Sermon on the Mount

The Way to True Happiness

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Gary DeLashmutt

Matthew 5:1-12


Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount to a large crowd, explaining the way to find true happiness. The key lies in knowing about the life that comes after this one, and the Kingdom of God. In verses 1-12 he makes a series of eight surprising statements about the traits of those who attain this happiness.


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We're going to begin a series on one of Jesus' most famous teachings. It is found in Matthew 5-7, and it begins in 5:1-2 (read). Traditionally, it has been known as the "sermon on the mount" because he gave it from a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee in order to speak to a large group of people.

Most people today connect Jesus with the sermon on the mount, but few are familiar with its contents: "Isn’t that where he says 'Blessed are the cheese-makers?" "That's where my favorite verse is--'Judge not, lest you be judged.'"

Matthew tells us in 4:23 that Jesus spent the first part of his public ministry in Galilee (northern Israel) doing two things: healing people of their diseases, and teaching people about the "gospel (good news) of the kingdom." Chapters 5-7 is a distilled example of what Jesus was teaching on this subject. Before we look at the first section of this teaching, I want to make a couple of general observations.

Jesus speaks with an authority that amazes his hearers (read 7:28-29). Jesus doesn't speak as some wise wandering sage who passes on juicy tid-bits of wisdom that he has picked up along the way. Neither does he speak as a prophet (like Isaiah) who is relaying a message given to him by God. He speaks as God's unique King (Messiah). He equates himself with God's righteousness (5:10-11). He claims the authority to correct the religious leaders' interpretation of the Mosaic Law and replace it with his own (5:21-48 - "I say to you" vs. "thus says the Lord"). He claims to enjoy a uniquely personal relationship with God the Father (6:9 - "Abba"). He claims to be the one who will judge all humanity at the end of the age (7:21-23). He claims that people's eternal destiny will be decided by how they respond to his words (7:26). It is very polarizing in this sense.

He explains how to get into God's kingdom right now (not in the next life), and he describes what life in God's kingdom looks like. On both counts, he speaks as a kind of spiritual revolutionary because his message runs directly contrary to the religious and ethical and philosophical teaching of his day. In a sense, Jesus was forming a counter-culture that would challenge the status quo, and this teaching was his manifesto. It doesn't take long to see that is just as revolutionary today.

Jesus begins by making a series of eight statements that have the same structure ("Blessed are the . . . for theirs is/they shall . . ."). "Blessed" doesn't refer to something you say when someone sneezes, or some memorized prayer you rush through before Thanksgiving meal. Makarios means "happy" or "fulfilled."[1] So Jesus begins by affirming humankind's age-old yearning for true happiness and fulfillment, by announcing that the God of the Bible wants to give this to all of us--and then revealing the attitudinal keys that unlock the door to it. They surprised his audience, and they may surprise you . . . 

Poor in spirit

Read 5:3. If you want true happiness, according to Jesus, the first step is getting into God's kingdom. And the key that unlocks the door to God's kingdom (here's the first surprise) is being "poor in spirit."

Penes described the working person who was self-subsisting, with no frills. But the word here (ptochos) means absolute and abject poverty. It comes from the root verb ptossein, which means to crouch or cower. To be ptochos is to be so poor that you are beaten to your knees.

To be "poor in spirit," then, is to know and acknowledge to God your abject spiritual need. It is not to admit that you are ontologically insignificant or personally without value. But it is to admit to him that because of your sins you owe a debt to him you can never repay, that you have no moral claim on his acceptance, that the only thing you deserve from God is his judgment. Conversely, to be "rich in spirit" means to be self-righteous, to approach God relying on your own spiritual accomplishments and goodness, to be confident that he owes you his acceptance.

Jesus told a famous parable to illustrate this attitude and its opposite (read Lk. 18:9-13). This blew everyone's doors off! The ones who think they're good enough get sent away, while the ones who admit they're disqualified get justified. You can almost hear the religious people gnashing their teeth, and the cheers of the riff-raff who had given up hope.

How are you approaching God--like the Pharisee, or like the tax gatherer? By relying on your own morality and good works, or by relying on his mercy alone? If you come to him like the Pharisee (spiritually rich), he will reject you. But if you come to him like the tax gatherer (spiritually poor), he will accept you and exalt you.

This is first because it is foundational. It is what gets you into God's kingdom, and it is what allows God's Spirit to begin to form the following attitudes in you, which lead to greater true happiness.


Read 5:4a: "Blessed are those who mourn"--happy are those who are sad? Is this some sort of spiritual masochism (the thrill of agony, the victory of defeat)? Is Jesus advocating some kind of morose spirituality where people walk around with long faces and never laugh? No! He was full of humor.

