Turning Your Attitudes Upside Down – Part 1

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Matthew 5:3-6 (The Beatitudes – Part 1)

INTRODUCTION: We are studying the Sermon on the Mount, and this week we are looking at the Beatitudes. And I guess we should begin by figuring out how many Beatitudes are there? Some people count seven, some people count eight, some people count nine or even ten!

I think it is best to view them as eight. If you look at the eight blessings in verses 3-10, they all follow the same form, plus you will notice the first and last of these both end with the same phrase: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is called an “inclusio” in the Greek which is really just a bracketing device. Two items are bookended with a similar phrase to show the first and the last item in a list.

So I see eight Beatitudes in verses 3-10 with some additional commentary on the last Beatitude in verses 11-12. We will look at the first four this week, and then the remaining four next week. So let’s begin with Matthew 5:3-6. (Read and pray.)


Author and speaker Tony Campolo shares a story about when he was a kid how he and his friend had a brilliant plan to sneak into a store overnight and switch all the price tags. Can you imagine shopping the next morning and finding a pack of gum for $2,000 or a large screen television for fifty cents? You would say: “This is all backwards. It doesn’t make sense.”

It’s the same way when we first read the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. The word Beatitude means “blessing.” And in the Beatitudes we find eight blessings attached to eight conditions that don’t make any sense to us at first. It’s disorienting. It seems backwards. It’s as if Jesus has taken all the attitudes that we value in the world and turned them upside down. Someone switched the price tags, and it doesn’t make any sense.

The first word from Jesus’ lips in this Sermon is the word “blessed,” which means the Sermon on the Mount begins with good news. As one commentator writes: “The Beatitudes are first of all blessings, not requirements … By opening the Sermon on the Mount they place it within the context of grace,” (Davies and Allison) and the rest of the Sermon can only be understood within their light.

The Beatitudes are sometimes translated with the word ‘happy’ instead of ‘blessed’: “Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn.” The word blessed can mean happiness, but the blessedness Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes is so much more than just the feeling of happiness. Here Jesus pronounces true blessing on those who follow him – the blessing of God’s favor, the perfect peace and shalom that belongs to those who rest in God and trust in him alone.

In the Beatitudes Jesus presents certain qualities followed by specific blessings that he ascribes to those who display these qualities. These qualities are spiritual in nature. Their focus is not so much on outward conduct but rather on inward character. As G. Campbell Morgan writes: “Happiness is declared by the King to depend, not on doing, not on possessing, but on being.” And so Jesus is teaching us that true happiness is inward and spiritual. God’s blessing is based on character, not on your outward situation or circumstances.

These blessings are both present and future. We experience some of these blessings here in the present, but we await their complete fulfillment when Jesus returns. The Beatitudes are, as N.T. Wright puts it: “a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth.”

Remember the Sermon on the Mount is primarily addressed to the disciples, and so Jesus is describing believers here. It’s not that some of these qualities apply to some believers and other qualities apply to other believers. All eight of these qualities apply to all believers, just as all eight of the blessings belong to all believers. In short the Beatitudes show the blessings of belonging to Christ.

It’s interesting, in the original language the first four Beatitudes form a group of their own. They all begin with the letter “p” (or π in the Greek). The Bible often uses alliteration to group things together, and as we shall see, these first four Beatitudes in particular emphasize our weakness rather than our strength. So let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

I. The poor in spirit (3)

First of all we have the poor in spirit. Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

   A. Those who confess their need for God
      – Isaiah 57:15, 64:6; Luke 18:13; Philippians 3:7-9; Rev 3:17

The word translated “poor” in this verse is a word that means to cower or cringe. It is related to the word for beggar, a person so poor that they cannot support themselves. So who are the poor in spirit?

The poor in spirit are simply those who confess their need for God. To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge your spiritual poverty, your spiritual bankruptcy before God, your complete lack of spiritual resources, your complete dependency on God. It is the exact opposite attitude of the church in Laodicea which said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” (Revelation 3:17) A.W. Pink writes: “To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things.” Before you can fill a container, you must first empty it, and that’s what the poor in spirit do. They declare themselves empty that God may fill them.

