In His longest recorded sermon, Jesus began by describing the traits He was looking for in His followers. He called those who lived out those traits blessed because God had something special in store for them. Each beatitude is an almost direct contradiction of society's typical way of life. In the last beatitude, Jesus even points out that a serious effort to develop these traits is bound to create opposition. The best example of each trait is found in Jesus Himself. If our goal is to become like Him, the Beatitudes will challenge the way we live each day.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: (Matthew 5:1-2)
“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 filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain 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 they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Matthew chapters 5-7 are called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus gave it on a hillside near Capernaum. This "sermon" probably covered several days of preaching. In it, Jesus proclaimed His attitude toward the law. Position, authority, and money are not important in His kingdom - what matters is faithful obedience from the heart. The Sermon on the Mount challenged the proud and legalistic religious leaders of the day. It called them back to the messages of the Old Testament prophets who, like Jesus, taught that heartfelt obedience is more important than legalistic observance.
Enormous crowds were following Jesus - He was the talk of the town, and everyone wanted to see Him. The disciples, who were the closest associates of this popular man, were certainly tempted to feel important, proud, and possessive. Being with Jesus gave them not only prestige, but also opportunity for receiving money and power.
The crowds were gathering once again. But before speaking to them, Jesus pulled His disciples aside and warned them about the temptations they would face as His associates. Don't expect fame and fortune, Jesus was saying, but mourning, hunger, and persecution. Nevertheless, Jesus assured His disciples, they would be rewarded - but perhaps not in this life. There may be times when following Jesus will bring us great popularity. If we don't live by Jesus' words in this sermon, we will find ourselves using God's message only to promote our personal interests.
Jesus began His sermon with words that seem to contradict each other. But God's way of living usually contradicts the worlds. If you want to live for God you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you.
There are at least four ways to understand the Beatitudes. (1) They are a code of ethics for the disciples and a standard of conduct for all believers. (2) They contrast kingdom values (what is eternal) with worldly values (what is temporary). (3) They contrast the superficial "faith" of the Pharisees with the real faith Christ wants. (4) They show how the Old Testament expectations will be fulfilled in the new kingdom. These beatitudes are not multiple choices - pick what you like and leave the rest. They must be taken as a whole. They describe what we should be like as Christ's followers.
The Beatitudes are comprised of three elements: a pronouncement of blessing, a quality of life, and a reason why the recipient should be considered blessed. The first element is found in the word Blessed (Ps. 1:1), which introduces each beatitude. The second element does not describe different groups of people, but a composite picture of the kind of person who will inherit Christ’s kingdom. The third element looks ahead to some aspect of the coming kingdom.
Each beatitude tells how to be blessed. "Blessed" means more than happiness. It implies the fortunate or enviable state of those who are in God's kingdom. The Beatitudes don't promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus, "blessed" means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost.
Word Focus - Blessed: (Gk. makarios) (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20–22; Romans 4:7, 8; James 1:12, 25) G3107: This Greek word is derived from the root mak, which means “large” or “lengthy,” and means “fortunate” or “happy.” The Greek word was used in Greek literature, in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and in the New Testament to describe the kind of happiness that comes from receiving divine favor. The word can be rendered happy. In the New Testament it is usually passive; God is the One who is blessing or favoring the person.
With Jesus' announcement that the kingdom was near (Matthew 4:17), people were naturally asking, "How do I qualify to be in God's kingdom?" Jesus said that God's kingdom is organized differently from worldly kingdoms. In the kingdom of heaven, wealth and power and authority are unimportant. Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and they have different attitudes. Are your attitudes a carbon copy of the world's selfishness, pride, and lust for power, or do they reflect the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus, your King?
Jesus said to rejoice when we're persecuted. Persecution can be good because (1) it takes our eyes off earthly rewards, (2) it strips away superficial belief, (3) it strengthens the faith of those who endure, and (4) our attitude through it serves as an example to others who follow. We can be comforted to know that God's greatest prophets were persecuted (Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel). The fact that we are being persecuted proves that we have been faithful; faithless people would be unnoticed. In the future God will reward the faithful by receiving them into His eternal kingdom where there is no more persecution.
These disciples were probably confused as to the true nature of righteousness and God’s kingdom. In this address, Jesus clarified both the heart of the law and the nature of true religion in God’s kingdom (Mic. 6:8). In a sense, Jesus turned the law, which was mainly negative, inside out to show its positive core (Matthew 5: 17).
Father God, it is my prayer this morning that I humble myself before You and rely upon You to help me make it through this ungodly and wicked world. Lord, I will continue to try my best to keep your commandments and live my life in a way that will bring glory to You. Thank you Lord for dying for me on the cross and being there when I need you most. I pray this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.
References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), the Nelson Study Bible.