JESUS' FIRST SERMON
Today we will begin looking at the teachings of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew there are five teaching discourses, often referred to as sermons. The first discourse is the one we often refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that there are five teaching discourses in Matthew cannot be overlooked. The number is significant. There just happened to be five books of the Jewish Torah.
"Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:" (Matthew 5:1-2)
We'll pause here for a moment. The fact that Jesus goes to a mountain to deliver his first discourse is also significant. It is symbolic of Moses going to the mountain to obtain the Law. Jesus is about to deliver His divine interpretation of the Law. In Luke, this is referred to as The Sermon on the Plain. No, I will stress again and again, it's not because the writers all saw things differently as in witnessing a car accident. That is the worst and most inaccurate way of understanding the differences that exist. For Mathew, it is vital that his audience understands Jesus going to the mountain. Luke, writes to a Gentile audience. To them, the mountain would not be important. Besides, if you go to Israel and see where this is believed to have taken place...it is a plain.
Jesus begins his teaching in Matthew with what we call "The Beatitudes." These are simply "blessing statements." When we get to Luke we will be able to compare Luke's blessing statements with Matthew's.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3) The Greek word used here for "poor in spirit" is ptochos which means "spiritual beggars who recognize their own spiritual need.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (verse 4) This is not necessarily talking about those who simply mourn, but those who grieve for sins and sorrows of the world. This promises that God will console them.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (verse 5) The word "meek" does not mean weakness in this passage. Instead, it means "one who is aware of his/her own limitations and how much they need God."
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (verse 6) This is speaking of those who yearn for an upright life." The word "righteousness" appears two times in Matthew's Beatitudes. The word does not appear in Luke's version. Jesus places an emphasis on righteousness in Matthew. If you recall, Jesus' reasoning for being baptized in Matthew was to "fulfill all righteousness." In Matthew's Gospel there is an appeal for a "higher righteousness." In Matthew, we will discover, righteousness is not an abstract virtue, but is something one does. For Matthew, behavior matters.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mat. 5:7-10)
The beatitudes are instructions on how to live the Christian life. They are also promises about the kingdom of heaven, both now and in the age to come.
It is very interesting to me that Jesus goes from giving the "blessing statements" to speaking about salt and light. "You are the salt of the earth," (Matthew 5:13) and "You are the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14) I believe that Jesus is trying to establish something here with his disciples. Why did Jesus make these statements? Well, salt, in Jesus' day was extremely important. It was used for money (ever heard the phrase "worth your weight in salt"?), it was used for healing, (I still remember after cutting my finger at work and my buddy Wade advising me to cut open a bag of salt [that we used for cattle feed] and stick your finger in it) (It hurt like....but it worked), it was used for preserving food and seasoning. Whatever salt was, that was what the disciples were to be to the earth.
In John's gospel Jesus proclaims himself as "the light of the world." Here the disciples are the light. Again, no! It's not because they all heard the same statement but by the time they got to writing it down it had changed. And no! It was not because they all offered their version of the same car accident. (By now you probably know what I think of that excuse as to why there are four distinct gospels) Well, Jesus is pointing out the importance of the work of these disciples and the church. What good is salt if it has lost its worth? It is only good to be scattered on the sidewalk and tread upon. That's not what salt was meant to be. What good is light if it is being hidden? Light is not meant to be hidden. The church is to be vital at all times. Oh, that brings me to this. After the horrible event in Texas last week...The church shooting...I read where someone said, "Thoughts and prayers are simply not enough anymore." That made me think. How often do we offer those words after some terrible thing happening? What this person was saying was, "Action! We need action!" Now, what does that mean for the church? It could mean various things. Maybe, for one thing, it means being present with folks, sharing their burden how ever we can. The church is really good at offering words, but I think Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that you have to be willing to do more than just talk.
Well, tomorrow we will get to the really, really, really good stuff. You do not want to miss it. Blessings! -Pastor Rick