The Beatitudes: Life in a Kingdom of Radical Joy
Our study is designed to deepen our joyful response to God’s gospel of grace. The Beatitudes describe eight qualities that characterize the life of Christ, and therefore our life in Christ. As we study, worship, pray, and meet in our Life Groups we are asking that the Holy Spirit will begin to work these qualities IN and then THROUGH our lives.
Additionally, we are seeking church-wide renewal. Church-wide renewal begins with personal renewal. Personal renewal begins with each one of us owning up to our own issues. Later in the Sermon of the Mount we are admonished to “…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Here is what the Gospel Transformation Bible has to say about Matthew 7:1-5:
The Scriptures frequently warn believers against passing judgment on others (Luke 6:37; Rom. 14:10–13; 1 Cor. 4:5; James 4:11–12). Because they are sinful, human beings tend to excuse in themselves the sin they readily condemn in others (Rom. 2:1, 21–23). Here Jesus goes even further to say that people often excuse sins in themselves that are far worse than the sins they identify in others (Matt. 7:3–5; see also 18:21–35). The remedy to a judgmental attitude is an understanding of one’s own need for spiritual healing, for righteousness, and for mercy (5:3, 6–7). The pride that feeds the hypocrisy Jesus criticizes here may be the “log” in one’s own eye to which he refers (7:5)
I am not speaking to anyone in particular, or to any specific group here at King’s Harbor Church. I am speaking to all of us – myself included. This is part of our fallen human condition — to judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves.
Many questions arise as we study the Beatitudes:
- Are they entrance requirements for heaven?
- Are they statements about whom God prefers?
- Are they existential statements about what character traits make people truly happy?
- Are they impossible ideals designed to throw us upon the mercy and grace of God?
These are just some of the questions that make the Beatitudes both a rich source of exploration and easily misunderstood. Before we begin the study of each of the eight “blessed statements” it is crucial that we lay a strong foundation for understanding them.
- To be blessed is not merely to be “happy.” The word in Greek, makarios, translated as “blessed” or “happy” is not referring to an emotional state of being. More often in Jewish vocabulary the word is used of God, ie. “Blessed be the Lord”, and when the blessing comes from God it has a meaning more like fortunate, being complete, or being the object of God’s favor. (My sermon notes are now available for download on the King’s Harbor sermon page.)
- The Beatitudes are about life in the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew says Kingdom of Heaven). The first and last Beatitudes are bookends, ending with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and signal to us that everything in between is about life as the people of God. Jesus’ message and his actions were about establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.
- The Beatitudes reverse our expectation of who we would think is blessed. The beatitudes would have sounded just as surprising to Jesus’ hearers as they do to us today. They really do turn upside-down our cultural understanding of what the “good life” is about. No one would expect the poor, the grief stricken, the meek, or those that hunger and thirst for God to have found the secret to a deep and abiding joy. These blessings seem to come to those who know they are lost and realize they have no self-merit to stand on before God.
Jesus scandalously inverts the understanding that is common to every society of who are the blessed people. In so doing, he expresses the timelessness of his wisdom, for what he says strikes all people, in every culture, as surprising.
- Jesus lived the Beatitudes. Jesus not only taught about the Kingdom of God and invited people to become apart of the Kingdom through faith in himself, he actually modeled what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom, and thus what it means to be truly human.
It is this last point that provides the basis for our study of the Beatitudes as a model for discipleship. Disciple means “learner” and disciples bind themselves to the teaching and life of another person. Disciples intend to learn more than just theory, they devote themselves to the practical teaching and ultimate purpose of the one to whom they have joined themselves.
The Beatitudes are not merely descriptions of the qualities that active intentional followers of Christ should seek to develop, they are descriptions of the very life of Christ himself. Jesus doesn’t merely teach the Beatitudes, he embodies them.
The following chart compares the Beatitudes with Jesus’ life.
|Beatitude||Life of Christ|
|Blessed are the poor in spirit||“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” –2 Cor. 8.9|
|Blessed are those who mourn||“He was a man of sorrows, and familiar with grief.” –Is. 53.3|
|Blessed are the meek||“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” –Mt 11.29|
|Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness||“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” –Jn 4.34|
|Blessed are the merciful||“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Mt. 9.13|
|Blessed are the pure in heart||“Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess…Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” –Heb. 3.1; 7.26|
|Blessed are the peacemakers||“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” –Eph. 2.14, 17|
|Blessed are the persecuted||“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” –Is 53.7|
- The Beatitudes don’t describe an impossible, or a future ideal—but a present reality!
As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to grow not only in our knowledge of what Jesus taught, but in our relationship with him. We are adopted into the very family and life of Christ, so that Christ’s life and character are lived out in our lives.
This blessedness was understood by the Jews as the future reward that would come at the end of time, in “the world to come”. Jesus, however, described it as a present reality, a present possession for people who live as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Christian discipleship is not a matter of properly keeping the rules in order to be blessed sometime in the future. Rather, blessedness comes because of what Jesus Christ has already done, not what we must do.
From this context, it becomes easier to recognize a natural progression to the Beatitudes.
|Blessed are the poor in spirit…||for to enter the Kingdom, we must admit our own need, sinful predisposition, and spiritual poverty.|
|Blessed are those who mourn…||for admitting our sinful bent toward self-sufficiency and being repeatedly reminded of the injustice of a broken world-system, we are led by the Spirit to be utterly grieved over it.|
|Blessed are the meek…||for grieving over sin and suffering places in the posture of being ready to be taught and led.|
|Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness…||for grieving over sin and suffering isn’t sufficient; God must provoke in us a hunger see and activate God’s free gift of righteousness and accompanying justice.|
|Blessed are the merciful…||for hunger can produce anger and judgment; God must provoke in us a compassion toward others and even toward ourselves.|
|Blessed are the pure in heart…||for compassion cleanses our heart; God fills us with God’s peace.|
|Blessed are the peacemakers…||for filled with God’s peace we will want to speak to the false peace and learn to speak truth to power — in love.|
|Blessed are the persecuted…||for living the life of the Kingdom of God will place us in conflict with all that opposes it (mostly, it will be religious people).|