A helpful way to understand the Sermon on the Mount is to look at it through three distinct characteristics of Jesus:
1. A Joyful King
2. A Divine Healer
3. A Warning Prophet
Each of these characteristics plays an important role in every aspect of the Sermon but to start, let's dig deeper into the first one:
Jesus, the Joyful King
Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with a clear message: "The reign of God has come!" (Mark 1:15, Matt. 3:2). This proclamation spoke powerfully to the deep pain within the nation of Israel because this particular form of "good news" was prophesied to be proclaimed at the inauguration of the end of Israel's exile, which had continued to that day. Isaiah 52:6-7 speaks of this, saying,
6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 52:6–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Jesus burst on the scene as this prophesied messenger of God's reign. For the Jewish world view at that time, that meant political autonomy but many recognized that it went beyond that. The nation was still under a spiritual death and it was only through national renewal under God's reign that they would come out from this exile.
In my last article, I wrote briefly on how Jesus demonstrated the reign of God. When it was in operation, bodies were healed, demons were driven out of people, and deep psychological problems were restored. These acts distinctly expressed the incredible goodness of God while demonstrating the power of God's reign to spiritually deliver Israel from it's exile at the same time. And all the while, Jesus kept telling them that God's reign also required a foundational change in the way they were thinking, "repent", he said (Matt. 3:2, Mark 1:15). God's reign under the Messiah was bringing a new order and this new order required a new orientation.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' presentation of this new foundational way of thinking which the reign of God has created. It is the constitution of God's Kingdom. Jesus is it's inaugural messenger but he himself is also the King of this Kingdom. As Monarch, he is it's model, it's embodiment, and it's primary ambassador.
The characteristic of Jesus as a joyful King makes up the first part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matt 5:3 - 20. In it, Jesus presented his core values by first bragging on the best and the brightest in His Kingdom (Matt 5:3-10), then by expressing his intentions for those in His Kingdom, embodied in both outward and inward goals (Matt. 5:11-20).
The Beatitudes: The Brightest and the Best of the Kingdom
Blessed are …
Every nation is happy to show off their best and brightest. This is especially evident when one watches the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The best athletes and courageous champions are paraded throughout the stadium, holding their nation’s flag. And as they walk around the stadium, the newscaster tells their amazing story of hard work and success. We all watch in awe as we think, “Wow, those are some incredible people!”
Did you ever notice how everyone in a city starts to become fans of their city’s sports team overnight when they are successful? Success is attractive. We are especially proud of those who belong to us (our community, city, or nation) and are successful.
Pride and joy is exactly what we are seeing here as Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes. Here is a King, introducing the world to the brightest and best in His Kingdom. This is not Jesus taking the crowd up on the mountain, sitting them down, and then gritting his teeth to say, "you better start living better!!," as some have seen it. Rather we are reading the words of someone who is giving a profound and joy-filled announcement, "Check these guys out!"
The word makarios (blessed, happy) really is meant to convey this picture. It is an announcement about someone who should be emulated because they are successful. And since the success of these people is found in their reflection of the values of the Kingdom, Jesus beams with pride and joy in talking about these ones.
In light of that, there are two things that should jump out at us.
The first is, who are these people that he is talking about? Certainly the newly formed band of followers that he put together from Galilee weren't yet to be emulated. They were as shocked as the rest of the crowd to hear what Jesus was saying. Jesus was beginning to create these people with his words. He brought the reign of God and now he was fashioning a people to walk successfully under this reign.
The second thing to note is that success in the Kingdom looks strange in the eyes of the world. Let's take a quick look at that list of the brightest and best:
The hungry and thirsty
The pure in heart
I'm not sure how this list strikes you but it doesn't quite seem to fit on most people's top 8 guides to success in life. It has often been said, the Kingdom of God is an upside-down Kingdom and this description of the brightest and best is a perfect picture of that saying. When Jesus looks at this list, he gets a big grin on his face, and says, "Those are my pride and joy!"
In the next posts, I will take the time to consider each of these successful people (8 characteristics) in order to dig deeper into the values of God's Kingdom.