The Life of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels
1. The Foundation: Humility (v 3)
2. The Chamber: Sorrow (v 4)
3. The Library: Meekness (v 5)
4. The Dining-Room: Hunger for Righteousness (v 6)
5. The Door: Mercy (v 7)
6. The Windows: Purity (v 9)
7. The Parlor: Peacemaking (v 9)
8. The Kitchen: Persecution (vs 10-12)
Time: The summer of A.D. 28.
Place: Some hill west of the Sea of Galilee; according to tradition, the hill known as 'The Horns of Hattin'.
Place in the Life of Christ: Near the middle of His public ministry.
Inductive Study of the Lesson:
a. Light on the Beatitudes from other passages:
b. Humility ... Psalm 8:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:12
c. Mourning ... Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 61:1-3; John 16:33
d. Meekness ... Matthew 11:29; Ephesians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:24, 25
e. Hunger for Righteousness ... Job 23:12; Psalm 119:20; John 4:34
f. Mercy ... Proverbs 3:3; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 23:23
g. Purity ... Psalm 19:12; Philippians 4:8; 1 John 3:3
h. Peacemaking ... Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27; Romans 12:18
i. Persecution ... Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 4:17; James 1:12
Christ's Palace of Happiness
Introduction: Where, perhaps, was the Sermon on the Mount preached? – Possibly on the singular elevation known as the Kum Hattin, or 'Horns of Hattin.' It is a hill with a summit which closely resembles an Oriental saddle with its two high peaks. On the west it rises very little above the level of a broad and undulating plain; on the east it sinks precipitately toward a plateau, on which lies, immediately beneath the cliffs, the village of Hattin; and from this plateau the traveler descends through a wild and tropic gorge to the shining levels of the Lake of Galilee. It is the only conspicuous hill on the western side of the lake, and it is singularly adapted by its conformation, both to form a place for short retirement and a rendezvous for gathering multitudes.
To whom was the Sermon on the Mount preached? – To the great throng described in our last lesson, from all parts of Palestine, and even from Tyre and Sidon, drawn together by their sense of need and by the growing reputation of the great Healer and Teacher. In the foreground were certainly the newly chosen Twelve.
In what manner did Christ address them? – Probably seated, according to Jewish mains, seen across the span of civilization, and judged by the standards of the severest modern criticism, the great masterpiece of religious address. Others may grow stale, but this sermon, no matter how often read, is always new.
What was the object of the sermon? – To give us a full prospect of Christianity. It is the moral law of the kingdom of Christ; it occupies in the New Testament the place which in the Old Testament is occupied by the Ten Commandments. It has been called "Jesus' inaugural address," and "The great charter of Christianity."
What characteristics of style do we find in the Sermon on the Mount? – (a) Its compactness. It is more like a wonderful mosaic, like the essence of many discourses pieced together, i.e., not a single sermon. It is quite remarkable how many expressions in the sermon have become house- hold words. (b) It is elaborately symmetrical in its structure, furnishing an abundance of examples of oriental parallelism. (c) It is full of illustrations. (d) It makes its appeal to many faculties of the soul – to instinct, reason, conscience, hope, fear, imagination.
Its opening section – There is a contrast with the Ten Commandments. Moses spoke amid the peal of thunder and the quivering of the earth; here it was probably a nice spring day, and the only sounds were probably those of nature or murmuring people, moving around. Moses bore stern, hard words, graven on stone tables; but these were gentle, tender words, written on fleshly tablets of the heart. Wherever we see Jesus in the Gospel story, He is giving out blessings as the sun gives out light and warmth. In the very last glimpse we have of Jesus in this world, He was in the attitude of imparting a blessing. These eight Beatitudes, this "octave of Beatitude," as Farrar calls it, is very different from the world's estimate of happiness. Christ says, "the poor," "the mourners," "the meek," "the hungry;" but mankind has always said in his heart, "Blessed are the rich;" "Blessed are the happy;" "Blessed are those that can hold their own, and do not hunger or thirst." Of these eight marks, all save one are marks of character. It will be interesting to consider the Beatitudes as a picture of the Palace of Happiness, which the Christian rears with the aid of Christ, in which he is to live forever. Here are its principle features: The Foundation: Humility (v 3); The Chamber: Sorrow (v 4); The Library: Meekness (v 5); The Dinning-Room: Hunger for Righteousness (v 6); The Door: Mercy (v 7); The Windows: Purity (v 8); The Parlor: Peacemaking (v 9); The Kitchen: Persecution (vs. 10-12).