I think what Jesus is getting at is the opposite of a superficial ("Don't worry--be happy") outlook that refuses to look reality in the face because it would overwhelm you. It's also the opposite of a cynical attitude that escapes by making a joke out of everything. It is also the opposite of a macho attitude that just toughs everything out. To "mourn" is to allow yourself to be emotionally affected by the brokenness of this world (your own sin; the effects of sin all around you)--and then to go to God with that pain and sorrow and let him comfort you with his grace and his hope. Which do you want more--the absence of pain or the presence of God's comfort?


Read 5:5. "Gentle" is sometimes translated "meek." It dredges up images of a wimpy Jesus with his lambies--"Jesus meek and mild." But the word here (praotes) has nothing to do with weakness. In ancient Greek literature, it was used to describe powerful war stallions that were responsive and submissive to their masters so that their power was properly directed by him. It is strength harnessed to serve your master and his interests. It is a "controlled desire to see someone else's interests advanced over your own" (Phil. 2:3-4).

Even after you realize that Jesus is not glorifying weakness, though, it still runs totally counter to our culture's formula for happiness. Happiness, we are told, comes from gaining and wielding power. And power comes to the self-assertive, to those who live for #1, to those who know how to get what they want through intimidation, manipulation, etc. Jesus agrees that happiness involves acquiring power and authority ("inherit the earth")--but he says we acquire that from God by submitting ourselves to him and by serving others for his sake (Mk. 10:42-45). As you do this, he grants you more authority and power to advance his priorities . . . 

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Read 5:6. I see this as very similar to 5:5. The more you hunger and thirst for what the world says will satisfy you (money; things; sensual pleasure; power; etc.), the emptier and less satisfied you will become.

The only hunger that will ever be satisfied is for "righteousness"--being in right relationship with God and accomplishing his will (6:33). This is because this is what we were created and designed for; all the other things are poor substitutes/counterfeits.


Read 5:7. Our society glorifies vengeance, which is a perversion of social justice. It is a major motif for movies. "I don't get mad; I get even." There is an exquisite pleasure in paying someone back for wronging you. But vengeance takes its toll on your life. I know people who are emotional and relational and spiritual wrecks because they insist on the right to pay others back. Maybe nothing is as toxic to the human spirit as bitterness.

But Jesus says that the way to true happiness is in laying down the right to pay them back and instead seek their healing (Rom. 12:17-21). This doesn't mean that there is no place for responsibly protecting yourself and/or others through legal means; it refers to your heart attitude toward the offender.

NOTE: Jesus is not saying that we merit God's mercy by being merciful toward others. It is only when we first know how merciful God has been with us that we can do this (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 18:32-33). Rather, he is saying that if we want to keep experiencing God's mercy as a part of our walks, we must extend mercy to others.

Pure in heart

Read 5:8. This does not mean that only the sinless get to go to heaven. If that were the case, no one would go. It means to have "unmixed" intentions, to deal with God and others with transparent, unhypocritical openness about your own sins and problems.

The world says to keep your agenda hidden, put on a front, don't let people know who you really are and what you really struggle with. That's how you stay in control. Unfortunately, many Christians relate this way with others and with God. But people who live this way wind up self-deceived and unable to relate to anyone with genuine openness. When you relate openly with God and others, he gives you more intimacy with him and more insight into his ways (Ps. 51:6).


Read 5:9. This has nothing to do with passive appeasement ("peace-lovers"): avoiding conflict through compromise. Biblical peacemaking is helping to restore genuine unity between two alienated parties by addressing the root issues which separated them.

To be a peacemaker means that I am willing to get involved with others in difficult ways to help bring about true relational harmony: to bring up another person's alienation from God; to apologize or confront when I am alienated from another person; to get involved and clarify the issues that separate two people.

This is right at the heart of what God does. He loves relational harmony, and he penetrates to the root issues of alienation so that it can be resolved. When you do this with him, you experience the satisfaction of changing people's views of God.

Persecuted for righteousness/Jesus' sake

Read 5:10-12. This is sometimes the result of being a peacemaker, because people don't always want peace. Sometimes the very people that you try to help in this way lash out the most because it exposes sin and pride that they don't want to deal with.

This means that you are unwilling to compromise truth or loyalty to Jesus for the sake of people's approval.

When this happens, it is actually possible for the Christian to experience God's peace and encouragement which rises above anything that man can say or do to you. This is what the prophets experienced when the nation rejected them for speaking the truth.


What is the Holy Spirit putting his finger on through this teaching? Ask him to show you a step of faith that will cooperate with the formation of this . . . 


[1] " Makarios . . . describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and changes of life." William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), p.84.