International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Matthew 5:1-12Lesson Title: Living as God’s People
The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 and in Luke 6:20-49 teaches how followers of Christ’s kingdom ought to live. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing; a matter of obeying rules and regulations. They taught that righteousness could be measured by how much one prayed, how much they gave, how much they fasted, etc. But as Jesus taught the Beatitudes, He described Christian character that flowed out from within. Furthermore, the truth Jesus taught in the Beatitudes went far beyond what the Law demanded. That truth, in and of itself, would teach the congregation listening on this occasion that the new birth was a necessity. There is no way a man can live the Beatitudes in his own power and by his own effort. He must have salvation within.
Matthew 5:1–16, gives an overview of the Beatitudes, then verses 17–48 go into specifics. The initial overview lists qualities and actions that God will bless, including being poor in spirit, hungering for righteousness, showing mercy, making peace, and being persecuted for the sake of godliness. The metaphors of salt and light are the climax of these Beatitudes, and the bottom line is that our obedient good deeds are all for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16). The rest of the chapter consists of six mini-sermons that go into more detail about kingdom living and for us, Christian living.
Although the principles given here contrast with legalistic traditions, it’s important to remember three truths about the Beatitudes: First, Jesus was not opposing the Law. In fact, He said He came to fulfill it. Rather, He was probing its moral and spiritual essence in order to arrive at higher truths (Matthew 5:17–20, 48). Second, Jesus was pronouncing different blessings but He was not pronouncing them on different groups of people. Instead, they are blessings for one group: God’s people. Third, salvation is not earned by keeping or obeying the Beatitudes. Salvation has and always will be by grace (Ephesians 2:8).
The Teacher and Living as God’s People (Matthew 5:1)
“And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.” The location for the sermon was “a mountain.” Traditionally this mountain is now called the Mount of Beatitudes but it is highly unlikely this “mountain” had a name until Jesus taught there. Before this day this “mountain” was just another hill on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Christ’s position for the sermon was “He was set.” Sitting was a position of authority and Matthew is presenting Jesus as King. In fact, it is interesting in the New Testament how often Jesus “sat” (Matthew 9:10; 13:2; 21:5; 24:3; 26:64; Mark 12:41; 14:3; 16:19; Luke 2:46). Jesus had more authority sitting down than the average man does standing up!
The congregation for the sermon was “the multitudes” and “his disciples.” Upon seeing “the multitudes” Jesus went up into the mountain, but His disciples were the ones who came to Him for instruction. He originally gave this teaching to His disciples just after He had appointed them, although crowds overheard Him. Christ was always touched and moved by “the multitudes” who had great physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 9:36). Obviously “the multitudes” and onlookers heard Christ’s teaching but it was “his disciples,” the twelve who “came unto Him.” At this point in Christ’s ministry, they were the only ones who knew the blessings which Christ spoke about because they were the only ones who had genuine faith in Him.
The Teaching and Living as God’s People (Matthew 5:2-12)
The sermon as it is recorded originated as a single sermon preached by Jesus. It is a powerful sermon that sets forth the truths of what it means to be a part of His kingdom. Jesus repeated the truths He taught in this sermon on several other occasions and in other situations.
The words “and He opened his mouth, and taught them saying,” is not just a casual statement of what Jesus did. Matthew 5:2 is sandwiched between Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35, which both summarize the ministry of our Lord in regard to teaching, preaching, and healing. The value of seeing this is that it warns us against concluding that the Sermon on the Mount is just an isolated sermon that stands by itself. Matthew, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit has placed this material together in the way God designed and we should recognize that.
The two phrases, “He opened his mouth” and “taught them saying” are statements indicating that what Jesus was saying was important, intimate, and instructive. The Sermon on the Mount was not evangelistic in nature. Jesus is teaching His disciples and us how to live. Part of knowing how to live comes from knowing how God wants us to live. And knowing how God wants us to live comes from knowing God’s Word. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples verbally. For us today, God’s Holy Word is His method of communicating truth and our standard for living (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:9, 15; John 15:3).
