Posted by: Brian Musser | September 11, 2012

Who Is Eligible to Be Blessed by God? (Sermon on the Mount Lesson 1)

The Greatest Sermon Ever by the Greatest Preacher Ever.

Last week I caught a few minutes of the end of Barak Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention.  His pacing and his rhetoric and his annunciation made me realize that President Obama had been to church before.  His performance was almost as good (but definitely in the style) of many sermons I have heard before.  The content was different obviously because of the political context but the oration was similar.  President Obama would have been an average preacher.   In your mind who is a great preacher?  Who would you prefer to listen to on a Sunday morning if you had the chance?  Are there different individuals that come to mind if your mood changes?  Some preachers concentrate on intense preparation and intellectual acuity.   Others use language in ways that help people to understand in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.  A few can teach with laughter.  Some of these preachers have become legends like Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield and John Chrysostom.  When you think about great preachers who do you think about?  Does Jesus come to mind when asked about great preachers?

Over the next eight lessons we are going to examine the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus as recorded in the book of Matthew as a sermon.  We are going to study it slowly as a whole trying to track the thoughts of Jesus as He develops them throughout the Sermon.  We are going to work from two basic assumptions:

  1. The Sermon on the Mount is an excellent example of Jesus’ skill at communicating.
  2. Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record the Sermon on the Mount that demonstrates Jesus’ communication skills in an organized and powerful way.

With that said I would encourage to go to www.biblegateway.com and select your favorite translation.  Take the text and copy and paste it into a word processing document.  Delete all the section headings and outline notes that are inserted into the text.  If you want to go a step further delete the chapters and the verses.  Get it so that it is only the text of the Sermon on the Mount and then read it straight through.  Try to imagine that you are sitting listening to it for the first time.

There is another important working assumption that we will use for this study.  The message Jesus intended in the Sermon on the Mount was directly available to the immediate audience of those listening to him at the time.  The message Matthew intended to convey through his recording of the Sermon on the Mount was for those Matthew wrote his gospel account.  In other words, the Sermon on the Mount was intended to be understood primarily by first century Jewish people in a culture ruled by Rome.  Meanings that are possible but would never have been considered by a first century Jew are not important to our understanding of the passage.  My primary concern is that our 2,000 year history of church culture will interfere with our understanding of Jesus’ message within this sermon.  This will be hard as 21st century followers of Christ who have accepted Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to connect with an audience that predates all of that.  So with that said we are going to start examining the Sermon on the Mount as a great sermon by a great preacher recorded accurately by a Holy Spirit inspired author to impact 1st century Jewish individuals.

Every Sermon Needs Good Intro.

The poor in spirit are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed,
for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed,
for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed,
for they will be filled.
The merciful are blessed,
for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart are blessed,
for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed,
for they will be called sons of God.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (HCSB*)

Blessed Are Those You Don’t Think Are Blessed.

Jesus intentionally chooses to start his sermon with, “The poor in spirit are blessed.”  It grabs your attention.  It grabbed the attention of the audience.  It is a confusing statement.  It seems like an oxymoron.  “Poor in spirit” means to be lacking in spirituality, spiritually without, spiritually bankrupt.  You do not have the necessary spiritual resources.  “Blessed” is this idea that you are in a spiritually favorable situation.  You are better off.  You have received some sort of benefit, usually  a benefit from the Divine.  The poor in spirit do not seem to be blessed.  We typically think that the spiritually strong and able are those that are blessed.  We think that the spiritually rich are blessed.  We think this so much that throughout Christian history we have tried to changed this phrase “poor in spirit” into a good thing.  We have created the idea of poor in spirit but are aware of it.  That’s not in the text.  We have changed poor in spirit to being spiritually humble but that is not what the text means.  We have always had trouble with the poor in spirit being blessed.  Why?  Because the poor in spirit don’t deserve it.  There is absolutely nothing about being poor in spirit that is deserving of spiritual blessing.   We often make the faulty assumption that the poor in spirit are being blessed because they are poor in spirit.  I believe that is the point of Jesus’ first sentence.  Jesus’ first sentence produces questions.  Why are poor in spirit blessed?  How can this be?

“Those who mourn are blessed for they will be comforted.”  The 1st century Jewish faith, like many if not all religions, was based on what is now termed the Deuteronomic Principle.  Obedience leads to blessing and disobedience leads to cursing.  As we see in the book of Job and elsewhere through Scripture and even presently, if you are suffering it is fair game to assume that you deserve it because of some sin.  If you are mourning it is because of some evil in your life.  Mourning was a sign of God’s anger and wrath toward you.  I know that when I am mourning I do not feel blessed.  I feel either guilty or angry.  If I am mourning because of my own fault then I feel guilty.  if I am mourning due to no fault of my own I can get angry at God.  When I am in mourning I do not expect to be comforted by God, I usually feel that either God’s angry at me or I am angry at Him.  Avoidance is more likely the response than comfort.  How can those in mourning be comforted by the very God that has caused their mourning?

“The gentle are blessed for they will inherit the earth.”  Many translations use the word meek.  We have often tried to transform this word into a positive as well.  We want our meekness and gentleness to be the reason for our receiving the blessing.  In certain situations meekness is a fine character trait.  Gentleness is a part of being Christ-like.  It has become one of the markings of being a Christian.  But that is after millennium of Christian history.  What would the original Jewish audience think when Jesus spoke these words?  Gentle people get run over.  It is the Romans who own the earth and they did not come about it gently.  Even within their own culture the gentle were to be exploited.  Being gentle does not get you blessings and it definitely does not put you in a position to inherit the earth.  How can the gentle be blessed?

The Good Can Be Blessed Also.

Jesus starts with these three sentences because he wanted the crowd to begin to ask questions.  In the Sermon on the Mount and throughout his ministry Jesus is going to call into question all of our assumptions about how religion works.  We believe that some part of who we are and what we have done deserves to be blessed.  We believe that we have earned God’s blessing.  But in the next four sentences he does highlight characteristics that could be considered good qualities.

“Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled.  The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy.  The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.  The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.”

If he started this sermon with these statements we would have every right to assume that Jesus is talking about a system of how tho guarantee God’s blessing.  Being hungry and thirsty for what is right, being merciful, being pure in heart, being about the creation of peace are all honorable character traits.  When we perform them we are in God’s will.  We should expect to be blessed.  Obedience can lead to blessing.  Those who are faithful can be blessed by God too.  Jesus is running the full gamut of individuals.  Who can be blessed?  There is an answer Jesus hopes we see.  Everyone can be blessed.

I think as we compare the first and the last verse of this section we will see this point clearly.

  • The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Those who are poor in spirit receive the same blessing and those who are so spiritual that the are persecuted for it.  Who can be blessed?  The poor in spirit and the persecuted for righteousness are both blessed and both have ownership of the kingdom of heaven.  If everyone can blessed then why are they going to be blessed? What can I do to secure God’s blessing for me?  Is it fair for the poor in spirit and the persecuted for righteousness to receive the same blessing?  This is different than everything I was ever taught.  Jesus’ introduction successfully accomplishes its purpose.  We are asking questions and very interested in hearing what kind of answers he has for us.  But I want you to understand, I want you to feel the tension.  Jesus has called into question what everyone has assumed to be true up to this point.  He is in contradiction to the religious norms of his day.  There are many skeptical about what he is saying.  And a little teaser for tomorrow, this tension get worse before it gets better.

* I am using the Holman Christian Standard Bible because it is accurate enough to get the original message of the Sermon and unfamiliar enough we may actually hear that message.

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  1. Reblogged this on Sharing Some Thoughts on Jesus Christ.


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