verse II – the beatitudes – matthew 5:1-12
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 5 – 7) has challenged, inspired and perplexed believers, non-believers, and scholars for nearly two millennia. Its meaning and purpose has been debated and argued over. Some have suggested that it is impossible to live, as a matter of practicality, these words of Yeshua/Jesus; but I greatly appreciate this view of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, “Our Lord taught these things, and He expects us to live them.” As difficult as some of these words might appear to be, with careful consideration of the culture, context and their linguistic textual base, we can make these words relevant to our lives today.
This will be the primary focus of this aspect of the Song of the Mountains series (the other the being the Ten Commandments): practical application to the words of Messiah Yeshua as given in this, the greatest of all sermons.
We begin by asking the question, “What led Yeshua to give such a teaching?”
As we read in Matthew 5:1, Yeshua saw the multitudes following Him. Recorded earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Yeshua traveled throughout the Galilee teaching of the Kingdom of God, and healing people of all afflictions (Matt. 4:24). As He did so, His reputation grew and word spread about this wonder working rabbi, and people began to follow Him – some out of curiosity, others seeking hope. Seeing them, He goes up on a mount, probably just north of Capernaum; and if tradition is correct, the setting of a natural amphitheater.
Matthew provides very Jewish details to stress the importance of what Yeshua is about to say: He ascended “the mountain,” an allusion to Sinai; “He was seated,” rabbis always sat to teach; and “He opened His mouth,” signifying that what He was about to say is of extreme importance to those listening.
Matthew then records the 107 verses of this sermon.
Keeping this in mind, we can understand with a bit more clarity, why Yeshua begins this sermon the way He does. The sermon corrects not only commonly accepted interpretations of the Torah, both formal and informal traditions, it also corrects the hearts of those in covenant relationship with the Living God. What should be the character and conduct of the people of God? And after His ascension, what should be the character and conduct of the people of God empowered by the Holy Spirit?
Yeshua, seeing so many beginning to follow Him, describes in great detail the cost of discipleship, in order that we give serious consideration to what it means to follow Him. As the great Christian theologian Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” So to properly understand the Sermon on the Mount, we must recognize that to follow Messiah is to walk along the way of humbling; as Yeshua taught, “And whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
We begin, therefore, with the Beatitudes.
In Matthew 5:3 we read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Dr. N.T. Wright translates this accurately, but with a bit more contemporary language, “Blessings on the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.”
Each of the nine statements of the Beatitudes begin with the word “blessed.” Μακάριος, in the Greek means “happy, blessed, and fortunate;” as does the Hebrew אַשְׁרֵי which would have been spoken. The use of אַשְׁרֵי, is found not only in the teachings of Yeshua but also in the psalms, and rabbinic literature. “Blessed/happy/fortunate” also suggests “approval.” We understand the use of “blessed” in these opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount to be saying this, if I might paraphrase: “Happy are those who have been chosen, approved by God to be…poor in spirit…who mourn…who are meek…” etc.
Often when we read “poor in spirit,” we wonder, “what on earth does this mean?” Yeshua, by speaking these three simple words, invites those of us who are broken, hopeless, helpless, empty or in despair to follow Him. He is giving value to our condition. Additionally, He is signifying the condition likely to develop in the lives of those who will follow Him.
Some of us feel or have felt “poor in spirit” as believers during times of difficulty; but the experience of brokenness, of helplessness as described here by Yeshua is not a passing experience, rather, it is the very foundation of the messianic life that is ever with us – because it is from this foundation that the Lord God can and will help us, use us, reform us, and most importantly, save us. We never mature from brokenness before God. We might for a time experience other aspects of messianic living, but this brokenness is the hallmark of our calling by God. Therefore, Yeshua says “happy,” “approved,” are those who are “poor in spirit.”
This brokenness, or poverty of spirit is recognition that before the Lord God we have no power to bargain, or place from which we could bargain. But as we mature in faith, our brokenness becomes an acceptable sacrifice unto the Lord and the very foundation of our discipleship with Yeshua. As the psalmist wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
This poverty of spirit, brokenness before God ushers us into His Kingdom by faith in He who is above all – a Kingdom that is inhabitable, internal and that will be inherited because of Yeshua and the sufficiency of His grace.
Before we move on to “those who mourn,” it is important for us to recognize that there is a sequence to the Beatitudes, as one prompts the next – and it is all of these working together in us that allows us to apply the words of Yeshua in our daily lives. Yeshua is not telling us to identify with a specific beatitude; rather, He is explaining how we should be – the nature of our character in faith.
Matthew 5:4 reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Theologian John Stott suggested that this might easily be translated as “Happy are the unhappy.” What we might want to ask ourselves is this, is Messiah Yeshua really speaking specifically of mourning, as in the loss of a loved one? I suggest not within this context, although certainly, those who mourn the loss of a loved one are comforted.
Following the blessedness of the “poor in spirit,” this mourning is a sorrow or lament over our condition. “Mourning,” πενθέω, in the Greek, is a grief or sorrow of the heart that causes us to weep. Mourning is the outward expression of our brokenness; brokenness that can no longer be hidden away but overflows in order to be comforted.
We experience through the brokenness of spirit, a revelation of His holiness in His Kingdom, which causes us to recognize our condition as sinners and mourn. However, this goes one step further, past the mourning for our own condition – to mourning for the condition of humanity.
Still, there is the promise of “comfort.” As Isaiah stood before the Lord in his great vision of Isaiah 6, he recognized his impurity, he then mourned but was comforted by the cleansing. Further, Isaiah records the consolation chapters of his prophecy from chapter 40 onward.
It is important for us to recognize that Isaiah could have seen his condition, mourned and walked away; this would have been ineffectual suffering, rather than effectual suffering – the recognition that the trial or circumstance we face, even when it causes us to mourn, is from God. We are then comforted by the presence and work of God in our lives (Ro. 8:28-29).
How are we comforted? By the παράκλητος, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (Jn. 14:16) who walks along with us and reminds us that this trial is for the purpose of Heaven and that it will end. As Yeshua says in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
I am sure that reading of poverty of spirit and mourning is not how many of us would like to spend our time. Yet, there is a profound message in this – As it was given by the Word made flesh! – that in our humbling, He is bringing us to Himself, as in His Kingdom, the only way up is down.
Shalom. Be well.