STUDY FIVE: THE BEATITUDES - A CALL TO A RADICAL NEW IDENTITY [5:1-16]

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2012

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus begins to outline some of the radical changes to our perspective that result from knowing him as the King.  

A. THE MEANING OF ‘BLESSED’  

In Matthew 5:3-11 Jesus describes people who are ‘blessed’. The word ‘blessed’, translating the Greek makarioi, is sometimes translated ‘how fortunate’ or ‘happy’. The word has an interesting derivation, with the root mak from which our word ‘macro’ is derived. In current secular terms we could perhaps substitute ‘has got it all’ or ‘has got it made’. In spiritual terms, ‘blessed’ means to be the ‘privileged recipient of divine favour’ [A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature]. 

And it is here that we come against a difficulty. From Biblical times to the present day, prosperity and good health have been commonly viewed as God’s blessing, a reward for being ‘good’, and poverty and sickness seen as the evidence of God’s judgment on a life of visible or hidden sin. This concept was in the minds of Job’s three friends when they saw his financial empire and health ripped away from him.

Contemporary ‘Christian’ perceptions of ‘happiness’ or ‘blessedness’. What physical states or conditions do some Christians associate with ‘blessedness’, and even go so far as to teach that the absence of these ‘blessings’ indicates an absence of faith, or the presence of sin?

 

 

 

 

This problem with the meaning of ‘blessed’ reflects the human perception that we must relate to God on a tit-for-tat basis. This assumes that we have the ability in ourselves to satisfy his demands and keep his commandments. It also reflects our earth-bound mindset that locks us into physical time-space existence, and forces us to view God’s promises within a physical time-space context. When Jesus preached this sermon, he was speaking to a people who were locked into this physical mindset: the Jews were looking for a Messianic kingdom of physical blessedness, in which they would be delivered from the Roman domination, in which the Davidic kingdom would be restored in terms of both the king and the extent of the kingdom, and in which peace and prosperity would be the order of the day. Concepts of human power and human importance figured greatly in this physical perception.

Then Jesus came and in this Sermon on the Mount, as in all of his teaching, challenged these perceptions of both ‘blessedness’ and the identity of those who are ‘blessed’. Shattering the images of physical blessedness and human power and importance, he lifts our thoughts to an entirely different plane.  

On this plane Christ’s meaning is defined by three points:

[1] Christ is speaking of spiritual blessedness

[2] This state of blessedness is not the result of human performance, but the result of a declaration of God

[3] The blessedness described here is identical to the promises made elsewhere in Scripture to all who believe:

The kingdom of heaven [Matthew 8:11; 13:28;18:3; John 3:3-5; 14:1-4]

Comfort [Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:16]

Inherit the earth [Romans 8:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-7]

Will be filled [John 4:14; 6:35; 10:10]

Shown mercy [Romans 12:1; Ephesians 2:4; 1 Peter 1:3; 2:10]

Called sons of God [John 1:12; Romans 8:14-16;1 John 3:1]  

B. DEFINING AND EXPLAINING THE NEW IDENTITY OF A DISCIPLE OF THE KING

The people whom Christ considers ‘blessed’ are not the powerful, or the rich, or the important, according to this world’s perceptions, nor even those considered ‘blessed’ by some spiritual perceptions. Jesus here defines the identity of every genuine believer, of every genuine disciple. It is not something we have to generate for ourselves, it is what we already are, in union with Christ Jesus. But it is, as we will see, also our calling - that which Christ calls us to express in our lives.

B.1 The true disciple of Christ is a person who is poor in spirit [Matthew 5:3]

The word translated ‘poor’ – ptochos – refers to extreme poverty. It refers to a poverty in which one has nothing, can do nothing to get anything, and is reduced to live on the generosity of others. It is poverty without any hope of personally being able to change that poverty. It is to be a beggar. 

