The beatitudes are one of the best-known sections of scripture and they encapsulate Jesus teaching in a few short statements. They form part of the Sermon on the Mount and set the tone for the rest of Jesus ministry.
1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
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,
We are only looking at the first four beatitudes here and these describe the Christian’s relationship to God. The second four describe a Christian’s relationship and duties to his fellow man. There are three main things we will cover this morning and I hope that as we look at these beatitudes we can see how these are woven into them.
- What it means to be blessed and how the beatitudes completely turn our human perspective and priorities of life upside down.
- How Jesus demonstrated each of these beatitudes through his life, ministry, death and resurrection, and the huge implications this has for our understanding of God ‘s salvation plan and the Kingdom of Heaven.
- How these simple, yet profound statements, when taken as more than simply good and moral principles, are radical, counter-cultural and life-changing.
What is blessing?
We use the word all the time and it is part of our Christian vocabulary, but do we every think about what is really means?
When we pray we often say “Lord, please bless ____ as they step into the next phase of life / Lord bless our time together / Lord Bless our church”
We can also use it in conversation to talk about what God is doing in our lives
“ feel so blessed to have found this new job/house/friendship/spiritual gift/talent”
What are we referring to when we use the word? Do we have a good understanding of what we are saying, or is it just a nice Christian thing to say?
BLESSING IS NOT….
….happiness – The Greek word used here is “makarios” which is translated “happy”. However, our English word happy doesn’t convey the true meaning behind the beatitudes and the best match is blessed. It is misleading to read the beatitudes as “happy are those…” because happiness is a changeable emotion.
John Stott says “it is seriously misleading to render makarios “happy”. For happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgement about these people. He is declaring not what they may feel like, but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: they are blessed”
….health, wealth and prosperity
Blessing is not, as the prosperity Gospel preaches, a comfortable life where everything goes well for you. There is a real danger that we can get led into thinking and believing that if we are not rich and successful then we are not blessed.
Conversely we can also believe that if we are free from pain and suffering then we are blessed.
THIS IS WRONG!!! The bible very clearly says that if you choose to be a disciple for Christ you will suffer -it is not a path to financial comfort and material gain!
1 Timothy 6:6-9 “ But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”
There is nothing wrong with being healthy, wealthy or successful, and God does give us these things to enjoy and to use – but these things are not a measure of how blessed we are. If anything they can be a burden to us.
For example – When I buy my children presents it is because I love them and want to demonstrate my love and see the joy on their faces. But the real blessing is the gift of my love and the relationship I am building with them. They wouldn’t be any less “blessed” if I didn’t give them presents, they’d just have fewer toys! The important thing is my love for them, because that will outlast any gift I can give.
We can create a culture of “blessing” where our money, possessions, circumstances can be seen as a “reward” from God for good behaviour. The beatitudes refute any notion that blessing comes in the form of material gain. In fact, as we shall see when we look at them in more detail, they give us a very clear idea of what blessing entails.
…to be in right relationship with God or as John Stott puts it “to have the approval of God and to find fulfilment as a human being”. It is God moving to restore new life and forgiveness that comes through faith in Christ. It is the glimpse of the Kingdom of God, coming now in part and one day coming in full, when all will be restored. Material blessings are temporary, but spiritual blessings are eternal.
Lets look more closely at the individual beatitudes and we’ll discover more about God’s blessing.
The beatitudes outline Jesus’ specification for the Christian disciple. There is no option of leaving a few out because we don’t like them. You cannot choose to only be merciful, or meek, or a peacemaker and it is our responsibility to seek them all.
They do not describe what we are to do, but who we are -our character. They are not pre-requisites to enter the kingdom of God, unlike applying for a job where you have to meet a certain skill set or have certain qualities to be accepted, because we are accepted by the grace of God despite our failings.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is the first beatitude and the one that underpins all the rest. It is the starting point to having a relationship with God. To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and that there is nothing we can do to find our own salvation.
It is very difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I have seen this countless times through my work. I have encountered people who are is desperate and dangerous situations due to domestic violence, but will not accept help because they think that they can handle the situation on their own. I have dealt with people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but will not acknowledge that they have a problem and need support and guidance. Only when people see their lives for what they are and their hearts are softened will they accept help.
To be poor in spirit is the opposite of pride that says “I’m ok and I can do it myself”. It is only when we admit that we can’t do it by ourselves and come to God open handed and open hearted, that he can fill us with his spirit and bless us.
When we first come to know Jesus and accept his salvation it is because we recognise the need we have to be rescued from our own sinfulness. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t stop there. It should be a continual process of humbling ourselves and surrendering our pride and selfish desires because it is very easy to revert to our default setting of doing it our own way. It is important to remember that this is not done in our own strength. Only though prayer and repentance through the work of the Holy Spirit can we be changed.
