2006-04-30_Upside Down Part 1_Matthew 5.1-12
Upside Down? Part 1
Matthew 5:1-12 | Shaun LePage | April 30, 2006
A. On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife and sister-in-law were killed when their Piper airplane crashed into the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The investigation report found no problems with the airplane. Flying into the nighttime haze, it appears that young Kennedy, who was not instrument rated, became disoriented during the descent to landing and may have entered the classic “graveyard spiral.” The “graveyard spiral” happens when conditions make it almost impossible for a pilot to know—without instruments—whether or not he is flying level. When conditions get hazy, it can become impossible to see the horizon. You can’t tell where the sky ends and the land begins. Apparently, Kennedy headed straight into the water while thinking and feeling he was doing just fine. The National Transportation Safety Board—who investigated the accident—interviewed other pilots who had been in the sky that night. One pilot reported: “There was nothing to see. There was no horizon and no light...I turned left toward Martha’s Vineyard... but could see no lights of any kind nor any evidence of the island... I found that I could not hold altitude by outside reference and had to use my [instruments] to hold altitude….” Another pilot reported his experience: “In a panic, I thoughtlessly disconnected the autopilot and put the airplane into a …bank, without concentration on my instruments. Instantly, I got vertigo, lost control of the airplane and …I didn’t have a clue whether I was right side up or upside down… When I awoke from this temporary dream-like stupor and began to concentrate on the instruments, I was able to regain control of the airplane.” (http://www.findarticles.com; July 10, 2000)
B. The “graveyard spiral” happens in our spiritual lives just as easily. The horizon represents truth. When we lose sight of it or just get fuzzy about what is true and right and important, we can easily think up is down and down is up. When we get in this dream-like stupor, the only sure way to survive it is by trusting the instrument panel God has provided—His reliable, trustworthy, perfect Word. In those times, God’s Word may seem upside down or backward. It may seem dead wrong! But it never is.
C. Please turn to Matthew 5:1-12—The Beatitudes.
II. Body—Matthew 5:1-12 (Recite from memory—challenge all to memorize)
A. Matthew 5:1,2: “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…”
1. Last week, I made a big deal out of the fact that Jesus went up a mountain. As I said, I think this is both a metaphor for getting a higher perspective—a Kingdom perspective—on righteousness, but also since Matthew’s gospel is the gospel written by a Jew for Jews about the King of the Jews, Matthew wanted us to see Jesus as the “prophet like Moses” who was going to give a Kingdom perspective on the Law. This was in contrast to the shallow perspective of the Scribes and Pharisees.
2. Matthew also made a point of telling us a few other things:
a) Jesus “sat down.” This was common for rabbis of the time—to sit down as they taught.
b) Jesus’ “disciples came to Him.” To whom was the Sermon on the Mount given? Disciples. Clearly Jesus was speaking to believers. He tells His hearers that they are “salt and light” and that God is “Our Father.” Also, in the context of the New Testament, it becomes apparent that the high and holy standards of this sermon cannot be met apart from the grace of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
c) Jesus “opened His mouth.” This is a way of telling us that what is coming is very important—listen up!
B. In verses 3-12, we have what are commonly known as the Beatitudes.
1. “Beatitude” is really a Latin word which means “happy.”
2. This title was derived from the repetition of the word “Blessed” through these verses. Jesus used it nine times in these 10 verses. The word means “fortunate; true happiness”. It carries the idea of being completely satisfied—content. It’s really a word of congratulations! It’s as though Jesus is saying, “Congratulations! You have a fortune in heaven!”
3. You’ll see in a minute that there’s a pattern for each of these beatitudes: Blessing is reported to those who possess a certain type of quality, then the “blessing” part is explained.
4. It’s a good thing, too. Because you’ll notice that each one of them seems upside down, backward. If Jesus didn’t list the “blessing” then the first phrase would make no sense at all: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” makes no sense by itself. But the fact that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—a promised reward from the King Himself—completes it.
