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“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). 

Jesus’ manifesto on the Kingdom moves uniquely from peacemaking (Matthew 5:9) to persecution. Clearly, as much as we pursue a lifestyle of harmony with others, some will not like us due to our pursuit of His righteousness.  This is the basis of our persecution – we seek after Him and His righteousness. Some in this world will find our radical following of Jesus our King and His way of living distasteful and, in some cases, engenders opposition and even hatred. Lest we forget, following the narrow way of Christ that leads to life swims against the tide of the broad way of evil that leads to eternal destruction. These two diametrically opposed value systems inevitably will clash. Jesus said to expect the same type of rejection and persecution as He endured (John 15:20). This is one mark of His true followers – they, on some level, will be persecuted! 

Beyond that, Jesus captures the contrarian essence of Kingdom living when He tells us, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and to, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). How many of us have persecutors, enemies, and those who mistreat us due to our pursuit of Him, His kingdom, and His righteousness. And those who are blessed to have such adversaries, do we bless and pray for them? Such are the marks of His Kingdom followers. 

Continuing with His classic counter-cultural style, Jesus says to rejoice and be glad when we encounter such travail. In a culture that is consumed with pain and difficulty avoidance this concept is staggering. A life of persecution is not the type of existence the flesh yearns for or this world encourages. But our suffering is for righteousness and not our poor choices or sinfulness (v. 10), we are reviled “because of [Him]” or for His sake (v 11), and we serve as reminders that God’s people (the prophets) have always faced persecution (v. 12).  This is why we must embrace persecution and even revel in it. In our righteous suffering we exemplify Jesus, the Suffering Servant and a man acquainted with grief and sorrow (see Isaiah 53). This is our reason to rejoice and be glad in our sufferings. The apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)! 

Martin Luther considered persecution and suffering as marks of the true church. Dietrich Bonheoffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace” and was cruelly martyred by the Nazis in 1945, said, “Suffering is the badge of true discipleship”.  Our gospel is rooted in suffering. Jesus suffered and died for us. So, as followers of Jesus, why would we think that we would be treated any differently? As a matter of fact He predicted that we would be treated poorly just as He was. Listen to His words in Matthew 10:22-26:   

“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!  So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” 

So, when we exhibit a faith that is willing to be persecuted for Him and His righteousness, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is ours and that great is our reward in the culmination of that Kingdom. Truly we are blessed beyond comprehension when we have the privilege of suffering for Him. Why is this? Because,  it is when we are persecuted and wounded for Him, I believe, that we are most like Jesus, the Suffering Servant who died for our righteousness. And nothing should make us happier than being like Him! So let us rejoice and be glad when we suffer due to our pursuit of righteousness and our righteous Savior.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:1-3).

When questioning someone about what they are doing on Sunday how often have we heard the response, “I’m going to worship”? The use of the word going, as opposed to doing or living, concerns me. Worship does not necessarily happen in a place (an institutional or simple church) or an event but, according to Paul, is a lifestyle that transcends location and a singular experience. It is an intentional, moment by moment lifestyle of sacrifice, transformation, and service. Let’s look at the characteristics of true spiritual worship as an act found in this passage.

  • True worship is derived from the ongoing perspective of God’s underserved mercy towards us. A sense of His greatness and goodness must be the prompter of a transformed existence of perpetual reverence. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (12:28).
  • True worship is saturated in sacrificial, holy living, and the desire to please God. In short, worship is Godward and Jesus-centered. It is not about us and our wants and desires. Worship benefits us but those benefits are but the residual effects of enthroning Him in our hearts and living and not the purpose behind our pursuit of Him. We worship because He is worthy!
  • True worship is primarily a spiritual act (Philippians 3:3). The raising of one’s hands and other physical manifestations may be part of worship but such things must be derived from a spiritual seed. I’ve seen thousands of hands raised at a football game but the fans weren’t worshipping God! In other words, real spiritual worship is not based merely upon fleeting feelings or a sense of excitement.
  • True worship involves a lifestyle that is radically different than the lost world around us. It’s easy to be different from the world when we are “doing church” but a worship-centered life necessitates the daily living out of our faith that is juxtaposed against the world’s philosophies and behavior (see Colossians 2:23).
  • True worship involves the continual renewal and cleansing of the mind so that we might think as Jesus thinks. Worship engages the mind and thus affects our attitudes and behaviors. It is not built and pure emotionalism. We are to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Therefore God’s word is always the foundational principle that guides us in all of our endeavors, including worship.
  • True worship is the daily living out of God’s will in a manner which truly pleases Him. Pleasing God by acting out His will for us is not an event but a journey. We don’t just do worship on Sunday morning or listening to praise music in the car. Worshipping is doing His will in the real world, not insulated and isolated from the perils and pain of our confused culture.
  • True worship is bathed in the sincere humility of a servant. It is not about show but about subservience to God and service to others. This type of paradigm is fueled by the gift of faith that He has given us to see Him in all of His glory and respond accordingly.

