Let’s jump into the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins with the Beatitudes – a most confusing set of … what? Laws? Ways we must act to be blessed? Prescriptions for Christian attitudes and behavior?
No. Not at all.
These statements by Jesus are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what life in the Kingdom of God looks like. They do not prescribe behavior. Remember, as we read Jesus’ words in the Sermon, we are looking for life, not laws.
That is worth repeating: We are looking for – and at – life in the Kingdom, not laws.
This is what Jesus meant when he so famously said,
“I have come that you may have life, and I mean life to the full!”1
The Sermon is setting up everything Jesus is going to teach and do for the rest of his earthly ministry. And it is crystal clear the governing perspective is all about life in the Kingdom now. If you miss this Kingdom perspective, you will miss the fullness and the essence of his message.
Jesus started his public ministry with these words,
“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come.”
He was focusing our eyes on his entire message: “I have brought the Kingdom to you. You can start to live in it now – not after you die. And I am going to start by showing you, in this teaching-on-the-mount, what Life in the Kingdom looks like.”
The idea of the Beatitudes being about laws and how to behave and to act, shipwrecks against Jesus’ entire message about life to the full. Can we imagine he means for us to act “poor in spirit,” – whatever that means. Or to mourn for the sake of mourning? I, for one, am a very positive person; mourning does not come naturally for me. And I do not intend to fake it, either.
Or to try to be meek. No man I know cottons to that stereotype. Or hunger and thirst for right acting?
In this sermon Jesus even warns specifically against this type of religious acting:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”2
Jesus is instead describing for his audience what this new Life now available to them looks like. As an example, in his Kingdom, when you mourn you find comfort. Not the kind of comfort the world gives, or your friends or your therapist – real, lasting comfort. A peace that passes all understanding.
But only in the Kingdom. Not in your kingdom.
Jesus would be astonished at any idea that his Beatitudes are conditions to be met in order to receive his blessing. He would look at us with incredulity and exclaim, “Didn’t I make it clear? This is about Kingdom living, here and now. Not Heaven, later. Yes, my central purpose in coming here to earth is to provide the perfect sacrifice for your sin, so that you may spend eternity with my loving Heavenly Father.
“And that I will do. But my passion, what compels me, what energizes me every day, is to show you what you are missing. My Heavenly Father has an unbelievably full life for you, here and now, and you’re distracted and discouraged by how to follow laws in order to be blessed?
“No! You are already blessed beyond measure when you surrender your life to me. It is then you start to live the life that is truly life.3 And here is what it looks like.”
So my friends, from this point forward, we will look at all the descriptions Jesus gives us for this new Life. Life with a capitol ‘L.’ Not prescriptions, mind you, descriptions.
Next week: What does ‘poor in spirit’ mean?
1 John 10:10 Slight paraphrase
2 Matthew 6:1
3 1 Timothy 6:19