If you take any type of combat training, whether it be in firearms, or some sort of hand-to-hand engagement, you have probably run into a diagram referred to as the “Level’s of Awareness’ or being “Situational Aware.” Situational awareness is simply being alert to what is going on around you.
These levels usually come in four colors to help a person remember them more easily. The “White” level is what most of us live our lives in without knowing it. This usually occurs when we’re at home, lounging about. Or those moments in our lives where we’ve been caught off guard, by a car not there one moment and then somehow, is there the next. Or when someone jumps out at you as you’re walking down a hallway. That’s living in white, being relaxed and completely unaware of the world around us.
The next level is “Yellow.” Being in a state of yellow means that you are relaxed, but you are scanning the room noticing your surroundings. You might get out of your car at the gas station and do a quick look around to see if there’s something amiss. You might sit, looking towards the door, as to be able to see who enters and exits. Basically your paying attention so you’re not caught off guard.
The “Orange” level follows, and at this level you have noticed something that could be a threat, or at the very least is out of place. You notice two people arguing, you notice it’s a 115 degrees out but that person is wherein a sweatshirt with the hood over their head, or maybe there’s simply a knock at your door at 1am in the morning. Being in orange, means you have identified the potential threatening situation, therefore you are seeking more information, and are preparing a plan to mitigate the potential of harm towards you or others.
The final level that is “Red.” Being at the red level means that the threat is real, and you must do something in response to that threat. Whether that be purposeful fight or purposeful retreat.
Being aware of our surroundings is a good skill to have in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. To be able to identify a situation, whether good or bad, helps us be prepared while others are not.
And it’s this idea of identifying something that brings us back into our sermon series on Matthew, where we’ll be picking it back up in chapter 5, starting in verse 1. And as we open up to Matthew chapter 5, verse 1, let’s recap where we are so far.
In the first eight weeks of our series, we saw that the identity of Jesus was front and center. We read through the genealogies, the proclamations from the angel, the wise men, John the Baptist, and God the Father as to who others say Jesus is. In these proclamations, we saw that there were several parts to Jesus’ identity. Jesus is the King like David, he is the prophet like Moses, he is the foretold Messiah of Old Testament, and he is the unique Son of God. We then saw this identity challenged by the devil, who was trying to change Jesus’ identity and mission so that he would be subjugated to the devil’s rule. Jesus rejects the devil’s temptation and moves on to share with us who he claims to be.
From Jesus’ own words, he is the one who is bringing the kingdom of heaven. He is restoring God’s intended creative order, and he is calling all the people of the world to repentance. This is who Jesus sees himself as, and from here on out, we will see how this call to repentance and to enter the kingdom of heaven works itself out.
So let’s read together Matthew chapter 5, starting in verse 1.
“1 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.
13 “‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
Now in the passage I just read, there’s a lot for us to cover. In fact, entire teachings could be given on each one of these sections. But our goal here in these summer series is to see the overarching connections with the Scripture. So, we are going to break these three sections, into four parts, and show how they connect with each other.
Out first part encompasses just the first 2 verses, and continues briefly with the identity of Jesus. Coming out of the first four chapters which focus on Jesus’ identity, we are immediately taken into one of Jesus’ five sermons, that Matthew shares with us throughout the Gospel. These opening verses are very important because it connects back into two aspects of Jesus’ identity. We’re told that, “he went up on a mountainside…and he began to teach them.”
An Old Testament staple of encountering God was on a mountain top: Abraham on Mt. Moriah, the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, Elijah on Mt. Carmel to name a few. The mountain top was a symbol of getting close to God. And so where does Jesus go? He goes to a mountain and we get his first sermon. This is interesting because it speaks to two aspects of Jesus’ identity. The first is the one we’ve been talking about for a while, Jesus is paralleled as a Prophet like Moses. From Mt. Sinai, Moses shared the commandments given by God to the people. And so, in keeping with being a Prophet like Moses, Jesus also goes to a mountain and shares the commandments of God.
But there is a difference here. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai, he was there 40 days being instructed by God with the commandments. We saw previously that Jesus also spent 40 days, but in wasn’t for instruction, but rather to reinforce his identity. So when Moses speaks from the mountain, he uses phrases like “Thus saith the Lord.” Yet, when Jesus speaks from the mountain he uses the phrase, “But I say to you.”
The aspect of Jesus paralleled with Moses is seen clearly in the mountainside proclamation of the Word of God, yet, Jesus is greater than Moses, because Moses relays God’s Word, whereas Jesus’ words are from the mouth of God himself.
And how does Jesus begin his teaching? By calling out the identity of those who would follow him.
This bring us into our second part of the passage, where Jesus identifies what his disciples would look like. Instead of going straight into teaching the commands of God, Jesus’ gives us a brief look at the person who would be his disciple.
We get what are called the Beatitudes, which means the greatly blessed. In other words, those that have these qualities are the ones who are truly the blessed of God. Their identity is one of whom God approves.
And so we have the blessed being poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek or humble, those that thirst for the righteousness of God, those who are merciful, those who are pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted like the prophets of old.
These traits identify the disciples of Jesus. These are the ones that will enter the kingdom of heaven, and be called the sons of God. And if you are this, if you have this identity as Jesus’ disciple, then you will be what we find in our third part of the passage.