The ‘poor in spirit’ are those who have ceased to trust in themselves - their own identity, credentials, performance or merits for their relationship to God; they do not expect to earn, merit or deserve his ‘blessing’, indeed, they know that they cannot. They come before God as beggars, knowing that they are completely dependent on his generosity if they are to hope for any acceptance, any peace, any forgiveness, any love, any removal of guilt and condemnation, any salvation. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes about this beatitude:
‘This, of necessity, is the one which must come at the beginning for the good reason that there is no entry into the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, apart from it. There is no-one in the kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit.  It is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and all the other characteristics are in a sense the result of this one … it really means an emptying … [p42] … What the Lord is concerned about here is the spirit; it is poverty of spirit … it is ultimately a man’s attitude towards himself. … there is a clear-cut division between these two kingdoms – the kingdom of the God and the kingdom of this world, the Christian man and the natural – a complete, absolute distinction and division. There is perhaps no statement that underlines and emphasizes that difference more than this “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. …This is something which is not admired by the world, and is actually despised by it. You will never find a greater antithesis to the worldly spirit and outlook than that which you find in this verse [p44,].  The whole principle on which life is run at the present time is:  express yourself, believe in yourself, realize the powers that are innate in yourself and let the whole world see and know them, self-confidence, assurance and self-reliance.  Now in this verse, we are confronted by something which is in utter and absolute contrast to that  … [p45, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount].

Lloyd-Jones then points out that ‘poor in spirit’ does not mean:

  • Being diffident, nervous, retiring, weak or lacking in courage
  • Glorying in one’s poverty of spirit or one’s humility
  • Suppression of one’s personality

Then he teaches that to be poor in spirit is:

• A complete absence of pride,
• A complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance.
• A consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God – a tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God.
• To not rely on –

o Our natural birth (family, nationality)
o Our natural temperament or personality
o Our natural position in life
o Our money, wealth or education
o Our own morality and behaviour
o The life we are trying to live, even our sacrifices                                             [p46-52]

This poverty of spirit recognizes that we stand guilty, condemned and empty-handed in the presence of God. We have ceased to trust in ourselves and our own pitiful offering of ‘righteousness’; we trust, not in ourselves, but in Christ alone.  

For personal study: How is being ‘poor in spirit’ is expressed in these texts?

Exodus 3:11

 

 

Judges 6:15

 

 

2 Samuel 7:18-21

 

 

Psalm 34:17-18

 

 

Isaiah 6:5

 

 

Isaiah 57:15

Psalm 51:17

 

 

Matthew 18:2-4

Matthew 19:14

 

 

Luke 5:8

 

 

Luke 18:9-14

 

 

Philippians 3:1-11

 

 

 B.2 The true disciple of Christ is a person who mourns [Matthew 5:4]

Jesus is not speaking here about those who are mourning the physical death of a loved one; he is teaching about mourning on a spiritual level. 

The true disciple of Jesus Christ is one who is mourning – present, continuous tense. This is not a grief that will pass with time, but a deep, fundamental grief that rocks the innermost being of those who know and love the Lord Jesus.

What do these verses teach us about this deep spiritual grieving.

[1] The example of Jesus Christ

Isaiah 53:3

Matthew 9:36

Mark 3:5a

John 11:33-35

John 12:27;13:21

 

 

[2] Examples of grief for the sins of the world, the dishonour of God’s name, and the loss of God’s glory

Ezra 10:6

Psalm 119:136

Psalm 139:19-22

Jer 8:21-9:2

Lam 3:48-5

Ezekiel 9:4

Daniel 9:8, 19

 

 

[3] Examples of grief for personal sins

Job 42:5,6

Psalm 25:13-18

Psalm 38

Psalm 51:4

Psalm 130:1-2

Psalm 143:1-4

 

 

This ‘mourning’ of the true disciple of Christ has a three-fold focus:

  • The true disciple of Christ grieves because of his own sin and failures
  • The true disciple of Christ grieves because of the sinfulness of the world around him, including the sinfulness of other disciples, and
  • The true disciple of Christ grieves because the Lord is robbed of his rightful honour and glory. 

