by Paul George
The many miraculous cures wrought by Jesus in Galilee were intended to make way for this sermon, and to prepare the people to receive instructions from one in whom there appeared to be a divine power and goodness. This sermon was probably a summary of what Jesus had preached in the synagogues of Galilee.
The sermon is preached on a mountain in Galilee. As in other things our Lord Jesus had no convenient comfort place to preach in. The scribes and Pharisees had Moses’ chair to sit in, with all possible ease, honor, and state, and there corrupted the law; our Lord Jesus, the great Teacher of truth, is out on a mountain seated on a nard rock or the stump of a tree. The sermon is an exposition of the law. The law was given to Moses upon a mountain. The difference is when the law was given the Lord came down upon the mountain, now the Lord goes up on a mountain. On Mount Sinai He spoke with thunder and lightning. On this mountain in Galilee there is no thunder or lightning. When the law was given to Moses the people were told to keep their distance; now they are invited to draw near. To this mountain we are called to learn to offer the sacrifices of righteousness.
If we are going to follow Jesus there will be times when we must climb a mountain.
The Sermon on the Mount does not present the way of salvation but the way of righteous living for those who are in the family of God. It is a contrast between the new way with the old way of the scribes and the Pharisees. It is a comparison between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. It is for the benefit of the disciples of Jesus because they are to teach others and it is necessary that they have a clear and distinct knowledge of these things. Although this discourse was directed to the disciples, it was in the hearing of a multitude.
On this mountain Jesus will teach the disciples and the people according to the promise in Isaiah 54:13. He taught them what evil they should avoid, and what was the good they should do. He begins His sermon with blessings because in Him all the families of the earth are blessed. The Old Testament ended with a curse (Malachi 4:6), the gospel message begins with blessings and each of the blessings has a double intention. They identify those who are to be accounted truly blessed and what their characters are. The sermon is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world; the blessed are the strong and rich, the great and honorable men and women in the world.
Jesus corrects this error and advances a new way of life. He gives His disciples a different idea of blessings and who the blessed are, however paradoxical it may appear it is in itself a rule and doctrine of eternal truth and certainty, by which all mankind must be judged.
The sermon is designed to remove the discouragements of the weak and poor by assuring them that His gospel does not make only those that are widely known and honored for the gifts, graces, and comforts they have received, but that even the least in the kingdom of heaven whose heart is right in the sight of God can find blessings in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus makes it very to His disciple on that mountain and in today’s pews what God expects from them and what we may expect from Him. No where in the Bible is this more fully set before us and in fewer words than in this sermon or a more exact reference to what God expects from us and what we may expect from Him. The highway to blessing is opened and the barriers taken down. In this mountain top message there are eight characteristics of the blessed, their inner qualities, and their future blessings. The inner qualities contradict the proud thinking of the scribes and Pharisees who believe they can attain righteousness through their good deeds and their relationship with Abraham. Jesus points out this error in their thinking when He tells us righteousness, blessings, and happiness are not through good deeds or a relationship with Abraham, but through a relationship with Him.
In the sermon Jesus reveals the secret which is hidden from the ungodly and unrighteous who believe the comforts and luxuries of this world are indispensable. He strikes at the root of the carnal conceit of the Jews, who vainly believed external peace and prosperity were to be the result of the coming of the promised Messiah. He describes the blessed in this world.
First: There are the poor in spirit.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” The poor in spirit are not blessed because they are poor but because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The ungodly and unrighteous of this world claim it is the rich who are the blessed because theirs is the kingdoms of the world. What they don’t understand the kingdoms of the world are fading away. The kingdom of heaven is eternal it will never fade away. The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom far greater than all the kingdoms of the earth.
We must confess what Jesus said about the poor in spirit. There is a vast difference between being poor in the spirit and financial poverty. There is no virtue and often disgrace in financial poverty. Financial poverty doesn’t produce humility of heart. This poverty of the spirit Jesus speaks of is not generally found in the majority of the religionists. Many books are written telling us how to be “filled with the Spirit,” but where can we find one telling us what it means to be emptied of self? In His sermon concerning wealth Jesus said, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15), it is equally true what is of great price in His sight is despised by men. This generation feeds on pride. Spiritual poverty is the opposite of the proud, self-assertive and self-sufficient disposition which the world admires and praises. It is opposite of the independent and defiant attitude of men and women who refuse to bow to God, who say “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?”
