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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Blessed Are We (Beautitudes)

All Saints Day

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. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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. Matthew 5:1-12

The “Beatitudes”. I suppose every person who ever opened a Bible knows about the Beatitudes that begin Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” I’m sure that everyone here is familiar with them, but we can never know too much about Jesus’ teachings. So, what are the Beatitudes? They are a definition of the balanced character of Christian people. They are not separate and distinct groups of Christians, some of whom are meek, while others are merciful, and yet others are called upon to endure persecution. They are rather eight qualities of the same group who at one and the same time are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted. Further, the group exhibiting these marks is not an elitist set, a small spiritual aristocracy remote from the common run of Christians. On the contrary, the Beatitudes are Jesus own specification of what every Christian ought to be! All these qualities are to characterize all His followers. Just as the ninefold Fruit of the Spirit which Paul lists is to ripen in every Christian’s character, so the eight Beatitudes which Jesus speaks describe His ideal for every citizen of God’s Kingdom. Unlike the Gifts of the Spirit which He distributes to different members of Christ’s body in order to equip them for different kinds of service, the same Spirit is concerned to work all these Christian graces in us all! Now some, like the Good News Bible, have translated the Greek word “makarios” as “happy” but that would be misleading. For happiness is a state of mind, a feeling, where Jesus is making an actual, or factual, judgement about these people. He’s not declaring what they may feel like (“happy”), but what God thinks of them, and what they are: they are “blessed.” And what is this blessing? The second half of each Beatitude explains it. They possess the Kingdom of Heaven and they inherit the Earth. The mourners are comforted and the hungry are satisfied. They receive mercy, they see God, and they are called the Sons of God (which include daughters). Their heavenly reward is great. And all these blessings are given to every Christian! The eight qualities together constitute the responsibilities; and the eight blessings are the privileges, of being a citizen of God’s Kingdom. This is what the enjoyment of God’s rule means. So now, let’s look at the Beatitudes in detail:

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

To be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed, our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgement of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of Heaven. As we sing in the 3rd verse of “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die. This is the language of the poor in spirit. To such, and only to such, the Kingdom of God is given. For salvation is a gift as free as it is undeserved.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

What kind of sorrow can it be which brings the joy of Christ’s blessing to those who feel it? It’s plain from the context that those here promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-respect. It’s not the sorrow of bereavement to which Jesus refers here, but the sorrow of repentance. This is the second stage of spiritual blessing. It is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it’s another to grieve and to mourn over it. Or, in more theological language, confession is one thing, contrition is another. Such mourners will be comforted by the only comfort which can relieve their distress, namely the free forgiveness of God.

3. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.”

The Greek adjective “praus,” translated as “meek,” means “gentle, “humble”, “considerate”, “courteous”, and therefore exercising the self-control without which these qualities would be impossible. Dr. Lloyd Jones defines it like this: “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do. These ‘meek’ people, Jesus added, will ‘inherit the Earth.’ One would have expected the opposite. But the condition on which we enter our spiritual inheritance in Christ is not might but meekness, for the way of Christ is different from the way of the world, and every Christian can describe himself as possessing everything!”

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

The hungry and thirsty whom God satisfies are those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Such spiritual hunger is a characteristic of all God’s people, whose supreme ambition is not material but spiritual. Righteousness in the Bible has at least three aspects: legal, moral, and social. Legal righteousness is justification, a right relationship with God. Moral righteousness is that righteousness of character and conduct which pleases God. Biblical righteousness is more than a private and personal affair; it includes social righteousness as well. So, Christians are committed to hunger and thirst for righteousness in the whole human community as something pleasing to a righteous God. For what is the use of confessing and lamenting our sin if we leave it there? Confession of sin must lead to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

5. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

“Mercy” is compassion for people in need – different than “grace.” Mercy always deals with what we see of pain, misery, and distress, these results of sin; and grace always deals with the sin and guilt itself. Mercy extends relief; grace gives pardon. Mercy cures, heals, and helps; grace cleanses and reinstates. My confirmation pastor put it like this: Mercy is not receiving what you deserve – like punishment; grace is receiving what you don’t deserve – like forgiveness and salvation. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of His Kingdom must show mercy too. We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”! To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indivisibly together.

6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Purity in heart is an expression for inward purity, for the quality of those who have been cleansed from moral defilement. In our offertory we sing from David’s Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Jesus complained about the Pharisee’s obsession with external, ceremonial purity: “You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness.” They were “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness.” Martin Luther contrasted purity of heart with actual physical dirt: “Christ wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.” And again, “Though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch… and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God” because he meditates the Word of God in his heart and obeys it. Only the pure in heart will see God, see Him now with the eye of faith, and see His glory in the hereafter.

7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God.”

Now peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and reconciliation. For we read that “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in (His Son) and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” (Col. 1:19,20) It makes sense that peacemakers are called “Sons of God,” for they are seeking to do what their Heavenly Father has done, loving people with God’s love. It’s the Devil who is a troublemaker; it’s God who loves reconciliation.

8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Since all the Beatitudes describe what every Christian disciple is intended to be, we can conclude that the condition of being despised and rejected, slandered, and persecuted, is as much a normal mark of Christian discipleship as being pure in heart or merciful. Every Christian is to be a peacemaker, and every Christian is to expect opposition. We should not be surprised if anti-Christian hostility increases, but rather be surprised if it doesn’t! Luke records Jesus saying, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The ways of the God of Scripture appear topsy-turvy to men. For God exalts the humble and lowers the proud, calls the first last and the last first, assigns greatness to the servant, sends the rich away empty-handed and declares the meek to be His heirs. The culture of the world and the counterculture of Christ are at loggerheads with each other. In brief, Jesus congratulates those whom the world most pities, and calls the world’s rejects “blessed.” Christianity ain’t for sissies! Amen

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