Suppose for a moment that someone said to you, “I would like you to come to a meeting so that you can be confronted.” I suspect many of us would either say, “No, but thanks for asking,” or we would ask many questions about being confronted and then say, “No thanks.” Who wants to be confronted. And we say that because we see being confronted or confrontation only in a negative way. However, it is only by confrontation that we learn, that we change, that we become inspired, and that we come to be in awe.
Are you skeptical about this notion of confrontation? Allow me to give a trivial example. My wife had a cousin who planned and prepared the family meals. Due to a crazy work schedule, my wife’s cousin set the meals for each week to be identical, week after week. Think of it as Monday was goulash, Tuesday ham steak, Wednesday was chicken, Thursday was spaghetti, Friday was fish sticks, and so forth. Week after week the menu never varied. You knew the day of the week by what you were eating. Then one day, one of the kids from that family, Billy, went out to dinner with us at a local restaurant. Someone suggested, let’s have an appetizer. How about some calamari, squid? As you might expect, calamari was not one of the weekly offerings at Billy’s house. When the calamari came to the table, Billy was confronted. Should he try the calamari or not? With much encouragement, Billy tried a bite of calamari and discovered new tastes and textures and was excited by what he had learned declaring calamari, “Awesome.”
I have given you a trivial example for us to think about confrontation a little differently. And with that, I would like us to begin looking at the more substantive confrontation that Jesus presented and still presents through his first extended sermon that we call the Sermon on the Mount found in chapters 5 through 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. It will take us several weeks to lean into the sermon and there is great risk in doing so. The first risk of course is that we have all heard sermons based on the Sermon on the Mount and therefore, there is a risk that we will hear Jesus words as though someone was reading a math book, dry and unexciting, or as though we were eating the 37th weekly meal of goulash so far this year. But there is always a but. But if we allow ourselves to be confronted by Jesus and to experience the confrontation Jesus presented to his audience, then we might find ourselves in awe of Jesus and be changed by him.
That leads us to our second risk. We might change because we are in awe of Jesus. A confrontation that leads us to be in awe is a treasured experience. When we are in awe of something or someone, we want to hold onto that sense of wonder. We something confronts us with awe, we want to capture that moment. We take photographs of that thing or buy paintings of that thing to capture that moment. When we are in awe of someone, we see the possibility and the promise of something greater than we are and so we imitate who we are in awe of.
Jesus’ sermon on the mount confronted people and caused them to be held in awe. We know people were in awe because Matthew put a postscript at the end of Jesus’ sermon. Matthew wrote, “28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). The people were amazed and astonished by what Jesus said. Jesus had confronted his disciples and the crowd of people behind the disciples, and all were in awe. The teachers of the law taught about God as though they were reading from a math book, with a sense of total detachment, once again reciting the rules and regulations of religion. They taught with the same delight one would have with the 37th weekly plate of goulash. But Jesus taught with the authority of God, raising in the minds and hearts of the people a sense of the possible and promise of something greater than they ever had experienced before. Jesus taught that kingdom of God was near and that they could be part of it. Jesus had confronted his listeners and they were in awe.
So, we know how the sermon ended, “the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:28b, 29a). How then did the sermon begin? How did Jesus confront his listeners? Jesus began the sermon this way. “3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5). Jesus offered no introduction, no opening story, no whitism, or comment at all. With the tension of the disciples and crowd all fixed upon him waiting to see what he would say, Jesus began to confront those listening with words of blessings of God. But these blessings sounded so strange. And we are going to discover the list of blessings is not random but sequential, each building upon the next.
Blessing were the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek, Jesus said. These are words the disciples and the crowd did not expect. Jesus’ words confronted the mindset of the Jesus’ listeners, who believed that only people like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were prominent in the religious life of the nation were subject to God’s blessings. Jesus’ words confronted the belief that only people who were wealthy had been blessed by God or those who had no grief in their lives were considered blessed by God. Jesus confronted the idea that people who were strong in mind and body were those who inherited. We might be tempted to think for a moment that Jesus’ audience were silly and simpleminded ancient people lacking our sophistication. But, there is always a but. But if we were to ask ourselves or people on the street about what we most admire in other people today, we would likely get a list something like we admire people who are independent, competitive, wealthy, good looking, hardworking, trustworthy, etc. I do not believe many, if any, people would put on today’s list of admirable traits being poor in spirit, being mournful, and being meek. Yet Jesus said being poor in spirit, mournful, and meek were the exact traits that God desires and blesses. And so, Jesus confronts our understand of who lives a blessed life. Jesus was confronting his audience and now us to consider that God chooses to bless those who can let God be God, who will let God be their God.
In the first three blessings, Jesus used statements of internal spiritual posture of a person, not a nation. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are the people who recognize that they cannot reform themselves. Blessed are those people who know that they need God’s need grace. Blessed are those who place humility is at the center of their life with God.
