The Beatitudes

NOTE:  All quotes are from the New International Version ©2010.

   3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If you gave away all your money, you would be poor.  Right?  Well, God wants you to give away every spiritual thing you have, every gift of the spirit, every ounce of faith you can muster.  Give it to family, friends, neighbors, strangers.  Give it until you are totally drained.  Live for the Kingdom, not for yourself.  Give spiritual life to others until you feel utterly empty.  Then God can fill you and you can give some more.  This is the life God approves of.

Poverty of the spirit has nothing to do with being a doubting Thomas.  It is all about giving everything you have got until you feel poor (perhaps inadequate) and that you have nothing left to give. Go out and this one will reject you, that will laugh at you, the other will never speak to you again.  One will be fed, another clothed and another may be sheltered, but at the end of the day, day after day, we will go home feeling drained and useless.  We will know our emptiness and admit to God, “I’m just no good at this.  I am so lacking (poor) in the skills the abilities to make a difference and so ineffective…”  Then God will come to you and fill you and then you will understand what it means to be blessed.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 For whom do you mourn.  The dead?  Why?  They are in a far, far better place than they have ever known (as Dickens said).  Instead, I mourn for people who are dead already in their sins and this broken existence.  There is one unforgivable sin: the rejection of Jesus.  This is calling the Holy Spirit a liar (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) when the Spirit of God tells us that Jesus is the way, the life and the truth – the only name by which people MUST be saved.  When people reject this word of truth and reject Jesus, they remain dead in their sins as the Scriptures tell us.  When our hearts grieve and pray fervently for those who are already dead even though they still walk on this earth, then God will comfort us. 

We cannot see the whole picture.  We are looking at ourselves in the mirror in a darkened room and trying to imagine our shape.  But God is working his purposes out and we, and all we do are included in that.  What we see as ineffective may be the most effective thing in time.  God knows.  God comforts.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

This has nothing to do with milk toasts, wallflowers or any self-effacing nonsense.  Meekness or humility is best summed up in the statement: “God is God.  You and I are not.”  We are to work with all effort, determination, perseverance, fortitude (strength and courage) and do everything we can in every way we can, and when we are done, trust God for the rest.  We cannot and should not try to control others.  Only God decides, and we can do well if we can get control of ourselves – our words and deeds.  Be content with that and let God be God; or as some say, when you have done everything you can do you must let go and let God.

The phrase is traditionally understood as the rich man looking at the poor and admitting to themselves, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Did you ever turn the phrase around?  In looking at the rich man, the poor might say with equal honesty, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  God is in control and will work his purposes out.  We know this, instinctively, hard as it is sometimes to hear. 

The humble are CONTENT do all they can do and are willing to let God work things out for others and ultimately for ourselves in his own way and in his own good time.  He is the potter and we are the clay.  And when we have done all we can, as Paul said, we will confess that we have simply done our duty.  We are the servants.  He is the Master, and I, for one, will be glad to hear those words: “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

This word is obvious and easy and almost unheard of in this generation.  Who hungers and thirsts for righteousness?  For the outfit, the car, the house, the friends, the whatever, maybe, but righteousness?  I mean, good grief Charlie Brown, these days we have thousands of people telling us and millions of people believing that morality (ethics) are relative and only matters of opinion.  People these days don’t even know what righteousness is!

This is God’s way of telling us that we need to get our heads screwed on right.  Be renewed in the renewing of our minds (Paul again).  Get our focus on what is important and what really matters in life.  What is good, right and true?  Meditate on these things day and night.  How many of us can claim with Davie, “surly goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life?”  Sure, David messed up big time, more than once, but he was a man after God’s own heart.  That is what God is telling us here.  God wants people after his own hear.  This is the life that gains God’s seal of approval.

Here is a word that will make some mad for sure:  God does not care one whit about your money.  God cares about your life in all that you say and do.  Is all that you are guided and driven by a genuine hunger and thirst for righteousness?  God is saying it should be.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Mercy is, I believe, not well understood because it comes in three forms.

1.         Mercy, as I believe most people think of it, generally requires a precondition: forgiveness.  God is telling us here that we are to show mercy, plain and simple.  We are to be a merciful people.  In this sense, God is saying we are to be a forgiving people.  Mercy happens when we are in a position of power or authority, real or perceived, and we CHOOSE to forgive.  We do not hold grudges.  We resist the temptation to get even.  When we are in a position to get our revenge and we choose to forgive, we are merciful.  This is hard, yes.  But it is the kind of people God wants us to be.  When someone makes a mistake, as we all do, we are not to hold it against them.

2.         Then, many people understand Mercy in relation to justice.  Forgiveness plays a part in this understanding as well, but here wisdom says forgive, but don’t forget.  Here, we are generally talking about more than just mistakes.  Letting a murderer or drug pusher or thief go free is not merciful.  It is stupid.  It certainly is not merciful to the victims or future victims. 

This form of mercy, mingled with justice, caused the western world to come up with ideas like innocent until proven guilty and proscriptions against cruel and unusual punishment.  We can certainly do more in terms of truly trying to rehabilitate people, but at the same time, we perhaps need to get back to the justice part in certain courts.  Sorry.  Just something to think about.

3.         Then there is what I consider the most powerful form of mercy.  It is the man with the dead car, standing there with jumper cables just waiting and hoping someone will stop and let him jump-start his car.  Forgiveness may not honestly be part of this equation, but rather kindness, and I recall a powerful presentation of this idea in the movie Ben-Hur.

