The Beatitudes - The Sermon on the Mount - Part I

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most well known, often quoted, and sometimes misunderstood discourses by Christ in the Gospel of Matthew.  Over the next couple of weeks I would like to take some time to consider afresh this important sermon by Christ.  I hope my walk through the Sermon on the Mount will prove fruitful for your walk with Christ; I know it already has for mine.

The Sermon is one of five discourses by Christ recorded in the book of Matthew.  This particular sermon deals with the in-breaking paradigm of the Kingdom of Heaven.  God’s Kingdom has come to the earth in the person of Christ and He is going to teach what the rule of this kingdom looks like as well as the character of those that would be part of the kingdom.  This article will cover Matthew 5:1-12 of the Sermon on the Mount known as the beatitudes.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew is showing that Jesus is the Messiah.  In fact, in Matthew 1:1, Matthew calls Jesus the Messiah.  In addition, Matthew takes great pains to show the reader how Jesus reenacts many of the events of the history of Israel.  The Sermon is no exception; here Jesus can be likened to Moses giving the Law to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy.

Let’s consider a few structural items about the beatitudes.  There are eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12.  The eight beatitudes are incased in an inclusio concerning the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:3 and Matthew 5:10 form the inclusio with a present tense verb and a repeated ending statement, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  All the other beatitudes between Matthew 5:3 and Matthew 5:10 have a forward looking reward as seen with the future verb tenses.  Matthew 5:11-12 then becomes an expansion on the eighth beatitude.  It is interesting to note that the person changes in Matthew 5:11-12 from the predominant ‘they’ to ‘you.’  A progression of character traits has also been seen in the beatitudes.  Being poor in spirit is seen as the beginning point of a life lived as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven that progress towards the boldness of someone being persecuted for being a part of the kingdom.  Others have found great strength in each particular future comfort promised for citizens of the kingdom, not necessarily taking the verses with their intended spiritual sense, but finding strength in the midst of trail.  Now let’s take a quick look at each beatitude and think about how it plays into character of those that are a part of the new Kingdom of Heaven that has come upon the earth through the person of Christ.

Matthew 5:3 - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.” Being poor in spirit truly is the starting point of the Christian walk.  We must realize we are spiritually bankrupt and in need of the forgiveness found in Christ if we are to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  Many have taken this verse to be more financial in nature, given Luke’s record of the Sermon in Luke 6:20, but Matthew points us toward the spiritual aspect of being poor by adding the words “in Spirit.”  This also fits with the overall tenor of all the beatitudes to be concerned with the in-breaking spiritual kingdom of heaven that has yet to come in full until the second coming of Christ.  This verse, being in present tense, reminds us that we truly can be a part of the kingdom of heaven here and now if we realize our spiritual need and submit to Christ and receive the forgiveness he offers.

Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  The word mourn does not conjure up ideas of blessedness, but here Jesus has put these two contrasting words together.  How can the one who mourns be blessed?  Keeping the spiritual nature of the beatitudes in mind, we can understand the mourning to be over personal sin and our broken relationship with God.  We mourn now because we are spiritually broken and sinful, but when Christ returns our salvation will be made complete and we will mourn no longer.  We will finally be rid our sin addiction and be made whole.  In that day, we will be comforted.

Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”  This beatitude is closely related to the first.  If the first beatitude points towards a dependence on God because of our broken spirit, this beatitude points toward a submissive spirit.  We are gentle because we have submitted to Christ and God’s plan.  We can stop striving to carve out a piece of this world to be our own knowing that we are heirs with Christ of the new heavens and earth.  Inheriting the new heavens and earth will far surpass whatever we could scrape and scrap for in this life.  Because of the hope we have, we can approach this passing world with gentleness looking forward to the next.

Mathew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”   Hunger and thirst indicate an intense longing for righteousness that is probably foreign to most of us.  Needless to say, this is a great progression from being broken, then mourning, and now hungering and thirsting for righteousness.   Christ promises that we will be filled when His kingdom comes in its fullness.

Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  Those that have been included as citizens of the kingdom of heaven have been shown mercy by God through the forgiveness of sins in Christ.  Likewise citizens of God should be merciful to those around them.  To do so is a character trait of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  In the coming judgment the citizens of the kingdom of heaven will be shown mercy because they have been hidden in Christ.

Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  This is one of the pinnacle traits of the Christian life that should be striven for yet will not be obtained until Christ comes.  To have pure motives when we act is truly a work that only God can do in our hearts.  It is important here to remember that the beatitudes are not requirements for salvation, but the outworking of salvation; only to be completed at Christ’s return.  Those that are cleansed of sin through the blood of Christ will have pure hearts in the new heavens and new earth and will dwell with God.  The citizens of heaven will see God.

Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  Christ is called the Prince of Peace and those that follow in His ways will also be like Him.  But what kind of peacemaking is being referred to here?  Should Christians be stopping fights, wars, and arguments?  Yes, but this verse is about being a son of God.  The Son of God is making peace between God and man, and a peacemaker here is one that does the same.  This beatitude calls us to a vigorous life in the ministry of reconciliation that Christ has given us.  Citizens of heaven are taking the Gospel to everyone around them, making peace between God and men.  It is in this way that we will be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Citizens of the kingdom that are being persecuted are accounted blessed because they are living out righteous lives proving they are a part of the kingdom.  Matthew 5:10 is in the present tense showing that those persecuted for the kingdom are truly members of that kingdom.  This beatitude begs us to consider our life and evaluate if we are facing persecution, if we are not experiencing some form of persecution we may not be living the way God has called us to live.  Matthew 5:11 expands the idea of persecution to include insults, false evil reports, and general harassment because citizens of heaven are associated with Christ.  From Matthew 5:10 and 5:11 we can see that Christians should face persecution for living righteous lives and their plain association with the name of Christ.  Matthew 5:12 urges us to rejoice in the face of persecution as it validates our membership in the kingdom.  Not only are we validated but we have a great reward coming.  We will cease to mourn, we will inherit the earth, we will be satisfied, we will receive mercy, we will be called sons of God, and we will see God because we will dwell with Him.  Finally, when we face persecution, we are joining the great cloud of witnesses that faced persecution all the days of their lives.  Remember that you are not alone the next time you are persecuted for Christ.

Jesus has accounted everyone who is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven blessed.  The question is, are you a citizen of the kingdom?  The beatitudes set out the character of those that call themselves Christians.  These are not requirements for salvation, as if we could attain the height of these character traits.  However, they are standards to strive for.  As Paul says in Philippians 3:16, “let us keep living by the same standard to which we have attained.” In Christ we have been accounted righteous, now we must learn to walk in the ways of righteousness.  We should look forward to the day when we are made complete in Christ at His return.  In the mean time, let us learn to be poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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