(Matthew 5: 1-12)
One of my favorite movies of all time is Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman and a great cast of character actors. If you’re not familiar with the movie or haven’t seen it in a while, Paul Newman as Luke is sent to a prison camp in a southern state for the felony crime of cutting the heads off parking meters and stealing the change. Luke is a rebellious sort and has a chip on his shoulder. In the opening scene the inmate in charge of the dorm gives them a set of rules to follow and if you break one of these rules you get “a night in the box.” The box is a structure about the size of a small outhouse without all the conveniences of an outhouse. A night in the box is designed to help you remember the rules and not break them. The more serious the infraction, the more time you get in the box. Strother Martin, the warden of the camp, addresses the inmates after one of Luke’s failed escape attempts and tells the men that: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He tells Luke that his mind is not right, and the “Captain” gives Newman 30 days in the box so he can get his mind right and not cause any trouble in the future. I won’t spoil the ending but suffice to say, Luke is a hardcase and his attitude is not easily adjusted.
Adjusting our attitudes to be more Christ-like is what the Apostle Matthew is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. Jesus starts out his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes which is what he desires for his people. The sermon was given on a hillside near Capernaum and probably covered several days of preaching. The Sermon on the Mount challenged the proud and legalistic religious leaders of the day. It called them back to the message of the Old Testament prophets who, like Jesus, taught that heartfelt obedience is more important than legalistic observance. Jesus is telling this to his disciples to let them know who mattered in his kingdom. He didn’t want them to get a big head or become overwhelmed. People would be cozying up to them for favors due to their close connection to Christ.
Matthew starts out by telling us that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him at which time he began to speak and taught them by reciting the Beatitudes. He starts by saying; Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Greek translation for the word blessed literally means, “Oh, the happiness of.” So this would be more accurately translated as; Oh, the happiness of the poor in spirit, but theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This is God blessing the humble and resisting the proud. Proverbs 3: 34 says; God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4: 10 says; Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up. Jesus is saying stay humble and the kingdom is yours. He then says; Blessed (or Oh the happiness of) those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The Apostle James also said in James 4: 9; Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Be that person who unselfishly shows empathy and compassion to another, be caring and understanding of the plight of others. Don’t be afraid to express deep heartfelt sorrow for what you’ve done. Blessed or happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Like those who have been humbled before God and will inherit the kingdom, the meek will ultimately share in the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus said in Matthew 11: 28, 29; Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Come to Jesus and he will lighten your load and make your time here on earth rewarding and fruitful. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness experience a deep desire for personal righteousness, wanting to do what is right, which is, in itself, a proof of their spiritual rebirth. They realize the depth of their need and hunger and thirst for that which only God can give them. This act of hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the by-product of a regenerated life. The quenching of their thirst and the satisfying of their hunger comes from God who is the total source of satisfaction of his people. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. The believer does not show mercy in order to obtain mercy, he shows mercy because he has obtained mercy. The Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5: 1,2; Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. In so continuing to show the evidence of the grace of God in his life the believer continues to receive that grace. In other words, he or she is not saved simply because he or she shows mercy and is kind to people. He shows mercy and is kind because he is saved. Blessed or happy are those who are pure in heart, for they will see God. Those who are truly saved shall see God. These are the pure in heart whose lives have been transformed by the grace of God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. The peacemakers are the ones who are at peace with God and live in peace with all people. They have entered into the peace of Christ and thus are able ambassadors of God’s message of peace to a troubled world. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3: 12 that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Jesus is saying that if the Beatitudes are lived out in life, the Lord’s followers may expect persecution. The Beatitudes emphasize character and those prone to not doing right resent people of character as it points to their own character flaws. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Being a Follower of the Way is not popular in some circles and because of such animosity and hatred we will be subject to all sorts of slander and false accusations. But Jesus says to rejoice as our reward is great in heaven and that we are in good company as in the same way the prophets before us were persecuted.
The Beatitudes can be understood in at least four ways. First, they are a code of ethics for the disciples and a standard of conduct for all believers. Second, they contrast kingdom values, what is eternal, with worldly values, what is temporary. Third, they contrast the superficial “faith” of the Pharisees with the real faith Christ wants. And fourth, they show how the Old Testament expectations will be fulfilled in the new kingdom. These Beatitudes are not multiple choice; pick what you like and leave the rest. They must be taken as a whole. They describe what we should be like as Christ’s followers. Each Beatitude tells us how to be blessed. Blessed means more than happiness. It implies the fortunate or enviable state of those who are in God’s kingdom. The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus, “blessed” means the experience of love and joy, independent of outward circumstances. It’s kind of like when someone says they are blessed. They can feel God’s grace and love and have that sense of peace, calm and contentment. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.
Jesus said to rejoice when we’re persecuted. Persecution can be good because; 1) it takes our eyes off earthly rewards, 2) it strips away superficial belief, 3) it strengthens the faith of those who endure, and 4) our attitude through it serves as an example to others who follow. The fact that we are being persecuted proves that we have been faithful; faithless people would be unnoticed. In the future God will reward the faithful by receiving them into his eternal kingdom where there is no more persecution.
Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and have different attitudes. Are your attitudes a carbon copy of the world’s selfishness, pride, and lust for power, or do they reflect the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus, your king? If you want to live for God, you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you. Now, that’s something that warrants getting your mind right!
Please pray with me.
Lord, we really want to be Christians in our hearts. In our hearts we want to be more loving. In our hearts we want to be more holy, and in our hearts we want to be like Jesus. We pray for the guidance of your Holy Spirit to show us the way and to be as those who are poor in spirit, as those who mourn and to be comforted, to be meek and not proud, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. As we have received mercy, make us merciful, make us pure in heart and through the peace that passes all understanding make us agents of peace in your kingdom. In you we rejoice as we know our reward in heaven will be great and we will endure trials and persecution in the name of your holy Son Jesus Christ who in his life and through his teachings showed us what it means to be a Christian. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.