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The 'Beatitudes'

Sunday, 15th April, 2007

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:18-20


Jesus’ commission to his disciples is the foundation of our understanding of mission. We are commanded to “go and make disciples” which immediately raises the question what do we mean by disciple? What is discipleship? The men and women who were with him on this occasion would have had no difficulty with this. They had followed him for up to three years, learning what it meant to be a disciple, practising discipleship and watching Jesus. And that is where we must always begin our understanding. Discipleship is following Jesus. But to understand what that means we have not only to read the gospels and learn what and how Jesus behaved but we have to understand the underlying mind set that Jesus had which discipleship a passion rather than an obligation.


So we go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the “sermon on the mount” and to the beginning of that what are called the beatitudes. In the coming months we will keep coming back to this subject and building on these fundamental principles of discipleship but it is here where we start today.


READ Matthew 5:1-12


The graphics may have been a bit of a shock. But then his teaching is dramatic. A leader of men sits down which is the cultural way of the day, which we reverse, you sit , I stand. In Jesus’ day I would sit and you would stand. Matthew has this event up a mountain because he wants to hint at the Sinai experience of Israel when they met God and heard his voice. This is God speaking to you this morning. And what does he say to you about following him?


1. Blessed are the poor. Blessed or in greek makavrioi can be translated happy but it has a stronger sense here, ‘Deep joy’ inner contentment rather than a superficial smile or fleeting happiness.

9 times Jesus says ‘blessed are’ in this passage. Each one is a shock to our worldly view of life. None of them are what we would look for in life. First up Jesus says that the poor are blessed. OK Matthew has ‘poor in spirit’ but in essence the problem is that if you are not poor in either health or wealth you are unlikely to be poor in spirit. We wealthy and healthy people like to think that we are poor in spirit but Paul pointed out that not many were wise by human standards, not many influential, not many of noble birth were called to become Christians. So what have the poor got that we lack? They have no props , there only hope is in God. The Old Testament is full of the fact that when we have things we forget God.


Deuteronomy 8:3-18 page 187


So, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we have to set aside the fact that we own homes, cars, pension, health insurance. We have to put aside the way Godly people in the past built a safe and secure society and we must throw ourselves into the hands of God. We have to live by faith as if we did not know where our next meal was coming from. Let’s just stop a moment and consider this. Let your mind run over all that you have. Now bless the Lord for giving you so much. Examine your heart and repent of the dependence you have on those gifts rather than the one who gave them to you.


Pause for meditation and prayer.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


Yes, rejoice in the wealth that you have, God invites those who let go of the worldly props and choose to depend on him to join in his Kingdom.


2. Blessed are those who mourn. No way! The loss of a friend or relative is a heaviness on the heart not a joy!  But Jesus understands human life better than we do. The words of a 1970s song “if I’d never loved, I never would have cried” direct us to wards what Jesus is talking about. The pain of being separated from a loved one is good because it tells of the relationship that was there. It is the relationship that brought joy. And too often we think it is TV or nice homes or fancy holidays that bring happiness. Jesus says it is friends and other people that provide lasting happiness. So mourning is a sign that we are missing something of value. And the greatest relationship we can have is with God himself. This blessing comes from understanding what we miss because we have a broken relationship with God. The emptiness in your life and my life cannot be filled by anything other than knowing God himself through Jesus. So Jesus says to you and to me that if only we would understand this and mourn for the lost joy and pleasure of being able to walk and talk with Him and turn to him and seek him. This blessed is a promise that if we mourn our sin and our selfishness and our broken relationship, he offers freely himself to make reconciliation possible, through the death of Jesus on the cross of Golgotha.


3. Blessed are the meek. Meekness is very much misunderstood. Here are some thoughts about it:

Who are not easily provoked to anger; who patiently bear, and put up with injuries and affronts; carry themselves courteously, and affably to all; have the meanest thoughts of themselves, and the best of others; do not envy the gifts and graces of other men; are willing to be instructed and admonished, by the meanest of the saints; quietly submit to the will of God, in adverse dispensations of providence; and ascribe all they have, and are, to the grace of God.

It has the sense of mildness. To inherit the earth the Americans have the largest army, the greatest weaponry. When we were an Empire we had the greatest navy and largest army and strangest industrial base in the world. But Jesus says the meek will inherit the world. The cartoon here reminds us that the mild are walked over. But if relationship is everything, then mildness has to be a key element of our discipleship. The other day the UK government was castigated for being mild in its response to the Iranian capture of 15 British servicemen. But all 15 are free and no war has broken out. Mildness has achieved what all the bombing and killing and posturing has never achieved. It may make the Iranians think we are a pushover but for 15 families it was a salvation and we do still have diplomatic relations with Iran and we are not at war. An act of war was turned around by quiet diplomacy. How often have I told teenagers that strength lies in being able to walk away from the bully rather than take him on . That a fight only proves, who is physically stronger or mentally keener than the other.  But we rarely believe it. The gospel spread throughout the world in spite of it being carried by people who sacrificed their lives rather than the lives of those they went to.

