I wonder what comes to mind when you hear the phrase a life of abundant blessing? What would we consider as being the characteristics of a life of abundant blessing? For many the answer would be things like good health, wisdom, security, lavish provision, freedom from suffering or abundance in areas such as career, love, friendship or family. Our answers will tend to reveal what it is that really matters to us in life. Our context will also shape this – some cultures place huge emphasis on things like career and wealth while for others it will be more about family and wellbeing.
My aim in this blog is to point us to a passage of the Bible in which Jesus turns our whole sense of priorities on their head. That passage is Matthew 5:1-12 which we normally refer to as the Beatitudes. It is the first part of Jesus’ very well known Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The Beatitudes might be described as the distinctive hallmarks of those who experience the blessings of the Kingdom of God. A friend of mine wrote a paraphrase of this passage and she entitled it Beautiful Attitudes! For the most part the Beatitudes are not something that come to us naturally and yet it seems as if, Jesus is telling us here, that they are the road to blessing. According to the dictionary the word blessed or blessing, is about God’s favour and protection. Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes that His favour and protection come to those who belong to the Kingdom of God.
“Although some modern translations prefer “happy” to “blessed”, it is a poor exchange. Those who are blessed will generally be profoundly happy; but blessedness cannot be reduced to happiness. In the Scriptures, man can bless God and God can bless man. This dualism gives us a clue just what is meant. To be “blessed” means fundamentally, to be approved, to find approval…Since this is God’s universe there can be no higher “blessing” than to be approved by God.”D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the world, (c) 1978 Global, pg. 16
The Sermon on the Mount is about life in God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom that is a reality for all who know and follow Jesus Christ. This Kingdom is about both the future, life with God for eternity, and the present, as we continue to live in a fallen world. The standards Jesus sets in the Sermon on the Mount are high, so high in fact that we could never achieve them in and of ourselves (see Matt 5:48). The Beatitudes point to Jesus, it is only Jesus Himself who fulfils all these characteristics completely! Our loving response to the lavish grace of God, is to strive to become more and more like Christ. The Holy Spirit, who indwells all know and love Jesus, is working unceasingly to slowly transform us into the likeness of Christ.
There is of course much that could be said about the Beatitudes but alas, there is only time for a a few brief comments! Do read on and consider what it might mean for you to be increasingly characterised by these things:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v3)
While the blessings of the Kingdom of God are a future expectation, they are also already being experienced by those who know and love Jesus here and now. The poor in spirit are those who call out to God in their great need, recognising their total dependence on him. It is not about living in material poverty. Rather, being poor in spirit is about humility before God, and it is totally opposed to any sense of spiritual arrogance. These verses in Isaiah express something of this:
15 For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
2 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.Isaiah 57:15, 66:2
If we do not recognise that we are spiritually poor then we can’t enter the Kingdom. When we first come to Christ, we must come in humility and ask for Him forgiveness. To those who are poor in spirit, Jesus promises that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (v4)
Secondly, Jesus says that those who mourn will be blessed and will receive comfort. We all face seasons of mourning over the loss of loved ones and other kinds of sadness that come our way. Here in the beatitudes, it seems likely to me that the mourning Jesus refers to is primarily in regard to our sin. This mourning involves our sense of guilt, shame and experience of regret about how sin drives a wedge between us and God. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus offers forgiveness and pardon for our sin. Those who mourn over sin are not condemned, but rather pardoned. What a comfort that is! Humility makes us more sensitive to our own failings and those who face up to the reality of their sin will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (v5)
While poverty of spirit was about how we see ourselves, meekness is more about our relationship with others and with God. It it not, as we might well imagine, about weakness or about a lack of backbone. It is the controlled desire to set the interests of others above our own. It is the humble strength that belongs to those who have learned to submit to difficulties, knowing that in everything God is working for our good. The meek are those who have stood before God’s judgement and abdicated all their supposed rights. They have learned to submit themselves to the Lord and to be gentle with sinners. It is about power under control, like a horse controlled by its rider. In Jesus we see such power submitted to His Father’s will. Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth – we are stewards of all that God has entrusted to us as we submit to the purposes of our Father in Heaven.