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-3
1. The Foundation: Humility
What is it to be "poor in spirit" (v 3)? – Luke gives it, "Blessed be ye poor." Literal poverty was the condition chosen by Christ, and He knew perfectly its blessings as well as its sorrows and temptations. This, like so many of our Lord's words, is, as it were, a little parable in itself. If a poor man be nearer winning heaven than a rich one, it can only be because, when stripped of comforts and pride, the man awake to a far more tremendous poverty within. This poverty of spirit, which is so much easier for a poor man than a rich one, is no whining, self-depreciating; certainly no lack of the Christian graces and manly strength. To be "poor in spirit" is to make much of all that belongs to our life hereafter, to care as little as possible for things belonging only to our present life. It is to stand before God in penitence, with nothing of our own to commend us, saved only by His grace. In opposition is self, ever planting its gaunt figure between our soul and God. "Humility" comes from the Latin humus, meaning 'ground.' It is the very foundation of Christ's Palace of Happiness.
Illustration: Earthly thrones are generally built with steps going upward; the remarkable thing about the thrones of the eternal kingdom is that the steps go downward. We must descend if we would reign, stoop if we would rise.
Illustration: "I used to think that God had put His best gifts on a high shelf for us to reach up to. I now find that the best are on the lowest shelves, on the level of the nursery floor, so little children may get to them" (Harrison).
Illustration: There is an old Scottish legend of a man to whom God sent angels offering him a choice of any gift, i.e., a great possession, long life, human power, or to win many hearts. After much urging, the man asked for the power to do good without even knowing it. So, from that day when his shadow fell behind him, so he could not see it, he possessed wondrous healing power; but when it fell before him, so he could see it, he had no such power.
Illustration: The great Indian chieftain, Sitting Bull, on coming with his followers to a river, said, "He who will be master must first make himself a bridge," he carried them, one after another, on his back until they reached the opposite shore. This is what Jesus did. And, this is exactly what Christians should do for others, In His Name.
What is the kingdom of heaven, which is the reward of the humble, the poor in spirit? – It is the life of Christ in the soul; it is the joy of Christ in the heart. It is that assurance of reconciled love which on earth is the foretaste of heaven. A king has dignity, power, wealth; and all of these, in the highest degree, come to those that bend low before God and humbly receive His gifts. The kingdom of heaven is the palace built upon this foundation of humility.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:4
2. The Chamber: Sorrow
The chamber is the usual place of death and to it we retire to be alone with our grief. Everyone finds such a chamber in His Palace of Happiness.
What kind of mourning (v 4) does Christ count blessed? – Not ordinary sorrow like the loss of friends or possessions. Why? Because under the gracious shadow of this benediction, by the necessity of grief alone, all mankind would come. It is mourning for sin and the sorrow of others – such grief bowed the heart of Christ. "Weep for yourselves, till God wipes away the tears from your eyes. And even then, weep for the miseries that come upon the earth" (Farrah). A Christian ought to have his own burden so well in hand that he is able to leave the large spaces of his heart for other people to lay their sorrows upon.
What is comfort (v 4) which comes to godly sorrow? – "comforted" means not mere soothing, but actual strength. It comes from the Latin con-fortis, "to make very strong." This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who shows us how all things work together for good to those that love God. It is the comfort of sharing Christ's experience; drinking His cup.
Illustration: Adversity is a rough nurse, but she often performs wonderful cures.
Illustration: The Aeolian harp is silent until the storm winds beat upon it.
Illustration: Sorrow, though it walks the earth veiled and draped in black, with dust upon its bent head and steps that fail, will yet be found to wrap within the weeds the light and the blessedness of heaven; and he who entertains this guest will find, when the disguise is laid aside, that he has 'entertained an angel unawares.'
