John Stott the late Pastor and commentator titled his book on the Sermon on the Mount “Christian Counter Culture.” It is an apt title. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to a life that runs counter to the current of contemporary society. That gap is widening every day.
As Rick pointed out last week, when we study the Sermon on the Mount we tend to focus on all the gems of the passage and miss the overarching message. Jesus says a truckload of great things but before we zero in on specifics we need to establish the context. That is certainly true when it comes to the Beatitudes.
We tend to view these statements that begin with the word “Blessed” almost as Proverbs; pithy nuggets of truth. But in reality these beatitudes are all inter-related. They build on each other. The first four beatitudes show us how a person comes to the Lord. The last five beatitudes show us how that belief impacts the way we live. In fact, we will see that the last five beatitudes actually parallel the first four beatitudes. So, these are not isolated blessings. They are a package deal.
We have already looked at the first beatitude
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
We learned that even though it is true that God cares for the poor and the poor can certainly find a very special blessing by trusting the Lord in their poverty. Jesus is not making a statement about income. Jesus was teaching that the person who is blessed is the one who recognizes that they are spiritually lost. We might paraphrase and say, “They are in a state of right relationship with God when they come to recognize that they are a mess and need the Lord. These are the people who will gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.”
This morning we will build on this first step of what is required to come to God. The other steps are in the verses that follow.
4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,for they will be satisfied.
This beatitude and its focus on mourning has been a great comfort to many people in their time of loss. And certainly there is merit to that sense of being blessed in the time of loss. We tend to think about eternal things in our losses. It is at these times we often appreciate what is truly important in life. God is our comfort in the times of loss. However, once again, this is not what Jesus is referring to here.
The mourning that is talked about here is a mourning over our sinful condition (as recognized in the first beatitude). So Jesus is really talking about repentance. The first beatitude taught us that we are sinful people who are separate from God and helpless to change our situation. This beatitude takes it one step further: Recognizing the poverty of our spirit, we mourn and long for help in our lost condition.
This mourning focuses on at least three different areas. When we see our sinful state accurately we will mourn over the sins we commit. We hate what we do. We hate the times we deliberately do what we know God has told us not to do. We are like Paul who said “the good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want to do, that is what I do. O wretched man that I am”. (Romans 7)
The person who is going to receive God’s blessing is the one who is truly sorry for their sin. It is a sorrow that leads to desperately wanting to change. It’s the difference between the person who says a simple, “I’m sorry” and the person who works hard to make sure the offense never happens again. It is the difference between the child who breaks your window and apologizes and the one who apologizes, takes the old window out, gets it replaced, puts it back in and then washes ALL your other windows! That is repentance. That is the kind of mourning God honors. Though we cannot fix things on our own, we want our life to head in a different direction.
We also mourn over our sinful nature. We mourn that our hearts are bent toward sin and rebellion. Even when we don’t act on it we sometimes have desires that we know are wicked and sinful. We hate what we see inside of us. We hate the fact that even our best acts are tainted with sinful motives (we want to be seen, we want to earn favor, we want to fulfill a requirement or expectation.) We almost never do things in order to honor the Lord.
We also mourn at the sin around us that is destroying people and the world in which we live. We see what is going on in the world and we mourn and pray over what we see. We see the horror of
- Human trafficking
- Senseless murders anchored simply in hate
- Terrorist attacks
- Abortion as a way of avoiding consequences of behavior
- Attempts to redefine marriage
- Politicians who are corrupt or seem to act like they are exempt from the law
- The seductive nature of false religions
- Persecution of Believers and the attempts to silence God’s people
- Pornography and the objectification of men and women.
- The rampant idolatry (sports, hobbies, work, money, pleasure, that which is new (even in the church)
In other words, we mourn over all sin because we recognize that it is an offense against our holy God.
Tim Keller writes,
to mourn means to go beyond the first beatitude and to say, “I have problems, but I see now my problems are not just philosophical. They’re not just sociological. They’re not just psychological. They are spiritual in nature. My problem is sin.” Until you’re willing to call your neuroses, or your lack of self-esteem, or your bitterness, or your resentment, or your sensitivity … Until you’re willing to call your problems, or to see, at the bottom, what they are is sin …you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven
Until we come to hate the sin in us we will continue to believe we can save ourselves. When we reach that state where we are desperate to change, then we look for help in the Lord. This is when we discover grace.
The Blessing of Humility (Meekness)
5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
The older versions translated this as “meek” which unfortunately often has a very negative and weak connotation. Humility is a much better and descriptive word.
Humility is not a matter of putting yourself down in front of others. Some people seem to use feigned humility to get people to tell them how great they are!!! (The Oscar winning actress who says, “I’m really not that good”. Or the Christian who humbly claims to be a saint because of how humble they are.)
Again Keller summarizes it well,
When we say, “Blessed are the meek …,” it means we turn to God humbly, and say, “I take my hands off my life. There’s a surrender here. I don’t just admit I’m a sinner. I also turn to you and I surrender to you and say, ‘Lord, you have to take over.’ ” There’s a surrender that has to happen.
When we recognize that we are sinful (poor in spirit) and cannot possible save ourselves and them mourn over that fact coming to the Lord with repentance and a desire to move in the other direction, we can only adopt a humble position that cries out to the Lord for salvation. We run to Him as our only possibility for eternal life. It takes a great deal of humility to accept the fact that we cannot save ourselves. We do not come to God on our terms . . . we must come on His terms.
We cannot come to God arguing for our own worthiness for salvation. We come as beggars who must depend on God’s grace.
This is something most of the world is unwilling to do. We want grace on our terms. We want to feel that we have earned the salvation we receive. It is only the person who comes humbly to the Lord that will be blessed by God.
We are told that the humble will inherit the earth. There is certainly a part of us that wonders if this could possibly be true. It sure seems like the arrogant and the powerful are inheriting the earth. The Bible tells us that when we come to Him we become “heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
What Jesus is teaching is when the new Heaven and New Earth is created, the one who has humbly come to the Lord for salvation will reign in some fashion with Christ in this new world.
There is no finer inheritance to be had.
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness/Justice
It is unfortunate that the New Living Translation limits this fourth beatitude to justice. The actual word is the word for righteousness. It means to live in a way that pleases God. Justice is certainly a part of this but just a part not the whole.
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness will happen only when we turn to Christ as our Lord and Savior. If we hunger to be right with God we reach a point where we recognize that Christ gives us a right standing (righteousness) before God. And when he does this we have a new heart and a new desire to honor Him with the way we live our lives.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean. Let’s say you may meet someone and enjoy that first meeting. You say to yourself, “It would be fun to see them again’. You meet them again and have a little better chance to know them. You like them even more so you plan to meet them again. The relationship continues to grow. And as that relationship develops you go out of your way, you cancel other appointments, and you make all other plans around meeting that person. Why? Because the relationship is growing.
As the relationship moves, let’s say, toward love, you start becoming interested in the things your “someone” is interested in. You go new places, try different foods, read different books. Why? Because you desire to share in the life and heart of the person you now love.
Hungering and Thirsting for righteousness is like that. It is not a desire to earn God’s favor… we can’t earn God’s favor by trying to be good. This is different. It is a desire to pursue the things of God in the way God would have us pursue them because we love Him. We want to walk with Him in every area of our lives.
Please see that Jesus does not tell us to hunger and thirst for happiness or even for blessedness. However, this is exactly what most people are doing. They are on a relentless pursuit of happiness. Pursuing happiness or even blessedness is not about pursuing the Lord. It is about pursuing our own desires. The idea that “God wants me to be happy” is reading our desires into the heart of God. But the true heart of God wants us to be holy; to life righteously pursuing the heart of God.
Too often we want a Doctor who will treat the pain and we don’t care if they ever really diagnose the cause of the pain. People want to get rid of their pain but the problem is that they don’t want to be well.
When we turn to the Lord we not only want the guilt to be softened, we want to be well. We want to walk with God. We want to be part of His family. We want to spend the rest of our lives honoring Him.
Hungering and thirsting are desires that cannot be satisfied until what they hunger or thirst for has been provided. Let’s take a mundane example. If I find myself hungry for food, that hunger will not be satisfied by looking at pictures of food, talking to people about food, or even standing outside of a restaurant and smelling food. The only thing that will satisfy the hunger for food is to eat.
In the same way, Jesus says the only things that will satisfy a true believer is a relationship with God Himself. The righteousness we crave cannot be gained by seeking fame, fund, fortune or even reams of knowledge about God. The only thing that will satisfy is actually walking with the Lord in our lives.
To do this we get rid of all our excuses and our justifications. We look sin in the eye and prayerfully take action against it. We do this because we have become convinced He knows the best road for us. When we pursue Him, we find life.
The blessing we receive when we hunger and thirst for righteousness is that we will be satisfied. The irony her is that when we stop looking for things to satisfy us and instead turn to the Lord we will discover that the things we thought would satisfy us fail miserably in comparison to what God has given us through Christ.
Author Philip Yancey wrote about a time in 1991 when he was preparing a Sunday School lesson and had CNN on in the background. This was the time of Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait. Yancey said he stopped because General Norman Schwarzkopf came on the screen to discuss what was happening.
Schwarzkopf talked about the success of the military in rescuing Kuwait quickly with precision bombs and great soldiering. When the news report finished Yancey reflected on what he just saw.
Blessed are the strong, was the general’s message. Blessed are the triumphant. Blessed are the armies wealthy enough to possess smart bombs and Patriot missiles. Blessed are the liberators, the conquering soldiers.
The bizarre juxtaposition of two speeches gave me a feeling for the shock waves the Sermon on the Mount must have caused among its original audience, Jews in first-century Palestine. Instead of General Schwarzkopf, they had Jesus, and to a downtrodden people yearning for emancipation from Roman rule, Jesus gave startling and unwelcome advice. If an enemy soldier slaps you, turn the other cheek. Rejoice in persecution. Be grateful for your poverty. A man who is meek is always satisfied.(The Jesus I Never Knew p. 107)
What we have seen in the four beatitudes is the way of salvation . . . we see a vastly different value system from that of the world around us. Jesus reminds us where our hope is found:
- We must recognize our broken condition and accept the fact that we cannot save ourselves.
- We then truly mourn over our sin and repent.
- We come to God humbly depending not on our strength and ability, but on His mercy and grace.
- We begin to pursue the things of God fervently. We do this not to earn God’s favor. We pursue what God says is right (even if the world says it is wrong) because His standards are the only correct standards. We trust Him to lead and direct our lives.
When we do these things we gain the Kingdom of Heaven and we find a comfort that will take us through any difficulty. We are given the title and deed to a spot in God’s future Kingdom. And we find something else surprising: we discover that all the things we were looking for by running away from the Lord, are actually found only in Him.
It is our hope and prayer that you understand these beatitudes because you have experienced these things in your own life. And if you haven’t, I encourage you to turn to Him today. Admit your lost condition, mourn over your sinful status and humbly come to Him for forgiveness and new life. Broken people who admit their brokenness will find healing in the Lord. Then begin the wonderful journey of walking with Him in a way of life that is good, true, and pleasing to God . . . and wonderfully satisfying to you. This is what it means to be blessed.
 Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).