The Beatitudes

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

We’re going to be looking at the Sermon on the Mount through the next several weeks. This is Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, and it contains some concepts that are easy to read but difficult to actually live. This message is also meant to change minds about what people look for in Christ and their roles in God’s kingdom.

Prior to delivering this message, we see Jesus tempted in the wilderness. When He returns from that, Jesus begins His ministry, teaching in synagogues and performing miraculous healing. While this is going on, Jesus’ gathering grows into a great crowd. It is to this crowd — these people who had been listening to His teaching and had benefitted from His miracles — that He begins to deliver the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus Begins His Message

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Blessed Are Those That Seek

Starting from the beginning, Jesus lays a foundation of spiritual humility. Being poor in spirit means admitting we cannot reach perfection on our own, and we have to come to Christ in full knowledge of the emptiness that only He can fill. Like both James and Peter say in their letters, we should humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand so that he can lift us up from our broken state.

From this humility, Jesus then blesses those who mourn. In this, Jesus is not talking about those who are always downcast and find the worst in any situation. Instead, this is a person who has a tender heart for their own soul and the souls of others. They are those who comfort others and look for comfort in turn. When we know we are truly poor in spirit, we will seek comfort and we will find it in the Lord.

This humble need then leads us to a mind of meekness. This is a preference and deference for others. This is a quiet strength that speaks of an outpouring of inner peace that God is in control. When we look for the peace that comes from God’s comfort in our spiritual humility, then we hunger and thirst for His sustenance. We look to Him to fill that empty feeling in our souls. We know we are empty, and that leads to humility, mourning, and meekness. These guide us to fill that emptiness with our God.

Blessed Are Those Who Act

Jesus then transitions to what we do with the fullness we receive from God. First, Jesus says we should demonstrate this in the mercy we show others. As David in the Psalms, we often ask for God’s mercy, but we must also be showing that mercy to others, especially if they have wronged us in any way. As God forgives us our wrongs, so should we forgive others.

This mercy helps purity of heart. In this, we truly seek the good in others, laying all grudges and ulterior motives aside. It’s a heart that does not seek credit, praise, or vindication. It is a humble heart at peace with fulness from God that does not seek out fulfillment from this life.

If we are pure in heart and showing mercy to others, then we will be peacemakers. We will be the type of people who actively seek peace in times of anger and conflict. We value peace over conflict, and we value restoration over resolution. This carries right into those times we face criticism and persecution. If we are passionately pursuing righteousness, then we will come under fire from those who do not seek God. But we should be gracious in persecution, full of mercy and peace toward those who would mistreat us.

All of these things describe the identity of us if we are to be Christ-like. We hunger and thirst for our God that He might fill the emptiness in our lives. This fulfillment should then bring us a pure heart and inner peace. We then share this peace with others, whether or not we feel they might deserve it, through our peaceful conduct and the mercy we share.

A Christ-Centered Heart

This is a fundamental shift in our perspectives, our priorities, and our conduct. This is not about maintaining a checklist; it’s about an identity. This is not about success in this life; it’s about the next. It’s not about doing well based on my own standards; it’s about holding ourselves to God’s. It’s not about having my way; it’s about completely submitting myself to something higher. We are called to a better way, but better does not always mean easy.

The attitudes and conduct Jesus’ describes in these verses take commitment. They take sacrifice. They take resolve. These are more than a collection of proverbs or general suggestions. These are commands from our Savior about the mindset that should define our Christian lives: humility. When we start with that, our relationship with God and our relationships with others will all begin to reflect these words that open the Sermon on the Mount.

lesson by Donn Koonce

The Parable the Two Sons

columns inside the Church of St. James the Less

Matthew 21 records Jesus entering Jerusalem, and in so doing, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. He enters to praise by the crowd, and He begins healing the sick and the blind. However, the chief priests and the scribes grow indignant at the crowds following Jesus around, and they rebuke Him for their praise. Jesus dismisses their criticisms, and He then continues on to Bethany.

