The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-12

This is the first in a series of posts on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  This series will run through August 31, and will be published weekly on Mondays.  The purpose of this series is to help us more clearly understand what it looks like to follow Jesus.

What is the Sermon on the Mount?

Before talking about what the Sermon on the Mount is, however, we must note what it is not.  It is not simply a futuristic picture of the kingdom of God, but a picture of what Christians ought to be working toward while awaiting the future kingdom of God.  It becomes clear in reading the New Testament that although Christ has come and the kingdom has been inaugurated, things are not yet perfect as they will be at His return.  We live in between Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father and His visible return as King, where all peoples, Christians and non-Christians, will see Him as the rightful ruler of the universe.  Realizing that creation will not be set fully right until that day, we are still called to work, both in our personal lives and in the world around us, toward that end.  So, the Sermon on the Mount shows us how to advance the kingdom of God in our personal lives and in the world around us in the present day while awaiting the fullness of it at Christ’s return.

It is also not just meant to show us our need for Christ, though that is part of its aim.  The Sermon on the Mount often reveals our need for the righteousness of Christ and His forgiveness.  But the commands of Christ are not only meant to lead us to conviction, but, after receiving the righteousness of Christ, they have a proper place in sanctification, the living out of our righteousness in Christ, as well.  His commands convict us and lead us to faith in Him alone for salvation, as well as lead us in the living out of that salvation, for our joy and His glory.

The Beatitudes

What does it mean to be blessed?  Search Twitter for “blessed” and you’ll find memorable quotes such as, “Too blessed to be stressed!” or celebrities boasting about how they’ve just been so blessed to be where they are.  There are athletes who say they’re “blessed” with athletic abilities or artists “blessed” with their talents.

Is this truly what it means to be blessed?  Is blessedness something we have because of ever-changing, never-stable, temporary, worldly circumstances?  Are you still blessed when the money runs out, or when the athletic or musical talent fades away?  Are you still blessed when the doctor says you have cancer?  Are you still blessed when your child dies before they take their first steps?

Blessed with Nothing But Christ (1-6)

Luckily, the biblical definition of being blessed looks nothing like the world’s definition.  Jesus says the following in the first section of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, ‘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 satisfied.'”

Those temporary “blessings” won’t make anyone right before God.  They are worthless in light of eternity.  Sex, money and fame won’t take away your sin problem.  So are we truly blessed if we have creation without the Creator?  Are we blessed if we have worldly treasure without salvation?

There is no joy in this world that can compare with the joy of being in right relationship with God forever, and no pain or suffering in this world that will compare with being apart from God for all eternity in hell.

Coming into right relationship with God must begin with the attitudes that Jesus describes here in verses 3-6: poor in spirit (recognizing our need for God), mourning (over sin), meek (depending on God), with a hunger and thirst for righteousness.  As stated before, part of the aim of God’s law is to show us our need for a Savior, and to rid us of any self-righteousness.  But the beatitudes show us that this is a sign of God’s blessing, not condemnation.  If you’ve realized you can’t save yourself, and that your sin is wicked and offensive to God, and that you need righteousness that can only come from Him, that is a sign of God’s grace, God’s blessing, not His condemnation.  Rejoice in that.  Trust in Christ.

Why is this state of spiritual poverty and humility a state of blessedness?  Because it leads to faith in Christ, and being united to Christ in faith is greater than anything this world can give.  When we are united to Christ by faith, we become partakers of God’s kingdom (v. 3).  We are comforted with the forgiveness of Christ, which is an objective act of God accomplished at the cross, applied through faith, not a subjective feeling (v. 4).  We “inherit the earth,” that is, we will be with God forever in a renewed heaven and renewed earth.  We will be satisfied with Christ’s righteousness and the working out of that righteousness in our own lives.  This is true blessedness, to know nothing and boast in nothing but Christ, and all that comes with knowing Him.

Living a life transformed by grace (7-12)

God’s blessing is seen in showing us our need for Christ that leads to faith in Him and the rewards of that faith, but His blessing also extends to the new life that is transformed by the same grace.  These next few verses show that this life is not an easy life, but one wrapped up in the pursuit of Christlikeness and the glory of God, which yields far greater reward than a pursuit of worldly things.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive 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 others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Here Jesus describes the blessed life of the Christian, filled with extending God’s mercy, holiness and peace to others, while enduring the same persecution Jesus did during His time on earth.