5. How can we make sense of this list?
a) What we have here is a list of qualities, first of all, that define for us what subjects of the Kingdom should look like (i.e., poor in spirit, mournful, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, righteously persecuted).
b) Then, we have a list of “blessings” that follow each quality (i.e., the kingdom of heaven, comforted, inherit the earth, satisfied, receive mercy, shall see God, shall be called sons of God, the kingdom of heaven, reward in heaven is great).
c) Here’s the question we need to ask about these qualities: Are these automatic? In other words, do these describe the qualities of every Christian or are these the qualities Christians are to strive for? Do these describe maturity? The question we have to ask about the blessings is: Are these blessings automatically given to all Christians or are these special rewards given to faithful Christians who possess these qualities?
d) This is a major interpretive issue. This is what I believe: I do not believe these qualities are automatic. I do not believe all Christians possess these qualities. Because this is the case, I believe Jesus is saying that these blessings are special rewards given to faithful Christians who possess these qualities.
(i) Verse 12 makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of future reward in heaven. “Great is your reward in heaven,” He said.
(ii) And, as we look at the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it is clear that real Christians can lose their saltiness and be disobedient and therefore, lose future reward.
(iii) Biblical scholar, Dr. Joseph C. Dillow, put it this way: “The idea of rewards is repeatedly emphasized in the Sermon [on the Mount], which is addressed primarily to the disciples (5:1). The word misthos (reward) basically means a ‘payment for work done.’ Jesus is speaking of the inheritance here as a reward for a humble, trusting life. There is no indication that all Christians have this quality of life. In fact, it is possible for a Christian to become ‘saltless’ (Mt. 5:13) and be ‘thrown out.’ True Christians can lose their saltiness, their testimony for the Lord. When they do, they forfeit their reward in heaven. Furthermore, He specifically says that the disobedient believer who annuls ‘one of the least of these commandments’ will be in the kingdom (Mt. 5:19) but will be ‘least’ in contrast to ‘great’ in that kingdom.” (Reign of the Servant Kings, p.67)
(iv) This is why all this is important and why I’m spending so much time on it: These qualities described by Jesus in the beatitudes—Matthew 5:3-12—which Jesus said will result in blessing, are not automatic. These are goals we should strive for. These are qualities to be developed. These are descriptions of maturity. These are what Jesus—the King Himself—exalts and honors and blesses and rewards. Let’s look at each quality and ask the Holy Spirit to bear this fruit in our hearts and minds.
C. The Beatitudes:
1. Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
a) “Poor in spirit.” This is the description of those who have a Kingdom understanding of themselves. Someone who recognizes his complete spiritual poverty before God. Apart from God, we are spiritually bankrupt. “Poor in spirit” means humble yourself before God.
(i) James 4:6 tells us, “…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
(ii) Luke 18:9-14 gives us the picture we need.
(iii) In fact, Jesus often used the scribes and Pharisees and other religious leaders of that day as the complete opposite of true righteousness. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, in various ways, He told His disciples, “Do not be like them.”
b) “Kingdom of heaven.”
(i) As I said last week, the Kingdom of heaven is both future and present. Jesus Christ will establish a 1,000 year reign on earth at His Second Coming and He instructs us to pray—in the Sermon on the Mount—“Your kingdom come.” But in another sense, the Kingdom is present because we—the subjects of the future Kingdom—are here. We’re called to live Kingdom lives in the here and now.
(ii) “Kingdom of heaven” in this verse is an inheritance—a reward. There is a distinction in Scripture between “inheriting” the Kingdom and “entering” Kingdom. To “inherit” the Kingdom is to be rewarded in a special way. All Christians get in, but not all will be rewarded in the same way. As we look at all the passages that talk of inheriting the Kingdom, it becomes clear that only the faithful and obedient “inherit the Kingdom”—not all the saved. All the saved “enter” the Kingdom, but not everyone will inherit special reward for faithfulness.
(iii) Revelation 3—The Church of Laodicea. “He who overcomes…” is not all Christians, but those who are faithful and obedient. Jesus promised the faithful and obedient that they would rule with Him—“sit down with Me on My throne.”
2. Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
a) This verse has often been stripped from its context and made to say that all who mourn—regardless of what they’re mourning over—will be comforted. But this simply cannot be what the verse means. We could list many illustrations of those who will never be comforted—the most obvious being those who reject Christ and spend eternity in hell.
b) What does this mean, then? “Mourn” means hate your sin. The apostles—who were no doubt sitting at Jesus feet that day—later wrote of “mourning” over sin.