The poor in spirit have arrived at the point in life were they know they have nothing and can do nothing in themselves, to rise above the condition they are in, and have need of all things. Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of their emptiness, the result of the Spirit’s work within. All their righteousness is as filthy rags, their best deeds are unacceptable, an abomination to God. Poverty of spirit brings us to our knees before God, acknowledging our utter helplessness and deserving the judgments of God. It corresponds to the initial awakening of the prodigal in the far country. Poverty in spirit is realizing God’s great salvation is free, “without money and without price,” the most merciful provision of God’s grace. If God put a for sale tag on His grace and salvation no sinner could purchase them because he has nothing with which he could possibly purchase them. Most people don’t understand it is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of the sin blinded. It is those who have passed from death unto life who become conscious of their spiritual poverty, take the place of beggars and are glad to receive Divine charity, and begin to seek the true riches. Poverty of spirit is the realization of our utter worthlessness which precedes the laying hold of Christ. It is the Spirit emptying the heart of self that Jesus may fill it: it is a sense of need and destitution. The one who is poor in spirit is nothing in his own eyes, and feels that his proper place is in the dust before God. He may, through false teaching or worldliness, leave this place, but God knows how to bring him back; and in His faithfulness and love He will do it because this is the place of blessing for His children.
It is the spiritual poor and not the financial poor who are pronounced “blessed.” The poor in spirit are blessed because they have a disposition the opposite of what was theirs by nature. They are blessed because they have in themselves the evidence that a Divine work of grace has been wrought in their heart. They are blessed because they are heirs of the kingdom of heaven in the present and in the hereafter.
Second: There are those who mourn.
Mourning is hateful and irksome to the human nature. Jesus said the blessed are those who mourn. If they mourn, how can they be blessed? It is totally contrary with the world’s logic. Men have, in all places and in all ages, deemed the prosperous to be the blessed but Jesus pronounces blessed those who are poor in spirit and who mourn.
Mourning is hateful and irksome to the human nature. Jesus said the blessed are those who mourn. If they mourn, how can they be blessed? Mourning is totally contrary with the world’s definition of blessed. Men have always claimed the prosperous to be the blessed but Jesus said the blessed are those who are poor in spirit and who mourn. Who is right?
It is obvious that it is not every form of mourning Jesus is referring to. There are thousands of mourners in the world who do not come within the scope of this verse. The “mourning” Jesus is referring to is a spiritual one. The previous verse indicates clearly the line of thought here: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are the poor,” not the financially poor, but the poor in heart: those who realize they are spiritual bankrupt the opposite of the Laodicean who says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Jesus is referring to a spiritual mourning. Further proof of this is found in the fact that Jesus pronounces these mourners “blessed.” They are blessed because the Spirit of God has wrought a work of grace within them, and they have been awakened to see and feel their lost condition. They are “blessed” because God does not leave them at that point, “they shall be comforted.” The mourning Jesus is referring to is the initial mourning which precedes a genuine conversion.
There must be a real sense of sin and a godly sorrow before the remedy for it will even be desired. Thousands acknowledge that they are sinners, who have never mourned over the fact. The prodigal in Luke 15 before he left the far country said, “I will arise and go to my Father and say to Him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son.” The publican of Luke 18 “smite upon his breast” and said “God be merciful to me a sinner”? The prodigal and publican felt a sense of sin in their heart. The mourning Jesus is referring to springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over rebellion against God and hostility to His will. In some cases it is grief over the worldly things the heart has trusted, over the self-righteousness which has caused complacency. It comes from an agonizing realization that it was our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. It is these tears and groans which prepare the heart to truly welcome and receive the Savior. It is mourning over the felt destitution of our spiritual state, and over the iniquities that have separated us and God. Such mourning always goes side by side with poverty of spirit.
But this “mourning” is not to be confined to the initial experience of conviction. It is a present and continuous experience. The Christian has much to mourn over, the sins which he commits both of omission and commission that should be a sense of daily grief to him, or should be, and will be if his conscience is kept tender. The surging of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the coldness of his love, and his failure to produce good fruit should make him cry “O wretched man that I am.” “Blessed are they that mourn” refers to the convicted soul sorrowing over sins. Jesus does not say they are blessed because they mourn. They are blessed because they will be comforted. True comfort is not to be found in self, but in Jesus. When the Holy Spirit produces in the heart a godly sorrow for sin, He does not leave us there, but brings us to look away from sin to the Lamb of God, and then we are comforted.
This gracious promise of comfort is fulfilled first in the removal of the burden of guilt that is an intolerable burden on the conscience. This comfort is the peace of God which passes all understanding, filling the heart with the assurance we are “accepted in the Beloved.” It is a continual comforting by the Holy Spirit. The one who sorrows over his departures from Jesus is comforted by the assurance that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The one who mourns under the chastening rod of God is comforted by the promise, “afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). The one who grieves over the dishonor done to his Lord is comforted by the fact that Satan’s time is short, and will soon be cast into the pit. The final comfort is when we leave this world and are done with sin for ever. Then shall “sorrow and sighing flee away.” To the rich man in hell, Abraham said of the one who had begged at his gate, “now he is comforted (Luke 16:25). The good news is the comfort of heaven will more than compensate for all the mourning of earth.
Third: There are the meek.
Jesus said the blessed in this world are the meek. There have been many debates as to exactly what this meekness consists of. Some defined it as humility. This definition does not fully reveal all that is included in meekness. Its usage in Scripture reveals a link between meekness and lowliness that cannot be separated (Matthew 11:29; Ephesians 4:1-2) It is associated with and cannot be separated from gentleness (2 Corinthians 10:1; Titus 3:2). The psalmist tells us God “leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way (Psalm 25:9). In the Beatitudes Jesus is describing the orderly development of God’s work of grace in the soul.
Meekness is a by-product of self-emptying and self-humiliation; or, in other words, a broken will and a receptive heart before God. It is not only the opposite of pride, but of stubbornness, fierceness, and vengefulness. It is the taming of the lion, the making of the wolf to lie down as a lamb. In the ungodly and religionist the meekness that is found in the love of ease, absence of sensibility, stability, and other passions, is susceptible to change in form or nature, must be separated from biblical meekness. It is susceptible of being modified in form or nature, from good, and persuaded to evil. It is often found in ungodly men and in the character of the religious.
Biblical meekness to which the blessing of gracious is added enables men of the most intense, passionate, impetuous, and merciless character, by looking to Jesus through the grace of God, learn to curb their tempers, cease from resentment, avoid offending by injurious words and actions, and forgive injuries. It is the opposite of self-well toward God, and ill-will toward men. It is quietly submitting to the will of God, His Word, His rod, and follow His directions and comply with His plan for their lives and are gentle toward their fellowman.
The fruits of meekness are first God ward. Where this fruit is dominant the enmity of the carnal mind is subdued, and its possessor bears God’s chastening with quietness and patience. Second it is man ward, inasmuch as meekness is that spirit which has been schooled to mildness by discipline and suffering, and brought into obedience to the will of God. It causes the believer to bear patiently the insults and injuries which he receives at the hands of his fellowman and makes him ready to accept instruction or admonishment and moves him to think more highly of others than of himself.
Meekness enables the Christian to endure provocations without being provoked to anger or vengeance. Paul told the Galatians, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1). This means, not with a lordly and a domineering attitude, a harsh and censorious temper, with a love of finding fault and desire for inflicting discipline but with gentleness, humility and patience.
Contrary to what is believed in this world meekness is not a sign of weakness. It is manifested in an individual by the yielding to God’s will and will not yield to or compromise with evil. God-given meekness enables His people to stand up for God-given rights. When God’s glory is profaned we must denounce the profanity and those who profane God’s glory. We need to follow Moses’ example. He was “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3), yet when he saw the Israelites dancing before the golden calf he broke the two tables of stone, and put to the sword those who had dishonored Jehovah. The apostles firmly and boldly stood their ground when they were beaten for preaching the gospel message (Acts 16:35-37). Jesus in concern for His Father’s glory made a whip of cords and drove the desecrators out of the temple. Jude tells us we are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (v 3). Biblical meekness is never in conflict with the requirements of faithfulness to God, His cause, and His people.
The spirit of meekness is what enables us to get enjoyment out of what God has given us. It delivers us from a greedy and grasping disposition, what “a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16). The proud and covetous do not “inherit the earth,” though they may own many acres of it. The humble Christian is far happier in a cottage than the wicked in a palace. The author of Proverbs wrote, “Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble with it. (Proverbs 15:16).
Writing to the Corinthians Paul said, “Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollas or Cephas or the world or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all things belong to you” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). Our right or title to the earth is twofold: civil and spiritual. The civil is approved by men according to their laws and customs. The spiritual is approved by God. Adam had this spiritual right to the earth before he fell, but by his sin he forfeited it both for himself and his posterity. But Jesus has regained it for all God’s children.
Our inheritance is an Old Testament promise with a New Testament meaning. The value of this spiritual grace and the need to pray for an increase of it is found in Zephaniah 2:3. As a further inducement to “seek the Lord” is the promises, “The meek shall eat and be satisfied” (Psalm 21:26), “The Lord lifts up the meek” (Psalm 147:6), “The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord” (Isaiah 29:19). From these passages we should be able to see it is foolishness seeking earthly possessions without any regard to the Lord’s will. Since all right to the earth was lost by Adam and is only recovered by the Redeemer, we can have no part of it until we have a part in Him. Just as we can not purchase or possess an earthly inheritance, we can not purchase or possess any heavenly inheritance.