October 22, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. The sermon that jesus gave on a mountain is recorded from chapters five to seven in The Gospel According To Matthew. It is called "The Sermon On The Mount." At the very opening section to it are the nine statements of blessing that I read to you today. Or [if] we exclude verses eleven and twelve, it is also called "The Beatitudes." Today I would like for us to concentrate particularly upon the first statement. The Lord said, "The poor in heart are blessed, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them," (verse three).
2. Words similar to these can be found in Luke's Gospel chapter six and beginning in verse twenty. Since it turned out that it was delivered on a plain, it is called "The Sermon On The Plain." In the sermon on the open field, a few words are different. Luke has "The poor are blessed, the kingdom of God belongs to you," (Luke 6:20). Whether it is "the poor" or "the poor in heart," doesn't it sound a bit strange to call these people "blessed?" What might these words mean for us?
The Disciples And The Crowds
3. Before we think about those words, let us first try to imagine a picture of this scene in our minds. Large crowds had gathered around Jesus. They were people who had followed Jesus from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from across the Jordan River. Many of them, as it is written in chapter four and verse twenty-four, were believed to have been persons suffering from various diseases and pains, persons possessed by evil spirits, persons with epilepsy, and persons with paralysis. The Lord saw them and he went up the mountain. Then, upon sitting down, he opened his mouth, and spoke out to them. This is the scene that I read to you today.
4. Well, when we give this passage a careful reading, we notice that in the presence of Jesus a certain variety of differentiation or classification existed. The Lord did not address all the assembled people who were suffering with pain or some trouble. The scripture says, "When he sat down, the disciples came up close to him," (verse one). Then, it doesn't appear in The New Interconfessional Version in Japanese, but in verse two it is written, "Whereupon, Jesus opened his mouth, and taught them. In other words, the Lord addressed "his disciples" directly, that is, to the disciples as differentiated from the crowd.
5. This becomes quite clear in Luke's Gospel. The following is written in it: "Then, Jesus lifted his eyes, looked at the disciples and spoke," (Luke 6:20). Then, he addresses them directly with "The kingdom of God is yours."
6. What do we make of this? Have we been seeing two rings of circles around Jesus? In the inner [ring] there are the disciples who have come up to Jesus. The Lord speaks to them. The disciples hear Jesus' speeches as speeches directed to them personally. On the outer [ring], there are the crowds. The crowd does not hear his speeches directed to them personally. They hear the words spoken to the disciples as a sort of "teaching." They evaluate objectively the words they are hearing and they respond to those words. What kind of response has the crowd shown? At the last section of "The Sermon On The Mount" the following is recorded, "When Jesus finished speaking these words, the crowd was quite amazed at his teaching," (7:28). They were "amazed." It was neither more nor less than that.
7. When we depict in our minds this scene which today's passage of scripture is telling us, we won't be able to help ourselves from thinking, "Where do I stand in this?" Where are you at in this? Are you where the disciples are? Are you where the crowd is? There may be a lot of folks who always admire and feel fascinated by the words of Jesus' teachings which are written in the Bible. Or you may have marveled at Jesus' words upon hearing them. But, the important thing is not our admiring and being fascinated by them. It is that we hear his words as being directed to us. Are you sitting right before Jesus? Or else, are you listening while you gaze on in from the outside? Are we [standing] in the position of a disciple? Or else, are we [standing] in the position of the crowd? We need to ask ourselves that, first thing.
The Poor Disciples
8. With that, let's incline our ears on the very words of Jesus. The Lord says, "The poor in heart are blessed, the kingdom of heaven belongs to them," (verse three).
9. Being poor means to be in need, to be without. It means you have to get your needs met by someone else. When you're poor, you have to beg other people. You got to say, "Please have mercy on me," and do so with your head lowered. Are those who can't get out of begging for mercy really blessed? We don't usually think so. However, the Lord says, "They are; they really are happy." The person who is blessed is not the person who does not need to beg for mercy, but the one who can't get out of begging for mercy with his or her head lowered.
10. Thereupon, to the many people who had gathered around Jesus they must have been highly appreciated words because the crowd that was around Jesus was certainly the poor people. Most of them must have been in economic dire straits. If sick one would require assistance on a physical level as well. They most likely felt a deficiency on the psychological level as well. I think there were people there actually literally making their living by being [full-time] beggars. "Please have mercy on me" might have been their typical everyday vocabulary. I'd say for persons like that the words "The poor are blessed" were filled with so much comfort!
