Matthew 5–“Blessed: The Beatitudes”
“Blessed”—Matthew 5: 1-12, The Beatitudes
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church, Jan. 29, 2017
Imagine, for a second, a group of men. Rough at the edges, some probably lacking personal hygiene skills, others lacking the verbal “filter” that would get them some “side glances” from proper church ladies. Some of the men are rabble-rousers—always ready to start an argument, throw a fit, or get in a screaming match. Maybe a couple of them have even been arrested before. Some are the kind of slithering, slimy business-men that you wouldn’t trust as far as you can throw them. A couple are educated, but most have spent their lives in the school of “hard knocks” instead of studying books. They’re homeless, and often rely on the kindness of other people to feed them and house them for the night. Some of them used to have good jobs, but some time ago they just walked out of their jobs, and now they’re unemployed. They’re a general group of rag-tag drifters.
Imagine this group of men—I’m sure that you have a good picture of them in your mind by now. (Maybe you can even smell them.) And now imagine that Jesus chose these men to be the leaders—the foundation stones—of His Church. These “rough around the edges” men, these temper-tantrum-inclined men, these uneducated men, these homeless and needy men—Jesus specifically chose these men, out of all the people on the earth, to begin the Church, the Body of Christ here on earth.
Does it go against everything that we would do if we were making the decisions? Yes. Do we understand it all the time? No. Do we sometimes wish that Jesus would’ve chosen different people? Maybe. But Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddeus, Simon, and yes—even Judas. Jesus knew that what God values isn’t what the world values. Jesus understood that the principles of this world are opposite of the principles of heaven. And with His coming, with “Immanuel—God with us”, Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven—a kingdom where God’s reality is upside-down from the world’s reality.
In our text for today, Jesus goes up on a mountainside to teach. He’s been going about healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. The newly-called 12-disciples have come along for the ride, and are just beginning to learn who Jesus really is. After a whirl-wind trip through Galilee, Jesus walks up one of His favorite hillsides, the hill named Eremos. At the top, He could see a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding villages. I can imagine that He is tired—and yet, there’s so much more work to do. Realizing that He needs to teach the twelve just what the Kingdom of heaven is, He sits down—taking the normal stance of a rabbi and teacher—and begins to teach them.
The Beatitudes—what we read for our scripture today—are just the beginning of a longer teaching that are typically entitled “The Sermon on the Mount”. It goes all the way from Matthew 5 through Matthew 7. Jesus teaches the twelve disciples their first basic instruction about the Gospel and the Kingdom. And as He teaches them, He also teaches us. For a disciple is anyone who has made a commitment to follow Jesus the Messiah, and live in His grace.
As Jesus begins to unpack what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about, we quickly realize that our entire perception of life and values is going to need an over-haul. Now that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, life looks a lot different than it did before, for all who are invited into it. Now that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, the typical boundaries, prejudices, confines, margins, partialities, and biases that the world places upon us are stripped away. What remains is a sort of “flipped-around” ideal and identity from the world’s view. What remains is what God says is important. What remains is the reality of real life and heart transformation that will happen in the heart of anyone who participates in Kingdom life.
As Jesus begins His teaching, His first words are words of “blessing”. The word “Beatitude” is actually taken from the Latin word “Beatus”. The old Latin Bibles used this word to translate the Greek word “makarios”. “Makarios” is a state of existence in relationship to God in which a person is “blessed” from God’s perspective—even when he or she doesn’t feel happy, or isn’t presently experiencing good fortune. Nothing can take away the blessedness of those who exist in relationship with God. Author Max Lucado put it this way: “Blessing is sacred delight…It is good news coming through the back door of your heart. It is what you have always dreamed but never expected. It’s the too-good-to-be-true coming true. It is having God as your biggest fan, and your best friend. It is sacred because only God can grant it. It is delight because it thrills.” (Max Lucado, “The Applause of Heaven”)
So Jesus begins talking about the Kingdom of Heaven by telling His disciples who in the Kingdom is “blessed”. And it’s not who they were expecting. The world would tell them—would tell us—that those who are blessed are rich, those who are blessed are experiencing good status in society and their relationships, those who are blessed assert themselves over others to get ahead, those who are blessed crave power and prestige, those who are blessed give people what they deserve, those who are blessed follow all the rules, those who are blessed fight for what is theirs, those who are blessed live comfortable lives, and those who are blessed are loved by everyone.