So we see that worship is not an event but a perpetual act. It is part and parcel of who we are in Him. It is the daily transformation of a life, moment by moment, spent honoring Him in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Let’s not think that worship is an experience or a church service (or even a Christian concert) but, instead, a lifestyle that projects the glory that He is so worthy of. It is holy, servant-oriented and a love-saturated expression of Him. In a beautiful way this kind of true worship is but a precursor to an eternity of adoring Him. Listen to John describe the scene of never-ending worship:

“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:9-11).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9) 

Jesus’ mandate to be peacemakers proceeds logically from the previous Beatitude.  We can not have external peace unless we have internal peace and that only comes from purity of heart. We are called to be purveyors of peace in our families, communities, and among other believers. Following “the Prince of Peace” makes us desire to be at peace. He has given us peace and reconciled us to God through His gospel so we can demonstrate this attribute to the world around us. Kingdom living requires that we be healers and not hurters. And all of this foreshadows the eternal peace of the eventual and ultimate culmination of His reign with us. Heaven will be an atmosphere of complete accord forever! 

That doesn’t mean, however, that the believer’s journey is without conflict entirely. Sometimes following Jesus and adhering to his radical calling for us disturbs folks around us, even those closest to us (see Matthew 10:34-36).  Being one of His requires that we put Him first, follow His teachings, and sometimes make culturally difficult, radical, and sometimes misunderstood choices and that often upset and confuse some. The contrarian nature of Kingdom living will sometimes result in conflict and even estrangement from those we love (see Matthew 10:37). We should never promote unity at the expense of truth or sound doctrine. But these types of situations are not the context of this Beatitude and are exceptions rather than the rule. 

The point here is that we are blessed because we never intentionally seek out conflict. We pursue peace unless is means contradicting His word or will for us. The New Testament writers confirm that our nature should be one of harmony creation and not conflict creation (i.e. 1 Corinthians 7:15, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 3:22). That begs the question, “Are we, as followers of this King of Peace, nurturers of conciliation in our sphere of influence”? In other words, are we perceived by both believers and non-believers as peaceable or are we seen as contentious and argumentative? If not, could it be that we have not fully surrendered to our peace-giving Lord and possess that internal peace from Him that “passes all understanding”? The scripture is clear that Jesus came to give His children His peace and it is an inner harmony that goes beyond anything that can be found in this world – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). 

So being a peacemaker and experiencing the blessing of living in peace demands complete reliance upon Jesus. Paul says He is the source of our peace, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:20). And creating peace was His purpose, “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). This is why when we exemplify harmony and peace we are demonstrating that we are the children of God. 

So all of this points us back to the great preacher of this manifesto of the Kingdom of God – Jesus, the great reconciler. Paul said to the church at Corinth: 

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). 

So let us demonstrate Him and His Kingdom by being ministers of peace. We should point a troubled world to this God of reconciliation by reflecting the Prince of Peace and His Kingdom of eternal peace. Paul speaks to all Kingdom believers when he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15). In the pursuit of peace, through the peace-giving Christ that our culture desperately needs, we are truly blessed in every conceivable sense and project the happy state of being called His children.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). 

Nothing is more blessed than to see God! But why is purity the qualifier? Fundamentally, we must understand that God is fundamentally and totally holy. Relationship and fellowship (seeing God) with Him requires righteousness. Given our lost and condemned state, how do we find moral purity? We know that it is not conferred through shallow religious performance or self-effort. So the beginning point must be receiving a purity that is not our own. And that can only be found in the atoning work of Jesus and through faith in the one “who knew no sin”. That is why it was so absolutely necessary that Jesus be sinless so that His righteousness could be imputed to those “under wrath and without hope” (see Ephesians 2:1-3, 12). Faith in Him and His completed work is always the foundation of any hope of purity before God. 

