Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12

The Sermon on the Mount begins with what is commonly called The Beatitudes. This passage is one of the more familiar in the sermon, and in the Bible. Nine times in Matthew 5:3-12 Jesus says “Blessed are . . .“. Blessed was translated from the Greek word ‘makarioi‘ to the Latin word ‘beati’, from which we get the plural beatitudes. But what are these beatitudes that Jesus gives to us?

The Audience

I do believe that it is important when trying the understand what Jesus is teaching here to first know who he was talking to. The beatitudes, and the sermon as a whole, was not produced in a vacuum. It was spoken to real people, in real circumstances, and spoke to them where they were. So who were these people Jesus was talking to?

Jesus is speaking specifically to his disciples, but also to the crowds that were following him. These were people living under Roman rule. They were generally poor and living day to day. They were on the lower rungs of Jewish religious and social circles. And life was generally pretty hard for them.

A Misconception

It seems common to view the Beatitudes as a virtue / reward list, with each beatitude containing a desirable virtue and the reward that would come from having that virtue. Take the second of these beatitudes as an example. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” In this view, mourning would be considered a good thing, something that we should desire. But it is hard to imagine mourning itself being a virtue, so it is often interpreted to be mourning over our sin, or the sin of others. But that is not what it says.

Could it be that this is not a call to become like those who are called blessed here.  After all, Jesus says nothing negative about those who are not these things.  There is no contrast here at all between poor and rich, mourning and happy, or persecuted and not persecuted.

Could it be that Jesus is talking to people who were characterized by these things. And he is telling them that the state they are in is only temporary; that better things are coming?  That rather than be discouraged when difficult times come, that one should endure and see the Lord’s blessing that will come in the end.

My time in this tent (2 Cor. 5:1) is short.  Sometime the rains come. Sometimes the bears or mice steal my food. And sometime the trail is rocky and steep. But don’t be discouraged, don’t give in to despair, don’t give up the fight. Instead, be happy because this tent will be replaced with a permanent dwelling. The rain will bring beauty. And the trail will end at the mountain top. Stick it out and see what the Lord has prepared for those who love him. For those who have walked with him.

The Beatitudes

The Poor in Spirit

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

Matthew 5:3 NIV

Being poor in spirit might be thought of as being humble. But more likely, at least given the audience Jesus is speaking to, it refers to those are downtrodden. To those who have little hope of advancement. Who have little reason to be proud, at least by the standards of this world. These are the kind of people that God calls. And the people who are most likely to come into the kingdom.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, God choose the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised of this world to shame the stronger. We come into the kingdom, not by virtue of our own merit, but because of what Christ has done for us. The poor in spirit, who have little in this world, rejoice in the opportunity to be a part of the kingdom. Others will see little value in it.

Blessed Are the Mourners

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

Matthew 5:4 NIV

While some would suggest that Jesus is here referring to mourning over our sin, there is no qualification here that would limit the mourning. Those who mourn over the loss of a loved one. Or because some other tragedy that they have encountered are also included. We can be happy, in the midst of our mourning, knowing that we will experience God’s comforting presence, both now and through eternity.

Blessed Are the Meek

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

Matthew 5:5 NIV

In a world where it seems the strong and aggressive come out on top, Jesus promises that position to the meek. Those who are gentle and kind, and who do not toot their own horn are frequently ignored in this life. But, in the end, these are the people that God values, and who will inherit the recreated earth in the end.

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

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

Matthew 5:6 NIV

Hungering and thirsting are physical cravings that almost demand satisfaction. They will not go away until they have been filled. In this beatitude, the hunger is not for food and the thirsting is not for water. Rather they both are for righteousness. While this desire for righteousness might be to see the world around acting in a righteous manner, more like it is referring to personal righteousness.

On our own, we cannot live lives that are truly righteous before God. But when we have that desire for personal holiness, God’s Spirit will enable us to live righteously before him. That desire for holiness will be met by God, although, like physical hunger and thirst, the desire will also be ongoing. We should never be holy enough.

Blessed Are the Merciful

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

Matthew 5:7 NIV

Being merciful is showing pity or compassion to those who are in need. This would have been a particularly meaningful blessing to Jesus’ audience. Those listening to him were facing many challenges in their lives. All of them could have used a helping hand from time to time. But Jesus tells them that it is not those who receive mercy who are blessed. Rather is is those who show mercy to others who are blessed. Those who demonstrate compassion to others will find that they also will be shown compassion. Not necessarily from other people, but surely from God.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

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

Matthew 5:8 NIV

Is there a difference between righteousness and purity of heart? If there is, you might see it as the difference between right actions and right attitudes. Between living a life that is outwardly holy and one that is inwardly holy. They are both good and desirable. And it is likely that you cannot really do one without the other.

Purity has to do with being undefiled. Purity is a big deal when it comes to the medications and food we consume. At least in the western world, we are reluctant to use a product that has unnecessary or harmful additives. We want those things we consume to be pure, without anything else added.

So we should guard our hearts and minds, not allowing ungodly influences to take root and defile us. The promise to those who are pure in heart is that they will see God.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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

Matthew 5:9 NIV

Our world, and the U.S. in particular is badly in need of peacemakers. There is so much turmoil and strife between people and groups. Bringing peace at that level is beyond the ability of most of us. But there is another level of peacemaking that is with the reach of each of us.

Conflict is common between individuals. And it is likely that you will periodically find yourself in one of these conflicts with another person. How do you respond when another person seems to attack you and your beliefs? Do you escalate the conflict by responding defensively or attacking back? Or do you seek to bring about mutual understanding and peace.

Conflict is inevitable in our world. But if we seek to bring peace in our little corner of the world, then we will be children of the one who is working to bring peace between humanity and their creator. Christ’s death on the cross was the means of bring reconciliation between God and man.

Blessed Are the Persecuted

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

Matthew 5:10 NIV

Blessed are the persecuted. If you stopped there it would include a wide range of peoples who are persecuted because of the color of their skin, where they came from, their religion, or their language. But Jesus identifies something different here. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Those who are persecuted because they are seeking to live righteous lives around others who take offense at that.

We can consider ourselves blessed because of that. Even though the world rejects us and seeks our harm, the Kingdom of God belongs to that kind of person. Those seeking to live with righteousness may face challenges for a time. But the reward is great. We are a part of the kingdom now and throughout eternity.

Blessed Are Those Insulted Because of Christ

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12 NIV

Some see this as a summary statement of the beatitudes. Others as a stand alone blessing. But it seems to me to be closely tied with the previous blessing on those who are persecuted because of righteousness. But here the persecution, and insults, are more specific. Rather than just being persecuted for living a righteous life, the persecution is because of where we stand with Christ. It is persecution that comes because we are followers of Jesus.

I believe that this is more than persecution that comes because I claim to be a Christian. Rather it is because I am actively following him in my day to day life. Some will take offense at that and will insult us, speak evilly against us, and will actively seek to cause us harm. When that happens, we can rejoice, remembering that is the way God’s people, the prophets in particular, have always been treated.

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The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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