Today to start, I want to give you guys a hook, something that’s gonna make you interested. It’s going to be kind of controversial. So are you guys ready? Some of you are ready, some of you aren’t sure. Most people desire to be happy and have meaningful, blessed lives. Shocker, right? You guys are blown away. I can see it. I was expecting more gasps. I have yet to meet someone that has willed to have a meaningless, dull, unhappy life. They might be out there, maybe you know them, but I have yet to meet one.
Most people value happiness, meaningfulness. And sometimes we differ on exactly what we value depending on what culture you’re raising or individuals prize, either honor or family or community more than others. But despite all the differences and varieties between individuals and cultures, we all desire the same thing.
We have transcendent desires. We all want our lives to be meaningful. We all want to be loved and we all want to be satisfied. And the disagreements that arise between people aren’t usually on what they want, but how to get where they want. It’s often not the destination, but it’s how they arrive there.
And maybe you’ve been in this situation like this where a parent and a teenager are having an argument. The parent says you have to do your homework before hanging out with your friends or playing video games. Or you have a curfew. You have to go to bed at a certain time. You can’t stay out with your friends. See, the parent sees this as building their work ethic. They want them to be able to provide for themselves and have a good work ethic after they leave their house. So whether that’s college or the workforce or afterwards, they’re trying to help their teenager. But the teenager on the other hand does not view it the same way. They see it as a prison sentence. As maybe a torture. I mean, how mom could you do this to me? How dad could you keep me from my friends and my joy? That’s like, that’s everything to me. And you’re keeping me from that.
As some of you know, I am a huge fan of history. And one of my favorite stories that comes down to from history is, a lot of people consider it to be a legend, but it includes one of the most famous people in all of history. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He goes by the name Alexander the Great. He has the great in his name, so most people have heard of him. It’s a lot more recognizable than “the terrible.” But anyways, Alexander the Great, a little background on him is he conquered the whole known world by the age of 30. He never lost a battle. And history tells us that when he got to his last battle and defeated his last enemy that he began to weep for there were no more lands left to conquer. That gives you a little idea of who he was.
And the story that we’re talking about today, the legend that passes down is that Alexander was conquering the world and he was going by the Indus river, which is in India. And there sitting on the banks of the Indus river was what we would call today a Yogi. He was a naked philosopher. That’s what the Greeks called them, “gymnosophists,” naked philosophers, and he was sitting there. And like you or I would do Alexander asked, “What are you doing right? What are you doing sitting there naked?” And the Yogi responded, “Experiencing nothingness. And then the Yogi asked Alexander, “What are you doing?” And Alexander said, “Conquering the world.” Then both man laughed and thought that the other must be a fool.
Now the really interesting thing about this story and why I love it so much is that both of these men are living their lives to complete conviction to their beliefs. There’s no hypocrisy in them. They are both living out what they believe to be meaningful. See the Yogi on one hand comes from a culture and believes that the world and life’s are cyclical. And that to experience something real, he has to separate himself from the world. And to achieve Nirvana, he must experience nothingness. To get to what is meaningful, to get to what is real, he must separate himself from the world. Alexander on the other hand was raised in Greek philosophy as well as Greek myths and legends of heroes who did great deeds. And he was told from an early age that to be remembered, to have a meaningful life, he had one, one life and he had to do something extraordinary to be remembered. To have a life full of meaning. And both of these worldviews are coming together and both are seen in just perfect light.
And the passage in which we find ourselves today is Matthew 5. And it’s the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, known as The Beatitudes. And Jesus is talking to his disciples and the crowd that has been rapidly growing, following him. And Jesus takes the opportunity to go up on a mountain where everyone can hear his voice and he begins speaking to the crowd. And he starts giving the beatitudes, which means blessings that most if not all people desire. But how Jesus says you receive these blessings, a lot of them are radically different to the way the world around them sees how you receive these blessings. And perhaps even in our own context or own ideas today.
We begin in Matthew 5:1-10 and it says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and began to teach them saying, blessing are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What are these blessings and why are they transcendent desires of the human heart? To be a part of the kingdom of heaven, to be comforted, to inherit the earth, to be satisfied, to receive mercy, to see God, to be called a son of God. I have a feeling that all the people following Jesus desire these things because first of all, they’re following Jesus. They want to listen to him. They want to hear what he has to say. Not only that, but Jesus has a unique ability in scriptures that you see over and over again that he is able to speak to the heart of the individual despite who they might be. Whether it’s the woman at the well, someone he heals, the Pharisees or his disciples. Also, I know that is because it’s exactly what I desire and my guess is, it’s desires that you have as well.
