Thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12
by Jeff Shirley
Introduction: Where True Happiness Lies
In his book entitled ‘Happiness‘ author Randy Alcorn gave this memorable illustration. He said:
“In 1997, thirty-nine members of the cult Heaven’s Gate, led by Marshall Applewhite, participated in a mass suicide. They’d been taught that once they exited their earthly bodies, they would land on a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet. At the time of their death, each member carried a five-dollar bill and three quarters. Why? To pay an interplanetary toll.
Most of us shake our heads in amazement at this kind of gullibility. Yet we fail to see the futility of our own attempts to find happiness. Many people try the age-old practices of turning to money, sex, power, beauty, sports, nature, music, art, education, work, or celebrity for happiness. In the end, each of these proves as big a lie as a spaceship on a comet’s tail. The problem for the Heaven’s Gate followers wasn’t that they trusted too much; it was that they trusted the wrong person. Only Jesus was worthy of their trust. Only he could have granted them, in this life and for eternity, the deep and lasting happiness they sought.”
If what Rand Alcorn says is true, and I believe it is, then the best person to listen to In order to find out how to acquire true inner happiness and peace is our Lord Himself.
As we look at the greatest sermon that Jesus ever gave, the Sermon on the Mount, Christ begins with the secrets to true eternal happiness. And they aren’t what we or anyone living in this world would expect.
The first 12 verses of this great sermon have become known as the Beatitudes. The term beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful. Far more than “happiness”, however, the word often translated as “blessed” in these teachings has been defined as an “exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God”.
The Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes was originally given in the context of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the people of Israel for whom He had come as Messiah. However, they are also timeless words that all of God’s people in this age of grace, or any age, can learn from as well.
However, before we get into the actual Beatitudes, let us first learn more about the Sermon from which we get these wonderful teachings.
I. What is the Sermon on the Mount?
The Sermon on the Mount is the name given to the famous sermon which Jesus delivered in Matthew 5-7. It’s name is derived from verses 1 and 2 where it states:
“Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them…”
Some people have called the sermon Jesus’ manifesto. A manifesto is a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer. Though not originally written, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus putting it all out there on the table regarding His vision for the future which He called the Kingdom of Heaven and what it takes to enter and live as a citizen of that Kingdom.
The teachings of the sermon are often referred to as the Ethics of the Kingdom because they place a high level of emphasis on “purity of the heart” and embody the basic standard of being a Christian.
I like what John MacArthur has to say about this section of Scripture. He tells us:
The Sermon on the Mount introduces a series of 5 important discourses recorded in Matthew. This sermon is a masterful exposition of the law and a potent assault on Pharisaic legalism, closing with a call to true faith and salvation.
Christ expounded the full meaning of the law showing that it’s demands were humanly impossible. This is the proper use of the law with respect to salvation. It closes off every possible avenue of human merit and leaves sinners dependent on nothing but divine grace for salvation. Jesus plumbed the depth of the law, showing that its true demands went far beyond the surface meaning of the words and set a standard that is higher than the most diligent students of the law had, up to this point, revealed.”
With all of this in mind, let us look at the opening 12 verses of this great sermon, called the Beatitudes.
II. The Pursuit of Happiness
As we mentioned, people seek happiness in many ways but most are searching for it in all of the wrong places. The word ‘blessed’ that was used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is derived from the Greek word ‘makarios’ which translates into ‘happy’ or ‘blissful’ But here it speaks of more than a surface emotion. Jesus was rather describing the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to those who place their faith in the one true God.
It is interesting that the Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to real heavenly bliss or contentment is totally opposite of what the world tries to tell us. There are any number of rich and famous people who can attest to this in their own lives. For example, there is the singer Elvis Presley. Six weeks before he died, a reporter asked him:
“Elvis, when you first started playing music, you said you wanted to be rich, famous and happy. Are you happy?”
“I’m very lonely!” he replied.
The man who had everything that riches and fame could buy and was surrounded constantly by people. He came to the end of his life, lonely. That is what this world and all of it’s promise of happiness and pleasure ultimately leads to. Oh, you may find moments or even days of what passes as happiness. But it will come to an end. And even the most successful life ends in death.
On the other hand, Jesus, after sitting down to teach, begins his words on heavenly bliss by saying that:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (5:3)
The word for poor in spirit is the same word used for a beggar on the street. It is the sense of one who has nothing and knows it. It is the very opposite of self-sufficiency. The word speaks of a deep humility in recognizing one’s spiritual bankruptcy apart from God. It is referring to those who are acutely aware of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from divine grace. They are the ones who will get into or receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
Most think that they have something that they can offer God. They really don’t. However, they are not humble enough to realize it. That is why they won’t turn to Christ for salvation. And they will not make it into God’s forever Kingdom.
The next thing that Jesus tells His crowd of followers is:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (5:4).
This is talking about those who mourn over their sin. It is the godly sorrow that leads to repentance and ultimately to Jesus. These persons receive the comfort of forgiveness and salvation.
