Audio Service - Third Sunday in Lent
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 5:1-12
March 15, 2020

Jesus’s Blessings and the Ways of the World

In the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the Lord Jesus goes up onto a mountain. There are a large number of people of the children of Israel there, along with His own disciples. He opens His mouth and begins to teach. When the Scriptures tells us that Jesus “opened His mouth to teach,” it is telling us that something really important is happening. When Jesus opens His mouth, God is speaking.

He teaches at this juncture what we now know as the “Sermon on the Mount,” found in Matthew chapters 5-7.

The multitude and the mountain trigger reminiscence of another day with another mountain. That day was just after the Lord had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea and the blood of the Passover lamb with a “mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 4:34 ESV). That day was when Moses went up on Mount Sinai in the wilderness and there “were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast” (Exodus 19:16 ESV). On that day, the Lord came down on the mountain in great power so that the mountain itself quaked (Exodus 19:18). It made the people of Israel very afraid. The Lord also told Moses to warn the people not to come up on the Mountain “lest [the Lord] break out against them” (Exodus 19:24 ESV). There the Lord gave Moses the Law.

When Jesus goes up the mountain to teach the people, however, there is no thunder and lightning, there is no earthquake and a cloud of thick darkness. There is no warning from the Lord to the people not to go up on the mountain “lest the Lord break out against them.”

When Jesus goes up on the mountain to teach, there is a man. He looks humble enough. He is not even a man of power and might on earthly terms. There is no terror of the Lord coming from Jesus. In fact, He is right there among the people. The people can approach Him to be taught by Him. They gather around Him, and He opens His mouth and teaches them. And now He gives us His teaching through the Apostles, whom He chose.

The power of His teaching is not in an external show of power. The power is in the truth of His teaching. It is a power that creates faith and gives hope and encouragement in the blessings His gives. It is a power that convicts the heart with God’s truth, when He unpacks the truth of God’s law and shines it on the condition of our sinful flesh. This part of it especially will occupy our attention next week.

He begins His sermon with the verses we consider today from the beginning of Matthew 5. He begins His sermon with blessings. He teaches how gracious God is, and He instills hope in God. He teaches also that God does not see things the way the world sees things.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He proclaims. Then He speaks a wonderful promise: “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Blessing and promise.

Who are the poor in spirit? They are those who confess with King David: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 ESV)). They confess with Isaiah the prophet: “[A]ll our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). They agree with Jeremiah, when the Lord speaks through him about the natural condition of the human heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV) This is the way it is with the sinful flesh.

Therefore, the poor in spirit are the ones of whom the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “[T]his is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2b ESV). The poor in spirit are grieved over their own sin, the lack of fear, love and trust in God, and rebellion against God they see in their sinful flesh.

And what does Jesus say about such ones? Does He come in the terror of judgment and condemnation, thunder and lightning and earthquake and terrifying presence? Does He make even more demands, demands that are impossible to fulfill?

No. He speaks good news and absolution: “Yours is the kingdom of heaven.” He says: “I receive you and forgive you and give to you my kingdom. My love and mercy and life-giving presence will never depart from you. I have covered your sin in my blood and give you new life in Myself.”

Being poor in spirit, however, is an utter reversal of the way the world and the flesh see things. The world thinks that they should inherit God’s kingdom who are strong in spirit, who have much to boast about and are proud in the human spirit and the potential of what humans can accomplish. The world thinks that the inheritors of God’s kingdom should be those who believe that apologizing when in the wrong is a sign of weakness; who hold without question to the view that admitting fault and feeling guilty damages self-esteem. The world thinks that God would certainly rather receive those who feel good about themselves and have accomplished great things.

But Jesus is not obliged to think the way the world does, and He doesn’t. One thing the world does not understand, however, is that to realize how poor in spirit one really is in the flesh can actually be a great relief, because in that confession Jesus takes all the weight on Himself. In that confession, the full healing balm of God’s mercy is poured out and given. In that confession, God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  

The world does not seem to ever grasp the real evil of inflating and empowering self-centered, corrupted ego, which is the natural state of things with humans. The way of the good is being poor in spirit, redeemed by God’s love; trusting in God’s grace, and what God can do; empowered by God’s good Spirit through such faith. God can do marvelous things with the poor in spirit. And much of this they do not even realize.