God loves the poor in spirit, and according to Isaiah 57:15 he lives with them. “For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.’” (Isaiah 57:15)

The poor in spirit know that they are sinners, and they recognize that they have no righteousness of their own. They agree with Isaiah when he says that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) They take their place next to the tax collector in the temple crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) They echo Paul’s words in Philippians 3: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ … I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9)

   B. The blessing promised: “the kingdom of heaven”
      – Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 9:12-13

Once again this is completely upside down from the way the world look at things. The world says blessed are the powerful and the rich. Blessed are the resourceful, blessed are those who have it all together. But Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. Why? “Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The word “theirs” is emphasized in the Greek bringing out both an element of surprise here and exclusivity. “Blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Surprise! And blessed are the poor in spirit because theirs is the kingdom of heaven and theirs alone.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick … I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13) Only those who confess their need for God get the kingdom.

When Jesus came preaching and teaching he quoted from Isaiah 61 saying that God had anointed him “to preach good news to the poor.” (Isaiah 61:1) This good news is the good news of the kingdom – that Jesus came for the poor and needy, and the kingdom belongs to them.

And so the poor in spirit who seem like they have no future actually have the most glorious future of all. They are losers in the sight of the world, but they gain everything in the end. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

This first beatitude teaches us salvation by grace. Just as each of the Ten Commandments drives us back to the first, so each command in the Sermon on the Mount drives us back to this opening blessing. Do you fall short of God’s righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount? Then confess your sin to God, and the kingdom of heaven is yours.

There’s an old hymn that says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” That’s the attitude of the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who confess their need for God.

II. Those who mourn (4)

Next we have those who mourn. Verse 4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) And there is a paradox here, because if you are blessed, then why do you mourn? And if you are mourning, how can you be blessed? “Happy are those who are sad” just does not make any sense to us. Once again, it all seems upside down.

   A. Those who grieve over sin

Jesus is not pronouncing a blanket blessing on all people who mourn for anything but rather on a particular group of people who mourn for something in particular. Remember, those who mourn are the same people as the poor in spirit. If the poor in spirit are those who confess their need for God, then those who mourn are those who grieve over sin.

The word translated “mourn” is a strong word in the Greek often used for mourning the loss of a loved one. You know the sorrow you feel when you lose a loved one? That’s the kind of sorrow we should all feel for our sin. A.W. Pink describes this mourning as “the agonizing realization that it was my sins that nailed to the Cross the Lord of glory.” Those who mourn are those who grieve over sin.

      1) personal sin: Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 6:5; Romans 7:24

First of all, we grieve for our own personal sin. David refers to this in Psalm 51 when he writes: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Isaiah mourned for personal sin when he had his throne room vision of God. When Isaiah saw God exalted on his throne in absolute holiness, he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) The apostle Paul showed mourning for personal sin in Romans 7:24 when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

      2) the sins of others: Psalm 119:136; Ezekiel 9:4

But then we grieve not only for our own personal sins but also for the sins of others. We share the attitude of the Psalmist in Psalm 119 who wrote: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.” (Psalm 119:136) Does this describe you? When you look at the world around you and see God dishonored and his law disobeyed, does it bring tears to your eyes?

God gave Ezekiel a vision where a man clothed in linen went “throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” (Ezekiel 9:4) These were the people who were later preserved from judgment. Those who mourn are those who grieve over sin – their own personal sin as well as the sins of others.

   B. The blessing promised: “comfort”
      – Isaiah 61:2-3; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 21:4

So why are those who mourn blessed? Jesus says, “Because they will be comforted.” In the Greek this is known as a divine passive which simply means that God himself is the one who will comfort you. We looked at an earlier quote from Isaiah where Jesus said that God had anointed him to preach good news to the poor. In the same passage he goes on to say that God has anointed him “to comfort all who mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:2-3)

2 Corinthians 7 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) 1 John 1:9 reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

God forgives us of our sin, he cleanses us from our sin, and one day he will completely remove us from all sorrow and sin. We read these words of comfort in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

III. The meek (5)

Next we have the meek. Verse 5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

   A. Those who humbly submit to God and others
      – Psalm 25:9; Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:29; 1 Peter 2:23

So who are the meek? Whereas poor in spirit emphasizes dependency on God, and mourning emphasizes sorrow before God, meekness emphasizes submission to God. The meek are those who humbly submit to God and others. D. A. Carson writes: “The meek man sees himself and all the others under God.” Matthew Henry describes the meek as “those who quietly submit themselves before God, to his Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men.” Psalm 25:9 says that God “guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

Meekness is not the same as weakness. Jesus and Moses are both described as meek (Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:29), and yet we would not consider either of them weak. Moses broke the stone tablets, and Jesus cleared the temple. They were both strong leaders, but they both humbly submitted to God.