Each verse in Matthew 5:3-11 begins with the word “blessed” or “happy.” “Happy” however, is insufficient for the Greek word makarioi. The numerous use of the word “blessed” in the New Testament is a reminder that the word means more than “happy.” It refers to a “distinctive spiritual joy” resulting from knowing God’s great salvation and Christ personally. Blessedness is a characteristic of God, and it can be a characteristic of men only as they share in the nature of God. There is no blessedness, no perfect contentedness and joy of the sort of which Jesus speaks here, except that which comes from a personal relationship to Him. That is what is meant with the words “Blessed are” that begins each verse in Matthew 5:3-11. People are “blessed” or “distinctively joyful” because they “are” either “poor in spirit, meek, hungering, etc.” These are connected because one can only be “poor in spirit, meek, hungering, etc.,” when they know Jesus Christ.
“Poor” means “to shrink or cower.” It is the position beggars often took in Bible times. As they held out their hands for an offering they would turn away their face (Luke 16:20). “Poor in spirit” does not refer to some kind of weak, retiring attitude of false humility. It is not self-humility characterized by sad posture or a sad personality. Rather, it is an honest self-appraisal and spiritual evaluation in the light of God’s Word. When our hearts are examined in the light of God’s Word, what can we claim except spiritual poverty? To be “poor in spirit” is to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. We have no saving resources, no spiritual merits, and no spiritual status within us. “Blessed” is the man that sees himself in that light.
“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “For theirs is” is essentially the passport in the “kingdom of heaven.” As previously mentioned, the Beatitudes are not evangelistic in nature. However, a sinner should certainly realize what is required to be a part of God’s kingdom from the truths in the Beatitudes. Without being “poor in spirit” there is no entrance to God’s kingdom. This first Beatitude is one of the strongest statements in the Bible of the great doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, for it is a statement of a person’s complete inability to please God by any human effort. Man is “poor in spirit.”
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used here and in verse 10. There are several interpretations as to the meaning of “kingdom of heaven.” It seems most logical to say Christ is referring to both the literal “kingdom of heaven” that will come at the end of the ages and the personal “kingdom of heaven” that now exists in the heart of every true believer. Either way, the promise is that the disciples can be assured the “kingdom” is theirs! This is also the teaching that one’s eternal life begins at the moment of salvation and continues throughout all eternity (John 3:36).
“Blessed are they that mourn…” almost sounds like an oxymoron; something like, “wet are those who are dry.” But that is certainly not the case. The key to understanding this Beatitude and all the Beatitudes is found in the casual clauses such as “for theirs is, for they shall be, etc.” When we “mourn” we are “blessed.”
“Mourn” is “grief manifested.” It is speaking of “deep, heartfelt grief.” Mourning is not worked up, it is worked out. The word “mourn” is often used in Scripture to describe man’s response to death, pain, or the results of sin (Genesis 23:2; Job 2:11; Jeremiah 12:4). Mourning over death, pain, and the results of sin at large is certainly biblical. We do express grief over many things personally and nationally. However, in our text “mourn” is limited. To what is this mourning or grief related? It must be related to the knowledge of our spiritual poverty. Only the man who sees his poverty in verse 2 will “mourn” in verse 3. “Blessed” are the people who sense their inadequacies and their guilt and their failures and their helplessness and their unworthiness and their emptiness. These are people who don't try to hide these things under a cloak of self-sufficiency, but who are honest about them and grieved and driven to the grace of God (2 Corinthians 7:10).
“For they shall be comforted” is a promise for the here and now. “They” are those who are deeply grieved over their spiritual poverty. Everybody cannot be “comforted” because everybody doesn’t “mourn” over their spiritual poverty. “Comforted” is the Greek word parakaleō, the same word which means “Helper” (John 14:6). Jesus was the first Helper, and the Holy Spirit is “another Helper.” The Old Testament also speaks of God comforting those who mourn. Isaiah tells how Messiah will “…appoint unto them that mourn” (Isaiah 61:2-3). That means He will bring comfort. David was comforted by the rod and staff of his divine Shepherd (Psalm 23:4). As our mourning rises to the throne of God, His comfort comes to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In fact, He is the “God of all comfort” who is always ready to meet our need, admonishing, sympathizing, encouraging, and strengthening (2 Corinthians 1:3). Our greatest need is the comfort of knowing we are saved and secure in Christ.