But this Beatitude has a more practical application as well. I can think of nothing greater than to see and know God. It should be the highest pursuit of man. There is a sovereign Lord of the universe and, according to Jesus, we can see him! What could be more life-transforming than that? Jesus explains that man’s grandest pursuit – seeing and knowing the Omnipotent – requires life-transforming purity of heart. To His Jewish audience they would understand the concept of purity. King David asked of His God to, “Create in me a pure heart” (Psalm 51:10). The religion of their day, however, focused on outward or ceremonial obedience. But this new King, Jesus, of a different kind of Kingdom emphasized inward and moral purity. He said that our hearts, not just our physical actions, must first be pure in order to see and know God. 

The Sermon on the Mount was not the only time Jesus addressed the disturbing religious trend of seeing righteousness from an external viewpoint. To the holiest men of His day He said, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). In His most scathing indictment of this shallow and performance oriented religion He declared: 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23: 25-28). 

This points us to the essence of seeing and knowing a holy God – sincerity, genuineness, and a lack of hypocrisy. This speaks to our thoughts and motives and causes us to realize that outward obedience, no matter how good it may appear, does not satisfy the righteous demands of God. Purity of heart is what characterizes the followers of this different kind of King. This transformation of our hearts and mind then, in turn, affects the way we act and speak. In Jesus’ Kingdom, it is internal purity that compels a life of external obedience and outward performance without purity and sincerity of heart is meaningless. He would say ritualistic religion, without true cleanliness of heart, is empty hypocrisy. 

So it is God’s sovereign gift of faith in Jesus that allows us to see and know God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and declares us pure in Him. But purity of heart also creates is us the ability to live a life that glorifies Him through real and effectual, not just ceremonial, good works (Ephesians 2:10). So if we want to see God in the fullest sense, having dynamic intimacy with Him, then this will happen through a purity of heart that transforms our living. Pure vessels are more easily filled by God and the cleaner the lens of our heart the more we sense his presence and power in us. This because the more we become like Jesus – pure in heart – the more we know and experience Him. And the more we know and experience Him the more we become like Him. This is what Paul was referring to when he said, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). 

Our God is a God of continual mercy to His children. The mercy of His salvation and sustenance for His chosen is the profound concept of Him withholding from us from us what we truly deserve – His wrath and condemnation.  Being our holy Ruler and Judge, He exhibits His love and grace towards us by removing us from the eternal consequences of our sin. That is the presumption and context behind this Beatitude – we are the blessed ones because we have received undeserved mercy from the God of the universe as Jesus took on His wrath at Calvary and bore the penalty for our transgressions. So it only makes sense that and those serve Him project the mercy of their King. So, in a way, we identify ourselves with Him and His Kingdom by demonstrating His mercy to others. And in our showing kindness we are given a supernatural satisfaction.                                                     

The Greek word for mercy used here essentially speaks to situations of need, pain, and distress which are, of course, the manifestations of sin and living in a fallen world. However, our compassion must go beyond just being concerned for people – the language here implies that we must actually do something about such dire circumstances. This verse suggests extending relief, healing, and helping whether the recipient is worthy or not. This image of mercy is a clear symbol, to those outside of His Kingdom, of the unmerited favor that has been extended by God to those that are graced to be His servants. Mercy shown to those in need is the outworking and evidence of God’s goodness towards us. In a lifestyle of mercy we project a unique sense of God’s favor and the happiness and blessing upon us. So, in this way of life, we are living examples of what He has done for us. 

We do not, however, live in a merciful culture. Darwinian ideology has created a “survival of the fittest” mentality that makes for a cruel environment. The weak and needy are often overlooked and abandoned as we seek after our own comfort and ease. Tragically, we also see the contemporary church becoming insolated and isolated from a hurting world. We often see institutional churches becoming more and more myopic and having an inward focus as opposed to meeting the needs of the hurting and pained people around us. Sometimes we seem to be more about erecting buildings and “growing” congregations than we are about helping those outside our church circle. Yet this Beatitude clearly describes followers of our King as benevolent. We are called to live a life of giving and forgiving that is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of our culture. 

