Saturday, July 11, 2015

Matthew 5:1-12 The Beatitudes

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.

The Beatitudes

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.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

By now, Jesus' ministry was well underway. He had called His first disciples together. They had traveled throughout Galilee preaching, teaching and healing. His work and ministry was beginning to draw large crowds. People from as far south as Jerusalem came to hear Him as His notoriety grew.

And so it was at this time that Jesus chose to present His most important sermon; a sermon that would set the tone for His entire ministry and redefine God's law in the Spirit that was intended. It would lay aside the shallow, superficial and legalistic interpretations of the law promoted by the religious leaders of the day and replace them with an internal call to true obedience.

Jesus began simply enough. He sat down on the mountainside surrounded by the crowds in a sort of natural amphitheater setting and His opening words were at once poetic and baffling. In nine stanzas Jesus lists nine groups of people who, because of their spiritual state, their character or their condition in life, were to be blessed or rewarded. And these were not usually people we would think of as "blessed" or "happy". Some of them might even be considered weak and puny by the world's standards. Nevertheless Jesus called them blessed.

He began with the poor in spirit. Who are they anyway? They are the ones that have reached the bottom of their spiritual barrels. In their spiritual destitution they have no where else to turn. They are totally dependent on God. They have no one else and no other choices. They know they have no righteousness of their own, so they must turn to Him to supply it. And so they cling to Him in their need and desperation. And for this...the Kingdom of Heaven will be their reward.

Next are those that mourn. They are blessed because they too are dependent on God. Life can bring many sorrows. Financial loss, disease and death of loved ones - even regret over sin and its consequences. Those who mourn these things can be blessed by turning to God for comfort, both now and in the eternal sense.

Jesus also said that the meek would be blessed. Meekness is a characteristic of many of God's servants. The KJV refers to Moses as the meekest man on the face of the earth. What is meekness? It's a kind of humility under pressure; a way of tempering emotional swings in times of trouble. Meekness creates an equanimity of attitude. It controls anger and restrains excess joy. It is strength without pride. It's a personality trait that great leaders possess in abundance and this is probably why the meek will inherit the earth.

Next, Jesus blesses those that desire righteousness. They long for it in the same way some might want food or drink. For them, righteousness is an appetite that can only be filled by seeking God. These people long for spiritual justice and obedience to God's will. And though they may fail - with God's grace, they keep on trying.

The fifth group that Jesus blesses are those with the characteristic of mercy. This is also a characteristic of God. The merciful show compassion to those that are hurting and they show forgiveness to those that sin against them. The merciful are those that see themselves in others and treat them accordingly. And for this, they receive mercy from God.

Jesus also blesses the pure in heart. It's a difficult matter to be pure in heart because this characteristic deals with our personal motives and most secret desires. The pure in heart are honest and genuine people. They have no guile, no agenda, no secret motives or hidden desires. They do not use others for their own ends. They are as you see them and for these reasons, they will see God.

The seventh group that Jesus blesses are the peacemakers. These are not the people that negotiate self serving treaties between nations. Rather, they are the ones who bring peace with them through their actions towards others and with others. They do good things, they know when to keep their mouths shut and they know what to do when others will not keep their mouths shut. For this, they will be called sons of God.

Jesus also blesses those who are persecuted for their righteousness. Sometimes doing the right thing can carry with it a price. Depending on where you live, you might be mocked and laughed at for your faith and actions. You could be demoted or fired from your job. You could even be tortured and killed for doing the right thing - standing firm on the principles that God gave us to live by. this is why the Kingdom of Heaven is promised to those that are persecuted for being righteous. 

The ninth and last group that Jesus blesses are those that are persecuted specifically because they follow Him. If we suffer insults or persecution or accusations about our character due to following Christ, our reward in heaven will be great. All the greatest servants of the Lord were treated in the same way.


So how do the Beatitudes stack up against the values of the world? What values are honored in the world and what values are honored in the Beatitudes?

-The values of the world are external, fleeting and tend to be coercive. Things like physical strength, beauty, natural talents, money, wealth, political power, youth, freedom to do as you please - all these things are highly valued in the world, but they are not permanent or lasting.

-The values honored in the Beatitudes tend to be internal and non coercive. They reflect where most of us are in life and how these things can bring us closer to God if we will let it happen. Things like poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, pursuit of righteousness, mercy, purity, love of peace and spiritual strength to face personal persecution and persecution for our faith. These things can draw us closer to God and deeper into relationship Him if we handle them correctly in our lives. Most of these could be called spiritual disciplines that should be practiced by all believers.

Why would people that possess the characteristics of the Beatitudes be considered blessed? I mean, don't they seem like signs of weakness at first glance?

-These people know who they are in the great scheme of things. They have a strength and beauty of character that is lacking in many people.  They are not deluded by personal fame or fortune or power or beauty. They do not have these things and they know it. They know that they must be dependent on God and rely on his strength and His blessings. Reliance on God can yield enormous power in one's personal life, creating a permanent joy that can only come with the peace of knowing God. 

How do the values of the American Dream stack up against the values expressed in the Beatitudes?
Things like Life, Liberty and Property (Happiness).

-Someone once said "the American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don't have to do anything that you don't want to do and you can do everything that you want to do." This does not seem to be in line with what we see expressed in the Beatitudes. Life, liberty and property seem to be geared to more material pursuits. Most people in the world cannot live in this modality. It is impossible. If you stop and think about it, it is also a drain on natural resources. Could the entire world live as Americans do today? What would happen? Would it be a good thing that everyone worked daily for stuff, for material pleasures? There is a lot to be said for working and paying your own way, but at whose expense does that come? We like to think we did these things ourselves, that we raised ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but more often than not, we will find that we did it on the backs of others. We need to be careful when we tell others to embrace the principles in the Beatitudes and then fail to embrace them ourselves.

Why does Jesus always seem to take the side of those who are struggling spiritually and materially?

-I think it's because, in God's Kingdom, there really should be no one struggling. If there are people struggling, it's because others among God's people have failed to help them with whatever issues they may be having. Material poverty is one thing, but spiritual poverty is another. People want the help of their God with these issues. Sometimes we have to be the hands of God; His instruments that bring blessing to those in need, both materially and spiritually. We need to be like God, giving a hand up to those that need it.    


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