Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes)
Matthew 5 begins with us really starting to hear the heart of Jesus. We’ve seen how strong his character and resolve to seek God are through his testing in the wilderness, yet now we are actually about to hear Jesus teach people. After sitting down, Jesus begins to speak. I find it interesting how the following verse is phrased. “And he opened his mouth and taught them” (verse 2). Why does Matthew feel the need to tell us that Jesus is speaking? Perhaps Matthew feels the need to distinguish the difference between lessons that can be learned from seeing Jesus in action, and lessons that can be learned from what Jesus spoke (this is purely speculative). Regardless, Matthew wants the readers to be sure that Jesus is teaching them by talking.
A general theme of structure in the Beatitudes is a blessing followed by a character description of a group of people and concluded with a future promise to that group of people. The future promise is the key and important to note because it reflects the opposite of a trend that is widely circulated in Christianity but isn’t Biblically supported, a trend which suggests that if an individual is a Christian, he or she is guaranteed a good life on earth.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 3). This suggests an inverse relationship: One who is poor in spirit, seeking God and lacking pride, is rewarded through grace with a place in the eternal kingdom of heaven. This is why Jesus attracted crowds and frustrated the Pharisees: The Pharisees considered themselves as the pariahs of holiness, and they believed that because they were sons of Abraham, they had an exclusive claim on being rich in spirit and in the kingdom of heaven. Yet Jesus seems to be suggesting that the opposite is true, that those who are willing to learn from his example and follow him contritely are those who will be blessed. And what a rich reward to those who are willing to be poor in spirit!
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (verse 4). This seems to suggest that grieving for a time is acceptable, and even encouraged. I love this verse because while Jesus is fully God, he recognizes human feelings and offers encouragement to those who are in the process of mourning by saying they will be comforted. But how will they be comforted? We aren’t told, but I would guess that Jesus himself acts as our ultimate comfort; he himself comforted those who were mourning, such as Mary and Martha when Lazarus died, or the centurion who had an ill servant. How did Jesus comfort them? He literally gave them life! Those of us who are mourning now will find comfort in turning to Jesus with the knowledge that someday we will literally have new life in heaven with Jesus.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (verse 5). What is interesting about this verse is that it promises the earth to those who do not seek it. Those who are meek seek the welfare of others over the welfare of themselves. Perhaps this is why Jesus promised them the world. Those who were meek wouldn’t see this promise of the earth with selfish intentions; they would see it as an opportunity to promote the welfare of others and serve people in the world as Jesus did.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (verse 6). No one who seeks Jesus with the intention of learning to be more like him for God’s glory is left with a longing desire to be fed. Jesus doesn’t tease. He wants people to come to him in order that they may be filled up. It is important to note here it is very important to be hungry and thirsty for the right things in life, and seeking righteousness leads us to Jesus Christ, who was perfect in righteousness.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (verse 7). This verse serves as an encouragement to those who are merciful, and a warning to the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved pointing out the sin in other’s lives while neglecting to observe their own glaring sins. As a parable by Jesus shows us later, we are often given more grace than we ourselves show to others. God showed a grace to mankind that can never be matched, and when we want to be unmerciful to others, we need to humbly remember how merciful God has been to us from Eden until now.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (verse 8). This verse may seem simple, but I believe it to be beautiful in its practicality. Many people came to see Jesus for his miracles, yet that is all they saw him as, some kind of entertainer with a good message on morality. Now most of us don’t approach Jesus with pure hearts. Even his disciples doubted him early on in his ministry. Yet those who are transformed over time and are purified in heart by Jesus are given the best gift ever given: They get to see Jesus as more than a miracle worker or a good man, they get to see him as he truly is, a gracious and loving Savior.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (verse 9). This verse forms an idea that goes against the expectation of who Jesus was thought to be. Many Jews imagined Jesus to be a kind of military leader who would make them the world’s ruling nation. Eventually, Jesus will return and establish his kingdom forever. Yet Jesus calls for the opposite at the present, which goes along with his message of love. There is certainly a time for boldness in Christianity, and Jesus says we should proclaim what he whispers in rooftops to the world. But by looking at the previous beatitude, we need to examine each situation with the purity of our heart in mind. And I can’t think of many scenarios in day to day life where Jesus calls us to be in division with others, whether they be Christians or not.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 10). This verse promises life in heaven to those who may be persecuted until death on earth. This is why I love Jesus: He wanted people to come to him, but he wanted heartfelt commitment. He didn’t want empty gestures. Imagine following someone who told you that you had to have faith for the next life because you could die in your present one! Jesus never sugarcoated his message to gain more followers, and he always wanted us to count the cost of following him. But this devotion would not go unrewarded, as a place in his kingdom is worth far more than any persecution on earth.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (verse 11). This verse echoes the previous one, and it asks for the disciples to have faith, because “…your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (verse 12). For any who knew their history, the Old Testament prophets had a rough physical life on earth in many cases. They were often driven into isolation or thrown into prison. Yet most of them (I’m excluding Jonah) continually sought God and were determined to deliver His message even after they were persecuted. And Jesus understands that many of his disciples would be persecuted just as much as the prophets were. He tells them this to encourage their faithfulness through hard times, and as the ultimate sufferer, they would be encouraged to look to Christ in the future, remembering that someday they would join him in the paradise he promised to them. It may sound corny, but turning our eyes towards Jesus on the cross reminds us that there is so much more to look forward to than our present pain.