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Keys to God’s Favor

May 9, 2021 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Sermon on the Mount

Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 5:3-5

Introduction

I’m not going to preach a Mother’s Day sermon this year, primarily, because we just started a new series last week on the Sermon on the Mount, and I’d like to keep the momentum going. As well, we are jumping into the Beatitudes today, and they provide a beautiful picture of the sincere, compassionate humility that God loves. You won’t find a more fitting picture of a mother’s heart.

If God gave you a mother who reflected the spirit of the Beatitudes, you are truly blessed. And ladies, I can’t think of a better model of godly womanhood for you to pursue than what Jesus describes in Matthew 5:3–10. One of the best gifts you can give your family, or your future family is to develop the Beatitudes (read vv. 3–10).

The Beatitudes are among the most famous sayings of Jesus. They are simple, memorable, surprising, and convicting. Today, I’d like to study the first 3. But before we get to them, I’d first like to make a few comments about the Beatitudes as a whole.

I.  Introduction to the Beatitudes

First, you may be curious why we call them the Beatitudes. The answer is…

Beatitude comes from the Latin term beatus, which means blessed. There’s not really any significance in that, but now you know. I suppose if anything, this name highlights the fact that the Beatitudes are fundamentally about blessing.

Jesus is telling us how we can enjoy the blessing of God, which is something we all want. But we may not know exactly what that means.

Blessed means, “To enjoy God’s favor and the contentment he offers through every circumstance.” It’s rather popular in our day to translate the Greek term for blessed, makarios, as happy. That’s because happy is a familiar term, and our society is obsessed with being happy.

But the problem is that happy falls terribly short of capturing the full weight biblical blessing. Happy, at least in terms of how we understand it, is simply too trite. For example, v. 4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Our idea of happiness has no room for mourning.

So, Jesus is talking about something much deeper than happiness. In particular, God’s blessing is fundamentally rooted in a divine pronouncement, not the circumstances of life. For example, God pronounces the poor in spirit to be blessed, even if he doesn’t feel that way.

So, the core concern of the Beatitudes is how can I enjoy God’s favor or approval? Of course, there’s nothing in life that matters more than this. We should live for the approval of one. And if God is pleased with me, then it doesn’t really matter what others think. His favor is infinitely more valuable.

But the Scripture also teach that God’s blessing brings a unique joy to my life today. Happy goes too far toward the emotional end, but the Bible does teach that God’s favor brings with it a deep joy and contentment. John MacArthur says, “To be blessed is not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance, but a deep supernatural experience of contentedness based on the fact that one’s life is right with God.”

That’s well said. Yes, God’s blessing does not mean that your problems evaporate or that God makes you rich and fulfills all your dreams. The Beatitudes admit that life is filled with pain and disappointment that will crush you if that’s all that there is.

But as MacArthur states, knowing that God is pleased with me should bring “a deep supernatural experience of contentedness.” It’s a great gift to be able to rest in the Lord and his watchful eye through all the craziness of life. Something else that stands out collectively about the Beatitudes is that…

God’s values are different than ours. If you were to go around town and ask people to describe the blessed life, what do you think most people would say? Most people imagine things like professional success, respect, money, a nice house, nice cars, a gorgeous wife, handsome husband, and talented, successful children.

But Jesus doesn’t mention any of those things. Instead, he highlights several qualities that we desperately try to avoid. Our society is terrified by grief, weakness, and conflict. We want to be strong and respected, not poor in spirit and persecuted.

But the Bible consistently teaches that God values humility, and he is near to the afflicted. Isaiah 61:1 says of Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

Jesus isn’t chasing the cool kids. No, he loves the humble. It is so important that we conform our values to the Savior’s. Don’t let the world shape how you see a blessed life. Pursue the qualities that please the Lord.

That’s very appropriate for Mother’s Day, because the world’s definition of a successful woman is very different from the Bible’s. Ladies, pursue God’s blessing and approval, not the world’s.

God’s blessings are rich, deep, and eternal. Notice that the reward for both the first and the last Beatitude is “the kingdom of heaven.” That tells us that the “kingdom of heaven” is the fundamental reward of God’s blessing.

Especially when you consider Jesus’ Jewish audience, this kingdom is specifically the coming Millennial Kingdom. This is because when the Jews heard about the kingdom, they immediately thought about the coming kingdom promised by the prophets. Yes, Jesus often invited sinners to become citizens of the kingdom today. But Jesus and the apostles everywhere assume that a literal kingdom will come when Jesus sets up his throne in Jerusalem and rules over the world (Acts 1:6).

