Are You Blessed?
1. "The poor in heart are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to them," (5:3). This is the message given to us for today.
2. In Matthew's Gospel from chapters five to seven we have the sermon recorded that was given by the Lord Jesus upon the mountain. It is called "The Sermon On The Mount." A message of nine blessings is written in it right at the beginning of it. Also, if we leave out verses eleven and twelve, [this passage] is also called "The Eight blessings [in Japanese or The Beatitudes in English]." For today I would like us to keep particularly in mind the first lines in it.
3. A passage similar to this one is found in Luke's Gospel in chapter six beginning with verse twenty. Since it was given on a plain it is called "The Sermon On The Plain." In The Sermon On The Plain a few words are different. It has, "O poor people, you are blessed; the kingdom of God is yours," (Luke 6:20). Whether it's either "the poor people" or "the poor in heart," it sounds a bit odd calling these kind of people "blessed or happy." What might these words mean for us?
The Disciples And The Multitudes
4. When we think about its message, we will first of all want to imagine its setting. A great multitude of people has gathered around Jesus. These people have followed Jesus from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the other side of the river Jordan. As the text states in chapter four and verse twenty-four, many of them were believed to have been suffering with all sorts of diseases and pain, some taken by evil spirits, some with epilepsy, some with paralysis. The Lord saw them and went up a mountain. Then in sitting down, he opened his mouth and spoke to them. That is the scene we read today.
5. When we read it carefully, as in the Lord's presence, we notice a certain kind of distinction made in the text. The Lord does not speak to all the suffering and hurting people in his assembly. The text says, "When he sat down, his disciples came near to him," (verse one). Also, it doesn't appear in The New Interconfessional Version, but the text says in verse two, "Then, Jesus opened his mouth and taught them." In other words, Jesus spoke directly to "his disciples," that is, his disciples as distinct from the multitude.
6. This becomes more clear in The Gospel According To Luke. It is written like this, "Then, Jesus lifted up his eyes, saw his disciples and said," (Luke 6:20). Then he speaks directly to them with "The kingdom of God is yours."
7. Have there really been two kinds of circles going around Jesus? There was on the inner side the disciples who drew near to Jesus. He spoke to them. The disciples heard Jesus' address to them as a message directed to them. There was the multitude on the outer ring. The multitude didn't hear an address to them. They heard as "teaching" the words spoken to the disciples. They heard and evaluated the message in an objective way. But, they reacted against them. What kind of reaction did the crowd show? At the last part of "The Sermon On The Mount" the following words are recorded. "When Jesus finished speaking these messages, the multitude was very surprised at his teachings," (7:28). They were surprised. That's it; no more and no less.
8. When we let this reflect into our imaginations, we can't help but see something right off. It is the question of where do I fit in this. I'm sure we have felt a great attraction to and admiration for Jesus' words here. I'm sure we've wondered at Jesus' words here. But, it's not that important how we might have rated Jesus' words. It's more important whether we have heard his message as one directed to us or not. I may have sat right in front of Jesus, but did I hear him looking on in from the outside? Are we really in position as disciples? Or are we really in the position of the multitude? We need to ask ourselves first of all, "where do I fit in?"
The Poor Disciples
9. So, let's decide to turn to the message the Lord gave. "The poor in heart are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to them," (verse three).
10. Being poor means to be without. It means that one's needs are met by other people. Being poor means you have to ask others for help. With lowered heads, they have to ask, "Please have pity on me." Is a person who has to beg for pity really blessed and happy? We don't normally think so. But, the Lord is overturning our common attitudes. The Lord is saying that happiness is not the person who has no need to beg for mercy, but the one who lowers his or head and has to ask for mercy.
11. With that then, his message must have been appreciated by the people who had assembled around Jesus because the multitude of people who had been there around Jesus were certainly poor folks. Many of them were at the depths of shortage in terms of economics, health, and spirituality. In reality there were undoubtedly many living as beggars. In their daily speech they must have said, "Have pity on me." The Lord's words were probably filled with so much comfort for them.
