[A sermon excerpt]
After Jesus is baptized and gathers up John the Baptist’s disciples, He later heads to Galilee, which at that time was where a large portion of the Jewish population lived. Matthew 4:23-25 says
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
At this point, Jesus is famous, rather than infamous. He’s healing, He’s teaching, and He’s gathering a lot of groupies. I say that because most of these people are simply following the buzz. There’s something new, Someone who claims to be Messiah. Their devotion is shallow and self-centered.
But this Guy makes them happy. I mean, He’s healing their broken bodies and creating a stir.
It’s at this very moment that Jesus does something quite astonishing—but only if you imagine it from their perspective. He preaches a message that is completely contrary to what these groupies had been hearing all their lives. The Pharisees and Scribes had been telling them how to please God, and Jesus points to this group of religious experts and basically tears them apart.
Look down at Matthew 5:21 and following. You’ll notice that Jesus says things like “You have heard it said…” over and over. Who said this? The Scribes and Pharisees. So, when you think of what we call the Sermon on the Mount, remember the context. Jesus is not talking into a vacuum; He’s talking into the teeth of years and years of legalistic tradition. He’s telling these groupies not to be like the spiritual leaders of the country, not to ignore the teaching of God for the traditions, the decisions, of humanity.
Now, I’ve said all that to help us get down deeper into what comes at the beginning of His sermon: the Beatitudes, which is a fancy way of saying “the blessings.” You know the ones I mean: “Blessed are the blank.” It’s interesting to note that another way to say “blessed” here is “happy,” and some Bibles have that. So, when you read the Beatitudes, think of Jesus as pointing out to the crowd what happiness means, God-happiness instead of the religion-happiness of the Pharisees (and us as well).
I hope you’re familiar with these beatitudes, and if you’re not, you really, really need to dig in and study these, as they can transform your walk with Christ. But for the sake of time, let’s just do a quick summary: blessed/happy are 1) those who mourn, 2) the meek, 3) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 4) the merciful, 5) the pure in heart, 6) the peacemakers, and 7) the persecuted and reviled.
That is an amazing list, a list that could only come from God because it is so contrary to everything that we put stock in. How many CEOs of big companies would claim that mourning and meekness and mercy and persecution led to their promotion? How many poor, reviled Christians from India or China become international celebrities? The point is that this list is not going to get you very far in the world’s way of doing things.
In addition, I want you to notice the missing beatitude. Okay, I know that none are really missing, since Jesus said exactly what He wanted to say. The gospel writers present exactly what God wanted us to know. But too often we—even Christians—live as if there is a missing statement here. And if I had to put words to it, I think it would go something like this: “Happy are you when you do what makes you feel good because God wants you to be happy.”
That’s not the way it works.