But the true disciple of Christ also has the promise of comfort: because of the victory of Christ on the cross, and because of the sovereign power of God. All these things for which the disciple mourns are neither final nor fatal. There is the comfort of the Gospel, there is the comfort of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and there is the comfort of the scriptures that assure us that God is working his purpose out and that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

B.3 The true disciple of Jesus Christ is ‘meek’ [Matthew 5:5]

The word used by Jesus in 5:5 is praus, which means 'mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving'. It is a state of mind, an attitude to oneself that outlaws a self-seeking attitude to oneself and a hard-hearted attitude towards others. It is a word used by Jesus in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself: 'I and gentle and humble in heart ...' 

Here we are challenged in the same way that Paul challenges us in Philippians 2:5ff: 'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who ... made himself nothing.' And 'nothing' is exactly where we are and what we are in ourselves: apart from God we are nothing. We are dependent on him for our physical existence and survival and for our spiritual life and survival. To be 'meek' is to live with an awareness of this dependence, not in such a way as to deny what God has given us physically and spiritually, but in such a way that wants no glory for ourselves and is therefore willing to be thought nothing in order to achieve what is good and beneficial for others.

Because Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was 'meek' we cannot equate meekness with weakness or spinelessness. Meekness is a very deliberate, proactive thing, not an inevitable, passive thing. It is Jesus, the Almighty God, becoming man. It is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels to annihilate them. All for our salvation.  

 

Discuss and comment on the concept of meekness in these scriptures

Concerning the Lord Jesus:

Isaiah 40:2,3

 

 

Isaiah 53:7

 

 

Matthew 11:28-30

 

 

Matthew 26:53

 

 

John 5:19

 

 

Philippians 2:6-8

 

 

Hebrews 2:9-18

 

 

Hebrews 5:8

 

 

Hebrews 12:2,3

 

 

Commands to express meekness [just a few examples]

Matthew 20:20-28

 

 

Romans 12:10b

 

 

Romans 12:17-21

 

 

Romans 13:1-2

 

 

Romans 15:1-9

 

 

Galatians 6:1-5

 

 

Ephesians 5:21

 

 

Philippians 2:1-8

 

 

1 Peter 2:13-23

 

 

1 Peter 3:8-17

 

 

B.4 The true disciple of Jesus Christ hungers and thirsts for righteousness [Matthew 5:6]

This characteristic of the true disciple of Jesus Christ has two important parts [1] hungering and thirsting, and [2] righteousness.  

The true disciple hungers and thirsts for righteousness. His dominant desire, his overwhelming, consuming passion, is for righteousness. It is not a side issue. It is the focus of his whole existence. He is not motivated by a desire for happiness, or fame, or fortune, or any other thing. In understanding himself and his own unworthiness, as revealed in the first three beatitudes, he knows what he is lacking and longs for it with every fibre of his being.  

Think about these examples of this dominant desire.

Psalm 1:2

 

‘His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.’

Psalm 40:8

 

‘I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’

Psalm 119:20

 

‘My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.’

 

Psalm 119:47

 

‘For I delight in your commands because I love them.’

Matthew 6:33

 

‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’

The true disciple hungers and thirsts for righteousness. As we will see in our next study, true ‘righteousness’ is not external conformity to God’s laws; it is not righteousness in the sight of men. The righteousness of which the Bible speaks, and which is the dominant desire of the true believer, is twofold: 

[1] The righteousness of Christ, by which the true believer is justified in the presence of God – legally acquitted of all the sins of which he is guilty. The deep and constant desire of the true disciple is to be accepted in the presence of God, and this acceptance is provided in the gospel -a legal righteousness that is the present possession of every believer. This is the gospel righteousness of which Paul speaks strongly in his letters, and in which every believer trusts for his right-standing in the presence of God at any given moment. Recognizing his own disqualification and real guilt, the true believer has ceased to trust in his own performance and depends completely on the righteousness of Christ. His urgent desire for right standing in the presence of God is filled, satisfied, at every moment. For this reason Jesus promised complete and constant satisfaction to all who believe in him [John 4:14; 6:35].  

