Hi I’m Josh Hawkins and this is episode 63 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode I spent some time introducing the first major event we see in the Middle Galilean period, the Sermon on the Mount. I talked about some of the common misconceptions we have related to when this sermon happened and where it was given. I also talked generally about how the Sermon is radically divisive, and how that is directly in line with one of the major themes of Jesus’ ministry, which was to expose the hearts of the people of Israel, to divide them and separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s with this in mind that I want to look at some of the content in the Sermon, from both Luke and Matthew's account. Specifically I want to look at some of the Beatitudes today, the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that many people are probably somewhat familiar with.
Let’s read from Luke’s account in Luke 6:
"And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20–26 ESV)
I mentioned this in the last episode, but I’ll say it again here - do you see the contrast between the two types of people Jesus is giving here? The poor, the hungry, the ones who weep, and the ones who are hated and reviled for Jesus’ sake are the ones who will be blessed in the age to come. They receive a place in the coming kingdom where they will be filled with joy and will have great reward in that Day. But the ones who are rich, satisfied, laughing, and spoken well of all receive woes. It’s not going to go well for them in that Day. Remember the audience and remember the context - these are Jewish hearers who believed their ethnicity and their external adherence to the law of Moses is what guaranteed them the promises of the kingdom and the resurrection and the Abrahamic blessing in the age to come. The Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish authorities were the epitome of “righteous men” - they were the ones who had wealth, power, provision, and were spoken well of. The ordinary people were the poor, non-religious, non-righteous people according to the Pharisees. So do you see what Jesus is doing? Jesus is framing the issue of inheriting the promise as not an external one, but an internal one.
I want to take a look at a few of the beatitudes now - I’m not going to cover all of them, but I do want to give you a feel for a couple of them. Let’s look at the first one here in Luke. He says:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Jesus opens up the sermon with some very similar words to John the Baptist - both of them use this phrase "the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven”. Now in modern times there is all sorts of differing opinions on what “the kingdom” actually is - that confusion is just based on Greek philosophical thought. I’ll talk more about that in a future episode. But the Jewish people who heard John and Jesus speak would have understood their words about the kingdom as referring to the future, final government based in Jerusalem that would crush all the other kingdoms of the earth and that would reign forever. I don’t believe we should understand “the kingdom” as some spiritual reality or simply as “God’s presence” in our heart or in a meeting or something, but rather a geopolitical, earthly kingdom based in Jerusalem ruled by a descendant of David, called “the Christ”, or “the Messiah". As we will see throughout the Gospels, Jesus never redefines the kingdom of God from what the Jews understood it to be, but what He does do is clarify who would actually inherit it and who wouldn’t. That’s exactly what John the Baptist was doing, remember? He said the ones who bore the fruits of repentance would be the ones who would be the wheat, the ones who would receive the Spirit, and the ones who would be the rightful descendants of Abraham and thus the ones who would receive the promises. So here in this first beatitude, Jesus is doing the same thing - dividing and clarifying who would inherit that kingdom. He says that the ones who are not fighting for wealth and riches in this age have no need worry, because a day is coming when the king of Israel and His kingdom will deal with economics in a fair and just way. Think about what we looked at back in Episode 54, how Jesus said that He was the one that Isaiah spoke about, saying:
"“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor."
(Luke 4:18 ESV)
It’s not a coincidence that the first statement of the Sermon on the Mount has to do with money. Every single interaction Jesus had with the rich in the Gospels culminated in a strong exhortation to sell everything and give to the poor, to join the poor, or to store up treasure for the coming kingdom. Think about what John the Baptist said in Luke 3, so much of it is related to possessions and money and how the Jewish people were to respond to his message of repentance:
"And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”” (Luke 3:10–14 ESV)
When Jesus sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem, the kingdom He will establish will overthrow all of the other kingdoms, including their corrupt economic systems that either oppress or don’t adequately care for the poor. That Day would be so severe for the rich and all those who have allegiance to another kingdom or system. It’s a big deal that Jesus is saying this, because the Jewish authorities, especially those in Jerusalem and in charge of the temple, were extremely wealthy. Of course they were the ones who thought they were the true children of Abraham, the ones who would get the promise and be rulers in the Messiah’s kingdom. But just like John the Baptist, Jesus is saying “nope, bear the fruits of repentance. You need a clean heart. That’s how you’ll inherit the coming kingdom”.
Now Matthew says this a little differently, he says:
"Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1–3 ESV)
There’s no contradiction between Luke and Matthew here because in Jewish thought, there was a common association between poverty and piety, or as Matthew says it, “poor in spirit". Those who are not weighed down with riches and possessions in this age would be able to more easily set their hope on the glory of the age to come, and those who are in distress because of poverty have God as their only confidence. Of course there is so much in the New Testament about the perils of finding our security and hope in money. And I think this beatitude is underlined by Isaiah 61, where the connection between the poor and the poor in spirit is highlighted even more:
"the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted;” (Isaiah 61:1 ESV)
Of course Jesus is the one who will do this. We looked at this a little bit back in Episode 54.
Well, let’s look at one more beatitude in this episode today from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says:
"“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 ESV)
Once again Jesus addresses an issue of the heart - showing mercy involves being generous, forgiving others, having compassion for the suffering, and providing healing of every kind. As we’ve already seen and as we’ll continue to see throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees and scribes are the often the furthest from this - they constantly point out faults and exalt themselves. This beatitude in Matthew parallels Jesus’ words in Luke’s account:
"“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back... But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27–36 ESV)
Jesus is saying that the merciful will receive mercy - the mercy He is talking about is ultimately an inheritance in the promises God made through the covenants He made with Israel. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is overtly eschatological and is dividing between those who would inherit the coming kingdom and those who wouldn’t. A few New Testament verses come to mind that are connected to this theme of mercy and the end of the age. First, Jude verse 21:
"keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 21 ESV)
Also, 2 Timothy 1:
"May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 1:16–18 ESV)
So do you see what’s going on here? The beatitudes, in context to the story of the Gospels we’ve looked at thus far, are more than just good suggestions for the church on how to live, they are radically divisive statements for the Jewish people that are addressing internal realities of the heart, not external rules to observe. God was seeking repentance and relationship with His people Israel. The qualification or designation of one who would inherit the kingdom is not ethnicity or external observance of rules, but an internal heart reality. The teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was so different from Jesus’ teaching. The scribal teaching left the heart completely untouched, and the heart is what Jesus is going after here. No wonder why the crowds were utterly astonished at his teaching.
Well, we are totally out of time for this episode, but we'll look more at the Sermon on the Mount in the next episode as well. You can find all the other episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Blessings to you, see you next time.