Keeping it Simple in the Beatitudes

With both of my children now in the college years, my wife and I will be entering an interesting transition season of life. Simple questions (like cooking for two) will arise. Traveling to see the kids (two hours or fifteen hours) will become a consideration. Honestly, dealing with the reality that no matter how long we stare at the front door, one of our kids isn’t going to walk through it will be a significant change…

One of the blessings of marriage as God has created it is something that we can easily overlook if we aren’t careful. A husband and wife should complement one another. There are gifts my beautiful bride of almost 24 years has that I fall short in displaying. Likewise, I like to think that there are gifts that I bring to the marriage that serve to bless and complement her. Although things aren’t perfect by any means, with Christ at the center, we have been incredibly united as one.

While I may have teased you into thinking that this is about our marriage, it’s actually about YOU! How is Christ at work in you and your life?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting in the Beatitudes for my home church. My mind has been taking me back to the hillside at the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been blissfully resting, looking down at the Sea, feeling the cooler temperatures, and allowing the faint breeze to give me comfort. And then, considering the phrase we see in the translation of the ESV, I use my ‘informed imagination’ to hear the words in verse two, which states, “[Jesus] opened His mouth and taught them saying…”

As I reflected on those words and tried to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking, I couldn’t help but hear other verses begin to come into my mind – especially the images of “streams of living water” we find in Isaiah and John. I could literally picture Jesus opening His mouth and words, like water, flowing down the mountainside to the listening ears waiting.

These ears had been hearing Law from the Pharisees and teachers. These ears had been hearing of the sword of Rome. These hearts had been waiting and wanting to receive God’s promises of deliverance and rescue.

And then, they began to hear words that reached to the depths of their souls.

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

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

While there is much to be said about each Beatitude, I’ll instead touch briefly on the highlights and ask you to do what I did: Open your ears and your heart to let the Holy Spirit speak.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Blessed does refer to happiness. God does want you to be happy. But let’s never forget that our definitions of words and our outline of “God’s plan for our lives” may not exactly be the same as what God actually has in store.

For example, when we hear “poor” our minds can quickly go to the concept of money or wealth. When connected with “in spirit”, we then think of lacking spirit the same way we might lack money.

A better way to think of this might be to build a better contextual bridge. If we are “poor in spirit”, then we are broken, we are humbled, or, to use money words, we are bankrupt. We recognize that without Christ, we have nothing. In that empty state, we have no choice but to look up. We realize that our efforts to earn “Heaven-points” (to earn our salvation) are meaningless. If we open our eyes and realize, in our brokenness that Christ’s hand is reaching down and lifts us up out of the pit, we receive the Kingdom of Heaven (salvation).

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

Again – it’s a bit strange. “Happy are those who are sad?” How does that work? In a legitimate way, I think we can understand this as, when we are sorrowful, we will receive God’s peace and comfort. I know that I find strength when I trust in God in my grief and mourning. It’s a blessing to think of Him.

But John MacArthur does point out that we can also look at this another way. Jesus is continuing a thread of looking sin. In that light, “blessed are those who grieve over their sins and the sins in the world.” We will find comfort when we realize that God is sovereign. As we look in the Word and see examples like Joseph and his brothers, we will find comfort. As we look at David and see how God brought a man after God’s own heart to the throne, we will be at peace. As we look at what the Prophet Jeremiah went through when trying to share God’s Truth with a rebellious nation, we will find strength. Over and over and over again, God worked through sin then and He will still do so today.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

I read comics as a kid (before they became ‘graphic novels’) and I remember an ad in the back for a solution to the “98-pound weakling syndrome”. The ad promised that you could become nothing but muscles instead of being the person who got sand kicked in his face.

The word “meek” in context means a gentleness of spirit. In other words, if I wanted to, I could be a jerk. I could be mean. I could be a bully. However, I choose not to do so. I choose to be humble and gentle. I choose to present a mild response when I don’t have to do so. It’s the black-belt who could break another person in half but instead chooses to walk away.

There is strength in being strong enough to submit and trust in God.

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

We all know what it means to be hungry or thirsty. I would wager to say that just about every person has uttered a variation of “I’m starving” when he or she is five minutes late to a meal. But that isn’t real hunger or thirst.

The words are talking about a deep and passionate hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS. We are tired of sin. We are tired of when it seems like evil is winning. We want God to intervene and SMITE someone! We want to see righteousness, the right and true and pure things triumph. We will be filled.

Be happy. Be blessed. Be at peace. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But, as we trust in our sovereign God, we trust that it will, HIS Will, will be done. He is always at work and will always bring out the good in His perfect timing.

