By Anthony Casperson
Over the past few summers, I’ve taken the time to write blogs in several series that find their inspiration from smaller sections of the bible. And though it’s a tiny bit early—because this year’s series will expand a little beyond the summer months—I decided that this series will come from Matthew 5-7. And I’ve entitled it, “Summer on the Mount.”
These few chapters of Matthew are a direct sermon from Jesus about the actions and attitudes of we who belong to his kingdom. A kingdom ethic, if you will. They’re the standard by which we followers of Jesus should live. And the goal to head toward in our growth as a member of the family of God.
The first section of Jesus’ sermon, which comes from Matt. 5:1-12, starts us off in the right direction for the entirety of his teaching’s themes. There’s a sense where the words he spoke go against our cultural understanding of what should be. Our cultural norms—and those of his original audience—appear to be opposed to the explanation of his kingdom’s way.
It’s as if Jesus flipped the world upside-down and then said that this is how his kingdom is run. We look at this Sermon on the Mount, at these opening beatitudes, and we think that they could never work. But the truth is that what Jesus teaches actually rights the world and shows us how our human perspective has been skewed. Something that will continue throughout his sermon.
For instance, our passage for this week shows the blessing of God which he gives to those whom our culture would never think praiseworthy. People who seem to be forgotten and downtrodden by the cultural elite and society in general, yet are privileged recipients of divine favor. That’s what “blessed” means in this context.
Some teachers might say that “blessed” can be translated as “happy.” And in certain contexts, they’d be right. But the entirety of a word’s range of meaning is not always in view when used in a particular context. And it can be detrimental to the speaker’s meaning when we apply an unintended connotation to their words—as we do here if we truly think that Jesus is calling these people to smile at their less-than-preferred situations.
I mean, think about the last time someone said hurtful and untrue things about you. If someone else then told you, “Just smile,” while you were in the middle of that terrible situation, you’d probably be more likely to punch them in the face than listen to their advice about smiling in the middle of a difficult situation.
Thus, blessedness in this context has to mean something else. Again, this is the idea that—no matter the situation we find ourselves in—we followers of Jesus have been given the privilege of receiving divine favor. A special gift, bestowed upon us by the God of the universe, that finds its representation in differing manner depending on the situation we find ourselves in. Blessedness implies an inner satisfaction, a feeling of sufficiency, that never depends upon our external circumstances.
This by itself sounds upside-down to us. We find it difficult to feel satisfied unless a majority of circumstances go our way. Unless we are smilingly happy.
But Jesus’ flipping of the world doesn’t end there. When we look at the nine statements of blessedness, we witness people whom our culture would put on their least-likely-to-feel-satisfied list. And these are the people Jesus claims to be blessed? Yeah. As well, we followers of Jesus should truly hope to find ourselves described by these statements. These descriptors are what the citizens of the kingdom tend to look like.
Verse 3 speaks of the poor in spirit. While the word “poor” here means something more akin to “destitute,” we should also be careful to not think of people who are materially lacking. This bestowal of favor is given to those who are poor in spirit. People who understand their spiritual poverty. This place where we recognize that it is only by the graceful alms of righteousness by which we can persist.
And notice that to such people—those with a high view of the holy righteousness of God—belongs the kingdom of heaven. The story of those who lived in spiritual bankruptcy being adopted by the King as his beloved heirs. Once poor in spirit, but now rich because of God’s favor.
Then in verse 4, Jesus speaks grace over those who mourn. This is less about mourning over the loss of a family member or friend, and more about mourning in repentance for the sins of ourselves and of those around us. People who see others sin and feel a deep sadness for that rebellion against the ways of God.
We’re shown that those who mourn will be comforted. God himself will bring encouragement. It might be by bringing fellow sinners to repentance. Or it could even come from his ultimate judgement for the sins of the unrepentant. But the day will come when that soul-rending experience will find its end.
The meek come to the foreground in verse 5. Some might ask how little mewling weaklings could possibly be considered favored by God, but they don’t understand what true meekness is. Meekness is power under control. Like a wild stallion who has learned to accept a rider and now follows the direction of another being. The meek are not weak; they are those who have learned to use their strength for the will of God. And to them, he wills the entirety of his kingdom.
We could go on like this for the rest of the verses, but a quick summary should be sufficient for the point. Those who crave the righteousness of God will not only be given it, but will sit back stuffed with his goodness. Mercy is given by God to those who imitate that same mercy. The pure in heart—those who are the only ones who can ascend the holy hill of God and stand in his holy place, according to Ps. 24:3-4—will stand in the very presence of God. The peacemakers will be told that they are just like their heavenly Father. And finally, those who are persecuted for the sake of living in line with the right way of God will receive the kingdom of heaven. They will be considered true citizens of the kingdom.
Jesus camps out at this point for a couple more verses at the end of our passage for this blog. It’s when we find ourselves hated and despised by those outside of the kingdom that we are favored by God. When our actions make those who have yet to follow Jesus try so hard to find fault in our lives that they might even make up a lie to feed their hatred, that is when we find favor in the blessed kingdom.
And this is because the actions of the Kingdom of God seem so backwards and upside-down to those outside of it. The ways of God seem so wrong to them, that there’s gotta be something wrong with us. And so, they hate and despise and want to put an end to us just like they did our Savior who gave us entry into his kingdom.
But our reaction also should seem to be flipped over, just like the favor bestowed upon us. Verse 12 tells us to welcome it and exult in the privilege to be counted worthy of suffering akin to the way our Savior did. We don’t hate and despise those who revile us, but consider it the way of the Kingdom of God. A gift that proves his favor because we are acting as citizens of the blessed kingdom.
That is the flipped-over favor we find. The one that we should seek out as we right our perspective beyond our culture’s skewed way.