The prevailing attitude of the world towards those who have low self esteem is “Don’t put yourself down. You are somebody. You need to believe in yourself. Have confidence in you own abilities and you can achieve anything”
This may seem like good advice on the face of it, but it is not God’s way. When Moses was paralysed by fear at facing pharaoh God said to him “don’t look at your own abilities, look to me and I will help you”. The biblical answer to low-self esteem is not a boost of self-esteem, it is sovereign grace!
Right through the Bible God uses people who acknowledge their spiritual poverty and acknowledge their unworthiness and spiritual inadequacy – Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul… the list goes on!
This verse has nothing to do with being physically poor. You can be a millionaire or a homeless and living rough, and still be poor in spirit. It is an attitude of the heart. Some have tried to suggest that Jesus was saying “blessed in spirit are the poor” but nowhere in scripture does it suggest that poverty is a good thing.
It is often in our times of greatest suffering and hardship that we find God. Sometimes God uses our difficult circumstances to bring us to a place of total dependence on him. It is not pleasant to have painful experiences and endure pain and suffering, but when we look back on these times they are often the most significant times of spiritual growth because it is only when we are emptied of ourselves that we can make space for God. As long as we are self-sufficient and self-reliant it will be very difficult rely on God.
John Piper says – “you may be going through things right now that are painfully preparing you for some precious service for Jesus and his people. When a person strikes rock bottom with a sense of nothingness or helplessness, he may find that he has struck the Rock of Ages”
Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and he spent most of his time with those who acknowledged their spiritual poverty and need for salvation. Tax collectors, fisherman, lepers, prostitutes and criminals.
Jesus himself knew what it was to be poor in spirit. Not long before he preached this message, he spent forty days in the wilderness and was tested and tempted by Satan. At the end of his ministry he went to the cross and endured a horrible death to allow us access into the kingdom of God.
2 Corinthians 8:9 says “For you know that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sake became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich”
The blessing that comes to those who are poor in spirit is the knowledge that we are saved from death and can be members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t deserve this – it is a gift, but in order receive it, we need to let go of what we are currently holding on to.
You may ask “ok, but what is so great about having the kingdom of heaven?”
We only have a glimpse of the benefits of kingdom now, but one day we will fully experience them. God didn’t intend for the world to be in the state it is in. He created a perfect world free from suffering, pain, disease and oppression. Our human pride and selfishness fractured the relationship we had with him at creation and through Jesus he as brought about restoration.
We can now look forward to a time when everything will be made new, when we will have no more sickness and death, no more suffering and injustice. One day God will make a new heaven and earth and we will live once again in perfect harmony with him and each other. I’d say that sounds like a pretty good blessing!
It’s not just a future blessing though. God promises that when we come to him for help he will be with us here and now. He will sustain us and give us everything we need. He will be with us through every situation and carry us through the rough and the smooth.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
The beatitudes reveal a spiritual progression and they all link together. Having realised our spiritual poverty and come to God in a state of dependence, we move to a position of sorrow and mourning over the sin of the world and the terrible consequences of turning away from God.
When we think of the word mourning, we automatically think of death and bereavement. When we lose a loved one we mourn for them because they are gone from this world and we miss them. We feel sorrow because we can’t share our lives with them and we miss them being around. We linger on thoughts of what could have been if they were still here with us.
This is exactly the mourning that Jesus is referring to, but it’s much broader than having sadness for those who have died. Jesus wept over the sin of the world and the bitter consequences of judgement and death. (Luke 19:41)
Jesus himself knew sorrow and the pain of mourning. When his friend Lazarus died he wept bitterly. He wept in the garden of Gethsemane because of his impending death and separation from the father. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3)
Part of the process of being a disciple is mourning the loss of our innocence and righteousness. Having sorrow over the state of our lives when we stray from the life that God intends us to have. I think sometimes we make a big deal of God’s grace to cover over our sins – which is right – but we take that too lightly and forget the gravity of our sins. When we see our sin for what it is, compared to the glory and majesty of God, it should bring us to our knees in prayer and humility before God.
We can fall into the mindset sometimes that as Christians we should always be happy and joyful and be skipping about with a grin on our faces. There are times when we do, and this is brilliant -we should be filled with joy. However, it is also ok to lament and be moved to tears and be upset.
We will continue to experience sorrow and mourning until the Kingdom of God is made complete. It is good to feel “divine discontent”, because it shows that we are engaged with the world but we know that it is not as it should be. This should move us to pray and seek God for his will and his intervention where we see the needs around us.
It is not just our own sin that we should mourn over. When we look at the world the world around us, we should be moved to weep over those who are lost and hurting.
