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: The Meaning of Blessed
It is a new humanity because when you begin to read the Sermon on the Mount, the first thing you discover is that this thinking is utterly different from the thinking of the world. It begins by talking about the “blessed” man, and really answers the question of who the blessed ones are. Today, people might use the word “happy.” It’s not a very good substitution, but that is how the world thinks. It equates blessedness with happiness, which produces ideas that are not what Jesus was talking about when referring to those who are blessed. If we were writing the Beatitudes today according to the world’s standards, it would go something like this: “Blessed are the rich, for they have it all. Blessed are the famous, for people will idolize them and hang on their every word. Blessed are the happy because they’re content with themselves and don’t need other people. Blessed are the arrogant because people defer to them. Blessed are those who fight for the good things in life because they’ll get them. Blessed are the sophisticated for they will have a good time. Blessed are the winners because they’ve got it made.”
What does Jesus say instead? Jesus says that the ones who are blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn for sin, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, and who make peace, and who are persecuted. So how the world counts blessedness and how Jesus counts blessedness are two very different things.
To speak of being happy is a poor substitute for being blessed for this reason. The word, “blessed,” doesn’t mean much to most people today. “Happy” at least can be heard and understood, but it’s a weak term because happiness has become so debased. It comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, “hap,” which means “chance.” We have it in words like “happenstance.” In other words, happiness is a feeling we get that is rooted in our circumstances. If things go the way we want them to, we are then said to be happy. But if events go other than what we would like, then we feel unhappy.
However, that is not how the word, “blessed,” operates. It goes far beyond that. Whereas happiness depends on circumstances, blessedness is something that God does. It describes those who are favored by God. And because God has put his favor upon them, they have happiness in a far deeper and far more meaningful sense, which unpleasant or unfavorable circumstances cannot take away.
In the Sermon on the Mount, we have eight beatitudes. Undoubtedly, Jesus taught on these themes again and again, but it’s worth looking at them each briefly by way of introduction, and then in coming weeks we will look at them in depth. The first one is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Now it has nothing to do with poverty. Poverty in itself isn’t good. Jesus isn’t saying that we ought to have social exploitation, or squalor, or slums, or starvation. Jesus is always talking spiritually. Thus, when he talks about being poor, he’s talking about being poor in the inward man, not in outward circumstances. In other words, what he’s saying is that to be poor in spirit is to know one’s own deep spiritual poverty before God. So the first principle of the Sermon on the Mount is to know that you can’t meet God’s standards by yourself. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do it. It’s not merely a list of high but attainable goals, as if we could somehow motivate each other to reach it. To put it another way, we need to realize that we are spiritually bankrupt before God. As D. A. Carson expresses it:
To be poor in spirit is not to lack courage, but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy….The kingdom of heaven is not given on the basis of race,…earned merits, the military zeal and prowess of the zealots, or the wealth of a Zacchaeus. It is given to the poor, the despised publicans, the prostitutes, those who are so “poor” they know they can offer nothing and do not try. They cry for mercy, and they alone are heard.1
1D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 132.
Why is the term “happiness” a poor substitute for blessedness? What does “blessed” mean in the Sermon on the Mount?
Describe what Jesus means by being “poor in spirit.”
Application: How can you show the spiritual happiness of the Beatitudes to those around you?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from John 13, “A Clue for Finding Happiness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)