Near the beginning, Ben-Hur is condemned to slavery.  He is dragged off to serve in a galley but stumbles on the road.  He is dying of thirst, and a man comes up to give him a cup of water.  It is not said outright, but it is clear the man is Jesus.  Near the end, again not said outright, a man is carrying his own cross and stumbles.  Ben-Hur is right there to offer a cup of water and the look on his face when he realizes that this is the same man who once helped him is priceless. 

This is mercy in its best and greatest form.  It is kindness to strangers in the face of need.  Yes, we are to be a forgiving people and always mingle mercy with justice.  Just look at the ultimate act of mercy and justice which is the cross.  But we are also to be a people of kindness, always there and ready to reach out to wherever there is need.  This is all part of mercy in this world, and this is the kind of people God wants us to be.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I Corinthians 13 is a good description of the pure in heart.  Notice, Love stands at the center.  This is not a promotion of innocence which for us is more than likely far too late.  It is also not (necessarily) saying we need to become like children again (though of such is the kingdom made).  Rather, it is a call to root out the impurities that clog our lives and so often cause us to stumble.  So. at the risk of building a Pauline list: 

It means we are to give up hate and anger in all their forms and give up fear, as the angels say.  Whenever angels appear in Scripture, often their first word is, “Do not be afraid.”  It means resisting evil, avoiding the obvious sins like lust and greed.  We are what we eat means we become what we take inside.  Consider what we get from the magazines, the news, from television, radio and the movies.  We are inundated in this world with cruel and evil things and in knowing the details we are told to consider ourselves sophisticated.  Those not in the know are to be called rubes and buffoons.  I say, repent of such things, which means turn around and go the other way or turn your back on such things.  Take in what is right good and true instead.  Spend time in God’s word.  Spend time with God.  Stay away from gossip, the slanderous and libelous words of the masses.  Build people up in faith and do not tear others down.

There is much work for all of us to do in this manner.  But the fruits of the Spirit are these: Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  A person filled to overflowing with these attributes is invariably pure in heart.  This is how we are to be, and it won’t be easy.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Peacemakers are not found in the anti-war crowd.  They are not in the anti-abortion crowd.  They are not in the environmental groups like Greenpeace, despite the name.  And they are not found in marriage counselors, arbitrators of in the United Nations.  You see, the peace that God talks about passes understanding.

Peace, here, is not an external absence of hostility.  It is a state of mind and heart and soul.  Peacemakers come in all shapes and sizes and share the peace of God with others.  They give comfort in trying circumstances, hold you when you are grieving, visit you when you are sick (and often with chicken soup and a kind word).  Peacemakers share grace and in so doing inspire and instill peace in the hearts of others.  Someone is at their wits end, and a peacemaker will whisper in their ear, “I believe in you.”

Everyone knows someone like this.  These people are exactly as they are often called: “A blessing.”  And no one doubts that these people truly belong to God.  We may have doubts at times about others, but these people pass the test.  We know these peacemakers are God’s children, abounding with love, hope and positive words and deeds to inject in every hard and hurtful situation.  To make a real difference, to strengthen faith, give hope and grant peace.  They exude peace in the heart, and here God is saying he would like us all to be more like these.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this present world there is nothing so reviled in so many places as Christianity.  Anti-Christianity has certainly supplanted both anti-Semitism and racism as the world’s number one prejudice.  Israel has found a home, and while the borders are rough, there is certainly sanctuary there for the Jews.  Racism may be underlying sentiments everywhere, but apart from a few remarkable incidents of late, it has become dormant or gone underground in many places.  Christians, by contrast are having churches bombed, churches closed and some are being dragged into the streets and simply being shot.  Darfur, in case you forgot, was all about killing off all the Christians.  They call that genocide.

Every Muslim country in the world outside of Saudi Arabia has a Christian minority, often as much as 10% or more of the population.  With the rise of fundamentalist Islam, those people are being persecuted in ways and to an extent not seen in centuries.  Meanwhile, in China they are continuing to attack any church or Christian gathering outside of the approved three-self patriotic movement.  You know, the church went through this same sort of thing back when Hitler wanted to tell the preacher what to preach.  Can you imagine facing 20 years in prison for bringing Bibles to your people?  America and some portions of the west are not there yet.  But I don’t see it getting any better 

   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 America, land of freedom of religion and expression, Christianity has been all but outlawed in the public sphere.  The ten commandments are gone from our courts, the nativity has been removed, crosses erected on private property are forcibly taken down, and any political candidate who claims a belief in God and prays for guidance might as well not run.  In many of our high schools and colleges, Christianity is portrayed as a belief system for fools and blamed for wars, the environment, and seemingly every ill ever visited on the human race.  Islam is promoted and certain Eastern philosophies like Buddhism.  Judaism is given a fair shake in most places.  Only Christianity is denigrated, and there seems to me to be no limit on the amount of ridicule, accusations of evil and verbal abuse heaped on the faith.  Christians are those stupid people who cling to their Bibles and guns.  And again, I don’t see it getting any better.

But here, and around the world, the word is to hold on.  Though he tarry, he will not tarry long.  Run the race.  Fight the good fight.  In the Book of Revelation we are encouraged not to be lukewarm and not to turn aside but to be overcomers.  It seems to me this is is what God wants and what he is telling us all to be in these beatitudes.

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