(i) In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul chastised the church in Corinth for tolerating grotesque sin in their midst. He said they should have “mourned” over the sin and dealt with it.
(ii) James was chastising his readers for having “quarrels and conflicts” for being worldly and proud. He told them, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:9).
c) Reward? They shall be comforted. Those who mourn over their sin will someday be freed from the presence of sin in the Kingdom. No doubt, God can and does comfort us as we confess our sin to Him right now. But only in the future will we be rewarded with complete and constant comfort. John, in the Book of Revelation, promises “every tear will be wiped away.”
3. Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
a) “Gentle” or “meek” is an interesting word. We think of it as weakness. Even an effeminate quality. But that’s not it at all. It really means strength under control. It is others-oriented. It’s hard to summarize the meaning, but I believe “Gentle” means choose to be selfless.
(i) Jesus called Himself “gentle and humble in heart” in Matthew 11:29.
(ii) “Gentleness” is one of the “fruits of the Spirit” according to Paul in Galatians 5.
(iii) Selflessness is not something all Christians instantly have at the moment of salvation. It must be fostered and nurtured.
(iv) Chuck Swindoll writes, “What strange information in this era of demand for personal rights! Recently I saw a cartoon depicting a tiny baby only seconds after birth. The physician had the baby by the feet, holding him upside down and slapping him on the fanny. Instead of crying, the kid was screaming angrily, ‘I want a lawyer!’ And so do most folks these days.” (Simple Faith, p.29-30).
b) The reward promised is that the “gentle…shall inherit the earth.”
(i) “(W.E.) Vine points out that the term (inheritance) is often used of ‘that which is received on the condition of obedience to certain precepts (1 Pet. 3:9), and of faithfulness to God amidst opposition (Rev. 21.7).” (Reign of the Servant Kings, p.64)
(ii) Dr. Dillow again brings great clarity for us: “What is the content of our inheritance reward? He (Jesus) says it involves inheriting the earth. No doubt this goes back to the promises of David and his ‘greater’ Son (the Messiah or Christ): Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the end of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; and you will dash them to pieces like pottery (Ps.2:8-9). We can become joint rulers with Christ over the nations according to John: To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ (Rev. 2:26)…So it is the meek who will be rewarded with rulership with Christ in the coming millennial kingdom.”
(iii) Yes, I believe this is future reward. But remember, Jesus Himself instructed us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
4. Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
a) This is passion. This is true, spiritual passion. A “hunger and thirst” for that which God Himself tells us is right and important. It is a passionate desire to make that which is important to God important to us. In fact, I believe that to hunger and thirst for righteousness is ultimately a hunger and thirst for God Himself.
(i) Psalm 42:1-2. “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” means passionately pursue Christ.
(ii) Do all Christians “hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Maybe we should phrase that question this way: Do all Christians hunger and thirst for righteousness constantly? I don’t. Maybe I’m just a slacker, but my guess is that none of us do. This is a quality that comes with maturity and must be cultivated.
b) The reward is satisfaction. I believe that when we passionately hunger and thirst for the things of God, we will be satisfied to a degree in this life. We can be. But again, ultimately our greatest satisfaction will come when we are free from the presence of sin and enjoying the presence of Christ in His Kingdom.
A. We’ll continue with this list next week—I just can’t rush through these any more than this. I believe these qualities are foundational to understanding the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. They are foundational to understanding God’s righteousness.
B. It all seems upside down…to us. But if God is to be believed and if the beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are to be believed, then we are the ones who are typically upside down. We are the ones with misplaced values and backward understanding of what greatness is. We have a choice to trust the instruments—the words of Jesus—or crash and burn trusting ourselves.
C. John Stott: “The ways of the God of Scripture appear topsy-turvey to men. For God exalts the humble and abases the proud, calls the first last and the last first, ascribes greatness to the servant, sends the rich away empty-handed and declares the meek to be his heirs. The culture of the world and the counter-culture of Christ are at loggerheads with each other. In brief, Jesus congratulates those whom the world most pities, and calls the world’s rejects ‘blessed.’” (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p.56)