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:5
3. The Library: Meekness
v 5 ... "Blessed are the meek." Meekness is the library of the Palace of Happiness because it involves the teachable spirit. It inherits the earth, and the library is the room of all the house that best represents the earth, gathering in all that men have experienced and discovered. How shall we distinguish between "meek" and "poor in spirit?" As 'poverty of spirit' describes our lowliness before God, so 'meekness' describes our lowliness among men. The first is humility as a feeling, when the soul is awed at the presence of a perfectly holy God. The second is humility in action, when the soul is assailed by divine providences that it does not understand, or by the cruelties and wrongs and insults of men. Meekness is not weakness. We are often called upon to fight valiantly against evil, as Christ drove the money-changers from the Temple; but when the blows fell upon Himself, Christ made no resistance.
Illustration: Moses, the meekest of men, was the strong leader of the Jewish exodus, the Justinian of the Hebrew commonwealth, the Washington of the Jewish state. The meek Paul was as strong in bearing persecution as he had formally been in inflicting it.
Illustration: A Brahman compared a Christian missionary to a mango tree, pelted with clubs and stones and in return freely yielding up its fruit, and the next year more faithful than ever. This is Christian meekness, giving blessing for cursing.
How does this meekness "inherit the earth" (v 5)? – (a) The meek are more likely than others to retain possession of their goods, and not be dispossessed by enemies. (b) The meek get the most enjoyment out of the world. It is because of the special connection of meekness with contentment that it is promised that the meek shall "inherit the earth." Neither covetous men nor the grave can inherit anything; they can but consume. Only contentment can possess. (c) Jesus Christ, whose followers are characterized by meekness, will one day return and possess the whole earth. Development is everywhere – from the lower toward the higher; from the animal and coarse, toward the moral and spiritual; from the law of violence, toward the law of reason and right.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:6
4. The Dinning-Room: Hunger for Righteousness
How is longing for righteousness like hungering and thirsting? It is the fundamental desire of the spiritual life, as hunger and thirst are the fundamental desires of the physical life. Appetite is the condition of the growth and health of the body, and if there is no appetite for righteousness the soul will become thin and weak and wither away. Hunger and thirst are the most intense passions; in their presence all other passions and longings are forgotten, so that a hungry Esau will sell any birthright for a mess of pottage. So, if you truly ...
v 6 ... "hunger and thirst after righteousness" the lower desires cease to have dominion over you. Appetite for food and drink is increased by exercise, and those that long most for righteousness are those that do the most to win it for the world. Appetite is increased by a suitable tonic, and there is no tonic for spiritual appetite to compare to the biography of a holy life. Appetite is destroyed by the wrong kind of food, such as too much candy; thus frivolous reading, viewing, and speech take away an appetite for the careful reading of God's Word, for church and Bible school.
Illustration: The nardoo plant of Australia closely resembles flour, but lacks the nutritive property; and those who feed on it, though insensible of hunger, after a few weeks die of starvation, as salt water fails to satisfy the ship-wrecked sailor.
Christ alone is the water and bread of life. He alone can satisfy every longing need of the soul. Preacher – preach Christ; Teacher – teach Christ; Elder/Deacon/leader – obey Christ; Christian – love Christ; Sinner – believe Christ.
What is implied in the promise "they shall be filled" (v 6)? – The Greek word 'filled' is a very strong and graphic word, originally applied to the feeling and fattening of animals in a stall. It expresses complete satisfaction. If you only seriously want to be good, your progress may be slow, but at the last you will be good. Christ is pledged to satisfy, if only you will go on wanting. "It is no dribbling rivulet of peace which He pours into the thirsty soul, but a rejoicing river; no transitory torrent, but an abounding tide" (Farrar). And the more you feed upon the bread of life, the greater grows your appetite for it, and the more there is of it to satisfy you.
Illustration: Dr. William Harrison often began his sermons by saying, "I am reading the Word of God. It is deep and rich like the great heart of its Author. Earlier this morning I read for a long while, going over only two verses. It will take me all eternity to read through the Word of God; even so come Lord Jesus."
