The Sermon on the Mount, Part 3

group of people on a mountain at sunrise

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s children.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others insult you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:3–12

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and insult you and slander your name, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Luke 6:20–23

Jesus begins the sermon with a series of paradoxical statements that are both shocking and memorable. But his pronouncement of who finds favor in God’s eyes confuses the crowd–Jesus’s words are contrary to what they have been taught all their lives. The people of Israel believe wealth and power are signs of God’s approval, but Jesus paints a radically different picture. He blesses those who depend solely on God and condemns those who trust in themselves.

Jesus explains the deeper meaning of the Psalms and Prophets by using a literary form familiar to his audience–beatitudes. David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel used beatitudes to announce God’s blessings.

There are eight beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel and four in Luke’s account. The English word beatitude (from the Latin, beatus, “blessing”) is a translation of the Hebrew word asre in the Old Testament and the Greek word makarios in the New Testament.

A beatitude is a commendation and description of one who is in God’s favor.

A good translation of asre/makarios would be, “it will be well with.” Jesus does not deny the hurts and hardships of the downtrodden who follow him–their hardships are real, and life is not always pleasant, but he promises his apprentices an abundant life regardless of circumstances. And while their physical needs may not be met, and they may even die, they can be content and rest in God’s shalom (the heavenly peace and assurance that accompanies faith) because they know they are eternally secure. Seek first to live in the center of God’s will, Jesus says, and God will take care of you in this life and the next.

In the coming weeks, we will look at each beatitude in detail, and we’ll discover that they are not a list of rules about how to behave in various situations. In fact, the behaviors mentioned in the beatitudes (e.g., the ability to turn the other cheek without resentment) are not things we can do on our own–they can only be accomplished by God’s grace at work in our lives over a period of time.

The beatitudes describe the character of one who is committed to Jesus. They recount the values, motivations, and eventual abilities of the man or woman or girl or boy who follows Jesus. But the ability to ungrudgingly turn the other cheek or rejoice when persecuted does not come naturally. When we give our life to Jesus, our spirit is reborn, but our body remains unchanged. And since we are incarnate beings (we live from our body), our bodily predispositions must also be transformed, and our body won’t be transformed by talking at it.

That’s where the training comes in. In his sermon, Jesus will explain to his apprentices how they can participate with God in the changes he wants to make in their life. Changes that will eventually result in them becoming the kind of person that, under the right circumstances, would joyfully take a slap on the cheek or walk the extra mile.

But Jesus knew that his disciples were not spiritually strong enough to “be glad” when people hated them or to “leap for joy” when persecuted. Not on that day. But Jesus also knew he was preaching to men and women who would one day be able to respond that way. And through them, he is speaking to you and me.

Spend some time this week reflecting on the beatitudes and asking yourself how many of these characteristics are present in your life today. And if you are tempted to condemn yourself, remember that God is not done with you. He who began a good work in you will complete it. That’s God’s promise. In his sermon, Jesus explains how it happens and how we can participate with God in the transformation he is working in us–we can do things like pray and forgive and be honest and avoid partiality and live in the moment and much more that Jesus will explain in the sermon.

If you are interested in learning what you can do to facilitate the rich and rewarding life God wants for you, this sermon will give you Jesus’s answer in his own words. And he starts with an identity statement: the beatitudes.

 

Next: Blessed are the poor in spirit

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