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The Great Surprise

Sermon on the Mount  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction:

Last Sunday we began our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, which for those of you who have no idea what that means, is a three chapter section inside of the Gospel of Matthew.
Because there has historically been so much attention given to the Sermon on the Mount, I felt it necessary to take an aerial view of the Sermon before we actually began treading through it.
And what we determined was that Matthew focuses most on structuring the book in a way that presents Jesus as King. So, he set the stage by introducing us to Jesus’ family tree which was a bunch of Royal Misfits. He then continued to guide us to see this royal lineage at the same time the lineage of the unimportant.
So when we get to the fourth chapter and Jesus begins to preach that “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” we know that he is saying, “Jesus the one from the royal heritage (son of David) is announcing that God’s reign is here.”
The challenge last week was to actually repent of our preconceptions of who Jesus is, what Jesus says about discipleship, and what Jesus says about the Kingdom. We determined, we’re going to listen to what he says.
So naturally Jesus begins to assemble a people, but those people aren’t who you might expect, they’re the misfits of society. Matthew beautifully weaves the two themes together.
And just as you might expect, Jesus does what preaches a sermon that reveals what the Kingdom is actually like.
To do that Jesus picks up a very traditional approach to teaching, he begins by announcing nine statements. What are the things that epitomize life under God’s Reign? Life in the Kingdom of Heaven?

#Blessed ?

How many of us have ever had a difficult time figuring what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes? Join the club.
Part of the difficulty of understanding the Beatitudes is that we’re not quite sure how to define what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed.”
In our society, and even in the Church, the primary understanding of that term is that God’s favor is upon you (which is not totally untrue). So when someone asks us, “How are you doing?” and we say, “I’m blessed” we normally mean that things are going well. Or maybe we’re saying, “I’m happy.”
But what do we mean when we say “happy” and “Things are going well?”
Do we immediately envision escaping reality to become happy? (bills, kids, relational tension)
Do we immediately envision upgrading to become happy? (houses, cars, boats, toys)
Do we immediately envision not having to worry about anything? (balancing all the plates well so I’m never stressed out)
If you lay that understanding of blessed onto the Beatitudes, what do you have?
Or “You are like this, so therefore you are blessed?”
Or is Jesus saying, “If you want to be my disciple, you’re going to have to be poor in spirit, but don’t worry you will go to heaven for your humility?” Almost as a way of saying, “If you want to go to heaven, you’ll need to be meek, you’ll need to mourn, you’ll need to be pure in heart?”
Is Jesus saying, “Things are going to go well with you, if you become poor in spirit?’
Or is Jesus saying, “The people in my Kingdom are poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness?”
Or if you twist it around a little you might get something like, “If you’re poor in spirit, you’re going to get… the kingdom of heaven?”
How poor do you have to be? How meek? How much do I need to mourn?
How poor do you have to be? How meek? How much do I need to mourn?
This is really where the issues begin because now we have to figure out how to make that fit into the theology of salvation by grace through faith.
And the other option goes against a sanctification by grace and turns it in to legalism.
This is where recognizing literary genre and cultural context make all the difference. Because what Jesus is doing was very common in Judaism and in Greco-Romanism.
Let me give you a couple examples
You’re familiar with the Psalms and Proverbs that begin with the same term, “Blessed” like,
Psalm 1:1–6 ESV
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1:1 ESV
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Psalm 119:1–2 ESV
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
Psalm 119:
Psalm 32:1–2 ESV
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psalm 32:
Proverbs 3:13 ESV
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
And Lady Wisdom speaking in
Proverbs 8:32–34 ESV
“And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
Prov 8:
The Jews had a term for this that is still used today, this genre is called, Wisdom Literature. The purpose of wisdom literature is to cast a vision/ an invitation of a way of living in the world. Often in wisdom literature you will see a fork in the road scenario where two paths are presented. Typically you have the path of the blessed man or wise man and the path of destruction or the foolish path. Like
What were Solomon and the Psalmists doing? They were holding up a model and saying this is the path to the life of flourishing. Here is the way to live in the world towards God, yourself, and your fellow-man.
