The Beatitudes – Introduction
Perhaps the most famous sermon Jesus preached is what’s called “The Sermon on the Mount.” It spans 3 chapters [Matthew 5-7]. The beginning section of that sermon found in Matthew 5:3-12, often called the Beatitudes, lists 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. We will explore each of the 8 attitudes in a series of posts starting with this introductory post.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 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.
In 1888 Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a very anti-Christian book creatively titled The Anti-Christ. In it, he asks and answers questions such as this:
Question: “What is more harmful than any vice?”
Answer: “Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak—Christianity.”
Nietzsche defined good as “all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man,” and he defined bad as “all that proceeds from weakness” [Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word, Matthew 5:3-10.]
People of the world would agree with his words. By nature, people without Jesus seek to avoid weaknesses of all kinds. Yet, in Matthew 5:3-12, according to Jesus, these weaknesses should mark the lifestyle of all who profess to follow him. Why? Because it’s such a lifestyle that experiences God’s blessings that receives his approval—even though it’s a lifestyle that brings mockery from the world. In other words, Jesus is calling us to a counterculture lifestyle!
Matthew 5:3-12 is often titled the Beatitudes. The word “Beatitude” comes from the Latin translation of the word “Beatus,” which’s translated as “Blessed.” One writer called these the “Beautiful Attitudes” that should mark true followers of Jesus. I agree! And there are 8 attitudes listed in this section—verses 10-12 describe one attitude – that is enduring persecution—even though the word “Blessed” appears both in verses 10 and 11.
If you notice, each attitude is marked by the word “Blessed,” which appears 9 times. Some translations render this term as “Happy” or “Fortunate.” Yet, it may not bring out the complete picture as the word “blessed” might do. Why? 2 reasons.
Reason # 1. Happiness refers to the subjective state of a person—how they feel—whereas Jesus appears to be making an objective judgment about them—about what God thinks of them. God approves them for displaying attributes such as being poor in spirit, mourning, etc. That’s why I prefer to use the term “Blessed.”
Reason # 2. I also prefer it because of the way the term “happiness” is understood in our culture. Our culture equates happiness to happy feelings that are based upon earthly circumstances. While those who are blessed by God, i.e., those who receive his approval, will feel happy and joyful, it’s a different kind of joy. It’s a different kind of happiness than the world describes. It’s a feeling that comes from God’s pleasure and approval of them—no matter what circumstances they may face. Even during persecution and suffering, believers are still in a positive state of being approved by God—even when they don’t feel happy. So, I prefer using the term “blessed.”
In the end, it’s not at all a big issue whether we render the term “Blessed” or “Happy” as long as we understand the true meaning of blessing or happiness.
Now, the Beatitudes form a structure. Each beatitude has 3 components to it. First of all, there’s a blessing [“Blessed” – Matthew 5:3a]. Second, there’s the reason for the blessing based on a particular attitude [“because they are poor in spirit” – Matthew 5:3b]. Finally, there is a reward for displaying such an attitude [“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:3c].
This is the central theme of the Beatitudes: Experiencing the blessings of the “kingdom of heaven”—both now and in all fullness in the future. This theme comes from the phrase: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” which appears at the end of verses 3 and 10! “Theirs is” indicates a present possession.
You see, the kingdom of heaven has both a present element and a future element to it. As God promised in the Old Testament, the future element refers to the physical kingdom that Jesus will set up when he returns to earth. However, even now, certain spiritual blessings are experienced by true believers—i.e., those who live under the lordship or rule of King Jesus.
It’s vital to understand that the blessings of the kingdom of heaven are reserved only for those who display these 8 attitudes in their daily lives as a result of having experienced salvation and, thus, having the Holy Spirit living inside them. It doesn’t mean that believers will display all these attitudes in perfection all the time. Even as Spirit-in-dwelt Christians, believers may and sadly often fall short of this lifestyle.
Yet, the pursuit of the lifestyle described not only in the Beatitudes but also in the entire Sermon on the Mount should [and must] dominate every Christian who lives under the rule of King Jesus here on earth. Even though believers will never fully reach the goal on this side of heaven, they must still pursue it wholeheartedly. As the late Haddon Robinson, in his book, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, rightly said, “God is more interested in the process than the pinnacle itself. Going after the goal becomes its own reward.”
So, with that said, we will look at the first beatitude in the NEXT post! Until then, why not prayerfully go through them on your own and ask the Lord to make you not only want but also enable you to pursue this kind of lifestyle continually?