By Nicole McLeod
We’re going to taking a fresh look at the teachings of Jesus known as “The Beatitudes.” These are the opening statements of Jesus’ well-known Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7. These life changing messages spoke powerfully then to call people to turn to Jesus, and follow Him, and they speak just as powerfully today. Matthew’s gospel gives us this longest account of this sermon, and a very good idea of the kinds of teachings that Jesus was presenting all throughout Galilee at this stage in His earthly ministry. The sermon only takes about 15 minutes to read, and yet it addresses some of the most important aspects of the Christian life and shows us a true righteousness, from God and what that looks like in the life of Jesus’ followers. He gets to the heart of where true righteousness is to come from, not from external observances, but from a transformed heart and character.
These beautiful and powerful teachings are expanded upon throughout the NT which helps us understand them more. So, I’m excited to see God use these Beatitudes as we seek to apply them in our lives today – there is such sweetness and beauty in them. May the Lord minister to our hearts as we study them together.
Matthew had written of Jesus’ move from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:13-25), in fulfillment of OT prophesy (Isaiah 9:1-2), bringing the true light from heaven into the darkness of this region. Jesus came announcing the arrival of God’s promised and long-awaited King and Kingdom, inviting people to come follow Him, repent and turn to Him and become part of the Kingdom of Heaven. He went about teaching and preaching, healing and delivering people, and a large and diverse crowd had gathered to follow Him as He began his earthly ministry.
Jesus led them (like a shepherd) to a hill overlooking the beautiful shores of Galilee, where He there spoke to His disciples about life in the Kingdom and by the end of the Sermon, (Matt. 7:28) tells us, the people who heard His message “were amazed.”
Matt. 5:1 “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, (This phrase describes how Jesus used his voice in a strong and solemn way to speak to His followers.)
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
There are a few things I’d like to note about the Beatitudes, before we apply them to our lives.
First thing to note is that these beatitudes are not “new laws” given by Jesus. Rather help us understand what is to be the heart attitudes, character qualities and lifestyle of those who belong to Jesus and are part of His Kingdom. It is by design these beatitudes lead one to another in a progressive way.
Second thing to note about the beatitudes is that Jesus begins his Sermon (not with commandments) but with proclamations of God’s blessings, “Beatitudes”. The word Beatitude comes from the Latin word for blessed – beautus – this word speaks of divine joy and perfect happiness, and the inner satisfaction the Lord gives to those who trust in Him. It’s the kind of happiness that comes when we know we belong to Jesus and are made right with God. The Greek word for “blessed” is Makarios, used to describe a person who is especially favored by God and who is therefore fortunate because of it.
Third thing to note is that along with their beautiful simplicity, these beatitudes are paradoxical. They don't make sense from a worldly perspective. If someone say’s "Blessed are the wealthy, blessed are the healthy, blessed are the beautiful," that would make sense to the world today. The Beatitudes are proclamations of the Lord. These aren't feelings and emotions. Whether you feel blessed or not, Jesus is making a proclamation that when you are in Christ, and His Holy Spirit is at work in your life, and as these attitudes are found in you, you are blessed.
*"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
To be poor “in spirit” does not mean to be sad or depressed. It means we realize we are spiritually, “in spirit”, poverty stricken, referring to the heart attitudes, not outward circumstances. It is the opposite of being rich in pride and comes with having a humble and honest view of ourselves before God. It’s our first step in coming to Him when we admit that only through Jesus’ sacrifice can we experience His blessing and enter His Kingdom. When we pray with someone to receive Christ, we often lead them to begin their prayer with this attitude saying something like, ‘Lord, I know that I am a sinner’… this expresses an attitude “poor in spirit.”
We see a beautiful picture of this attitude in the simple parable Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 “He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: (that’s how “self-righteous “people treat other people, they look down upon them with contempt.)
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[ a ] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
One of these men saw their need and came to God “poor in spirit”, and he received the mercy of God rather than the other didn’t who didn’t see his need.
This beatitude is not teaching people to think too lowly of themselves. Some struggle with a low view of themselves. If this is you, remember that Christ loves you so much that He died for you on the cross and paid there for all of your sins, past, present and future. And in Christ, you have the grace and mercy of God at all times, and you can do all things “through Him who strengthens” you. We need to keep this balance. We need to see ourselves in Christ who has given us all things pertaining to the kingdom, His righteousness, His holy Spirit, His blessings and all the promises of God. Paul wrote in Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, which means seriously and honestly, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” We need to think with sober judgment, not thinking too lowly or too highly of ourselves. We have to keep that balance. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, He is intending to draw us to God in this humble attitude, but recognize the difference between conviction and condemnation, which is not from God. Condemnation is from the enemy and makes you feel too lowly to come to God. Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ and who we are apart from Him helps to keep this balance.
The result of being poor in spirit is that we will “ inherit the kingdom of heaven”. The kingdom of heaven, also called the kingdom of God, is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching, mentioned 126 times in the gospels and 34 times additionally in the NT(ESV). * 10 times Jesus introduces parables with the words “the kingdom of God is like. Matthew makes it clear that God is sovereign over-all and that his kingdom rule will someday be brought to a “glorious consummation.” The kingdom belongs to those who “enjoy and accept Messiahs’ reign and blessings.” God has gladly chosen to give the kingdom to those who humbly come to him and trust Him. (Luke 12:32). This Beatitude is first because it is where we must all start with God. We can’t come to Him in self-righteousness, we must repent of all of that, and come to him humbly.