About 150 years before Jesus, there was another teacher named, Jesus son of Sirah. He wrote a very proverb-like book called the Book of Sirach
Sirach 25:7–10 NRSV
I can think of nine whom I would call blessed, and a tenth my tongue proclaims: a man who can rejoice in his children; a man who lives to see the downfall of his foes. Happy the man who lives with a sensible wife, and the one who does not plow with ox and ass together. Happy is the one who does not sin with the tongue, and the one who has not served an inferior. Happy is the one who finds a friend, and the one who speaks to attentive listeners. How great is the one who finds wisdom! But none is superior to the one who fears the Lord.
Sirach 25:7–11 NRSV
I can think of nine whom I would call blessed, and a tenth my tongue proclaims: a man who can rejoice in his children; a man who lives to see the downfall of his foes. Happy the man who lives with a sensible wife, and the one who does not plow with ox and ass together. Happy is the one who does not sin with the tongue, and the one who has not served an inferior. Happy is the one who finds a friend, and the one who speaks to attentive listeners. How great is the one who finds wisdom! But none is superior to the one who fears the Lord. Fear of the Lord surpasses everything; to whom can we compare the one who has it?
If you didn’t know this wasn’t in the Bible you might gloss over it and assume it’s somewhere in the Proverbs. But, there is something different about these Proverbs.
The 25th chapter of this book of wisdom is all about happiness, the good life. His description of the blessed life has some interesting twists to it, like:
“A man who lives to see the downfall of his foes” In other words, the blessed or good life is the life of the ultimate warrior. The one who never loses.
“A man who does not plow with an ox and ass together” Why is that the good life? Because you have plenty of cash to buy two bulls, so you can save the donkey for other things. The blessed life then is the multi-car family. We have abundance, we’re blessed.
“And the one who has not served an inferior.” That’s pretty self explanatory, but just in case, he’s teaching that the blessed life is the life where you don’t ever have to do the serving, you’re always being served. You have arrived at the top of the ladder, you’re not stuck with the jobs nobody wants, more importantly you don’t have to stoop down and interact with the inferiors. It’s elitism in the clearest form.
“And the one who speaks to attentive listeners” The blessed life is the life where you’re the one giving the TED talks. Everybody is at your feet, hanging on everything you say. You no longer need to listen to others, you’re on top, you call the shots, you’re the man.
So, what’s the model that this wisdom literature is hoisting up, saying the lady who has this kind of influence, the guy who has attained this level, they’re the goal. This is the ideal.
And there’s just enough truth in there to cause any Jew to say, “I think this guy is on to something.”
Another highly influential teacher and thinker was the philosopher, Aristotle. He lived some three hundred years before Jesus, but his influence was heavily spread throughout the known world even up to today.
Aristotle’s works to his son in the book “Nicomechean Ethics” is also a form of wisdom literature (a wise sage writing a book to his son). Aristotle’s idea of the good life has some very admirable commendations, but they ultimately lead a person to individual and personal fulfillment. Aristotle taught that virtue was for the elite. Aristotle taught that mercy and humility were very low forms of virtue if they had any value at all.
So the point is that Jesus is being very intentional. The Jews have become very Hellenized, so it seems what Jesus is doing as he (the King) gathers his people (the people of the Kingdom) and begins to teach, taking the posture of a Rabbi that he is acting on what he has already said, “Repent (stop what you’re doing, how you’re thinking about God and the Kingdom) and listen to what the Kingdom is really like, because it’s here.
And he does so by using wisdom, holding up a model, think of the model like a stained-glass window that has nine pieces of glass and each one adds to the whole piece. So he’s simultaneously holding up that model and inviting people from all walks of life to find the true life of (not just personal, but) human flourishing in the Kingdom. And the great surprise is that this life of flourishing is not at what one might think.
But if you were here for our OT reading this morning, listen to the Beatitudes with the background of and the chapter in Isaiah we read last week, , where he says
Isaiah 52:7 ESV
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Is 52:

The Great Surprise

Matthew 5:3 ESV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Proverbs 13:1 ESV
A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
The Jews living in the first century have gotten the idea in their minds that the Kingdom is for the spiritually elite. Those who can live up to the law and it’s demands are the ones who God favors and therefore the more knowledge and the better you’ve become at knowing and memorizing the Torah, the more likely you are to living the flourishing life.
