The Spiritually Needy Are Happy And Blessed

October 17, 2010
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
Matthew 5:1-12

A Message To The Disciples

1. Today I read to you from the top part of chapter five from The Gospel According To Matthew. A gracious subtitle is given in The New Interconfessional Version; as the text has there, [we find] the section called "The Sermon On The Mount," which is from chapters five to seven in The Gospel According To Matthew. "Jesus saw the crowd and ascended the mountain. When he sat down, the disciples drew near to him. Then, Jesus opened his mouth and taught," (verses one and two). In the original text, verse two has written in it that "Then, Jesus opened his mouth and taught them." In other words he taught the "disciples" who had drawn near to him.

2. The crowd was also there because just before today's passage it is written that "A large crowd came and followed Jesus," (4:25). If we wonder why a large crowd had followed Jesus, the reason is written in the text before that. It is because Jesus' reputation was spreading through out Syria. What kind of reputation? It was the reputation of a healer of sickness. It is as the text says, "As the people brought to Jesus persons suffering with various sicknesses and pains, persons possessed by evil spirits, persons with epilepsy, persons with palsy, and various other sick persons, he healed them." In this way then, the great crowd had followed Jesus. Upon seeing the multitude of peoples, Jesus went up the mountain. Of course, the crowd tagged along. However, at that place the Lord did not address the entire crowd, but addressed the disciples who went up close to him. That is the sermon on the mountain from chapters five to seven.

3. So, compositionally speaking, it has two circles. There are the disciples in the inner circle. There is the crowd in the outer circle. In the inner circle, there are the people who hear the address of Jesus as an address for them personally. In the outer circle, there are, so to speak, people looking on from the outside. They see Jesus speaking to the disciples. They hear the words of Jesus as some sort of "lesson, teaching." They evaluate the "teaching" from the outside. That evaluation is described as their reaction. After the sermon on the mount the following is written in the text. "When Jesus finished speaking these words, the crowd was very much astonished at his teaching" (7:28). The evaluation from the outside was saying that his teaching was truly unique and amazing.

4. Well, even today this inner and outer composition [of the audience] can be seen with respect to "The Sermon On The Mount." Furthermore, [this composition] can be seen with respect to all of Jesus' words, and still even furthermore, in all of the words in the scriptures. Evaluations from the outside on Jesus and his teaching are still being made today in various ways. Today as well, as the sermon on the mount is representative of, plenty of people are feeling astonishment, fascination, interest, deep emotion, and other things at the teaching of Jesus. However, even though they are making such positive evaluations, the place where the people are seems to be the place where that crowd had been. Which is, the outer circle.

5. Indeed, there may be some of us here who have been living the church life for a long time, but it just may be it is the outer circle where the crowd was where we are still placing ourselves. So many times what happens is that we end right there, [just] looking on from the outside, hearing from the outside, evaluating from the outside, and coming to our conclusions.

6. If we really want to follow Christ, if we are willing to "get up close" as disciples of Christ, then we must hear the words of Jesus not as for somebody else, but as "an address to me." Matthew recorded the words Jesus told. The words which are recorded in the gospel were clearly not designed to be read from the location of the crowd. They were written to be read as a personal address.

The First Speech In The Sermon On The Mount

7. Thus, the first thing that jumps into our ears when we hear the words of Jesus as "an address to me" is this set of words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven belongs to these people," (verse three). This is the first speech. The first speech is the proclamation of the beatitudes. In the original text it begins with an exclamation of "How blessed they are! How happy they are!" There is no need for a person to be unhappy any more. There is no need to live as an unhappy person. There is no need to remain in darkness. The exclamation of "How blessed they are!" is repeatedly made; that world of light is being pointed to by Jesus. We could even say that it has already arrived with Jesus. Anyone who hears the words of the Lord as a message for him or her is being called by the words of the Lord to that world of "How blessed are they!"

8. "How blessed are they!" "The poor in spirit" is at the very beginning of [the blessings] listed. "The poor in spirit are blessed." Once you hear it, the words are intense and unforgettable; because it is very unexpected. [We] posted these words outside for a week as the sermon title, and I wonder what the passersby thought of them. And indeed I'm sure the words of Jesus undoubtedly have had a stronger impact than we might think. I say that because "the poverty" which is being mentioned here in this text is not speaking on the level of not having enough or being a bit short on something. This is the word [used] to express "beggars, begging." You have nothing at all. It is the word [used] to stand for this extreme poverty of having nothing.

9. When you're living in poverty, [your needs can] only be met by other people. When you're "a beggar," you have to beg from everybody. With your head lowered, you have to say, "Please have mercy on me!" In fact, in the crowds that had followed after Jesus, there were persons who had been living by literally begging, and the words "Please have mercy on me!" must have been their everyday usual words. Being in such an extreme state of want, were the people somehow happy and blessed who could not help but beg for mercy from others? No matter how hard [I] look at it, they don't look happy [to me]. People seem blessed when they don't have to say to anybody, "Please help me!" So much the more then, people don't seem happy to have to say things like, "Please have mercy on me!" However, about these kinds of persons Jesus makes the pronouncement of "How blessed they are!" He says the ones who are blessed are not the people without any need to ask for mercy, but the people who cannot help but ask for mercy with lowered heads.