So what does it mean to be a part of the kingdom of heaven? It means that you’re a part of something that is far greater than yourself. It means you have an allegiance, you are in service to a King that deserves it. It is a meaning that is not a shallow or corruptible kind of meaning that ends when you die or can be taken by force. But it is something that is eternal and you get to be a part of it. To be comforted is to be loved. To be cared for when you need it most. And despite what projection of toughness that we can display, we all desire to be loved when we are hurting.
To be satisfied, to be filled, to be content. If you’ve read the Psalms or Ecclesiastes, the writers of them talk about this idea of satisfaction. And it only takes about 30 minutes, maybe less and a radio to find out that we still wrestle with the idea of satisfaction and of being filled today. And the fact is, it is incredibly elusive and it’s aggressively sought and it’s relatable to all people. We all want to be satisfied.
To receive mercy is to be forgiven. But in our context, we might not use that word. We might use the word to be accepted. Because no matter how principled or goodhearted someone may be, even myself. I know it’s hard to believe. I’m just kidding, I sin all the time. We all sin and we all fall short of the glory of God and we need to be forgiven. We all do things that we know for there to be any relationship with the person that we’ve wronged, there needs to be forgiveness, there needs to be mercy.
And we often fear rejection because of our failings. And we can carry that around as a heavy burden. And we all desire to receive mercy, to be forgiven, and to be accepted. To see God is to know Him as He is, which is a great desire of the human heart, which is often not talked about today. But to know God as He is, to know our creator is something that we all share. I think back to the ancients when the lengths they went to to portray God, their wealth, their craftsmanship, everything that they did. They would make these giant temples, giant idols, giant things, trying to get a glimpse of the majesty of the creator of the universe.
But God condemn these because they all fell short of what His glory, what His splendor was actually like. And even past those times, even the cathedrals and mosques tried to convey the awe and majesty of God and wanting to know him as he is. To be a son or daughter of God is to be a part of a family with a father who does all the things that we just mentioned. A father who does not abandon his child. A father who loves his children, a father who provides an inheritance, a place to belong. A father who is merciful and forgives and does not reject his child.
To have meaning, to be loved, to belong, to be satisfied, to be accepted, to know God and have a loving father. I don’t think you could find a song, movie or book that doesn’t have these ideas and these themes interwoven into them because they are all things that no matter where you from, are relatable to the human experiences and deep desires of our heart. And like I said earlier, we all share similar desires, but like Alexander and the Yogi, we often have different ways or different ideas on how to attain them. To get those blessings. And the interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus explains to us exactly what kind of person receives the blessings.
And how he says they do for some is quite contrary to the ideas of popular beliefs shared by the audience back then. And like I said earlier, it can be different from even what we see today. And fortunately we have the privilege of not only reading the words of Jesus, but being able to see these promises worked out in his own life as well as the life of the disciples.
The first one that sticks out to me for how different it is to the ideas of the day is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, this won’t be the last time that Jesus elaborates on this idea in the gospels, he actually talks about this a lot. One of the things he says is many of those who are first shall be last and the last shall first. And another, “Truly, I tell you that anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” There are many other things that Jesus will say about the poor in spirit, but the reason why this was so counterintuitive to the ideas of the day is the people who are thought to be closest to God were by far the richest in spirit.
There were a group of people back then who were the religious, political, academic, societal leaders of the Jewish world as well as the wealthy elite. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They were known as Pharisees. Now, if you remember, Jesus had a few run ins with the Pharisees in his time, his earthly ministry. And Jesus would tell a story to illustrate the differences between someone who is rich in spirit and someone who is poor in spirit by saying, a tax collector and a Pharisee went to the temple to pray. And the Pharisee, getting to the temple, got there and looked around and he said, thank you God, that I am not like these other people. That I am not a swindler or an unjust adulterer or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get. And the tax collector at a distance, not willing to even raise his eyes towards heaven, beat his chest, and he asks God to be merciful to him and gracious because he was a sinner.
The undoing of the Pharisees as we know, would be the richness of spirit. See, they love the praise and adoration they got from the other people who viewed them as the best of the best. And because of that, when they saw Jesus, instead of recognizing the Messiah, of which out of anyone during the time of Christ, they should have known. They had memorized scripture, they knew the prophecies, they had an understanding of who the Messiah would be. And they even said they looked forward to him. But when Jesus came, they didn’t see him as the Messiah. Instead, they saw him as a thief. A thief of the praise that they deserved. And because of that, they were driven mad with jealousy. And they were blind to the gospel. They were deaf to the words of Jesus, because they thought they were above being saved.
