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Jul 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 23, 2017 – Matthew 5:1-3

Sinners In the Hands of A Loving Savior

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:1-3

Intro: In American history, a few sermons have become legandary

Early on, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners In the Hands of An Angry God” (1741)
– in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”
– more recently, Anthony Campolo, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s A Comin’”

For spiritual depth and beauty, none come close to Jesus’ “Sermon On the Mount”
– but is it really a sermon?
• if we back up a few steps, we come to Jesus’
◦ birth, baptism, temptations and the beginning of his ministry
• he then invited four men away from fishing to a new vocation
◦ these recruits needed training – a re-education
– his teaching here is more revelation than “sermon”
• and it was meant to transform his followers
• for them to deliver the message, they had to become the message

Jesus introduces his message with a list of Beatitudes

Some people see a linear progression in these blessings
– a ladder or learning the alphabet so you will be able to read
• this is how I used to understand the Beatitudes
◦ but this model implies you master the first rung, then next, etc.
• this does not appear to be the case in lived-experience
◦ I find myself returning to first, then maybe the fourth, and so on
– Jesus is assisting the person whose soul is reaching out for God
• he is helping them find their way to God’s kingdom
◦ so he reveals what defines a citizen of the kingdom of heaven
• the qualities (attributes? virtues?) all go and work together
◦ the healthy soul is an integrated soul

Matthew provides the setting for Jesus’ teaching

Crowds have gathered from near and far (Mt. 4:25)
– it seems that the sight of them triggered something in Jesus
• he left them, walked away, and hiked up a mountain
• he had not invited them to follow, but he welcomed them
– the Bible treats mountains, hills, even mounds in special way
• these elevated spaces made a strong impression on Hebrew consciousness
◦ they were perceived as haunts for demons or gods–scary or sacred, but not neutral
◦ later, three disciples had a sacred mountain experience (not symbolic, but literal; Mt. 17:1-8)
◦ perhaps here, it was Jesus’ symbolic ascent to sacred space
• Matthew refers to those who came as disciples – trainees

The fourth century theologian/preacher, Gregory of Nyssa asked, “Who here is an apprentice of the Word such that he is willing to climb up the hillside from the valley of shallow living to the spiritual mountain of breathtaking prayerfulness?” (Michael Glerup’s paraphrase, IVP)

The text moves up and then down – Jesus climbed up, then sat down
– we’re told this was the usual posture of Rabbis when they taught
• but there were seats and benches for that purpose
◦ and they were placed inside synagogues and the temple grounds
◦ buildings that made nice boxes in which to place religion
• on this hillside there were plenty of rocks to sit on
– they followed him up, but he brought them back down to earth
• Jesus enjoyed natural environments
◦ he taught by the lake shore, roadsides and fields
◦ he found the kingdom of heaven mustard seeds and lilies
• he deliberately chose these earthly places and things, as Evelyn Underhill observed,

“wherein the stuff of our sensory experience becomes the stuff of our spiritual experience too.”

◦ this is Jesus’ earthly and embodied spirituality

Matthew’s last detail, “He opened His mouth . . .”
– in scripture, this is used for dramatic effect
• something important is about to happen
• something of great significance will be said
– from now on, everything rests on Who it is that speaks
• in Jesus, God not only reveals himself to us, but he gives himself to us

The first word from Jesus’ lips is “Blessed”

And it is the first word that begins the next eight sentences
– it is a famously biblical word
• today’s Christian tends to brutalize it
◦ they use it as if it means to “feel good” — “I was so blessed by worship today”
• generally it means to be in a good place – the right place (cf. Psa. 1)
– right away we can see Jesus uses it differently from the Old Testament
• the idea there is a soul that prospers in every way
◦ abundant crops and livestock, children, good health, etc.
◦ the main feature of the OT blessing is fertility (De. 7:13-14)
• movint into today’s context, that would mean productive and effective – “success”
◦ that was not what Jesus had in mind

The blessings of Jesus are transcendent
– they do not depend on desirable circumstances
• in fact, they come to those whose situation is “unpleasant”
• these blessings are not found in wealth, health and popularity
– what Jesus puts before us is a heavenly state
• if we find the essence of love, of what is good and true,
◦ we will discover a hidden treasure
◦ hope will lodge itself in our hearts, even in our darkest hour

The attributes (or whatever we call them) Jesus blesses:

  1. are independent of natural evolutionary concerns
    ◦ survival, adaptation and procreation
  2. do not require ideal adjustments to life’s circumstances

– rather, these are points where we can connect with the kingdom of heaven
• points at which the kingdom can enter our lives, now
• they enable to live in the world and beyond it at same time

Blessed are the poor in spirit

I don’t pretend to fully understand this – I know:
– there’s nothing inherently blessed about poverty
• when we see people suffering from a deficiency of food, shelter or clothing,
◦ we are not to think, “Oh, how blessed they must be”
◦ I think, instead, Jesus asks us, “What are you going to do about this?”
• so the value of this poverty must be outside the bare experience of it
• it most likely produces a state that God values

Let’s begin with the opposite of poor in spirit to try to understand this
– what would wealthy spirit look like?
• in his temptations, Jesus was offered “all the kingdoms of the world” and their “glory” (4:8-10)
◦ this is exactly what appeals to the wealthy in spirit
◦ they are bent on doing whatever it takes to acquire as much of the world and glory as possible
– the wealthy-in-spirit person is inclined to have intense ambition and confidence
• they are generally talented, aggressive in their pursuits, and driven by insatiable desire
◦ they are, in fact, much of what our society tends to admire in a person
• the wealthy-in-spirit person may be an atheist
◦ but he or she could just as well be very religious
◦ in which case their thinking goes, “I could do so much for God if I had all that”

Jesus was impervious to these temptations
– owning the world and saving its people are two separate and conflicting goals
• Jesus was not tempted to sell out to gain the world
• he was free from those attachments

I think we get a hint of what poor in spirit means in Psalm 51

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burn offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (vv. 16-17)

– God can work with this – he does not work with arrogance

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6)

• there is a potential found in poverty of spirit
◦ a potential for our hearts to open and allow God’s grace to pour into us
◦ a potential for looking past the visible that is patently out of our grasp
◦ for looking through natural things and seeing the kingdom
• I will never be the perfect Christian — the perfect husband or father
◦ however, as a sinner I can be certain that Jesus came for me (Mk. 2:17)
– poor in spirit is not something I have to work at
• it may be something I have to learn to accept
◦ I may have to be shown when my facade is peeled away
◦ I may have to confess it, but I do not have to manufacture it
• it catches me where I am, suffering, in pain, oppressed, paralyzed (4:24)
◦ it tells me to present my poverty to God

I think we need to link poor in spirit to repentance (cf. 4:17)
– and I think we need to link it to redemption
– the paradox is, the closer I get to God, the more clearly I see my poverty of spirit
• unless I’ve been raised on guilt, this does not shame, burden or disqualify me
• instead, it encourages me to bring every cut, bruise and scrape to him

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven

(I will address this in the coming weeks)

Conc: The Beatitudes are the gateway to the Sermon On the Mount

The gateway to all the teaching of Jesus
– the gateway to our spiritual journey,
• which is a life with Jesus – and in Jesus – and indwelt by Jesus
– poor in spirit is like a spiritual reset button
• we can always come back to it and let Jesus do his work
◦ healing us, reviving, renewing, and refreshing our souls in grace

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