Great multitudes followed Him — from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” — Matthew 4:25-5:12, NKJV
“And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain…” The places named (Decapolis etc) are basically a way of saying “from the north, south, east and west.” People were coming from all over to see Jesus. And as noted in the previous post, many in the crowds were following Jesus for His miracles — to receive a healing, or to witness another miracle.
In climbing the mountain, Jesus makes it a little more difficult to follow Him. Only people who really want to hear Him bother to climb up the hill… and the ones who make it to the top are referred to as “his disciples”. The disciples mentioned here are not limited to “the twelve” (in fact Jesus hasn’t called all twelve yet) but refers to the people who were following Him, listening to His words, and learning from Him. And to those who made the effort to climb, Jesus gave a joyful message: “Blessed are you…”
What does it mean to be “blessed”? I’ve often heard “blessed” translated as “happy” but I think that’s too generic a term. Dictionary definitions include “highly favored”, “fortunate”, “enjoying good fortune”, “enjoying the bliss of heaven”. I think these definitions come closer, but they lack the action of a loving God. Without negating the other meanings, I think the word “blessed” in this passage includes something along the lines of “you are in God’s heart when…”.
Volumes upon volumes have been written about the lines that follow, and I’m not about summarizing them here. The purpose of this project is to look at the Gospels with fresh eyes. So…
What jumps out immediately is that Jesus is (once again) turning the world’s values upside down. God’s favored people are not, as was commonly believed at the time, the wealthy, the beautiful, the people who had easy lives. (So much for the “Prosperity Gospel”.) On the contrary, God’s favor rests on those who don’t think overly highly of themselves; those who grieve or who have tears in their eyes; those who know themselves to be small and insignificant; those who are hungry for justice, both in setting their own lives right and in setting the world to rights; those who forgive others; those who aren’t mired in self-deception; those who find ways of resolving (rather than aggravating) differences between people; those who suffer for doing what’s right. To these folks Jesus promises God’s kingdom, God’s comfort, a new earth, satisfaction, and forgiveness; they will see God face to face and hear Him say “My child”.
Above all God’s favor rests on those who suffer injury and false accusation for His sake. Be overjoyed when this happens, Jesus says, because you’re following in the footsteps of the great men and women of faith down through the ages who were persecuted for God’s sake. I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t say who “they” are who are doing the persecuting — but a glance at the Old Testament shows that throughout Israel’s history it was the religious leaders (and some of the royals) who persecuted the prophets. Jesus is being upfront in warning these things never change, and in doing so He foreshadows both His own crucifixion at the hands of the religious leaders, and the suffering of many others throughout the history of Western civilization at the hands of church leaders with agendas other than God’s. Jesus says to those who suffer persecution for His sake “rejoice and be glad” because God has something special in store for those who stay true to Him under pressure.
And all this is just the opening of Jesus’ sermon, the foundation of His message… there’s much more to come.