In the next beatitude Jesus continues with the 180 degree difference between His idea of happiness and that of the world. In this life, many people think that they are going to be happy by using their strength to triumph over others, stepping over people to get to the top. Jesus rather says:
“Blessed are the meek (i.e. gentle), for they shall inherit the earth.” (5:5)
Meekness or gentleness is the opposite of being out of control. It isn’t weakness but is rather strength under control. The classic word used for meekness often referred to a horse that had been bridled and tamed.
Jesus here could have used Himself to demonstrate this trait. He was and is the Creator and the One Sustaining the universe, and yet He let people mock Him and scourge Him and ultimately allowed them to crucify Him. He could have wiped them out with a single word, yet He chose to control Himself and His powers because He knew it was for the greater good of humanity and for the glory of God.
That is the kind of control that our Lord is talking about and which we can only have by the strength of His Spirit living in us.
A fourth beatitude that Jesus gave is:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (5:6).
This is the very opposite of self-righteousness. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had that in spades. This is rather the righteousness that comes to those who seek God’s way of righteousness by grace through faith rather than attempting to manufacture or establish their own. What they seek will fill them. It will satisfy their hunger and thirst for a right relationship with their God.
The fifth beatitude is:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Mercy is compassion given to a person to whom it is in one’s capacity to harm. God is a God of both mercy and grace. Mercy is the act of withholding deserved punishment, while grace is the act of endowing unmerited favor. In His mercy, God does not give us the punishment we deserve, namely hell; while in His grace, God gives us the gift we do not deserve, namely heaven.
Mercy should characterize the follower of Jesus Christ because we first received mercy from Him. If we truly know who we are in Christ, then how can we withhold mercy from others? And by doing it we find that being merciful is another way to obtain spiritual fulfillment and happiness.
Jesus continues with the 6th beatitude by telling His followers:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
To be pure in heart is to be clean or cleansed from sin. That comes from a right relationship with God through faith. A man who isn’t saved is not clean. He is tainted with sin and cannot stand before a Holy God. True spiritual happiness comes in having your soul cleansed by the Lord so that you are able to stand before Him and be in His presence forever.
Beatitude number 7 is:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (5:9)
It is so easy to add to the fighting and division in this world. It is literally everywhere. Just look at the daily news and you’ll see it. Peacemakers are those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war; who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits and hostilities in families and neighborhoods. He or she is someone who reconciles people with God and with one another. Peacemaking, as such, requires taking the initiative to get involved in conflicts with the intention of building bridges between the parties at odds.
In this way we become more like the God that we serve. In several Scriptures our Lord is referred to as the God of peace. (e.g. Philippians 4:9; Hebrews 13:20).
The God of peace is the one who makes peace. This is the primary sense in which the writer of Hebrews is talking in Hebrews 13:20. He is talking about God being the God of peace in the sense that He is the source of peace and the maker of peace, and, as a result, the one who gives peace. The peace that we enjoy is a result of the peace that God has made.
And the more we seek to make peace ourselves, the more we will be like the one who is the great Peacemaker, our God and Savior.
The final beatitude covers the last 3 verses of this section (10-12). Jesus tells his hearers:
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The world hates the follower of Jesus Christ as they hated Christ when He was on this earth. It hates us because we point out their sins by our life and show them their need for God. They hate God and don’t want Him to rule over them. They hate His Word and don’t want to be held accountable for their sin.
We can be happy because of the fact that being persecuted for righteousness sake brings great rewards in Heaven. Nothing that we go through for Jesus Christ will ultimately go unnoticed by God. He will repay us for all that we’ve gone through. And further, we join a long line of saints, such as the prophets, that were persecuted for righteousness and for God They made a great difference by their stand on this earth and so will those who follow their example.
As we come to an end of our small study on the beatitudes it becomes clear that they are indeed radical to all that the world holds dear and the things to which it looks to find fulfillment. Accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and following Him is the answer to meaning and joy in this life. And He is the answer to continuing happiness in the next life for all eternity.
Someone has said that: “Naming the poor, the weak, the mourning and the hungry “blessed” was deliberately shocking. Such language requires a firm belief that God’s kingdom is on its way. Without this, the beatitudes are airy platitudes, or worse, condescending justifications of human misery. Belief in the coming kingdom makes each of these statements a promise of salvation.”
The church today is looking for the return of Jesus Christ in the air to take us to be with Him forever (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). As we look forward to Jesus’ coming back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to whom every knee will bow one day, it makes us realize that there are greater things ahead of us to look forward to than we have yet experienced. And they are things that this world with all of its attempts at happiness with never know.
May we not be fooled by those who will try to lead us away from all that the Lord offers us in this life and the one to come. And by our lives, let us demonstrate that in following Christ we have lost nothing. For the world without Christ really hasn’t anything of lasting value to offer us.
Rather than losing something, we have gained a wonderful future full of promise and hope. Knowing these things, may we always seek our happiness and fulfillment in Him alone. For He is the only one who can truly give it to us.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley