(Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 1-12)
It occurred to me that there is an order to the preaching of the word by Jesus that I had not seen before. In the previous chapter we saw the beginning of his preaching which starts with repentance. Repentance was the focus of John the Baptist’s ministry and also the starting point of the disciples ministry after Jesus had been put to death. The essence of repentance is that it is a state of preparation. Repentance is meant to prepare a person so that they turn away from an old life of sin, ready to commence a new life with Christ. In essence it is like “turning over a new leaf” to start afresh. So we see that in each case the three key ministries of the New Testament begin by teaching the people to come to a state of preparation for what is to come. In particular we note that John the Baptist’s primary ministry was to fulfil the prophecy that said he was to prepare the way for the Christ and his focus was repentance from sin.
But now we see that after repentance the next phase of Jesus teachings are shown in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 which covers the teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. There are many teachings in this sermon which I will get to shortly, but when you stand back to examine the sermon at a high level we see that Jesus was establishing a new standard. He was in effect setting the bar for what is the new life in the New Covenant, and it is a higher standard than what was required under the law. The law defined the difference between right and wrong, but the new standard commenced in the sermon on the mount leads to perfection. As we will see in later chapters and books, Jesus did not expect man to be able to do this by himself. It is testified in many places that man could not even keep the law, so how could man be expected to attain a higher standard than the law by himself? Man can’t but within the New Covenant teachings we see that Christ and God have provided help through the provision of the Holy Spirit to counsel, teach and guide us as we walk the new path.
But I am getting ahead of myself as this will unfold in future sections. The process of establishing the standard up front is not unusual in the Bible. We see that in Genesis chapter 1 that God described His plan for creation and that it would be perfect. We then see in the following chapters the commencement of that work when he talks about, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (Gen 2:4) So this “process approach” in the New Testament follows a similar process to one already established.
Now in Matthew 5:1-12 we see what is commonly called the Beatitudes. Each of these shows a reward for a state of being or suffering for the sake of a person’s belief in God. They provide hope for those who follow Christ according to the New Covenant. In the verses we see:
Vs. 3 – The poor in spirit, that is those who are not high-spirited or flighty, but rather are stable and sober of mind. These people shall receive the kingdom of heaven. High spirited people are into everything and their lives are like whirlwinds, always in a hurry and a rush. But Christ is seeking people who are steady, calm and able to consider a matter without rushing off into all manner of schemes. Wisdom is found in quiet places and not in turmoil. Turmoil promotes haste which can lead to poor decisions and loss without consideration for consequences. But wisdom is pure, peaceable, considerate and above all is the gift of God.
Vs. 4 – Those who mourn shall be comforted. Mourning is the outcome of loss and grief and the Lord promises that there will be no grief in His Kingdom. Any who have suffered and wept will find comfort in Jesus Christ both in his Kingdom here and tomorrow. Many people mourn the loss of loved ones, but in Christ our mourning does not become devastation for we know where those we love are going. When there is knowledge there is understanding and in the case of the loss of loved ones we have some understanding of what the Lord is doing and take comfort from that knowledge.
Vs. 5 – The meek shall inherit the earth. This scripture flies in the face of conventional wisdom that suggests men of aggression and force will have power. But in Christ’s kingdom it is the meek who will be in charge. In all cases in history we have seen aggressive people try to take possession of power by force in this world, and in all cases they come to nought. Yes they may have control for a time but in the end their situation ends in ruin and despair. Consider the contrasts of people like Hitler or Saddam Hussein in comparison to Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Peaceful protest brought about a greater and lasting change than violent aggression and force. The greatest of the meek and peaceful leaders ever known was Jesus Christ and his words echo across the millennia. Also it should be noted that meek does not mean weak. Jesus, Martin Luther King and Ghandi as examples could never be considered weak but each of them was powerful in their opposition to evil and wrongdoing, but through peaceful means.
Vs. 6 – This verse indicates the need to be seeking the kingdom. To those who are seeking righteousness and wanting to do what is right with all their heart and soul there is a promise they will receive it. Righteousness does not come from anything a man does or can do but comes as the gift of God. It is the essence of the teaching of the New Covenant that it is through faith in Jesus Christ that we receive the gift of God’s righteousness. And if we are hungering and thirsting for it, we will receive it.
Vs. 7 – Those who show mercy will receive mercy. There are many teachings in a similar vein throughout the New Covenant, such as “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, ” and “You will reap what you sow.” This teaching in the is verse follows that same line. It is incumbent on all people that they show mercy towards those who need it, for at some time we too may be in a similar position. And likewise if we are merciful towards our brethren and neighbours, then God will show us mercy when we are in need.
Vs. 8 – The pure in heart will see God. No one who is not pure in heart will see God but will be rejected by him. The call of the New Covenant is to lead us to learn how our hearts may be purified. The promise of eternity with the Lord is in becoming pure of heart, and this is achievable not through anything we do, but through the working of the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ. We can and will be transformed in our hearts as we learn and walk with Christ.
Vs. 9 – The peacemakers shall be called the sons of God. There are several ways this might be read. Firstly it can be those who make peace with others or broker peace between others, and secondly it is those who learn how to be at peace and make peace within themselves. In my opinion it is this second group to whom this scripture refers. Throughout the bible we see the value and impact of peace. Jesus calls us to peace and through his teachings we can find peace within. And if we are at peace within ourselves, then we are at peace with the rest of the world. If we can gain internal peace, then whatever occurs outside of our minds and bodies cannot have any impact or influence on us. A peaceful heart and mind can overcome all obstacles. Jesus had many names and titles, one of which is the “Prince of Peace.” As the Son of God then it stands to reason that those who make peace and find peace in themselves will be identified with God also as his sons and daughters.
Vs. 10-12 – These verses offer both warning and reward. Those who seek to follow the righteous path of Jesus will be persecuted by those who do not. There are no “ifs and buts” in this matter, it is a simple matter of fact. But the reward for suffering persecution for righteousness sake is to receive the kingdom of God. There are many people in this world who are persecuted for many reasons, but it is those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for following the ways of God, to whom this promise is made. Jesus shows that we should not be surprised quoting the examples of the persecution of God’s prophets that went before. If they persecuted those righteous men and Jesus himself, be assured they will persecute Christians today. But if we seek the Lord and learn the ways of righteousness, finding peace in our hearts and the meekness of Jesus Christ forms in our minds, then we will not be overthrown by persecution but will attain the promise of receiving God’s kingdom in due course.