[2] It is a righteousness of life – a life that is right according to God’s standards. Because the true disciple loves God and desires to honour God, it is also his dominant desire that God will be glorified by his life. For this reason, although he has been credited with the righteousness of Christ and is assured of acquittal and acceptance, he longs also to be free of both the power and the presence of sin in his own life. He hates his sin that contradicts his love of God. He hates his sin that dishonours the one he seeks to honour. He loves the word of God that defines true godliness and directs him in the paths of righteousness. He seeks not his own happiness or blessedness, but that righteousness of life that will bring joy to his heavenly Father. He also knows, however, that he does not have the ability to generate this righteousness of life: it also must come from God, as God works in him [2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13].

What dominant concern is reflected in these verses:

Matthew 5:16

Romans 7:21-24

1Corinthians 10:31 

Ephesians 4:1 

Ephesians 5:1,8-10 

Colossians 3:17, 23

1 John 3:3

 

B.5 The true disciple is merciful [Matthew 5:7]

The previous four beatitudes have focused on our recognition of utter dependence upon God. They have brought us to see our own unworthiness and inability, and caused us to be cast upon his grace and his mercy. The true disciple of Jesus Christ, aware that he has been, and continues to be, the recipient of immeasurable mercy, is characterised by that same mercy in his relationships with others. Being ‘merciful’ is his habitual state of mind, his habitual attitude towards his neighbour in which he acts towards him with love, even if such love is undeserved. In fact, Jesus taught that the absence of mercy indicates that one has not yet embraced the mercy of God offered in the Gospel, for to have received God’s mercy and to continue to exact justice from our neighbour is totally incongruous.

Discuss the attitude of mercy expressed in these verses:

Hosea 6:6

Micah 6:8

Matthew 9:10-13

Luke 6:32-36

James 2:13

James 3:17 

 

B.6 The true disciple of Jesus Christ is ‘pure in heart’ [Matthew 5:8]

Before we look at what ‘pure in heart’ means, it is important to understand what it does not mean: it cannot mean ‘sinless’ or ‘perfect’ because we have already seen that the true disciple of Christ ‘mourns’ because of his sin, and ‘hungers and thirsts after righteousness’. Some people think that it means ‘sincerity of heart’, but sincerity in itself is of no use, for one can be sincerely wrong, committed to a cause or a belief system that is totally in opposition to the teaching of the Bible.

But the Bible does call for sincerity, a sincerity of heart that includes integrity, lack of hypocrisy, single-mindedness, all directed to and focused on God. The true disciple does not serve God as a means by which he, the disciple, will benefit. Rather, he loves God because God is altogether lovely; he praises God because God is worthy of his praise; he serves God because he knows there is no other Master, no other Lord, to whom his service, his obedience and his devotion is due. This is the purity of heart of the disciple of Jesus Christ. He is the person who would acknowledge Jesus Christ as his Lord, worthy of all praise and obedience, even if Jesus had not died on the cross to obtain his forgiveness.  

When Satan accused Job, his accusation was that Job lacked integrity – that he served and obeyed God only because he wanted God to keep blessing him with material prosperity [Job 1:6-11; 2:1-5]. Even Job’s wife recognized that Job’s integrity was in question, when she said: ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ [2:9] But Job’s obedience to God was for God’s sake, not for his own benefit. He avoided sin for one reason, that if he sinned he ‘would have been unfaithful to God on high’ [31:28b] and treated his servants justly because ‘Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?’ [31:15]. Transcending even these statements of integrity is this: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ [13:15]. It is interesting to note that Job received the blessedness that Jesus pronounced on the pure in heart: he saw God [Job 38:1- 42:6].  

We also see this purity of heart in Moses, who urgently desired both to know and to see God, and to whom God gave a revelation of himself [Exodus 33:12-34:7] 

This is the purity of heart of the true disciple: that God is the centre of his life; God is the source and the goal of his life; God is the deciding motivating factor of his life. He does not practice his religion to be seen of men, or for personal reward; he practices his religion for God’s sake, because God alone is worthy. [We will see more of this concept in later studies.] 

