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. Matthew 5:1-3
Whenever I visit the traditional site where Jesus delivered a message which God the Father gave Him to preach, my thoughts go back many centuries.
Israel gathered in Shechem, and from the mountains on either side, the voices of the priests were heard proclaiming the blessings and the curses—“a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God: … and a curse, if ye will not obey.” Deuteronomy 11:27, 28.
And thus the mountain from which the words of benediction were spoken, came to be known as the mount of blessing. But it was not upon Gerizim that the words were spoken which have come as a benediction to a sinning and sorrowing world. Israel fell short of the high ideal which had been set before her.
Another than Joshua must guide His people to the true rest of faith.
No longer is Gerizim known as the mount of the Beatitudes, but that unnamed mountain beside the Lake of Gennesaret, where Jesus spoke the words of blessing to His disciples and the multitude. Joshua is a type of Jesus, And Mount Gerizim is a type another unnamed mountain
Let our imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the disciples on the mountainside, enter the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of Jesus meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new dimension and beauty. We may also discover their deeper lessons for ourselves.
The Jews looked for the coming One, not as a Saviour from sin, but as a great prince who should bring all nations under the supremacy of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In vain had John the Baptist, with the heart-searching power of the ancient prophets, called them to repentance.
In the act of driving out the desecrators from the temple at Jerusalem, Jesus had announced Himself as the Messiah—the One who should cleanse the soul from the defilement of sin and make His people a holy temple unto the Lord. But the Jewish leaders would not humble themselves to receive the lowly Teacher from Nazareth. At His second visit to Jerusalem, He was arraigned before the Sanhedrin, and fear of the people alone prevented these dignitaries from trying to take His life. Then it was that, leaving Judea, He entered upon His ministry in Galilee.
His work at Capernaum and its surroundings had continued some months before the Sermon on the Mount was given. The message He had proclaimed throughout the land, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), had caught the attention of all classes and fanned the flame of their ambitious hopes.
The time had come for the disciples who had been most closely associated with Christ to unite more directly in His work, so that these vast throngs might not be left uncared for, as sheep without a shepherd. Great work was yet to be accomplished for these disciples before they would be prepared for the sacred trust that would be theirs when Jesus should ascend to heaven.
Yet they had responded to the love of Christ, and, though slow of heart to believe, Jesus saw in them those whom He could train and discipline for His great work. Alone upon a mountain near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus had spent all night in prayer for these chosen ones. At the dawn He called them to Him, and, with words of prayer and instruction, laid His hands upon their heads in benediction, setting them apart to the gospel work. Then He repaired with them to the seaside, where in the early morning a great multitude had already begun to assemble.
Then, as the narrow beach did not afford even standing room within reach of His voice for all who desired to hear Him, Jesus led the way back to the mountainside. Reaching a level space that afforded a pleasant gathering place for the vast assembly, He seated Himself upon the grass, and His disciples and the multitude followed His example.
With a feeling that something more than usual might be expected, the disciples had pressed about their Master. From the events of the morning, they gathered assurance that some announcement was about to be made in regard to the kingdom which, as they fondly hoped, He was soon to establish. A feeling of expectancy pervaded the multitude also, and eager faces gave evidence of the deep interest.
There were scribes and Pharisees who looked forward to the day when they should have dominion over the hated Romans and possess the riches and splendour of the world’s great empire. The poor peasants and fishermen hoped to hear the assurance that their wretched hovels, the scanty food, the life of toil, and fear of want, were to be exchanged for mansions of plenty and days of ease.
In place of the one coarse garment which was their covering by day and their blanket at night, they hoped that Christ would give them the rich and costly robes of their conquerors. All hearts thrilled with the proud hope that Israel was soon to be honoured before the nations as the chosen of the Lord, and Jerusalem exalted as the head of a universal kingdom.
And then the moment of truth arrived. The voice of Jesus reached everyone in that vast crowd: “He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 5:2, 3.
As something strange and new, these words fall upon the ears of the wondering multitude. Such teaching is contrary to all they have ever heard from priests or rabbi. They see in it nothing to flatter their pride or to feed their ambitious hopes. But there is about this new Teacher a power that holds them spellbound.
The sweetness of divine love flows from His very presence as the fragrance from a flower. His words fall like “rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.” Psalm 72:6. All feel instinctively that here is One who reads the secrets of the soul, yet who comes near to them with tender compassion. Their hearts open to Him, and, as they listen, the Holy Spirit unfolds to them something of the meaning of that lesson that humanity of all ages so needs to learn.
In the days of Christ, the religious leaders of the people felt that they were rich in spiritual treasure. But in the throng that surrounded Jesus, there were some who had a sense of their spiritual poverty. In these souls, Christ’s words of greeting awakened hope; they saw that their lives were under the benediction of God.
Jesus had presented the cup of blessing to those who felt that they were “rich, and increased with goods” (Revelation 3:17), and had need of nothing, and they had turned with scorn from the gracious gift.
He who feels whole, who thinks that he is reasonably good, and is contented with his condition, does not seek to become a partaker of the grace and righteousness of Christ. Pride feels no need, and so it closes the heart against Christ and the infinite blessings He came to give.
Those who know that they cannot possibly save themselves, or of themselves do any righteous action, are the ones who appreciate the help that Christ can bestow. They are the poor in spirit, whom He declares to be blessed.
Those whose hearts have been moved by the convicting Spirit of God see that there is nothing good in themselves. They see that all they have ever done is mingled with self and sin. Like the poor publican, they stand afar off, not daring to lift up so much as their eyes to heaven, and cry, “God, be merciful to me the sinner.” Luke 18:13 God’s promise is: “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
What kind of future has Jesus in mind for those who feel their nothingness and relies wholly on the merits of Christ? 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. Matthew 5:1-3
All who have a sense of their deep soul poverty, who feel that they have nothing good in themselves, may find righteousness and strength by looking unto Jesus. He says, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.
We are not worthy of God’s love, but Christ, our surety, is worthy, and is abundantly able to save all who shall come unto Him. He will throw about you His arms of love and His robe of righteousness. He presents us to the Father clothed in the white raiment of His own character. He pleads before God in our behalf, saying: I have taken the sinner’s place. Look not upon this wayward child, but look on Me.
They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.’”… But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the LORD and will make their boast in him. Isaiah 45:24,25
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.