Have you ever wondered, “What am I reading when I read the Sermon on the Mount?” The Beatitudes for example- what are they? What is Jesus doing by giving this list of character attributes and the rewards that go with each? This is NOT what people in Jesus’ day would have thought the blessing and favor of God should look like. Jesus is re-framing. Consider another mountain-top prophet, of Old Testament days, at the end of his ministry expounding on what it meant to follow Yahweh and receive his blessings.
Here is Moses on Mount Nebo right before he is laid to rest by Yahweh and replaced by Joshua. The nation of Israel is gathered on the eve of entering the Promised Land. Moses is coaching the elders and families, reminding them of the most important things about a life of faithfulness under Yahweh’s provision and rule.
“If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock– the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD…”
(Deuteronomy 28:1-10 NIV)
“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20 NIV)
Did you see it? In Moses’ mind, what was absolutely critical for living in the shadow of Yahweh’s blessing? How do you STAY the unique people of God in context? In a word, OBEDIENCE. You stay close to God and his favor by hearing and obeying his word (the covenant/law). Again, Moses coaches, “This commandment is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. … the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” You will be makarios (blessed and happy) IF you remember and do God’s word. That’s what it means to love God. That is the path to the good life. So when Jesus fires up his sermon on his mount, he RE-frames what it means to be the people of God living under the blessings of his rule. Where Moses talked about the Promised Land, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. Moses gave them the law and told them to obey it, Jesus redefines the path of obedience. And he goes one further. He opens the Kingdom of Heaven to more than just the covenant people of old testament law.
Let’s look at Matthew 5 in two chunks. The first part reframes what it means to be the people of God (Beatitudes, Salt and Light vv 1-16). The second part reframes what true righteousness looks like (a separate study of Matt 5:17 – Matt 6:4). Here’s a manuscript and some inductive questions for part 1.
1. The words “blessed are” appear nine times. Makarios is the Greek word being translated blessed. Blessed. Fortunate. Happy. Privileged recipient of divine favor. What do you notice about the people Jesus says are makarios? Who are they?
2. Why are the makarios favored? Is it because of the attributes they are identified with (blessed are the pure in heart, for example, because they keep themselves that way).? Or is it in spite of these same attributes (even though they are poor in spirit, they are favored anyway because God wants them to be blessed)? Because of? In spite of? Explain.
3. Some attributes of the makarios seem positive – aspirational (the merciful, pure in heart, etc). Some definitely do not (mourning, persecution). What seems to be the basis of being blessed regardless?
4. Take each beatitude one at a time. What is the connection between the person being blessed/favored, and the specific benefit of that blessing. Why are the poor in spirit given the kingdom of heaven? How is it the pure in heart see God? Etc.
5. It is perfectly natural to assume that when Jesus says, “Blessed are, the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek” etc, that he is referring directly to the people he’s speaking to (his disciples plus loads and loads of people drawn to his teaching, healing and forgiving power). When we read the beatitudes today, should we assume the same thing? Are we to see ourselves in this list as a community of Christ’s followers? Are we to seek these attributes in the same way we cultivate the fruits of the Spirit (all of which reflect the character we should long for)? Why or why not?
6. If you have the time, skim Matthew chapters 3 and 4. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is going to mention the Kingdom of Heaven. A lot! How would Matthew’s readers understand what the kingdom of heaven is about?
7. Jesus elaborates most about persecution. What is unique about this particular attribute of the makarios?
8. Jesus identified his audience with the very characteristics their lives presented to him. He saw the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, pure in heart, the persecuted, etc. When we look at this list, how does it shape our understanding of life in God’s kingdom today? How might we need to reframe what it means to be blessed by God?
9. Theologian D. Martin Lloyd Jones has said of the beatitudes, “All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
10. Read vv 13-16. Two more attributes of kingdom people are described. What does each add to what it means to live under God’s favor and rule?
11. In the kingdom of heaven, God blesses his people. His people are in turn to bless and benefit the world through their impact. What threats today keep God’s people from being effective salt and light? What challenges in your context make this difficult?
12. “Moses told us our enemies would be defeated before us. You’re telling us we’re going to be persecuted for following you.”Jesus has reframed what it means to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. If you are an Israelite wondering if he is the Messiah, how might your expectations be disappointed?
13. How does this view of the beatitudes reframe for you what being a Christian means? What is one way you feel you need to cultivate your faith differently? What is one thing about the community you belong to you wish were more salty and visible to the world?
PS – My manuscript scrawlings…