Today's reading: Genesis 5; Matthew 5.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:1-3 ESV)
The Gospel of Matthew contains several large sections of Jesus' teachings. Chapters 5 through 7 are called "the Sermon on the Mount." His teaching is direct, powerful, convicting, and beautiful. We should not rush through our reading of it.
We tend to fall into one of two errors concerning the Sermon on the Mount:
First, we may dismiss it as not applicable nor very practical for today's believer since we are under grace and some of these teachings seem unattainable or could be taken in a legalistic, or perhaps ascetic, way. We may think it applies to some future state of the Kingdom. But there's really nothing in his teaching that would seem to indicate that it is not intended for his followers today.
Secondly, we may make the Sermon to be a kind of self-improvement plan, a sort of new law for people who want to be like Jesus. I think this viewpoint does not take into account the high and exalted nature of these teachings. To try to justify oneself as a good person by "trying to live out the teachings of Jesus" will inevitably result in despair at the end, if one is honest. Or, if he is not honest, he will end up proud and deceived, thinking that merely trying to live like Jesus would be sufficient enough for God's acceptance.
I believe the best way to think of this sermon is to understand that Jesus is the only One who in himself could fulfill these truths. These passages are a kind of portrait of his own holy mind and character. Life in the Kingdom follows the character of the King. By the gracious working of his Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), this portrait is also the image into which we are being transformed! It is practical and applicable, though impossible to fulfill by the flesh. Later, when talking with his disciples about salvation, he would say, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26).
Thus the Sermon on the Mount reveals a beautiful gracious character and a mindset that belongs to every citizen of Christ's Kingdom because it reflects the heart and life of our King. Today, as believers we may live this out imperfectly, but one day we will fulfill it perfectly:
"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3 ESV)
Photo above: a view of the Sea of Galilee.