The strong man wants to gain by his strength but we have most to gain by receiving what God wants to give freely through Jesus. You cannot bring to Jesus anything that will satisfy him other than a humble acceptance of his free offer of salvation. 


4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Now we are in the arena of famine. South Ruislip does not look like a desert but it is. It seems that wealth, health, homes, families, self-advancement all flourish here. But it is a desert. The houses are full of selfish people. Self-seeking, pleasure grabbing, full of envy, adultery, hatred, broken relationships, broken marriages, disloyalty, dishonesty, theft. Places where God is mocked, where Sunday is given over to family and DIY, where home, cars, TV, football teams, computer games and self  are worshipped. God is an also ran, useful to blame when I don’t get what I want. Righteousness is in desperately short supply and you can’t seem to buy it anywhere. Are you hungry for God? Are you thirsting for purity  and a clear conscience?  Jesus says to you, today, “I will fill the hungry with good things”. Until we understand that God’s way is something essential to our wellbeing we will always be feeding ourselves on dry leaves, polluted water. Jesus has come and is the living bread and the living water. Being connected to him is like a branch drawing its sap from the tree. God has always had a plan for the most beautiful rich and healthy life. It is the life of the disciple, where righteousness is valued above anything else. And this righteousness is available free, today for you, now. It is Jesus.


5. Happy are the merciful. Jesus is not a soft touch. In his pattern prayer he said “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Here we have to understand mercy is not only received because we are offered it by Jesus, it has to be given to others. A saved sinner knows “but for the grace of God go I” The disciple has no superiority on another’s sin. Even when the sin is against him, he is called to be merciful and so receives the blessing of a restored relationship with his brother or sister and the restored relationship with God.


6. Blessed are the pure in heart. Are you getting the point about discipleship? It is about your heart and mind. Discipleship starts and finishes with your relationship with Jesus. The rest is all the outflow of the love that comes through Jesus to you and out to others. Our thoughts, our motives, our passions have to be pure. This is a crunch point. I maybe able to give mercy, seek righteousness, act meekly, mourn my sin, and be poor in spirit but I cannot make myself love from a pure heart, care for pure motives, be driven by pure passions unless my heart and mind are transformed by the Holy Spirit. When we talk of being filled with the Holy Spirit, this is what we mean. It is when the Holy Spirit is allowed by us to take control of our inner person then and only then do we think and act from pure motives. Then and only then does the outflow of our lives become an expression of the love of God that was in Christ Jesus. It is then that we enter that special relationship that Moses had way back at Sinai, where he had a face to face with God.


7. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus was a peacemaker. He came to bring you peace with God. In doing so he made peace with your fellow humans possible. Peacemaking is imitating Jesus. So when you seek to make peace you are being a disciple. Whether it is making peace with a husband or wife, brother or sister, father or daughter, neighbour or colleague, family or nation, making peace is our business. Making war is the work of the devil. That is not to say that the disciple is a pacifist, but that the only justification of war is defensive, to protect from an aggressor. The United Nations is often seen as weak and unable to act but it essentially is there to allow nations to speak peace to one another. When they will not, then it cannot operate. The role of peacemaker sometimes is very hard as deeply entrenched bitterness and hatred requires mercy and forgiveness to break out. That is a work of God. That is what Jesus did on the cross. He stepped into our world and gave himself to bring about peace with God.


8. Blessed are those who are persecuted. These is repeated with “Blessed are you when men revile you…” You need to understand that being a disciple is not a path to everyone else’s approval. In fact you are more likely to be hated because you are a living declaration that self and sin is wrong. That everything this world values is rubbish. That what matters is treasure in heaven. All the 7 other “blessed” will lead to you being persecuted. But Jesus says be glad, rejoice because you have the kingdom, you have the rewards in heaven, you have Jesus.


So what have we learnt about discipleship? It is about being

1.      poor in spirit,

2.      mourning,

3.      being meek

4.      hungering and thirsting for righteousness,

5.      being merciful

6.      having a pure heart

7.      being a peacemaker

8.      being persecuted.

9.      being insulted and abused.


And why should you be happy with this?

1.      Because the poor in spirit have the kingdom of Heaven

2.      The mourners will be comforted

3.      The meek will inherit the earth

4.      Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be filled

5.      The merciful will obtain mercy

6.      The pure in heart will see God

7.      The peacemakers will be called sons of God

8.      The persecuted also have the kingdom of God

9.      The insulted and abused have their reward in heaven.







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