Over the last couple of months I have lived in chapter 5 of Matthew. Never have I spent so much time in one place in scripture, working through and memorizing. I have been amazed at the new insights that have surfaced. So see my understanding deepen. To this point I have completely committed Matthew chapter 5 to memory.
What has really amazed me are the insights I am gaining weeks and months later on certain sections. Things I worked through 2 months ago begin to take on new shapes as I continue to add new pieces to the puzzle. Even more importantly I am beginning to see the world around me afresh, as I look through new lenses.
NIV Matthew 5:1-11
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I have heard lesson after lesson on the Beatitudes, they typically have all leaned this direction… If you want to be a part of the Kingdom of God you need to learn to behave this way… and fill in the blank. In other words it becomes about you shifting your attitudes to and nature to conform with God’s way of life.
The more I have dug into this passage, especially in light of Matthew 5:12-16 & 17-20 the more I am convinced, we may have in some ways missed the point of what Jesus is communicating. What if we were to read the first 20 verses through the lens of a religious system which Jesus is confronting rather than rather than everyday life. Jesus is announcing a new kingdom here on earth; a new kingdom which most of the world will reject. Before Jesus gets into our understanding of the law and the prophets, before he starts talking about being salt and light, he wants these disciples to understand they will be rejected if they live the way he is fixing to challenge them to live through the rest of this sermon. It is an announcement of hope and an announcement of heart ache. It is the pronouncement of blessing in the midst of hardship. It is a new kingdom that will infringe on peoples understanding of who God is and probably more so, infringe on who they are and what they posses.
Verses 1 through 10 focus is very indirect. Jesus is calling those who will follow him to understand there will be a price you will pay. Why, because this kingdom will stand in direct opposition of all who are trying to further their own kingdom. However, by paying the price, living in differently you will find unspeakable blessing. Jesus then ties a nice little bow on the package for the disciple in verse 11 and the focus of the passage now becomes very direct. Now, blessed are YOU! Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. In other words if you are willing to follow my teachings, you should expect insults, persecution and lies to be pointed at you. Persecution for what? Persecution which comes because of your relationship with Jesus.
But why would your relationship with him bring difficulty, because the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, all seem pretty non-threatening to me. Honestly, is there any characteristic in verse 1 through 10 which seem even remotely threatening? So why persecution? I think the answer really lies in verse 17-20.
Matthew 5:17-20 NIV
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees and Teachers of the law would see Jesus as a false teacher, one who was abandoning God’s law and had to be stopped. Not only was Jesus, in their eyes, a threat to God’s divine plan, probably even more so, Jesus threatened the Pharisees and Teachers of the law because within their system they were set up as god’s. They had the power, they were able to add to the law, they had control, and they had the money. People looked at them and felt being people of God was impossible in light of how these men looked from a distance. Jesus kingdom however, would directly oppose their kingdom. This new kingdom Jesus was inviting people to be a part of would threaten the system of control the Pharisees and teachers were building because it was a system that exalted the powerful. In this new kingdom the avenue to God the Father was not the religious elite, but an avenue which was open to all.
In this system, righteousness was all about appearance. So maybe we could better describe verse 1 through 10 as the new righteous. Jesus concludes verse 20, saying the ones who appear to be righteous, the Pharisees and Teachers of the law, really aren’t and if you buy into their system, striving for self preservation, power and control, then you will not enter the kingdom. Now, this has numerous implications for us today as followers of Jesus, which I will tackle in part 2.
I am still working through so much of this in my own head and it seems like things are shifting daily. This is simply an avenue to work through and try to sort out these thoughts. I would love to hear your insights and thoughts from the Beattitudes.