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

A Faithful Light

photo of two lamps shining on a snowy night
Photo by Hide Obara

We’ve been looking at what it means to be a light in this world, shining God’s light to others around us. In this, we don’t draw attention to ourselves or look for any kind of earthy praise or rewards. Rather, we direct attention and glory to God. The purpose of our shining is not simply for the sake of bringing God’s light to the world, but we shine so we can bring others to God.

Let’s look again at Matthew 5:14 – 16:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

This is how our lights should be characterized, but a light is of little use if it’s unreliable or if it is not true. We have to be faithful lights for God, and I want us to consider faithfulness from two perspectives. First, we are faithful because we are pointing to God. Second, we are faithful because God can rely on us in all circumstances.

Lighting the Way True

If you are following a light for direction, it only does you good if it’s guiding you true. If you look up in the sky and search for Polaris, the North Star, it guides you north — but only if you identify it correctly. If you simply look for the brightest star, you’re going to spot Sirius, which is not usually in the northern sky. If you follow that, you’ll lose your way, and you’ll have to rely on your phone to save you. To reliably find Polaris, look for the constellation to which it belongs. Then you’re going the right way.

We’re only useful as lights for God if we are actually pointing people to God. John 14:5 – 7 records this conversation between Thomas and Jesus:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Also, John 8:12:

Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus is saying that we have to point people to Him in order to point them to the Father and the life found in Him, and we do that through the truth of His word. Staying in the book of John, let’s turn to chapter 3 and start in verse 16. It’s a very well-known verse, but we’re going to read what comes after it as well.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only born Son of God.                

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, for fear that his works would be reproved. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done with God.”

We are only children of light when we love the truth and do it. That truth is God’s word. It’s upon that truth that we shine. Our actions have to be based on the truth of His word. Our words should speak His truth. If we’re not walking and speaking in truth, then we’re guiding others away from the light. This is a big responsibility, but we are all up to it. We are all called to be this light, and it is for this purpose that God chose us to be His people.

I Peter 2:9 – 10:

But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

As lights in the world, we have to be concerned with lighting the way with truth. This means we handle God’s word with respect. We light up the world with kindness, generosity, and love, but we don’t compromise God’s truth when doing so. And we always make sharing that truth a goal when we’re making connections with those around us.

A Reliable Light

Of course, it doesn’t matter how true a light is or how bright it might be if it’s unreliable. A flashlight does you no good if it keeps going out. Stars are no good if a cloud covers them. Your headlights are useless if they are burnt out. And we are no good as lights for God if we’re unreliable, burnt out, or hiding our lights. We should make it a goal to be lights at all times and in all circumstances.

That doesn’t mean we’re always going to be cheery and bright. At times our light can be seen in our calmness and serenity in the storms of this life. It can be seen in how we choose to respond or not respond to provocation. It can be seen in how we maintain a faith in God even when nothing seems to be going our way. We don’t want to be like Jonah, who only shone when it suited him and who even found room to complain when a group of people he didn’t like repented and turned to God. Rather, we should be more like Daniel.

To me, Daniel is one of the best examples of shining under all circumstances. Think about it, as a young man, he’s taken from his home and stripped of his heritage. Still, in Daniel 1, he finds a way to be faithful to God’s law while showing respect and deference toward those ruling over him. In the next several chapters, Daniel makes a life of sharing God’s messages with kings who might not want to hear those messages, but he never makes enemies of those rulers. Finally, Daniel is even forbidden to pray to God in chapter 6. He does so anyway, but he remains peaceful and even gracious in the face of punishment for civil disobedience.

We see this same peace in Jesus and His apostles throughout their ministries. This is what it really looks like to practice the words of Philippians 4:4 – 9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice! Let your mildness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We should be spending our time filling our minds and hearts with things that encourage us to shine our lights. We should allow God’s light to fill us with a peace that transcends any of the unsettling things that can happen in this world. We should first be crowding out the darkness within ourselves with His light, and then we should be reliable bearers of that light — always burning steady and always pointing the way to God.

That is who we are: lights unto the world, a city on a hill, a chosen priesthood. We are not lights for our own sakes. Rather, we shine for our God, shining the light He has given us reliably and faithfully so that we can bring others to Him, so that they too can share in the safety of His salvation and so we can all go home with Him when all of this has passed away and darkness is no more.

Longing for God’s Light

Let’s finish with Revelation 22:1 – 5:

He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.                                

There will be no curse any more. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night, and they need no lamp light, neither sunlight; for the Lord God will give them light. They will reign forever and ever.