In this third part, Jesus talks about salt and light, which describes the mission of his disciples. A disciple of Jesus, who is the greatly blessed, will be salt. Not salt that is only good for footpaths, like the salt from the Dead Sea, which was contaminated with impurities, but pure salt. Salt without the impurities, which is flavorful and can preserve the sustenance of life.
In the same vain, Jesus’ disciples, who are greatly blessed, will be light. Not light that is kept to one’s self, but light like a lamp or city on a hill. A light that cannot be hidden, but is on display for all to see. The blessed ones of God, will then live lives that are distinguishable in the world, and will effect it. They will be flavorful and on full display for the world to see.
This brings us to our final part of our passage. From the identity of Jesus, to the identity of his disciples, to the mission these disciples are to carry out, we are again brought back to Jesus’ identity. This shows us that the identity of a disciple is surrounded by who Jesus is.
Referring to this identify, Jesus states, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of all that has come before; all that was spoken of by the prophets of God. He is the climax of all the word and works that have been planned throughout the nation of Israel’s history. From the moment God creates, to the moment Jesus sits on this mountain, all things have been leading to this one moment. Abraham’s call, Israel’s formation, the first temple’s establishment and destruction, the exile of the Jewish people, their return to the land and the rebuilding of the temple, is all being fulfilled in Jesus, because Jesus is the point of it all. He is God’s end game.
And so, Jesus shares that what he is about to say isn’t to abolish, but to bring about a true understanding of what it all meant. And it will be through Jesus’ words, that the identity of the blessed of God will come to pass. This recognition of Jesus’ words being of vitally important is emphasized at the end of his sermon in chapter 7.
The question then for us is, do you want to be the blessed of God? The one that can enter the kingdom of heaven and be called a son of God? Do you want to be identified with Jesus as his disciple? Who will be the salt and light of the world? If so, how are we then to be identified as Jesus’ disciples?
There are three steps to being identified. Everything that we need to know is within the passage. We start at the end with Jesus’ words in verse 20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
To be identified as the blessed, to be the salt and light of the world, to enter the kingdom of heaven and be called sons of God, our righteousness, our goodness, must be greater than the ones who are seen as the most righteous of the people, or we will cannot hope to gain all that Jesus just talked about. Our goodness must be greater in our thoughts and actions, than the most spiritual among us.
But if you hear that and instantly realize that it’s impossible, then you have made it to step two. We cannot do that. We cannot be the most righteous, or out do another’s goodness. So there must be no hope. Except, if we were paying attention from the start of Jesus’ sermon, we would have already realized that Jesus told us what we must truly do. The opening of Jesus sermon begins with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Everything that followed this first statement hinged on understanding those first words. This is a common Hebrew teaching method, where the first words set the tone for what is to follow.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize that I can never be as righteous as the Pharisees, and I can never hope to surpass them. Why, because no matter what I do, my righteousness is tainted by my own sin. Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and it’s in the those teachings that we get things like Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Or what God says through the prophet Jeremiah in the 22nd verse of the 2nd chapter, “Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me…”
Those who read the words of the Law and the Prophets, that Jesus has come to fulfill, recognize that they are bankrupt of righteousness. This means they realize that they cannot help to be good enough; to keep the commands as great as the greatest among them.
And when we come to that realization, we have reached step three, there’s only one thing to do, we mourn. We mourn over our sin, because we are lost in sin without any hope of fixing it ourselves. This mourning should then lead us to be meek, humble before God, a person who is thirsting after his righteousness because there is no other place to turn. It is here that we must do as the Psalmist says in the opening to the 143rd Psalm, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.”
And it’s because of the mercy of God to us, that we are merciful towards others. Our hearts are then purified, not in our righteousness but in God’s. And we seek to make peace, because God has made peace with us through Jesus.
When we come to the realization that our righteousness is nothing, we are right where we need to be. When there is nothing to turn to in us, we must turn and rely solely on God’s mercy.
If our desire is to be identified as a disciple of Jesus, we must come to the realization that there is nothing we bring to the table. We have no good deeds, no good works. Even when we do what the world calls good, it’s still not to the standard of God and falls far short. And if we haven’t realized it yet, Jesus is going to spend the next two and half chapters giving us a glimpse of the impossible standard of God.
But there’s hope. There’s blessing for those who are poor in spirit. There’s comfort for the mourner, an inheritance for the meek, a filling for the thirsty, mercy for the merciful, there’s sight to be given, there’s adoption to be brought into, and a kingdom to be gained.
And what does it take? To trust in the person, the identity of Jesus. The God who came down, to bring us out of our sin and to himself, not by anything we can do, but by everything that he has done through his work on the cross. Each of us must walk through those steps in our our lives to come to a point where we can accept the salvation that God offers.
This week I want to challenge you to walk through the sections on the Beatitudes, and the salt and light. As you read through it, seek God to make you poor in spirit, to be a mourner over sin and death. To be meek, thirsty, and pure in heart. To be a peacemaker, and one who would be strong in persecution. And then seek God to use this identity he has given you to be salt who flavors those around you and light that points others to him.
Let us be who God has called us to be, his disciples, who find their identity in Jesus and no where else. Amen.