Take a second to see how “#blessed” is doing on Twitter at the moment. Some truly sweet things happening around us. Some people are signing on to play sports at the college level. Some are reuniting with loved ones. Some are bringing children into the world. Some are about to graduate high school and consider that a blessing. Good stuff. Thankful we have all of those things.
The thought of blessing is an interesting and exciting thing. That’s a live updating Twitter widget up above this paragraph, so every time you look at this post, it will show new and different tweets. But for the most part as I’ve been writing this, the tweets have centered around things like achieving life milestones and some admonitions to “be blessed”. Good stuff. Blessed stuff for sure. What I’ve been studying with my youth ministry however, is the most concentrated section on “blessing” we have in the Bible: the Beatitudes. A few simple statements to an audience that was living a hard, difficult life on how God was working and blessing in the midst of their struggles. It’s essentially the attention getter, the opening illustration for the Sermon on the Mount. The kind of statements that make you go…. “wait, what just happened?” And pay closer attention. The form of the word “blessed” Jesus uses here is seen 50 times in the New Testament, predominately with Jesus proclaiming blessing, and sometimes with Paul or James proclaiming a blessing. The greek (as much as my non Greek educated mind can put together) appears to be the combination of two ideas: “divine” and “happiness”. Greater than our own concepts of happiness, and different than other experiences with the divine, this is divine happiness. Blessing carries with it this idea of God bestowing favor, of the divine stepping in and intervening in our daily life.
A shorter list of similar concepts is found in Luke 6. Though we’re focusing on Matthew 5 today, the Luke 6 account shows that this was an important teaching of Jesus, that multiple writers felt compelled to include in their accounts. Let’s take a look at these statements of blessing.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit (for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven)
Immediately Jesus creates a stunning dichotomy for us; juxtaposing the poverty of those who are “poor in spirit” with the fullness, vibrance, and richness of spirit that is intrinsic to “the Kingdom”. But Jesus was a master of these kind of statements, wasn’t He? Honestly, this is my favorite beatitude. Jesus assures us, right of the gate, as the first statement of his sermon, that there is a place in the Kingdom for people who are poor in spirit. For it is at the moment of assuming we are spiritually rich, at the moment of “knowing” that we have all the answers that we should stop to re-examine our lives. Jesus shows us again and again that having a “poor” spirit is much more usable and precious in the eyes of God than having a hard spirit that appears to be “rich”. For example, contrast Jesus’ biting words against the Pharisees as “white washed tombs” versus the compassion and healing Jesus brings to the family of the man in Mark 9:24 who, at Jesus’ correction, has the humility to yell “I believe; help my unbelief!” One group (the spiritually rich) gets easily offended and assumes they know the ways of God better than Jesus. The other (the spiritually poor) realize how broken they are in front of God and come to Jesus in a state of dependence and sickness, needing the Great Doctor to bring about a new work in their life. Even as Jesus brings healing, the spiritually poor retain a posture of humility before their God, never claiming to have the ways of God figured out. The kingdom of heaven belongs to these.
So if you have a doubt, if your faith isn’t strong, if you are at the end of your rope and simply have a poor spirit right now, take heart. Assume a position of humility, because the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. Wow.
Blessed are those who Mourn (for they will be Comforted)
Every entrance into the Kingdom requires a death. When we enter the Kingdom at the time of our passing, we will die a physical death, but I think there’s more to this statement. If we choose to enter the Kingdom while we are still here on earth, we will need to mourn some things. We must give up some things in order to take on godliness and pursue Christ’s Kingdom. It’s painful. It hurts deeply and sometimes darkly. There may be a time of mourning as you walk away from the things that once tasted so sweet. As you become conformed to the image of Christ, He will call you to drop your sin, drop your imperfections to look more like Him.
If you are in mourning because you’ve given something up to follow Jesus. If that pain is still real, if you have shed tears because “being renewed in the knowledge of the image of the Creator” is difficult. If you are grieving the loss of your old life, your blessing is coming. You will be comforted. Jesus reminds us a little later that “there is no one who has left house or bothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold in this age — houses, brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life.” Your comfort is coming. Blessed are you who mourn.