Our showing of mercy may be exhibited in various forms. It could be the assistance provided to someone we do not know. Such is the case in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Our personal involvement in local and foreign missions is an example of this kind of mercy. It may be kindness and generosity towards those that are needy within our sphere of influence – friends, neighbors, co-workers, and believers that we encounter on a daily basis – that have fallen on hard times. This is seeing a need that is right in front of us and aiding without thought of reciprocation. It also may include showing forgiveness to those that have wounded, wronged, or intentionally maligned us (see Matthew 5:44). In this scenario we feel, in our flesh, as if our “enemies” deserve our vengeance but we choose to image forth the forgiveness and grace of our loving Lord. Being forgiving to others confirms that we understand the forgiveness that He has shown us (Matthew 6:14). 

So we see that those who receive mercy from God will show mercy to others. And this same concept is implied in Jesus’ words about forgiveness:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Clearly the forgiven ones are forgivers just like those that have received mercy will be merciful to others. 

But this Beatitude says that we will be shown mercy when we exhibit it. How do we explain this theological dilemma (as this verse could be construed as us earning God’s mercy by being merciful)? Well, I believe that when we reflect the mercy first demonstrated by God, in Christ, towards us we have a heightened sense of the benevolence He has shown to us. Just like it is with forgiveness, the more we forgive others the more we know, understand, and sense God’s great forgiveness towards us. So, yes, those that receive favor through Christ will be merciful and yet in our kindness to others we simultaneously gain a greater understanding and experience of God’s mercy in our own lives. For example, I do know that in my own spiritual journey, the more I give, forgive, and show mercy the more I am aware of those gifts from God that He has graciously showered upon me. And that is one of life’s greatest blessings.

“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40). 

“Everything has been sold”, he said, “and all of the arrangements made”. There couldn’t have been much to sell since his clothes were hand-me-downs and smelled of moth balls. He was nearly 80 but he and his wife of over 50 years were returning to the place of their calling – the deepest jungles of Africa. He was a Bible translator, a missionary and, in a very real sense, a martyr. I met him on a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas. Our 30 minute lunch encounter shook my world. To this day, though forever changed by this providential appointment, I do not remember his name. 

He and his devoted wife had spent over 10 years with a remote and primitive people-group in Africa. It took them that long to translate small portions of the Bible into their native tongue. There was virtually no written word and but a couple of tribesmen that knew about language in the written form. These missionaries had previously endeared themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep tribe’s newborns free from pestilence and therefore alive. Things that we take for granted in America were door openers for them in their Bible translation ministry. Based upon this couple’s medical knowledge, the clan eventually befriended them and they began to put the pieces of their language together. The missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. But they eventually got the critical New Testament texts translated and in the hands of those who could communicate to the tribe the truths of the message. Then they returned to America to retire. Or so they thought. 

All of this had happened several years before I met this dear man. Now he shared his new vision for his last days on earth. He and his wife had just been granted a visa by the African country to return and minister again – “This time we will tell stories of Jesus. That will be quicker and more effective. They will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read”. He said this with an unmistakable gleam of joy in his eye. Then he bounced up from the lunch table and said, “There is much to do for our journey”.  He walked away with a lively step. But before he could escape, I asked the question, “when are you coming back home”? “Actually”, he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to the states. We plan on dying there with our tribe. We have the Good News to share and little time remaining to do so”. Then He glanced back and said a sincere, “God bless you…I will remember you in my prayers”. 

“What a servant”, I thought! He was going to pray for me as he prepared to go with his wife to the place of their death. Today he, and maybe his wife as well, probably is buried in some unmarked grave that is surrounded by jungle, bugs, predatory animals, and an illiterate tribe that desperately needed to hear the gospel of Jesus. This servant was going to tell the stories of Jesus with no sense of personal acclaim or sacrifice. It was his calling – so it was something he must do and he was doing it with a very distinctive attitude of joy and excitement. Suddenly I was humbled, virtually broken, at the pathetic nature of my own commitment to God’s calling to global missions. I needed his prayers while he and his wife deserved mine. Because this man and his bride were living examples of Revelation 12:11: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death”. 

As I remember his thrill in returning to the darkest parts of Africa to spread the gospel and die for His Savior, I must admit again that I don’t recall his name. I’m not even sure I got it. But that isn’t really important. God knows his name and that is all that really matters. For God has truly planned something unfathomably better for this man of faith and his wife – “However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).               

