This was not your usual Sunday sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew chapters 5-7)
For one thing, there wasn’t a building available big enough for the crowd. No convenient pews, comfy cushioned chairs or rough planks. No microphone.
Just a rough dirt path uphill through rocks, weeds and underbrush, finally a relatively flat plain with a few scattered boulders to sit on or lean against.
There was no call to worship. No special music, no passing of the offering plates. No opening joke, no three major points, no pithy illustrations. No routine altar call. No ushers to seat latecomers or keep order, just four or five called disciples among the curious crowd.
Jesus opened his remarks with a matter-of-fact description of their current condition, followed with a comforting promise. Tired? Broke? Hungry? Grief-stricken? Beaten down? Depressed? Desperate?
You came to the right place, your needs will all be met!
The next section of the sermon was about keeping rules. The law. The Law of Moses, that is. Jesus didn’t say, your need for rule-keeping will soon be eased up. No, he said, these rules don’t go far enough. Not strict enough! Huh? You have to be perfect and perfectly righteous, he claimed. If you even think about breaking one little law, you’ve broken it!
Adultery, for example, punishable by death according to the law (Lev. 20:10). But Jesus says if you even think about it, you’re guilty! (Matt. 5:27-28)
I can visualize the crowd now, jostling elbows and whispering to each other. “This fellow is nuts.” “Yeah, let’s leave.” Some may have left but others stayed. Tax-collector Matthew was not yet a disciple. He had not yet been called to change careers and follow Jesus, but he may have been in that crowd taking notes. Someone was.
Jesus compared and contrasted the teachings or behavior of three groups of people: The Pharisees, the pagans, and counterfeit Christians. He lambasted them all. All wrong, he stated. But not to worry, things will begin to make sense after a while. Keep listening.
And they did. When Jesus came down from the mountain, the crowds didn’t shrink, they grew. “No matter what odd things he says,” they thought to themselves, “he’s got something – power! Power to heal, to deliver, to raise the dead even!”
Jesus soon needed help. So, he picked out twelve disciples from among the crowd, twelve ordinary working men to go say those same things, do those same things. And they did.
My interpretation of the Beatitudes:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will be citizens and residents of a different kingdom. God’s kingdom.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the supernatural, all-sufficient Comforter will be inhabiting their soul and body.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the one who regained ownership of planet earth will share it with them.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they are entitled to go to the Throne of Mercy whenever they want.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, Father God will reveal himself freely and fully to them.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will grow more like their Father, the ultimate peacemaker.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will reign with Christ, co-laborers with him in his kingdom.
Of course, the Pharisees, pagans and counterfeit Christians didn’t like any of that. They still don’t.