24 June 2013

Those beatitudes

The beatitudes are well known and much loved by many. We try looking at the opposites of those who are blessed to see if we can throw more light on the meaning of these eight statements. If we take them seriously and personally there are some real challenges to all of us in these beatitudes.

A peaceful river scene
A peaceful river scene
Let's look at the beatitudes in a little more detail. I mentioned them in my last post and wrote that I'd revisit them in a bit more detail. And I linked to an older post that I'd now like to expand on.

The beatitudes are presented in Matthew 5:1-12, but my earlier post reversed them, stating what is not blessed as a way of better understanding the meaning.

Here are the beatitude statements again (NIV version), with the opposites that can't be blessed in italics, followed by some thoughts about the meaning.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The super spiritual.

The kingdom of heaven is simply not open to the super spiritual. This is astounding, most of us, most of the time, would say that to be worthy of the kingdom one would need to be very, very spiritual. But no! The kingdom is in fact open to those who are spiritually weak and lacking. Not only is it open to them, it is theirs, in some sense they inherit it and therefore own it.

Why is this so counter intuitive? It's because we don't inherit the kingdom of heaven by means of our own spiritual power and authority. Instead we need to understand our desperate lack, turn to Jesus, and receive from him the right to enter in as a gift of grace and love.

If I think I am spiritually rich and self-sufficient I will not (cannot) make the grade. It needs humility and dependence, not arrogant self-sufficiency.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The ones who think everything's fine.

Mourning is not possible unless we are grieving about someone or something. If instead we think all is well, how can we be blessed? This may not refer to those mourning about the dead, but about those mourning over their own worthlessness and sin and that of those they love (the spiritually dead).

Yet in Christ there is no fear of any such thing. Perfect love casts out fear, and his love for us is indeed perfect. He is willing to comfort us in our shame and sorrow, but how can the happy and content be comforted?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The arrogant.

At face value this one seems simple, even obvious. But it's not. Look a little deeper. Very often it seems that the arrogant are the ones who inherit the earth. In their cocky, self-confident way they trample over others to get exactly what they want. It seems to be a dog-eat-dog world.

In fact, it's the meek who will inherit the earth. Why? The arrogant who think and say and do whatever they like will get what they want in this world - but no more. In their haste to have and consume they will forget that there is a King of Kings, the Prince of Peace who will have his way in the end.

The earth and everything in it belongs to the Almighty who will see justice done. The kingdom of heaven is not just in heaven, heaven rules over earth too. The kingdom is coming, is already here, and nothing is not under the King's lordship and rule. The arrogant need to be careful, someone more powerful is saying, 'Enough! I recognise neither you nor your authority'.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who have no appetite for righteousness.

If you have no appetite you will not eat or drink, so how can you ever be filled? We need to be zealous for righteousness. We need to be like a starving person who will seek out food wherever it can be found, or a thirsty person who will drink whatever is available, even water from a river or a puddle. If you drink nothing you will die of thirst.

If you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness you will find it at any cost. You will find it in Jesus no matter what you must give up to receive it. You will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The merciless

Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12). The parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

There's a simple principle at work here, as far as mercy and forgiveness are concerned expect to receive what you mete out to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The impure in heart

Impurity gets in the way. The Almighty is holy, so to stand in his presence we must be holy. We must be set apart for his use and his use alone. If there is anything impure in my heart, part of my heart is not available for his use. Therefore I am not holy. So I cannot stand in his presence. I cannot see him.

We don't have pure hearts through our own efforts of will. It's just not possible for fallen people living in a fallen world. So what hope do we have? Why, every hope in Christ who not only cleanses us but also gives us new hearts, new life and a new future with him.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
The opposite that cannot be blessed - The peace destroyers

We usually think in terms of peace makers and peace keepers, but rarely if ever of peace destroyers. If those who make peace will be called 'children of the Most High', perhaps those who destroy it will be called children of the 'most low'. And who is the lowest? The enemy, the one who fell from heaven, who creeps along the ground on his belly.

But to fully understand we need to know what peace is. It is not just quiet and absence of conflict. Peace in Hebraic thinking is wholeness, completeness, it is health of body, mind and spirit, utter wellness. It is blessing. We could rewrite this beatitude, 'Blessed are those who create holistic blessing because they will be recognised as the children of the Most High'.

Because the Father blesses, his children will bless also. The nature of the Father is in his children and we will be named with his name. If we cannot or will not bless, if we are not peacemakers, we have no part in him.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The opposite that cannot be blessed - Those who are not righteous enough to attract persecution

Have you been persecuted yet? If not, why not? If you are righteous you will be persecuted by almost everyone.

You will be criticised by church leaders who fear you may undermine them. You will certainly be persecuted by the enemy who knows you speak the truth and fears it spreading. In some countries you will be persecuted by the civil authorities who think you will cause social unrest or spark religious violence.

John the Baptist was executed, John was exiled on an island, Paul was hounded out of Ephesus. And Jesus himself was arrested and executed because of his life and teachings. Religious and civil authorities will fear the things you do and say and the light you shine into places they might prefer to remain dark. If you are righteous, persecution is inevitable.

Questions:

  • Which of the beatitudes is your favourite? Why?
  • Do you find the reversals useful in understanding the meaning?
  • Have you been persecuted, even in subtle ways? Be prepared to share your story with others.
  • What does it mean to you, personally, to be a peacemaker?

See also:

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