The Good Life, Part 2
Last week our journey through the gospel of Matthew brought us to chapter 5 and the sermon on the mount. Easily the most recognized section of Matthew and quite possibly some of the most recognized passages in the whole Bible, the Sermon on the Mount is a powerful section of teaching by Jesus which unpacks and unfolds the gospel of the Kingdom for us in a way that is still incredibly relevant 2,000 years later.
Last week we also introduced this first section of the sermon, called the Beatitudes, so named because of how each statement begins with the word “blessed.” Last week we considered the first two beatitudes, where Jesus told us that those who are blessed, those who have the good life, are poor in spirit—in other words, they know that they are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God and they can only throw themselves on His mercy. Jesus also pronounced blessing on those who mourn over sin—theirs and others. And these are blessed, they have the good life, because they will be comforted in God’s kingdom.
Now I really struggled this week as I looked at the rest of the Beatitudes. There is too many of them to fit into one sermon, so I had to divide them up somehow. But how best to do that can be kind of tricky.
So what I did, for today, was select the three beatitudes that speak about our attitude and actions towards others. We’re going to look at verse 5, 7, and 9, which speak about the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.
Then next week we’ll consider the remaining three beatitudes which speak more about our inner condition—hunger and thirst for righteousness and purity of heart—and then how people often treat us as a result of those things.
This isn’t perfect, because these inner characteristics and outer attitudes are totally connected. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be merciful. Those who have a pure heart will be peacemakers. You can’t truly pull them apart.
So just remember that last week, today and next week are three parts of one big sermon. They all fit together, and they all start with being poor in spirit.
So let’s look now at the passage and verse 5. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek are those who are blessed, who have the good life, because they are the ones who are going to inherit the earth.
Are you meek? Would your friends describe you as meek? If they had to make a list of people they know who are meek, would you be on their list?
Maybe, before you answer that question, you want to know what the word means. The basic idea behind the word “meek” has to do with humble gentleness, or gentle humbleness. It implies lowliness and self-control. A meek person is someone who doesn’t get revenge, doesn’t hit back, doesn’t rise to their own defence, doesn’t assert their own rights.
In the Old Testament the word was used in connection with the poor who did not have a lot of power or rights. Their situation was lowly and it was matched by a lowly attitude. They trusted in God and looked to Him to be their protection and salvation.
What this means is that there’s definitely a connection between the “meek” and the “poor in spirit.” The meek are those who know that they have nothing and so they look to God alone.
What “meekness” adds, however, is this dimension of humility and gentleness in our attitude towards others. The meek person is poor in spirit and then they act that way with others.
And isn’t that really a whole new ball game? It’s one thing to tell God, “I have nothing apart from you.” Isn’t it another thing to tell that and act that and live that way with other people?
Let’s do a little test for a moment. A meekness test. Think about the most humble thing about yourself that you’ve ever said to God in prayer. Maybe it’s after you’ve blown it big time and you’ve said something like,
“God, I’m so sorry, I’m such a _______.” Fill in the blank. What is the most honest, humble way you could describe yourself to God in those moments?
Now, I want to imagine me inviting you up here right now and introducing you to the church family with those exact words. “I’d like you to all meet so-and-so, and they are _______.” And I use those exact words that you used with God.
Meekness is how okay with that you would be.
Isn’t it true that we are so often way more comfortable saying things to God than we are hearing those same things from others? I trust you would have no problem saying to God in prayer, “I am nothing apart from your mercy.” But what would go on in your heart if I came up to you after the service and said, “Hey, I just want you to remember this week that you are nothing apart from God’s mercy.”
How quickly we rush to defend ourselves. How quickly the hair on the back of our neck stands on end when we suspect that people think less of us than we’d prefer. How embarrassed we feel when our weaknesses—the weaknesses we gladly confess to God—leak out for public view. How many silly things we’ve thought and said and done as we’ve tried to make ourselves look better and stronger than we actually are.
But if you are a disciple of Jesus, you will have, and you will be growing in, meekness. Isn’t meekness something we display at our baptism? When we confess though word and action that we are sinners who can’t save ourselves and we need Jesus? Isn’t meekness something we display as we gather together every week, demonstrating that we can’t do this on our own and we need each other? Isn’t meekness on display in the Lord’s supper and in the songs we sing and even right now as we receive God’s word?