The poor in the spirit, on the other hand. Those that society despised. They knew they needed a Savior and they recognized that they were sinners in need of saving. Tax collectors who were literally traders and thieves, prostitutes, the formerly demon possessed, and common fisherman followed Christ, receive forgiveness, and were given a seat in the kingdom of heaven because they were poor in spirit.
Now, I can’t think of anything more outlandish that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount or more crazy than “Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.” Now, if I would’ve heard that in the audience, I think I would’ve snickered and been like, are you kidding me? Seriously, like we didn’t vote the Romans into government. We didn’t vote for the Cesar to be our president. 90 years earlier a guy named Pompey the Great came and conquered Israel, kind of just on a whim. He was just like, I’m in the area. I’ll take it. And the the Israelites were looking for a Messiah that would force the Romans out because they understood that’s how things got done in the time that Jesus is in.
You think about Israel’s history that they would have been very familiar with is the Romans weren’t the first people to take the land of Israel from them or conquer them. The Greeks just a little while earlier, as well as the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Philistines, and the Elamites and all the other tribes in the book of Judges who had conquered Israel. And they didn’t do it by being gentle. They did it by being tough and through warfare and killing Israelites and showing that they were stronger than them.
But here’s the thing. All those empires that I just mentioned, they collapsed because of their own weight. Their own greatness was their undoing. Because of their conquests and all the people that they destroyed, they would end up being overthrown by the people they tried to subdue and rule over. Eventually all of them. With a vengeance and resentfulness, the people who were conquered would end up flipping over those empires. And the remarkable thing, one of the most remarkable things in history, I find, is that the disciples of Christ from the first to the third century would conquer Rome and its empire, the most powerful and dominant military power that has ever existed in the world. Maybe the Mongolians can make a case. But through the efforts, through the gentleness of the disciples, hearts and minds were transformed by their conviction to face death for what they believed, without resentment, without retaliation towards their captors. And they got to see this great empire get overthrown by disciples of Christ through gentleness. And not only that, Jesus offers a kingdom that will not perish, a new heaven and a new earth. An inheritance that belongs to his disciples. Those two blessings are the greatest contrast with the ideas of the time of Jesus. And we can see the faithfulness of God working to bring about his promises despite the ideas or the beliefs of man.
And we don’t have enough time to cover all these Beatitudes today. But one that sticks out to me with the greatest contrast of our time, is the idea of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied. Now, this statement would have made more sense back then because they were a lot more focused on their relationship with God or gods. Whether they were Jew or Gentile. Now they wouldn’t have understood it as a personal relationship as much as we would today, but they tried at great lengths, to have a good relationship or being in a right standing before God or gods.
Because we have an infinite amount of things to distract and entertain and fill our time. And we often believe the promises of commercials or commercialism, that more will be enough to satisfy. We search for fullness and our culture encourages us to find it in the things that we do. But Jesus offers a different way and he gives us a different promise. He asks us to trust Him. And he asks us to pursue and thirst after righteousness, which means a right relationship with God. Because He will satisfy those who do.
Now, why was this important to those people back then and why is it important to us today? Well, when we read scriptures, we need to look at the promises and blessings that Jesus gives and how he tells us to be filled. Because Jesus isn’t speaking out of a place of ignorance at all. He’s speaking out of place of truth and wisdom and knowledge. Colassians 1:6 says that, “Through him all things were created and have there been whether things in heaven or on earth.” And if that is true, that includes you and me. And it only stands that if the person who made you and made me tells us how to be filled, he knows what he’s talking about. The one who crafted the human heart and knows you and knows me, knows the human heart, wants to fill it, and he wants us to live full of blessings, not despair. That doesn’t mean that things don’t happen that are harmful because sin is a thing, but he wants us to live a life full of blessings because these words are here.
And Jesus would go on from this sermon, which has that really the beginning of his earthly ministry in the book of Matthew and would demonstrate what living this out looked like. And fulfilled the promises as well. He comforted those who mourned. He gave the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit. He was merciful to those who are merciful. He was a peacemaker, he was persecuted, he was pure in heart, and he was gentle. And he calls us to do a lot of those same things today, these beatitudes.
And here’s another thing that we need to remember, is that 2,000 years later, the same Jesus who gave us these words is still the same Jesus. He is still the one who comforts those who mourn. He is still merciful, he still satisfies, he still gives inheritances. He still adopts sons and daughters and he still offers us a place in the kingdom of heaven.