I want to begin by thanking you for being here and continuing with the challenging words we have been experiencing in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is our third week examining the confrontational nature of Jesus’ sermon but with are coming to see that Jesus’ confronts not with accusation but with awe because Jesus reveals the nature of God and the way we were meant to be.
As we continue today with Gospel of Matthew, we find that the editors of our Bibles have inserted a title to the opening of Jesus’ sermon calling it “The Beatitudes.” I do not like titles in the Bible. In general, I think they inhibit our understanding of what was said because we are more apt and able to remember the title of book or passage than we can remember its content. The title, “The Beatitudes,” was never clear to me anyways because as a kid whenever I heard the phrase, “The Beatitudes,” I thought the person was saying, “The Be Attitudes,” as though one should “be” this way and not that way. The English word, “Beatitudes,” comes from the Latin word “beatitudos,” because in the Latin Bible each of Jesus sayings begins with the Latin word, “beati,” which became in English “blessed.” Now the Latin word, ‘beati,” was a translation from the original Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew which was, “markarious” (ma’ car e os). Markarious was not a religious word, but was a word used to convey a fortunate person. So, in the opening words to Jesus Sermon on the Mount, we might read them as, “Fortunate people are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Fortunate people are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Fortunate people are those who are meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5, paraphrased).
In Jesus’ eyes, we are fortunate when we have emptied ourselves of pridefulness and then filled ourselves or allowed ourselves to be filled with the righteousness of God. Last week, Jesus shocked his audience and said that “20 I tell you that unless your righteousness (unless that Godly filling) surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Righteousness, that state of being restored by God to the way we ought to be, to the way we were created by God, is at the heart of Jesus’ sermon. For when we have been filled with righteousness from God, then we are truly fortunate people.
Having set that there is a relationship between righteousness and being fortunate in God’s eyes, Jesus turned his attention toward teaching how righteousness plays itself out in real life, with real people, and real circumstances. We need that sort of teaching from Jesus because, as has been said by others, we don’t want to be so heavenly focused that we are no earthly good. Fortunate people must live out their earthly lives in the human community.
With that notion in mind, Jesus moved his sermon forward with these words found in Matthew, Chapter 5, “You have heard it said…” Jesus used this expression much in the same way we might say, “I know you have heard this before…” In using such expressions, the speaker is acknowledging what the listener already knows and has been taught in the past. Jesus began this part of his sermon with acknowledging what was known to his audience about the prescriptive nature of the Law and the commandments. Jesus did so because Jesus wanted to take his audience from what they knew to what they did not know, which was how is the righteousness of God lived out in real life situations.
Jesus said, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ [That is the known] 22 But [here comes the unknown] I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus was saying, “I know you have been taught that you shall not murder, that is number six of the top ten list of commandments, ‘Thou shall not murder.’” You know that Jesus said then came my favorite theological word, “but.” This is an important word because that word signals the unknown thing that must be known is coming. “22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [Stupid! Idiot! Dummy! Moron!] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22). Jesus was not abolishing the law but instead was enlightening his audience and us that righteousness in the kingdom of heaven demands that we neither murder a person’s body not their reputation. Righteousness lived out means that we do not choose to be angry toward another person, because anger is a choice, and we do not choose to have contempt for another person. There are two ways we should consider Jesus’ teaching here.
First, I think is the most obvious. We shall not kill outright, that’s murder of the body, nor are we to kill someone softly, that is murder of their reputation or spirit. To kill outright is to take someone’s life. As Jesus said, “You have heard that said to people long ago.” To kill softly is to abuse another person. When we abuse another person, we kill them, only we do it softly, often without injury to their body itself. Abuse can be done physical, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually. If you have been abused or if you have a friend or family member who has been abused, you know what it means to be killed softly. The body may not have died but permanent damage to the spirit has been done. And so, Jesus was saying any form of abuse violates the righteousness underpinning the commandment not to kill and such behavior must not be found in the life of a righteous person.
Secondly, I think Jesus meant his words to also mean that if you are a fortunate person because you have the righteousness of God in your life you must remember that you are not better than anyone else. You are fortunate because you are better off with your relationship with God but you not better than anyone. Meaning, fortunate people are not to kill others by elevating themselves. Jesus would express this sentiment in a parable, a story. Jesus said, “10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14). The Pharisee, acting as though he was better than others, took righteousness into his own hands, elevated himself, to slay others with his words. The Pharisees was killing others softly by elevating himself.
Those who are humble enough to accept the righteousness of God are fortunate people indeed, but they must not kill either outright as the commandment states or softly as Jesus teaches.
