The Beatitudes of Matthew 5: A Unique Perspective
The Way for Christian Living
One of the most famous lessons Jesus gave during His three short years of ministry took place just outside of Galilee and it is known as the Sermon on the Mount. These teachings are recorded in the book of Matthew chapters 5-7 and are considered to be the very heart of Christianity.
In Matthew, it is recorded that Jesus is just beginning his ministry. Chapter four shows us Jesus who is preaching the good news and in the process healing the sick and diseased. Needless to say, quite a crowd of followers were gathering. He led them all to a mountaintop, some say on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, to Mount Eremos. While the exact location does not matter, what He said to them did.
I’ve been in church long enough to hear the Sermon on the Mount or the Beatitudes shared numerous times by a number of preachers. Each time the message is pretty much the same…blessed are the poor in spirit (condition) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (reward). Recently, my ladies Bible study group did an informal discussion on the passage. We read the passages as well as passages that relate to each section, and then discussed. Our associate pastor’s wife blew us all out of the water when she brought in an old-school theology book and read to me an interpretation I’d never heard before.
The book is called The Christ of the Mount and it is by E. Stanley Jones, published in 1931. A ministry foundation was created by his family to perpetuate his teachings. His bio is written by his granddaughter. She recounts a wild, rebellious man who had gone to a church meeting to disrupt the service. Instead, he got saved and turned his life over to God. As he grew up, Mr. Stanley’s granddaughter recounts of how this man who had a passion for arguing for truth and justice (originally wanted to attend law school) instead became a missionary bound for India.
Back in the early 1900s, mission organizations were not as professional as they are today. There was very little training for the young Mr. Stanley. Clothed with the excitement of youth and the power of the Holy Spirit, Stanley headed for India. He attempted to share the gospel in the form of the Beatitudes with a Muslim businessman seated next to him on the train. After he shared, the businessman’s response was that they have the same teachings in their sacred book as well. It was at this point that Mr. Stanley decided that he needed to find another way to share these sacred beliefs of Jesus’ beloved Sermon on the Mount. Godly principles are universal but when you couple them with the person of Jesus they become life-changing.
The greatest need of modern Christianity is the rediscovery of the Sermon on the Mount as the only practical way to live. –E. Stanley Jones
Since this book can be considered a “thick read” for many of you, I’ve attempted to highlight the main points for a quicker, easier understanding.
The call is to stop being the “morbid center of spiritual problems.” American Christianity teaches us to look for scriptures to soothe ourselves or to find answers to life’s challenges. Instead, the call of the Beatitudes is to decrease in self so that Christ may increase.
Read it for yourself
The Beatitudes Overview.
Many times, pastors tend to focus on the first 13 verses but the Beatitudes are actually all of chapter five. To understand the Beatitudes, you first need to understand that Jesus was not presenting a new set of rules to live by, according to Mr. Jones.
These standards were helping to guide people from the Mosaic law of hundreds of rules to focusing on the person of Jesus and of love for one another, “lifted goodness out of legalism and based it on love.” This new way of living goes beyond walking one mile with someone, it is offering to walk two; giving more than your coat but also your outer cloak; it is saying that loving your friends is not enough but to also love your enemies. “We mistake it entirely if we look on it as a chart of the Christian’s duty, rather it is the charter of the Christian’s liberty—his liberty to go beyond, to do the thing that love impels and not merely the thing that duty compels.”
According to Mr. Jones, the Beatitudes go beyond chapter five and continue into six and seven. They fall into six categories:
The goal of life: be perfect or complete the way God is perfect or complete.
The reason we do not reach or move to that goal: divided personality.
God’s offer to help: through the Holy Spirit.
Our part in reaching that goal: how we should act toward ourselves and others.
The test: judging by the fruit.
Lasting value: house built on the rock of Christ versus the sinking sand.
With that being said, this blog will only focus on the first 12 verses of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, even though the whole chapter is considered to be the Beatitudes. Know that in your study of scripture that the whole chapter goes together so that you can get the full essence of what Jesus is conveying.
According to Mr. Jones, the Beatitudes should be grouped in threes, not twos. Keep this in mind as I go through each one: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. For instance, verses 3-5 should be read as one complete thought because together they complete the thought of the Jesus’ intent. I’ll break them down verse by verse first.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The word blessed for us in American vernacular typically means at peace and with abundance. Unfortunately, this is not the true meaning of the original text. The word is makarios and means divine blessing and is stark contrast to human happiness. It is a happiness that is not dependent on events but instead comes from an inner joy of contentment. Mr. Jones says is a state of being that is more than joyful. It means not subject to fate, deathless.
