We are all familiar with the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5) and those famous lines Jesus says at the beginning which we now refer to as the ‘Beatitudes’. But have you ever actually thought about what each of those means? When translated directly from the Greek there is an amazing rush of poetry and power that overtakes you. The text is not saying what many assume by first glance. We must look at the context of what Jesus is saying, and also to whom he is speaking to really understand what it means.
Prior to Jesus speaking, he goes up a mountain and sits down. His disciples come to him, and then he begins to teach them. Notice that he is teaching his disciples, not the general crowd. He has gone up on the mountain to get away from the crowd, and now tells those who desire to follow him wholeheartedly what is required.
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. – Matthew 5:1-2
Lets look at each line of the ‘Beatitudes’ and break it down, knowing that Jesus is speaking to people who desire to follow him. First we will write out what the Bible says (NIV), and then the translation from the Greek (in quotes).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Happy are those who are reduced to beggary, destitute, powerless, helpless, and needy in spirit – the vital principle by which the body is animated – for they will exist with authority to rule that region where the clouds and tempests gather – the Heavens where God dwells.”
There are many times when the Bible speaks of a man’s spirit as opposed to the Holy Spirit. Man has his own spirit – or soul. It is important for us to recognize this because if we believe we are soul-less then there is no need to be saved. This first ‘Beatitude’ speaks directly to the soul inside the man. Are you broken, in need of repair, but there is no help to be found? Do you know that God exists but cannot seem to get to Him or even speak to Him? Does that push you even further down inside and make you feel powerless? This is the destitution of spirit that Jesus is speaking of. These souls who long for something more but who are unable to even know what that means – these are the poor in spirit.
Why are they happy? The word blessed also translates to happy. To be blessed means that God has done something on your behalf – and anything done for you from God should cause immense happiness. Salvation requires a spirit that is broken, powerless, and in desperation for help. You cannot live for Christ if you think you don’t need Him. That soul that longs for God each day is truly blessed because God will honor that desire. In fact, Jesus says here that because of their poor spirit, they will dwell with Him forever – a sure sign that salvation has been given.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Happy are those who deeply lament over their sin, for they will be encouraged and strengthened by consolation.”
It is one thing to say you are sorry, it is quite another to weep bitterly over what you have done. This is the mourning that Jesus speaks of in this second ‘Beatitude’. This is not a mourning over the death of a loved one, or over a loss of personal status or possession – this is a deep felt, heart wrenching agony over the knowledge that you have sinned before the Almighty God. Do you sit in your bed at night wishing you could take back the things of your past, knowing that those things not only harmed yourself and others, but because they were in direct violation of what God had commanded? Does it make you sick to your stomach to even recall those sins? This is true mourning.
Why are they happy? To be aware of your sin, and want to change is an amazing blessing given by God. This mourning comes only after a deep sense of the need for God – after our desperation of spirit. Now we know we need Him, and now we want to change because we want to be ever so close to Him. He honors the desires of a heart who is in agony over the sins they’ve committed. It is in these times of repentance that the Spirit of God cleanses us. God cannot forget our past, but He can chose to not remember it. He will come to you when you are broken and mourning, and He will comfort you and console you with His Son. Jesus will take your sin upon Himself and replace it with righteousness so that you can stand blameless in the sight of God on judgment day.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Happy are those with a mild disposition, gentle in spirit, accepting of God’s will, and selfless, for they will be heirs of the abode of men and beasts.”
In our culture today, meekness is seen equal to weakness. We can use Jesus as an example of someone who was meek. He was fully man and fully God – able to destroy kingdoms and forcefully change men’s hearts – and yet He spoke gently (but with authority). This is what it means to be meek. As a child of God we are to be gentle, but not bending in our faith or what we believe. We are to stand strong on the Word of God, and stand for it, but to welcome sinners and humbly proclaim the good news of what Christ has done for us. A person who is meek has seen the power of God in their lives, and understands God’s sovereignty in all things.
Why are they happy? This character trait of power subdued by a love for others is what should define a Christian’s life. There should be no crass or harsh talk of forceful salvation, but a gentle spirit – knowing that in God’s timing all will be worked out – and a love for neighbors that welcomes the person but not their sin. Jesus says that these who are meek will inherit the earth. We are told in the book of Revelation that in the time of the 1000 year reign of Christ, His people will rule over the earth. Could these people be the meek that Jesus speaks of here? What better character could one posses if they were to rule?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Happy are those who suffer want, crave ardently, and even painfully long for those things which refresh the soul – to be made into a condition acceptable to God – for their desires will be satisfied.”
Take a moment to think about that life-long dream or desire you have. You strive every day of your life to reach that goal, or to possess that thing or attribute. Maybe it is a job, or a family. What if you had those same aspirations about God? What if every day you woke up and couldn’t wait to spend time with Him, praying and reading His book. What if you wanted intimacy with Him so bad that you could never get enough? What if you wanted to be filled with Christ’s righteousness over anything else – even the love of another human being? This is that hunger and thirst that Jesus is speaking of.
Why are they happy? As opposed to all the things of this world that we strive to attain, intimacy with God is actually feasible. Yes, it is possible to get that dream job or have that wonderful family, but after you’ve gotten them there will still be a need to fill – and you won’t be able to put your finger on what that need is. Spending time with God is the only thing that will fill that void, and that is why Jesus says that if you hunger and thirst for His righteousness, you will be filled. How do you fan into flame this burning desire for righteousness? Pray and ask for it. You won’t be disappointed.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Happy are those who bestow compassion and forgiveness upon the person who wronged them, who deserves punishment for their misdeeds, for they will receive that same mercy from God.”
