Sermon: The New Humanity
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16
In this week’s lessons, we see in the Beatitudes the standard of morality that Jesus sets forth for all who claim to belong to him.
Theme: A Christian’s Inner Character
The fourth beatitude says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Now at this point it’s very natural to think of righteousness as that divine, imputed righteousness of Jesus, which is given to us in the process that we call “justification.” But that’s not actually what it’s talking about here. I’ve already pointed out that Matthew doesn’t use the word “righteousness” that way. Matthew talks about actual righteousness. We’re going to see as we go on in the sermon that what Jesus is saying here is that the people who are blessed by God in this beatitude are those who actually want to be righteous—that is, actually try to do what is right—and also long to see upright behavior in other people. Jesus says they will experience this upright way of life through himself and through the power of the gospel.
The next beatitude, number five, reads, “Blessed are the merciful.” The fifth, sixth, and seventh of these beatitudes begin to describe the inner character of the Christian. He is merciful, pure in heart, and always ready and anxious to make peace. Mercy is first because it’s what we experience first when we’re saved by Jesus Christ. It’s a grace that comes to us when we don’t deserve it. Grace is God’s undeserved favor, but mercy has an additional element. It is God’s grace shown to those who are pitiful and miserable in their sin.
Now you may not consider yourself to be that, but that’s the way God sees you unless you’ve come to Jesus Christ. Mercy is God’s reaching out to save a person just like yourself. If you’ve experienced mercy in Jesus Christ, then you’re merciful to others, which is what the beatitude says. Those who are merciful receive mercy, and those who receive mercy show mercy.
The sixth beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart.” This is also extracted from one of the Psalms. Psalm 24:3-4 asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?” and then answers, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” To see God, sometimes called “the beatific vision,” was the great longing of the Old Testament saints. What Jesus promises here—it’s a very great promise—is that those who are brought into his kingdom and experience his grace will be purified of sin and will see God one day. One of the apostles who was present on this occasion, the Apostle John, whom we are told in the previous chapter was called by Jesus early in the ministry, later wrote about it. In his first letter, John said, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2).
The seventh beatitude pronounced by Jesus is “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Jesus’ concern here is not just with our being peaceful persons, that is, being content, but with our actually being peacemakers—working for peace among antagonistic persons. Christ’s disciples can do this because they have experienced grace themselves from God, which has brought peace with God, which puts them in a position to work for peace with one another. This extends to all kinds of human reconciliations.
What kind of righteousness is Jesus talking about?
Define God’s grace and mercy. What additional element does mercy reveal of God’s character?
Prayer: Ask the Lord to give you a greater hunger and thirst for righteousness.