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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12

Lesson audio

It is certainly a well known passage of Scripture:

Mat 5:1-12 NIV

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, (2) and he began to teach them saying: (3) "Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(4) Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

(5) Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

(6) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

(7) Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

(8) Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

(9) Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

(10) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(11) "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Prologue

The opening verses are usually neglected, but they do provide us with some insight:

  • Jesus, seeing the multitudes, went up into the mountains, evidently to find a spot where He could be heard by them.
  • He sits down – the gesture of a teacher in command, in those days.
  • His disciples come to Him, so that they might be closest.
  • The NIV does not have this, but in the original it’s “He opened his mouth and spoke…” – a formality which lends dignity and weight to the teaching.
  • The word “blessed” in the following verses carries a connotation of “extremely blessed.”
  • The pattern strongly resembles the “Psalms of Ascent” in the Old Testament – psalms in which each verse was chanted on a particular step up towards the Temple. They are intended to be handled publicly.

Does it not, therefore, to take this study in the most serious way? It is clear that Christ meant these to be our rule of life; as is His wont, He provides us blessing rather than warning.

The Beatitudes

The poor in spirit

There is a very good reason that this blessing comes first: it is opposed to the worst of all sins, pride.

  • “Poor in spirit” opens the heart’s door to the Holy Spirit, and the renewing presence of God.
  • Note, please, that this is a voluntary humbling. We might well ask just how one is to do this; it does not seem obvious. But may one suggest that if you care for others first, this is indeed humbling? It says that others are more important than I am – my brothers and sisters, not my competitors.

We may take a clue from St. Ambrose (AD 340-397): “In the eye of heaven blessedness begins there where misery begins in human estimation.” Perhaps our catastrophes are really blessings – if we know how to look at them.

They that mourn

I suspect this refers not so much to mourning at funerals as it does mourning for our sins.[1] It’s a good question: do we regret and mourn our sinfulness, or hide it and hope the subject doesn’t come up?

Of course, it also includes mourning for those taken from us; we expect the Lord’s comfort at such times. But the greatest comfort will be at the resurrection of the dead. In the meanwhile we can remember that “God’s mercies are always greater than our troubles.”[2]

The meek inherit

The NIV uses meek; other translations may have “gentle” for this word. “Humble” is occasionally seen as well. The testosterone inflicted see this as being impossible; we should remember that our Lord was a meek and humble man. It is a characteristic of Jesus; all authority is His. At His return He will deal with this little matter.

In the meanwhile: see how quick we are to anger – and about such trivial things. We should always be ready to ask, “Can I concede this point, for Christ’s sake?”

Hunger and thirst after righteousness

The old soldiers among us will recall MRE’s – Meals Ready to Eat. A glance at the ingredient list would show it started with “recycled cardboard.” It took a fair bit of hunger and privation before we would consider opening one.[3] That describes the hunger needed for righteousness. The most intense of desires must be there for righteousness. We must “seek first the kingdom.”

So what if you do? The word translated here as “filled” is the same one used for “fatted”, as in fatted calf. If you seek, you will find – and find plenty. Most of us want it to seek us and bless us. We should not be concerned with getting justice, but rather giving it.

The merciful

The lesson is repeated in the Lord’s Prayer: the only way we are assured of mercy for ourselves is to be merciful. It is a form of bearing each other’s burden; if my brother sins against me, I can lift that burden from him by forgiving him, and bearing the consequences myself.

But is that not what Jesus did at the Cross? Did He not bear our burdens there? See what a favorable exchange we have been given! We give the mercy of mere mortals and receive in return divine mercy, which greatly exceeds our own.

The pure in heart

It is true: the conniving want to connive with God. It’s the only method they think will work.

But Christ tells us differently. If you want to deal with God in mercy, you must do so from a pure heart. He is righteous and pure; you’re going to have to talk to Him on His own terms. Such a pure heart comes only through the Cross.[4]

But if you do this, one day you will see Him face to face, in the world to come. This is something like a telescope. If you want to see stars, you use a telescope. It’s the proper instrument. But you have to keep the lens clean!

The peacemakers

Make peace? With whom?

  • Peace with God – that our salvation might be secure.
  • Peace with ourselves – so that no brother accuses another of harboring hate within himself.
  • Peace with the world – that they might see the glory of God in our ways of living.

How can this be done? Only through Christ, our peace:

Eph 2:11-14 NIV Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- (12) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (14) For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Thus we have peace with God, and the Spirit’s assistance in obtaining peace within us – which leaves us the world to deal with. In peace. We are told that we are fellow heirs with Jesus, and like Him we must be willing to pay the price the peacemaker always pays. Strife seems to demand no sacrifice; peace demands sacrifice that is often painful. Such pain will be rewarded in His time.

Persecuted for righteousness

The kingdom of heaven is promised to those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. It’s a good way in this world to tell the white hats from the black hats. It is not so much the persecution as its motive – and it doesn’t matter who is doing the persecuting. What matters is why!

Does it strike you as strange, American Christian? Permit me one example: if you pick up your picket sign, paint “Save the Whales” on it, and go down to picket and protest at the nearest (for example) oil refinery, you’d be viewed as a courageous, heroic sort by this world. If your sign reads, “Stop Abortion,” you are going to be arrested. Free speech only goes so far, you know. But see in our own time where the limits are drawn – at the door of righteousness.

When men revile you

Christ promises blessing when you are reviled. But note there are two conditions to this:

  • It’s for His sake, not your own. It’s a matter of whether you receive your reward from Him, or the world.
  • It must be false.

Note that Christ does not tell you that He will lift this oppression. In some times He does so; in others, not. No matter; your reward is secure – and great.

Summary

Things I’d like you to go away with:

  • This is the Christian’s “Code of Conduct.” It’s not Prohibition, but blessing for the behavior God wants to see in you.
  • To do this, you will need humility. And mercy. And purity.
  • It’s the Christian’s call to peace and righteousness.
  • The world is going to find this strange – and attempt to stamp it out. Blessed are those persecuted for His sake.

[1] Still, a funeral for a Christian acknowledges death, the result of sin in a fallen world.

[2] Chrysostom

[3] The well prepared soldier carried a small bottle of Tabasco sauce in his cartridge belt for just such occasions. One wonders what the equivalent might be to pour over spiritual hunger.

[4] See Psalm 51, of course, especially verse 10.

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