“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These blessings are referred to as The Beatitudes coming from the Latin word for blessed. Jesus gave this list in following with a tradition that goes back throughout the Old Testament. Jewish rabbis continue pronouncing blessings in this form. The Greek word for blessing means deep happiness or a person who is fortunate. These pronouncements of blessings lift up certain groups of people and say they are fortunate or blessed by the Lord.
What values would current American culture call blessed?
Some American Culture Beatitudes (according to Matt):
- Blessed are the attractive, for they will have many likes on social media and opportunities for romantic relationships.
- Blessed are the wealthy, for they will be able to retire at a relatively young age without financial insecurity and can afford to take awesome vacations.
- Blessed is the company that has a competitive advantage and therefore puts its competitors out of business.
- Blessed are the powerful, for no one in the boardroom will be able to stand up to their confidence and competence, and they can put others in their place.
- Blessed are the parents whose children are financially self-sufficient, for their bills will be lighter, and their headaches will be less frequent.
- Blessed are the healthy, wealthy, and wise; blessed are the successful and the smart; blessed are the ones who make something of themselves; and above all, blessed are those who win.
But what does Jesus say? We will be surprised and deeply challenged if we hear what He says.
For context, Jesus was just baptized. Matthew 4:17 “From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of heaven is the reign and rule of God on Earth. People were surprised at the time because they did not expect this reign to come in the form of a carpenter performing healing miracles.
Matthew 4:23-35; 5:1-2 “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan followed him. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”
2 Important Interpretive Keys:
– These statements are in the context of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
– They are made to an audience filled with broken and unimportant people.
Everybody from the crowds was the sick, struggling, poor, broken, possessed. They followed Jesus because they wanted to learn from Him. These people are the sat on, spat upon, and ratted on. Jesus spoke to them.
The Beatitudes are not commandments or formulas by which we gain the favor of God. They are descriptions of the people who will be most fortunate in light of the arrival of the kingdom of God. This group reflects who Jesus first brought the kingdom to.
These statements are a radical reversal of the values of this world. We are meant to reorient our lives.
V. 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Greek word for poor refers to being absolutely destitute. Some scholars think this refers to an awareness of spiritual poverty. Others believe it is a description of the spiritual condition of those to whom Jesus is speaking. Meaning they are poor at being spiritual. Both perspectives are true. Still, Jesus looks at them and says, “You are so fortunate because the kingdom is for you.”
V. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This form of the word “mourn” is a loud, intense word” deeply devastated, overwhelming sorrow. Mourning is an expression of pain. According to Jesus, the people who face and feel their pain are ready for the kingdom and its comfort.
V. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” In this culture, being meek was despised. It meant being shy, unassertive, intimidated, having no social capital, and unimportant. Jesus tells them they are important in the kingdom.
V. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” In this case, “righteousness” refers to “right relationships.” Today, we have a similar saying, “He did right by him.” Jesus says the people who see the brokenness in the world and long for justice are blessed. They will see the kingdom come and the Lord’s will be done.
The first 4 Beatitudes above are about people being broken, and the remaining 5 are about the people who help the broken.
V. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” The merciful are those whose hearts break for others and demonstrate love for them, even when it is inconvenient.
V. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The pure in heart are those who long to do what is right. They will be blessed as they see God when and where others do not.
V. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Notice that he says peacemakers, not peacekeepers. This refers to people who pursue reconciliation. They are often misunderstood and lonely for not choosing a side but rather pursuing reconciliation between both parties. Jesus calls them blessed as they are following the behavior of Jesus.
V. 10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The idea that many Christians have today that we should be totally accepted in our culture is a brand new idea. In the past, Christians were disliked, marginalized, and persecuted. Jesus tells us to rejoice in those times as we share in the sufferings of Jesus, and great is our reward in Heaven.
How do we respond to The Beatitudes?
If we truly believe what Jesus is saying here, then the way we evaluate everything has to change. Jesus revealed that the way we see the world is upside down.
- We have to see people differently. Who do you view as least fortunate? Those people are positioned best to experience the blessing of Jesus.
- We have to see the good life differently. “Maximize pleasure, minimize pain” is the world’s view that Jesus is reframing. Do not pursue pain, but do not despise those feelings. You are in a position to intuitively understand and receive the grace of God.
- We have to see Jesus differently. The characteristics Jesus describes are manifested in His own life. As we see and follow Jesus, those values are cultivated within us.