Meekness is woven right the fabric of our faith. Jesus Himself is meek. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
The word there translated “gentle” is the same word translated “meek” here in Matthew 5. The King James says that Jesus is “meek and lowly in heart.” That’s who He is at the very centre of His being. And that’s what His disciples are like.
Now notice that Jesus says the meek are blessed. They are truly happy; they are the ones with the good life. And the reason why comes in the second half of the verse. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Now this second half of the verse is on the one hand not surprising at all, and on the other hand it is completely surprising.
It’s not surprising at because what Jesus says here is a very strong echo of some other Scripture passages from Psalm 37 and Psalm 2.
Psalm 37:7 and following says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace” (Psalm 37:5–11).
So do you see the psalmist’s point there? Don’t get all worked up because of the wicked people who seem to be doing well. And certainly don’t envy them. God will deal with them. But the meek—those who don’t fight for themselves but humbly wait on the Lord—they shall inherit the land that the wicked seem to be enjoying so much.
And Jesus is almost just quoting this Psalm. The meek will inherit the earth. And that’s why they are blessed.
Now Jesus is expanding things a little bit. Psalm 37 is talking about “the land,” which means the land of Israel, that fertile piece of land at the crossroads of the ancient world that God gave to Abraham. In Matthew 5, Jesus is talking about a lot more than just that land—He’s speaking about the whole earth.
But again, that’s not all that surprising. In the Psalms and the prophets we find many indications that the land promised to Abraham was just a down-payment on something much bigger. Ans so in Psalm 2:8, God speaks to the Messiah, the Son of David, and says,
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage [or “inheritance”], and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8).
Passages like that expand our idea of “Promised Land” beyond Israel’s ancient borders. As far as the Messiah is concerned, the Promised Land is the planet. And here Jesus promises that the meek will share His inheritance, which is the whole world.
Now that’s wonderful. But what makes it really surprising is the setting that Jesus is in. Jesus was speaking to a group of occupied and oppressed peoples. Rome had conquered the world and Rome was not loved very well. Caesar had to put soldiers everywhere to try to stop the uprisings and civil wars before they started.
150 years earlier, Jewish freedom fighters like the Maccabees had fought for Israelite independence against the oppressive Seleucid empire. Those events are still memorialized in Hanukkah every year. And in Jesus’ day there was a whole group of the Jews who wanted to do it again. They were called Zealots and they’d go around murdering soldiers and starting riots and all of that bubbled over 30 years later in an all-out war between Rome and the Jewish people.
And so in that environment, this message would have been very counter-cultural to many people. Those who will inherit the earth are not those who take up the sword and try to start a war with Rome. It is not those who fight for their rights, but rather the meek, the humble, gentle poor who wait on God.
Jesus’ words would also have been so surprising because of the mixed group of Jews and Gentiles He was addressing. Remember what we talked about last week—how its very likely that this group of people Jesus was teaching included Gentiles from Syria and the Decapolis (cf. Matt 4:24-25)? Here’s where that gets important.
If Jesus is speaking to this mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles, and he says to them that “the meek will inherit the earth,” then the implication is that this is open to both Jews and Gentiles. Meek Gentiles who are meek because they trust in the Messiah will inherit the earth as a part of His people. And non-meek Israelites who reject the Messiah—like the Pharisees—don’t have a hope of inheriting anything.
This fits right in with what John said to the Pharisees back in chapter 3. And it fits right in with what we see in the book of Acts, when God very deliberately and very explicitly opened the door and welcomed the Gentiles to come be a part of His people. It’s all described in Ephesians 3:6, which tells us that “…the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6).
We don’t know how much Jesus’ original listeners picked up on, but looking back we can see how it was all there.
And so the meek—whoever they are, whatever ethnicity or family they were born into—the meek who don’t fight for their rights, who wait for God, who act with others like they are poor in spirit—these meek are blessed.
Even if they are pushed around by others, they have the good life. Because this planet is their inheritance. And when you have an inheritance like that, you are blessed, regardless of how things might be going for you today.