How do we continue to “mourn?” I think the answer to that is to stay sensitive to God and His Word. Don’t allow sin to go unchecked. Also, a faithful and consistent prayer life that results in brokenness of heart and a humble spirit will help us continue to mourn. Remember, it has nothing to do with wearing black clothes at a funeral! It is all about the attitude of the heart in light of God’s Word.
Note: What a joy it is to know that in the midst of difficulties, the child of God can not only find salvation in Jesus Christ but can also find “comfort.” There will come a day when there will no longer be a reason to “mourn” because there will be no more sin, sorrow, or death!
“Blessed are the meek…” is a direct reference to Psalm 37:11, “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Being “poor in spirit” and “mourning” focused primarily on our sinfulness before God. “Meekness” focuses on our attitude in the presence of God.
“Meekness” was generally considered immoral or weak by the Greeks because they could not separate “meekness” from servitude. Meekness is not weakness. Moses and Jesus were meek men (Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:29). The word “meek” by no means refers to weakness, though the one is often mistaken for another. Being “under control” would be a good way to describe the idea. The Greek word for “meek,” praeis, was often used to describe the breaking or training of a wild horse. This fits beautifully with our Lord’s teaching His disciples. They had been raised in traditional Jewish teaching and now were being taught truth by Truth Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as they demonstrate a teachable, submissive spirit will God bless them with the power and ability to live as God’s people (Psalm 25:9).
The promise for the “meek” is “…they shall inherit the earth.” That means that someday in the future those who have been teachable and submissive are going to receive their rightful inheritance of dominion over this earth. God gave man dominion over the earth in Genesis 1:28 when man was innocent of sin. But because of the fall and man’s sin, the joy of that dominion has been largely diminished. It should be no surprise that those who are “meek,” those who do not usurp their own rights and power, will “inherit the earth.” “Inherit” means God will give it to us. God will give the “meek” the regained dominion of the earth (Psalm 37:11).
How did this promise affect Jesus’ disciples? How does it affect us? I think this promise should help the disciples and us not to try to gain everything in life on our own. The submissiveness and willingness to live under Christ’s control is totally opposite of the push yourself forward attitude of our day. Being “meek” goes against everything in our old sinful nature. And when we allow the Lord to give us strength to be “meek,” we are graciously rewarded.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness…” is essentially speaking of an intense desire to be right with God, pointing to both salvation and sanctification. Clovis Chappell said that it means “Christlikeness.” “Hunger” and “thirst” are two of the strongest desires man can have. Jesus’ audience could relate to both from the history of the wilderness experience and the lack of water and food during Jesus’ time. Our culture knows little about either. We have so much “stuff” that we have no need. And that has affected us spiritually.
There is something beyond natural “hunger and thirst” in Jesus’ words. It is the “hunger and thirst” for “righteousness.” The word “righteousness” has reference to being “right with God.” Listen to Amos’ words as he describes righteousness: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11-13). Amos is describing the most intensive desires of the heart, not for physical food but the desire to be right before a holy God.
There is a blessing awaiting a man or woman who has a gnawing in the soul to be right with God. The promise of this Beatitude is “…they shall be filled.” Again, this promise has both present and future implications. In this life, the heart is satisfied in Jesus Christ by a positional righteousness once we are saved. But there will come a day when the child of God will know a perfect righteousness when we abide forever in His presence (1 John 3:2).
What is the nature of your “hunger and thirst?” Do you really want to be right with God? Do you have a spiritual gnawing in your soul that only Jesus Christ can satisfy? Deep and lasting satisfaction for our souls comes not from the delights of the world or from a shallow religious relationship with God. Satisfaction comes from God to those whose passion in life is to know Him and to be like Him.
