"I am the vine, you are the branches"
The Sermon on the Mount
In this newsletter we want to look at Yeshua's Sermon on the Mount. It is believed that this sermon was actually a series of sermons given by Yeshua. The Bible tells us that Yeshua had large crowds of people who would follow Him. The Galilee is surrounded by hills, so it made sense that Yeshua would sit upon one of these hills (for it was customary for a rabbi to sit when he taught) and speak. The people would also sit by the hillside and listen to His teachings. One hill in particular has been identified as the traditional spot, a hill above the Seven Springs of Tabgha. There was a beautiful view of the Galilee with all of its wild flowers in all of their splendor and color, surely a reference to Solomon in all of his glory (Matthew 6:29). The Sermon on the Mount was one of five sermons of Yeshua, each one corresponding to one of the books of Torah. And so it was here that Yeshua began teaching His disciples. And so it is here that we want to take a closer look.
The beatitudes begin with the word ashrei. Ashrei in Hebrew may be translated as "fortunate," "joyful," "blessed," or even "O, the gladness of." In the time of Roman oppression, Yeshua delivers a sermon of encouragement, speaking to the poor in spirit, the mourner, those whose souls are downcast, and the persecuted. He speaks to those who are hungry for the things of God, the merciful, the peacemaker. So let's look at each one of these and see if we too can be encouraged and strengthened through Yeshua's Sermon on the Mount.
The Poor in Spirit
Yeshua starts with the poor and He says, "Blessed are the poor and poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Yeshua begins with the poor most likely because those He associated with were the poor, the lowly. It was the common people who came out to hear Him speak. These were the followers of Yeshua; and to those who were of fame and fortune and power He tells that they must be poor in spirit. Yeshua, when quoting Isaiah, begins by saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor." He also tells the disciples of John to go back and tell John that the "gospel was being preached to the poor." Yeshua in no way neglected the poor; in fact, James writes, "Listen, my beloved brethren; did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" It was the poor whom God considered His disciples. Yeshua equated the poor with children. In Luke 18, when the disciples stopped the children from coming to Yeshua, He tells them, "Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." Again He says, "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Yeshua not only tells us that those who are poor and lowly with childlike faith will inherit the kingdom, but also He says in Luke 12:32, "Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom." So we see that it is these who have been chosen by the Father to receive the kingdom.
Yeshua tells His disciples that those who receive a child receive Him and the One who sent Him. Then He says, "The one who is least among you is the greatest." Back in Yeshua's day, children had little value; but we see the little ones, who are equal with the poor and lowly as far as status, are the ones who are the greatest in the kingdom. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is those who are at the bottom that are at the top in the kingdom. Yeshua Himself identifies with those who are poor and lowly, for He stripped Himself of all of His glory and was born in a stable. He ministered to the common folk living among them. He carried all of our burdens and griefs like a common servant, and so He is our example of being poor and poor in spirit. He tells us that when we help those in need, those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who thirst, and those who are downtrodden, then it is like we have helped Him (Matthew 25:31-45). Yeshua tells His disciples that those who are poor are blessed because God calls the poor to be rich in faith.
But what about those who have money? Will they not see the kingdom of heaven? Well, Yeshua tells His disciples that those who are poor in spirit will also receive the kingdom. One must be of a lowly attitude and not haughtily lording over those who have nothing, but humble and generous in giving. James tells us that we should not show partiality and pay special attention to one who comes into our assembly with gold rings and fine apparel or place them in a place of honor while the poor man who comes in is told to sit in the back. If we see one who is in need and we say, "God be with you," and we do not meet their need, Yeshua says, "Woe to you rich for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you shall be hungry" (Luke 6:24-25). A disciple of Yeshua must be giving and loving and hospitable and caring, merciful and kind-hearted, a cheerful giver, reaching out to all who pass their way. These are the ones who will inherit the kingdom.
Some translations have the next blessing as, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth." Because the word for gentle (pentichros) in the Greek is taken from the same root word for poor (penes), many believe that verse 4 was a continuation of the above verses. If this is so, then this would reduce the number of the beatitudes to seven, which is the number for completeness. One who is meek or gentle is one who is poor in spirit, and so they shall have the earth for their inheritance. Some translations use the word "humble."" The Greek word praus has the sense of one who is mild-mannered and gentle, but the Hebrew word anavim refers to one who is downtrodden, powerless, even victimized. James tells us that the rich man who is poor in spirit is one who has a humble attitude toward his wealth. Paul tells us that God resists the proud but extends grace to the humble. The psalmist writes that the humble will inherit the land. In the Hebrew, this word for land is eretz, and it specifically means the land of Israel. So how does one inherit the land of Israel while another inherits the kingdom of God?