Jesus goes on with the blessings and promises: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek, [the humble and gentle], 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 [children] of God; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:4-10 ESV).

And here is the clincher. Jesus says: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). And we could say, for so they persecuted the Apostles and Jesus Himself. Rejoice that you are counted worthy by God to suffer with Jesus, for the Name of Jesus, for you will also be glorified with Jesus through faith in Him (Acts 5:41; Romans 8:17).

But we have to wait for this glorification in the patience born of faith. This waiting may be a long time. It may not even come in this life, and may come then at the final day of reckoning that Jesus will bring.

Regarding those who mourn, the world thinks that those who mourn loss should just “buck up” and realize the harsh reality of life in this world, that this world is all there is, death comes, and that is the end of it. Get used to it.

The world thinks that those who boldly take will inherit the earth, even if they take by dishonesty, intimidation, extortion, and physical force. Get while the getting is good anyway you can.

The world mocks at being hungry for righteousness, for the righteous do not get ahead and do not have any fun, says the world. Trying to do the right thing is also hard and may require suffering. The world wants it the easy way.

The world mocks at the sincerity of a pure heart, that is, a sincerely honest and humble heart, for such a heart won’t get ahead.

The world does not like those who get in the way of taking by violence and verbal or physical intimidation.

The world delights in persecuting those who seek to do the right thing. It does not realize when it does so just how much it is under the sway of the evil one.

And then the clincher is that the world rejects Jesus and thinks Him and the Christian faith foolish. The ways it thinks so are many. But the Spirit of God through Paul fortifies us by proclaiming that the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV).

Jesus and the world see things in opposition. Jesus comforts those who mourn with the hope that life will overcome death in the final reckoning. He promises that those who mourn now will be comforted; they will be comforted now in the good news and the hope it brings; they will be comforted then when they inherit everlasting life through faith in Him.

Jesus promises that the humble and gentle will inherit the earth.

He teaches that hungering for righteousness is a good thing. He inspires our hunger for it by promising that God will satisfy those who seek it.

He endorses mercy and promises mercy from God for those who are merciful.

He endorses and blesses humility and gentleness.

He embraces those who reject gain by violence. He strengthens those whose calling is to protect and defend those upon whom violence is inflicted by the lawless and violent, even at the risk of their own lives and well being. He encourages and blesses those who bring reconciliation and peace among brothers and sisters.

He embraces being willing to suffer for what is true and right according to God’s truth. Jesus reverses the world’s value judgment by declaring that the kingdom of God belongs to those who suffer for doing what is right according to how God sees it.

And finally, He encourages us to stay the course in faith in Him. For we are part of a great company when we are called upon to suffer for the Name of Jesus: we are part of the company of God’s prophets and Apostles, Jesus Himself being at the center (Ephesians 2:20).

Jesus Himself lived His teaching and secured His promises in His life and in His own death and resurrection. What great confidence and peace, therefore, you have in Him in the midst of a world that just seems to get crazier; when threats of disease and instability never go away but at times increase in intensity; when even your own physical strength gives way. You have confidence and peace in Him when things may not be so friendly for you in the world for being a Christian; for doing the good and right thing by God’s standards, as taught either in the Law or the Gospel. They do not understand that these are not standards you have made up in your own authority.

You have the blessing and promise of God who speaks to you through the mouth of Jesus, the Son of God. You have the blessing and promise of God’s salvation accomplished for you, since God the Son gave Himself for you and rose for you from death to secure God’s grace and everlasting blessing. Therefore, you are strengthened when Jesus speaks the truth to us. His word is the truth that endures. His promise will be the last word, when the way of this world is brought to an end by Him. Thanks be to God that we can take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). Amen.