Starting today we’ll spend the next couple of weeks in the Sermon on the Mount. This is his first recorded set of teachings, but he'd been preaching and teaching for some time before this. Since this is the Gospel targeted towards a Jewish audience, some scholars think that it’s not a coincidence that there are five major teaching sections in the book, corresponding to the five books of the Torah.
Quite frankly, I’m more than a little intimidated by teaching on this section. It’s widely regarded by Christians as the best sermon ever spoken, and I hardly feel qualified to give it justice in this humble devotional. But here goes. . .
The Old Testament ends with a curse, a dire warning for people who refuse to obey God’s instructions. The New Testament, on the other hand, begins with blessings. That literally is what a beatitude means: a blessing on someone. Other modern translations render the verses are “Happy are. . .” but I disagree with them. It means more than mere happiness, it means that God is smiling down upon someone. It means that they're to be envied.
Notice first of all how topsy-turvy all these values are. We naturally desire--and the world applauds--the exact opposite of all these things. But our Lord says that the conditions described here are to be sought after, not shunned. I’ll just make a quick note about each of them.
• “Poor in spirit” means we recognize our utter spiritual poverty before God. Christian character starts with humility, acknowledging how bad off we are without the his grace.
• “Those who mourn” probably is referring to mourning because of the sin in our lives. When we do this, he promises to provide the comfort of his mercy.
• “Meek” does not equal “weak.” Jesus called himself “meek” in 11:28-30 (the same word in Greek is translated as “gentle”). Among other things, it means that you give up your own will for the needs of others.
• What's my “hunger and thirst”? I have a desire to follow Christ and obey him, but is it my food and drink? I wish it was so. If it was, I'd be imitating my Savior.
• Do I still need mercy? Everyday. I can quit being merciful when I don’t need mercy from my Father.
• I heard from someone that to be pure in heart is to desire one thing only. If something is “pure,” then that means no mixture with anything else. Is my heart pure? Are there any rivals for my First Love?
• The best way for me to be a peacemaker is to work for reconciliation between God and sinners. In other words, share the Good News with them.
• The last one doesn’t mean that we need to seek persecution. But it does mean we need to change our attitude towards it, because in this country we seem to squeal like stuck pigs whenever we perceive someone impinging on our “rights.”
I don’t know about you, but going over these verses, I think I need some mercy right now.
Lord Jesus, your teachings are so high above me, and I fall so far short. Please change me. I need it so badly.
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