Why is it blessed to be merciful?  Because in showing mercy to others, we reflect the mercy God has shown us, and, in some way, we become more fully aware of God’s mercy in our life.  Note that Jesus says this to those who are already His disciples (v. 1).  So this is not Jesus’ way of saying that if you want to be saved, you better forgive everybody.  Rather, if you are a disciple of Christ, forgiven by Him, the only right choice of action for you is to show the same mercy God showed you to others.  This isn’t easy, in any sense of the word.  Christians have been persecuted more than any group of people throughout history, and yet, the God of the universe calls us to respond with mercy and with the sharing of the gospel, not vengeance.  But it is blessed to show mercy because we get to reflect the character of God and enjoy God’s mercy toward us.

Why is it blessed to be pure in heart?  Why fight the sins of lust and anger and jealousy?  Because those who set their heart on God will see God with their eyes.  When we turn away from idols and settle for nothing less than seeing God, God promises that we will see Him.  The fight of faith in God that leads us to destroy our sin is not easy, but it is worth it, because those who run the race will see God face-to-face.

Being a peacemaker means working, not for our personal gain, but for peace in the world, not through diplomatic solutions, but through the gospel of Jesus Christ that alone reconciles God to man, and man to his fellow man.  This is not easy, for the work of the gospel is often opposed.  But it is blessedness, because we give our lives up for the Savior.

Blessed are the Persecuted…Really?

In the last few verses, Jesus says perhaps the strangest thing in this section: Blessed are the persecuted.  Blessed?  How are the persecuted blessed, Jesus?  They lose their homes, their jobs, their families, even their lives?  How in the world are they blessed?

Isn’t it interesting that those who go through persecution are those who seem to love God more, while those who rest in their material comforts and lack of persecution seem to love God less?  Isn’t it interesting that the church that is persecuted is the church that grows, while the church that is not persecuted is the church that dies?

Persecution is a blessing from God, not because persecution in and of itself is good, but because it is God’s design for His people to be more like Christ, for the gospel to spread, and for the world to see that believers value heavenly rewards over temporary, material treasures.  Jesus says that those who are persecuted are blessed because in remaining faithful to God in persecution, they show that they are valuing God and the reward that comes from Him more than earthly comforts.

Persecuted believers, rejoice.  There is a great reward that is coming.  Part of that reward is seen in being more like Jesus in His sufferings, and in seeing the gospel go forth and Christ exalted as a result of persecution.  But the reward of being with God in His presence, and experiencing His joy, His love and His eternal blessing is still to come.  Remain steadfast.  Rejoice in God.  Don’t lose hope.

Are you blessed?

So are you truly blessed?  Have you seen your need for Christ, and has that led you to faith in Him?  If not, put your faith in Him today, and know the true blessing that comes from holding onto Christ alone.  Are you seeing your life transformed by grace?  Are you pursuing the blessing of being pure in heart that you might see God?  Are you rejoicing in the persecution that comes as a result of following Christ?  If not, pursue Him anew today.  Pursue happiness and blessedness by knowing Christ and living for Him.

Matthew Henry sums up this passage well in his prayer:

“Blessed Jesus! How different are thy maxims from those of men of this world!  They call the proud happy, and admire the happy, the rich, the powerful, and the victorious.  May we find mercy from the Lord; may we be owned as his children, and inherit his kingdom.  With these enjoyments and hopes, we may cheerfully welcome low or painful circumstances.”

Lord, may we be satisfied with knowing you as our Savior, trusting only in what you’ve done to save us.  May we seek happiness, not in the things of this world, but in knowing more of who you are and being more like you, in thought and word and deed.  May we always seek to make peace by sharing the gospel.  May we endure persecution with faith in you and in the reward that you have promised.  May we consider ourselves blessed because we know that you are ours and we are yours.

God bless,

Neal E.

When Things Don’t Get Better

Chances are, if you’ve lived long enough, you’ve had at least one moment in your life where everything was going wrong, across the board.  You had difficulties with school, money, jobs, family, and anything else that could go wrong was indeed going wrong.

I’ve had plenty of those moments.  And I have plenty more of those moments to come.  While we don’t want to be depressingly pessimistic, we also want to be realistic and say that sometimes life just stinks.  And, as Christians, what we need to hear is not how to fix it.  What we need to hear is not “10 Steps to Financial Happiness.”  What we need to hear is not self-help.  What we need to hear is what God says about enduring through the trials of this life as believers in Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we have three struggles that we face until we go to be with the Lord: Sin, suffering and persecution.  The goal of this post is to address what God’s Word has to say to us when our fight with these struggles doesn’t seem to be getting better.  So let’s get started.

