Exploring The Beatitudes
When Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, He gave us the eight Beatitudes. They can be found in Matthew Chapter Five and are listed below.
St. Gregory described a Beatitude as, "...a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want. Perhaps the meaning of Beatitude may become clearer to us if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings."
Here are the 8 Beatitudes from Matthew 5:
|Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.|
|Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.|
|Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.|
|Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.|
|Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.|
|Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.|
|Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.|
|Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.|
The word "blessed" as used here refers to an inward sense of happiness or completeness. The Beatitudes, although eight in number, denote just seven distinct characteristics. The eighth Beatitude points out that by possessing the previous seven attributes of spirit we are subject to persecution in this fallen world but, as a result, ours is the Kingdom of Heaven. A circular reference that reinforces the first of the Beatitudes.
The inference here is that possession of the seven aspects of character results in a completeness of person such that a perfect state of blessedness is achieved.
Note that the Beatitudes aren't given as a list of rewards for those who observe certain behaviors, instead they're intended to illustrate the natural consequences of these personal characteristics as they play out.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
In this first Beatitude Jesus isn't talking about poor people, although neither does He exclude them. Throughout the Old Testament people of faith are described as poor, oppressed, afflicted, needy and miserable. And in James 2:5 were told that it's the poor of this world who are rich in faith. In Psalm 73:12 we read that its the ungodly who prosper in the world, increasing in riches. Used in the first Beatitude, the term "poor" has the qualifier, "in spirit" which clearly indicates one's state of mind rather than the inadequacy of one's net worth.
When we acknowledge that we're entirely dependent upon God, and without Him we have nothing, then we're approaching a state of spiritual maturity that opens us up to riches in Christ. We're positioned to receive the spiritual wealth that comes with the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn
In the second of the Beatitudes we're once again dealing with a deeper truth than what might be readily apparent. This isn't about mourning the dead. Its not about lamenting widows or those of us feeling the pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. This is still about spiritual poverty. Complementing the first Beatitude, Jesus talks here about the mourning of a lost spirit. The sense of spiritual poverty that accompanies the realization of one's need for salvation. Its an emotional thing. We're completely lost without Jesus! Its at this precious moment of mourning that we kneel before the altar of salvation and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And hence we are comforted.
Moreover, as we make our Christian journey in a fallen world, we mourn again and again as we encounter the spiritual poverty of others and build an increased awareness of our own inadequacy in the face of God's righteousness. But we shall indeed be comforted in the end when God wipes away all the tears from our eyes.
Blessed are the meek
Psalm 73:11 is echoed firmly here in the third Beatitude. And Jesus builds further on the concept of the mourners and the poor in spirit being heirs to the Kingdom. It follows that the former will naturally exhibit meekness of character, perhaps in the sense described in Titus 3 where we're encouraged to be "...subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men." Like Jesus Himself who said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
"...for they shall inherit the earth" might be translated "the land", which would further align with Psalm 73 containing the promise that we might "dwell in the land" and be given "the desires of thine heart" as the natural result of our trust in the Lord, our doing good, and our contrasting with evildoers and the wicked, as the meek, who shall inherit the earth!
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
The Beatitudes so far have dealt with our poverty of spirit, our spiritual emptiness and our need for spiritual fulfillment through salvation. But Jesus continues by speaking of the new Christian experience in this and the remaining three of the seven characteristics of the Beatitudes. Having accepted God's free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we live a new life. Our eyes are opened to reality and we see the world in a completely different light. When in Psalm 73 we read that God gives us the desires of our heart, we realize now that God has indeed given us the desires of our heart by placing them there! Psalm 73 has taken on a different meaning. We desire in our hearts to do His will and in that we actually do hunger and thirst for righteousness.