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:7
5. The Door: Mercy
v 7 ... "Blessed are the merciful." Mercy is the door of Christ's Palace of Happiness because it is the outgoing characteristic of Christian life, the point of contact with the outside world of sorrow, need, and sin. Through the door of mercy, which is love in action, the blessings which Christ gives are carried forth to bless others, or the wretched are admitted within to partake of food and good cheer and peace.
Why is this one of the most important of the Beatitudes? – (a) Because mercy was at that time, and still is, apart from Christianity, foreign to the thought of the world. "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," was the loftiest word of the Old Testament, and the Jews were so far from understanding it that their 1st century leaders led a movement to crucify Christ. (b) Because mercy is the keynote of the life of Christ. He was the mercy of God embodied. (c) Because mercy is the central power of human brotherhood. Stretching down the hillside was the throng, and many were lame and sick. The morning shone upon the face of the blind, revealing him all- attentive, but he turned sightless eyes upon Jesus. Jesus saw the anguish of the world in every such countenance. He was, and is, the brother of all sorrowful ones. (d) Because the giving of mercy is the condition of receiving mercy. It is not that the merciful obtain mercy by virtue of their mercifulness, but rather that their mercifulness stamps them as inheritors of the Lord's free forgiveness. "Thou art both empty and full. Fill thou the empty out of thy fullness, that out of the fullness of God thine emptiness may be filled" (St. Augustine).
Illustration: Christ's parables of the two debtors and the good Samaritan. Job, whose own troubles came to an end as soon as he began to pity and pray for his friends.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:8
6. The Windows: Purity
v 8 ... "Blessed are the pure in heart." There is nothing that a housewife is more anxious to keep clean than the windows. Uncleanness here shows itself at once, and mars the view of all outside, just as foulness in the heart makes the whole world seem foul and ugly. The windows are the life of a house, and the best thing connected with Christ's Palace of Happiness is the view we get from its windows ...
v 8 ... "they shall see God." No wonder this is the favorite Beatitude of many people.
How may we become pure in heart? – (a) We must believe it possible, in spite of our many sins. (b) We must put heart purity first in all our endeavors: Make money? Yes, but first be pure; Build houses? Yes, but first be pure; Write books? Yes, but first be pure; Preach? Yes, but first be pure; Teach? Yes, but first be pure; Elder/Deacon? Yes, but first be pure. (c) We must continually think of the life and character and precepts of Christ. It has been discovered that there is no bacillus that can withstand sunlight, and certainly no impurity can remain in the heart which is perfectly filled with the presence of Christ. Would you be pure in heart? Then spend all the time you possibly can in the presence of Him who is the brightness of the Father's glory; and as roses and violets absorb their colors from the sun, so you will become filled with the radiance of Christ's purity.
What is the meaning of the implied parable "they shall see God" (v 8)? – If a man has a clean heart he is able to know God with a satisfaction as complete as that with which his eye enables him to know the things that are about him. The pure heart is the transparent firmament of blue, up through which we get into God's great daylight. And it takes but a fleck of cloud to hide the sun; and that last remaining unforsaken sin is sufficient to shut out from us the splendid presence of God.
Illustration: There is an old Scottish legend that angels ring a sweet-toned bell at twilight, but only those whose hearts are free from sin and passion can hear it. So there is also a vision of heaven which comes only to the pure-hearted.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:9
7. The Parlor: Peacemaking
v 9 ... "Blessed are the peacemakers." 'Parlor' comes from a French word meaning 'to speak,' to parley; it is the talking-place, and peace making is done by talking. That is why this Beatitude is the parlor of Christ's Palace of Happiness.
Where are Christ's followers to make peace? – (a) In their own hearts. To be at peace with ourselves, we must be at peace with God. (b) So far as is possible, without countenancing or aiding wrong, we are to live at peace with all men, living so that it will be impossible for anyone to have strife or contention with us. (c) We are to make peace between man and man, reconciling enemies, preventing misunderstandings, checking gossip, passing kind words along, advancing with all our might the great cause of world peace, the substitution of arbitration for war. (d) Highest of all, we are to make peace between man and God, doing all we can to lead sinners to Christ. This is the only sure way to make men at peace with one another, i.e., atonement among men by way of atonement with God.
