The Beatitudes could be described as Jesus’ inaugural address. He begins His ministry by making these eight statements presenting the counterculture of His kingdom. Jesus raises the standard of true Christian living and His words are relevant for all time. He turns our accepted views of what it means to be blessed upside down. Jesus challenges our thinking that wealth and prosperity alone signify God’s blessing. He brings this section to a close with a word of warning accompanied by a promise.
What Do the Beatitudes Mean Today?
The beatitudes are important to us today, as far more than a series of declarations, they are the founding principles of God’s kingdom. ‘Blessed’ was once regarded as a biblical word but, more and more, it is coming back into ordinary conversation. The perfect day when everything has gone our way, the sun has shone, and we’ve relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, is now tagged as ‘feeling blessed.’
But here, in Jesus’ teaching, it refers to far more than our outward circumstances. It challenges us to look beneath the superficial, to the spiritual, for our source of well-being and joy – far removed from our increasingly materialistic world.
The beatitudes bring insight into the heart change that is required to thrive spiritually and emotionally. With a shift and a change in our hearts – meaning our mind, will, and emotions – there is the promise of true abundant life. We are adopted into God’s family, we receive God’s unmerited favour, we can live satisfied and fulfilled lives now, and we have an inheritance, a promised reward, that one day we will see God!
What Do the Beatitudes Teach Us?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The poor in spirit are those who recognise their spiritual poverty – our need of a Saviour. Jesus told a parable to illustrate this point, about two men going to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, a man who was proud of his position and place in society. The other was a tax collector, someone who was doing a job that was despised by many.
The Pharisee stood by himself, where everyone could see him, and prayed. He thanked God that he was not like the criminals, or the morally corrupt, but lived a disciplined godly life. The tax collector stood at a distance, bowed before God, and prayed simply, asking for God’s mercy. Jesus taught that the tax collector was the one who went home justified by God, because of his humility and recognition of his sins.
The kingdom of heaven does not become ours by being poor in spirit – but being poor in spirit positions us to meet with the King of Heaven. When we acknowledge our need of Jesus, that He alone is our Saviour, we are accepted into His kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven does not become ours by being poor in spirit – but being poor in spirit positions us to meet with the King of Heaven.Tweet
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The comfort that Jesus is promising here is for those who mourn over the pain, suffering, and ugliness of sin. Those who feel brokenhearted at the destructive nature of selfishness, cruelty, and the abuse of power. Those who recognise that, even when we think we are doing well, we mess up. Every day we make mistakes, we get things wrong, sometimes in small ways – and sometimes, big time!
In Scripture, Peter is our example of someone who mourned over his failure, his denial of Jesus – alone in the darkness, he wept bitterly. When we mourn our unrighteousness, our mistakes, and are repentant, we are promised comfort. The comfort we receive is knowing the free forgiveness of God, in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the One who binds up the broken-hearted, who heals our emotional and spiritual wounds.
When Peter met with Jesus again on the seashore, there was no recrimination from the Lord. He gave Peter the comfort that he needed, the opportunity to reaffirm his love and commitment. Jesus’ grace and mercy is there for us too!
Related: More thoughts from Peter’s story Is God ever disappointed in us?
“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
‘Meek’ is not a fashionable word or valued as a character trait but Jesus describes himself as ‘meek and lowly in heart’. In Matthew chapter eleven, He tells us to learn of Him, or from Him, and when we follow His example we will find rest for our souls. Other translations use the words gentle and humble, instead of meek and lowly.
Jesus did not have to strive for position and power – He knew who He was and the authority that He had been given. But He came to serve and set an example, demonstrated by His actions, not only when he washed his disciples’ feet, but throughout His life and death.
We are called to imitate Christ Jesus and in our relationship’s with one another to have the same mindset of love and humility. As we submit to God’s will and follow Jesus’ example, one day we will reign with Him.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
We physically hunger and thirst when we go without – whether it is by choice as a spiritual discipline or out of need through difficult circumstances. It is the need that creates the hunger and thirst and so it is spiritually. The yearning and longing for that right relationship with God, for His peace to rule and reign in our lives, often is greatest through our hard and troubled times.
