Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

The first Beatitude speaks of those who are “poor in spirit”. Much has been made about the difference between Matthew’s language and that of Luke in Luke 6:20, for Luke merely says “the poor”. Does Matthew have more in mind than mere economic circumstances?

I’m happy to let others argue, but it seems to me that Matthew, a Jew, might be aware of the Old Testament idea of poverty not only in literal terms, but as a state of mind as well, for the Hebrew word for “poor” has this additional connotation to it. In those days, a poor person not only had to deal with bad economic circumstances, they also had to contend with the fact that they had fewer rights in society, for then as now, they lacked the resources to enforce their rights; consequently they were at the mercy of others.

Living in such a state made it clear to anyone who could fathom the notion, that the poor must depend entirely upon God. Most of us today, even those of us who don’t enjoy material abundance, live in circumstances far better than those of a poor person in ancient times, and maybe we too have a hard time seeing what Matthew means; let’s look at it this way: In our world, a person of very limited means is never far from being destitute, while a rich person has a much larger buffer to get through tough times. The poor person knows they live close to the edge; the rich person can convince himself that everything is wonderful, that he is the master of his own life, and in doing so, he only deceives himself, for God is the master of everything. We see time and again in Scripture that a rich person has a great obstacle to overcome in following God, for he thinks he is the one in control, while a poor man has no such delusion to overcome, and no great wealth to hold him back. The poor person is free to follow the Lord, while the rich person carries his wealth as a millstone around his neck; woe is he.

The kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, for it is with us today in Christ, and will be fully realized in its ultimate fulfillment when He returns. For the person who recognizes his or her current dependence upon God for everything in life, it is a present reality indeed, and a source of great joy, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The Beatitudes: An Introduction

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them.

Matthew 5:1-2

The Sermon on the Mount begins with nine “Beatitudes” in which Jesus describes the present reality of the Kingdom in the midst of the people who were listening to this sermon. Notice how Matthew has connected the previous section with what is about to happen: Jesus had begun His ministry, He’s been preaching and healing and the crowds have grown and grown. He looks around and there is a big crowd, so He climbs up a hill, sits down and begins to speak to the people.

His opening is a series of nine Beatitudes that break nicely into two main sections. The first section, comprising the first four beatitudes, (5:3-6) focuses on our relationship with God, the second group of four (5:7-10) focus on horizontal relationships, with the ninth expanding upon the eighth. Each is comprised a statement identifying the character that is blessed by God (e.g., “blessed are the poor in spirit”) followed by a clause explaining the basis of their blessing (e.g., “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). The section is bracketed by “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in verses 3 and 7 which clearly define this introduction to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount discourse.

I’ve noticed over the years that people read these without an actual understanding of what the word “blessed” means. I did some research on the word to discover its meaning, and more often than I’d like to admit, people use the word in its own definition, even sometimes in dictionaries, which, when I was in school, was strictly frowned upon. One definition said that “blessed” means “blest”. Gee, thanks for clearing that up!

The Greek word used here is makarios, which means: “fortunate, well off:—blessed, happy”. Thus, when Jesus says “blessed is (or blessed are)” He means that they are fortunate, well off, happy. When we read through these beatitudes, we need to be asking questions like, “Why would being poor in spirit make me happy, and what is the alternative to being poor in spirit?”

When we approach the Beatitudes like that, we will very likely discover a mine of great wealth to be explored. Consequently, as we go through these one by one, we will be exploring with those types of questions in mind. The reason is more than just our getting some good teaching; Jesus isn’t just teaching here, He is telling the people about the present state of the kingdom. It wasn’t that God would change our earthly circumstances if we would follow Him, it was that God would be in a close and personal relationship with the people in this age, and ultimately change the paradigm in the next age, this passage, therefore is not only messianic, but apocalyptic as well, and most deserving of our careful attention. We will kick it off when we next get together; you won’t want to miss a single installment!