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

As I mentioned above, mercy was deeply craved by the Jewish people. When they went to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, they received more Laws. If they went to the Romans and asked for mercy, the Romans responded with the sword. A Roman father could be shown a newborn child. He could say thumbs up or thumbs down. If a Roman didn’t like his slave, he could kill him and bury the body – no questions asked. There was no mercy.

When we go to God, we are shown mercy. It’s not about what we have done, are doing, or will do. When we fall down at the foot of the cross, we receive mercy.

Mercy should always be reciprocal. I don’t mean that we show mercy to God. I mean that we, when we understand the mercy we have received, should reciprocate by demonstrating that to others. Let the grace we have received flow back out to others.

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

We could make a case that no one is pure in heart because of sin. However

The abortion debate has been revived as some states pass new laws. While I think debate is good, this brings me to the idea of pure in heart. Our local paper recently had an opinion piece written by the head of a group that wants to allow abortions at any point. Women were listed who had late third-term abortions. The author wrote her own story of learning that Trisomy 18 was a possibility and choosing to end the pregnancy.

Throw stones if you wish, but when I think of pure in heart, I think of moms who love their children unconditionally. I think of a mom who, even though the odds are incredibly high that a child will be born with a “condition” still loves the child. The plain and simple truth is clear. It is difficult to raise a child with special needs. To do anything else is simply murder. It would be called murder if it were done after the child were born. While is it not when a 25-week old is killed in the womb?  

The word that we have here for pure is “katharos”. We might think of the English word “cathartic”. If something is cathartic, it can give us a release or some relief. If we want to have this for our hearts, then we should listen to the Apostle Paul:

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. 2nd Corinthians 7:1

If we want to be pure in heart, the first step is to simply stop and ask ourselves, “In what ways am I not pure? Where am I willing to compromise?” Then ask, it that Biblical? Or have I dug my heals into the ground on something that is a non-essential for the Christian faith?

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

Do you want to hear something funny? If I read that verse using this translation in certain churches, people would get mad at me. A literal translation would put “sons of God” in the place of “children of God”.

Twenty years ago, no one cared. It was understood that ‘mankind’ meant everyone. In context, there was an understood plurality. We didn’t need to say humankind or another word that would not be considered sexist.

While I never want to cause another pain, I’ll be honest and say I don’t care. This is not a salvation issue. The world will not end if I use “children of God” instead of “sons of God”. It also won’t end if I use “sons of God” instead of “children of God”.

Here’s the point. On the one hand, I appreciate the point of being clear in our meanings and accurate in our translations. Jesus said we should call God “Father” so that is what I will do. On the other hand, our culture is different. Is this a place where we can have peace? Then blessed are those who work to bring reconciliation.

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

To be honest, I have to confess that I struggle sometimes with the “backwardness” of the evangelical Christian faith. Trying to live Biblically (instead of, say, like someone who preaches a prosperity gospel), isn’t exactly lucrative. It would be nice to be chauffeured to the airport, get in my private jet, fly to somewhere, say a few words, and then fly off to Hawaii and rest-up. (Yes, some people do that.) Personally, I get to fly coach while my knees often touch the seat in front of me.

It’s hard to live in a way that says I will be happy and blessed if I am persecuted for righteousness. And, let’s be honest. The North American Church doesn’t exactly know true persecution. If we left this country, we could see an entirely different level of persecution.

In China, churches have been raided and people have been arrested for their faith. A church was closed because they refused to allow “security cameras” to be installed. In 2018, the magazine, Bitter Winter, reported that police stations in a city were evaluated based on the number of Christians that were arrested.

In Syria, over three months, 150 families were forced to flee imminent death and are now scattered between refugee camps. A church was burned and its remains were painted with jihadist slogans. Other places have been bombed and Christians are arrested and held by ISIS.

North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya – the list of countries goes on and on. Arrests, executions, and a multitude of different trials have occurred and will continue to occur against people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.

The Beatitude calls us back to that longing and thirsting for righteousness. If you find it, if you live it, and are persecuted for it, then BLESSED are you. Righteousness is God’s way rather than man’s way. It’s being a person of faith rather than slapping on a church name tag and being a member of a club rather than a person who identifies in the heart with Christ.

If you are persecuted for your faith, then yours in the kingdom of heaven. Salvation is yours. Grace is yours. Eternal life with God is yours.

The Beatitudes end with what we might call “Answer D” or “All of the Above”. It presents a goal for the end of life, a blessing that comes if we strive to walk in relationship and faith with Christ.  

“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.”

There is an expression: Begin with the end in mind. Know what your goal is and figure out how to get there.

The end for a Christian is Heaven. There, we will receive our final reward. Until then, we have to do our best to press forward in faith. It’s honestly not that complicated. It’s rather plain and simple.

Live what you believe while loving God and loving others.

Yours in Christ,