The Sermon on the Mount opens with a familiar scene to first-century Palestinians: “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him” (v. 1). Jesus was surrounded by a disparate group of people. As was frequently the case with rabbis, and particularly so with Jesus, people from all walks of life came to hear him teach. Even among his disciples, there were fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. When we read of the “crowds,” therefore, we must not think of a homogenous crowd of orthodox theologians. It was a motley crew indeed. But it was this motley crew that created the setting for the section of the sermon fondly known as the beatitudes.
In the beatitudes (vv. 2–11), Jesus addresses people from different walks of life. Many interpreters think that Jesus is here giving a set of character qualities to strive for as members of his kingdom: Christians should be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, etc. While Christians should certainly strive for those virtues, I’m not persuaded that that was Jesus’ point—in large measure because I don’t think that the Bible holds up being reviled and persecuted (vv. 10–12) as a character quality for which Christians should strive. Rather than holding up these things as ideals for Christians, I think Jesus was perhaps addressing his disciples to say to them that the invitation to enter his kingdom was open to all sorts of people from all walks of life. The disciples frequently seemed turned off by those who were not just like them, but Jesus wanted them to see that his kingdom had, as it were, an open-door policy.
Among the crowd, there were no doubt those who could be characterised as “poor in spirit” (v. 3). These were spiritually poor people—like tax collectors and sinners—whom others would despise, but they could find a place in Jesus’ kingdom. There would be those in the crowd who “mourn[ed]” (v. 4). They had found life tough and had experienced great sorrow, wondering where they could find rest. Others were “meek” (v. 5). This verse is a quote from Psalm 37, where the “meek” were those who had been taken advantage of by the more powerful. Others were known to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (v. 6). They longed to see God’s righteousness exercised on earth, when all they saw was injustice. Others in the crowd were “merciful” (v. 7). They were compassionate and kind-hearted. Others were “pure in heart” (v. 8). There were those in the crowd below who were genuinely seeking to follow God and do what is right. Others were “peacemakers” (v. 9) who desperately wanted to see peace instead of conflict as the order of the day. Some in the crowd were “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (vv. 10–12), facing opposition for their faithfulness to God’s righteous commands.
If the disciples fell into the trap of thinking that only people just like them could enter the kingdom, they were in for a shock. As they continued their ministry after his ascension, they would find that people from all walks of life with all sorts of desires wanted to come to Jesus. They needed to understand that the door to his kingdom, and the door to kingdom blessings, was open to people from all walks of life.
Here is the encouragement: No matter your state in life, no matter your circumstances, you can experience God’s blessings in Christ. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to first get your ducks in a row before you can experience blessing in Christ. His blessings are offered to people from all walks of life who will come to him.
You can experience blessings in Christ as you mourn and as you rejoice, in singleness and in marriage, in childlessness and in pregnancy, and, indeed, in any state of life in which you find yourself. Turn to Christ and experience rich blessings today.