The first four Beatitudes are a logical progression. Starting with “”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) each blessing builds upon the previous ones. We must first acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God. This confession causes us to mourn over both our sins and our sinfulness (Matthew 5:4). This creates in us the humble state of meekness that the Kingdom of Heaven requires (Matthew 5:5). So we see that our conviction leads to confession which leads to repentance (a change of heart and mind) that culminates in the pursuit of a Godly life (Matthew 5:6). Therefore, all of these postures, when progressively combined, compel us to seek after that which we do not have – righteousness!  And isn’t it glorious to know that if we come to Him hungry and thirsty for His righteousness He promises to satisfy our cravings and bless us! 

All of humanity is seeking after happiness. Sadly, contentment is often sought through pleasure, possessions, relationships, work, and a pain-free and comfortable life (among many other things) but real satisfaction and contentment remains elusive. Why?  Because many search for happiness in the temporal and the tangible as opposed to the spiritual and the eternal. The fatal flaw here is the idea that we can have happiness without holiness. Jesus says that true contentment comes from holiness or the pursuit of righteousness. He underscores this later in His grand discourse when he says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). 

So what is the fundament prescription for happiness? I believe it looks like this: there is no true happiness apart from holiness and no holiness apart from Christ. Therefore, pursuing a righteousness-giving Jesus empowers us to live the holy lives that reflect the joy that we find in Him. In Christ we find the consummation of both our holiness and our happiness. That is why Paul can say that “in Christ” we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).  

So we see that a fundamental ambition of God’s Kingdom people is a hunger and thirst for righteousness because we seek after the spiritual and not the material. The pagan world pursues things of this world as a means to be satisfied (‘filled”) but we find satisfaction in the righteousness that only comes through Christ. His chosen realize Him to be the only source of righteousness and the only means to satisfy our hungry and thirst souls. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). That is why we so desperately (as if famished) desire Him and His righteousness. 

However, we must understand that the type of righteousness spoken of in this Beatitude goes beyond just having a right relationship with God (the justification of our sins) through faith in the atoning work of Jesus. It speaks to the pursuit of a personal and practical righteousness that projects both the King (Jesus) and His Kingdom. This means that the “Blessed” mentioned here are rabidly pursuing a life that reflects Christ in their own holy living and in the way they demonstrate their faith to the world around them. Their poverty of spirit, brokenness and humility are essential not just for the forgiveness of sin but also the living out of a life worthy of our calling. 

The point is this: due to the justification of sins – our positional righteousness before God through faith in the atoning work of Christ – we find that a desire to be free from sin is cultivated in our lives. Why? Because sin separates us from God and we, because we so love Him sand are so grateful for what He has done for us, want no part of that which would hinder our relationship with Him or our ability to demonstrate His love within our sphere of influence (which is the lost and dying world around us). This Beatitude points us to our passion for demonstrating Jesus’ righteousness by reflecting His beauty through holy living. That is why the writer of Hebrews said, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). 

Pride and self-promotion are the fundament tenets of our world system. Secular humanism encourages us to make much of ourselves and exalts the greatness, wisdom, and goodness of man. That philosophy makes us the king of our own kingdom. This is a tragic and false view of life and eternity but this thinking prevails in our culture and, sadly, sometimes even in our churches. But Jesus says that those that will reign with Him in His Kingdom are the meek. They are the truly blessed ones. Jesus even described himself as meek (Matthew 11:29) and Paul mentions this attribute of our Lord (2 Corinthians 10:1) 

We may recoil at the concept of meekness in this context because we do not understand its meaning.  We often equate meekness with weakness but such is not the case. The Greek word for meekness needs to be understood as gentle, humble and considerate in nature due to the exercising of self-control. The NEB translates this verse as “those of a gentle spirit”. So meekness is not a lack of strength but harnessed and self-controlled strength. That is why a wild horse that has been “broken” was sometimes referred to as having been “meeked” – now with a gentle and harnessed power. Likewise, our brokenness before God, not our finite abilities, is the primer for the unleashing of His infinite power in us. Paul says that “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (2 Corinthians 13:4) In other words, when our pride and self-promotion are harnessed then His power is released in us, through us and around us. 

Beyond this, meekness is an accurate estimation of ourselves in relation to others and, most importantly, our King. In other words, we are so overwhelmed over the mystery of the King of the universe even considering us in our unworthy state (“miserable sinner” is what many church confessionals call us) that it totally transforms the way that we relate to Him and others. The amazing nature of grace keeps us humble before our God and our fellow man. In that posture we are truly the blessed and contented ones as our perspective is a real reflection of the principles of Kingdom living found in the Sermon on the Mount. 

