Matthew's Gospel naturally divides into five main discourses, each ending with the words such as, "Jesus had ended these sayings" (7.28). The sections are as follows: The Sermon on the Mount, ethical, 5.1-7.28; The Instruction of the Twelve, evangelical 8.1-11.1; The Parables of the Kingdom, dispensational, 11.2-13.53; The Introduction of the Church, ecclesiastical, 13.54-19.1; Teaching of the Last Days, prophetical, 19.2-26.1.
The Sermon itself (5.1-11) is unique, for "Never man spake like this man" (Jn 7.46). The master preacher presents His manifesto as God's King, not as a policy document, but as an authoritative pronouncement! He expounds moral concepts and precepts so contrary to secular values. It is not just a code of morals or a way of salvation, but it presents a self-portrait of the King and establishes the superlative ethical standards required of His subjects - the inward and outward manifestation of true discipleship. These principles will be fully implemented and manifested in the coming Kingdom of Christ. Each of the nine beatitudes begins with the word, "Blessed", because they reveal the secret of a happy life, living in the light of heaven and the love of God. Sin is the source of sadness, holiness the basis of happiness.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" (v.3) - this is not material or social poverty, but a sense of personal unworthiness and sinfulness before God. All pride, pomp, and pretension must be eschewed, a humble and contrite spirit must characterise us. Our Saviour was completely sinless and selfless, yet he "made himself of no reputation", and humbled himself" (Phil 2.7-8); He who was "rich…became poor" (2 Cor 8.9; Ps 69.29), thus He was proved worthy to receive the Kingdom. As sinful creatures we have nothing, deserve nothing, and are nothing - spiritually and morally we are broken, bankrupt beggars (Is 64.6). It is truly "blessed" to be poor in spirit, acknowledging the rule of heaven in one's life, for only thus can God receive us and use us. This humble spirit (Is 57.15) assures access to, and an appreciation of, heaven; such are heavenly citizens indeed, for "theirs is the kingdom of heaven".
"Blessed are they that mourn" (v.4) – "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning" (Eccl 7.4). Why? Because of a personal consciousness of sin, and concern for a sinful world. The Lord, though sinless, was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is 53.3); it is recorded that He groaned, sighed and wept over the effects of sin, and the dishonour to God as a result. His tears were tears of love for a lost world under the judgment of God; He was so sensitive to the sin, suffering, and sorrow of those around Him. In view of this a careless gaiety and a reckless pursuit of prosperity and pleasure is unbecoming to a believer. Paul, Timothy, and others knew what it was to weep and mourn (Rom 8.22-23). Moments of mourning are moments of meaning! Tribulations and trials are the lot of the Christian, and this induces a suitable solemnity and sobriety of spirit. God's promise to those who mourn is that "they shall be comforted" (Is 40.1; 2 Cor 1.3; 1 Thess 4.18).
I walked a mile with pleasure; she chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow, and not a word said she,
But O the lessons that I learned when sorrow walked with me!
"Blessed are the meek" (v.5) - meekness is that inner quality that submits to God's dealings and contents itself with the circumstances and conditions of life that God gives. The word means mild, gentle. Adversity can be absorbed by the meek in a spirit of submission to the divine will, knowing it is the design of a good and wise God who permits trials to train His children in the art of godliness. The secret is prayer, passively accepting and positively committing such situations to the Father. The Lord was the supreme example of matchless meekness (Is 42.2; Mt 11.29; 1 Pet 2.23). It is the opposite of a rebellious and self-willed spirit. Meekness is required in leaders (e.g. Num 12.3; Gal 6.1), and is an important aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.23). The promise to the meek is that "they shall inherit the earth", referring particularly to the meek of the tribulation period, who will endure the rigours of that time, and shall enter the millennial Kingdom. The dominion of the earth will not be gained by the proud, prosperous, or powerful, nor by the assertive, aggressive, or oppressive tyrants of this world. Meekness is therefore not weakness, but on the contrary it is power under control. May we be marked by a meek spirit.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness" (v.6) - that is desiring righteousness as our passion and pursuit, as if it were our necessary food and drink, and longing for the coming Kingdom, when "a king shall reign in righteousness" (Is 32.1; 2 Pet 3.13). Christians, by definition, love righteousness, as our Lord Jesus "loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Heb 1.9), knowing that "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (Is 32.17). Righteousness is also the basis of our salvation (Rom 3.21-22; 5.18). This present world is full of corruption, immorality and violence; the power hungry, the pleasure thirsty will never be satisfied in time or eternity, but "righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov 14.34). The pursuit of righteousness brings soul peace now, and henceforth, the glittering prize of "a crown of righteousness" at the Judgment Seat of Christ" (2 Tim 4.8). Righteousness is the foundation of divine purposes for "grace reigns through righteousness" in the gospel age, "righteousness will reign" in the millennium age, and "righteousness will dwell" in the new earth age.