This is the light for which we are striving. This is the hope that brings us joy and peace beyond all understanding. This is the light we should be sharing with others. All other concerns are pure triviality when compared to this. All those things that seem so pressing now, those wordily concerns that seem so urgent, the sorrows that can seem so crushing — they all melt away under the radiance of this light.

Let’s resolve to be faithful lights for our God, reliable and true. Let’s remember to let our speech and our conduct guide others to Christ, for it’s His light that fills us and shines through us. Each of us can do our part to better use our words and actions to point others to Christ, and, when we do so, we are pointing them to the light in Heaven, where pain, sorrow, sin, and darkness cease to exist. How could we do anything else but share such a wonderful gift with everyone we can?

lesson by Robert Smelser

The Parable of the Rich Fool

rembrandt's painting of the rich fool

Luke 12:16 – 21:

He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, ‘What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?’ He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”‘

But God said to him, ‘You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Filling Our Barns

The message of this parable is a fairly obvious one. Jesus is encouraging us to replace our faith in possessions with faith in God. The next several verses elaborate on this point.

Luke 12:22 – 34:

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!

Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. Yet seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give alms. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus states that our hearts follow our treasures. These are the things we store in those barns like the rich man built in the parable. His heart was obviously set on material gain. But we can fill our barns with other things. They can be filled with goals, opinions, or ungodly characteristics we don’t want to let go. They can be filled with friends or family that keep us from God. They can be filled with pride.

The rich man’s actions demonstrated where his treasures were. These were his priority because those crops were where he expended his time and energy. What would an outside observer think your priorities are? If a random individual was supposed to follow you around for a week and conclude what’s most important to you based on what you spend the most time and energy on, what would they conclude? Would they see you laying up treasures in Heaven, or would they see you filling your barns with worldly things?

When Good Goals Turn Bad

In the verses we read after the parable, Jesus talks a bit about concern. Our concerns, worries, and anxieties can make us misplace our priorities. It’s interesting what he singles out. Both in the parable and in his subsequent teachings, Jesus focuses on food. The rich man wasn’t filling his barns with gold. He was filling them with food, which we need to survive.

The rich man filled his barns with something inherently good and necessary. Jesus also speaks to clothing, another good and necessary thing. But something good can turn us bad if it consumes our heart too much. Why do you think Satan’s first temptation after Jesus had been fasting had to do with food? He started with something that was inherently good, but encouraged Jesus to get it the wrong way.

Wanting to support our families is a good and necessary thing. Wanting to feed and clothe them is a good thing. Wanting safer neighborhoods and a more moral culture are good things. But when these things replace God in our lives and become the cares and anxieties that fill our barns, they cease to be good. They instead begin to drag us away from God because they become the goal we seek rather than something Heavenly and eternal. That’s why, time and again, Jesus and His apostles keep reminding us that all of these things are temporary. It’s so we don’t fill our barns with goals that will perish with this world.

Peace Rather Than Worry

Jesus ties worry directly to misplaced priorities. Jesus tells us to stop worrying four times over the course of these verses. He says to not be anxious; then He asks what good worry does; He asks why be anxious; finally, He repeats the refrain to not be anxious. After those four times, He concludes by saying to not be afraid. That’s because worry is the result of fear, and fear is the opposite of faith.

Instead, our priority should be to build our faith. I John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. Our love of God is a result of faith, and, if we love Him, then we trust Him. This is the peace that passes understanding described in Philippians 4:7. Being able to look past this life and put things in perspective gives us peace. Remember, Paul suffered physical abuse and imprisonment for his faith while writing about peace. Jesus, who would be beaten and killed for His teachings, told us not to worry or fear. If they had peace, so can we.

Treasures in Heaven

The parable ends with the rich man dying. We may not always like to admit it, but we all have the same fate awaiting us. At some point, each of us will be finished with these worldly bodies, and we will enter the spiritual world. Everything that now seems so immediate will be in the past. Think about something that’s worrying you right now. Will it matter in eternity? Is it worth replacing your faith in God with that fear? Is that what you want God to see filling your barns?

So let’s tear down our barns of worry. Let’s get our priorities straight and realize that there is only one thing that really matters — showing Christ to others so that all may be saved. He is our treasure. Being like Him is our goal, and that will keep our eyes on the eternal. Then we can say we are laying up treasures in Heaven, so that we won’t need to feel foolish when God comes to take our souls home.

lesson by Robert Smelser