Learning the (Unexpected) Way of Jesus: Before anyone was known as a Christian, Jesus’ early followers were called “The Way.” Why? Because they followed the way of Jesus, which is radically different from every other philosophy or religion throughout the history of time. Today, we look at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, which shows eight unexpected ways to live that result in a life of blessing. Recorded on July 3, 2022, on Matthew 5, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our sermon series “The Unexpected Way,” from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 in the Bible. The way of Jesus is totally unique, it’s different from every other way of life, philosophy, or religion. Why? Because the teaching of Jesus — emphasizing holiness, humility, justice, faith, and sacrificial love — leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. This ancient ethic, if actually practiced, has the power to bring abundant love and joy and peace to anyone, anywhere today. This is the way.
So today is the first sermon in our brand new annual theme of Learning the way of Jesus. For the last two years, we’ve focused primarily on the story of who God is, what God has done, and what God is doing through his Son and Spirit. This story is what Christians call the gospel. For the next year, we’ll be asking the question, “If the gospel is true, how then should we live?” As Christians, we never graduate from the gospel, but if the gospel is true, then it has huge implications for the rest of our lives. So if the gospel is true, how then should we live? Well, the answer is rooted in learning a new way of life, which is the way of Jesus. Before anyone was called a Christian, they were known as The Way, because they followed the way of Jesus. And that’s what every sermon series in this annual theme will be about, learning the way of Jesus. Because if the gospel is true, and Jesus is truly the Lord and Savior of our lives, if Jesus is truly the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead, then we must at least listen to him. But if Jesus isn’t who he claimed to be, if the gospel isn’t true, then none of this matters. We’ll start our first sermon series called The Unexpected Way, by exploring a very famous teaching of Jesus which is known as the Sermon on the Mount. What we’ll see in this series is that the way of Jesus is radically different from every other philosophy or religion that has ever existed. Why? Because the teaching of Jesus — emphasizing holiness, humility, justice, faith, and sacrificial love — leads to a whole new gospel-centered ethic. This ancient ethic, if actually practiced, has the power to bring abundant love and joy and peace to anyone, anywhere today. This is the way. However, when you dig into the way of Jesus, you find something surprising. At every turn, it’s not what you would expect. It’s truly The Unexpected Way. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Matthew 5:1.
Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV), “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew, also known as Levi, was a wealthy tax collector before he became a disciple of Jesus. Out of all the disciples, Matthew was chosen to be one of the Twelve Apostles who would serve as eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, including ultimately, his death and resurrection from the dead. The gospel according to Matthew in our Bibles today is based primarily on his eyewitness accounts. Let’s start again with v. 1.
Matthew 5:1-2 (NIV), “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” Let’s pause here. Notice the distinction here between the crowds and the disciples. There were often crowds around Jesus, but it wasn’t enough to just be in the crowd. Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, healing them, feeding them, and ministering in various ways to them. But it’s not enough to simply be near Jesus, just as it’s not enough simply to come to church or be familiar with bible stories or sing Christian songs. If the gospel is true, you must know Jesus. And how do we do that? How do we get to know him? We listen to him. And we discover, he is speaking to us still. Disciples of Jesus are those who listen to Jesus and learn from him in order to know him. “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” Well, what did he say? Look at v.3.
Matthew 5:3 (NIV), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s pause here. We’ll briefly consider each of these eight unexpected blessings. First, what does it mean to be poor in spirit? It can’t mean having a bad attitude or requiring something, as we would say, to “raise your spirits.” According to commentator Leon Morris, “The poor in spirit…are those who recognize that they are completely and utterly destitute in the realm of the spirit. They recognize their lack of spiritual resources and therefore their complete dependence on God.” Someone who is poor in spirit is humble, not proud. They look at the record of their life and are not puffed up or boastful. They understand that they’re a mixed bag of good and evil, good motives mixed with selfishness, good works mixed with things that produce guilt and shame, that is, when we’re brave enough to remember them. In Isa 66, the Lord says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” (Isa 66:2). This condition of moral/spiritual humility is found when you realize you’re destitute/broke/bankrupt in the presence of God. But in this poverty, we find an unexpected blessing. Jesus says this condition is a blessing “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Only those who recognize their spiritual need will be open/teachable/receptive to the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and to Jesus the King. Only those who humble themselves in repentance and turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will be lifted up in him. So first, blessed are the poor in spirit. For the second blessing, let’s continue with v. 4.
