Jesus has been preaching throughout the region of Galilee. Many people have begun to follow him, mostly to be healed by Jesus. The people were not just local people. They came from as far north as Syria and from as far south as Judea. People traveled up to 80 miles (a four or five day journey) to see Jesus on the Plains of Esdraelon. Because of the crowd, Jesus moved up onto a mountain. The mountain was probably Mt. Tabor, just off the Plains of Esdraelon. This is why Luke's version of the sermon (Luke 6:17-49) is called "The Sermon on the Plain" and Matthew's version is called "The Sermon on the Mount."
The audience was composed of Jews, some of who were Jesus' disciples. The disciples gathered around Jesus to hear him teach (Matthew 5:1), but the rest of the multitude also listened to the master teacher (Matthew 7:28). It is important to understand that Jesus' audience was composed of Jews living under the Old Law. Some people believe that Jesus showed how the Old Law was incorrect in his sermon. If this was true, you would expect to find the Jews upset with his teachings. Instead, the Jews were astonished at the authority with which Jesus taught. We will talk more about this in lesson two.
The first topic of Jesus' sermon is known as "The Beatitudes" because of the series of statements which begin with the word "blessed." A beatitude is a state of utmost bliss. You can remember its meaning by be-atitude, "be attitude," or beautiful attitude. The word "blessed," which begins each statement, literally means "happy." With each statement, Jesus describes who are the happy people. The odd thing is that these people are not the kind of people we would think of as being happy.
The first group are those "poor in spirit." In other words people who are not proud. Instead, they are humble. The world teaches us to be proud of who we are in order to get ahead in this world. Some people take assertiveness classes to learn how to keep others from pushing them around. Yet Jesus says that the humble, those seemingly lacking in spirit, are the ones who will gain the kingdom of heaven (a phrase describing the church - see Colossians 2:12-14). This should have been familiar to the Jews. God said in Psalms 149:4 that he would beautify the humble with salvation. In Proverbs 16:19, we are told that it is better to be humble and poor than to be proud and rich. With humility, we can gain true riches, honor, and life - Proverbs 22:4. God uplifts those who humble themselves before him - James 4:10.
The second group are those who mourn. It is difficult to understand how someone can be happy by being sad, yet David said that a broken spirit and a contrite heart are true sacrifices to God (Psalms 51:17). God is close to these people (Psalms 34:18). It is godly sorrow that causes us to repent of our sins and turn to God (II Corinthians 7:10). When we draw near to God, we find comfort and happiness under his protective care.
The meek are another blessed group. Meekness is the spirit of gentleness. The world expects the aggressive person to improve his lot in life, but Jesus says that the gentle person will gain the world. How does someone conquer the world by non-aggression? In Psalms 37, especially in verses 9-11, similar words to what Jesus used are found. Here we learn that the aggressive wicked will destroy themselves, leaving the gentle to inherit the world. We are not talking necessarily about this temporary world, but the permanent world to come - heaven. God finds a great treasure within those who have a meek spirit (I Peter 3:4).
The next group are those who desire righteousness. Too often, people in the world think you have to commit some sin in order to have fun (Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 6:14-19), but such "fun" is self-destructive. Instead, our desire for God should be as described by David in Psalms 42. "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God." True contentment comes with being like God (Psalms 17:15).
We must not forget about mercy (Proverbs 3:3). The world tells us that we must not let anyone stand in our way in our rise to success. However, God tells us that there will be no mercy to the merciless in James 2:13. As a result, we not only help others, we also help ourselves (Proverbs 11:17).
Jesus also tells us that the pure in heart are happy. Only the pure in heart will ascend to worship God (Psalms 24:3-4). To be pure is to keep sin from staining our lives (James 1:27). Only a pure church is acceptable to Jesus (Ephesians 5:27).
Peacemakers also have joy (Proverbs 12:20). Though it is difficult to bring peace to a world that acts as if it doesn't want peace, being a peacemaker is a mark of the true child of God. Paul tells us to live peaceably with all men in Romans 12:18. In Romans 14:19, Paul also instructs us to pursue the things that will make peace.
Finally, Jesus tells us that the persecuted are happy. This seems to be completely at odds with the beliefs we find in the world. However, as Christians we realize that all persecution is temporary (II Corinthians 4:16-18) and there are benefits to be gained from facing persecution. Our faith is strengthened and our resolve to serve the Lord, regardless of the costs, is firmly rooted. In the end we look forward to the ultimate bliss, heaven (Revelation 7:14).
In spite of persecution by nonbelievers, we are to standout. Too often Christians will try to avoid confrontation instead of letting their lights shine forth. Instead of telling others that drinking is wrong and we won't participate in it, we tell everyone that we are the "designated driver." We try sidestepping issues instead of taking a firm stand for the truth. Rather than insisting that a customer should be told the truth, we suggest to the boss that another person would be better for this assignment because we know they have no qualms about lying. We cannot let Satan cower us!
If we don't show the world the benefits of living a righteous life, how will they ever learn? If we are going to hide our righteousness, is it worth being a Christian? See Luke 14:34-35.
When we live according to God's Word, then God is glorified by those who see us. We reflect the glory of God in our lives (II Corinthians 3:18). We shine as a beacon in a dark and desolate night (Philippians 2:14-15). You can't really hide righteousness. Righteousness shows itself in many ways (Ecclesiastes 8:1, Daniel 12:3). Stand up and be counted as one of God's followers.
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