Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 4 January 19:
Matthew 5:3-11 — And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Chapter 4 of Matthew concludes by introducing Jesus’ ministry, telling us that He went throughout the land “teaching… proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Chapter 5 begins with His teachings, specifically with what we call “The Beatitudes.” The Beatitudes are perhaps some of the most well-known verses within the Gospels, but also arguably some of the most neglected.
It is beneficial that we are reading Matthew in parallel with Genesis, giving us the perspective of two different kingdoms with two very different agendas and approaches, two different kingdoms that war against each other from Genesis to Revelation, two different viewpoints that often battle within our minds. As we have read, the great battle started in the Garden, where Adam and Eve asserted their perceived goodness and self-sufficiency, where in their pride and self-centeredness, they convinced themselves that they could live for themselves and define righteousness on their own terms. Now, Jesus is proclaiming the truth of His Kingdom, and today He delivers His battle plan, but it is not what anyone likely expected.
In stark contrast with the world’s message, even the message of the religious leaders of the day, He starts with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” stating in the present tense rather than the future tense, “for thiers is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit are those who recognize that, of themselves, they are spiritually bankrupt, with no righteousness at all. These are they who recognize their total depravity and total dependence on God.
Then He speaks of their mournfulness – total sorrowfulness over their sinfulness with truly repentant hearts. He says, they shall be comforted. Then He communicates their meekness – total humility and reliance on God, ready to trust in God and patiently endure in obedience. Jesus goes on to tell us that His kingdom people aren’t driven by what motivates everyone else, rather they “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” to return to a right fellowship with God, metaphorically speaking, to return to the old Garden days when there was perfect unity with Him and with others. This is no casual approach to religion, this is hunger and thirst! When you are starving, it is hard to think about anything other than food, and Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.” Today, He tells us that when people hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will satisfy.
Jesus then explains that His people, those who are “poor in spirit,” those who recognize their total dependence on God’s grace and mercy, are naturally merciful to others. They don’t see themselves as more righteous than others, and they don’t demand justice for themselves while relying solely upon grace themselves.
Next, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” a statement that is as hard to handle as His last statement in Matthew 5 – “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can either of these demands be achieved? I believe these verses speak to Christians living out more and more each day what they have already received in Christ, righteousness and purification:
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 — And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 John 3:1-3 — See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
– Philippians 3:12 — Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
The pure in heart have righteousness and purity credited to them through Jesus Christ, but then, in a response of love and as an act of worship and testimony, pursue righteous and pure lives, desiring with all their hearts to be “conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) For Kingdom people, conformity to Christ is their hearts’ desire and prize of life!
Jesus then tells us that “sons of God” are “peacemakers.” This doesn’t just mean that we keep the peace with others; it means that we are the messengers of ultimate peace – peace with God, reconciliation with God through Jesus, the only Peace that can bring any real peace. Paul said it this way:
– 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 — From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
But then Jesus concludes with a Beatitude that is so significant He says it twice – God has called His people to ‘joyfully’ suffer, to be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Understand, Christians, that our God-given ministry of reconciliation includes a ministry of suffering, modelling Jesus’ sacrificial, forgiving mercy and grace to others in our relationships — in the name of Jesus, in fellowship with Jesus, as an act of love for Him and for others. To the world, this certainly won’t look like “winning,” and to you it might not “feel” like winning, going completely against your human nature, but let God’s word encourage you:
– James 1:12 — Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
– 2 Corinthians 4:17 — For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….
– Galatians 6:2 – … in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
– Philippians 3:10 — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
– Luke 14:27 — Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
– 1 Peter 4:12-13 — Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
The Beatitudes provide a framework for the rest of Jesus’ teachings, and as we continue to read, I would encourage you to continuously cross-reference them. I pray that as you read these familiar verses, they will not get stuck in your head but would instead move to your heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 5 Jan 19: Today, use the Beatitudes as a guide for self-examination. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)