That doesn't mean we live perfect lives once saved. On the contrary, we continue to struggle with our sinful nature and we remain in constant need of God's forgiveness of our sins, and by His grace, He now sees us clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and is faithful to forgive us. But its by His Holy Spirit that we receive God's help in our fight against sin. It is by the Holy Spirit that we're convicted and given our new desire for righteousness. And when we're "filled" with the Holy Spirit, we're satisfied that we are walking in the will of God.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy
As a Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you're the recipient of God's limitless mercy. As we've seen in the previous Beatitude, our quest for righteousness is real enough, but our ability to achieve it is something else altogether. Consequently we're in need of God's mercy every day, and through the righteousness of His son, Jesus Christ, God is able to give us that mercy, without end. Unconditional. No questions asked.
So we have the knowledge of our own need for mercy, and we praise God every day - ever thankful for His grace - because we know we were lost without it. It is with this knowledge that we're able to project the mercy we receive from God upon others in need of mercy from ourselves.
Who are we to deny mercy to others who are in deep need of it ourselves?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God
In Old Testament times a great deal of attention was given to purification rituals intended to cleanse one's heart from sin and impurity. It was also in Old Testament times that visions of God might be believed to have been manifest. But in this Beatitude, Jesus tells us that those possessing, themselves a pure heart, will see God! A revolutionary concept at the time to those burdened by the ceremonial antics of the contemporary Jewish priesthood at the temple.
A pure heart. By that does Jesus mean that we'll see God if we have good intentions? If we go through life trying to do good, with the best of intentions, does that mean we have a pure heart?
No - the Old Testament perspective on purity wasn't altogether wrong. We're sinful by nature and we do need to be cleansed of that sin before we can even approach God, let alone see him. But as we've seen, Jesus is talking about the Christian experience here. The fact is that there is only one person who actually possesses a pure heart and that's Jesus Himself! The good news is that His purity is imputed to you and me when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. God sees us as having a pure heart! He sees Jesus' righteousness in us, and that allows us to approach Him.
None of us expects to 'see' God in this present life, but we have the blessed assurance that through His grace and mercy, we will one day see Him in all His glory.
Blessed are the peacemakers
The Old Testament describes God's interactions with mankind in many different circumstances. We have the flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Goliath, records of war, conflict and enslavement. Egypt, Babylon and so on.
Throughout this period God demonstrated His character as a God of righteousness and long-suffering so that we might understand how we measure up against the standards of His law. But when Christ on the cross took upon Himself the consequence of our shortcomings once and for all, God was able to manifest Himself as the God of peace. Once we become reconciled to God by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we're positioned to experience that "...peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" that Paul speaks of in Romans 5:1 and the wonderful "...peace of God which passeth all understanding" that Paul describes in Philippians 4:7.
When we know Christ, the peace of God is seen in us. We pass along that peace in our daily interactions with others - its manifest in our heart, our spirit, and we become the peacemakers.
And clearly, we are the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake
The Beatitudes are rounded out with this last, passive declaration of how those possessing the foregoing characteristics can expect to be treated in this fallen world. We shall be persecuted. But here Jesus reassures us of that promise in the first Beatitude; ours is the Kingdom of Heaven!
One might conclude that those possessing such desirable characteristics and their consequential blessings might not provoke any unpleasantness, let alone persecution, but Jesus made it clear: John 3:20 - “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” John 7:7 - “The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” John 15:19 - “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Particularly, the children of God who possess such spiritual attributes are an annoyance to the spirit of the world. Poverty of spirit runs counter to the attitudes of the prevailing me-generation; a pensive disposition that acknowledges our deficiencies before God, is distasteful to the callous, indifferent, scoffing, self-satisfied world; a meek and quiet spirit, accepting wrongs, is regarded as spineless, and irritates the proud, resentful spirit of the world; our craving after spiritual blessings exposes the inadequacy of the all too popular pursuits of the flesh and the pride of life; so does a merciful spirit the cold uncaring world; purity of heart contrasts painfully with self-absorbed hypocrisy; and the peacemaker just gets in the way of an antagonistic, combative world. Thus does the righteousness of Christ as reflected in us come to be persecuted. But blessed are we who, in spite of this, dare to be righteous.
For ours is the kingdom of heaven.