Blessed are the Meek (for they shall Inherit the Earth)
Meek. Not a word we tend to use. Not an attitude that is generally celebrated in our context. An attitude of meekness carries it with it this idea of gentleness, not out of fear or cowardice, but a controlled demeanor that doesn’t provoke anyone to anger. The meek person handles their life situations with grace. The illustration I used with my youth was that of a setting a brand new sports car on cruise control so that you would have the fuel economy to make the long road trip rather than wasting all your gas on a few minutes of high speed fun. The meek person is strong enough to pick a fight an win, but chooses his battles for the sake of following Jesus better.
Blessed are you if you’ve been maintaining strength and patience for a long time in a situation where you should have simply exploded in rage, or broken down crying. You are mature enough to have a spirit-controlled heart, and I need to learn a lot from you. Blessed are you. You will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness (for they will be Filled)
We all want to do the right thing. Especially if it’s the easy choice, we very much want to do what is pleasing to God. But, I don’t know if I’ve ever been accused of having a hunger and thirst for righteousness. My family has a running joke about my eating habits. I have an active hunger and thirst for food and it magnifies horribly if I don’t have the opportunity to get some food on time. And let’s be honest, lunch really should be served at exactly noon. What if someone had the same level of thirst and hunger for righteousness? For God’s justice to be made manifest in all situations on earth? To not just accept world hunger and sex slavery and child abuse? What if we marched the streets, demanding justice for the downtrodden in society? What if we gave all our money to feed the hungry, all our time to cure those without access to healthcare, and educated those who don’t get the chance to go to school? We would be filled.
We can’t ourselves right every wrong in the world. But, we can be filled. God will fill us if only we let a true and holy hunger for his righteousness affect our lives. You don’t need to be full if you aren’t hungry. May we have this hunger so that we can experience what a godly filling is like.
Blessed are the Merciful (for they will Receive Mercy)
It has been said that though we use the terms “grace” and “mercy” interchangeably in our language today, that mercy actually takes grace a step further. Grace would look like telling someone “I forgive you” after something horrible. Grace is a great thing. Super undeserved. Mercy goes even further than that. Mercy says, “Not only do I forgive you, but I’m going to elevate you to a new level of trust and a new place of honor in my life.” Grace is a police officer not giving you a ticket when you deserve one; Mercy is the police officer giving the ticket to a perfect driver that wanted to pay it instead, and then give you a new car that’s much better than your current one. We would have much to rejoice about if we served a God that was just a God of grace… but it goes beyond that. We serve a God of mercy. Not only has our sin been forgiven, Sin and death have been annihilated. Not only does God accept us, we are friends…. more than that… children. Adopted into God’s family with a covenant of spotless blood. Co-heirs with Christ. May we be known as a people who in the face of injustice, in the face of our enemies, show an abundant grace… But may we grow to one day be mature enough to show mercy.
While we shouldn’t stand for the abuse of God’s creation, there is an abundance of mercy we should be showing to everyone around us. If we want to receive mercy, we must give mercy. Daily.
Blessed are the Pure in Heart (for they shall See God)
The concept of purity in the Bible is extremely important. Look at the Levitical law: page after page describing how to clean your body, your belongings… everything. As we continue through the Scriptures, the focus begins to shift from outer cleanliness to inner purity. By the time Jesus is speaking we see things like the rebuke of the Pharisees as “white washed tombs”; beautiful on the outside, but dead and rotting on the inside. Heart purity was very important to Jesus: He had a way of looking past the words and actions of people, to peer deep into their inner workings. He cared deeply about motivation. We may look at the previous two very outward beatitudes and feel good about ourselves; maybe we do a lot to see righteousness come about in this world, and maybe we’ve even become okay at showing mercy, but Jesus cuts a bit deeper here. If our motive and heart for seeing righteousness come and mercy served is not pure, if our intentions for serving the Kingdom aren’t simply for the sake of worshiping Jesus, it is worth nothing. Take a second to look through Psalm 51 with me. David is lifting up a mirror to his heart. He’s sinned in “big” ways, and had continually covered up that sin with “bigger” and “bigger” sins. Now the great king of Jerusalem, the man after God’s own heart, was sitting in anguish as he begged God, pleaded that God might create in him a clean heart… Oh God! Renew a steadfast spirit within him.