And this eternal focus is apparent in the blessings of vv. 5, 8. The meek are not inheriting the earth today, and the pure in heart are not seeing God today. Both of these promises are clearly looking to the future kingdom.

So, the Beatitudes don’t teach that the blessed life will necessarily enjoy material rewards today. In fact, when you consider the types of lowly people God blesses, they actually discourage expectation of temporal rewards. The people who enjoy God’s favor often suffer in this life.

But the “kingdom of heaven,” “the earth,” and the presence of God await us in eternity. God’s future blessings will far exceed anything we sacrifice today.

And it’s not as if God leaves us high and dry today. All 8 rewards ultimately look to eternity, but there is certainly a present aspect to God’s comfort, his righteousness, and his mercy.

Again, God gives “a deep supernatural experience of contentedness based on the fact that one’s life is right with God.” This blessing is worth far more than anything money can buy. “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim 6:6–7).

So, do you want joy today, and the abundance of God’s blessing for all eternity, then listen up to what Jesus says will bring the favor of God. That being said, let’s look at the first 3 Beatitudes with the rest of our time. First, God’s blessing rests on…

II.  Poor in Spirit (v. 3)

To be “poor in spirit” means having…Awareness of My Spiritual Poverty: Some people will argue that Jesus is at least partially thinking of financial poverty. They cite passages such as Isaiah 61:6, which says that Messiah will rescue the afflicted. It’s certainly true that God is sympathetic to the poor. 1 Corinthians 1:26 states, “Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”

But in v. 3, Jesus specifically tells us that he is concerned for those who are “poor in spirit.” Therefore, he is concerned with an internal condition, not external circumstances.

Specifically, Jesus is describing a spiritual condition. As I have said, this is an awareness of my spiritual poverty. I say it that way, because everyone is ultimately spiritually poor. We are all sinners who fall desperately short of God’s glory. But not everyone recognizes it.

A great illustration of this is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisee was a sinner like the rest of us, but he was not poor in spirit (vv. 11–12). It’s hard to even imagine saying those things to God, but sadly, that’s what a lot of people believe about themselves. They think they are so religious, and they thumb their noses at everyone else.

And this fact makes the tax collector’s prayer all the more beautiful (v. 13). What a perfect illustration of the heart Jesus encourages in our text. The tax collector has a true sense of the holiness of God and how far he falls short. Therefore, rather than trying to impress God, he begs for mercy, because he knows that he has no other hope.

Finally, notice Jesus’ evaluation of the two men (v. 14). God is not impressed by the religious show that we so often put on, but he rejoices in broken humility. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’
says the Lord. ‘But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word’” (Isa 66:1–2).

God says that we could never build a house glorious enough to contain an infinite God, but he dwells with the one who is broken over his sin. God loves the person who comes to him in repentant humility.

So, if you have been desperately trying to earn God’s favor by good deeds, or if you have spent your life trying to impress others with your spirituality, understand that God is not impressed. What God really wants is for you to simply admit the seriousness of your sin and your spiritual misery and then cast yourself on the mercy of Christ and on what Jesus accomplished in the cross. Come to him with the spirit of the tax collector, and God will save.

And if you are saved, don’t ever lose sight of your spiritual poverty. A true mark of spiritual growth is that you become increasingly aware of and devastated by your sin so that you rejoice more and more in the mercy of the Savior. As John Newton said, “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Finally, I really appreciate the insight in this comment by D. A. Carson on v. 3, “At the very outset of the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that we do not have the spiritual resources to put any of the Sermon’s precepts into practice. We cannot fulfill God’s standards ourselves. We must come to him and acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy, emptying ourselves of our self-righteousness, moral self-esteem, and personal vainglory. Emptied of these things we are ready for him to fill us.”

That’s so good, because Jesus is will call us to a HIGH standard in the Sermon. But before he commands us to be “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” he first grounds it in humility and brokenness before God. The only way we can become truly strong is to first become weak and acknowledge our desperate need of grace. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 2nd, God’s blessing rests on…

III.  Those Who Mourn (v. 4)

I must say at the outset that some scholars believe that Jesus is thinking specifically about mourning over sin, because that’s clearly an emphasis of v. 3. I certainly believe that we should grieve over sin in a way that drives us to grace, forgiveness, and spiritual transformation. Speaking of sin, 2 Corinthians 7:10 states, “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted.”