The glorious message of this Beatitude, in a day where the prideful and wicked seem to prosper, is that we, in our meekness and humility, will reign with Him over the earth. Here Jesus seems to be quoting the Psalmist when he said, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes…But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace…Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Psalm 37:7, 11, 34). According to the Lord, the control of the wicked over this world is just a mirage. He still has dominion and we His servants. 

Though seemingly deprived and impoverished, the meek, in a very real but spiritual sense, enjoy now all that is Christ’s. And that includes the earth. So with the contentment and blessedness of His spiritual Kingdom, we “possess” all that is His: “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Paul also spoke of “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). It might not appear so but this earth is His gift to His people. 

Even more staggering is that in the future those that are the gentle of spirit “in Christ” will physically reign with Him in the “new heaven and new earth” (Matthew 19:28, I Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). Rudolf Stier sums up the blessed and counter-cultural power of meekness before God and others, “Self-renunciation is the way to world-dominion”. Only the plan of the sovereign King of Kings could have devised such a Kingdom and chosen grace as the means of entrance. And it is in meekness that we will experience it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3)

I can think of nothing greater than to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. It should be the highest pursuit of man. There is a sovereign Lord of the universe and, according to Jesus, we can be part of His Kingdom! What could be more life-transforming than that? Jesus introduces the Sermon on the Mount with what is commonly called the Beatitudes (“The Blessings”) and He starts with that which is most important, man’s grandest pursuit – being a servant of the King of Kings. He proclaims that humility is the key component to entrance into this Kingdom. This teaching should have not been shocking to Jesus’ audience as the Old Testament refers to God’s Kingdom on many occasions.  Yet, like many of us, they were staggered by His teaching.                               

Jesus asserts that the means to participate in God’s Kingdom is not what mankind might think. It is not through self-love or self-effort but through poverty of spirit. And what is poverty of spirit? It is the recognition that we are helpless and hopeless in light of God’s holy standard. When Jesus teaches of “poor in spirit” He speaks to those who see their spiritual bondage and sin-debt before Him (see Matthew 6:22). The “poor in spirit” recognize the pervasiveness of their sin and their spiritual bankruptcy (Romans 3:10-17). They know that, in our natural state, we stand condemned as guilty before God our judge (Romans 3:19). This reminds us of the prodigal son who “came to the end of himself” realizing that there was no good thing in him that would make him pleasing to his father.  

So we see that being “poor in spirit” points the true listener directly to Jesus. The entire Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that fallible and frail humanity is incapable of living up to the high standard of His new Kingdom. The same was true of the old covenant. Hence, Jesus refers to the most righteous folk of His day as a reference point: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20). So, in layman’s terms, Matthew 5:3 infers that we will never be good enough enter into the Kingdom of Heaven except through the life and ministry of the preacher – Jesus. It is His perfect life, sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection that provide us forgiveness from our sin and the hope of participating in His Kingdom now and for all of eternity. 

That means that being “poor in spirit” leads us to supernatural reward. It is that spiritual poverty that forces us to look to Jesus. And in seeing Jesus as the only redemption from our spiritual bankruptcy we are graced to be a part of God’s eternal Kingdom. We come to know God by recognizing who Christ is and surrendering all of ourselves to Him. That is why He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” Matthew 18:3-4).

When we have this poverty of spirit and know Jesus as our only means to understand His Kingdom (John 14:6) we are blessed in the grandest sense of the word. For we then have access to the creator of the universe and all that entails. C. H. Spurgeon said, “The way to rise in the Kingdom is to sink in ourselves”. But we must dismiss our reliance on self in any form and we must humbly bow before Jesus as both Savior and Lord. For He alone has carried out the mission of God that draws unworthy humanity into His Kingdom. 

But that is not the message of the world and our fleshly nature. This Beatitude is contrary to what is often proposed as the means to blessing and happiness. In our post-modern culture we are fed a constant diet of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-assertion, and self-absorption. The secular message is that we are good enough and wise enough that we can do it on our own – the pursuit of our own happiness in our own strength is what satisfies. But Jesus’ words are the truth of God and the world’s message is false. No matter how contrarian it may seem to us, Jesus’ way leads to the ultimate blessing of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven and the world’s message leads us to the futile dependence on our misguided human strength and wisdom. 

