Reading Time: 7 Minutes
The Sermon on the Mount begins with these words.
Matthew 5.1-4 – When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
What Is Jesus Actually Saying?
What does Jesus actually mean by these opening words of his famous sermon? I estimate that I have assisted with over 1500 funerals in my time of ministry and I have never said, “You are blessed because today you are mourning.”
The majority of my 50 years of ministry has been among people of moderate to low-income. Again, I have never said, “How fortunate you are to be poor.”
The question is, how do we understand Jesus’ the opening words of his sermon?
One of my favorite authors, Dallas Willard, connects the first words of Jesus’ sermon to the last verses of Matthew 4. This is the situation that preceded Jesus’ movement to the mountain.
Matthew 4.23-25 – Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
The poor and those who mourn were certainly among the crowd of people who came to Jesus. They were desperate for relief and the “good news of the kingdom” was that the King of the kingdom was there, healing and delivering them from their distress.
How often do you hear someone in an interview say, “I am blessed,” when they are describing a particular athletic talent, their beauty, business success or something similar? “I am blessed” seems to be a favorite buzz word today. However, does that mean that a person living in sub-standard housing with less than robust health and working at a minimum wage job is not blessed?
Our world equates success with being blessed. Contrary to the world, Jesus proclaims his blessing to the “losers” and “success-zeroes” of this world.
Someone says, “That’s great, but I one of those ‘zeroes,’ and I don’t feel blessed in the least little bit.” Upon hearing this another person says, “I am still in mourning over the loss of my precious loved one. How can you say that I am blessed?”
These are very real questions that need to be taken seriously. A dear lady in one of the first churches where I was pastor lost her husband in a tragic industrial accident. She was so distraught that her entire body was covered in painful hives. She went to the Lord in her pain and wouldn’t leave until he gave her relief. I see her as one of the best examples of what Jesus was preaching.
Maywood Baptist is filled with “success-zeroes,” when compared to the world’s system. Our pastor, Jake Taylor, often says, “We’re not perfect.” That’s true, but to put words in Jake’s mouth, “We are not what we want to be, but thank God we are not what we once were.” Again, these are excellent examples of Jesus’ message.
Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom and the response that was called for. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4.17). Both the mourning lady in my former church and Maywood people are doing just that. They are changing their minds and their behavior, because God’s rule is present in their lives. We’re “not perfect,” but we are on the road and following Jesus.
Applying Jesus’ Message
How can we best respond to the first two blessings of Jesus’ message?
(1) Don’t let anything keep you from following Jesus. You may feel that you have failed in life and have nothing to offer God or anyone else. You don’t think anyone will ever ask you to lead in prayer or a Bible study. If they did, you wouldn’t know what to do.
Remember, Jesus chose to live among the people whose world was characterized as “darkness, under the shadow of death” (Matthew 4.16). Keep in mind his words of blessing for the success-zeroes of life, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Note, there is no inherent blessing in being poor. The poor in this instance are only blessed because they have seen Jesus at work (Matthew 4.23-25) and are following him. The blessing is that Jesus chooses to make his home among people like us (Matthew 4.13), who hear his call, “Follow me” (Matthew 4.19).
One of my favorite stories from my time in Louisiana involved Greg Wilson. He was a big, joyful man who wasn’t able to read as a teen. When we conducted Bible School, Greg’s job was to give children piggy-back rides, because that was one thing he could do.
The last time I saw Greg, he was the delight of my trip to Louisiana. We met after a service where I was the guest speaker. I learned that he had learned to read and was now the pastor of a small congregation of people who had grown up just like him.
Greg didn’t let his disadvantages keep him from following Jesus. He accepted Jesus invitation to be his friend, and knew the fact that with Jesus he was blessed.
(2) Don’t let grief keep you from welcoming Jesus into your life. Most people will find it very difficult to equate their mourning with being blessed. The comfort usually comes, but it is extremely hard to see it while in the throes of grief.
Some people allow their grief to cause them to think differently about God and life. I have often heard people say something like this, “I tried God and he didn’t help. I am through with God.”
Whether you feel it or not, the reality is that Jesus is on the earth today through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. His kingdom – defined as “the effective reach of his power” – is a reality. If you are willing to welcome him into your life, his power will assist you in your grief.
I have been a part of 1500 or more grief experiences during my 50 years in the ministry. I can tell you that every one of them is painful and difficult for family members. I can also tell you that the people who seem to survive the excruciating pain of grief are those who welcome Jesus through the Holy Spirit to be a part of their grief.
Like the lady in one of the former churches where I served, stay with Jesus until he brings you relief.
Dear Jesus, thank you for making your home with people like us. We know that you are doing that today through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We welcome you into our lives. Please help us to follow your leadership in every way.