Jesus says that those who mourn will be blessed with comfort, but how does this comfort make a difference to us?
We are comforted by holding to the hope that there is more to life than we experience here and now. It is always easier to bear suffering if there is an end in sight. We know that God’s kingdom is breaking though here and now, and we experience God in our everyday lives through his spirit. Lives are being changed everyday by the power of Jesus. People are being healed, relationships restored, relief brought to desperate situations.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”
The blessing we receive is also a blessing we can pass on. Time of trouble and hardship are not necessarily a blessing in themselves, we can give and receive blessing through them.
We can see this everywhere we look. Churches are meeting the needs of this country in a way that the government and other institutions cannot. In this time of austerity Christians are stepping up to support those in need, driven by their compassion for those who are in poverty. Soup kitchens, food banks, financial support, counselling are all in full swing up and down the country. This is the gospel in action.
Beyond our borders there are also countless Christians working tirelessly to bring hope and comfort to those affected by poverty, natural disasters and oppression. They are living out the gospel in the way that Jesus demonstrated.
In serving others we invariably find comfort for our own struggles and fulfill the deep desire that should be in every disciple to serve others and spread the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
This is possibly the most misunderstood beatitude. Meekness in our society is seen as weakness and lack of confidence. To many this would probably sum up Christians quite well -shy and submissive church mice, who are afraid of their own shadow and can be walked all over. Many also think of Jesus as “meek and mild” -a helpless baby, or a slightly effeminate, long-haired bloke that wore a long white dress!
On the surface it seems strange that Jesus would choose this character trait as something to be desired.
What is meekness?
Martin Lloyd-Jones describes it like this “meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing an attitude and conduct with respect to oneself. The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as they do”
It means that we are gentle, humble, sensitive, patient in all our dealings with others. That’s a massive challenge and we need constant help from God to transform us from our default selfishness into people that demonstrate these qualities. They are very similar to the fruits of the spirit and character traits that need to be developed and nurtured with self-control, discipline and staying close to God to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.
Meekness is our attitude towards ourselves in the light of the previous two beatitudes. Having acknowledged our spiritual poverty and mourned for our sinfulness we realize that we need to depend on God for everything and we come to him with humility.
We cannot rely on our own efforts for spiritual blessing and we don’t have to fight and trample over others to get ahead and succeed. The blessing promised here is also surprising -they will inherit the earth! You would expect the meek to get nowhere because everybody ignores them and they get walked over.
It is the opposite of the worldview that springs from secular thinking and evolutionary theory -it is not survival of the fittest! It is not the toughest, strongest, dominant who succeed. It is those who are meek who are blessed.
Meekness is not weakness! Meekness is confidence in Christ and all that he has achieved for us. Meekness is such a rich and beautiful thing it is difficult to fully explore it here, but I’ll give you a few aspects as an overview –
Meek people commit their way to God and trust him to sustain them through the obstacles and pressure of life.
- Meek people have a steady calm that comes from knowing God
- Meek people are unconcerned when the wicked prosper and seem to have the upper hand and do not give into anger and resentment
- Meek people do not seek anger and revenge and leave judgement and vindication in God’s hands.
- Meek people are slow to speak and quick to listen
- Meek people are teachable and discerning
- Meek people do not lack passion and conviction, but are able to remain calm and stand up for truth in the face of adversity.
Do you recognise these traits? They are the very things that Jesus demonstrated whilst on earth!
Meekness goes against the grain because it leaves us open and vulnerable, and instead of fighting our own corner, we have to rely on God to vindicate and defend us.
I see it like this -we have been promised an eternal inheritance and everything that the father has is ours. There is nothing the world can offer us and nothing that man can achieve that is greater than what God has already promised us. We need to have confidence in this and what God thinks of us, not what the world thinks of us.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
This is the last beatitude we will look at this morning. So far we have seen how being poor in spirit leads us to mourn for our sin and the state of the world, which in turn creates in us an attitude of meekness. Theses three things lead us to have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. We should have a spiritual appetite for change in the world and put these things into practice.
This appetite is only possible if we are hungry, and we can only be hungry if we are not filled with other things. If our lives are too full and busy with our own efforts to succeed and if we are filling our time and using our energy to work out our own righteousness, we will have no appetite for what Christ has to offer.
This short story illustrates the point well:
There was once a man lost in a desert. He was dying for a drink of water. He stumbled upon an old, weather-beaten shack. Sat down in the shade of the shack to get away from the heat of the desert sun. About 15 feet away there was a rusty, old water pump. He dragged himself over to it and began to pump up and down, up and down. Nothing! Bone dry!
Disappointed he sank to the ground. As he glanced around he noticed an old jug in a corner with a message written on the old label. ”You have to prime the pump with all the water in this jug, my friend. P. S.: Be sure you fill the jug again before you leave.”