What is mercy? Mercy is not giving food to the poor. Mercy is giving food to a man who stole your wallet. Not only do you forgive someone for their wrong against you during an act of mercy, but you provide some benefit to them as a repayment for what they’ve done. You must first understand mercy before you can understand grace. As a human I am prone to sin. As a sinner I am actively living a life opposite to what God desires – I am breaking His laws. God has 2 options: 1) punish me, 2) forgive me. Because He is holy (perfect, no evil) He must always choose what is right, which is justice – or punishment for sin. However, in an effort to allow me an opportunity (this is the grace part) to be with Him forever, He chose to send His one and only Son to die on my behalf and cover up my sin so that I am blameless. Why would He do this? God has shown mercy to me, a person who willingly did wrong against Him, and now He is not only forgiving me of my sins, but placing the righteousness of His Son over me so that I can be with Him forever – because that is the best thing anyone could ever get.
Why are they happy? There is nothing more rewarding than an act of mercy. Mercy is the ultimate act of love if done without self in mind. Merciful people do not expect something in return. Most importantly, God sees our merciful deeds to others and in return gives us mercy. He molds our hearts and minds to become like Christ, and He saves us from eternal separation from Himself. The truth of all truths is that some day we will each stand before a Holy God – one who is bound by His very substance to always do what is just. So will you stand before Him in the filthy rags of your own merit, or will you stand in the shining white robes of righteousness offered freely by Christ?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Happy are those whose hearts are cleansed by pruning and so fitted to bear fruit, for they will experience what it means to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
The word heart in the Bible is used over and over as a synonym for the soul. If I say you had a heart change toward a certain subject, I am not literally speaking about your heart but what makes you, you – your soul. This is what Jesus is speaking of when He explains that it is the pure in heart that will see God. Pruning is what happens as we grow into the image of Christ and is another word for sanctification. The symbolism of pruning helps us better understand what is happening to us. As we learn more and more about God and His will through reading the Bible, we find ways to apply what we are learning. Sometimes we go against what we learn and then the pruning comes when we see that failure and ask for God to help us. The best and most productive plants get pruned on a regular basis – the old is taken away so the new has room to grow and blossom.
Why are they happy? Just as a father disciplines his children, so God disciplines us. We are called the adopted sons and daughters of God because of what Christ has done on our behalf. If there is no pruning (or growth and learning) then we need to evaluate our relationship with God and start praying that He would reveal the problem. The best way to know if you are in God’s will is to read His Word. Unfortunately for us on this side of eternity we will never fully be pure in heart, but rest assured that if you are being pruned and growing in your faith and in your walk with Christ then you are considered one of these. If you are God’s child then you will spend eternity with Him, and salvation is yours.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Happy are those who bring the message of salvation and peace from everlasting damnation, for they will be called co-heirs with Christ – children of the Living God.”
Who are the peacemakers? These are not people that come and wipe out terrorism or end world hunger. These are Christians who bring the message of salvation to a world destined to die apart from Christ. Think about peace for a minute. What brings peace? True peace? It is only available through the cross of Christ. Why is that? There is one thing that every person must face: death. Each moment of every day is consumed with things to keep us busy so we won’t think about it, because if we think about it then we have to contemplate what happens when we die. If we understand who God is – that He is just and will certainly judge each of us, that Christ made a way to forgive our sins so we can stand blameless before God during judgement, and we call Christ Lord – then we can be assured that we will not fall into that everlasting place of separation from anything good. This is where peace is born.
Why are they happy? To know that your salvation is sealed means you can live your life and not worry about hell (this is called hope). So what do you do with this news of salvation that has brought peace to your life beyond anything you can fathom? You share it! This is why the peacemakers are blessed – they have learned the secret to a peaceful life. They thank God by sharing this amazing news with others and they bring peace to those who suffer from the thought of what is coming. They are called God’s children because they have been given the gift of adoption through Christ – they are heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Happy are those who are driven away and placed out of sight because of their uprightness before God, for their dwelling place will be where thunder and lightning are produced, where all the Heavenly hosts and the order of things eternal live forever with God.”
We have all become familiar with persecution in the last few years because of the stories coming out of other countries about Christians being martyred or jailed and tortured for their faith. Persecution comes in many forms and it has a certain way of weeding out the wheat from the chaff. Have you experienced a hatred toward you because of your faith in Christ? What do you do when that happens? Do you stand up for Christ or do you back down? I love the original Greek here because it makes clear what happens to a person who is true to God – they are made to be driven away. Maybe they are pushed away by words, maybe by violence, maybe even death; but one thing that will never happen to the true believer is their wavering on the belief that Christ has given them salvation and there is truth out there to be shared about how amazing our God really is.
Why are they happy? Of all the ‘Beatitudes’ this is probably the hardest to stomach. Most of us will never experience persecution that leads to death, however if we are truly in Christ we are promised persecution of some kind. In the parable of the sower in Mark 4:17 we read, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word…“. Notice that it says when, not if. This doesn’t seem like something we should be happy about, however, your response becomes cause for celebration as another testament to the security and authenticity of your salvation. Where there is salvation there is an eternity with our Creator. When persecution comes remember and be blessed by this:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:18-19 (words of Jesus)