Illustration: Just as the fine clothing of a sick man will not heal him, neither will the gauds and glitter which selfishness may gather round its victim secure for a discontented man the blessing of peace.
Illustration: The story is told of two monks, who lived together as dear friends in a cave, but determined at last to have a quarrel like the outside world, just to break the monotony. They arranged that each should lay claim to a certain stone. "It is mine," said one monk. "No, it is mine," said the other, gently. "Well, then, take it, brother," answered the first monk.
There never was a moment in history when a man possessing Christ's fascination and ability could more easily have plunged the whole world into tumult and strife. The Jew was ready to follow the Messiah with sword drawn; they wanted another Judas Maccabaeus. They wanted to pour out of all the gates of Jerusalem and from all the hamlets of Judea, following their divine Leader to Rome, hurling Caesar from his throne. But Christ was the Prince of peace; His kingdom was not of this world.
When King Edward died, the most royal quality noted by his eulogist was that he had been a great peacemaker and peace- preserver. When Theodore Roosevelt made his visit to Europe, the royal honors he received were accorded to him as a great peacemaker. Through the establishment of the Peace Tribunal at the Hague and the recognition of the principle of arbitration in scores of treaties among the nations the cause of the world's peace has to some extent advanced.
Why are peacemakers to be called "children of God" (v 9)? – Because they are God's children, possessing His nature, and all men will recognize it someday. The peacemaker has more of God's direct work to do than any other person.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:10-12
8. The Kitchen: Persecution
The kitchen is the place of heat, discomfort and toil, but the place out of which health and strength flow into the dining-room and so all over the house. It is a fit symbol of the last Beatitude.
How does this Beatitude differ from the others? – "They spoke of what God's grace produces in us; this speaks of what man's sins may, through divine permission, bring to bear upon us from without. Those are the jewel-like graces to be worn at the marriage supper of the Lamb; this is the whetstone by which they are polished below" (Monsell). The seven are all Beatitudes of character; the eighth is the Beatitude of condition.
Why must a Christian expect persecution? – "The Christian is a moving conscience, to excuse or condemn the children of the world" (Tholuck). He cannot join in admiring much that worldlings admire; and, if he is faithful, he must often be in active opposition to the world. Christ would not even now be a very popular teacher if he should return to the earth. The Christian is never to seek persecution. When he incurs it, it must always be for righteousness' sake. But in this world of evil he cannot be true to Christ without often incurring it.
In what way is a modern Christian persecuted? – No longer with chains and swords and martyrs' fires. Instead of the sword, Satan now takes his sneer. Instead of fire and fagot he takes keen word, cold look, and sharp innuendo. Instead of bonds and imprisonments he takes ill-natured doubts, whispered suspicions. Instead of spoiling of goods he takes to spoiling of characters. And the modern form of persecution is quite as hard to endure.
Why is the blessing of this last Beatitude the same as that of the first? – This indicates that now the perfect and complete man has, on all sides been declared. Just as steps in a spiral staircase always come back to their starting point, but at a higher level, so we come back to the kingdom, but upon a higher level than we were when we started with the poor in spirit.
How does the kingdom of heaven belong to the persecuted? – They have peace and joy even in the midst of their trials, for Christ is with them. Their influence for good is greater through their sufferings than it could be in any other way. If John the Baptist had lived as long as John the apostle, he could not have accomplished so much for the world as he did by his martyr's death. Persecutions develop the character of the persecuted, strengthening and beautifying it. And the persecuted for righteousness' sake rejoice in the assurance that their cause will finally triumph.
Illustration: "Methinks they are casting roses before me," said one of the Scottish martyrs as they were piling up the gagots to burn him.
Illustration: Remember Magor-missabib? He was the same as Pashur. He was a great man in his day, 'chief governor in the house of Jehovah.' There was an earnest, brave man named Jeremiah, who spoke words of great truth courageously; bitter words to an evil people and priesthood. So, Pashur threshed him, and put him in the stocks. But Pashur was carried to Babylon a slave, and today there would be no memory of his name, but for the fact that Jeremiah pilloried him in a book which the world will never let die.