Poor in spirit…In other passages, Luke uses the word ani for poor, one poor by circumstances. In this passage we see the word anav meaning one who is poor by choice or “renounced in spirit.” From a young age we are taught to assert ourselves, be strong. Care only for yourself. Jesus stands opposite of this, telling us that in order to find our life, we must first lose it. If any man would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me Matthew 16:24. It is a self-renunciation that goes far deeper than just giving up possessions, it is a giving up of self. “Apart from asking for nothing…he anticipates the sorrows, the buffetings, the slights, the separations, the disappointments of life by their acceptance in one great renunciation.” In this sense, we can be truly free. Neither man nor death hold any power over us.
Renunciation in spirit results in barren asceticism if not tempered by the opposite virtue: mourning for the sake of others by taking on their pain and sorrow. The two must be coupled together. We can feel the pain for those around us but become spiritually shallow if we do not stay connected to the Vine of life. Jesus Himself renounced His relationship with His mother and father, a most precious relationship, and then returns to publicly redeem them with his own life. This, my friend is the synthesis of this first beatitude, the reward of the kingdom of heaven! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The call is to stop being the “morbid center of spiritual problems.” American Christianity teaches us to look for scriptures to soothe ourselves or to find answers to life’s challenges. Instead, the call of the Beatitudes is to decrease in self so that Christ may increase. Learn to love others sacrificially. Verse four shows us how.
Blessed are those who mourn... Verse 4
At first glance, I’m reminded of other pastor’s interpretations of this passage—they often reference it to be a verse of healing for those who are sad due to life’s struggles. When taken as a whole passage, this would be the incorrect translation. Honestly, I can see how they would get that reflection from this verse. Who doesn’t need some kind of hope when they mourn? I know Jesus will bind up those broken places. But that is not what the Beatitudes discuss. They are the blueprint for Christian living.
This mourning is actually done on purpose. It’s the encouragement to take on the hurts of others.
Here’s an example of this verse that is lived out by an ordinary man. I heard his story on the ABC special “Thank You America” hosted by Robin Roberts. This segment was about a humble garbage collector who was saddened by the numbers of homeless he would see on his daily routes. What really got to him was when he saw whole families living on the street. As a result, he and his wife cashed in their retirement accounts to start a non-profit that would purchase and distribute bags of food to these people living on the streets. The man goes to where the people are, offering them a bag of kindness and hope to a desperate situation. This is what Jesus means when he said blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. We comfort others when we choose to feel their hurt and walk alongside of them, lifting their spirits with our encouraging words and actions. When we do this for others, it is we who are blessed in spirit.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where those who are selfish are the ones who gain the spotlight. Their beauty and opulent lives often end in sadness and destruction. I think Mr. Jones puts it best:
The happiest people of the world are those who choose to care till it hurts. The most miserable people of the world are those who center upon themselves. They deliberately shun the cares of others in the interest of their own interests. Happiness eludes them. They save their lives and they lose them.
Matthew 5:5. Blessed are the meek...
This verse, according to Mr. Jones, is the synthesis of the first two. This type of meekness does not mean someone who is weak or shy. It is the combination of one who dares renounce the things of this world, has compassion for those around them and feels the pain and sorrow of others, then chooses to give of themselves in sacrificial service without thinking of the personal cost of self. Those who want nothing of this world and who are willing to share all they have, these are the meek of the world Jesus was referring to. By choosing to lay down His life as He did, not being tempted by the spoils of this life, He became meek and has thus inherited the earth for us. In a time when we are fascinated by shows like Downton Abbey, Jesus want us to remember that the focus needs to be on the numbers of people we serve, not how many people serve us.
The renounced in spirit gain the kingdom of heaven, the mourners gain the kingdom of inner comfort, the meek gain the earth. So the world above, the world within, and the world around belong to this man. Wanting nothing he inherits all worlds.
If you are still having difficulty envisioning this type of person, I highly recommend watching or reading the book You Are Special by Max Lucado. It’s a children’s story but with a powerful lesson for all of us.
For further discussion and/or study, take a look at this chart below which breaks these first couple of verses down.
You Are Special by Max Lucado
Matthew 5:6. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst...
Mr. Jones contends that this verse invites us on a quest, one that is as fierce as our need for food and water. Jesus is telling us that if we seek righteousness, reminding to be chastened by the laying down of self, we will be satisfied.
