Friday, October 28, 2011

Seeking True Happiness

Unit II of the Fall Quarter's lessons shift the teachings from Old Testament wisdom as taught by King Solomon to wisdom taught by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The book of Matthew does not record His preaching ministry until the 4th chapter. 'Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, ...That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,...The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Matt 4:12-13a,14,16-17 Although Jesus was teaching in the synagogues all over Galilee, the multitudes began to follow Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea, and from beyond Jordan for his healing ministry. He was famous throughout Syria for healing and not for preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. Matt 4:22-24 We do not know how much teaching on the gospel of the Kingdom was taught by Him before His Sermon on the Mount. His earlier Kingdom preaching was unrecorded. We do know that He spoke at length of the Kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount teaching. It covers chapters 5 through 7 and is likened to a constitution for a Christian in the Kingdom. A careful review of the Sermon shows how Jesus' teaching actually fulfilled the Old Testament teaching rather than abolished it. He was presenting the Kingdom of God as a place of happiness and blessing. The multitude listening could relate to the Sermon as many were routinely persecuted. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount covers approximately 23 topics within chapters 5 through 7. Our lesson focuses on the topic "The Beatitudes" cited at Matthew 5:1-12.

'And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,' Matt 5:1,2 On this teaching occasion the Scripture lets the readers know that Jesus sees the multitudes following Him once again. We are not told of the location of the mountain. Obviously, its location was not important. This writer assumes He is in the Galilee area as this chapter event immediately follows chapter 4 wherein He was considered famous for His healing ministry and surrounded by multitudes on a frequent basis. It is important to note that when the law was given, the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai and gave the law to Moses. (Ex 20:1-17; 24:9-12; 34:1-4,27). In comparison, to teach the Sermon on the Mount the Lord went up into an unidentified mountain. When the Lord gave the law, he spoke in thunder and lightning and the people were afraid. They wanted Moses (their leader) to speak and represent them. (Ex 20:18-19; 34:29-30) In comparison, to teach the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks in a still small voice. The multitude is not afraid to draw near to Him. In fact, they are invited. Some people have theorized that He was sitting in the mountain in such a way that His voice would carry. Remember there is nothing impossible for God. (Luke 1:37)

The word Beatitude comes from the Latin noun "beati" or adjective "beatus" meaning happy, fortunate, or blissful. Jesus pronounced blessings in the beginning of His Sermon with approximately 23 topics, not at the end to dismiss the people. The pronouncement of the Beatitudes was designed to invite souls to Christ, to make way for His law into their hearts, and to prepare them for what he had to say further in the Sermon.

There are eight Beatitudes - one each in verses 3-9 and the eighth one in verses 10-12. The first and last Beatitudes offer complimentary bookends. They are stated in the present tense, showing the Kingdom is a present possession for believers. Sandwiched between are verses 4-9 which are stated in the future tense and representative of a future possession in the Kingdom. Following the Beatitudes will help believers develop godly character.

'Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Matt 5:3 The "poor in spirit" are those who are spiritually, not necessarily materially, poor. Those who are of low estate and exposed to the injustice of the rich and the mighty are totally dependent upon God. This verse is targeted toward those who are weak and discouraged, to give them hope. They are to know they possess a right of inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven. Many form the wrong notion of happiness and blessings. They believe happiness and blessings can only be found in riches, worldly titles, drinking, eating, drugging, etc. This is not the case. If they do not believe in Christ, their future security is void.

'Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.' Matt 5:4 There is a godly comfort for those who mourn over the loss of someone or something of value. The mourner is suffering from the evil miseries he experiences or another. He mourns and weeps for repentance for himself and others. Mourning shall not be the end. They shall be comforted in the heavenly Kingdom.

'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.' Matt 5:5 The word "meek" does not mean a spiritless, weak, or cowardless person. Meekness in the Kingdom of God is compatible with courage and great strength. Yet they quietly submit their total selves to God. He will reward the meek and humble. They shall inherit the earth, the image given to John in Rev 21, which is the new earth.

'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.' Matt 5:6 Hunger and thirst were realities in the time of Jesus' teaching. It was most easily understood by the multitude as He was stating that righteousness is as essential for them as food and drink. Only God can fill their hunger and thirst. 'And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.' John 6:35

'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.' Matt 5:7 The word "mercy" means "not giving one what he or she deserves". We must have compassion for others. It is evidence of our love to God. How can we love God, if we can not love each other? 'Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.' 1 John 3:16-18 Since God does not give us what we deserve, but shows mercy, we must, in turn, do the same. Mercy has the following qualities: impartiality, gentleness, forgiveness, and abundance. Believers who practice mercy shall obtain mercy from our heavenly Father.

'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.' Matt 5:8 The "pure in heart" did not refer to the Jewish religious leaders who had become "impure". God is not looking for "churchy" folks with agendas. The believer must have a pure heart or a single eye toward God. How is that measured? The Bible gives examples. Jesus said it is '...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.' Matt 12:34b Then in Matthew 15:19, Jesus said, 'For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies' Only God can cleanse these impurities. Once a believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and has a pure heart, he can expect to see God.

'Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.' Matt 5:9
God is a God of peace. (Rom 5:1) War is a product of humankind's sin. God makes peace with humankind, reconciling us one by one. Eph 2:14 In turn, we become peacemakers and are "called the children of God". The peacemakers are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed.

During Jesus' lifetime, Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome. The country in which Christ and the multitude lived was under Roman rule. Caesar had given Herod the Great and his sons political power to rule. They ruled ruthlessly. Therefore, many in the multitude had personally experienced persecution either from Caesar's political zealots or at the hands of the religious rulers of Judaism.

'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.' Matt 5:10-12 The eighth Beatitude begins with verse 10 and continues through verse 12. The final Beatitude focuses on persecution. A believer who is persecuted for righteousness' sake is equivalent to persecuting Christ. They are suffering for doing right; their integrity condemns the ungodly world. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Verse 11 seems to be a repetition of verse 10 except there is one difference. Here Jesus specifically stated the persecution was "for my sake". The Lord knew all types of scandalous things would be laid against the charge of the believer, "for my sake". He gave them further encouragement in verse 12. Rejoice in the great reward in heaven. They will be among the great prophets who had also been persecuted and are now in heaven. This final Beatitude will be manifested not only in the heaven to come, but as a present possession.

In vacation bible school, the Beatitudes are great Scriptures for children to learn. As adult believers, the Beatitudes become a great study for Kingdom living. Jesus affirms that those who embody the blessed life will face opposition, but will be rewarded ultimately.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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