Climbing the Sermon on the Mount, though perilous, leads to joy

Earlier this month, we at Trinity Baptist Church started to climb a mountain. No, not Stone Mountain. We are making the perilous, spiritual journey uphill to hear Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7.

I say “perilous” because those are some hard words to hear. Those words influenced the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Clarence Jordan, and Jim Wallis, real world-changers for sure! Here there be dragons–words with some really sharp teeth.

As our congregation continued to climb, we quickly realized that this trek is not so foreign to us because there are many times that our Christian faith feels like a burden-filled climb. We have been here before; and in hearing the Sermon one more time, God calls us to to new heights yet again.

What is interesting about this sermon is that it starts with a list of beatitudes (Matt 5:1-11). Some Bibles translate the the beatitudes with, “Blessed are those who…;” other translations say, “Happy are those….”

The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson puts the beatitudes into a fresh perspective. Peterson writes, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope”; and, “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.”

Hold on a second. I did not hike all of this way to hear about the miserable misfortunes in my life. When I am at the end of my rope or have lost something dear to me, I do not feel blessed. I certainly do not feel happy.

But that’s how Jesus starts his sermon. Those of us who are poor in spirit, meek, pure, and in mourning are blessed.

Some scholars argue that we reap the blessings of the beatitudes in a future time–when we get to heaven or when Jesus returns. But noted theologian, William Barclay, corrects this assumption when he writes in his Daily Bible Commentary that these blessings are a present-day reality.

I have a feeling that Jesus started his sermon with these cryptic words because he wants us to know that the climb of our faith journey, no matter how treacherous it is, will always point to a profound joy. That is why some translations insist on using “happy” in place of “blessed.” In God’s kingdom, we are happy when we have the opportunity to rely upon Him in our most desperate hour.

Receiving joy from God is reminiscent of Psalm 1:1-3. The writer of this psalm tells us that happiness comes from God’s Word. Believers who live on every word of God are like trees that bear fruit in the summer and live even in the dead of winter.

Granted, happiness is not always evident in our spiritual lives. Jesus does not deny that hardships exist; rather, he teaches us that we are blessed when we become vulnerable and humble before our Creator. Again, the Message Bible makes this a little more clear:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of You there is more of God and his reign” (Matt 5:3).

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom” (Matt 5:10).

We are blessed because God satisfies the longings that come in the wake of sadness. We are blessed because we know that our defeats do not spell the end of our destiny. We are blessed because we know that God holds us in his loving embrace and is “working for good” out of immense hardship.

When we climb that mount and finally rest at Jesus feet, we learn that the very things that conjure negative feelings become God’s conduits for a joy-filled journey.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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