Do you ever feel like you’ll never change?  You know that Jesus is Lord and that you are forgiven through faith, but you just can’t seem to get past a certain sin?  Maybe it’s lust.  Maybe it’s greed, or pride, or gluttony.  Maybe it’s a bitter attitude.  And no matter how much you pray about it, no matter how many times you confess the sin before the Lord, as you live, day in and day out, nothing seems to change.  You turn away from sin, genuinely desiring to follow Christ, trusting Him to forgive you, only to go right back to it.  And in grief and despair, you wonder if this is ever going to get better.

Good news, friend: Jesus has promised that you will change if you are in Him.  My favorite verse in all of Scripture is Philippians 1:6.  Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, while he’s in prison, encouraging them to continue in the faith and to work for the advancement of the gospel.  And in the opening verses, he unleashes one of the greatest promises in God’s Word: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Our salvation depends on God.  When we say we have put our faith in Christ for salvation, we are saying that we depend on Jesus to save us.  That our eternal life, our righteousness, our forgiveness, our adoption as God’s children…this all depends on Jesus.

But for some reason, we have the attitude that once Jesus becomes my Lord and my Savior, it’s up to me to do all the work.  That I should be holy because that’s what makes God happy with me.  Here’s what we need to understand: You were adopted as God’s beloved child long before you obeyed any of His commands.  Coming into a relationship with Jesus transfers you from a position of being under God’s wrath to being covered by His steadfast, covenant love.  So my holiness is not an attempt to gain God’s love or acceptance.  I have been accepted through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Now I obey because in Christ Jesus, that’s who I am.  I have a new identity, a new Lord, a Savior who has covered me with His righteousness, and a Father who delights in me.  All of His commands are given for my joy and to bring me closer to Him.  I don’t act holy because I want God to be happy.  I act holy because, quite simply, that’s what I want to do.  I hate sin.  I love Jesus.  So, in Christ, I’m striving to be who I am.

Now, what happens when we struggle, I mean, really, really struggle to be who we already are in Christ?  If you turn over a few pages in Philippians, you’ll see Paul writing about perseverance in the Christian life.  Look at Philippians 3:12-14.  Paul writes these words:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made that own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul later writes at the end of Romans 7, detailing his struggle with sin: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The writer of Hebrews exhorts in Hebrews 12 to “consider Jesus,” and to remember that we’ve been given a kingdom in Him, a kingdom that will not end, to remember that we have brothers and sisters that have run the race before us.  We find encouragement from Christ, who is the “author and perfecter of our faith.”

So what do we do?  We hold God to His promises, we submit in repentance and faith, and we confidently keep living, knowing that God is faithful.  We may fail God a million times, but He has not, and will not fail us, no, not even once!  Because God has promised to make us holy, we can get up in our failure, trust Him with unwavering faith, and pursue Him.  And when we fall down again, we can do the same thing.  Over and over, until one day, whether it be in our death or in His return, Jesus finishes what He started, making us just like Him, rescuing us eternally from the presence and power of sin.  So get up, struggler.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  Rest in His promises. And follow Him.

Not only do we struggle with sin, but we also suffer.  Suffering affects all of us, godly and ungodly.  We’ve all experienced the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the betrayal of friends, etc.  In this world, tainted by sin, suffering is inevitable.  And as Christians, we know we will suffer.  To follow Christ is to suffer, not just in persecution (which we’ll talk about soon), but in the daily living of life.

So when everything in life seems to be going downhill, what do we do?  Once again, we fix our eyes on Jesus, and go to His Word.

James 1:2-4 says “Count it ALL JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God is able to use the most awful thing in our lives to bring us closer to Him and make us more like Christ.  Personal example: I had a “plan” of what my life would look like after graduating from Montevallo.  To put it simply: God’s plan was not my plan, and, as it always does, God’s plan won out.  It was hard!  Really hard!  I was mad at God, and I didn’t understand why things weren’t going “my” way.  I had to hear the Father remind me that He did not save me so that things could go my way, but so I could go His way, and that His way is ALWAYS best.

God cares way too much about us to allow us to live safe, comfortable, easy lives for our own glory.  Instead, in Christ, He calls us to embrace suffering, persecution, and a daily dying to self to live an unsafe, unpredictable, and hard life for His glory and the advancement of the gospel.  When we suffer for the cause of Christ, we shout, “Worthy is the Lamb!”  When we go through hard times, we can proclaim to a lost and dying world, “God is more than enough for me.”  We may say it through tears.  But we can, and we should, say it.

