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Matthew

Beatitudes - I

Matthew 5:1-5

Lesson audio

Children are taught to memorize these verses. In the world of those who memorize Scripture, this is an adult favorite as well. We shall see that by these words our Lord encourages us to live the life of a true Christian, servant to the Servant King. We shall hope to give these small virtues their due.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

(Mat 5:1-5 NASB)

Preliminaries

Most teachers prefer to skip the first two verses, so glorious is the wealth that follows. But all Scripture is profitable; we shall mine what we can.

Jesus saw the crowds; crowds that had heard of his miracles and followed along. Notice, please, that Jesus the Healer went to the people, like an old fashioned doctor making house calls. Now the crowd follows him. So He accommodates them again, going up the mountain to find a natural amphitheater .

He then sits down. It is a sign of authority; in those days, the teacher sat while the students stood. But this is no sign of pride; notice please that Jesus could have sat in the market place. It would have greatly amplified his popularity. Christ chose the mountain, not the marketplace.

Content with these preliminaries, the disciples come to Him. They seem to know that He is about to say something important.

Only when all these things are arranged does He open His mouth. The NIV omits this, thinking it an ancient flourish of language. It is not. For its clear implication is that He has not been teaching them by word, but by example. Christ instructs us by word – and also in silence.

What follows begins with the word, “Blessed.” Kindly note that this is indicative, not imperative. Christ, the lover of my soul, woos me with blessings. He places no restriction upon the blessing of God; not “certain people” or “some” but all. See how open are the arms of God, reaching to the furthest and least! The word translated here as “blessed” means one who is “supremely blessed.”[1]

Humility – verse 3

Christ picks an interesting word for “poor.” It is a word picture of someone cringing. The word is used of beggars who must cringe before their benefactors to obtain some coins. This is humility that sees us as beggars who have no merit before God, and therefore must beg in all humility.

We may contrast this with the “rich in spirit.” This is the man who walks in his own pride and merit. If you can picture the beggar, you can picture the gentleman who walks by; a potential source of revenue to the beggar – if only your cringing humility is visible enough.

We may clear up one confusion: this refers to those who are the poor in spirit by choice. It’s something you decide to do. This is not about those who have been humbled by life’s experiences; it’s the one who is humbled by choice. That’s the one who sees himself as he is; and knows who God is – and trembles at the difference.

Pride

The first blessing is opposed to the first sin: pride. Satan first sinned by pride, for he said he would be like God. It is also the sin of Adam; for Satan lured him with the promise that he (Adam) would be like God. Here is the evil of all evils – and our defense is humility.

The kingdom of heaven

What, then, is this blessing? In many ways Christ describes it; may I bring to your mind but three?

  • It is the pearl of great price.[2] It is beyond all that we can do; it will cost us everything to obtain – and when we are blessed by it, we rejoice.
  • It is the landowner who paid all of his laborers alike.[3] It seems unfair; grace is like that. There will be those we see in the kingdom who have done so much; others, so little – and all are welcome.
  • It is the wheat and the weeds – a kingdom which has its hypocrites and imposters.[4]

Mourning

Mourning? Why would mourning be blessed? It is simply the outward expression of the poverty of spirit. It is public notice that you are indeed what you claim to be: a child of God – in godly sorrow.

Godly sorrow? Paul explains it this way:

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

(2Co 7:10 NASB)

Do you see it? You should mourn that which is wrong:

  • Mourn indeed for your sins; regret and repent.
  • As we are taught,[5] we are to mourn the sins of our church, our people, our nation.

Did our Lord give us an example of this? Indeed:

  • This is the Man of Sorrows – weeping over the grave of Lazarus.[6]
  • This is also the Messiah – mourning over the intransigence of Jerusalem.[7]

And the purpose of this mourning? Comfort. So that we might receive from Him and His people that arm around the shoulder that is sometimes the only solace that works. We mourn – and He comforts us.

We can’t repay that – but we can pass it along. His comfort is given to us so that we may comfort others.[8] And – even greater – this mourning will come to an end. It will be turned to joy at His return.[9]

Meekness, gentleness

It is difficult to define this word in our time. It is related to humility. Perhaps we can pick up its meaning from the instances which written in the Scripture;

  • Christ tells us that His yoke is gentle.[10] What is the load that our Lord has given you – without His comfort and strength? He shares our burdens; so we should share the burdens of others.
  • In the Triumphal Entry Christ told those around Him that He was coming in meekness, riding on a donkey.[11] It is the entry of the King in peace, not the conqueror in way. The King of Kings comes in peace even today;
  • It is also said to be an ornament of the Christian women.[12]

It is best seen in its absence today. For meekness is not presumptuous – we do not claim that our being a Christian puts us, by rights, next to Christ. On the contrary, we are not “me and Jesus in the phone booth,” we are those who see Him as He is (or will) – and know from this who is God (and more importantly, who is not.)

Indeed, the opposite of meekness might well be said to be self-seeking. We hear much about obtaining our rights. Jesus Christ did not come to get His rights. He came to get His wrongs – and I am so blessed that He did.

It is simply this: the meek and gentle do not trust their own power, wisdom and ability. James put it this way:

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

(Jam 4:13-15 NASB)

Inherit the earth

Despite Getty’s rejoinder (“the meek shall inherit the earth – but not the mineral rights.”) it is promised from of old that the earth – this terrestrial ball – will go to the children of God.[13] Only in Revelation do we see the details of the promise: the New Heaven and the New Earth.[14] Meekness must be important to the Christian – for at least there is a grand reward for it.

Soliloquy

The construction of this lesson was an emotional thing. I came to the end of the preparation knowing that something more must be said. So let me ask you three questions:

  • Does the church teach – both in word and action – the virtue of humility? Or is it just an obsolete thought, no longer appropriate for the modern church? Consider well: the church is not the preacher, nor the teacher. The church is us.
  • Is it not the case that the sorrow that leads to repentance is the sole and exclusive property of movements like Celebrate Recovery? Outside that, where do we lead the church into godly sorrow and repentance?
  • Can it be said that the men of the church are gentle and meek? Can it be said of the women? Do we not (especially for women) teach exactly the opposite? What would gentleness and meekness do for the typical Christian marriage?

[1] Strong’s

[2] Matthew 13:45-46

[3] Matthew 20:1-16

[4] Matthew 13:24-30

[5] Daniel 9:1-19

[6] John 11:35

[7] Matthew 23:27

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[9] Revelation 2:14

[10] Matthew 11:29

[11] Matthew 21:5

[12] 1 Peter 3:3-4

[13] Isaiah 60:20-21

[14] Revelation 21:1-2

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