But I’m confident that Jesus is speaking more generally about mourning not just over sin but all the consequences of life in a sin-cursed world. I say this because the 1st 2 Beatitudes draw on the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:1–3. We already saw in v. 1 how Messiah “heal the brokenhearted.” And vv. 2–3 add that he will come, “To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” That’s talking about the general sorrows of Israel due to their affliction. So…

Quality: Mourning Rooted in Godly Submission: This Beatitude is fascinating, because we live in a culture that is terrified by mourning. We want to be happy all the time, and most people would assume that blessing and mourning are contradictory ideas. You can’t possibly be blessed of the Lord and also be grieving.

But the Bible teaches that grief is vital to godliness. “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men;and the living will takeit to Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is madebetter.The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (Ecc 7:2–4). And Jesus affirms this truth in v. 4, “Blessed are those who mourn.” God favors those who mourn.

Now, we have to mourn the right way. It must be rooted in godly submission. This is important, because everyone mourns at some point, but most people’s grief is filled with anger and bitterness toward God, not the humility we just saw in v. 3.

But the only way we can expect the comfort Jesus promises is if we grieve after the submissive pattern of Job who said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). We see that same spirit over and over in the laments of Scripture. God comforts those who humbly trust the goodness of his plan.

So, if you are mourning today, and you want God to lead you out of the darkness, you must first, humble yourself and submit what you think is best to the wise, gracious purpose of God. As long as you think your way is best, you will never know God’s peace. The 1st Beatitude is essential to the 2nd. But when we express godly sorrow, Jesus says we are blessed. God looks on us with compassion and favor. And notice Jesus’ promise, “They shall be…

God’s Promise: Comfort: We already saw in Isaiah 61 that when Christ returns, he will comfort his people who mourn. And I do believe that the primary focus of this promise is in eternity. Revelation 21:4 promises that in eternity, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Our sorrows will not last forever. God will wipe away every tear.

But when I humbly trust the purposes of God as Job did, I can also expect God to comfort me today. “Blessedbe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in anytrouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3–4). Praise the Lord that we can bring our sorrows to the Lord, knowing that he is sovereign over them all, and his purposes are always good. And praise the Lord that Jesus sympathizes with them and will comfort us through them.

IV.  Meek (v. 5)

Quality: A Humble Spirit that Results in a Gentle Manner: As has often been said, “Meekness is not weakness.” The meekest people are often the most intelligent, strong people in the room. But they don’t use their gifts and abilities abusively to push others around and get their way. Instead, they deflect attention from themselves to others, and they use their power to serve with love and grace.

Meekness is often an outstanding quality of godly mothers. They aren’t pushovers; instead, they are a rock that anchors the family. But it’s never about them. They always keep the focus off themselves and on the rest of the family, and they find their joy in seeing others thrive.

The world loves a big, pushy personality. We notice people who are loud, and many people with sharp, quick minds and a charismatic personality use them for great temporal gain. But Jesus is not impressed. He notices the meek, even if no one else does. And he says that his blessing, his approval, his favor rests upon them. As a result, notice…

God’s Promise: Inherit the Earth: Again, that’s not what we would expect. We’re used to tyrants and dictators grabbing authority and abusing it. But Jesus looks forward to his kingdom and says that the meek will rule alongside him in the kingdom.

So many of the godliest people we know are totally ignored by the world, because they don’t chase worldly ambitions. No one knows who they are, and no one is impressed by them. But they will be honored in the kingdom. Those forgotten, meek people will inherit the earth. And they won’t have any regrets about how they invested their lives. It will all be worth it.

Christian, don’t play by the world’s rules, constantly fighting to be noticed and praised by men and constantly trying to push yourself to the front of the line. No, live for God’s approval. Serve others. Do what’s right, and trust the Lord with the consequences.

Conclusion

With these 1st 3 Beatitudes Jesus confronts the worldly spirit that is deep in all our hearts. We are all proud. We want to feel good about ourselves, and we want others to glory in our greatness. And we want to be happy all the time. But Jesus says that he values a humble heart of faith and submission.

Don’t worry about measuring up to the world’s expectations. Instead, live for the favor of God, because the eternal blessings Jesus promises are worth every sacrifice.

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