One of the most influential books written about the preparation and delivery of sermons is Biblical Preaching by Haddon W. Robinson. In the chapter titled, Start with a Bang and Quit All Over, he describes the characteristics of an effective introduction. According to Robinson:
- An effective introduction commands the attention of the audience.
- An effective introduction uncovers needs.
- An effective introduction introduces the body of the sermon.
The application of Robinson’s criteria to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would reveal that Jesus commanded the attention of His audience with an action: He sat down. This is the posture of rabbi about to teach in the synagogue. Having sat down to teach, Jesus deftly uncovers the true needs of His audience, as well as introducing the body of the Sermon on the Mount.
Prior to delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had begun His preaching ministry with a terse yet arresting declaration: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven is here in the Person and work of Jesus. Those who want to follow Him must learn the difference between what they think they need, and what Jesus knows they need. Since Jesus came to make disciples, not attract an entourage, the paint a picture of what life as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven looks like. The Beatitudes are the fundamental qualities belonging to anyone who practices what Jesus preaches.
The Beatitudes describe what a Christian is before describing what a Christian does. They define Christian character before they define Christian conduct – for all Christians. Thus, it would miss the mark to interpret the Beatitudes as Jesus saying, “There are some Christians are pure in heart while others mourn,” or “There are some Christians are meek while others hunger and thirst for righteousness,” or “There are some Christians are merciful while others are pure in heart,” or “There are some Christians are peacemakers while others are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” No. ALL Christians are to have and to practice ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes.
We would be equally off target to believe the Beatitudes are limited to an elite sub-group of the spiritually mature within the Church. Once again: ALL Christians are to have and to practice ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes. Every follower of Jesus must, at some point, demonstrate every one of the qualities mentioned by Jesus in the Beatitudes.
But right away we have a problem. None of us is born with any of the qualities listed in the Beatitudes. They are not included in our DNA. Every quality listed in the beatitudes is a gift of God’s grace through the help of His Holy Spirit. Additionally, the presence and the practice of the Beatitudes separates those who merely follow Jesus from those who follow Him sincerely. Those who follow Jesus sincerely have experienced a spiritual rebirth by declaring their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The moment you and I put your trust in Jesus, we become citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This means we live in this world as resident aliens. We may have born as a citizen of the United States, or some other country, but through faith in Christ we have been born again and now, as the apostle Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3.20). Since our citizenship is in heaven, our lives should reflect the values of our true homeland. How? By practicing ALL the qualities listed in the Beatitudes as they are given to us by God’s grace. But wait! There’s more! In addition to blessing us by giving us the Beatitudes, God promises to bless us when we practice them.
Why else would Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” or “Blessed are those who mourn”? While some translations prefer Happy to Blessed, the better translation is Blessed. Generally speaking, people who are blessed also tend to be happy. Besides, happiness is a subjective state; how we feel. Happiness comes and goes. Jesus is not talking about how we should feel when we practice the Beatitudes. He is talking about what we are in God’s eyes when we practice the Beatitudes. We are blessed!
What does it mean to be blessed? Simply put, to be blessed means to be approved, or favored by God. When we bless God, we are approving and praising Him. When God, by His grace, blesses us, He is showing us favor by approving us. There is no greater source of happiness then to be blessed by God.
Each of the Beatitudes ends with a description of the blessing received. Just as the eight beatitudes describe every Christian, so the eight blessings are given to every Christian. Each of the eight qualities described in the Beatitudes represent the responsibilities, while each of the eight blessings represent the benefits, of being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
Now someone may ask, “Are these blessings present or future?” The best answer is, “Both.” The kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future certainty.
Another may ask, “Do the beatitudes teach that we can be saved by our own merit and good works?” No, because this would contradict what the Bible teaches, namely, that we are justified or, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Besides, the Beatitudes do not teach us how to confess faith in Jesus. Moreover, no one can truly practice what Jesus preaches unless they have confessed faith in Him. The Beatitudes describe the blessings which God bestows as a gift of grace upon those to whom He has given these qualities. They are not rewards earned based on our merit and good works.
Some scholars describe the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus introducing a new law. They base this on the fact that, in the OT, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments along with a host of other rules Israel was given to follow. On one hand, the Law was good news in that it clearly spelled out what God expected of His people with respect to living a holy and godly lifestyle. On the other hand, the Law was bad news because, despite clearly spelling what God expected with respect to living a holy and godly lifestyle, the Law was powerless to help a person practice the lifestyle God required. All the Law can do is point out their powerlessness to keep it. The Law can do nothing to help anyone obey it.
This was by design. According to God the Father’s plan for our salvation, the purpose of the Law is to point us to Jesus Christ. Where we broke the Law, Jesus, who is God the Son, obeyed it perfectly. His perfect obedience enabled Him to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus’ death on the cross enables us to be forgiven and thus saved from the wrath of God against our sin. The perfect life of Jesus makes it possible for us to made righteous, at the same time, His death on the cross as the perfect sacrifice makes it possible for us to be forgiven. God the Holy Spirit uses the Law to drive us to the cross of Christ. The Spirit helps confess our sin and declare our trust in Jesus as Savior. Once we have declared our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit continues to help us practice what Jesus preaches.
The Sermon on the Mount is similar to the Law in this respect: it shows the non-Christian that they cannot obey its teaching apart from the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. The Sermon is meant to drive the non-Christian to the cross of Christ so they will declare their trust in Him. Once we have confessed faith in Christ, the Sermon on the Mount takes on a different function. It shows Christians how to live in order to please God. So, if the Sermon on the Mount sends us to Christ to be justified, Christ sends us back to the Sermon on the Mount in order to be blessed of God.
You think about that.