The Poverty The Disciples Are Supposed To Face

10. This is the first speech the disciples heard. It is the first speech to those who are hearing the words of the Lord as a message directed to themselves personally. That's right, there is great significance in the fact that this was spoken directly to the disciples because as disciples of Jesus when you live the words of Jesus as a message directed to you, then you must experience poverty. The disciples lived [through] an age of persecution and they were also supposed to experience poverty in the literal sense. That's why in The Gospel According To Luke it states not "the poor in spirit," but "the poor are blessed, the kingdom of God belongs to you," (Luke 6:20). But Jesus is not merely talking about a lesson on economically related problems, and if we read ahead we will see that. What the disciples must come face to face with is the lesson on poverty at its root.

11. The disciples didn't just hear "How blessed they are!" There are more words to come. Please try to read through chapters five and seven, just them alone even. Some people regard this as "a splendid moral teaching," but they are only gazing at it from the outside when they see it that way. When you listen to it as words for you, then you can't see it just that way.

12. For instance, the following words continue beginning in verses thirteen and on. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the lights of the world." As long as you are looking at these words from the outside they are a beautiful and good teaching. But what about when you hear them as a message for you? What about when we are pulled out by Jesus unto lives that will actually live as the salt of the earth and as the lights of the world? "In this manner then, shine your lights before other people! [You will do that] so the people will see your fine deeds and worship the father in heaven," says the Lord. How will things be if [I] hear this as a message directed right to me? All of a sudden, I will be put into a dilemma, a hard place. "Shine your lights before other people!" Can I do that? When we are really willing to live that way, then it is inevitable that we must come face to face with our very poverty, that is, at its deepest, our very sinfulness, against which we are powerless by ourselves.

13. Furthermore, what will happen if we do listen to the following words of Jesus? "Love [your] enemies, pray for those who persecute you!," (verse forty-four). While a person looks on them from the outside, one may feel deep emotion and say, "It is a wonderful teaching of love." But when the words become a message for us, we might not feel so excited. Jesus is pointing to people who will hurt you and who won't quit knocking you about and is saying, "Love that person! Pray for that person!" We can barely love the people nearest and dearest to us, so how in the world are we supposed to love [our] enemies? Does [he] say if we search to the bottom of our hearts, that kind of love will be there? Will we not, all of sudden, end up having to come face to face with the poverty in our love?

14. To make matters worse, these are the words of Jesus. If it was just a pastor speaking, I probably wouldn't care all that much. It would be easy to reject [those words] by saying, "You can be like that? [You're] a hypocritical liar!" You could also laugh them off by saying, "That's the ideal, isn't it?" But these are the words of Jesus.

15. The one who said, "You are the lights of the world," stated about himself that "I am the light of the world." And he did in fact live that way and then he died that way. The one who said "Love [your] enemy!" did himself love [his own] enemies. He loved the people who mocked and ridiculed him, and [he loved even] the people who hung him on the cross, and he interceded for them in prayer, "O father, please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34).

16. When we come face to face with this One and begin to hear his message as a message directed to us, then all of a sudden, we will not be able to avoid the realization of our own dreadfully deep-rooted poverty. We will not be able to avoid shouting unto the heavens, "O Lord, please have mercy on me!"

17. Who in the world would ever want to admit his or her poverty? By nature we don't want to admit we're poor. We don't want to say, "Have mercy on me!" Therefore, it feels better to place ourselves in the location of the crowd. It may even feel better to leave Jesus. Then we would have no need to confront our own poverty. [We] may be pretty good people as things stand. Other people may tell us we're kind, they thank us, they enjoy us as people. We may even be able to enjoy ourselves the way we are. Isn't that a much happier way to be? Rather than living admitting our poverty, isn't it happier to live feeling proud that we are decent and good people?

18. But, no it is not true. Jesus says. He speaks to the person who inclines his or her ears to the word of the Lord with sincerity, and who is willing to listen to them as a message for him or her, and therefore weeps for his or her sinfulness, weeps for [his or her] lack of love, and who cannot avoid admitting that [he or she] is in the spiritual condition of that of a beggar. [He says to him or her,] "The poor in spirit are blessed." Why [are they]? The Lord says, "The kingdom of heaven belongs to them." That's right; "O people who cannot help but grieve over their own poverty, you are blessed. O people who think you are the farthest from the kingdom of heaven, you are blessed. The kingdom of heaven belongs to you instead," says the Lord.

19. The poor ask [for help]. They cannot help but ask. Unless they ask, they cannot live. Therefore, they ask God. They only rely on God. They must go about living with all their hearts clinging in reliance upon God. They must live all their lives, always saying, "O Lord, please have mercy on me!"

20. However, while in this extremity of spiritual poverty, while in a life that keeps asking, "O Lord, please have mercy on me!," it is precisely because one is in this state that a person experiences the reality of the living God. We experience the appearing in a person's life that which a person cannot be expected to have inside him or her on one's own. Through the concrete world of reality in which we can only say that it truly did come from heaven, through our poor selves, God's love appears, God's powerful works appear. At those times, the kingdom of heaven is no longer merely just a hope for the future. We can experience that God is alive, that that God cares for us, that he refreshes our lives under [his] government of grace and life -- the kingdom of God -- now while in this world.

21. "The poor in spirit are blessed. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them." Amen.