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 5.3-12
Jesus began His most famous sermon with this interesting list of blessings. It has often been called the beatitudes, and as a child and young person, I assumed that “beatitude” was a fancy way of saying “attitude” – and therefore I perceived the focus to be on the first half of the declaration of each phrase. The term beatitude, however, means “supreme blessedness” or “a state of utmost bliss”. The beatitudes, therefore, by their title – and more importantly for our instruction – are the blessings that are granted. It is the highest blessing to receive the Kingdom of Heaven, to be comforted by God, to inherit the Earth, to be satisfied by God, to receive mercy, to see God, to be called a son of God, to be given the Kingdom of Heaven and to receive a great reward in Heaven!
Throughout His Earthly ministry, Jesus regularly exhorted the disciples and hearers of His sermons to focus on eternity. He spoke much of Heaven, He spoke more of Hell, and He encouraged believers to remember that while God does meet our Earthly needs, it is of more benefit to earn treasures that will last throughout eternity than here on the Earth. In short, it is better to use the finances that God has given us on Earth to meet the needs of the poor and be rewarded in eternity than to buy a toy that will rust, rot or cannot be taken into eternity. It is better for us to invest our time in making disciples and reap a great harvest that will enter into God’s presence forever than to entertain ourselves or work ourselves into the ground to make money. It is better for us to keep sober about Heaven and Hell than to numb our minds and forget what is coming.
And thus we understand the beatitudes. Those who are poor in spirit are those who have the kingdom of Heaven. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? In short, it is to be humble. Understanding the Gospel necessitates that one recognize his sinfulness and inability to save Himself, and thus turn to Jesus. He who understands that it is God alone who saved by grace alone through faith alone can never be proud. And it is he who will enter into God’s rest eternally.
Much has been said about “mourning” that will receive the comfort of God. Does it mean mourning over one’s sin? Mourning over the loss of a loved one? We know that everyone mourns at one time or another, and not everyone receives the comfort of God. We also know that death has lost its sting by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (1 Cor 15.55). But we can be confident that all who are in Christ and mourn will be comforted by God. He is the God of comfort (2 Cor 1.3). And we also know that we will not mourn as those without hope (1 Thess 4.13), but yet we mourn over our sin and breaking the heart of God. As Christians, we should mourn – especially over our sin and the lost – and God will comfort us.
Blessed are the gentle. Films made about Jesus often portray Him as a pansy and effeminate. He is portrayed as so “gentle” and sensitive that He gives the impression of being weak. But Jesus is not weak. He is the Son of God who created the world and who will destroy it in the end. He had the power to do anything He wanted, and He often performed miracles that blew the minds of onlookers. Not only that, but His anger was exemplified at times – such as when He bound a whip and chased the vendors out of the temple – throwing over tables at the same time. But yet He restrained Himself. He came with a purpose and everything He did was intentionally serving that purpose: saving the lost. He knew what was required to accomplish that goal, and it required Him restraining His power. Thus, it has been said, that meekness or gentleness can be defined as “restrained power”. We are not glorified for being pansies and push-overs, we are glorified for putting other people before ourselves and serving one another vigorously. When we do so, we will inherit the Earth.
The merciful will receive mercy. I have written much on this topic, but Jesus ominously warns us that those who do not forgive their brother will not be forgiven (Matt 6.15). We do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving other people, but rather the one who has been forgiven by God cannot help but forgive his brother. It is the natural overflowing of grace poured into one’s life that he pours grace out into other’s lives. You cannot receive God’s grace and not be a stream of life and grace flowing to others. That is simply how it works. Thus, we can test our salvation and our hearts by the simple observation: Am I forgiving others? Is grace and life flowing out of me into others? If not, you should examine your own salvation carefully. You can read more about that here.
Peacemakers will be called the children of God. God is love (1 John 4.8). He is also the God of peace (Heb 13.20). God sent Jesus to the Earth to appease His wrath for our sins and to make peace between us. He gives us inexplicable peace and rest through salvation (1 Peter 1.8, Matt 11.28). Similarly to forgiveness and mercy being the natural outpouring for those who are saved, we are also peacemakers. It is our highest calling and ultimate goal to be peacemakers between people and God: to preach the gospel and make disciples. But it is also an outpouring of our faith and identity in God to help make peace between people. We reveal our identity as Christians by firstly helping people make peace with God and secondly to make peace with one another:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– 2 Cor 5.20
Lastly, we are most gloriously blessed when we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and the sake of Christ. Often times we deceive ourselves to believe that God’s blessing on our lives is a nice house, a good job, and a comfortable life. Scripture teaches quite the opposite, however: that those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted and that we should seek to walk after the manner of Christ, dying to ourselves and not accruing comfortable lifestyles here on the Earth (2 Tim 3.12). We also know that it is the will of God that we suffer, and that we suffer for doing what is right in order that our faith will be purified and strengthened (1 Peter 3).
The highest blessings of God, and our utmost bliss or peace comes when we humble ourselves, when we mourn over our sin and over the lost, when we submit ourselves to one another and are gentle, when we pursue God and die to our sin, and when we suffer for doing what is right. The God of peace, comfort and hope will establish our hearts and reward us as we mature in those characteristics. We will be children of God, we will be comforted, we will inherit the Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.