11. But we must pause to think. As I mentioned earlier as well, the words of Jesus were not words spoken directly to that crowd [of mostly poor folks]. They were directed to the disciples. Jesus addressed the "[you] are blessed" to the disciples who heard his words as addressed straight to them.
12. Why is it important that they are words to the "disciples?" It is because sooner or later the disciples would have to come face to face with their own dreadful roots and cause to their poverty.
13. The disciples did not just hear "How blessed you are!" There were more words after that. Please read through from chapter five to just chapter seven. Those who think of it as "good moral teaching" are indeed only looking on from the outside. Should they hear them as words for themselves, they would never do them.
14. For example, the following words continue beginning in verse thirteen. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the light of the world." As long as these kinds of words are looked on from the outside, they end as beautiful good teaching. But, how will things turn out when one hears them as direct messages to yourself? How will things turn out if we are drawn by Jesus to a life in which we actually live as the salt of the earth, as the light of the world? The Lord says, "In this way then, shine your light before the people; that way the people will see your good deeds and will worship your heavenly father." How will things turn out if I were to listen to these words as messages for none other than myself? Immediately I would be put into a dilemma. "Shine your light before the people!" Can [I] do such a thing? When we decide to live that way for real, we must eventually meet up with our own poverty and go "Huh!," and worse still [we must meet up with] our sinfulness of which we can do nothing about.
15. Furthermore, what if we would listen to the following words from Jesus? "Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you," (verse forty-four). At the point looking on in from the outside we can be impressed and say, "It's a wonderful teaching on love." But, we cannot be impressed or feel something like that when it becomes a message addressed to us personally. As Jesus points to those who bring you pain and won't stop hurting you, he says to "Love them. Pray for them." How in the world are we supposed to love our enemies when we can barely even faithfully love those most near and dear to us? Will we say where in my heart do we search for that kind of love to be found? Won't we immediately have to come face to face with the poverty of our love [for others]?
16. And yet disturbingly as it is, these are "the words of Jesus." Were it just a pastor saying them, it wouldn't be painful or even an itch on us. "Can you say such a thing? You're dang near a hypocrite!" It's easy to say that and push them off. We could also just laugh it off and say, "That sure is the ideal, though, ain't it?" But, these are the words of Jesus.
17. The one who said "You are the light of the world" stated for himself that "I am the light of the world." And that is exactly how he lived and how he died. The one who said "Love your enemy" did love his enemies. He loved those who had put him on the cross and those who cursed and ridiculed him, and he prayed intercessory prayers on their behalf. "O father, please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34).
18. When we start to hear his messages as messages directed to us and come face to face with him, we will immediately be forced to sense our own dreadful roots and cause to our poverty. We will be unable to not cry out towards heaven. "O Lord, please have mercy on me."
19. Who in the world likes to or wants to admit his or her own poverty? We naturally do not want to admit ourselves to be poor. We don't want to say "Have mercy on me." Therefore, we're more comfortable putting ourselves in the position of the crowd. Worse still, some may be even more comfortable leaving Jesus altogether. That way it may not even be necessary for some people to face their own impoverishment. They may be good folks just the way they are. Other people would say of them that they are kind, are thankful for them, and happy because of them. They may be able to make themselves happy like that. Isn't there nothing happier than that? Isn't it happier to live bragging on yourself how good you are rather than to live admitting your poverty?
20. No, it's not that way. The Lord says, "The poor in heart are blessed." Why is that? Because "the kingdom of heaven belongs to them." The Lord said, "O all you people unable to avoid groaning in your poverty, you are blessed. O all you people who think you are the farthest from the kingdom of heaven, you are blessed. The kingdom of heaven belongs to you instead."
21. The poor have wants and ask. They can't avoid asking. Unless they ask, they won't live. Therefore, they ask God. They only cling to God in dependence. For their whole life they got to keep living and clinging to God in dependence and clinging upon God's grace. They must pray ever saying for their whole lives, "O Lord, please have mercy on me."
22. But, while in such a low of spiritual poverty, while indeed in a life that continuously asks, "O Lord, have mercy," a person will experience the reality of the living God. He or she will experience the kingdom of heaven. When we live that way, the kingdom of heaven is no longer merely a future hope. In this world now, we will be able to experience -- truly the kingdom of heaven -- that God is alive, God is involved with us, and we are made to live under the rule of his grace and life.
23. "The poor in heart are blessed; the kingdom of heaven is theirs." Amen.