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 gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 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 sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
– Matt 5.2-12
In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus preaches an extensive sermon towards the beginning of His earthly ministry, where He covers most topics of religious conversation for the day. He begins the sermon with those eleven verses above, what has come to be known as the beatitudes. A beatitude is literally a “supreme blessing or happiness” (thefreedictionary.com). Not an attitude. Jesus is listing the highest blessings possible upon a person.
Debates have arisen over the history of the church as to the truest and best interpretation of this passage. Saint Augustine believed it to be allegorical, while many others take it literally. Is is speaking directly to the religious, Christian experience or day-to-day life? Is it progressive? Must you have the first before you can have the second and third? Regardless of the questions that arise, the overall theme is clear and undebated: “The way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness…The beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith” (John MacArthur).
“Poor in spirit” is the first beatitude listed. Such a one is blessed and his is the Kingdom of God. He will get to spend eternity with God. What is poor in spirit? The opposite of rich in spirit. The realization of one’s inability to save himself. He who is not self-sufficient but relies on God Almighty for salvation, life and happiness.
Those who mourn are blessed. Those who mourn over sin in their own lives. Mourning is a temporary sorrow that can also be experienced because of death, loss or a melancholy spirit, but those who are blessed are those who mourn over sin. Paul defines this as a Godly sorrow – the sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor 7.10). This mourning is essential for salvation. Until we hate our sin we do not realize our need for a savior.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. If we try to achieve righteousness on our own, we will fail. But if we realize that God alone can and will sanctify us, and turn to Him and wait on Him, He will give us the strength to live holy lives. He will satisfy us.
The merciful will receive mercy. Jesus regularly speaks to the retributive nature of our judgment and mercy. In the way that we judge, we will be judged (Matt 7.2), and if you do not forgive your brother, God will not forgive you (Matt 6.15). So we will be shown mercy if we show mercy, and the opposite is also true. Thus Jesus’ commandment to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves takes on a substantially weighty application. It is not just good discipline, it is for our own benefit that we show mercy, forgive and love.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted. I have been thinking much this week on the reality that all who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12). And Jesus words it in this passage that to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. Because persecution is a predecessor to inheriting the Kingdom, we should “rejoice and be glad, for your reward in Heaven is great” (Matt 5.12).
Are you self sufficient? Or are you aware of your inability to please God and keep His law? Are you broken over your sin? Or are you floating through life making fleshly and impulsive decisions without considering God or His mandates? Are you merciful? Are you living in such a way that Jesus shines through you and those who hate Jesus hate you?
Those who hate Jesus and the claims of Scripture should hate us for being committed to Him and His ways. But their problem must never be with us, it must always be with Scripture. Do not add a stone of offense over which some might stumble – because the Gospel is radical enough. And Jesus laments over those who would stand in the way of the Gospel, “But woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (Matt 18.7).
Do you want to be blessed? Do you want to receive the Kingdom of God? Eternal life? Pray that God would cultivate these dispositions and blessings in your life. Be humble. Be merciful. Be broken over sin (because it is your sin that put Jesus on the cross). Be fully and utterly dependent on God. Because He loves you and paid the penalty for your sin so that you could be blessed.