A Closer Look At The Beatitudes

When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He began at what we now call the Beatitudes. He says, “Blessed are” the sort of people who probably don’t feel all that blessed — those who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled. We don’t like being poor, or in grief, or humble enough to put others first, or attacked by the people around us. It’s hard work being a peacemaker, or showing mercy, or staying pure of heart, or constantly yearning to get closer to God’s righteousness.

It’s interesting that two of the beatitudes mention righteousness: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” and “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:6, 10, KJV). This word refers to “the condition acceptable to God” and/or “the doctrine concerning the way which man may attain a state of approval by God” (Thayer’s G1343, dikaiosune). It relates to our state of being and the way we live. In fact, when you think about it, all the beatitudes relate to something we do and/or become as we follow God.

We Need A Relationship

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3, KJV)

There’s more than one word that could be translated from Greek as “poor.” This one means “reduced to beggary” and “lacking anything” (Thayer’s G4434, ptochos). When we’re like that in our spirits, we’re really in a place to recognize how much we need a relationship with the Father and Jesus. We become the sort of person the Lord is talking about when He says, “to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2, WEB).

We Have Broken Hearts

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4, KJV)

We all experience grief. The death of a parent, child, or dear friend. The loss of a hope held close to our hearts. The decay of a relationship. Betrayal from a friend. And even in the midst of that mourning, we’re blessed because God promises comfort (John 14:16-18; 2 Cor. 1:3-7). He can respond to our tears as powerfully as He did for David in the situation recorded in Psalm 6.

There’s also another interpretation we can add. In Ezekiel, God talks about sparing from His judgment  “the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done within” Jerusalem (Ezk. 9:4, WEB). God knows what it’s like to have the wickedness done in the world breaks your heart (Gen. 6:5-7). He will comfort those who share His heartache and promises to set things right in the end.

We Surrender Our Strength

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5, KJV)

In English, we typically associate meekness with weakness. But according to Zodhiates’ dictionary, that’s not what prautes means (G4240, closely related to the word used here in Matthew, which is G4239, praus). Rather, it is that “attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist. … a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness not in weakness but in power.” When we submit what we are and have in this life to God, He makes us inheritors with Christ of the whole earth.

We Want To Be Filled With God

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6, KJV)

One of God’s names is Yahweh Tsidkenu — the Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). A yearning for righteousness is a deep commitment to seeking God and His way of life. Nothing else will satisfy so we never stop pursuing Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Such a hunger and thirst is going to change us, for we cannot be filled with the Lord’s righteousness and not start becoming righteous ourselves.

We Influence Our Own Judgment

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7, KJV)

Our actions toward others determine, at least in part, God’s actions toward us. Later in this sermon, Jesus says we’ll be forgiven if we forgive others and that we’ll be judged the same way we judge others (Matt. 6:14-15; 7:2). In addition, we learn from James that “Judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas. 2:13, WEB). While these instructions do tell us about things that Christians “should” do, they’re more connected with learning God’s character than with a legalistic set of rules. Showing mercy is one of the things we naturally start doing when we’re filled with God’s righteousness.

We Seek A Deeper Cleanliness

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matt. 5:8, KJV)

Adam Clarke’s commentary on this verse contrasts internal purity with the Jewish customs of outward washing. Jesus was probably alluding to the fact that legally pure Jews could enter the temple (and in a way “see” God), but the focus here is on a deeper cleanliness. Clarke writes, ” Christ here shows that a purification of the heart, from all vile affections and desires, is essentially requisite in order to enter into the kingdom of God.” The internal transformation triggered by relationship with God leads to a deeper knowing of Him.

We Engage In Peacemaking

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matt. 5:9, KJV)

As in English, erenopoios (G1518) is a compound of peace (G1515, eirene) and maker (G4160, poieo). The words are only used together a few times in scripture — here, in James 3:18 talking about the fruit of righteousness being sown by them that make peace, and of Jesus. Ephesians 2:14-15 talks about His work to make peace by reconciling us to God. Peacemaking is an activity of our elder brother, Jesus Christ, and should be an activity of all God’s children.

We Endure Persecution

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (Matt. 5:10-11, KJV)

No one wants persecution. And in a country where freedom of speech and religion are seen as human rights, we think we deserve not to deal with that. But Christians are promised opposition from the world for righteousness’ sake and because we follow Jesus. How we live and who we follow sets us apart from the world, and it refuses to tolerate our differences because it refuses to acknowledge God’s right to rule. But when we endure this persecution and keep pursuing God’s righteousness, we’re blessed. Such blessings sometimes come in this life and most definitely will come in the next. And so Jesus wraps up this thought by saying, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12, KJV).

We’re Blessed With Great Rewards

All the Beatitudes set up apart from the world in how we think and act. And they won’t always be easy to do. But it’s worth it. I didn’t highlight the promise contained in every beatitude, but let’s take a look at them again:

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • they shall be comforted.
  • they shall inherit the earth.
  • they shall be filled.
  • they shall obtain mercy.
  • they shall see God.
  • they shall be called the children of God.
  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • great is your reward in heaven.

It’s pretty easy to read over these promises when they’re in-context since we’re so familiar with the Beatitudes. Seeing them all together like actually this leaves me a bit choked up. God wants to do all that for you and for me? It’s hard to wrap our minds around, but people who follow God really are promised some incredible blessings. And we ought not be shy about claiming them.

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