Jesus then said to the fortunate people that they must not act simply in a neutral way of not taking life, outright, softly, or by elevating themselves but fortunate people must act in an affirmative way of reconciling and healing.
In the next bit from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The first affirmative step is that those who are fortunate must act affirmative to reconcile all differences with brothers and sisters, meaning others who are equally fortunate. So important is the need for believers to be reconciled with one another that Jesus said, “If you are in church and the thought comes to you that you have done something to offend another believer and that person is not there with you in that moment, leave church and make things right. You can come to church again, but you may not be able to reconcile with that person again.”
As I read these words, I was reminded of a story of a man shipwrecked on a deserted island. As time passed, he concluded that he needed to build himself shelters against the elements. After many days and weeks on this island, the man spotted a ship on the horizon. Excited by the prospect of rescue the man lit a signal fire to call attention to himself. Soon a small boat came from the larger ship with a rescue crew. Those from the rescue boat came ashore and the man was elated to be saved. As the man set about to gather his things, he pointed out to the leader of the rescue party the hut he had built for himself and the church he had built in which he worshipped God. The leader of the rescue party said they were fine structures but asked the shipwrecked man about a third building the man had obviously built but had not mentioned. The shipwrecked man looked over at the third structure said, “Oh that. That is the church I used to attend.”
We must use care in not acting like that shipwrecked man and abandon as though disposable the relationships we have with other fortunate people. We must be affirmative in our relationships with our brothers and sisters who are also trying to walk this narrow road of righteousness.
I suspect Jesus’ audience was in shock in considering just what it meant to walk with God, but they probably came to understand Jesus’ points. That might have been until Jesus confronted them with these words, “25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court” (Matthew 5:25). So, to be righteous, we must not kill others outright or softly and we must reconcile with our brothers and sisters but we must also pursue an adversary to make things right. What Jesus asked must have seemed demanding to his audience, but as we who see the whole life of Jesus can understand, in these confrontational words of Jesus, Jesus was describing his very essence.
The Apostle Paul must have thought considerably about what Jesus unfolded here because Paul had two important observations. First, Paul said briefly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b). While we were still an adversary of God, Christ pursued us, even unto death, to make things right for us with God. That is righteousness that causes me to be in awe. Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not ask us to die for our adversary, as he did. Jesus just asked us to be righteous enough that we would make things right with our adversary, and keep on living. Do we do that?
Second, and more extensively, Paul said this, “16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this [good fortune] is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:16-18a). We pause for a moment to see that God through Jesus lived out the righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount and reconciled us to God as a first order of business. Our reconciliation with God, becoming fortunate people, makes us new and able to see people from other than a worldly point of view.
Paul then hits us with the second step, “And [God] gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he [Jesus] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18b-20a). Paul said Jesus’ gave us, his new creation, his fortunate people, the message of reconciliation and sent us out as his personal representatives to live out that message. Paul made an important observation for us here. To reconcile with a brother or a sister is not an act of personal will done in the flesh. It is, instead, a spiritual act done through and for Christ. To pursue an adversary then is not an act of personal will done in the flesh, it too is a spiritual act done through and for Christ. That is what it means to be an ambassador of Christ. We act through and for Christ.
Paul finished this thought with an exhortation. “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [That is step one.] 21 God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” [That is step two.] (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21). If we did not see directly from Jesus, we should see from Paul, that our good fortune, our markarious, beatitudos, or blessed state comes from being reconciled by God so that we can live out in the real world the righteousness of God.
How do we come to summarize all that Jesus has confronted us with today starting from the simple acknowledgement of what his audience and we have heard said before, “Thou shall not murder.” Jesus audience knew that, and we know that. But what followed from Jesus’ lips amazed his audience and should amaze us. Jesus was revealing that his public ministry would be one not of anger or contempt for the heart of another person but instead would be one of reconciliation and pursuit of even his adversaries. Jesus was going to demonstrate to his audience and us how to express a righteousness that surpassed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Jesus was going to demonstrate how he would be salt and light in the world. Jesus was taking his audience and us from the known to what had been unknown. Jesus’ intent was to make his followers the most fortunate people who ever existed and then charge them with the same ministry of reconciliation that he lived out in the real world.
We must be both heavenly focused and earthly good. We can do that when we are first reconciled to God by accepting Christ. In that reconciled state, we will be filled with the righteousness of God. Having been filled, we then can carry out the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by God. Now that is a fortunate person indeed. Amen and Amen.