This is a typical example of the two-path wisdom literature. A wise son hears his father’s instruction (we’re not waiting on anything there) but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
However when we come to the Beatitudes Jesus offers wisdom, but it has an eschatological (or futuristic) tone to it. Blessed are the X for they shall be Y.
What Jesus is saying instead is that those who are spiritual zeros are the ones being offered the Kingdom first. The ones who are broken and humble before God. Jesus is putting a focus on the heart attitude towards God. This is why, even though the tax collector was a known sinner, he modeled him, instead of the Pharisee in the parable of who is more righteous. It’s because the tax collector, who couldn’t even lift up his face in the temple to pray, but beat on his chest and said, I’m not worthy...
This is good news because God is not waiting for them to get their spiritual levels up before he offers them the “Reign of God”, he says “You’re actually fortunate because God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.”
Matthew 5:4-
Matthew 5:4 ESV
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:4–6 ESV
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The next three go hand in hand and I think that they can be best understood from looking at them all together. But let’s begin at the bottom and work up:
To hunger and thirst for righteousness the way that Jesus is using the term needs to be looked at from the OT side of the map. If we only see this from the NT side, we might pass up what Jesus is saying. Although it is good to long for justification and the righteousness of Christ, they wouldn’t be thinking along those lines. The way they would hear this statement is to long for relationships to be made right. So, again this goes beyond the most important relationship being made right (with God) it refers to right relationships that have been broken because of false accusations, and misunderstandings, and fights. Righteousness and justice look to the fallen nature of humanity and long for Shalom.
Aristotle says, look at yourself, don’t wrong people, and you’ll be happy. Jesus says, look at the world, see the brokenness and long for my return then you’ll be happy because you’ll find ultimate satisfaction in me.
But the truth is, we don’t really want to know about the evils happening in the world. We choose to only read books and watch movies that present a fantasy world so we can escape the reality that is very broken.
Aristotle says, look at yourself, don’t wrong people, and you’ll be happy. Jesus says, look at the world, see the brokenness and long for my return then you’ll be happy because you’ll find ultimate satisfaction in me.
Meekness is closely related to humility, but it differs slightly, a person who is meek, means more than just that they have a poverty of spirit, it means that they act out of that poverty with a surprising gentleness, mild nature and friendliness.
Aristotle (upon which I might add much of our society leans upon) says, if you want a life of flourishing, you’re going to have to go and get it. As Sirach says, the life of flourishing is the one who never has to serve an inferior. Jesus says, actually the life of flourishing is found in the ordinary acts of gentleness.
You don’t have to go and take anything, the earth is already a part of your inheritance.
Mourning - blessed are those who mourn. This one always made me scratch my head. In what way is mourning ever a good thing. People mourn because they lost a loved one, or due to a tragedy. This can’t lead to any kind of flourishing. Mourning is closely related to hunger and thirst for the world to be set to right. Because you see the way the world is, because relationships are torn and broken, and sin has decimated everything in it’s path.
In just the last couple of weeks there is enough news to keep us in a perpetual state of mourning for the ways this world is showing off her depravity. And while the people sitting on the mountainside that day were not being compelled to know about every case of injustice, Jesus is clearly holding up a model for them that shows a deep concern over the state of people in the world.
The next set of statements reveal what it looks like to not only recognize your desperate need for God, and not only to long for God’s Kingdom to come with mourning and meekness, but to actually seek to do something about it.
Matthew 5:7-
Matthew 5:7–9 ESV
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
You can see how the inner working, transformational character of the last three, turn in to something tangible.
Blessed are the merciful - to be merciful is to be compassionate on the lowly. To empathize with those who have less in life, those who know less, those who are treated poorly, and to act compassionately towards them.
For as much good as the Greeks and Romans did for democracy and the forming of government, the technology of roads, and the aqueducts, they had absolutely no sympathy or concern for the sick and poor in their society. There was no talk of offering food, medical attention, clothing.
Jesus walks on the scene and his Kingdom was totally opposed to the current Roman kingdom. He walked up to the sick and healed them, and then he gathered them to himself and invited them into a totally new way of living.
He says, true flourishing is not pushing out the castaways, it’s by welcoming them in, just like I’ve shown you. And it is ultimate flourishing because on the last day, you will receive the fruit of the greatest gift of mercy, Jesus healing you spiritually in spite of the fact you do not deserve it.