So, what needs to happen for us to be so blessed that we can enter into God’s Kingdom? I believe that we must first see that we are incapable of living out God’s high holy standard. We can not satisfy His righteous demands on any level (Romans 3:10). We have broken His law and we have broken all of it (James 2:10).  We will never be good enough or wise enough. Secondly, we must be emptied of self. God fills empty vessels so we must put away any form of self-reliance or self-focus. Lastly, we must encounter God and see God for who He really is and that He is our infinite source of all spiritual blessing. In other words, we must understand that those who are poor in spirit become empty vessels and, thus, are ready to see the beauty and majesty of our glorious God. Those who come to Him broken and empty through Jesus are eternally blessed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven now and forever. That is why Jesus says, “”I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3)

So, if we want to experience the Kingdom of the God of the universe and enjoy His blessedness it will only happen through Jesus and His cross (John 14:6). And when that truly happens the Kingdom of God is now within us (Luke 17:21)!

“Blessed are those that mourn for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4) 

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus begins with the foundational principle of His counter-cultural Kingdom, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they will see God (Matthew 5:3). His next statement is just as shocking as he demonstrates God’s comfort for those that mourn. The first beatitude points to the absolute necessity of confessing our unrighteousness before a holy God; the second speaks to our contrition over our unworthy and unholy state. In other words, poverty of spirit is only the first step of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Remorse over and repentance of our sin is the essential second step. 

In His classic contrarian style, Jesus shows that what is deemed to be despised and to be avoided in our culture, namely Godly grief, is actually the posture that opens the door to divine and supernatural satisfaction and contentment. According to our Lord, joy comes from brokenness. Yet we hear little of this in the consumer church. We are told that we can think our way to happiness and that the Christian journey is bubbly, positive and sorrow free. Christianity is now promoted as the way to a life of continuous laughter and undisturbed bliss. Many flock to institutional churches and ministries because of the “feel good” message we often hear. But Jesus says that mourning is mandatory in knowing the real comfort of God. Luke’s version even adds this solemn warning: “Woe to you who laugh now” (Luke 6:25). 

Jesus Himself was described as “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). We see this in His ministry as He wept over the sins of others, over the terrible consequences of judgment, and over the city of Jerusalem which refused to embrace His kingship over them. We see the apostle Paul crying over sinners (Philippians 3:18) and over his own sinfulness (Romans 7:24; 1 Corinthians 5:12). The Old Testament is filled with the tears of the prophets being spilled over the rebellion and disobedience of the children of Israel (see Ezekiel 9:4: Ezra 10:1). Jeremiah has even been labeled “The Weeping Prophet”. 

Candidly, all of this weeping and mourning doesn’t sound too appetizing to our contemporary culture. The mantra we hear today is that happiness is found through the exercise of positive self-talk, the building of self-esteem and other mental gymnastics proposed by secular psychology and philosophy (just check out the ever-growing “Self-help” section at you local bookstore). In this view, happiness is characterized by self-actualization through self effort. In other words, if we think positively about ourselves we will then feel good about ourselves and therefore lead happy lives. 

But Jesus says just the opposite. He says that real, lasting, and complete comfort comes only from God not from man’s futile attempt at self-induced comfort. The Lord God is described as “the God of all comfort”.  Jesus makes it clear that any pursuit to find comfort or contentment outside of God is fleeting and ineffective. In other words, how can the “let’s be positive” philosophy of comfort espoused by finite man ever come close to the everlasting and complete comfort that comes from an infinite God?  It can’t! Why? Because scripture shows that when it comes to the fundamental issue of sin (and therefore our need of comfort), man and his thinking are not the solution but the essential problem. 

So we will only be truly blessed and truly comforted when we come to God both confessing and contrite over our sins. And that happens through Jesus. He, as the Messiah, was called ‘the comforter’ who would ‘bind up the brokenhearted’ (Isaiah 61:1). The only source of eternal comfort is that which comes from the absolution and forgiveness of sins. That is why we are blessed when we come in our brokenness to the person, Jesus, and the place, Calvary, where that is made possible. There we find true comfort as Jesus speaks peace to our souls and heals our scarred consciences through the grace that only He can offer. 

So, let us go to Jesus weeping over our sin, confessing and desperate. Then and then only we will find the blessed, eternal comfort of an unfathomably great God. As the Psalmist says, “The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged. For the Lord hears the cries of the needy; he does not despise his imprisoned people. Praise Him, O heaven and earth, the seas and all that move in them” (Psalm 69:32-34).

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