Jesus' perspective on life is different. As the Lord of Glory, He had a view of life that included the heavenly and the earthly. As the Creator of life He knew the essentials for life. His view of life is beautifully demonstrated in this great sermon.
A clue to understanding these beatitudes and woes is found in the very first one. The "poor" are identified as the ones who have the "kingdom of God." The suggestion is that they actually possess the "kingdom" in this present moment. The kingdom of God is the rule of God. While Jesus taught that there would be a future manifestation of the rule of God in a glorious fashion, He also taught that there are some who have already begun to experience the rule of God in their personal lives. Those who are personally experiencing the rule of God in their lives are in the kingdom now. This is a return to the relationship with God that man was created to enjoy.
Jesus opens His great sermon with these "beatitudes" and “woes” because this is the first essential in a life that will stand up to the stress of the storms of life. Above everything else a man needs to be under the rule of God if he is to have the proper foundation under His life. He might build a life that will stand up reasonably well in this life without being under the rule of God, but it will surely crumble before the storm of the divine judgment at the last day.
The "beatitudes" gives us the conditions for coming under the rule of God. The "woes'' give us the barriers to coming under the rule of God. So that we might move into the "blessed" life that God wants us to know, let us study them carefully.
I. THE CONDITIONS IN COMING UNDER THE RULE OF GOD. These beatitudes could also be called "conditions for entrance into the kingdom of God.'' To be in the kingdom is to be under the rule of the King of the kingdom. The things that our Lord pronounced "blessed" must have been as surprising to the first hearers as the are to us. They go against everything that the world has set up as being important.
A. The King makes poverty a condition of coming under the rule of God. "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." In his account of the sermon Matthew adds "in spirit" to the poor. While poverty may make it easier for some men to realize their poverty of spirit, it does not in itself bring men under the rule of God. It is not uncommon to find rebellion and bitterness toward God among the poor. Our Lord is speak¬ing of an awareness of inner poverty that brings a man to God. Charles Spurgeon has identified that as being the man who knows that "he is nothing, that he has nothing, and that he can do nothing" to commend him to God. It is the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is the spirit of the publican that Jesus described in the parable, the man who stood to pray, "God be merciful to me the sinner.''
B. The King makes hunger a condition for coming under the rule of God. "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled." Matthew's account says, "Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness." This lets us know that our Lord meant more than a physical hunger. While a physical hunger may be used to bring a person to an awareness of his need, it does not always do this. But the man who is to share in the riches of the kingdom must really have an intense desire in that direction. He must desire to be right with God more than anything else in the world. His desire to be under the rule of God must be more dominant in his life than even his desire for food.
Would you describe most of the religious people you know as hungry for God? Would it not be more correct to describe them as having a mild interest in religious things? You can never come under the rule of God with just a mild interest in religious things.
C. The King makes weeping a condition for coming under the rule of God. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." The word means to weep out loud, to weep audibly. These are not just any tears, but rather the weeping that comes from a sorrow over sin. The sorrow will be over personal sins and over the sins of others. The weeping is the outward expression of a "broken and contrite heart.''
Those who are satisfied with themselves as they are and content with the world as it is will never come under the rule of God. They will miss the reality of the kingdom of God. The great joy of the kingdom comes to those who have sobbed their way into the presence of the great King of mercy. Modern man is more likely to take his sense of undone¬ness to his psychiatrist than he is to God.
D. The King makes identification with the King a condition for coming under the rule of God. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for indeed your reward is great in heaven; for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets." "For the Son of Man's sake" is the key phrase for understanding this beatitude. Men do not come under the rule of God simply because they are cursed or mistreated by others. Rather they come under the rule of God when they so fully identify themselves with the King of the kingdom that the world begins to treat them like they treat the King. Those who love the King love them, but those who hate the King hate them. Their identification with the King involves a whole hearted faith commitment to the King. They are so committed to Him that they will follow Him wherever He leads and whatever it may cost.
These four conditions go together. Each is an essential part for coming under the rule of God. As you consider them, it is not difficult to understand why so few seem to be seek¬ing to come under the rule of God. This will become even clearer as you lay the conditions down by the barriers to the kingdom as expressed in the woes.
II. THE BARRIERS TO COMING UNDER THE RULE OF GOD. The Gospel of Matthew does not include the woes. They express just the opposite of the condition in each case. The "woe" is not an announcement of judgment as much as an expression of sorrow and regret on the part of the King. He so desires that all men come to know personally the reality of the kingdom.
A. The King identifies riches as a barrier to the kingdom. "But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation." Riches are not evil in themselves, but they have the capacity to become a terrible blockade in a man's search for God. They have a way of becoming the object of a man's trust, and the basis for his life. They have a way of leading a man to believe that he can live his life without God. He may begin to see God as a crutch needed only by the poor.
B. The King identifies worldly fullness as a barrier to the kingdom. ''Woe to you who are full! For you shall hunger." This world does have the capacity to so fill a man's life that he begins to lose his sense of need and his hunger after God. The problem with this full¬ness is that it will not last. Man was created for eternity and the things of this world will be consumed in the fire of the last judgment. This deadly satisfaction is a danger to you eternally!
C. The King identifies worldly pleasure as a barrier to the kingdom. "Woe to you who laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep." Our Lord is referring to the laughter that grows out of the worldly pleasure and the entertainment of this world. So many who do not know God seem to spend their days having "fun." They move from one pleasurable event to another. Their lives are filled with this "fun." But this laughter is only for a season. It ignores the fact that man has an ultimate accountability to God. When they stand before the Judge of all the earth there will be no basis for joy. Such a life will not stand the storms.
D. The King identifies the praise of men as a barrier to the kingdom. "Woe to you when all men speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets." The approval of men is such a subtle thing. Almost unconsciously this can become the basis upon which you decide your life style. You forget about right and wrong and wonder only about what the crowd will approve. This is the thing that keeps many from a full commitment to the rule of God. They know that you can not be dominated by the mind of men and the mind of God at the same time.
Conclusion: Every person who has ever come under the rule of God has had to overcome these barriers, and to meet these conditions. It is the thing our Lord makes first in building a life that will stand up under the storms of time and eternity. The other parts of the sermon will make no sense unless you begin here. You must have your life under the rule of God, sharing in the realities of the kingdom of God. You must be right with the King of life.