Matthew 5:1-6
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 5, 2024

Two college students, one a Christian and the other a skeptic, were close friends who felt comfortable enough in their friendship to good-naturedly rib each other about their differing views.  The skeptic once said, “You are a Christian weakling who turns to your imaginary Big Daddy in the sky because you can’t handle life on your own.  Conversely, I take responsibility for my life and am a self-made man.”  The Christian gave it right back at him saying, “Your taking full responsibility for who you’ve become must relieve Your Creator of a lot of shame and regret.”

The fundamental decision in life each of us has to make is about the ultimate location of our trust and thereby the ultimate location of our hope – our hope of becoming the best version of ourselves and attaining life at its best.  While we all recognize we have to rely somewhat on others, skeptics rely first and foremost on themselves; and Christians, on God. The most decisive choice any of us ever have to make is our choice of our chief source for hope.

By the time Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, there were, Matthew 7 says, “crowds” of folks listening to Him.  But when Jesus started the Sermon, Matthew 5 says, there were just the disciples.  In fact, it says, Jesus had climbed the mountain to get away from the crowds, with the disciples climbing up after Him.

To rightly understand the Sermon on the Mount, we do well to bear in mind that, while it has something to say to everyone, it was first directed to a small, self-selected group of people who had in a real sense already entered into the kingdom of heaven by having already entered into a relationship with Jesus, its King.  Though Peter and the rest did not yet accurately grasp who Jesus was or think about Him along orthodox lines, they had experienced the reality of His love and had in turn come to love Him enough to leave their old life behind and follow Him wherever He’d choose to go.

Hence, while the Sermon does show us how to commence a revolution of our life by living it with Jesus, it simultaneously shows us how to complete that revolution once we’ve committed to following Him.

The Sermon is only secondarily a prescription of actions to take to attain life at its best; it is primarily an invitation to take a counter-intuitive approach to life that keeps us close to Jesus, who Himself will revolutionize our life.  The Sermon does not instruct us how to accomplish something ourselves but how to allow Jesus to bring about what we never could on our own. Though the Sermon urges us to certain actions, they are not offered as the means by which we obtain God’s willingness to work for us the wonders of His love, but as the means by which we give Him our permission and thus the freedom to work them for us and change who we are and how we live.

Jesus refers to life at its best as the state of being “blessed” – or happy, healthy and whole with God.  He begins the Sermon by identifying, through the eight beatitudes, who it is who knows such blessedness.  Today we look at but the first four beatitudes.  We must note these identifiers of the blessed point more to the attitudes they take than the achievements they make.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says first.  Happy, healthy and whole are those who are anything but rich in self-confidence.  They are those who know they don’t have within themselves the resources to reach the life for which they long, and thus know better than to trust in their own capabilities alone.  That makes them aware and keeps them aware of their need for God.  When people know their need for God, they look to Him early and often to provide what they lack.  And that looking upward for help from outside of themselves opens the way God for to enter their lives and give them what they can’t give themselves.  It makes the kingdom of heaven theirs!

Blessed too, Jesus says, are “those who mourn” – those who grieve all the losses this world inflicts, including the loss of opportunity to make the most of life.  Their awareness of their missed chances causes them to seek consolation and readies them to welcome God when He in compassion draws near to comfort them.

Blessed as well, Jesus says, are “the meek”: those who have no sense of entitlement and thus refrain from throwing their weight around and bullying others to get their way, as if they have a right to it.  The meek see themselves as no more deserving than anyone else of getting their way.  So they don’t try to assert their preferred priority over that of everyone else.  Realizing they’re not the center of the world, they grow motivated to seek the One who is the center of the world and who seeks to bless everyone all out of proportion to their deserving.  Such modest, unassuming folks may hope to inherit the earth!

Finally, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”.  Such people are happy, healthy and whole, not by virtue of being already righteous, but by virtue of so longing to be that they pursue righteousness no matter how far they have to go or how it long it takes.  They persist in the pursuit even while they accept having to be patient about reaching their goal.  They are blessed because they believe their desire will one day be satisfied and God will fill them with His righteousness.

The point in talking about hungering and thirsting for righteousness is not that to get righteous we have to want it enough – as if righteousness were a reward for our degree of fervor for it.  Rather the point is that, to get righteous, we have to realize we’re not right and can’t get right apart from God.  It is to have that poverty of spirit Jesus said makes the kingdom of heaven one’s own.   God cannot make the self-satisfied or the self-content righteous because they refuse to give up their hope in themselves and thus refuse to give themselves over to God.  Only those who face and embrace their need for grace put their self-development into the hands of the only One who can make it happen.

The first four beatitudes don’t describe what we must make ourselves in order to have our life revolutionized.  We don’t have to make ourselves anything at all.  For our best life begins, not with ourselves, but with Jesus; and He brings us the best of everything  Our contribution is just to accept the reality of our inability, put our hope in Him alone, turn our life over to Him and follow Him. We just have to own up to the fact that we’re too poor in resources to give ourselves the life we want, too downcast in heart to lift ourselves up, too devoid of any right to claim anything as our due, and too deficient in righteousness to do anything more than hunger and thirst for it.  When we come to the end of ourselves, Jesus takes us as we are and revolutionizes our life!

To whom does the kingdom of heaven belong?  To those who rest their hope in the right place – that is, in the heart of Jesus the Savior!

Write a comment:

© 2015 Covenant Presbyterian Church
Follow us: