The most famous sermon Jesus preached that is familiar to many is what is called, “The Sermon on the Mount” that spans 3 chapters [Matthew 5-7]. And the beginning section of that sermon found in Matthew 5:3-12, often called the Beatitudes, lists 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. In a series of posts, we will explore each of the 8 attitudes starting with this introductory post.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In 1888 Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a very anti-Christian book creatively titled The Anti-Christ. In it, he asks and answers questions such as this:
Question: “What is more harmful than any vice?”
Answer: “Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak—Christianity.”
Nietzsche defined good as “all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man,” and he defined bad as “all that proceeds from weakness” [Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word, Matthew 5:3-10.]
People of the world would agree with his words. By nature, people without Christ seek to avoid weaknesses of all kinds. Yet, in Matthew 5:3-12, according to Jesus, these weaknesses should mark the lifestyle of all who profess to follow him. Why? Because it is such a lifestyle alone that experiences God’s blessings, that receives his approval—even though it’s a lifestyle that brings mockery from the world. In other words, Jesus is calling us to a counterculture lifestyle!
Matthew 5:3-12 is often titled the Beatitudes. The word “Beatitude” comes from the Latin translation of the word “Beatus,” which’s translated as “Blessed.” One writer called these the “Beautiful Attitudes” that should mark true followers of Jesus. I agree! And there are 8 attitudes listed in this section—verses 10-12 describe one attitude – that is enduring through persecution—even though the word “Blessed” appears both in verses 10 and 11.
If you notice, each of these attitudes is marked by the word “Blessed” that appears 9 times. Some translations render this term as “Happy” or “Fortunate.” Yet, it may not bring out the complete picture as the word “blessed” might do. Why? 2 reasons.
Reason # 1. Happiness seems to refer to the subjective state of a person—how they feel—whereas Jesus appears to be making an objective judgment about them—about what God thinks of them. God approves them for displaying attributes such as being poor in spirit, mourning, and so forth. That’s why I prefer to use the term “Blessed.”
Reason # 2. I also prefer it because of the way the term “happiness” is understood in our culture. Our culture equates happiness as happy feelings that are based upon earthly circumstances. While those who are blessed by God, i.e., those who receive his approval, will feel happy, will feel joyful, it’s a different kind of joy, different kind of happiness than the world describes. It’s a feeling that comes as a result of God’s pleasure and approval upon them—no matter what circumstances they may face. Even amid persecution and suffering, believers are still in a positive state of being approved by God—even when they don’t feel happy. So, I prefer using the term “blessed.”
In the end, it’s not at all a big issue whether we render the term as “Blessed” or “Happy” as long as we understand the true meaning of blessing or happiness.
Now, the Beatitudes form a structure. Each beatitude has 3 components to it. First of all, there’s a blessing [“Blessed” – Matthew 5:3a]. Second, there’s the reason for the blessing based on a particular attitude [“because they are poor in spirit” – Matthew 5:3b]. Finally, there is a reward for displaying such an attitude [“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:3c].
Experiencing the blessings of the “kingdom of heaven” both in the present life and in all fulness in the future is the main theme of the Beatitudes. This theme comes from the phrase, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” which appears at the end of verses 3 and 10! “Theirs is” indicates a present possession.
In other words, the kingdom of heaven has both a present element and a future element to it. The future element is the actual physical kingdom that God, as he promised in the Old Testament, will set up when Jesus returns to earth. However, even now, certain spiritual blessings are experienced by those who are true believers—i.e., those who live under the lordship or rule of King Jesus.
It’s very important to understand that the blessings of the kingdom of heaven are reserved only for those who display these 8 attitudes in their daily lives as a result of having experienced salvation and, thus, having the Holy Spirit living inside them. It doesn’t mean that believers will display all these attitudes in perfection all the time. Even as Spirit in-dwelt Christians, believers may and sadly often do fall short of this lifestyle.
Yet, the pursuit of the lifestyle described not only in the Beatitudes but also in the entire Sermon on the Mount should [and must] dominate every Christian who lives under the rule of King Jesus here on earth. Even though believers will never fully arrive at the goal this side of heaven, they must still pursue it wholeheartedly. As the late Haddon Robinson in his book, What Jesus Said About Successful Living rightly said, “God is more interested in the process than the pinnacle itself. Going after the goal becomes its own reward.”
So, with that said, we will look at the first beatitude in the next post! Until then, why not prayerfully go through them on your own and ask the Lord to make you not only want but also enable you to pursue this kind of lifestyle continually?