“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” So ends Matthew chapter 7, what we commonly refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s read the sermon with this fact in mind. We ought to approach it as much more than ethical teaching or a collection of sayings from one of history’s great teachers. Instead, we ought to take it in as the authoritative words of God in the flesh.
Just before this, Jesus was baptized by John and God the Father confirmed that Jesus was indeed His Son. Immediately, the Holy Spirit compelled Jesus to enter the wilderness where Satan made his frontal attack. Jesus had fasted for forty days and was hungry (um, I would think so). Being not stupid, Satan leads his temptation attempts with food. Standing firm against each successive temptation, Jesus emerges from the wilderness to begin His public ministry. He begins to preach, call His disciples, and then heal the sick and rescue the demon possessed.
Have you ever wondered at the purpose of Jesus’ miracles? If it were to actually help stem disease, deformity, and sickness, why didn’t He heal thousands at a time? If it were to demonstrate His authority, why not exercise His power in some stupendous way so that no one could deny who He was? He had to work miracles for some other reason. Just before Jesus came along to be baptized, John the Baptist was proclaiming “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” And that seems to be the message of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – the kingdom is near in a way never seen before. His miracles proclaim the invasion of God-power like never seen before. In a world twisted by the effects of sin, a world where things are not as first intended, not they way they’re supposed to be, miracles peppered the crowds with restoration to the way things are supposed to be. Yes, they saw with their own eyes that the Kingdom of God was near. Jesus’ message came in show and tell form. After showing the nearness of the Kingdom, he began to tell them what the Kingdom was like. And so, “he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach . . .”
First, Jesus begins to talk about people who are blessed and will possess the kingdom of heaven. Interestingly, Jesus initially characterizes these blessed ones as poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In my study of the sermon, I’ve read the works of a number of commentators and many approach this passage assuming that if people with these qualities experience blessing, we ought to pursue those qualities. Since becoming poor in spirit and a mourner do not strike us as particularly “blessed” qualities, we need an explanation that makes them more desirable. So, the poor in spirit become those who acknowledge their spiritual need and the mourners those who experience sorrow over sin in their own lives and in the world. We see meekness in a positive light and hungering and thirsting for righteousness a condition to long for. I have a nagging sense of pounding a square peg into a round hole when I think too long about this handling of these verses. Certainly, the balance of Scripture bears out that recognizing our spiritual need and responding to sin with mourning will position us for deeper fellowship with Jesus. If we have the ability to apply a spirit of meekness to certain situations good things can result and of course we ought to desire righteousness. But these facts do not require us to read the same conclusion here.
The impression that seems to rest more comfortably in the text is that poorness, mourning, meekness, and hungering and thirsting may not describe something good or beneficial. Here’s why. Jesus says “blessed are [the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek] because they will possess the kingdom of heaven, will be comforted, and will inherit the earth – not because they are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, or hungering. In fact, it could just as well be that they are blessed in spite of these characteristics. In spite of such conditions, the kingdom of God is near, newly available to even these. The kingdom invites the one who suffers from spiritual neediness. The kingdom calls to the one experiencing the short end of life’s stick and who rightfully mourns over tragic loss. The gates of the kingdom swing wide for that one oppressed by others. And, Jesus reaches out His hand to the one whom so lacks the righteousness he desperately desires.
 Matthew 5:1 – 7:29.
 Matthew 3:2.
 Matthew 5:1-2a.