Matthew 5:4 (NIV), “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The second unexpected blessing is for those who are in a state of grief, for those who have lost something or someone who was dear to them, is that Jesus says they will be comforted. There are many sources of comfort in Christ. First, if the one who passed away was a believer, then even though they are temporarily gone, they are not lost forever. You will see them again for even death cannot separate them from the love of Christ. They are in the presence of Christ and will one day be resurrected to eternal life at the end of this age. Second, when you are in mourning you can be comforted by the loving presence of the Holy Spirit. You can pray, but even if you don’t know what to pray, the Spirit will intercede for you. You also may be comforted by the presence of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The church ought to be a community of comforters, sensitive and helpful to those who are mourning. Oh Christian, you are not alone and never will be. Even when you feel as if no one else has felt how you feel, you do not walk through the valley of the shadow of death by yourself. Third, there is a wonderful comfort in the fact that Jesus faced both the death of his friend, Lazarus, and his own death. The one we follow is not emotionless, cold, or calloused, but was himself a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Jesus understands what you’re going through, he’s been through it himself. He knows what it’s like to weep and have his soul overwhelmed to the point of death. Turn to him, be comforted by him. There is a blessing here that the world will never know. Let’s continue with the third blessing in v. 5.
Matthew 5:5 (NIV), “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The way of the world is the way of strength and power, and the lesson we see over and over is that the strong eat the weak. Jesus isn’t saying his disciples should be weak. But he is saying (and modeled with his own life) that power dynamics work differently in his kingdom. Jesus is the King over all of creation, he is the Lord of heaven and earth, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. At his name, every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Php 2). But how did Jesus become king? By grasping at power? No. By stepping down out of heaven, down into this broken world. By setting aside his glory and becoming a nobody for 30 years. Ultimately, by giving up his life for others, for those who were powerless to save themselves. For Jesus, the way up is down. Blessed are the meek. Being meek doesn’t mean being a doormat that everyone walks on, it means to be like Jesus who was gentle and humble in heart. He wasn’t worried about power or influence or trying to manipulate the people around him for his benefit. You don’t need to do that. Why? Because if you follow the meek way of Jesus you will inherit the earth. You will have more influence and authority than you’ll know what to do with. Rev 22 says that in the age to come, we will reign with Jesus forever and ever. He will be the king, but we will be part of the royal family, adopted by God as his children. You want influence? You want authority? The way up is down. Let’s keep going. V.6.
Matthew 5:6 (NIV), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The fourth unexpected blessing uses the analogy of hunger. There is a blessing for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We live in an age of incredible abundance. There are still poor people and those in need in our communities, and of course, we should share God’s heart for them and seek to feed and cloth,e and house them as best we can. But for most of us, the truth is that we really don’t have to worry about our survival. However, for most people in the history of the world, dying of hunger or thirst was (and still in some places today is) a very real threat. As we’ll see later in this series, when we come to Jesus’ teaching on fasting, our physical needs are often a reminder of our spiritual needs, as well. So maybe you haven’t really felt the pain of being desperately hungry or thirsting much, if ever, but we all know what it feels like to start to get hungry. To feel our stomach rumble or to need a drink of water. There is a blessing in having that kind of desperate desire, but not with food, necessarily. But for what? For righteousness. We will talk more about this in two weeks, but for now, righteousness simply means to do or say what is right. Jesus says to long for righteousness is a blessing because people who desire that will be filled. It’s good to want to be a good person. Pursue that, learn that, in time, and often through many painful lessons, you will be filled, you will grow, you will overcome longstanding sins and temptations, and you will look and sound more and more like Jesus. V.7.
Matthew 5:7 (NIV), “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” The fifth blessing in the unexpected way of Jesus is found in being merciful. The world is not a very merciful place. I certainly understand people’s belief in karma, that people ought to get what they deserve. But grace and mercy in the way of Jesus are just the opposite of that. To be merciful isn’t fair. Why? Because to give mercy means to give compassion or forgiveness to someone that you have every right to punish or harm. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, forgiveness is one of the main marks of someone who actually understands the gospel. The blessing of being merciful is that they will be shown mercy. The truth is, in Christ, God has already given us all the riches of his mercy. He has already shown us compassion and has forgiven us for every stupid or sinful thing we’ve ever done or ever will do. Doesn’t that make you want to be merciful to others, as hard as it is when you are mistreated or are disrespected? This is just one example of how the gospel changes our motivations and our natural responses to how others treat us. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. And there’s nothing like receiving mercy when you otherwise deserve punishment or harm. Sixth, v. 8.