What does Yeshua mean when He speaks of "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom of heaven?" The two are the same, and they are a reference to the Messianic Era which John the Baptist, Yeshua, and the disciples all proclaimed was at hand. The beginning of the Messianic Age was at hand, but the fulfillment will be when King Yeshua sits on the throne of King David and will rule for a thousand years and we His saints, those who have gone ahead and those who are alive, will be with Him here on earth for those thousand years. Truly, blessed are those who are poor and poor in spirit, for they will be among those who will be with King Yeshua during this time inheriting the kingdom of God. What greater reward is there than to have Yeshua as our great reward for eternity? To be where He is and to be like Him is what we live for. So we are to live lives free of the cares of this life, but we are to seek the kingdom first and to sell our possessions and give to charity and to store up treasure in heaven; for where our treasure is, there our hearts will be. And the blessing for all this is this: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom."
We want to continue on our thought of those blessings that specifically refer to the reward of the kingdom. Yeshua says, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me." Yeshua tells us that the world hated Him and it will hate us too. All throughout history God's people had to endure the unjust treatment from the wicked. Yeshua and His disciples preached peace. James 3:18 tells us that one who sows peace will reap righteousness. The Torah tells us to love our neighbor and to do good and resist evil. We are not to take our own revenge, but to put on love as a badge, as a sign of our commitment to our Father. These are the true children of God. These are the ones whom the Father will gladly give His kingdom to.
Yeshua goes on to tell His followers that we are to be salt and light, the ones who are to preserve life and to guide it. So Yeshua, like Paul, tells us to rejoice at these times of persecution and suffering, for the prophets who have gone before us and even Yeshua Himself as our example was greatly rewarded for suffering for the kingdom.
Hungry and Thirsty for Righteousness
Yeshua tells His followers that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. Did you ever want something so badly that you could just taste it? Well, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will do just that. They will have their fill of it. How many times do you think to yourself, "I wish life could be different," or "Why do the wicked proper?" or, "Things just are not fair"? Well, this is the heart of those who want to see the world change for the good. These are the ones who agonize over what they see going on in the world and they long for the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom. We must be sober in prayer and we must keep on striving for righteousness and as we see the darkness becoming more dark, we must let our light shine even brighter and our prayer must become even more sober, longing for the days when righteousness will prevail and the righteous will one day rule the kingdom; but for now the righteous shall live by faith!
"Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy." Yeshua here makes a statement that is based on a kingdom principle; it is called "measure for measure . . . By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." This theme of measure for measure is taught quite frequently by Yeshua to His disciples; for example, "Forgive and you will be forgiven," "Do not judge and you will not be judged," "Give and it will be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by the standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." So we see the importance of this principle; for whatever standard we use in life, that same standard will be used for us. It's like that old saying, "What goes around comes around." If we want to be blessed, then we must live by God's Word and learn to live by Yeshua's example that it is better to give than receive. Be a blessing and you will be blessed. We must give of ourselves in the lives of other people. Yeshua tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down our lives for another. The Greek word here for mercy, eleemon, comes from the Greek word eleeo, to have compassion; it implies not only a feeling for the misfortunes of others, involving sympathy or pity, but also an active desire to remove those misfortunes. God's Word is all about action.
So Yeshua tells His followers that if they show compassion or mercy, they too will receive compassion or mercy in their time of need. God never forgets what we do in thought, word, or deed.
The Pure in Heart
"Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they will behold God." Our last blessing should probably be the first; for everything we do in life starts with the heart. So what is the heart? The word "heart" in the Greek is kardia, the seat or center of circulation, and therefore the center of life. No surprise that we get our word "cardiac" from this Greek word. But this heart is not our physical heart, but the center of our desires, feelings, affections, passions, and impulses. It could be equated with our mind, but it is the deepest part of our being; it is who we really are. God tells us that He looks at the heart and not the outward appearance of a man. The Bible asks us, who can know it? It is in the heart that we determine who we will be and who we will serve. The Psalmist writes, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord." When we seek God and choose to live by His Word and His ways, when we live out our lives with devotion to God and follow Him whole-heartedly, He cleanses us. Sanctification is a result of setting oneself apart and becoming holy. This is the result of having a pure heart. The blessing is that you will see God because the purer our hearts get, the closer we draw near to God and the closer we get, we begin to see God in all of His holiness and beauty. The followers of Yeshua are to be the people of the kingdom, so let's follow the King according to His decrees and let us be blessed in this life and the life to come.