12. But, as I mentioned before, the words of Jesus were not spoken directly to this multitude. They were directed to the disciples. He said, "You are blessed" to the disciples who were listening to the words of Jesus as spoken to them for them to do. Why "the disciples?" Because sooner or later they would have to face off with their own dreadful fundamental poverty.
13. The disciples didn't just hear it as "How blessed you are!" There is more to what the Lord says to follow later. Please read through from chapter five to chapter seven alone. Many people have thought of this as a beautiful moral lesson, but they're way off. Any way you cut it, it is not a universal ethic applicable for every John and Jane. These words are for his disciples, they are words for anyone who would listen to the words of Jesus as being directed to themselves [for them to live out].
14. For example, his words continue on in verse thirteen. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the light of the world." These words make up some pretty good and beautiful teaching in so far as seen from the outside looking in. But, what about when you hear them as directed to yourself? What about our being drawn by Jesus to a life where we truly live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world? What about when he said, "Thus, please shine your lights before others so that people will see your good works and come to worship your heavenly Father?" All of sudden, we're put in a dilemma. Because we notice that there's nothing much good within us. We come to see our own poverty and we can't avoid meeting our sinfulness that we are so helpless to do anything about.
15. What if we really listened to Jesus' words, for instance, like the message that follows: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you," (verse fourty-four). How in the world ever are we to love our enemies when we can't even faithfully love our most intimate friends and family? If we searched our hearts inside out, could we claim we have that kind of love? As long as we are looking from the outside we might be impressed with his "teaching of love." But, when his words are spoken to us to do, then all of a sudden we come face to face with the poverty in our own love for others.
16. If Jesus' words bug us too much, we might categorically pass them off as "Sayings from Jesus" [that just belong in some nice book framed with a decorative cover and safely tucked away]. If it were just the words of some strict teacher, we might not care at all. We might shrug it off as a hypocritally impossible message going out. We might laugh it off with "It's all very idealistic, isn't it?" But this is the words of Jesus, [real words for us to live by]. The one who told us, "You are the light of the world," himself had said about himself that "I am the light of the world." He lived that way and he died that way. The One who said to love your enemies had himself loved his enemies. He loved the people who crucified him, who abused him, and insulted him, and he interceded in prayer for them. Also, the resurrected Christ, through the church which is now his body, is inviting this sin soaked world to his love. Whenever we come face to face with this Christ and begin to hear his address to us as a message truly spoken just for us, then we will inevitably realize our awful fundamental poverty. We will have to look to heaven and cry out, "O my Lord, have mercy on me."
17. Nobody is going to like admitting his or her impoverished condition. It's in our natures that we don't want to recognize ourselves as poor. We don't want to say, "Have mercy on me. I need help." So, some people feel better when they put themselves in the position of the multitude. Some people may feel comfortable in dismissing Jesus, as the best thing to do. That way they don't need to face their spiritual poverty. They may very well just be very very fine people just as they are. Other people may just say how nice, thankful, or enjoyable they are. They might really be enjoyable people the way they are. Isn't that really the happiest and most blessed way to be? Isn't it happier that way than to admit your poverty and live in that admission?
18. No, it's not. The Lord says, "The poor in heart are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to them." The Lord is speaking to these very ones who can't help but sigh and groan over their poverty. Through this the Lord is speaking to those who think that they are so very far from the kingdom of heaven and says, "How blessed you are! The kingdom of heaven is yours."
19. The poor seek. They can't help but seek for what they need. If they don't, they can't live. Thus, they seek God. They depend on God alone. All life long, they lean on God and cannot live except by leaning on God and his grace. They can't live except by always asking God, all their lives, saying "Lord, help me." But, even while at the extreme end of one's poverty, a person will experience the kingdom of heaven. For such a person the kingdom of heaven is not some future hope. They now experience in this world how that God is alive, God cares and makes them live by the rule of his grace and life.
20. "The poor in heart are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to them." Amen.