"And great crowds followed Him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to speak, and taught them..." -Matthew 4:25-5:1 (NRSV)
"Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded...Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you." -James 4:8 (NRSV)
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, He emptied Himself, and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted Him." - Philippians 2:5-9 (NRSV)
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If you think about it, when it comes to studying the "Beatitudes," most believers already have a set idea of the themes that will be hashed out. We have read them. We have heard them. We love them.
And if I am painfully honest, for years, I have rushed past pieces of this chapter because of how "well-known" I felt they were to my own mind. But never did I ever take the time to notice the fault in my perception.
You see, there is a certain mindset needed for this message; a certain identity, understanding, and belief. Matthew - the author of this specific version - was retelling this message to a very Jewish audience. And the hints and nods that he gives to them reveals some powerful background to this "Sermon on the Mount."
But sadly, our un-Jewish minds are quick to overlook them.
As Jesus sits down to pour out the convicting points of this sermon, He does so very methodically. And before He ever mentions a word of Matthew 5, two powerful things take place.
1. Without speaking a word, Jesus invites people to become more than they were.
2. And whether they believed it or not, He was already more than they thought.
I know, I know. Your thoughts are ringing out, "What?"
But there is more going on here than just Jesus sitting down to speak. In fact, every Jew reading this would have picked up on something key: the fact that Jesus sat down before He taught.
You see, the Jewish religion was made up of Rabbis and teachers of the law. Each Rabbi was allowed to hand-pick their followers; their predecessors; their disciples. In traditional fashion, the Rabbi would signal the start of his lesson by taking a seat. When seen by his disciple(s), it would have been understood that "class" was about to begin.
And if you weren't a disciple, you knew it. If you weren't a disciple, you wouldn't come close. And if you weren't a disciple, the Rabbi would never have sat down near to you.
Yet notice what Jesus does.
He saw the crowd. He went up the mountain. And He satdown near all of them; for all to see. His invitation to discipleship was for anyone, without a catch.
To the surrounding Jewish audience, this would have been huge. This Rabbi was opening class to all people. No teacher did this - certainly not a well known teacher. But it is exactly what Jesus did. And ultimately, He placed the ball in their court on whether or not they would come close and sit at His feet.
Before ever opening a word, Jesus invited people to be something more; to be His followers.
But what blows my mind is the second thing to notice... You see, not one of them knew"WHO" Jesus was or what was going to come next. Though they each were full of curiosity, they were also absent of any genuine understanding.
As Matthew puts it, Jesus' "fame spread throughout all Syria, and [people] brought to Him all their sick...and He cured them" (4:23-24).
People knew of the Rabbi who healed. They had heard of the man who taught about the Kingdom of God and cured every sickness in His path. And upon hearing this, many connected it instantly with their mis-understanding of the Messianic prophesy.
To them, the Messiah would bring justice in the form of power. He would set all things right in regards to their bias standards. And He would overcome Rome, reinstating Israel as the lead government.
And honestly, this may have been the very thing motivating them to stay and listen. But in the act of drawing near to this "Rabbi," they got to witness Jesus Christ as He really is. In His sermon, Jesus drew near and rocked the reality of these Jews.
For as we know in hindsight...The Jesus that sat down before them was no where close to how they imagined Him. He was not a man of power or prestige. Instead, He humbled himself. He became lowly. And He lived like a slave.
But even though their perception of Him was off, Jesus still sat down to teach them. Even though they were in no way prepared to hear about the attitude of the blessed life, Jesus still desired to invite them.
Regardless of our mistakes, our lack of's, or our blind spots, Jesus still sits down - fully confident in Who He is and completely ready to teach us all about it.
Today, recognize that the Good Rabbi has sat down near to you. Notice that regardless of your misconceptions about yourself or your blind spots about Him, His invitation still remains. He longs to reveal this blessed life to all.
But it starts with coming to Him. Drawing near to listen. And sitting down to learn.
And as we know by looking at Matthew 5... When engaging with and listening to the real Jesus, you better be prepared to have your reality shaken. The words of His sermon are not comfortable to hear. They are not easy to engage with. And they are definitely not simple to act upon.
But our prayer is that this journey through the Beatitudes will get us uncomfortable and lead us into a stronger understanding of Christ. Today, let us draw near to our Jesus and learn from Him.
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Greg, Declare Glory