Matthew 5: The Blessings
We once stood with the Lord by the shore of the Sea of Galilee where the fishing-boats were anchored, and heard the Lord call four fishermen from their nets to be His disciples. Do you remember who they were?
But look back from the shore. Here is a beautiful meadow, green with orchards and gardens. Beyond the meadow is a valley, with steep rocky sides, leading up into the hills. Great flocks of pigeons fly out from the cliffs and settle down in the meadow to find food. The valley is called the Pigeon Valley. Looking up this valley from the shore and the meadow where we stand, we see a beautiful mountain. The top is broad, rising a little at either side, which gives it its name, the Horns of Hattin. Hattin is a little town near by.
On a day long ago a great company of people were moving toward the highland beyond the plain, and perhaps to this very mountain. The Lord was leading the way. In the mountain they were away from the noise and hurry of the towns; they could look up to the blue sky and down on the meadow and the shore and the lake and away to the distant shore. There the Lord sat down with the twelve disciples whom He had chosen to be always with Him, and the people gathered around; and He spoke to them the Blessings and many lessons about the life that He would help them to live with Him. This is called the Sermon on the Mount.
Nearly every one of the Blessings was a surprise, for the Lord called things blessed or happy which they had never thought of as blessed before. He would show them how to find new happiness.
It will be the best thing we can do today, if we learn to say the Blessings. First let us see if you can finish each Blessing when I begin it:
Blessed are the poor in spirit ...
Blessed are they that mourn...
Blessed are the meek...
Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness ...
Blessed are the merciful ...
Blessed are the pure in heart...
Blessed are the peacemakers ...
Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' ...
Blessed are ye ...
Rejoice and be exceeding glad ...
When we are sure that you can finish each Blessing when I begin it for you, let us make sure that we can say them in their order. It will help those who can read if I write in a column on the blackboard the first words of each Blessing, or just the important word of each - poor, mourn, meek - as you tell them to me in their order. Have we left out any? Have we ten in all? Now say the Blessings for me with this help on the blackboard. Now let me rub out the words, and see if you can say them just as well. Now that we have learned the Blessings we must say them often.
I hope that you drew a map of the Sea of Galilee with our last lesson. Keep it before you as we read of going into the mountain with the Lord.
How different it was from the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai in the desert, when the people were commanded not to go into the mountain, nor even to touch it! (Exodus 19:10-20:18) Yet the Lord said that He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. The Blessings are really the same laws as the Commandments. The Blessings show why the Lord tells us not to do wrong things. It is so that we shall be able to enjoy good and happy things.
Give a thought to the several conditions which the Lord says are blessed. To be poor in spirit is to be conscious of weakness and the need of help and guidance from the Lord. It is the opposite of the state of self-confidence, which the Lord calls rich, which cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The mourning that is blessed is sorrow for what has been done wrong, and a sense of pain from the consciousness of evil in the heart. The meek are those who are willing to be taught and led. They hunger and thirst who earnestly desire the goodness and truth that make the spirit strong. The exercise of mercy opens the heart to know the great mercy of the Lord. To be pure in life and heart opens the soul to the light of heaven - to the Lord, and to see everywhere what is good and pure from Him. A life of selfishness leads to strife and has nothing from the Lord in it, but if one is just and considerate and unselfish, a true peacemaker, one lives from the Lord and becomes more and more His child. The persecuted, like those who mourn, are they who are pained by the consciousness of evil. The persecution is the pain of deep conflict and temptation. The Lord's words, "Blessed are ye," bring to the disciples and to us in a very tender, personal way the safety through everything of those who are faithful to Him. This was perhaps the first intimation by the Lord to the disciples of what they would suffer for His sake - not to be looked forward to as a hardship, but a blessing. Rejoice, because resisting temptations in the power of the Lord's truth, His prophets, one enters upon a life that will increase in strength and joy forever.
