Jesus sits as He proclaims the laws of His Kingdom (Matthew 5:1ff). This was the common practice of Jewish teachers: Jesus says in Matthew 23:2. "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.” However, His sitting means something more than merely accommodating the prevailing mode of teaching of that time. Mark 1:22, from a time very early on in Christ's ministry, reads, "They were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." In Matthew this comment appears as the concluding remarks of the Sermon (7:28-29). As Jesus declares His Kingdom's laws, He speaks with an authority that transcended that of the Jewish leaders.
But, Jesus starts His message with a section of what are literally “blesseds,” or as we call them, “beatitudes.” A “beatitude” is what could be described as an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend upon outward circumstances for happiness. It is much like the fruit of the Spirit…of joy and peace. It is a description of attitudes that should characterize our lives today. If we are poor in spirit, we have a correct estimate of ourselves…it is to be humble and honest with ourselves. It is just the opposite of being “poor-spirited,” which is to have no resolve or conviction, and to be exercising a negative attitude about life. As we humble ourselves before the Lord and invite a “poor in spirit” mindset into our lives, we are willing to die to self, to mourn over sin and despise it as God does. All of these are important elements to living the righteous life. Meekness and mercy describe our opportunity to allow God to use us for His purposes…first, concerning what He does with our own spirits, and then how we share this with others. An important aspect of this…is that if we keep our hearts pure, we and others might see God at work in our lives. We are also called to be peacemakers in a troubled world…channels of God’s love and peace, which may not always be easy in a world that is frequently at odds with us. We need to be salt, light to the world. And we should expect that we will experience some persecution if we are living the Christian life as God wants for us to live.
It is necessary for each one of us to take a good look at these principles and ask – do I understand what Jesus is saying here? We need to ask God to help apply them to our lives…to shape us and form us into the people that He wants us to be. In this, we will experience the righteousness of what it is to be in Christ Jesus. The Pharisees defended the Law and sought to obey it, but Jesus comes to provide a new and different way. He says that righteousness that pleases God must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. He says things such as, “you may have heard it this way, but I am here to tell you that it is this way.” Jesus comes to teach the internal “law of love.” He could not accept the external, artificial “righteousness” of the religious leaders, because their religion had become a dead ritual. It was not a living relationship…and Jesus calls us to Himself to live in this way with Him. Jesus fulfills God’s law in every area of His life, and in His death, He bore the curse of the Law, fulfilling the old covenant and bringing in the new.
The point is that if we are living according to law, then we are going to compare ourselves to others, as the law makes us judges…often with evil intent. But, if we are living according to faith and love, then we compare ourselves to Christ…and this brings us back around to the beatitudes (to be poor in spirit, etc)…we will be humbled. As John says in 1 John 4, perfect love casts out fear, as well as pride, jealousy and other fleshly attitudes. God’s Spirit helps us to live according to the law of love, teaching us God’s Word and enabling us to do it. In all of this, we fulfill the righteousness of the Lord, seeking to live according to integrity, doing what is the right thing, even when it is difficult.
We draw inspiration and strength from the examples of people who live a dedicated Christian life...for helping our own transformation to be like Christ. In doing so, we who are in Christ offer our bodies as living sacrifices so that His will may be accomplished through us. We don’t rest on the laurels of past accomplishments, as did the Pharisees and Scribes. We are looking forward to allowing the Lord to change us and transform us to be his people today! We can’t wait for tomorrow…there are spiritual acts of worship and service that need to be taken care of. Our relationship with Jesus defines who we are and defines our priorities. When we have loved ones in the hospital or otherwise in need…this should be a priority for us. When we accept the call of our Lord and Savior, we accept His challenge for our lives to live as His people…and not for ourselves. This is a continual growth process that we must take on ourselves. This is what it means to live the Christian live…to be humble, merciful, peace-making, etc. Remember, Law will make us critical and complacent…a living relationship with our Savior will make us faithful and loving…and this is what we must become.