Jesus’ Upside-Down Values (Matthew 5:1-12)

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What would you say a blessed life looks like?

A lot of the time we associate God’s blessings with good things in life, so we can often think that people who are attractive, healthy, successful or wealthy are blessed. From a human point of view, we might think that it is normal to understand being blessed as having a good, comfortable, or happy life.

Then we hear Jesus’ teaching as he begins his Sermon on the Mount and he seriously challenges our thinking about what being blessed looks. Instead of teaching that people who are attractive, wealthy or successful are blessed, he teaches that those who are blessed are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek or humble, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful to those who do wrong, pure in heart, working for peace, or persecuted for doing what is right. Then he concludes by looking at his disciples and saying that we are blessed when people persecute us because we are his followers (vv3-12).

To a worldly way of thinking, Jesus’ teaching seems upside-down. Jesus appears to be saying that the people who seem to be the least blessed by worldly standards are the ones who are actually blessed by God’s standards. Instead of wealth, beauty, or success being the measure of blessings in life, Jesus identifies the spiritually poor, the small, the timid and the selfless as those who are truly blessed by God.

The difficulty of preaching on this text is that we could look at each of these nine statements on their own and dedicate a message to each one. I don’t have the time or space to do that here, but would encourage you to spend time reflecting on the meaning of each one of these statements for yourself. Maybe we are feeling like we are spiritually empty, with nothing to give. Maybe we are mourning the loss of a loved one. Maybe we are hungry or thirsty for God’s righteousness or goodness, either for ourselves or for someone else. Maybe we are working for peace in a relationship, or we are suffering in some way for being followers of Jesus. Whatever it might be, how do Jesus’ words speak to you?

Because the good news of this teaching is that when we don’t feel blessed, or when we look at others and they appear to be more blessed by worldly standards than we are, then Jesus is saying that we can still find God’s blessings in life. In each of these upside-down statements, Jesus gives a promise – that God will provide what we need. We are really blessed when Jesus’ words describe our situations because we are in positions to recognize and receive God’s grace. God gives his Kingdom to those who have nothing to offer. He comforts us who mourn with the promise of Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death. He will lift up all who are humble or put down in life. He will provide his righteousness through Jesus for us when we are hungry or thirsty for it. He purifies our hearts by forgiving us our sins for Jesus’s sake so we can live in ways that are pure and good. He establishes peace with us through Jesus so we can work for peace in our relationships and in the world. When we are persecuted, either for doing right or for following Jesus, Jesus suffers with us and promises us that we will still be standing with Jesus when the suffering ends.

In all these things, we are blessed when we recognize our need for God. In his grace, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves and gives us what we need most of all as a free gift for the sake of Jesus and by the power of his Spirit. In this grace, we are called to live by an upside-down set of values in the world. In a culture that values things like wealth, success, beauty and happiness, being followers of Jesus means valuing people who align with Jesus’ blessings. We are to value those who are spiritually empty, mourning, humble, hungry or thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers or persecuted, whether Christian or not, over what the world values. Valuing them means taking the time to be with them, prioritizing them, giving them the value that Christ gives them so that God’s blessings flow through us to them and they encounter what Jesus promises in us.
This week, then, as we explore discipleship, we can think of being Jesus’ followers like this:

Discipleship is…
… finding God’s blessings in ways that are radically different to the world.

This doesn’t come easy because it goes against our culture and our human nature. However, when we find the freedom to be honest with ourselves about our need, when we find our need provided for in Christ Jesus, and when we commit to live in the way he teaches, we find what it means to be truly blessed, even when life is difficult or challenging.

Over the next three weeks, we will be following Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount as we explore discipleship and what it means to live as Jesus’ followers. Like his teaching on being blessed, Jesus’ other teachings will challenge us and at times make us uncomfortable. However, as we explore them and put them into practice in our lives, Jesus promises that we will find God’s blessings in our lives, no matter what our circumstances may be.

More to think about:

  • What would you say a ‘blessed life’ looks like?
  • Does Jesus’ teaching on who is really blessed sit well with you? Or does Jesus’ teaching challenge your ideas of what it means to be blessed by God? Can you explain why?
  • As you read Matthew 5:3-12, with whom might you identify the most – the poor in spirit? those who mourn? the meek or humble? those who hunger & thirst for righteousness? the merciful (or those who need of mercy)? the pure in heart? those who work for peace? the persecuted? How can Jesus’ teaching be good news & give you hope in your situation?
  • How might Jesus’ words about who is truly blessed by God challenge you to make a difference in your life? (eg being more humble, extending mercy to someone, making peace with someone with whom you might be in conflict, etc)
  • If Jesus teaches that we are blessed when people persecute us for following Jesus, are you prepared to live as Jesus’ disciple, no matter what the cost? Why/why not?
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