The next day, Jesus returns to Jerusalem, and, after more signs and teachings, the priests pressure Him on the authority by which He speaks. Jesus turns the question back on them, asking them about the baptism of John — was it from God or man? The priests fear the consequences involved with answering either way, so they do not respond. Jesus then tells them this parable beginning in verse 28:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

Back in Matthew 3, we see exactly this. Many of the poor and disenfranchised responded to John’s teachings, but the spiritual leaders reject him as they would later reject Jesus. John and Jesus taught many immoral and dishonest individuals to mend their ways, but most of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees refused to let His message touch their hearts.

Repentance Versus Self-Righteousness

The application of the parable then is clear. In general, the types of individuals who would become tax collectors in this culture or prostitutes are people who have already rejected God’s law in their lives. They have already turned their backs on God and have responded, “I will not go.” But their repentance then demonstrates greater faithfulness than those who profess righteousness but keep their hearts far from God.

In Romans 11:13, Paul writes that he hopes the faithfulness of Gentiles will provoke some of his former brothers to learn more about Christ. He compares this to grafting branches from a wild olive tree to one that’s already part of an orchard. Don’t both share the same root? And, if the root is holy, should all the branches not also be holy? Paul warns that branches that fail to produce will be cut off — even if they are part of the original tree. In other words, we cannot trust in past faithfulness for future righteousness.

In this process, we can see both God’s grace and His judgment. He is willing to forgive the past, but He will also not allow the past to cover current unfaithfulness. As in the parable, no matter our disobedience before, we can come to God in humble repentance for forgiveness. However, if we turn from our confession of faith, God will separate us from Him.

Doers Versus Hearers

In James 1, the apostle there warns us to be doers of the word, not just hearers. The older son in this parable was a hearer of the word. He gave lip service to the father, but he did not follow through with those words. The second son, though he initially rejected the father’s word, became a doer of the word. He put his love of the father in action, and his example is for all of us. Are you a hearer of the word, or are you a doer also?

What is your answer to the Father’s invitation to serve in His vineyard? Will you accept the invitation and immediately get to work? Will you resist? If you have ben resisting, are you ready to relent and work for the Father? He is always ready to invite you with open arms into His family of believers.

lesson by Ron Phillips

The Prodigal Son

stained glass depicting the prodigal son's return

Have you ever felt like you just wanted to get out and see the world? How many of us can identify with the young man in the parable of the prodigal son who just wanted to get out from his father’s roof and make a life for himself? We’ve all had times when we just couldn’t wait to be more independent, but, when we seek independence from God, that’s when we start to run into problems.

Luke 15:11 – 23:

And He said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.

“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.’”

A Far Country

In this parable, the younger son travels to a far country, and he realizes things really aren’t better than in his father’s home. His idea of freedom turns out to be an illusion. This is what happens when we stray from the Father. If we are not serving Him, we just enter into another form of servitude. Romans 6:15 – 23 calls us either servants of sin or of righteousness. When we seek that far country from God, we become indentured to sin, and we have no more hope for eternity. What we give up for freedom from God is nothing compared to what we gain by remaining true and faithful.

A Humble Return

Verse 16 of the parable sees the son reaching his lowest point, and he realizes what he left behind. He resolves to repent and return to his father in humility. This type of crucible makes us realize that we are nothing without Christ. When we reach our lowest, that’s when our hearts are most tender. As Galatians 2:20 says, we are all crucified with Christ. In this, we set self aside, and we allow Christ to live in us. We must empty ourselves just as this prodigal son empties himself before his father.

Humility gives us strength. It allows us to see ourselves as we really are — broken and in need of a father. And, like the father in this parable, our Heavenly Father is always ready to receive and forgive. No matter how far we’ve traveled from God, He is always waiting for our return. An avenue for forgiveness and restoration is always there for us.

The Older Son

Luke 15:25 – 32:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’

“But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

We can all identify with the younger brother, but we may not want to admit the times we identify with the older. We should always be ready to receive and forgive when an erring sister or brother comes back to the Father. We should be as willing to take back a repentant sinner as we would want to be received ourselves. We are one family. None of us are perfect, but we have a perfect Father holding us all together.

We’ve all been far from God, but Jesus closes that gap in His sacrifice. He invites us home, and now is always the best time to return. Our Father is waiting and watching. Turn to Him and confess your need for Him.

lesson by Don Larsen