Blessed Are You

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In verse 10, Jesus said that those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed; here He gets personal, for now He isn’t referring to someone else, or some group of individuals, now it is about “you”. People may speak all sorts of evil against us as followers of Jesus; what should our reaction be  should we pop ‘em right in the mouth?

It wouldn’t seem so; Jesus says we should “rejoice and be glad”, of all things.

Really? We should rejoice and be glad when people are speaking against us because of our faith in Christ?

Yes we should, for great is our reward in heaven.

Jesus didn’t exactly say so here, but our reward here on earth won’t be so bad, since it is a relationship with Him. In the old days, people spoke against the prophets in the same way that they spoke of Jesus’ followers; both were persecuted, sometimes killed in the process, but they seemed to be OK with all that, for they knew that they had a great reward awaiting them, and because they, like Abraham, believed God’s promises.

So now we conclude the Beatitudes, with an implied question dangling: The prophets believed God’s promises and endured. The early Christians believed God’s promises and endured. Do we believe God’s promises?

Persecuted Because of Righteousness

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As a rule, do you expect to see a righteous person persecuting another person because the persecuted person is righteous? My guess is “probably not.” If this is true, then what sort of person persecutes another because they are righteous? Again, my guess is that it would have to be an unrighteous person; it stands to reason, right?

God does not bless unrighteousness.

Righteousness happens when a person lives in accordance with the will of God, and when a person lives this way, he or she is considered by God to be “righteous”, and relationship between that person and God is in place; thus in this life such a person is blessed. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven in the here and now, in spite of persecution and they are blessed for all eternity.

Peacemakers

We have already seen that as Jesus went forth proclaiming the Kingdom, that healing, and restoration of wholeness went in His wake, for the restoration of wholeness, including the restoration of relationships torn by the hostility of this world is something within the very character of God. A peacemaker is someone who places a high priority on restoring relationships, even with those considered to be enemies; this is also what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

On the other hand, many, maybe even most people of this world are not peacemakers. Look around you, this world is not a peaceful place, for people vie with each other for riches, for position and advantage. Such people are not making peace and restoring relationships, except for personal gain; this is not the behavior of a disciple, and thus the blessing of a restored relationship with God is not present in the here and now, and it is not likely to be found in the hereafter unless changes are made.

For the disciple, blessing in great supply is to be found in restoring wholeness and relationships; it is its own reward, and as a disciple the eternal future is both assured and very bright, for there will be blessing beyond imagination in store.

To See God

The expression “pure in heart” refers to a person whose inner most thoughts, motivation and purpose are pure, clean, wholesome and good; this is the one who will see God. To see God is to believe in God, and even more basic, they believe God; such a person is blessed indeed.

The person who is not pure in heart will not see God, possibly because he would rather not see Him. The person who is not pure in heart is one whose inner motivations are not wholesome or good, but are more likely centered on self, gain and getting what they want at whatever cost; they are not blessed because there is little room in their lives for a relationship with Him.

Merciful

Mercy  is the most fundamental aspect of our relationship with God. We only have a relationship with God because of His tremendous mercy, for without it, we are permanently estranged from Him. Thus, Jesus teaches mercy on our parts as a foundational requirement of being His disciple.

We have received His mercy; we are to show mercy to others when the occasion arises. We have received His love; we are to show love to others. How can we show mercy without love, and love without mercy? Yes, this is fundamental.

The person who has received God’s mercy and who shares God’s mercy with others, both through the Gospel and through our own attitudes and actions, will in the end, receive mercy when those who have refused it receive God’s judgment; this is also a fundamental truth.

Now we come to the reversal of this: What kind of person does not show mercy to others?

The ruthless, the cruel, the inhumane, the purely evil…

Will they receive mercy: of course not, they will be judged. Will they be blessed in this life by relationship with God? No, for they live in open rebellion against Him. Will they receive mercy in the end? No, they will receive justice instead.