After giving the Blessings the Lord told the disciples that they must show by their example how to keep them. Then they would be "the salt of the earth" and they would be making their light shine.
He told them also that they must keep the Commandments not only in their actions, but in their thoughts and feelings. We must not hurt other people, and we must be kind to animals. We can hurt people without touching them with our hands. We can hurt their feelings by what we say, or by neglect. We must not do this. And the Lord says that we must not let ourselves feel angry, nor think unkind thoughts; for these do people harm. Feeling angry, and saying "Raca" or worthless fellow, and saying "Thou fool," mean three degrees of unkind feeling, each worse than the one before it. The more unkind the feeling is, the more wrong it is.
We may learn to keep this commandment so well, that wherever we go we shall not hurt people and make them feel unhappy, but they will feel better and stronger and happier for their being there. We can feel kindly and be useful even to those who are unkind to us. Then we begin to know the meaning of the words, "Blessed are the merciful."
1. Where were the Blessings spoken? Who heard them?
2. When the Lord gave the Blessings did He do away with the Commandments? What relation have the Blessings to the Commandments?
3. What Blessing teaches the same lesson as the Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill"? What does this Commandment forbid besides natural killing?
4. How ought we to feel toward one another to make worship acceptable to the Lord? How ought we to feel toward those who are unkind to us?
Why did the Lord speak the Blessings and the Christian law to the people in a mountain? The mountain represents the interior, heavenly state into which He was leading them to learn these heavenly lessons. When the Commandments were spoken the children of Israel stood in the plain and were forbidden to touch the mountain. What does this show in regard to their spiritual state? (A. 795, 6435)
A person of lovely Christian character is often called one of the salt of the earth. But salt in the Scriptures has a definite spiritual meaning. It assists the union of food with the fluids of the body, and in turn excites thirst for fluid to unite with the food. This suggests that it represents the principle that truth must be united with goodness in life. It was commanded, "With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt" (Leviticus 2:13); because worship must not be of the thought alone, but must be joined with affection in good life. The words about the salt immediately following the Blessings, mean that the Lord's disciples must put this truth in practice, must join it with goodness. Salt has lost its savor and is worthless, when truth is separated from goodness. Setting a city on a hill, and a lamp on a stand, has much the same meaning; that the principles that we profess must rest on the basis of a good life. Then the world will see their goodness. (A. 9207; E. 223)
The "jot" is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the "tittles" are little points and horns on some of the letters. Every part of the Lord's Word is holy and Divine. "Till heaven and earth pass away" is a very strong way of saying that the Lord's Word will stand forever. (Matthew 24:35) It means also that no human attainment on earth or in heaven is absolute. Men and angels may go on learning forever, but can never exhaust the wisdom of the Lord's Word. (A. 9349)
The phrase "and teach men so" joined with the mention of breaking or of doing the Lord's commandments, suggests the force of bad or good example. It also means what is done knowingly, with full understanding of its quality. (E. 746)
The verse reads "angry without a cause," as if it were sometimes right to be angry. Real anger is never right, but sternness and even severity, which may seem like anger, are sometimes right.
The duty to be reconciled with our brother before offering our gift to the Lord, shows that love to one another and love to the Lord go together; they are parts of one thing. We cannot love the Lord nor worship Him acceptably while we allow ourselves to feel unkindly toward one another. This must be made right first. (1 John 4:20) The charge "Agree with thine adversary quickly," and the warning, "lest thou be cast into prison," should remind us that now in this world is the time to overcome, with the Lord's help, angry feelings and wrong feelings of other kinds. If we do not make a beginning and try to overcome them now, they will fasten themselves upon us, and in the other world we shall not be able even to wish to be free from them. They will hold us in a bondage that is worse than a prison. And even now in this world, hard and angry thoughts if they are cherished and become fixed, limit and restrain the soul's free life. There is no relief except in complete repentance of the unkindness, the payment of the uttermost farthing. (E. 1015)