Blessed are the peacemakers - peacemaking comes out of a heart that is humble, that hungers and thirsts for things to be right in the world and is actively pursuing not only right relationships for themselves, but helping others become right as well.
Now sandwiched right between merciful and peacemaking is purity of heart. Purity in our understanding is directly related to a sexual purity. And it definitely is, but it’s not only sexually. If I say, I want to have purity of heart in my marriage, I’m really indicating that I want singleness of heart in my marriage. I don’t to have eyes for anyone else but for my wife. So the core of what Jesus is saying is that the good life is a life that is unified (not double-minded) towards mercy and peacemaking.
Why? Because of two reason that I can think of. Showing mercy towards those who are lowly is hard and peacemaking is painful. If you have a double minded heart about those two things or you’re doing them for the wrong reasons, the ability to see God in the midst of that is impossible. If you’re a peacemaker, that means you’re willing to stand in the middle of two parties who are at odds with each other. What makes peacemaking so hard is that you risk becoming the enemy of both parties you’re trying to reconcile. A peacemaker is one who is not taking sides, but is standing between to bring peace with truth, and that could possibly hurt a relationship, but if you have a singular mind to do what is right, you’ll see God.
True Christlike flourishing that is counter-cultural begins with humility that works through longing for God’s Kingdom to come, and that works it’s way out in a singular heart to be merciful and to be a peacemaker. But as a disciple, when you are faithful to follow that path, here’s what you can expect.
Matthew 5:10-12
Matthew 5:10–11 ESV
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
How’s this for an advertisement? Your New Life in the Kingdom - persecution, reviling, and all kinds of false accusations, and much more...
Jesus does something a little out of the ordinary, he turns the model around on the crowd. He goes from saying “Blessed are X” to “Blessed are YOU.” It’s Jesus was of making it clear that the life of the disciple is not walking hand in hand with Jesus barefoot on the coast.
This turn of phrase is much more like, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Because when all is said and done, what Jesus is doing with the Beatitudes is what I said at the beginning. He’s taking nine pieces of glass and he’s creating a stained glass window that actually resembles himself and he’s holding it up for the crowd to see and saying, I know this is counter-cultural, I know this is at odds with popular thought, but this is the blessed life, this is the good life, this is the flourishing life.
For Jesus is poor in spirit
Matthew 21:5 ESV
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
Matthew 11:28–29 ESV
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matt
Jesus is meek
Matt
Matthew 11:28–29 ESV
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Jesus mourns
Matthew 23:27 ESV
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
Matthew 23:37 ESV
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Jesus hungers and thirsts for righteousness to come through God’s kingdom
Matthew 9:38 ESV
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus is pure and singular in heart
Matthew 4:10 ESV
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”
Jesus shows mercy on nearly every page of the Gospels
Jesus brings peace
Matthew 28:10 ESV
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
And he perfectly lived the life he came to live. He never once did anything wrong to anyone and he was persecuted for righteousness sake, he was reviled, and all kinds of false accusations were hurled against him and through it all he had joy.
This model is an invitation to live this life following Christ. We are happy to encourage each other to be Christ-centered, and Christlike and godly. And this morning we’re seeing with fresh eyes just what that means.
Heb
This sermon preached by Jesus is an invitation to have your mind renewed, to forsake the worldly mind that believes the life of joy and flourishing can only come through a life of self-centeredness, Jesus invites us into a full life of God-centeredness and other-centeredness.
And the reality is this is impossible. There’s no way I can be like Jesus. This is the double surprise, he sent His own Spirit to indwell us and empower us to follow Him.
How are you defining the good life?
Just like we wrestled with last week, you don’t get to design your own version of discipleship. You don’t get to redefine what the life of flourishing for you. Jesus says, flourishing in my kingdom looks like this and then holds himself up as the model for which to look to and follow.
And when we come to trust that this is the good life, and by his grace follow him, there will be persecution. It doesn’t always come through torture and physical force, but it almost always comes through people misunderstanding us, people choosing to not be around us, loneliness and pain.
So my challenge this morning ends with this quote from the author of Hebrews.
Hebrews 12:
Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
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