“The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do…We are to leave everything-ourselves, our rights, our case, our whole future – in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.”Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the mount, (c) 1959-60 Grand Rapids
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (v6)
Jesus then speaks about righteousness which is about doing what God requires or conforming to how things ought to be. It is about right relationships with God, others and ourselves. These caring, loving, serving and fundamentally right relationships are a foretaste of what is to come. Those who are full of righteousness will be persecuted because of it (Rom 14:17, Phil 1:11). If we make righteousness our first priority then Jesus promised that we will be filled. Do we really hunger and thirst for righteousness? How can we grow in this?
“To hunger and thirst for righteousness is, therefore, multifaceted. It means, first of all, to long for a right relationship with God, and consequently to be righteous before him. But it also means to desire to live rightly before him in the world, and to desire to see right relationships restored in the loves of others.”Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, (c) 1987 Banner of Truth, pg. 27-28
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (v7)
God is merciful to us. Jesus lived among us and was tempted in every way. He helps us when we fall. The mercy we receive from Jesus is undeserved and so being merciful should be the direct result of us experiencing His grace to us. Unless we forgive others, there is no evidence that we ourselves have been forgiven (see also Matthew 18). Mercy relieves the consequences of sin in other people’s lives (e.g., the Good Samaritan). Mercy does not hide itself to protect it from costly service.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (v8)
Biblically the heart is the centre of all that we are. The pure in heart are those who desire to know and serve Jesus. If our heart is divided or impure, our focus will not be on Him. Jesus is speaking of being morally clean and of having an uncompromising dedication to Christ with nothing standing in the way of our vision of him. We see something of God in our day to day lives, but when worldly things get in the way, we no longer see God so clearly. What distorts our vision of God? How can we be pure in heart? What can we do to see God better?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (v9)
The ultimate blessing is to be called children of God. A child inherits their fathers riches as well as his characteristics. God is the God of peace, who has made peace with us through Christ. Making peace is part of His gracious character. We share in God’s family likeness. Jesus not only speaks of peace between people but also between people and God. Those who seek peace, seek the salvation of others. Peacemakers are called Children of God and all are expected to be peacemakers. God’s Children will seek peace among themselves. Would people regard us as peace-makers? What does such peace-making look like?
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v10)
The final beatitude is for those who are persecuted because of righteousness. We have come full circle right back to where we started in v3. To the persecuted Jesus gives the promise of the Kingdom of heaven. While this is perhaps the opposite of what we might expect, such people are just what the world needs. The world is in rebellion to God, if Christ was persecuted then so will we. Integrity and not doing what everybody else is doing challenges the moral indifference of the world (1 Peter 4:12, Acts 5:41).
This is expanded in v11-12 as firstly Jesus broadens the idea of persecution to include insults and spoken falsehoods. Jesus also broadens the catalyst because of righteousness to because of me. Jesus finishes with a command to rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in Heaven. It is not easy living for Christ. It is not easy living lives that break the mould and stand out in the crowd. Jesus says that the resulting persecution was a triumphant sign that the Kingdom will belong to such people.
Well our time has gone and very well done for getting this far! Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is breaking the mould and urging us to look beyond the surface to what lies beneath. The Beatitudes describe a life of abundant blessing that stand in sharp contrast to our own concept of blessing. Ultimately, the Beatitudes the reflect the character of God. Jesus Himself lived out this life of abundance for all to see. May our lives be characterised by this picture Jesus paints of poverty of spirit, meekness, mourning, hunger & thirsting for righteousness, purity of heart, peace-making and persecution.
God bless you today. May God work in us to work out such a life of abundant blessing in us and through us…
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Why Worry
- Building with Wisdom
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour