Jesus came as a teacher and this became obvious as the Gospel writers described not really much about his life, but mostly about what Jesus taught. About one third of those teachings are contained in his parables and the rest in passages like the section that is commonly referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” and elsewhere. Matthew devotes three challenging chapters to these specific teachings, as recorded in chapters 5-7. John reveals many of Jesus’ teaching in his gospel and the teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit is of great importance in that gospel as well (John 14-17).
Jesus came to a world where the Old Testament teaching had been corrupted and abused over the years. The teachings also had a strong national emphasis whereas Jesus introduced a universal gospel. This Old Testament teaching was found mainly in the first five books of the Bible (The Pentateuch), but then also in the Wisdom Books and the Prophets. The message of those ancient times obviously needed an update. In the parables of the new wine in old wine skins (Matthew 9:17) and new patches on old garments (Matthew 9:16), both recorded in all three synoptic gospels, Jesus taught clearly that is was not a time to amend the Old Testament teaching, but rather a time to bring a new teaching into the world.
Firstly, in looking at the Sermon on the Mount, the 7 “Blessed” or “Happy” passages set the tone for much of the following teachings of Jesus. At the outset the statement that “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), catches the eye. For people in today’s world the word poor has a very negative connotation and so this is a difficult statement to understand. The opposite of this word translated poor is arrogant. This arrogance is an attitude that gives a person who needs God the idea that there is no need for God. So instead of being poor in spirit (in other words needing God) they believe that there is no need for God. In the parable of the two people praying in the temple (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus contrasts a person who believes he is perfect with one who admits to a need for God. The arrogant attitude of the Pharisee was the prevailing attitude among the religious leaders of that time and is the attitude of many today. Jesus illustrates this attitude in the words of the prayer of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (NIV –used with permission).
In today’s world, as in the time of Jesus, many have a very self righteous attitude and so they close the door to God’s blessings because they think that they are self sufficient because of their own efforts. In contrast, the tax collector who is poor in spirit opens himself up to receive God’s blessings. In the parable the tax collector beats his breast and says: “God have mercy on me a sinner” and according to Jesus he is justified while the Pharisee is not. The parable ends with the warning that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It is only when a person realizes that he or she is a sinner (being poor in spirit) that the journey to submitting to God’s salvation and abundant promises can become real. Living in a state of arrogance does not bring happiness because it leaves a person without the many promises that come with the Christian life and ultimately a happy or blessed life.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Again it is strange to think that mourning as an important need and something that brings happiness. Often Jesus makes these dramatic statements that demand the hearer to think about what he is saying. Mourning is a part of life. Times of weeping will follow times of laughter as certain as night follows day. Jesus wept when he looked at Jerusalem. As we look at the world today any person who does not mourn is without feeling. Daily killing and violence is present. The way we are destroying our planet because of greed should bring mourning. However, I really need to mourn because of my personal sin that lead to the death of Jesus on the cross. Living a life of “eat, drink and be merry” may seem fine, but in the long term, like the man who built bigger barns to store his crops, there has to be more to life and eternity as this man rudely found out (Luke 12:13-21).
It is then mourning about sin; about the sin the world; about my own sin; and then about the death of Jesus on the cross that brings an individual to repentance and salvation and the promises of God, now and in eternity. Once a person comes to the cross and submits to the gospel message then joy and happiness becomes a reality.
Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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