"Blessed are the merciful" (v.7) - to comfort the distressed, relieve the poor, visit the sick, help the aged, encourage the faint, support the weak, show hospitality, share possessions with the needy; these are some ways of showing mercy. God is rich in mercy and He is "the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1.3). Christ is a "merciful…high priest" (Heb 2.17), and we are exhorted to "put on…bowels of mercies" (Col 3.12), and to be gentle, generous and kind (Lk 6.36; 10.33-35). Those who show mercy will obtain mercy from God, and from others, for they "reap what they sow". Contrary wise those who show no mercy will receive no mercy! Mercy is "the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who showed it" (W E Vine).
"Blessed are the pure in heart" (v.8) - we are impure by nature, but Christ has "made purification for sin" by His blood. We are therefore able to have our hearts purified by faith and by obeying the truth (Acts 15.9; 1 Pet 1.22); we are also fitted to "call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim 2.22). Christ alone is absolutely and intrinsically pure, and, with hearts set upon Him, we are to endeavour to "keep ourselves pure" and purify ourselves, "even as he is pure" (1 Jn 3.3; 1 Tim 4.12; 5.22). The word "pure" is also translated "clear" and "clean" - purity involves sincerity, transparency and integrity. Purity characterises the "wisdom that is from above, [which] is first pure" (James 3.17), and "whatsoever things are pure" should occupy the thoughts of our minds (Phil 4.8; 2 Cor 7.1). The attached promise is that "the pure in heart…shall see God", because purified, cleansed and made holy, we see God in Christ, in creation, in Scripture, in providence, now with the "eyes of faith", but in a coming day "we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3.2).
"Blessed are the peacemakers" (v.9) - what a need for peacemakers in a wicked world that knows no peace! "There is no peace for the wicked" for they "are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest". International turmoil, social strife, broken relationships, are all signs of restless hearts without God! Christ has "made peace through the blood of is cross" (Col 1.20); He is the great peacemaker between man and God, and man and man. We, who believe, enjoy peace with God and have received the ministry of reconciliation to bring others into relationship with Him. Believers, therefore, should be peace lovers, peace seekers, peace keepers and peace makers (Rom 14.19; Is 32.17; Gen 13.8). Where discord and disputes arise, we must seek to preserve peaceful unity, though not peace at any price! Peace is precious (Ps 133.1-3; Phil 4.3); and must be preserved for the Lord's sake; thus the characteristics of "sons of God' are exemplified in acting morally like the God of Peace - such are truly blessed!
To dwell above with saints we love,
that will be glory;
To live below with saints we know,
that's another story.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (v.10) - all true believers suffer for their faith to some extent, as the Scripture says: "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution"; many, like the Apostle Paul, suffer severely (2 Tim 3.11-12). The persecution here is "for righteousness' sake"; every believer possesses a new life in Christ, which is characterised by righteousness, and is expected to manifest it in a sinful world, (1 Jn 2.29; 3.7-10). This provokes a degree of persecution from a corrupt society with a totally different world view; the Lord Jesus suffered it in fullest measure, and we are called to endure a meagre amount for His sake. The compensations are great: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ happy are ye" (1 Pet 4.14-16); obeying the laws of the kingdom brings a deep consciousness of our heavenly birth and citizenship, that we are not of the world "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". As another has said, "The fires of persecution burn out the dross of mere profession, its storms winnow out the chaff and leave the grain; but where the new life is, persecution will not deter from the pursuit of that sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hogg and Watson).
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you" (v.11) - we are never promised an easy path to heaven, for "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16.33). Christ is our example: "when he was reviled, (he) reviled not again" (1 Pet 2.23); we have ample spiritual resources in Christ to overcome the vilification of the world, for "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 Jn 2.16). In the present day many Christians are being ridiculed and persecuted, but it is all "for His sake"; we can "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven". We should therefore be thankful for the privilege of suffering a little, in whatever way, because it is for HIM.
"The attitude of gratitude is true beatitude - and that's no platitude".