* 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Jesus is speaking about the grief we feel over the consequences of sin. We mourn over our own sin, as well the sin and its devastating effects we see in the world around us. This is a heart attitude of “Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and leaves no regret.” (2 Cor 7:10)
“Comfort, comfort my people,” wrote the prophet in Isaiah 40:2. Why? Because “her sin has been paid for.”
Those who mourn will be comforted by God The word for comforted is from Parakaleo – the same word that as a noun is rendered “Comforter or Helper” in John 14:16 speaking of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more comforting that knowing that you are forgiven of sin, that you have a right relationship with Christ, are filled with His Holy Spirit and are going to heaven. He walks with us to comfort us. “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…”2 Corinthians 1:3-4a. NIV.
We suffer earthly sorrows and grief, and we mourn over losses, and yet we don’t despair as those who don’t know Christ, because there is great comfort in the gospel, and we look forward to the day when sin and death will be removed forever.
*5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The word here for meek in the Greek is also translated gentle. It is seen in a submissive will and obedience to God. When some hear the word meek, they think it means weak, but what it means is power that is harnessed – power under control. Think of a horse that is powerful but under a harness. We have power but yield to the rule of Christ through the Holy Spirit within us.
There are many biblical examples of meekness. In Nu. 12:3, Moses was called the meekest man who had yet ever lived. Jesus referred to himself as “meek and lowly in heart” and told us to learn of Him. Matt. 11:28-9, “ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” The Jews were looking for their long-awaited Messiah to come as a powerful deliverer equipped with political, military and miracle power. They did not expect Him to come humbly and meekly. Meekness is the way of the NT. It fits with an attitude of receptiveness towards God with which we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit and His Word into our lives.
James 1:21 “Therefore put away all filthiness and the overflow of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” When we receive the Word with meekness, we will believe it and obey it and it will bear fruit in our lives.
This is also the spirit with which we are to witness of Christ to others. 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”
If you are meek towards God, you will be sensitive to His word, to His voice, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We will be quick to bow in prayer, to respond and yield to His ways as He reveals them. Meekness is listed with the fruit of the Spirit and is the opposite of a proud arrogant attitude. The promise is for all who are in the New Covenant. “ the meek, (gentle) Our blessing of “inheriting the earth” comes now- we have all we need as we live in God’s love and care. It also has a future meaning of our inheritance kept in Heaven where this promise will be fulfilled in a far more glorious way than we can imagine. This gives us hope and happiness now.
* “ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”
This speaks of having a strong desire to live an upright life that pleases God - a hunger to be more like Christ in what we say or do. Our soul has an appetite only He can fill – and He blesses it to overflowing. For the unbeliever, this appetite is to lead to Christ and to salvation, as Augustine put it “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” In the believer, this appetite becomes a strong desire for righteousness leads to our sanctification and it whets our appetite for more of God. When we come to God poor in spirit, mourning over sin, in meekness, and come to Christ, we are given a new heart and life, and a new spiritual passion. We find knowing God to be so satisfying that it whets our appetite for more of Him in our lives. I had little or no spiritual hunger and desire until I gave my life to Christ. But one of the ways I knew he had come into my life was the new hunger and thirst I had for righteousness. This hunger and thirst ultimately, we will be fully satisfied when the kingdom is consummated.
Jesus said, in John 7:37-39 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’”
Which brings me to ask this important question. Does it sometimes feel impossible to measure up to God’s standards or even to these sweet beatitudes? Have you been trying in your own efforts to please God, or live the Christian life? I think most of us feel we fall short, and that is what should bring us to seek God’s help. We cannot live a holy life in our own power. This is where the rest of the New Testament teachings help us to see the big picture and rightly apply these Beatitudes in our lives.
John 3:3 Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We enter the Kingdom through the new birth, but we enjoy the kingdom by living for those things that please God most. We must be born again by praying to receive Christ. And then, it’s the internal heart changes that will bring about external life changes. Have you received Christ into your heart and are you asking to be filled the Holy Spirit? None of these attitudes can be lived out apart from Him. If you would like to pray today with someone for help, there are women here who would love to pray with you and talk with you when we break for prayer time. These heart attitudes cannot be mustered up inside of us apart from Christ in us.
John 4 tells us of an “outcast” woman at Jacob’s well of water . John 4:13-14, “Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Whatever we try to fill our lives with – relationships, success, any other thing but Christ, we will continue to hunger and thirst. Where there is this desire for righteousness, there will be filling, and the filling will be Christ Himself. Nothing else will ever satisfy.
In proclaiming God’s blessings through these beatitudes, we see how Jesus gets to the heart of things inside us because that’s where real change happens. Christ indwelling us gives us the desire to do God’s will from the heart. These changes will be seen in our attitudes towards others, and towards the lost, and help us grow to become more like Christ. These are the subjects we will be looking at over the next few weeks. When our attitudes and thinking are right with God, our actions with others will fall in line. Picture the cross of Christ. The vertical relationship we have with God is key to the horizontal relationship being right with Him. When God brings change within my heart, I influence those around me. My family and friends will see a changed person. Christians who live with these attitudes will be effective witnesses and examples of Christ to a lost and hurting world.
Prayer: We are truly blessed to be a part of your great kingdom. Thank you for these Beatitudes, Lord for they show us a pure and true righteousness that You alone can bring into our lives as we follow you. They also show us our dependence upon you Jesus and Your righteousness. Use these teachings in all of our lives we pray. \In Jesus Name.