One of the best definitions of meekness is strength under control. Think of a horse that has been broken. It is still plenty powerful, but it has now learned submission. Isn’t that exactly the problem with the world today? The world doesn’t want to submit to God and his ways. Meekness doesn’t mean that you are weak, but that you use your power to serve others. You use your strengths in submission to God and in service to others.

This means that you will also be patient with others, even when they treat you wrong. We read of Jesus’ meekness in 1 Peter 2: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do … We are to leave everything – ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future – in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.”

   B. The blessing promised: “inherit the earth”
      – Psalm 37:11; 1 Corinthians 3:21; Revelation 21:1-3

And why does Jesus call the meek blessed? “Because they will inherit the earth.” Jesus is quoting from Psalm 37:11 here which says, “The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” (Psalm 37:11) This promise originally referred to the Promised Land, but Jesus expands it here to cover the whole earth! Once again, this is completely upside down from how the world views things. The world thinks the strong and the aggressive will inherit the earth, but Jesus says, “No, it will go to the meek.”

In one sense this blessing is true even in the present because as Paul writes, all things are yours in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:21) But in another sense it refers to the future when there will be a new heaven and new earth. (Revelation 21:1-3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “When the kingdom of heaven descends, the face of the earth will be renewed, and it will belong to the flock of Jesus.”

I once saw a poster with this Beatitude written on it: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” and underneath someone had written: “Is that okay with you guys?” Well, I don’t know if it’s okay with those guys or not, but it’s okay with God, because it’s his promise, and if you are one of the meek, you have an amazing inheritance waiting.

IV. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (6)

We have looked at the first three Beatitudes, and now finally we come to the fourth. Verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

   A. Those who long for God’s will and God’s ways
      – Psalm 42:1-2; Matthew 6:10, 33; Romans 3:10; Philippians 3:10

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who long for God’s will and God’s ways. In our culture most of us have plenty of food. Anytime we want water, we just turn a faucet, and we often let it run down the drain. But Jesus’ audience was familiar with hunger and thirst. They knew what it was like to crave food and water.

The poor in spirit know that they have no righteousness of their own. (Romans 3:10) And so they long for Christ’s righteousness to fill their lives and indeed to fill the world. They pray as Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) They cry out with the Psalmist in Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2) They “want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10) They “seek first God’s kingdom.” (Matthew 6:33) They are starving for righteousness. As G. Campbell Morgan puts it, they have “a divine discontent with everything unlike God.”

   B. The blessing promised: “filled”
      – Psalm 107:8-9; John 6:35; Philippians 1:6; 2 Peter 3:13

And why does Jesus call them blessed? “Because they will be filled.” They will be satisfied. Think of how good it feels after you have eaten a full meal. Those who were starving for righteousness will not just get a taste. They will be filled. Notice that you do not fill yourself, but you will be filled. This is another one of those divine passives which means God himself is the one who fills you. Once again, righteousness is not something you achieve on your own; righteousness is a gift from God.

Psalm 107:9 says of God: “He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps 107:9) Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Philippians 1:6 promises us that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) 2 Peter 3:13 reminds us that “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13)

Do you long for God’s will and God’s ways in your life? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Then Jesus calls you blessed, for you will be filled.

CONCLUSION: As we said earlier these four beatitudes go together. Together they emphasize our weakness rather than our strength. They tell us not God helps those who help themselves, but God helps the helpless who look to him for help.

They not only go together, but there is a progression from one to the next, what one early teacher in the church called “a golden chain.” (Chrysostom) First we confess our need. Then we confess our sin. Next we submit ourselves to God. Then we long for God’s will and his ways.

The Beatitudes teach us that God’s blessing rests not on the self-sufficient, but on the poor in spirit; not on the self-righteous, but on those who mourn; not on the self-reliant, but on the meek; not on the self-satisfied, but on those who hunger and thirst.

Let me share with you a simple four-part prayer that captures the attitudes behind each of these four Beatitudes. “Lord, I need you. I am sorry for my sin. I will follow you. Please help me grow.” This is the true way to blessing and happiness, even if it seems upside down to you.

Remember the store and the price tags? That’s exactly what we are dealing with here. Sin entered our world and switched all the price tags. We have all our values mixed up. But Jesus came into the world to set the record straight. And the reality is this. In the Beatitudes Jesus is not turning our attitudes upside down. They were already upside down, and he in fact is setting them right side up. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

© Ray Fowler

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