I am not an expert on much, if anything, and I am certainly not an expert on the beatitudes. However, all week I have been reading them, found in Matthew 5:1-12, and feel like I can’t just pass up the opportunity to reflect on them.
Matthew is the first gospel in our Bibles and one of my favorites. This particular gospel, believed to be written by the disciple, was intended to be read more directly for the Jewish community. It was written between the years 75-100 ad, after the gospel of Mark. What’s interesting about this is that the Jews know their Scriptures. They know what the Old Testament law says and could probably recite most of it! How powerful it is then, that Matthew includes the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus quotes the law and puts a new spin on the whole thing. To begin, Jesus starts with the beatitudes.
Jesus is teaching on a hillside to his disciples, though many scholars believe a crowd did gather. At this time in Jesus’ ministry he had just started; he had just called his disciples. There is no easing into his ministry though. Jesus immediately begins teaching challenging, direct, counter-cultural lessons and commands. It’s a wonder he actually lived 3 years past this time! The Sermon on the Mount is one of the more famous, and somewhat poetic, passages of Scripture. The Beatitudes only begin the 3-chapter lecture.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3) There’s a lot of debate around this one beatitude. Theologians fight back and forth about whether this is spiritual poverty, physical poverty, monetary poverty, etc. I have come to believe, quite strongly, this is referring to spiritual poverty. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When we stop competing for control of our lives, for power, for working for our own forgiveness, God can really move! When we get out of the way and stop fighting His grace, the more His power can overcome our weakness. Blessed are the poor in spirit for they are weak, allowing the Lord’s power to do His work with little hindrance! When we do so, we are promised the “kingdom of heaven”. This is a Jewish way that Matthew describes God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:4) Those of us who know what we are saved from, who know what are sins are, who know why Jesus died will mourn. My sin put Jesus on that cross. My sin’s consequences mean I deserve the pit of hell for eternity. I have crossed the Holy God. I have doubted; I have had other gods before Him; I have lived selfishly, and I have not always repented. Blessed are those who mourn, who repent, who know what their sin has done to the Holy God. They will be comforted by Jesus’ wounds, by His grace, by His forgiveness, by His love.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (5:5) One of the definitions of meek is, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment”, and another, humility. Jesus lived this out perfectly. He commands us to turn the other cheek, to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies. We are to embrace meekness. Scripture tells us if we are in Christ we are a new creation and are called children of God; therefore we are heirs of the Kingdom. If we are like Jesus, if we are in Christ, we will be meek and will inherit the Kingdom along with Jesus.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled!” (5:6) If, by God’s grace, we do indeed long for righteousness, we are promised it! Jesus is our righteousness! “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) We will be filled, or satisfied, because Jesus died for us and made us righteous!
The next few I gather together because they all describe virtues the Lord has and desires for us. “Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers…” (5:7-9) These people are blessed for they are like God! We are to be merciful to others, be pure in heart towards others, and live as peacemakers. While the previous beatitudes were inward, these are outward. God shows us His mercy, is holy in His love, and sent Jesus and His Spirit to bring us peace. Our rewards for living in the same manner towards others are mercy for ourselves, being called children of God, His heirs, and the ability to see God, to know Him.
The final two:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (5:10-12)
All throughout Scripture there is warning of persecution and hatred towards those who know God and follow Jesus. Jesus even tells His disciples to expect it. We are told to consider it pure joy, to pray for those who persecute us, and be honored to be chosen to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ. Maybe with these final two, we know more than ever Jesus is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and a great teacher.
These 9 beatitudes are only the beginning of this particular sermon. There is much more to come, but one last reflection on the beatitudes. All begin with the word blessed. To be clear, Jesus is not promising if you have all these virtues and live in this manner you will be happy. He never promises happiness. He promises blessing. “Blessed” means, “congratulations to” or a spiritual joy from sharing God’s favor. Being blessed is not an emotion based on outer circumstances; it’s God’s favor on you. If you are blessed, God is pleased with you and you have more of an eternal reward. This does not mean God does not reward in this life, but specifically for the beatitudes, note the promises after each of these have more to do with our spiritual, eternal life than anything else.
I hope we meditate on these virtues and promises, truly listening to the teachings of Jesus. May we recognize these teachings were not just for the Jews or the time of Jesus, but are applicable for us today. And may we find favor with God.