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2006-05-07_Upside Down Part 2_Matthew 5.1-12

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Upside Down? Part 2

Matthew 5:1-12   |   Shaun LePage   |   May 7, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   When the children of 60’s rebelled against the conservative beliefs and morals of their parents, they called themselves “the counter culture.”

B.    Mark Early, President of Prison Fellowship has written, “The protesters of the sixties and early seventies shared a common countercultural vision: a new society with socialist values, sexual liberation, and the end of conventional ideals like monogamy and the nuclear family. Today in our permissive culture, however, there is not much left to run counter to.”

C.   New York State Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach who marched in anti-war protests in the late ’60’s has said, “The counterculture of thirty years ago is the mainstream today. Our success shifted the parameters of what constitutes counterculture.”

D.   The ’60’s and ’70’s were complicated times, and at the risk of oversimplification, I believe the countercultural shift of that time was a natural shift. Like letting the grass grow without mowing. It was the inevitable result of a human-focused culture. That is why the disciples of Jesus Christ are the true counter culture of our time—and of any time. The natural tendency of man is to be self-focused. But disciples of Jesus Christ are those who choose to be God-focused. To live by the standards of purity and honesty and selflessness laid out in the Sermon on the Mount is just as counter to our culture as it was to the culture to whom Jesus originally spoke.

E.    “Blessed” is repeated nine times in the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. Then, like an exclamation point, Jesus finishes off that list with “Rejoice and be glad!”

1.     Doesn’t that tell you something about this passage? I believe Jesus spoke these words with great passion and excitement! I’m afraid we don’t always appreciate that.

2.     Someone has suggested the first listeners—the disciples—didn’t appreciate it either. One writer described the scene in this way: “Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathered them around him. He taught them saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness. Blessed are you when you are persecuted. Blessed are you when you suffer. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.” Then Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?” And Andrew said, “Do we have to write this down?” And James said, “Will we have this on a test?” And Philip said, “I have no paper.” And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?” And John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.” And Matthew said, “Would you go over this again? And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?” Then, Jesus wept.”

3.     No! Matthew tells us the crowds—including the disciples—were amazed at His teaching! This was no ordinary day in church! Not some boring Bible study (if that’s even possible)! Jesus must have spoken these great words with great passion! Listen to what He is saying! (Recite Matthew 5:3-12 from memory with great passion!) Soak it in! Let the words of Christ flip your understanding of what is right and what is important completely upside down!

II.   Review of last week:

A.   Last week we looked at the first four Beatitudes and this week, we’ll look at the remaining four.

1.     Again, each one of them seems upside down, backward.

2.     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).

3.     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).

4.     These qualities described by Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12, are not automatic. These are goals we should strive for. These are qualities to be developed—by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are descriptions of maturity. These are what Jesus—the King Himself—exalts and honors and blesses and rewards.

B.    Last week, we looked at verses 3-6—the first four beatitudes:

1.     “Poor in spirit” means be humble before God. “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.

2.     To “mourn” means hate your sin. Those who mourn over their sin will be comforted. Someday they will be free 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.

3.     To be “gentle” means be selfless. It really means strength under control. It is others-oriented. The gentle will inherit the earth. This goes back to the promises of David and his ‘greater’ Son (the Messiah or Christ). We can become joint rulers with Christ over the nations in the millennial kingdom according to Revelation 2:26: “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.’”

4.     “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” means passionately pursue Christ. This is a quality that comes with maturity and must be cultivated. 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.

C.   Let’s look at the remaining four beatitudes and ask the Holy Spirit to bear this fruit in our hearts and minds.

D.   Pray!

III. Body—Matthew 5:7-12

A.   Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

1.     “Merciful” means be compassionate. It is closely related to the idea of forgiveness and grace—not identical, but closely connected.

a)    Simply put, to be merciful is to be like God.

(i)   Jesus made this connection for us in Luke 6:36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  

(ii) It was God’s mercy that led Him to provide the way of salvation. Listen to Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”

(iii)    Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Jesus is our “faithful and merciful High Priest.” To be merciful is to be like Jesus—Christlike. To be compassionate is to be Christlike. At least eight times, the Bible tells us, Jesus had compassion for people.

b)    Mercy implies action!

(i)   Merciful people don’t just feel bad for someone else. They do something about it! Genuine mercy translates into genuine help. Mature disciples of Jesus Christ are infinitely grateful for the mercy which God has extended to them, and as a way of saying “thank You” they will extend mercy to others.

