Matthew 5:1-12 Common English Bible (CEB)
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. 2 He taught them, saying:
3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
6 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
7 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
8 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
9 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
10 “Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
11 “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. 12 Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.
I would invite you to recall last week where Jesus called four of the disciples and showed them about witnessing to the Good News. “Jesus travelled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom …” [Matthew 4:23] Good news … “Happy are people …” The crowds are gathering, and Jesus launches into his first public “sermon,” and where does he begin? “Happy are people who …”
One of the biggest industry marketing techniques in the world today is promising happiness through their product. Get rid of your old car, get rid of unwanted pounds, get rid of wrinkles … the list goes on and on. One of the ways to happiness, they tell us, is to get rid of the things that make us unhappy. Kennen Kallahan was a church growth guru probably 30 years ago. One of the enduring principles he championed was the difference between reducing dissatisfaction and producing satisfaction. He points out that we can take care of all of the places around our buildings and programs – fixing all the problems – and we still won’t have a church that is growing. He says we have to do things to produce satisfaction as well as those intended to reduce dissatisfaction. Our tendency it to want to remove all external challenges, roadblocks, discomforts, etc. thinking that without them we will be happy. If only …
Listen to 5:10-11, “10 “Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.” We are supposed to be “happy” when we are picked on?! Foolishness! No! The world needs to change and quit persecuting us! So, maybe we need to look at our definition of “happy.” The more traditional translations have always used “blessed.” Blessed or happy? Happy, in today’s world, has certain connotations. Happy is the accumulation of wealth or power or status. It is having the right things, the right friends, the right job, the right investments. It is being free from problems and comfortable. We have to remember that Jesus spoke in a Semitic context – he was a Jew and was speaking to people who understood that mindset. Consider Psalm 1:1-2. “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing those things, these persons love the Lord’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!” The concept is “Ashre.” Ashre is a focal point outside themselves, something worth focusing on. They were trying to stay in good stead with God. We could say, from a more modern point of view, ‘happiness derives from a right relationship with God.’ It is an internal thing – God’s ways written on our hearts determine our happiness, rather than external circumstances being responsible for our happiness.
This is a truly radical concept to the Jew of Jesus’ time. They didn’t envision a relationship with God. God had set down rules and practices you had to follow. The tendency was to do things to appease God – sacrifices for sin, following rules to avoid punishment. But a relationship with God? Foolishness! It would be like the Greeks: who would ever think of having a relationship with Zeus – the god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order and justice? Foolishness! You don’t have a relationship with Zeus. No, you just appease the gods so they won’t punish you. You appease the gods to obtain favor.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul speaks about the foolishness of God’s working. 18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” [! Corinthians 18-19 & 22-25] The cross, Christ crucified – neither of these seem very wise. Yet, God’s wisdom is that we would rely fully on Jesus who defeated death. God’s wisdom is that we would endure and even thrive despite our circumstances because of our relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Beatitudes Jesus paints a picture of how a living relationship with him helps to move us through hopelessness, grief, persecution, and the like, and builds a strong life. The nine beatitudes are about relationship with God and with each other. They describe the relationship that God is inviting us to enter with Him and with each other. Let’s start with the first category – a relationship with God. Happy are the poor in Spirit. This is a matter of realizing our dependence on God – we are hopeless without God in our lives. Then, there is happy as we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Notice it is not our own righteousness we are seeking. In this endeavor we can only fail. Remember what Paul said about the universal state of humanity – “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The righteousness that Jesus is talking about can only come about through a relationship with God. And, finally, happy are the pure in heart. We have that pure heart, not because we don’t make mistakes, but because we are not double minded, trying to serve God and serve the desires of the world. Consider the results of these three “happy” statements. We will inherit the kingdom of heaven. We will be fed God’s righteousness until we are full - made whole. We will “see God.” Amazing statements of our relationship with God.
We know we are in a real relationship when what hurts the heart of the other hurts us. In my relationship with Janna, when she struggles, I feel the struggle as well. In a Native American blessing, it is said that “when one cries the other tastes salt.” Jesus says, “happy are people who grieve…” On one level, we are reminded that the loss of a loved one causes us grief, but we know where they are and that we will see them again in heaven. But I believe Jesus is calling us to another level. Happy are those who mourn the broken state of humanity that hurts God’s heart. When it also hurts our heart, we know we are more aligned with God. Our gladness will come as we see God’s transformation in people and the world. We will be glad for God!
The next category of relationship is relationship with others. Think about the beatitudes on the meek (humble), showing mercy, and making peace. These tend to point us toward relationship with others around us and around the world. Humble people are an open door to relationship. It is hard to think of getting close with a braggard or a know it all. Someone who admits their faults and humbly seeks to do better is easier to approach. Surrounding mercy, Jesus told us to show mercy because we have been shown mercy. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The peacemakers build relationships through their actions. Sometimes being in relationship is more important that being right. Marriage is a great example of that. And the results of our relationships with other? The world becomes our family – inheriting the earth, we will receive mercy ourselves, and we are God’s children!
Ultimately, it is only through a right relationship with God that we can withstand the trials of life, and even flourish. This takes us back to where we began. Jesus says, “be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven.” The ultimate result of God’s foolishness – We are always blessed no matter the circumstances.
Pastor Paul Grossman