This beatitude is possibly the most challenging. Showing “mercy” is certainly not one of the traits of sinful man. If it not for Scriptural teaching on mercy, one might conclude by reading this beatitude that Jesus was teaching that you have to show mercy in order to receive mercy from God. Of course, the Bible does not teach that. The thought seems to be that they who do not show mercy are giving evidence that they have never received mercy. The “merciful” in this verse are the children of God who have received His mercy. One of the best illustrations of God and His mercy is found in John 8:7-11 where the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman in adultery to Jesus to see if He would fulfill the law and stone her. Instead of being merciless, Jesus showed her mercy and told her to “…go and sin no more.” Another interesting part of that story is that the scribes and Pharisees instead of becoming merciful as a result of seeing Christ’s mercy, “…they took up stones to cast at Him [Jesus]” (John 8:59).
The lost world can be sympathetic and caring. They can do certain acts of benevolence and charity. But only those saved by grace who are part of Jesus’ kingdom can show mercy. Only those who have received it can share it.
“…They shall obtain mercy” means that God is merciful to us in saving us and as a result of His saving us, we are “merciful” to others. In response to our being “merciful” to others as a result of His mercy extended to us, He continues to give us mercy. Again, let it be said that we do not receive salvation by doing acts of mercy. God, because of our merciful deeds and actions to others continues His wonderful cycle of mercy by being merciful to us even though we sin.
There is something unbiblical when a person says they are a Christian and they show absolutely no mercy to their fellow man. Have you ever shown mercy to anyone? Have you shown mercy lately?
While being “merciful” may be one of the most challenging of the beatitudes, being “pure in heart” is one of the most searching. The word for “pure” refers generally to “anything that is free from that which corrupts.” However, in this context the focus is on the “heart.” The “heart” is the seat of man’s affections, his innermost being (Proverbs 23:7; Matthew 6:21). Man has always had a bad heart condition and for the most part he has chosen to ignore it. Remember, Jesus is teaching his disciples who are surrounded by the scribes and Pharisees who focused primarily on how everything looked on the outside (Matthew 15:8-9).
Christ wanted His disciples and us to know that in His kingdom it was not just about external things. It included the internal. This is such a powerful and needed word from Jesus for our day. Christianity has become so shallow, so surface, and so artificial.
Only the “pure in heart” shall “see God.” What does that mean? As the child of God yields to the Holy Spirit he comes increasingly desirous to see God as He directs the Christian and reveals Himself to the child of God. In that regard the word “see” means “understand.” A.W. Pink probably explains it best when he wrote, "The “pure in heart” possess spiritual discernment, and with the eyes of their understanding they obtain clear views of the Divine character and perceive the excellency of His attributes. When the eye is single the whole body is full of light" (Beatitudes, pp.47-48). Pink also found a parallel in 1 Corinthians 13:12, which speaks of the child of God ultimately seeing God face to face.
Taken with the previous beatitudes, the person who recognizes their spiritual poverty, has a deep sense of grief over that truth, humbles themselves because of that truth, has a gnawing in their soul to be right with God, and shows mercy to others because of the mercy they have been shown, that individual is headed for a life of purity!
This beatitude is not speaking just about peaceloving people. “Blessed are the peacemakers” is a reference to those who are active in their promotion of peace. Only believers, those saved by grace can be “peacemakers.” The Apostle Paul said, “…God hath called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). The Gospel that we have received and the Gospel that we share with a lost world is all about peace (Ephesians 6:15). The Holy Spirit produces the fruit of peace within the believer (Galatians 5:22). God’s people are commanded to live at peace with one another (Hebrews 12:14).
How can we be “peacemakers” and enjoy the blessedness of that reality? Part of that answer is to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Pray that you and your enemies will do God’s will and be at peace with one another. Now, don’t tell me you don’t have any enemies. You do. You know exactly who they are. Would you rather kill them or have restored fellowship with them? Are you a troublemaker or a “peacemaker?” Troublemakers are never “blessed.” “Peacemakers” try to build bridges of communication. “Peacemakers” try to find the common ground rather than the battleground.