(ii) Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35 is one of the greatest illustrations of this fact. We who have been shown mercy must remember it and show mercy to others.

c)    Question: Is “mercy” a quality that all Christians have? Apparently not, because the writers of the New Testament consistently commanded believers—true Christians—to be merciful and compassionate. Listen to a couple examples:

(i)   1 John 3:17: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

(ii)  Colossians 3:12: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

(iii)    We must choose to be compassionate to the people around us. And, since the ultimate act of mercy was God’s gift of Jesus—our Substitute, our Savior—the ultimate act of mercy on our part is to invite people to trust Christ and receive the free gift of salvation in Christ.

2.     The reward for being merciful is mercy. Isn’t that interesting? Those who are merciful because they are grateful for the mercy they have received, receive more mercy. We have received mercy through the Cross of Christ and we continue to receive His mercy. But God’s greatest mercy will be experienced in heaven.

B.    Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

1.     “Pure in heart” means be authentic.

a)    Remember the context here. Jesus is telling these disciples at His feet, “Do not be like the Pharisees.” Listen to this stinging rebuke of the Pharisees later in Matthew 23:25-27. Do you see the point?! Jesus is telling them, “It’s the heart that matters here! It’s the inside that needs to look good and be clean and “pure”!

b)    This has always been the case! In 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king of Israel. Samuel didn’t know which one was the new king yet, but when Eliab—Jesse’s oldest son—came into the room, we’re told that Samuel thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.” But the Lord said to Samuel (v.7) ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

c)    It’s the heart. To be “pure in heart” means to be authentic. We can fool people with an impressive exterior, but God looks at the heart.

d)    This does not come automatically at the time of salvation either. This is something we must work hard at!

(i)   James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” These verses are directed at believers. For salvation—meaning justification; to be born again—we cannot “purify our hearts”. But the kind of purity James is talking about—and which Jesus blesses in the Sermon on the Mount—is not the actual or positional purity we receive at the time of salvation. It is the practical purity we must work hard at.

(ii) Listen to this command in 2 Corinthians 7:1: “…Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This is the struggle, the battle, the work of sanctification. It can’t happen without the indwelling Holy Spirit, but clearly God’s Word commands us to fight this battle against the flesh and strive for holiness and purity in our lives.

2.     The reward of the “pure in heart” is that “they shall see God.”

a)    This is quite a promise. I believe it is both present and future. We can “see God” in one sense as we grow in purity of heart. We can see Him working in our lives—leading us and guiding us. We will become more and more aware of His presence.

b)    But, the reward is yet future as well. The way we see God in this life cannot be compared to how we will see Him in the next life.

(i)   Paul told the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”

(ii) John was shown what the pure in heart will see someday. He recorded it for us in the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Read 4:1-4. Those 24 elders around the throne represent the overcomers of chapters 2 and 3—faithful believers who have been rewarded with crowns and thrones. All Christians will be there, but as we study the Book of Revelation, it becomes clear that the overcomers will be rewarded in a special way. They will rule with Christ (thrones) and be seated on or around His throne. They will see God in a special way because they were authentic before God—pure in heart.

C.   Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

1.     Jesus and peace seem like contradictions.

a)    Jesus said a few chapters later (Matthew 10:34), “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

b)    But Paul said in Ephesians 2:14-16 that Jesus made peace. [Read] How do we reconcile these?

2.      “Peacemaker” means build bridges.

a)    A peacemaker is not the same as a peacekeeper. Peace often comes at a high cost. It often comes as the result of changing the unacceptable status quo. That kind of peace is not a lack of conflict. It is the presence of righteousness. Jesus “made” peace. And it required war. It required blood shed and death.

b)    I like how John MacArthur put it: “God’s peace, the peace of which the Bible speaks, never evades issues; it knows nothing of peace at any price. It does not gloss or hide, rationalize or excuse. It confronts problems and seeks to solve them, and after the problems are solved it builds a bridge between those who were separated by the problems…the peace about which Jesus speaks is more than the absence of conflict and strife; it is the presence of righteousness. Only righteousness can produce the relationship that brings two parties together. Men can stop fighting without righteousness, but they cannot live peaceably without righteousness” (Matthew 1-7, pgs. 210-11).

c)    God is the ultimate peacemaker. He reconciled us to Himself and made peace with us—His enemies. He’s the peacemaker. We are simply His messengers. We become peacemakers when we assume the ministry of reconciliation. When we proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is our peace. And then, work hard at preserving the unity we have in Christ.

d)    And again, this is not automatic. Not all Christians choose to be peacemakers. But a mature Christian—a disciple of Jesus Christ—is marked by a passion for reconciling people with God and preserving the unity we have in Christ. Paul told the Ephesians, “…Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:1-3).