This righteousness must be held closely to the next verse of Matthew 5, blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Righteousness by itself can be harsh and critical unless tempered with mercy-- the kind that shows compassion for others when they have shortcomings and failures. I am thinking of the family that shuns the girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock. God does not tell us to approve the sinful things people do. But he calls us to love them and encourage them to do what is right and godly.
While righteousness without mercy produces legalism, mercy without righteousness produces an enabler. Boundaries need to be set. Standards kept. Rules followed. Mr. Jones confers that, “righteousness or mercy taken alone smells bad, but put together there is a breath of a heavenly scent upon them.”
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart...
When we hunger for godly righteousness, tempered with gracious mercy, we become verse 8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. To be pure in heart, means to have an undivided heart. I remember some Christian song of the past encouraging us to have an undivided heart. But what does that mean?
Ezekiel 11:19 says I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Psalm 86:11 is David crying out to God saying, give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Of course God wants us to shun the evil and selfish ways of this world, he also wants us not to be too focused on one virtue over another as well.
Righteousness can lead to cold legalism. Too merciful and you wind up a mushy enabler. Blend them together into what Mr. Jones calls “a blend of purity. It is controlled by both of them at once, so that the pure heart is righteously merciful and merciful righteous. This kind of man sees God. The man who seeks law, and shows love, sees God.”
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers...
We often think of peace as the absence of war. But the kind of peace Jesus is talking about is a Shalom kind of peace. I like how a website called the Refiner’s Fire put it:
"Each Hebrew word conveys feeling, intent and emotion. Shalom is more than just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well-being and harmony."
The peace is not directed man to man per se, it is more concerned with the peace between man and God. As followers of Jesus we know that the most important decision in life is what we say about God. In the words of C.S. Lewis, is He liar, lunatic or Lord?
Mr. Jones states that we are to “breathe such a winsomeness that men fall in love with God” through us. Consider Jesus’ final words before He left earth. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28: 19-20
We are all called to be missionaries for God. The sharing of our faith is what makes us sons and daughters of God.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted...
Have you ever been attacked because of your faith in God? I have and boy is it stinging. I live a life that attempts to be at peace with all men, acting in kindness and compassion whenever possible. So whether it was a neighbor, a coworker, a boss, or acquaintance, the persecution has come my way. Thankfully, the persecution I and you have received is nothing like that others around the world must endure. We are not locked up, property stolen, or beaten. Still, the sting of words and actions have an effect on me, I won’t deny. Don’t know about you, but I need this verse, this reminder that despite the way I live, others might not appreciate my peacemaking.
Many of you might not want to hear this but persecution is the result of effective peacemaking. Jesus warned us so expect it. This doesn’t mean we’ll be persecuted every time, but it does mean we shouldn’t be surprised—I shouldn’t have been surprised.
As I’m reading through Mr. Jones’ the Christ of the Mount book, I can’t help but chuckle at the paragraph that speaks of how men love their chains. We love our sin and don’t want to be told we’re wrong or do anything to get us out of darkness. I’ve been a believer for so long that I forget sometimes what it was like before Christ. I chuckle because I know this fact yet forget. God is the one who saves. Only God can change a man’s heart. It’s our job to share and to pray. Don’t worry about being liked by all. You have no idea how your very presence might convict others of their ways. Men and women don’t like to feel badly about their choices. We have figured out how to justify every kind of ungodly behavior.
Verse 11 Blessed are you when people insult you...
The call is to be like Jesus, to be a peacemaker in the midst of persecution. Rejoice in the midst of it!
We Americans desire to go through life pain free. Shock and wonder, anger and questions often arise when trials arise. Verses 11 and 12 are the call to changing our way of thinking. Rejoice! Use the pain and sorrow. Do not merely bear the pain or try to escape it. Use it. Rejoice and be glad in spite of the pain and sorrow!
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 shows us how. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
According to Mr. Jones, the secret to overcoming the sting of persecution is found in what was done in the first beatitude when we lay down self. The self-renunciation which allowed us to die to the things of this world removes the sting of life and of man. “You have pulled the sting out of the lesser deaths by inwardly consenting to die.”
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
This is the reminder of why we choose to follow the precepts laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. It is out of love and devotion for Jesus. Without this love for Jesus, these principles are impossible to follow. We are asked to lose our self in order that we many find HIM! This life transforms loss into gain, problems into possibilities saying I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. It is the Living Water that comes from God, sweet and refreshing! He wants it to flow through us.
It’s all about Him…glorifying Him, making His name great among the nations. This is why we are here.