It is there, in our place of need, that we reach out to God and yearn for more of Him. But Jesus promises that this need will be met! Righteousness is His gift to us and the Lord Jesus gives abundantly. As we receive His grace, our faith is strengthened and grows through those difficult experiences. Then, as we are filled, we are able to reach out to and share God’s grace with others.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
To show mercy is to be compassionate, it is when we are in a position to act for someone’s good or harm if we choose not to. Jesus told the story of the unmerciful servant who owed a large debt and was forgiven for being unable to repay the amount. But then he was unwilling to forgive someone else who owed him a small amount and he was condemned for his attitude.
When we value the mercy that we have received from God, it creates a merciful attitude in us towards others. It is not that we ‘earn’ mercy by being merciful, but rather that we give out of what we have received. And if we fail to give, it is because we have not acknowledged the debt that we owe and the mercy, and grace, that we have received.
Those who act as ‘the good Samaritan,’ who are merciful now, and respond to the needs of others are blessed – for on the last day, they will receive mercy from God Himself.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessings from the LORD and vindication from God their Saviour.”Psalm 24:3-5
Who are the pure in heart? The background to Jesus’ statement may have come from the verses of psalm 24. The person with a pure heart is morally, and spiritually clean, steadfast, and unchanging. This is someone with an undivided heart, who does not compromise their commitment to God and is sincere in their faith. How can we ever live up to this standard, it seems impossible!
A pure heart is given to us by the lavish grace of God, through Jesus Christ when we know Him as our Lord and Saviour. By God’s grace, we become a new creation, and by His grace, we are called to keep ourselves pure. We are living in a fallen world, and consequently, in a continual process of being renewed, as we rid ourselves of old habits, and consciously put on the new self. As we will, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables. Thank God, His grace and compassion towards us never fails.
“Purity of heart is to will one thing. Søren Kierkegaard”Tweet
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
We accept and relish the privilege that is ours as we are adopted into God’s family and become children of God. With that acceptance, there also comes responsibility. Our position is as a child of God, and our behaviour should reflect our position. We are called to be peacemakers.
This blessing speaks about peace on two levels, the peace between God and man, and the peace between one another. All true peace, the reconciliation between us and God, is the gift of the Lord Jesus. His peace is real, present, and lasting.
As the family of God we are called to live and work in peace with one another. When we live in peace, harmony, and unity, there is a witness to God’s saving grace. For diverse people to live and work together as one, is only what God can do! As we consider the difference between peacekeeping and making a lasting peace, we look to the Lord and His submission to the Father’s will.
Are we willing to be peacemakers, by our submission to God and to one another?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus finishes His teaching here with a sombre note but also with a promise. His ministry and His message produced opposition, and He warns us that as He was persecuted so will His followers be persecuted. There will be a reaction, there will be conflict between those who choose to follow Jesus and those who don’t. It will happen at all different levels, even within families, and we should not be surprised.
Commitment to the Lord from an undivided heart brings friction to relationships. Whether people are willing to admit it, or not, their conscience is challenged. It highlights their choice either to respond to Christ, or to react against Him.
There are times when the cost of following Jesus may seem high but we remember that He has overcome! We serve a risen victorious Lord and Saviour – and when we choose to follow Him wholeheartedly, the reward is great – we are truly blessed!
A Modern Translation of the Beatitudes
What happiness comes to you when you feel your spiritual poverty! For yours is the realm of heaven’s kingdom .
What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord! For you will find what you long for.
What blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you! For you will inherit the earth.
How enriched you are when you crave righteousness! For you will be satisfied.
How blessed are you when you demonstrate tender mercy! For tender mercy will be demonstrated to you.
What bliss you experience when your heart is pure! For then your eyes will open to see more and more of God.
How joyful you are when you make peace! For then you will be recognised as a true child of God.
How enriched you are when persecuted for doing what is right! For then you experience the realm of heaven’s kingdom.
Matthew 5:3-10 The Passion Translation
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