There are false prophets that will preach “health, wealth and prosperity” to Christians (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, among others).  Brothers and sisters: please do not listen to them.  The idea that if you follow Christ, you will not suffer is not from God or His Word.  It is a lie from the devil Himself.  There’s nothing wrong with health, wealth or prosperity, so please don’t hear me say that if you have those things, you’re not obeying God.  However, when we start to expect those things in this life from God as the reward for following Him, or we start to idolize those things…that’s when we’ve fallen into sin.  The gospel does not declare the worth of health, wealth and prosperity…the gospel declares the worth and glory of Jesus Christ even if I have no health, no wealth and no prosperity.  If we lose everything in this life, Jesus Christ, as my Savior, Lord, and Friend, is more than enough for me, for all eternity.

This moves us into the third point: dealing with persecution.  In 2015 America, we are not yet suffering like millions of brothers and sisters around the globe.  We are not yet being put to death.  But that day could come.  And in some way, we are persecuted.  We’re told to keep our faith private (impossible).  We’re mocked, openly, even by those in government.  We’re misunderstood and harassed, and, at times, threatened with the loss of jobs and businesses.  So what do we do?

Here’s what we don’t do:  We do not pray for a Christian president.  We do not pray that “those people in Washington will come to their senses.”  We don’t ask for God to cleanse out the unbelievers under the guise of praying for revival.  We don’t pray for God to protect us from ISIS.  Our hope is not in the king who reigns, but in the one true King who will reign forever and ever.

We ask God to give us stronger backs so we can carry what will come to be a heavier cross than the one we bear now.  We ask God to give us courage to not back down or water down the truth of His Word.  We pray that God would give us the strength to stand up to evil like ISIS, to, in the face of imminent death, continue to hold fast our hope and confession: that Jesus Christ is Lord, that I am trusting Him, that He is my salvation, and nothing in this world, not ISIS, not cancer, not any government, can keep me away from Him.  We pray to have the resolve and the faith of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, in the face of evil, persecution and death, never backed down and stood up for the truth of God’s Word, with faith in Christ, with a desire to do nothing but glorify God and bring others to faith in Him, so that the gospel may advance.

We pray to have the faith of the 21 brave believers who lost their lives to ISIS last week, beheaded for believing and following Jesus Christ.  We resign ourselves to Christ, to God’s will, and to His glory, no matter what that means for us.  When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we take that to mean that at whatever cost, we want God’s name to be known, not ours.

It may not get better.  Jesus never promised that it would.  But He did give us a great promise in John 15:18-19.  He tells us that if the world hates us, it’s because they hated Him (18).  He says that this persecution is a sign that we are His (19).  He says that He has chosen us out of the world (19).  And at the end of Matthew’s gospel, He promises to be with us, every step of the way.

Wrapping up, we need to know one thing:  It may not get better.  At least not here.  While we should see increasing victory over sin, we won’t know the fullness of holiness until we are with Christ.  While we enjoy and thank God for the good times of this life, we know that all of the evil and sadness won’t be wiped away until Christ’s return.  While we know that God will always have victory over His enemies, persecution will define the Christian church until Christ’s return.

But a day is coming where God will eternally overcome all sin, all suffering and all persecution.  It is His Word that gives us hope.  Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

And as we wait for that day, we do so with patience, with hope, and with resolve to live for God’s glory until He comes.  We hold fast in hope, that what we have in Christ is more than enough.  We agree with Paul in Romans 8:12–“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Hold fast, brothers and sisters.  Do not give up.  Keep fighting sin.  Keep following Jesus.  Keep trusting in Him as Savior.  Keep fighting the good fight of faith.  Keep counting all your suffering all joy.  Keep proclaiming the reign of Christ and the truth of His Word in the face of persecution.  And know that whatever we experience in this life is not worth comparing to the glory that’s coming.

Father, may you grant us the grace to hold on to Jesus.  May we keep following Him, even as we struggle to obey you as we want to.  May you finish what you started in us.  May you give us the grace and the faith to keep resting in the finished work of Christ as our only hope before you.  May you give us encouragement and grace in suffering, knowing that you do use it for our holiness and your glory.  May you give us the strength and the resolve to endure persecution as faithful followers of Christ.  May you be glorified in our lives, whatever they may bring.

God bless,

Neal E.