He unscrewed the cap and sure enough there was a jug full of water. Now he was faced with a decision. He could drink the water and survive awhile; OR he could pour all the water into the rusty old pump, and maybe it would yield fresh, cool water from the deep well. He could have all the water he wanted.
What should he do? There was no telling how long ago those instructions were written.
Nervously he picked up the jug and walked over to the well and poured all the water into the pump. Then he grabbed the handle of the pump and began to pump as fast as he could. . . squeak, squeak, squeak the old leather valves sounded like they were tearing apart. Then a little bit of water began to dribble out, then a little more water, and finally it gushed forth. Clean, clear, cold, fresh water poured out the rust old pump. He drank and almost drowned himself in the beautiful, clear water.
Then he filled the jug for the next weary traveller. Before setting the jug down he added this note: ”Believe me, it really works. You have to give it all away before you can get anything back.”
Jesus promises to give us the water of life that satisfies, but we need to surrender to him first and give up our own agenda and rights before he can fill us. He promises to fill us to overflowing with his living water
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 he says to her “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”
How does this work out in our lives?
Jesus top priority for us is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else will follow! It is not a legalistic piety that leads to righteousness. It is being filled with the Holy Spirit and being transformed so that we are becoming more Christ-like.
We are called to bear witness to God’s righteousness is every area of our lives. In practice that means having integrity with our finances and tax returns, standing up for Justice and equality in the workplace, honouring our husbands and wives, teaching our children how to live according to God’s word, helping the poor and needy -whether that be on our doorstep or the other side of the world.
Just like with the other spiritual characteristics, they are perpetual and part of an ongoing process. Just like eating food, we will be temporarily satisfied by eating breakfast, but we still need lunch and dinner. We will only be truly satisfied when we reach heaven because. For now we live in an imperfect world and that should move us to hunger and thirst for justice and mercy, which are integral to righteousness.
Philip Greenslade says – “Disciples are those who long for God to be all in all, who pray for God’s heavenly will to be done on earth’s stage, who are learning to want what God wants and to feel what God feels. Followers of Jesus are those whose deepest hunger and thirst can never be satisfied by anything less than God’s Kingdom because they have read the menu, tasted the hors d’oeuvres and now long for the final feast.”
The Beatitudes are paradoxical and counter-cultural. They completely turn the world’s priorities upside down, where the poor, sorrowful, meek and hungry are blessed. They preach a message of the first being last, and the last being first.
They encapsulate Jesus teaching and ministry and in a few short sentences sum up what it is to be a disciple of a God who has abundant blessing in store for those who recognise that they are in desperate need of salvation and restoration.
They are not intended to beat us over the head and set an impossible spiritual standard that we can never achieve. They describe the life that we are called to live so that we participate in the Kingdom of God and reap the reward that God has in store. Jesus describes radical discipleship, but it needs to be radical because the alternative is death and separation from God forever!
Like the man that found treasure buried in a field and sold everything he had to buy the field, it takes sacrifice and the cost is high, but there is no greater way to live and no greater inheritance to be gained!
We only see a fraction of the blessing now and although at times it may be painful to follow this teaching, one day we will see the blessing in full.
The beatitudes show is that blessing doesn’t come in the form of living standards, wealth or prosperity. True blessing is knowing a God who gives hope to the hopeless; who loves the unlovable; who comforts those who mourn, who feeds those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, no matter what the cost.
God blesses us by enabling us not only to experience this through our heavenly father, but he also imparts these qualities in us so that we may bless others. Our response to this should always be “Lord, change me to be more like you and use me to bless others as I have been blessed that your kingdom may come on earth as in heaven”
Jesus wants you to come to him just as you are so that he can bless you with a deeper relationship with him and the promise of being a member of his heavenly kingdom.
There are stages of our spiritual journey described in the beatitudes and wherever we find ourselves on this journey this morning, there is both challenge and encouragement that we can take.
- You may feel spiritually poor and empty – This is a good starting place! Come before God and acknowledge your poverty and spiritual dependance. He will show you the Kingdom of Heaven and give you the blessing that comes from a hope of a certain future
- You may be filled with sorrow and mourning, either for state of your own heart or in the life or others – Bring your brokenness to Jesus and he will comfort you, and enable you to comfort others. No matter how low your opinion is of yourself, he will welcome you with open arms.
- Maybe you are struggling with being meek – Perhaps you feel weak or have realised that you have been fighting your own battles and need to give them to God. Allow God to develop in you an attitude of meekness and give you confidence. He will give you the inheritance he has promised.
- You may find yourself thirsty and hungry righteousness but your life is too full of other things that crowd Jesus out. Come to Jesus with open hearts and hands and he will fill you to overflowing with his living water.