Let’s next consider verse 7. ““Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Mercy is such a rich and wonderful word. It speaks about compassion and forgiveness, alleviating the sufferings of others, and coming to the assistance of the poor and needy.
And Jesus says here that the merciful are blessed. They have the good life. Why? Because everything is going good for them here and now? By this point we should know that this is not the case and in fact is probably the opposite of the case. If you are a merciful person, someone who gives others with better than they deserve, that will often cost you and require sacrifice on your part.
But the merciful are blessed because they will receive mercy. And once again, Jesus is echoing a Psalm here, this time Psalm 18:25: “With the merciful you show yourself merciful” (Psalm 18:25).
So the merciful are blessed because they will receive God’s mercy.
Now does this mean that when we show mercy, we are earning God’s mercy? That God gives us mercy in response to our mercy to others?
If that were the case, then God’s mercy wouldn’t be mercy. It would be a paycheque. And what we see elsewhere in Scripture is that our mercy, in the first place, is a response to God’s mercy to us. We recognize how much God has been merciful to us, and our hearts respond with mercy to others.
Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant. And the master in that parable says to his servant, “should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33). It starts with God’s mercy to us. And the proof that our hearts have received God’s mercy is that we are merciful to others.
And so, being merciful to others, we are able to look forward to God’s mercy, not just in this life but fully and finally in the fullness of the kingdom of God. And that’s why the merciful are blessed. Because they have and they look forward to God’s mercy.
So let’s review where we’ve been so far. We have heard about meekness, which encompasses humility and gentleness. We have heard about mercy. And finally we’ll hear about peace.
Finally, let’s consider verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
What is peace? Peace is the absence of strife. No tension. No war. No fighting. Peace is good relationships. And lurking in the background of this word “peace” is the Hebrew idea of “shalom,” which speaks of total well-being. Everything being as it should.
God is a peacemaker. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). Sending Jesus was about ending the hostility between God and man and making all things as they should be.
Jesus is a peacemaker. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19–20).
In His death for sinners Jesus destroyed the hostility between God and man and set in motion the restoration of all creation, the ultimate shalom that we will enjoy in the New Creation.
And Jesus’ followers are peacemakers. Not just peaceful, not just enjoying God’s peace all by themselves, but makers of peace who share God’s peace with others.
Christ’s followers make peace as they share the gospel with others. The good news of Christ crucified for our sins is the basis for all real peace between us and God and and between each other, and communicating that good news to others is one of our primary peacemaking activities.
Disciples of Jesus make peace as they live together in the church. As an outpost and embassy of the kingdom of heaven, the church community should be a place where relationships are full and flourishing. Where unnecessary conflict does not exist and where things are as they should be.
We need to remember though that we are not yet in heaven. Our peace will not be perfect until then. That’s why Romans 12:18 says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The apostle Paul, who wrote those words, many times found himself in situations where it wasn’t possible to life peaceably with all. Those outside of the church hated the gospel and accused him of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Sin and rebellion inside the church needed to be dealt with, and the process was sometimes messy.
But even this painful work—preaching the gospel in spite of opposition and dealing with sin in the church—was ultimately in the service of true peace as God defines it. Because peace is not just when nobody is fighting. Peace is when everything is as it should be as God defines it.
So when you step back and consider all of that, you see that being a “peacemaker” is no small thing. This is almost a stand-alone description for our whole lives as disciples of Jesus.
And Jesus says that the peacemakers are blessed. Once again, not because their lives today are so great, but because of what comes in the future: they will be called sons of God.
“Son of God” is an incredible title to wear, isn’t it? In the Old Testament this was a name that was given to Israel. In Deuteronomy 14:1, Israel was told “You are the sons of the Lord your God.” And yet here in Matthew 5 we once again see that anybody, Jew or Gentile, is promised this title based not on their family background but on their relationship with God.
Being a son of God means being like God. And one day all true peacemakers will be publicly acknowledged before all creation as His sons and daughters.
Romans 8:19 speaks of this day when it says that “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). There is a day coming when all true sons of God will be known as such for all to see.
