Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus Christ stands at the heart and center of everything we are spiritually and everything we do religiously. We belong to Jesus. Jesus is our Lord as well as being our Savior. We are saved because of Jesus. We are forgiven because of Jesus. We can be children of God because of Jesus. Nothing is more important than understanding Jesus. All proper Christian knowledge begins with a proper understanding of Jesus. A proper knowledge of the epistles begins with an accurate understanding of Jesus. Paul urged Christians to develop the mind of Christ.

I want to begin my Sunday evening studies with you by reaffirming and advancing our understanding of Jesus. I want to begin our focus on Jesus by developing an overview of the longest recorded sermon of Jesus in the gospels, the Sermon on the Mount.

This evening I want us to examine Jesus' description of a righteous person by looking at what we call the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.

  1. Important background considerations:
    1. Matthew 5:1 states that Jesus gave these teachings to his disciples.
      1. Though a massive crowd of people continued to follow him, he created a context in which he could address his disciples.
        1. He went up on a hill and sat down.
        2. His disciples gathered around him.
      2. It is particularly important that we understand that he is teaching disciples.
        1. These are people who have already committed themselves to follow Jesus for the purpose of learning anything he wants to teach them.
        2. They have already accepted the fact that he is the teacher, and that nothing is more important than learning from him.
        3. These are people that belong to him, that follow him on a day-by-day basis who are committed to learn anything and everything that he can teach them.
        4. They are not there to question or challenge; they are there to understand.
    2. It is equally important to understand that Jesus is teaching his disciples a totally different concept of religion, of spirituality, of relationship with God, and of relationship with people.
      1. The most influential voice, the most powerful religious teachers in Israel, are the Pharisees.
        1. The concepts and teachings of the Pharisees were accepted as being truth by "the man on the street" in Palestine.
        2. The positions and thoughts of the Pharisees were so commonly accepted and had been so commonly accepted for such a lengthy period of time that they represented what most Jews accepted to be the "way things are."
      2. In this sermon, and in much of Jesus' teachings, he is contrasting his teachings and concepts with the thoughts and understandings that the common Jewish population accepted without question or doubt.
      3. This contrast was very evident to those who seriously listened to his teachings.
        1. Jesus is not merely telling them something different.
        2. He is sharing with them thoughts and revelations that radically oppose what they always accepted, always understood to be the truth of the scriptures.

  2. Interestingly, Jesus begins this series of contrasts between himself and the Pharisees by presenting his description of the righteous person.
    1. The beatitudes are a composite description of Jesus' righteous person.
      1. He is not talking about eight different kinds of people who follow God.
      2. He is talking about basic qualities of righteousness that are typical of the person that God acknowledges to be righteous.
    2. Those eight qualities are:
      1. The righteous person is poor in spirit, or, he or she recognizes his or her spiritual poverty and owns that spiritual poverty.
      2. The righteous person mourns, or, because he or she sees and owns his or her spiritual poverty, he or she is grieved because that poverty exists.
      3. The righteous person is meek, or gentle, or under control.
      4. The righteous person is famished for righteousness--he or she has a consuming appetite for righteousness, that is what he or she wants and wants to become.
      5. The righteous person is merciful--the person who abuses them, or offends them, or hurts them, or treats them unjustly will receive mercy, not justice; and the righteous person will extend mercy to those who have failed.
      6. The righteous person is devoted to developing and having a pure heart; he or she does not merely want to look pure in deeds; he or she wants to be pure within.
      7. The righteous person is a peacemaker; he or she is the kind of person who can help those who are alienated find reconciliation.
      8. The righteous person is willing to endure suffering and mistreatment for Jesus' sake.

  3. Jesus' description of a righteous person stood in total contrast, stark contrast with the Pharisees' concept of a righteous person--and remember that was the commonly accepted definition of righteous person at that time.
    1. The Pharisees' description of a righteous person was the exact opposite of Jesus' description.
      1. The righteous person was a religiously accomplished person (he had no spiritual poverty to own).
        1. By virtue of his accomplishments, he knew he was right, he knew he had God's truth.
        2. He could say, as the Pharisees did to Jesus, "By what authority do you do these things?"
        3. He could say, "We have Moses on our side, and we are descendants of Abraham."
        4. He could tell you in detail what was right and what was wrong in any situation.
      2. The righteous person took pride in his religious achievements (he had nothing religiously to mourn).
        1. In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican who were praying at the temple, the Pharisee in his prayer is a superb example (Luke 18:9-14).
          1. God, I thank you that I am not like other people who do not do your will.
          2. I don't swindle, I am not unjust, I don't commit adultery, and I don't take advantage of other people.
          3. I fast two times every week.
          4. I give you ten percent of everything I receive, no matter how big or small it is.
        2. I am proud of what I am not, and I am proud of what I do.
      3. The righteous person was aggressive as he opposed those he declared to be God's enemies (meekness or gentleness was weakness).
        1. Like the Pharisees did when they came from Jerusalem to Galilee to examine the deeds and teachings of Jesus.
        2. Like the Pharisees as they followed Jesus searching for mistakes as they were doing when they saw his disciples stripping raw grain and eating it on a Sabbath.
        3. Like the Pharisees, who were certain Jesus was evil, and plotted to discredit and destroy him.
      4. The righteous person was knowledgeable (he had no need to hunger for righteousness); he did not seek understanding--he dispersed understanding. He fed those who were starved to understand.
        1. Jesus never taught the Pharisees one thing.
        2. They were always certain they understood and Jesus did not, they were right and Jesus was wrong, and they had the right interpretation of God's will and Jesus was misrepresenting God's will.
      5. The righteous person exercised righteous indignation (mercy compromised God's will).
        1. It was an act of righteousness to trap someone that you declared was teaching error.
        2. It was an act of righteousness to falsely accuse and discredit someone who was doing what you declared to be evil.
        3. It was an act of righteousness to destroy a person who was a religious threat to what you knew was right.
      6. The righteous person was ceremonially pure; he ate the right things, washed his hands the right way, practiced the commands regarding body purity--purity existed in how you used your body, not your emotions, not your motivations, not your inner being.
        1. Purity had nothing to do with the mind and the heart.
        2. Purity concerned only your body.
        3. Is it not easy to see how that reasoning could lead to the mock trials and execution of Jesus?
      7. The righteous person was devoted to justice, to condemning the wrong doers, to destroying those who violated the commandments (not to making peace).
        1. It was perfectly consistent with the Pharisees' concept of righteousness to bring the woman captured while committing adultery to Jesus and say, "The law says kill her, so what do you say?"
      8. Obviously, from this description of righteousness, a righteous person would not endure suffering in loyalty to Jesus--in this definition the righteous person would inflict suffering on those who were loyal to Jesus.

  4. Those who accepted and lived by the Pharisees' description of a righteous person became hardened, inflexible, judgmental people who did evil things for what they declared to be godly purposes.
    1. They were cold and unsympathetic to the failures and struggles of others.
    2. They became emotional deserts and loveless religious robots who always went through the motions of doing the declared right thing without feeling and without faith as God defines faith.

  5. Those who would accept Jesus' description of a righteous person:
    1. Had citizenship in God's kingdom.
    2. Would receive comfort for their spiritual grief.
    3. Would endure in this world.
    4. Would have their craving for righteousness satisfied.
    5. Would receive mercy when they made mistakes and failings.
    6. Would see God.
    7. Would be called God's children.
    8. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Those who are righteous by Jesus' description become warm, alive, and filled with kindness, love, and compassion just as was Jesus. The righteousness Jesus described will make us Christ-like.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 17 November 1996
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