May we lift up the same mirror to our heart. Whether our sin is obvious like David’s, or whether we have simply been doing the right thing for selfish reasons, may the Spirit convict us of where our heart is not pure. May we cry out to God and plead for a clean heart. As the Lord forms a new, clean heart within us, that mirror will start to reflect God. The pure in heart will see God… because they see what the Creator’s heart looks like; what it feels, what it longs for, and what it abhors.
Blessed are the peacemakers (for they shall be Called sons of God)
Disclaimer. I base my interpretation of this beatitude almost completely on a conversation I had with my close friend Barron Sanders in a coffee shop two years ago. So. Take that for what it’s worth. We often look at the term “peacemaker” and mistake it for “peacekeeper”. Think about the two roles. They are actually completely different. Jesus’ audience was all too familiar with the concept of peacekeeping. They were living under the decree of “Pax Romana” or “Roman Peace”. This was an unsteady “peace” that simply stated any one who caused any form of disturbance or was thought to have caused or be planning to cause a disturbance would be killed. Sure, this process of peacekeeping created a quiet and calm that could imitate true peace, but the Jews knew that there was a greater peace. You see, they had been greeting one another with the word “shalom” for quite some while now. Translated, it means something close to “Peace to you”, but the peace there is much deeper than a Roman Peace. It’s a godly peace. As Paul puts it in Colossians 3, it’s the “peace of Christ” that needs to “dwell in us richly”. This peace takes work to achieve. This peace takes a work of God moving in a people.
This means that peacemaker should be working hard for the best peace. This may take some difficult steps and involve breaking down some barriers. This is not a forced unity, but true reconciliation. For it is in true reconciliation that we get the chance to be called a child of God.
Blessed are those who are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake (for theirs is the Kingdom)
Not everyone who is persecuted is persecuted for righteousness sake. But following Jesus will bring about persecution. And if we’re doing it right, the persecution will come “for righteousness sake”. Look at the things Jesus was persecuted for: healing on a sabbath, revealing God’s Temple to be a den of thieves, exposing the inner decay of outwardly beautiful priests, etc. Oh that we would be persecuted because we were healing and making broken things whole on the “wrong” day. Or that we were helping our brothers and sisters see their inner decay. Or that we were driving out predators from the Temple. Jesus was persecuted for stopping at nothing to make this world look more like the kingdom. He wasn’t “persecuted” by His government. He wasn’t even “persecuted” by unbelievers. He was persecuted by the faithful. A quick note though. This final beatitude is paired with the same promise as the first one was: both the “poor in spirit” and the persecuted are given the Kingdom. I’m not under the impression that those are two different groups. I actually think this is one group of people. In our pursuit of righteousness, in our pursuit of holiness, may we never lose the poor spirit we began with. May we never become a people that seeks persecution just so we can feel holy. For the second we think we are good enough to have the Kingdom figured out, we’ve lost it.
May we follow Jesus closely and radically enough that it makes our church a little uncomfortable. For what we give up in this world will be ours in the Kingdom.
And… well that’s it. For this section of scripture. Jesus’ longest teaching on blessings. The gifts he promises? Great things. Comfort, satisfaction, mercy, the title “sons of God”, the inheritance of the earth, and the Kingdom itself. In this passage, Jesus never mentions blessing coming through money or materials. While I certainly feel those can be blessings in their own right, the ones Jesus explicitly promises to us are much, much more valuable. May we go forth blessed, and continually blessing the world around us.