Jesus then said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” God blesses those people recognize that sin separates them from God and that they sorrow at their own sin. God offers a way out of sin to the repentant and into his presence and that is a blessing.
Jesus concluded the first three blessings this way, “Blessed are the meek.” Meekness is not the absence of assertiveness or being a doormat. Being meek is the absence of self-assertion. Meekness is the opposite of self-ambition and envy. Meekness is a willing to be in awe of God and receive from God.
Being poor in spirit, mournful, and meek are not words of blessing to or from the world. Being poor in spirit, mournful over sin, and meek are all deficient words. But they are deficit words that lead to being blessed by God. These words all reflect an emptying of oneself and making oneself ready to be filled.
These words were astonishing because Jesus was saying that God blesses people, anyone who would come to him. Blessings from God was not about your nation, tribe, social class, health, or wealth. Blessings from God was about your personal willingness to come to God in a spirit able to receive from him. What an amazing thought that the God of all would care about each person, one at a time, to come and bless them.
But how would this all work? How would coming before God and being blessed by God change one’s life? Jesus answered those questions in the next blessing.
Jesus said, “6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). With the right spiritual posture, emptied of self and ready to receive, there is a readiness a hunger and thirst. For those who seek that hunger and thirst to be satisfied by righteousness, a right living with God, then there is a filling, an indwelling of God’s righteousness. This indwelling is the very essence of God, given as God’s Holy Spirit. The blessings Jesus was talking about are sequential.
When satisfaction for spiritual hunger and thirst is sought from God, then those seeking can be filled with the righteousness of God. Jesus was setting the highest goal in life was righteousness before God. The highest goal of life was not the most scrupulous observance of religious practices or traditions, instead it was righteousness with God, a personal standing with God himself.
If we were to again survey American’s today and asked the question, “What is your highest goal in life?” we might expect to get answers such as “be happy, be financially secure, or to enjoy my family.” I suspect very few, if any, people would say “My goal in life is to be righteous before God.” But that is exactly the point of the opening to Jesus’ sermon. And so, Jesus confronts our patterns of thinking, our goals, and aims in life and points out that we are satisfied when we pursue righteousness before God as our life’s desire.
We often say or have said to us, “Choose wisely. Choices had consequences.” This is usually said as a warning, making consequences a negative term like confrontation is generally a negative term. Jesus was confronting his audience with the idea that goals have consequences. Emptying yourself and seeking the righteousness of God means the consequence in one’s life will be to be blessed by God and in those blessings a change in action overtakes the person.
Jesus addressed the change that overtakes someone blessed by God in righteousness in the next sequence of blessings. Jesus said, “7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:7-9). Being merciful, pure in heart, and peacemaker are not only internal to the person, but these qualities are also expressed outwardly toward and with others.
Jesus was telling his disciples, if you are right before God and you activate your faith and standing with God, you will be changed. You will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. You will extend mercy. You will act compassionately toward others who are in extreme need expecting nothing in return from them. You will act with a pure heart, with pure motives. With God, you will be free to encourage, help, free others to join in a relationship with God. You will have a most consequential goal in life of being a peacemaker. You will be calling people to be at peace with God and with one another. Goals have consequences and with God, those consequences are blessings of mercy, purity, and peace.
Jesus confronted his audience like they had never been confronted. Jesus confronted his disciples and the crowd seated behind the disciples to consider that they could have a personal relationship with God and be blessed by God. They would be blessed as they emptied themselves, as they were satisfied by the righteousness of God, and as they practiced their faith with mercy, purity, and peace.
As we said in the beginning, the people were amazed at what Jesus said because he taught as one who had authority. The authority with which Jesus taught was not found in style of speech he used. What Matthew was hinting at here was that the people were in awe because they were beginning to experience that Jesus was not just telling his disciples and others how to live, Jesus was telling others about his own nature and thus the nature of God.
The Apostle Paul would later write, “5b Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus’ attitude was one of humility and meekness, ready to receive from God, even though he was God. Jesus sought to be filled and satisfied by God. Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus was righteous. Jesus displayed mercy, purity of motives, and peacemaking as he healed, comforted, and freed all who would ask for God’s grace. Matthew was hinting here at the end of the sermon that people had an inner feeling of amazement not just in what Jesus said but that Jesus somehow was the embodiment of what he said. Because of that, the people were confronted to examine the righteousness of their life and to be amazed at Jesus and experience not just the possible but the promised opportunity of something greater and more satisfying in life. There was the real prospect of imitating Jesus Christ.
Those possibilities and promise are for you and me as well. God is ready to bless you and satisfy you. God is read for you to bless you with righteousness and for you to become a blessing of mercy, purity, and peace for others. But you and I must be willing to be confronted by the blessing of God. We must be empty to receive. We must be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. We must be willing to bear fruit.
Jesus has given us much to think about this week. I would like you to come to church next Sunday so that we can be confronted again and held in awe of Christ. For whatever we hold in awe, we will imitate. Amen and Amen.