Matthew 5:8 (NIV), “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” To be pure in heart can refer to moral purity, perhaps the result of being filled with the fruit of righteousness, or in having a pure conscience. You have nothing to hide, no guilt or shame, and this is true freedom. The world seems to believe that the good life can only be found by the immediate gratification of whatever our hearts desire. And yet, so often these desires are wrong, or at least deceptive. And when we get the thing or enjoy the experience that our hearts had desired, how often is there a sense of let down? That the satisfaction we were seeking wasn’t all that satisfying in the end. But God is holy, he is perfect, he is good; in him there is no sin, no darkness at all. The blessing of being pure in heart is not that we get to brag about our goodness or our purity. It’s that we will see God. Jesus is far more concerned about your holiness than he is with your temporary happiness because only by being made holy will we be able to even stand in the presence of God. But if we experience this blessing, then not only will we stand in his presence, but we will see him and will know him and talk with him face to face as you might talk with a friend. Can you think of a greater blessing? Seventh, v.9.
Matthew 5:9 (NIV), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Who better to be a peacemaker than someone who is growing in humility, who has hope even in the face of death, who is merciful and forgiving, and has nothing to hide? The news and social media makes billions of dollars every year selling fear and anger to people. This has had a profound effect on our society. We are more divided than ever before. I see videos all the time of adults having melt-downs on airplanes or in restaurants. There are rumblings of people saying we need to break into two or more nations because we have irreconcilable differences. Our world is desperate for peacemakers, for men and women who are committed to loving their neighbor and working to resolve conflict wherever possible. Our city is desperate for people who bring peace with them wherever they go, in schools/workplaces/homes/friendships. Now, it’s far easier to ignore people and their problems. To not talk to your neighbors or coworkers and to pretend like our differences don’t really matter. But this is not the way God intended for us to live. We were made to love and be loved in return, but sin separates. Part of the life lived in response to the gospel is to realize that we are called to join God in his work of reconciliation. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation and we have a message of reconciliation. Just as God told the exiles living in Babylon in Jeremiah 29, we must seek the peace and prosperity of our city, we must pray for it and work for it as long as we are here. Blessed are the peacemakers. Finally, eighth, v.10.
Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” So how does this fit with the first seven blessings?? If you are gentle, humble, helpful, good, and work for peace and reconciliation, who’s going to be against that?? Who would persecute a person like that? Well, they did it to Jesus, right? Jesus was constantly being tested and disrespected. Jesus was abused and beaten. Jesus wasn’t welcomed by those in power, he was persecuted. Now, Jesus isn’t saying that his disciples should expect persecution from being a jerk to other people. He does say, for those who are persecuted because of righteousness and because of me. If you give your life to following the way of Jesus, you will reap a great harvest of righteousness and peace. But you also will be misunderstood, mistreated, left out by people in positions of power and authority, and looked down upon. Not all the time, but enough that Jesus needed to teach on this. But the blessing here is that if that is how we are treated, then we can be comforted by the fact that this is part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus. The student is not greater than the master. But at not time did the persecution of Jesus stop God’s plan. At no time did what Jesus went through steal his joy. And it doesn’t need to for us either. Why? Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven. In starting his Sermon on the Mount with these eight unexpected blessings, Jesus probably had his disciples heads spinning. After all, who talks like this? Who teaches that this is the way? No one. Jesus is totally unique. And it’s this type of teaching that leads to a different kind of life. But it’s not a boring life, it’s not a life of only obedience and suffering. It’s an abundant life. It’s a life of love, joy, and peace. It’s a life where we might not only grow to be more like Christ, but one day we will be with him face to face. Is that the kind of life you want? Is that the kind of life you want for your children and your children’s children? Then heed the call of the master, hear him calling you even today, “Follow me.” If you do, your life will change in every way, and that might sound scary, but it’s the only way to find and enjoy this life of blessing. Let us pray.