Today I have the privilege of preaching a one-off sermon on Matthew 5:3-12, a passage commonly known as the ‘Beatitudes’. Our prayer is that through this passage, God would speak to us, instructing us on how to live out the blessedness that is found through relationship with his Son, our Lord Jesus.
As usual, a bit of background information to help unpack the many truths contained in this passage.
i. The Beatitudes are the opening to what is popularly known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, which covers Matthew 5-7.
ii. Up until this point Jesus had been teaching in synagogues, healing the sick and demonised. He has chosen his disciples (Matt 4:18-22) and is already proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, Matthew 4:23-25.
iii. On this occasion he goes up a mountain, sits down in the fashion of rabbis, and begins teaching his disciples, not the crowds (Matt 5:1-2).
iv. Some commentators have drawn up parallels between Moses going up the mountain to receive the Law from God (Exodus 19) and, Jesus going up a mountain to give this sermon. I would say there are some parallels but this theme should not be stretched too far. Jesus is doing a new thing here, and we should be attentive to what his instruction is.
We read the following from Matthew’s account: Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
A bit of Context
Interestingly, the Beatitudes do not open with threats, warnings, and ‘hell-fire and brimstone’ kind of language. They don’t even begin by pointing out how inadequate we are or how misfortunate we have been. No, they begin with God’s disposition and inclination towards us. Where in the Old Testament, the mountain on which Moses ascended quaked with thunder, flames of fire, clouds, and fear inducing scenes, when God’s glory was seen (Exodus 19:15-25), we see a different picture in the Beatitudes. Here, we see Jesus teaching and proclaiming words underlining God’s disposition towards us. Here we find one word repeated 9 times (Blessed) echoing again and again the grace of God towards us.
This Blessed word
But what does this blessed word mean? Well some would say, its being “happy” others would say it’s being fortunate and joyful. Friends, I would say, it is all of the above and more. Blessedness is not a state we arrive at by doing something, no, rather it experiencing the grace of God and continuing in the grace of God which leads us to a place of deep joy in our King and his rule in all things.
Therefore, it does not matter where you’re located emotionally or “fortune wise” today, the reality of the Beatitudes is this, “Grace has come to you today” and if you recognise, receive and continue this grace, you will taste the blessedness that God gives, and you will be rewarded in this age, but mostly in the age to come.
So over to the Beatitudes…
1. Poor in spirit
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If you have climbed to the top of any ladder, physical, corporate, or relational; or if you’ve ever achieved something that once seemed unachievable, then I’m sure you have asked yourself the question, “so is this it?” Friends, we as humans by nature easily get apathetic when we achieve or “arrive”. This apathy friends is common to all of us, yet the Lord Jesus says, the answer to “is this it?” or the crippling apathy we at times feel towards God is not the exploration of other options but fundamentally to recognize that apart from God’s grace we are all poor in spirit. It is this poverty that brings us into relationship with God, and it is this poverty that helps us continue in our relationship with God. Friends, if you’re are not a Christian and you’re listening to the opening line of the beatitudes, the Lord Jesus says you are blessed if today you recognize that you need God. Not only are you blessed, but yours is the kingdom of heaven. God himself becomes your inheritance should you acknowledge that you’re poor in spirit.
Maybe you are pursuing blessedness a different kind of way, amassing wealth, gaining influence, ascending a corporate ladder; these things are not bad in themselves, however, true blessedness according to Jesus does not begin here. True blessedness begins by recognition that we are poor of spirit. That apart from God we are nothing. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah 66:2 says: All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
2. Those who mourn
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Often the term “mourn” is usually associated with those going through grief due to loss or pain, this is not the primary way in which Jesus is making reference to mourning. Jesus, is making reference to the mourning of repentance, and the grief that sin inflicts upon the righteous.
Let me flip it this way, when was the last time you carried a heavy heart because you were remorseful for sins you committed? When was the last time you felt pain and grief for the devastating effect of sin in another person’s life? When was the last time you switched on your TV, or read the paper with a sunken heart because of the dark stories of murder, rape, corruption and injustice? Friends the mourning Jesus is speaking of is the mourning of the righteous, where we mourn about the effects of unrighteousness. To this the Lord here says, you will be comforted (Revelation 21:4) because there is a future age in which unrighteousness will be banished outside the camp (Revelation 21:8). So, if you are a Christian and are mourning at the devastating effect of sin, asking yourself, how long? Why? May I point you to the words of our Lord; you are blessed, why? You shall be comforted.
3. The meek
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. I’m sure many would have heard the phrase, “meekness is not weakness but strength under control.” In an age where domineering leadership gets results, we are invited to a different style of leader, the meek. In a world where arrogance is the currency of interaction we are introduced to a different way of relationship; the humble meek. In a world were narcissism and self-promotion rule, we are introduced to the servant meek. Friends, the meek are blessed, the earth is theirs in the age to come.
4. Hunger and thirst for righteousness
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. This week I had a huge sushi craving, which Vanesha and I sorted out chop-chop (see what I did there), by visiting a new place on Grosvenor. It’s interesting how our bodies tell us what they need. If you feel like devouring a steak, somehow your body tells you…Friends, righteousness is no different. Like sushi craved, righteousness is a craving of the heart for the people of God. We are nourished by it, sustained by it and developed by it. The new creation craves righteous food, and the Lord says, these also are blessed, in fact these are satisfied. The craving for righteousness is met with satisfaction because Jesus is the bread of life and the giver of the living water (John 6:25-59; John 4:11-14).
5. The merciful
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Mercy is that characteristic where punitive measures are stayed based on the benevolence of the offended. God is merciful towards us because he does not give us what we deserve. And so it is that those who give mercy who shall be given mercy in the future, why? Because their behaviour is consistent with God’s character (Exodus 34:6).
6. Pure in heart
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Friends the issue is not the behaviour, the issue is the heart. Behaviour is an outworking of the heart condition. So the Lord does not begin by telling us what laws to keep or what behaviour to conform to, no. Our Lord addresses the heart. He says the heart must be pure, and the only way it can be pure is through the recognition that we are poor of spirit. A purified heart comes through repentance and obedience. Friend, such a person will see God work powerfully in and through their life. Such a person will also behold the majesty of God in the future age. Such a person is blessed. So, may we not limit the gospel to, “how to behave” but rather may it be the liberating message of how the heart can be made anew (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27), that affecting the way we behave. Consider Psalm 24:3-4 and Psalm 51:10
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Not many of us like confrontation. In fact we use diplomatic phrases like, “keep the peace,” and “don’t rock the boat.” Well “peace-makers” are not “peace-keepers” according to our Lord, although both have important functions in society. Peace makers are those who overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). This is broader than just the hostilities that arise out of interpersonal squabble, although it includes it to some degree. This is about the goodness of God being demonstrated through acts of love and kindness where micro and macro hostility reigns. Peace makers are bringers of Shalom, and in this way, are bringers of God’s reign in hostile environments. They are blessed.
8. Persecuted for righteousness
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Persecution can come about as a result of our own stupidity and rebellion. That’s not what our Lord is speaking of. Here he mentions persecution that comes as a result of one being a righteous child of God. Friends, in case you didn’t know, Christianity is provocative and confrontational in essence (Matthew 10:32-42). And for those who don’t embrace it, persecution is a normal route of response. Christians have been, are being, and will be persecuted for their faith physically or otherwise. But when this comes our way, Jesus says we are blessed because ours is the kingdom of heaven.