Some of you know that back in October I travelled to Ontario to spend time with my dad, whom I hadn’t seen in person for over 23 years. It was very strange to go to places with and hear him refer to me as “my son.” I hadn’t heard anybody say those words about me in over a decade, and not from him in more than twice that long.
And it made me think about how rich it is and will be to be acknowledged by God as one of His sons. This is the blessing promised to the peacemakers. And I submit that being acknowledged as one of the sons or daughters of God in that full and final way will be well worth whatever suffering comes our way today as a maker of peace.
Some Questions for Us
So blessed are the meek, and the merciful, and the peacemakers, because they will inherit the earth, and receive mercy, and be called the sons of God.
I wonder what you make of all of this. How do the beatitudes land on you this morning?
This could be a very difficult sermon for you to listen to if you have a certain attitude towards passages like this in the Bible, which is to immediately think about all of the ways that you haven’t been like this. I think that’s how many Christians instinctively hear a sermon like this, and by this point you’re feeling terrible because you’re just thinking about all of the times you haven’t been meek, haven’t been merciful, and haven’t made peace.
A good friend of mine once said, “I know it was a good sermon if I go home feeling guilty.” This is an idea many of us have. That guiltiness is next to godliness.
But please listen: that is not the main effect that these words should have on us. Jesus was speaking words of blessing about His followers. These words should be good news to HIs people.
And if you are a disciple of Jesus, if you’ve truly been saved by grace through faith and that grace through faith has continued to transform your life, then you should be able to look at your life and see evidence of God’s work in it. You should be able to see meekness and mercy and peace-making in your life. Not perfectly, not fully, but still there.
So you’re allowed to be encouraged this morning as you reflect on the work of God in your life. If you’ve been saved then you are developing meekness, growing in mercy, and producing peace. And so hear the encouragement of Christ this morning: you are blessed. You have the good life because of these incredible promises of grace that He has given us.
If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you are going to inherit the earth. Do you believe that? Today you might be on the bottom of all of the power structures of the world, but those will be turned on their heads when king Jesus comes to reign. “if we endure, we will also reign with him” says 2 Timothy 2:12. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you’ve been promised a place in the government of King Jesus
These promises of Jesus are life-giving and I encourage you to receive that life today. Believe that you are blessed. You have been given the good life. Feel that and live that.
But of course that’s not everything that can be said. God has begun His work in us, but He hasn’t finished yet. And these beatitudes find us in the tension between the already and the not-yet.
No disciple of Jesus, this side of heaven, is perfectly meek, perfectly merciful, and makes peace perfectly.
So yes, it is also appropriate for us to feel conviction this morning. Just consider the matter of meekness for a moment. Would you agree with me that COVID-19 has revealed a real lack of meekness in the church?
Everybody’s got an opinion and those opinions become our battlegrounds. And maybe your opinion is that people shouldn’t be so opinionated, but how meek—humble and gentle—have you been about that opinion?
I’ve got a lot of ground to cover still in this meekness department. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the mercy department. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the peace-making department. And it certainly is appropriate for these beatitudes to stir us up to pursue growth in these areas, motivated by these incredible gracious promises set before us.
Now maybe you’re listening and you truly can’t find any evidence of meekness or mercy or peacemaking in your life. If that’s the case, then it would be right for you to ask if you have truly tasted the transforming grace of Jesus or not. Maybe you aren’t His disciple.
And here’s where the beatitudes can be so despairing. Jesus doesn’t say “be meek, be merciful, be a peacemaker.” Because apart from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we can’t be. This is impossible. Like we saw last week, these words make us so aware of our need for the heart-transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
So call out to the Lord and seek that transforming power. Ask the Holy Spirit to cause you to be born again and to become a true believer in and disciple of the Lord Jesus, the son of God, who died and rose again to save His people.
We all need the power of the Holy Spirit to do this work in our lives. “The fruit of the Spirit is… peace, …kindness, goodness, …gentleness” (Galatians 5:22–23). We need the Spirit to do this work in us and then to keep in step with the Spirit as we walk by faith in these incredible promises Jesus has given us.
So that’s where we’re going to end today—by asking the Holy Spirit to come do His transforming work in us for the glory of Jesus.