First Mennonite Church
August 23, 2020
We Have Been Declared “Blessed” 2
Text: Matthew 5:6-8
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Today, we will continue our consideration of the Beatitudes, according to Matthew five. As we can see, the Sermon of the Mount, where the Beatitudes are found, is give a chief place within the sayings of Jesus. Matthew highlights the solemnity of this particular section of Jesus’ teaching by simply indicating that “He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, ‘Blessed are . . . .’” (v2). This is unlike the many times Matthew introduces Jesus teaching moments in the rest of the gospel where Matthew writes: “He said to them . . . .”
After Jesus had sat down, he made his disciples draw near to him and he opened his mouth to teach them.
There is something we should never forget about the Sermon of the Mount as a whole: this was addressed to the disciples who had already made the commitment to follow Jesus. Nothing there, either descriptive, as are the Beatitudes, nor prescriptive, as are the commandment to love, to pray, to give alms, and many other exhortations, is given to non-committed followers. We should also be comforted to know that despite the disciples’ literal following of Jesus, their life of faith was very much like ours today. They struggled to understand, not only the words of Jesus, but even the very central events in the life of the one they followed. They could not understand his transfiguration, the prediction of his death, his crucifixion, resurrection and departure. They were associates of Jesus in his journey, going from town to town depending on the generosity of others. They shared with Jesus the scorn and rejection he suffered. But they also, like we do today, rejoiced in the grace of their Master. When they stumbled and failed to measure up to the standard of the Lord, Jesus borne with them patiently. Jesus even went after them to restore them, as he did with Peter by the sea and the two on the road of Damascus. The disciples, despite their ups and downs, clung to Jesus, his words and promise that the kingdom of God belonged to them.
In that respect, we must understand that The Sermon of the Mount, including the Beatitudes, can only speak and be applied by those who have already made a personal commitment to follow Jesus, as well.
The underlying force in the Beatitudes, the pronouncement of being “blessed,” is that it is a gift conferred to the disciples, not something they earned. As we can see, the blessedness of the disciple springs out from their absolute emptiness. They are meek; they are poor. They are the ones who mourn; they are the ones who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and so on. Yet, upon God’s bestowing upon them the blessedness for their being in the fellowship of his Son, their emptiness, poverty and so on, will be transformed into fullness, abundance, comfort, and so on and in the end they will see God.
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
This Beatitude not only indicates the foremost goal of the disciple, their quest for righteousness, but also the passion, restlessness, and the unquenchable desire they have for it. They are hungering and thirsting. Those who are desperately searching for righteousness are blessed, says Jesus. However, for us who are not brought up within a history of the usage of this word as were Jesus’ disciples, the word “righteousness” needs to be contextualized within the biblical usage.
Often times we jump over to Paul’s usage of this word to finds its meaning. Paul uses “righteousness” to define the divine imputation of right standing to those who receive the message of the Gospel. But this cannot be the meaning in this Beatitude. That would imply that God’s declaration of right standing is either elusive or needing constant replenishment.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh, is referred to as being the righteous God. Ezra prays, “You are righteous.” (9:15). Throughout the Old Testament the works of God in favor of his people are described as “righteousness.” (1Sam. 12:7) Again, in the OT, righteousness the opposite of sin. In Genesis seven, verse one, God said to Abraham: “I am El Shaddai; walk before Me and be blameless.” God was asking Abraham to acknowledge his presence in his life, every day and everywhere. In that regard, to live in righteousness means to live with a vivid consciousness of being in the presence of the living God. It mean being fully aware that God is witnessing our every words, actions, thoughts and desires. And in that awareness, we do our best to live a life that is pleasing to his holy eyes.
In that respect, when Jesus spoke of righteousness in the Beatitudes, he was referring to the work of sanctification. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, demonstrated through the avoidance of sin. That is, to live a life of sanctification.
Blessed are those who in their full awareness of God crave only to do what pleases him. In the end, God will be their God and they will be his people. In the end, their longing for God will be completely satisfied.
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
The world teaches us to look out for ourselves because no one else will do for us. In this “dog-eat-dog world, to have a soft heart is often considered as being naïve. To be merciful is not only to feel pity for someone who is in a disadvantageous situation. When the Bible speaks about mercy, it is always to “show mercy” (Exodus 33:19; Isaiah 30:18; Luke 10:37; Romans 11:31, among others). The objects of mercy are always those who are helpless about their situation. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan or of God towards us, according to Paul in Romans. If we bring to mind the story of the Good Samaritan, we know that he had no legal obligation towards the one who was half dead and naked on the road. Yet, upon seeing the injured man, he went off his way and beyond the call of duty, without expecting anything in return.
Today, God gives us situations and opportunities in which we can show mercy to others. Many have lost their jobs. School has started and students are expected to do their work online, but not every child has access to the internet. In Fresno, some churches are allowing children of low-income families to use their Wi-Fi to do their school work. In the last weeks, people have called me asking for help with food and to pay utilities. Jesus declares that the merciful are blessed, because they will also receive mercy.
3. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). It is interesting that Jesus spoke these words when the Jews were questioning his “kosher” practices. They were accusing Jesus and his disciples of not keeping the rule regarding clean foods. But Jesus reminded them that God desires not only kosher dietary practices, but a kosher hearts.
We know so well that often the human heart beats out of selfish impulses and motivations. However, those who have determined to be Jesus’ disciples have pure hearts. Our world judges pure intentions as being childish and naïveté. The one with a pure heart is kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. The one with a pure heart does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. The one with a pure heart does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. The one with a pure heartbears all things, patiently and believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. To those who are pure heart is the promise that they will see God.
Once again, we are Jesus’ disciples today. As we seek to live each day and every moment in the full awareness of his presence, as we seek to live godly lives, as we show mercy in his name and seek to keep our heart pure, the Lord comes and declares us today, “blessed are you.”
May the Lord impress his word in our heart. Amen!