Reflection: Discuss these verses in relation to the concept of ‘pure in heart’

Deuteronomy 4:29

Deuteronomy 6:5

Psalm 37:4

Psalm 42:1-2

Psalm 86:11

 

 

B.7 The true disciple of Jesus Christ is a peacemaker [Matthew 5:9]

As ‘peacemakers’ true disciples are seen to be children of their heavenly Father, who is the God of peace and the source of peace. 

Reflection: Meditate on these Scriptures that enlighten us about this identity of true disciples as ‘peacemakers’.

God is the ‘God of peace’

The gospel is characterized by and establishes peace

Those who believe in Christ are to be characterized by peace

Romans 15:33; 16:20

1 Corinthians 14:33

2 Corinthians 13:11

Philippians 4:9

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Hebrews 13:20

Luke 2:14

Acts 10:36

Romans 5:1; 14:17

Ephesians 2:14-17; 6:15

Philippians 4:7

2 Peter 1:2

Romans 12:18; 14:19

1 Corinthians 7:15

2 Corinthians 13:11

Galatians 5:22

Ephesians 4:3

Colossians 3:15

Hebrews 12:14

In addition to these references, almost every New Testament letter either begins or finishes with a greeting in which the recipients are wished ‘peace’ from God the Father or from Jesus Christ.  

‘Peace’ is a one-word summary of the Gospel, and the true disciple is an ambassador of this Gospel of peace, by verbally proclaiming the message of reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:17-21], and by demonstrating the reality of Gospel reconciliation and peace in relationships with others.  

B.8 The true disciple of Jesus Christ is ‘persecuted’ and reviled because of Jesus Christ and his righteousness [Matthew 5:10-11]

The true disciple is persecuted because of ‘righteousness’ at two different levels:

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because:

  • People do not like to think that they can do nothing to merit their salvation; every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to ‘heaven’
  • Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion
  • People think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride or both.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt. 

This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual. 

The true disciple of Jesus Christ is also persecuted because of Jesus Christ. This happened to the New Testament Christians and the early church, and in various times and places right down to the present. In the current era there is reportedly more persecution because of the name of Jesus than in any other period of history. In Australia the level of persecution and accusations because of the name of Jesus will soon increase as anti-discrimination laws and ‘the new tolerance’ increasingly dominate our culture. Why is this? Why should the name of Jesus provoke persecution and rejection? Because Jesus claimed that he alone is the one way to the one God, and by this claim he invalidates all the religions and ideas of men. Also by this claim he invalidates all human perceptions of being ‘good enough’ to make their own way to God. His claims are offensive and divisive. Apart from a few centuries in which the western world was dominated by a Christian mindset, this is the way it has always been. 

Thus the true disciple is one who, in identifying with Jesus Christ and his righteousness has also identified and aligned himself with the suffering and rejection which Jesus himself experienced.

C. BE WHAT YOU ARE 

The beatitudes have told us who we really are – in ourselves, and in Christ. They have described an identity that is totally distinct from the unbelieving world. The world knows nothing of this poverty of spirit, this mourning for sin, this meekness, this hunger and thirst for righteousness, this mercy, this one-eyed focus on God and his glory, this deep peace of a restored relationship between God and man. Yet we still live in the world. We are still the inhabitants of the earth, even though we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  

In the context of this distinction, and in the context of this already-but-not-yet existence in which we still live in this world, Jesus taught:  

  • You are the salt of the earth … so be salty [Matthew 5:13]
  • You are the light of the world … so shine. [5:14-15] 

Be what you are.

You are different. Be different.

Let men taste the tang of that difference.

Let men see the light of that difference.

Let them see the glory of God as you live out in their presence the radical identity of the disciple of the King [5:16].

As we study further in the Sermon on the Mount we will see how this radical identity works out in practice – in relation to our ethical system, in relation to our value system, in relation to our faith, and in relation to the ability to practice discernment. 

How has this study on the beatitudes challenged you personally?