Picture the scene. A travelling Rabbi is in town. The rumours are rife about him – he’s a great speaker, even kids like him. Some are talking about miracle cures. Miracles.
The crowds turn up, too many to handle here, so the Rabbi – Jesus, leads them up a short incline to flat area and sits down.
And he opens his mouth:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5: 3 – 10).
I went to see my doctor recently. It was just a routine visit to collect a prescription but, being the good doctor and friend that he is, he asked me to step on the scales. I heard him whisper to himself, “overweight!”.
I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to hear, but he was obviously concerned. This is good, I though, although little embarrassing! I’m glad he cares. And he was right, I am struggling to lose a few kilos.
Every now and then we need a physical health check, with a doctor, or dentist, or cardiologist etc. Otherwise, we will likely take less care of ourselves because we will lose sight of changes that need to be made. We also need to take other health checks. I am going to suggest in this series of articles that Christian leaders would benefit from taking Spiritual health checks every now and then.
I recently found some challenges in the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible that I felt would help in this space.
So, here’s the first article, based on the first 10 verses, the part commonly called The Beatitudes. You read them at the beginning.
By the way, “Blessed” can mean “happy”, but perhaps more accurately, it speaks of spiritual well-being, God’s good fortune or favour.
I wonder if there was anything that struck you as odd when you read those verses. Here’s what I mean: The first time I read this I thought “these people don’t sound very blessed to me!” For example,
· Blessed are the poor? You don’t have much and that’s a good thing?
· Blessed are those who are in mourning? You’ve lost someone and that’s a good thing? What are you talking about?
· Blessed are those who are persecuted? What!!?
· Even meek people don’t sound very blessed (or attractive) to me. Are they hiding in a corner, too afraid to speak?
What is going on? What is Jesus saying?
This “sermon” (in Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5 – 7) spoken by Jesus is about to reveal a very different world. A very different kingdom. It’s what He calls “the Kingdom of Heaven”. This message is for those sitting there listening to Jesus on the mountain in the first century (actually, standing. Jesus sat; the people stood. Different culture) and for us listening in the 21st century.
Jesus is about to describe a very different way of seeing the world.
Let’s have a brief look at what the world was like for those standing on the mountain, listening to Jesus teach. How did people view the world back then in 1st century Israel?
First, their ancient Scriptures (our Old Testament) told them that a king is coming, a very special one. A powerful one. One who will destroy their enemies – a Messiah. But what many of them failed to see, was that their scriptures also spoke of one who will suffer; one whose death will be as important as His life.
And before them, without them realising, on that very day on the mountain was a teacher, a Rabbi, who will be that king, who will destroy enemies.
Except the enemies are not people, but sin and death. The real enemy is the darkness in each person’s soul.
Second, in Jesus’ day, being a good person, or being a “righteous” person meant being seen to do the right things (and being proud of it), religiously obeying the law. What many failed to see, especially leaders, was that God was much more interested about what was going on under the surface.
In Jesus’ new kingdom, heart motivation is a big deal.
With that in mind, let’s see what Jesus meant with the first few verses of His “Sermon on the Mount”.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
This statement was likely a reflection of verses that could be found in the Old Testament like Ps 138: 6, “Though the LORD is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar”. Instead of reading “lowly”, we could use the word “humble”.
In other words, blessed are the humble, blessed are those that know they need God, those that know they can’t rely on their own abilities alone.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – the humble
“…for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” – the doors of the kingdom of Heaven are open wide for them.
2. Blessed are those who mourn.
This has got nothing to do with the loss of a loved one. People listening to Jesus on the mountain that day may well have been reminded of Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me…2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…” (Is 61: 1 – 2)
This passage of Scripture is a prophetic description of the Messiah, and on another occasion, Jesus will claim that He is the one who fulfills it.
So, who are those whom the Messiah will comfort? It’s not talking about those who have experienced a death, but one of two types of people: First, those who grieve over their own sin. “Lord, I want to be better, but I just keep messing up! I know I am not always my best”.
Second, those who grieve over the state of their nation (like Israel did in the 1st Century), or like many do today. “What has the world come to?”
Here’s what Jesus is saying: “Because I (Jesus) am here, because the Messiah has come, and because of what I will do on the cross, there is hope of real change. Of a Kingdom coming – to you personally, and to the world around you.”
“Blessed are those who mourn; they will be comforted”.
3. Blessed are the meek
Meekness also speaks of humility. One definition is “controlled strength” – one who refuses to knee-jerk react to a situation. A meek person won’t lash out or assert themselves over another; they will submit to God’s purposes and do what’s right whatever the cost.
Such will inherit the earth; they will enjoy life, now and forever in union with their Creator.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Jesus may have been quoting from Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:1-2).
This is similar to those who mourn. These people grieve over the state of their own heart, over the state of the world around them and the world at large.
They are pleading for God to come, for a good and pure heart to beat in their chest. They want God to pour out His Spirit on the world around them. They want righteous laws to be passed in government. They ache for the church to be a beacon of light of hope, love and truth. Such are the leaders Jesus looks for in his new kingdom.
What’s the promise? “They will be filled”. Jesus said. God will hear their prayers.
5. Blessed are the merciful
The religious leaders of the day weren’t merciful; they were judgmental, self-righteous. In essence they would say, “If you are not living according to our standards, our rules, then we want nothing to do with you. You deserve punishment”.
In time, people saw Jesus as a very different sort of leader: one who was kind, compassionate, who offered hope instead of judgment.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart
This feels like the centre of everything to me. The beatitude that holds all the rest of them together. Centuries before this day on the mountain, King David was chosen to be King of Israel because God saw something: “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). David was the same man who prayed, years later “Create in me a pure heart, O God,” Psalm 51:10.
In Jesus’ day, what’s really important to God has not changed:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8).
Blessed is the leader who seeks purity of heart.
So how did your spiritual health check go? Do you know that you need God? If yes, the doors of the kingdom of Heaven are open wide for you. This is a good sign in terms of spiritual health. Are you sorry for your sins, for times you’ve messed-up? Do you know you can do better? If yes, the Lord comforts you. Another good sign of spiritual health.
Are you hungry for more of God? Are you thirsty for more of Him and his righteousness? If yes, this is very healthy and spiritually speaking, you will be filled. Do you pray for a pure heart? The Lord loves that; He will reveal Himself to you (“they will see God”). This is good spiritual health and the sign of a good leader.
A great leader.
A humble leader.
One like Jesus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Terry Nightingale is a pastor serving in the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, having previously worked in Christian education both in the UK and Perth. He graduated from Vose Seminary with a Masters in Divinity in 2016. He loves sharing the Gospel and teaching the Word of God.
Terry and Sue arrived in Australia in 2003 from the UK for a 1-year adventure. They never returned! The beaches, the sun and God’s call upon their lives persuaded them to settle in the land ‘down-under’. Today they have two grown-up children both married, with four grandchildren and counting.
Terry writes a popular weekly blog at terrynightingale.com called ‘4-minute Devotions’, short Bible -centred messages for the busy Christian on the go. He also writes Christian worship music and plays the guitar.
Looking Back To Move Forward is his first non-fiction book for Christian leaders – in fact for anyone who occasionally faces discouragement or setbacks. His second book, based on his blog, is entitled Bite-Size Devotions For The Busy Christian.