promised in the Old Testament era, was on the threshold…Here is a Christian value system, ethics standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships—all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world…The beatitudes set forth the blessings God gives to those in whom he is working such a character—blessings given not as a reward for merit but as a gift of grace. By working toward the standards Christ has given us and coming as close to the mark as humanly possible, we give evidence of what by God’s free grace and gift we already are.” (2) “The Beatitudes spring from the life blood of Jesus Christ, that is they contain all His meaning, and when we read them first they seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly, useless people, and of very little practical use in the stern, workaday world in which we live. However, we soon find that these Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost…You allow the life of God, first of all, to invade you by regeneration and sanctification, and then as you have been soaking your mind in the teaching of Jesus, and it has been slipping down into the unconscious mind, then a set of circumstances arises where suddenly one of them emerges, and instantly you have to ask yourself, ‘Will I walk in the light of it? Will I accept the tremendous spiritual tornado which will be produced in my circumstances if I follow this teaching of Jesus?’ That is the way the Spirit of God works. It always comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with, it is all out of proportion to our ways of looking at things, and we have slowly to form our walk and conversation in the line of His precepts.” (3) But Jesus, who suffered tremendously throughout his ministry, blesses us when we follow him, being his humble, poor, and hungry disciples willing to be hated on his account.

Blessings for the Future

“Our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears, the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things are to our nature…Eschatological hope lies at the core of Jesus’ teaching here: the grieving will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied, the pure will see God. As a preacher, [John] Calvin is fully alert to the tension which exists between the now and the not yet, between believers’ present experience of suffering and their future exaltation in heaven.” (4) Jesus brings the eternal future into view, saying, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:23a)

Blessings for Now

“Jesus’ teaching inspires us to change, to become different and better people. As we pursue our studies in His Word, our mind is improved, but that’s not all. Our life is enriched…The good news is that Jesus hasn’t just given us His teachings and then told us to obey them in our own strength. He has also given us His Spirit to strengthen us and change us. The apostle Paul put it best when he said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)…Jesus’s teaching will comfort and cheer you. No one has every spoken such truthful words of cheer, joy, hope, and happiness as He did…When His ‘red letters’ are ‘read letters,’ they lift us above the aches of earth and set your eyes on things above…We never go wrong when we read and ponder and quote the words of Jesus—to ourselves, to our friends, and to our world. He cares, and He comforts, and He brings peace to our soul with His words.” (5) Jesus blessed his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who were willing to be hated on his account. The apostles were supremely blessed to have lived and studied with him, and many were martyred for their faith in Christ, who now enjoy even more intimacy with their Savior. Jesus sent this message to John the Baptist: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:5-6) We are also blessed by being humble, spiritually poor and hungry, and hated on Jesus’s account, inviting others to see his character reflected in us.

Related Scripture: Psalms 34:18; 37:11; 78:2; Isaiah 57:15; 61:1-4; Matthew 5:1-12; 10:22; Luke 1:53; 12:32; John 7:37-39; Hebrews 11:26; 1 Peter 4:14.

Notes

  1. “The relation between the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Mt. 5–7 and the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ given here has frequently occupied the attention of students. The similarities are clear enough to show that a common tradition lies behind the two accounts…Matthew’s version is much fuller than Luke’s, and there are considerable divergences also in actual detail. It is not, of course, impossible or even improbable that our Lord gave the Sermon to different audiences on different occasions, and that we have here independent accounts of two such discourses.” (Zondervan Bible Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.)
  2. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 6-7, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  3. Chambers, Oswald, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pp. 11-13, GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 20, ix-x, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  5. Jeremiah, David, The Jesus You May Not Know, pp. 87-90, Turning Point, San Diego, CA, 2020.

August 4, 2022

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