But Jesus says—“Not so in the Kingdom of Heaven”. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven plays by God’s rules, not the world’s”. And so, in the Kingdom of Heaven:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)
All those who are poor—economically poor, spiritually and emotionally oppressed, disillusioned, and in need of God’s help—are considered “blessed” in God’s Kingdom. Why? Because in their state they have come to the realization that they have no resources, no materials, no means or assets that can help them before God. They come to God fully exposed and helpless—arms open and in need of Him. It’s only from this posture of openness and poverty that one is ready to receive the blessings of Kingdom life.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:4)
Losing anything can produce mourning—a loved one, financial support, status in society, even a once robust and healthy (but now deteriorating) relationship with God. We also mourn oppression, persecution, social evil, and sin. But in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who mourn are “blessed”. Why? Because God is a god of comfort (Isaiah 40:1 God cries out, “Comfort, comfort, my people!”), and He longs to bring that comfort to His people. As we mourn with those who mourn, we become the instruments of the Good news of the Kingdom of heaven through the comfort of God we bring to others. Since we have been comforted, we will comfort others.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (5:5)
The “meek” are people who don’t assert themselves over others in order to get their own way, advance their own causes, or gain power. Instead of being domineering, aggressive, or harsh, they’re gentle and selfless. These people are considered “blessed” in the Kingdom, as they mimic Jesus’ gentle posture and quiet strength. The “meek” person can patiently bear much, to bring about God’s plans for His people.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (5:6)
When you “hunger” or “thirst”, you’re in dreadful need. Everything in your being needs to be filled. This is what it’s like to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”. “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness desire to see justice executed on earth, they long to experience a deeper ethical righteousness in their own lives, and most of all, they crave God’s promised salvation come to earth.” (Michael J. Wilkins, “The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew”, p. 207) Their desire for salvation will be filled, righteousness will come, and justice will reign. That’s why they are “blessed”.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (5:7)
God never gives us what we deserve—and He calls us to do the same for others. Those who are merciful forgive the guilty, help the needy, and show kindness to the hurting. When we experience the amazing mercy of God towards us—unworthy though we are—it produces in our hearts such gratitude that we will in turn demonstrate that same mercy towards others, even though they are also unworthy and undeserving.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (5:8)
In Jesus’ world, purity and cleanliness were a big deal—especially to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. But no matter how “clean” a person was on the outside, they could still have a heart filled with sin. Jesus said that those who allow God to work in them from the “inside-out”, touching their hearts and allowing a pure heart to produce external purity, will be “blessed”. And when we give access to our hearts to Jesus—Immanuel, “God with us”—we are invited into fellowship with Him in which we will experience the unthinkable: We will see God in Jesus.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (5:9)
God is ultimate peace, and longs to bring about harmony between all people (Isaiah 52:7). The peacemakers Jesus talks about as “blessed” are those who respond to Jesus the Peacemaker’s ministry and reflect the character of their Heavenly Father as they go about the holy work of healing divisions.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10)
When you stand up for God’s righteousness (the kind that says I am only righteous through what Jesus has done for me on the cross), instead of the world’s form of self-righteousness (which says I can make myself “holy” by the things that I do), sometimes persecution happens. Sometimes, the hazards of standing up for the truth are great. But Jesus here comforts those who have suffered underserved persecution. As difficult as the torment is, the reward—the Kingdom of heaven—far outweighs the threat.
“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.” (5:11-12)
Following Jesus isn’t always easy, and Jesus knew that. As He sat and prepared His disciples for a life lived following Him, He wanted to instruct them about all that they should expect. He Himself was insulted, lied about, persecuted, imprisoned, and worse. He knew that these same things would be done to His followers. But in the same breath that He offers warning, He also offers hope. Followers of Jesus are “blessed” because of all of this, because they are truly heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.
With each of the “Blessed” statements of the Beatitudes, Jesus invites the disciples—invites us—to respond to His announcements of the Kingdom of Heaven. With each of the “Blessed” statements, Jesus pronounces that the Kingdom is available to all—no matter who you are, what your resources are, what your background is, or what amount of power and prestige you have. With each of the “Blessed” statements, Jesus shows the disciples—and us—what a true Christ-changed heart and life will look like.
The Beatitudes aren’t a “rule of living” for Christians. They’re not a list of things to “do to get into heaven”. What the Beatitudes do is reflect the kind of heart, the kind of life, that blossoms in a person when Christ is invited in and allowed to dramatically and radically re-shape that person from the inside-out.
Today, we are being invited—like that group of rag-tag, unworthy disciples—to join the Kingdom of Heaven. We are being invited to come to Jesus just as we are—not trying to be anything we aren’t, but realizing that in our neediness and brokenness, in our hurt and pain, that we are in a perfect place to be begin the process of heart-change discipleship with our Lord and Savior.
The disciples heard the message of the Sermon on the Mount, and they responded. In their response, they were blessed, because their lives were changed from self-serving lives to lives focused on Jesus. Today, we hear that same sermon, and are invited to have the same transformation happen in our own hearts. It’s an upside-down reality, this Kingdom of Heaven. But it’s the most wonderful reality we could ever imagine. Are you going for it? I know I am. Amen.