3.     Such peacemakers, Jesus said, “will be called sons of God.”

a)    I believe this, too, is a special reward. In one sense, all who trust Christ and receive His gift of eternal life are called sons of God; children of God. But I believe this title—“sons”—is also used in a special way for the faithful and obedient believer.

b)    Look at the end of this chapter, Matthew 5:43-45. If we use the title “sons” in a restrictive sense meaning all believers, then Jesus adds a condition here for salvation. It’s not a free gift received by faith. We are also required to love with an amazingly great love—love for enemies. No, Jesus seems to be saying that the title “sons” will be used in a special way as a special honor in the future, for peacemakers and for those who loved their enemies and prayed for their persecutors.

D.   Matthew 5:10-12: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

1.     At first glance, this beatitude seems to be different than everything else on the list. It doesn’t seem to be a quality as much as a victim of circumstance. “If this happens to you, you are blessed.” But it is a quality. It’s a quality behind the circumstance. “Persecuted” means completely identify with Christ.

a)    Jesus later told His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20). Persecution is inevitable for those who live the kind of life Jesus pictures for us here.

b)    The persecution Jesus speaks of is “for the sake of righteousness” or “because of Me (Jesus)”. There is a kind we bring on ourselves, and that gets us nowhere—there’s no blessing in that. But when we completely identify ourselves with Christ—think like Him, talk like Him, live like Him, love righteousness like He does—we’ll be persecuted. And that’s the cost of being His disciple.

c)    There are various forms and degrees of persecution. Jesus used the word “persecution”. This word implies physical abuse and harassment. The more obvious and serious opposition which many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing right now, but which we rarely see. But there is also verbal persecution. Jesus spoke of “insults” and those who would “falsely say all kinds of evil against you.” This blessing is for all who suffer any kind of mistreatment simply for identifying with Christ and being faithful to Him.

d)    But there is a choice here. We can avoid persecution. True believers, “born again” Christians can blend—look and act and speak so much like the world that they will never face any kind of persecution. This is the carnal Christian. The self-focused Christians in Corinth that Paul rebuked because they were acting like “mere men”—not saved men. They were saved, but they weren’t acting like it. If we act like the children of God—in other words, if we follow Christ as His disciples—we will experience persecution of various forms throughout our lives.

2.     And Jesus promises some wonderful blessings:

a)    “Theirs (like the poor in spirit) is the kingdom of heaven.” As I said last week, this is a special reward. The privilege of reigning with Christ in the future.

b)    He said, “Your reward in heaven is great.” It is not wrong to serve the Lord in order to earn future reward! Jesus Himself commanded us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” just a few verses later (6:20). It should not be our only motivation—we should serve the Lord because we love Him first and foremost and because we are grateful for what He has done for us. But it is neither unspiritual nor selfish to serve Him with a motive He Himself has declared good. Heaven will be a different experience for the faithful. Some—the faithful whose lives are characterized by these beatitudes—will be rewarded greatly. Those Christians who do not overcome and who are not faithful and obedient will experience a time of sadness and loss. All who have trusted Christ and Christ alone will get in the gates and will be overjoyed to be there, but not all will hear the praise and approval of the King. Not all will reign with Christ during the Millennial reign of Christ on earth. Not all will be rewarded. “Rejoice and be glad!” Jesus said. Why? Because “your reward in heaven is great!”

c)    “For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Isn’t it helpful to know that we’re in good company? Don’t think that the life of a faithful son of God is supposed to be easy or problem free. We’re never promised that. All we have to do is look back through history and see that God’s servants have almost always experienced trials and difficulties and persecution in this life. But if we are heavenly minded and have God’s perspective, we can see that it will all be worth it in the end.

IV. Closing

A.   We could—and probably should—spend so much more time in these verses. But as I close and we move on into the depths of the Sermon on the Mount, I encourage you to keep these Kingdom qualities in mind. Come back and visit these verses from time to time to remind yourself of what a disciple of Jesus Christ should look like.

1.     Poor in spirit—humble before God.

2.     Mourning over, hating our sin because it disrupts our fellowship with God.

3.     Gentle—selfless. Having a God-focus will cause us to shed our self-focus.

4.     Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Passionately pursuing Christ.

5.     Merciful. Compassionate. Kind and forgiving.

6.     Pure in heart. Authentic before God because He sees the heart.

7.     Peacemaker. Bridge builder. A passion for introducing people to the Lover of our souls.

8.     Completely identify yourself with Christ. You’ll suffer some type of persecution, but don’t be surprised. Following in Christ’s footsteps costs something in this life, but is rewarded beyond measure in the next. 

B.    Remember that all this is upside down to the world. It is swimming upstream—against the current to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus’ ultimate promise here is that—in the end—it will all be worth it.

C.   I like how C.S. Lewis put it in his classic book, Mere Christianity: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” (p.104)

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