“…For they shall be called the children of God” is the promise of this beatitude. “Peacemakers” will be called the “children of God” because they are “the children of God.” They are called by the name of the One whose qualities they exemplify. Our God is a God of peace (Romans 16:20; Hebrews 13:20). A son will manifest the characteristics of this Father; like Father, like son. The greatest desire of the Father is to make peace with His enemies. He was even willing to sacrifice His only-begotten Son to do it. Those who claim to be the “children of God” will have that same desire.
But what about Matthew 10:34 where Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” That doesn’t sound like Jesus was a “peacemaker.” You are to be a “peacemaker.” You must never abandon your allegiance to Christ and His word, no matter how much animosity it brings down on you. You are not guilty; you are not in the wrong if your life of obedience and your message of love and truth elicit hostility from some and affirmation from others. Remember the words of Paul, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
The key words in this beatitude is the word “which are.” This beatitude is not based on the possibility or probability of facing persecution but upon the promise of it. It is a part of the Christian life (Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 3:12). It is important to remember that although you have been saved and living a new life, there are many in the world that haven’t. “The arrival of God’s kingdom does not mean that the world is changed suddenly and dramatically. God establishes His rule in the human heart, calling people into His kingdom with the good news of Jesus. Yet evil remains active in the presence of such a kingdom. Thus, those who pursue righteousness may find themselves abused. Jesus reminds them that they are no less a part of God’s kingdom when that happens” (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012).
The “persecuted” in this verse is not necessarily someone who has been through an actual experience of persecution. Most of us reading and studying this lesson have not actually been persecuted. In other words, we can’t point to a time or place when it happened. Others reading this lesson have. And for some of us, we will in the future.
The Bible does not say, “Blessed are those who have difficulties.” With or without Christ, everyone in this life has problems and difficulties. This “persecution” is directly connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. The child of God, if truly saved and living for Christ, will always walk in the shadow of impending abuse from the enemies of Christ (Philippians 3:18). This “persecution” is “for righteousness sake.” How ironic that people would be persecuted for living a righteous life. Society would say that it rewards for doing good and punishes for doing wrong. The difference however is in how the world defines “doing good” and how God defines “righteousness.”
“Persecution” will come if you are a Christian. All you have to do to be persecuted is stand against what the world wants you to do. Before Noah ever invited anyone into the ark he just “prepared the ark” and the world “condemned” him (Hebrews 11:7). But cheer up my brother. Cheer up my sister. “…For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (see comments on verse 3).
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against your falsely, for my sake.” The words of verses 11-12 are an expansion of what Jesus was teaching in verse 10. It is difficult to be “happy” and full of “spiritual joy” when people are hating, mocking, persecuting, and speaking evil about you. And yet, that is what Jesus says to do. Is it possible to do that in the midst of such painful circumstances? Yes. Because it is the Lord teaching, not a counselor or a friend. This is not some hyperactive individual who says ridiculous things like “Praise God, anyhow” or “Shout your way out of pain” or “Rebuke it in the name of the Lord.”
Christ can say “rejoice and be exceeding glad” because He knows beyond any shadow of doubt that the “reward in heaven” will more than compensate for any suffering we must endure in the service of Christ. “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” There is a mystery here. It is the mystery of joy in the midst of agony; the mystery of gladness in the midst of misery. This mystery is contained in a miracle, namely, the miracle of faith which is the foundation assurance that heaven will provide an hundredfold compensation for every pain. To the degree that you believe what Jesus sees in heaven, to that degree you will be able to rejoice and be glad in suffering. Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” No wonder the Apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41).
Doctor Martin Lloyd-Jones has appropriately written three very important things to remember about the beatitudes. First, all Christians are to be like this. Second, the character traits of the beatitudes are not selective. That is, you are not to pick your favorites to the exclusion of the others. Sorry, this is not “beatitude buffet.” Third, none of these beatitudes will happen because you have something within you to produce them. God the Holy Spirit must produce them as a work of grace alone.
These three truths from Doctor Lloyd-Jones are a wonderful summary and encouragement to live as God’s people. May I add one more to list? Not only are the three truths above to be realized and remembered, but it must also be remembered that only Christians can possess the characteristics taught in the beatitudes. You and I are the originals in a world of imitations. Let’s “BE” the “ATTITUDES” Jesus requires and the world needs.
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