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By Richard Gunther
Matthew 5 begins with a list of eight “blesseds”. The first thing we
must notice about these statements by Jesus is that they were addressed to the disciples,
not to the crowds further down the hillside. These words are therefore
exclusively for the followers of Jesus, not to the people of the world.
Since these “blessed” are for believers only, it would be logical to
expect that, if we reversed them, we would find qualities which better match the
world of unbelievers. The reversed ‘beatitudes’ therefore give us a fairly
good description of the fallen human race, which also help us understand the
true meaning of the beatitudes, because of the contrast between the two
Blessed are the:
poor in spirit
hungry and thirsty
pure in heart
First of all the word “blessed” comes from the Greek
‘makarios’ meaning ‘happy’. This word is used seven times in Revelation
1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 14. It is used twice of God 1Tim.1:11,
6:15. It is important that we understand what ‘makarios’ means, because it
is attached to all eight statements by Jesus.
Vines says “In the beatitudes the Lord indicates with this word not
only that the characters are blessed, but also the nature of that which is the
highest good.” In other words, happiness is found when one finds these eight
states of being.
The Amp. NT says: “Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually
prosperous, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favour and salvation,
regardless of their outward conditions) . . .”
Now compare the eight states of being with what ‘the world’ values in
regard to happiness.
rich in spirit, full of self-importance
partying and festivals
strong, taking personal revenge
full and well fed
unmerciful, strong in judgment
worldy, full of the world’s knowledge and gossip
ready to strike back and destroy the enemy
persecuting those you disagree with
Jesus deliberately set the eight ‘blesseds’ up as a standard by which
his followers could measure themselves and others. In some ways they apply to
him too, but there is a difference in each case between their application to
him, and their application to his followers. For example, while Jesus was
“poor in spirit” it was not because of his fallen state, but because of his
choice to identify with fallen Man. He did “mourn” but not for himself
because he was sinless. He was “meek” like a lamb led to the slaughter, but
he was also the soon-coming King of kings, with a sword red with the blood of
his enemies. He did not “hunger and thirst after righteousness” because he
was perfectly righteous, but he did battle against temptation just as all his
followers need to. He was merciful because he came as the Saviour and the
Shepherd, but he also declared himself to be the Judge of the world (in the
parable of the sheep and goats for example). He was pure in heart because he was
God in the flesh, yet he also took our sins, and was acquainted with the human
condition right to the point of death. He was a peacemaker, but he would not
yield to sin or the enemy for any price. And he was persecuted because he was
the Son of God, whereas his followers are persecuted simply because they are his
All the above points could be expanded into quite a sizeable book, but
the purpose of this article is to present some brief, simple notes on the
subject, not produce a large book.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
The way to a “poor spirit” is through a series of deliberate choices
and disciplines. It means that the Christian acknowledges himself to be but a
fallen creature, totally dependent on God for life. The world’s man (meaning
any non-Christian man or woman) does not like to think of himself as poor in
spirit. He does not want to think of himself as helpless, or reliant on God for
anything. Many people consider themselves ‘spiritual’ simply because they
‘feel good’ about themselves, or because they ‘feel one with Nature’.
Many practice religious ceremonies. Many talk of New Age philosophies and
beliefs as their path to spiritual power. Many even boast of their
self-sufficiency, and dream of immortality through genetics, or some other
branch of science.
Someone once jeered ‘Jesus is your crutch! You’re always having to
lean on him!” This is in fact quite true, and I would not have it any other
I remember a story of a chief who built his house with a very low
doorway. Whenever anyone entered they had to bow as they approached the chief.
The ‘poor in spirit’ gladly bow as they approach God. They don’t need a
low doorway to force them to their knees, but the world’s man will not
approach God on his knees. His spirit, he believes, is not poor. As someone once
said to me “If I became a Christian, what would I get out of it?” The
‘poor in spirit’ never dares to ask this kind of question.
Blessed are they that mourn.
Does this mean that Jesus is saying it is good to be sad? Of course not.
In the context, he is referring to the sorrow which true Christians feel because
they know they are sinners, and because of the sin they see all around them in
The world’s man, on the other hand, hardly ever worries about sin –
in fact he quite often revels in it. The newspapers print the daily toll of
crimes, and most of the time these are seen as either entertainment, or the
latest item to marvel at. Sometimes the ‘bad’ people are actually admired,
such as bank robbers who pull off daring heists, or leaders who kill thousands
in dramatic raids, or adulterers who manage to have many wives without being
caught. The bad are the heroes in many movies, even though they usually end up
dead or in prison. Bad people are portrayed as having the most exciting lives,
while Christians are virtually never portrayed as much more than
‘party-poopers’ or spoilsports.
But Jesus mourned. He burst into tears over Jerusalem. He prayed deeply
for his disciples. He groaned in his spirit at the tomb of Lazarus. He actively
shared in the world’s pain and sickness as he travelled from town to town, and
on the cross he carried all the grief and suffering of the world on his own
shoulders. Isaiah 53 tells us he was “acquainted with grief” (Is.53:3)
While it is not seen as popular to be too bothered by the troubles of
this world, Christians are people who feel for the oppressed people around them,
who show empathy and sympathy, and who mourn in their spirits because of what
Blessed are the meek.
First of all, meekness is not the same as cowardice, or the habit of
never speaking out against wrong. Num.12:3 tells us that Moses was the
meekest man in the world in his day, yet Moses was also a fiery judge at times.
When he was attacked personally (for example in the accusations against his
black wife which he brought from Egypt) Moses stepped aside and allowed God to
defend him, but when Moses was called to stand up for someone else, he was a
There are many promises to those who are meek – Ps.22:26, 25:9, 37:11,
76:9, 147:6, 149:4 etc.
The Christian is not always meek, because of inherent personality traits
but God values this quality. It means being gentle, and accepting a lowly
position. The meek person is mild-mannered, non-confrontational in their own
cause - but a lion in the Lord’s cause, and in defending others. Take Jesus
for example, though he was the Son of God, yet he lived as an obedient son in
Nazareth for nearly thirty years.
Meekness is not valued by the world’s man. In the world people value
the protester for one’s ‘rights’, the demander for this or that, the
caller for what is wanted ‘now!’ It is this wanting things now that
distinguishes people who are meek from those who aren’t, because God promises
that “the meek shall inherit the earth”, whereas those who are not meek want
to inherit it today. An inheritance is something to look forward to. It has been
this promise of better things to come which has motivated many Christians to
give up all they have to serve Christ, or to die for him. Why should a Christian
see the loss of all things as a problem when they have been promised the whole
planet? Why should we worry about a few ‘rights’ or possessions, when we
will one day be co-owners of the entire universe?
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
There is no doubt in most people’s minds that the world is full of
unrighteousness, although they might not call it by that word. The media is
constantly informing us of the wars, crimes and troubles caused by sinful
people. Thousands of movies and millions of TV series programs keep us up to
date with the work of bad people – who are usually defeated either by the law
or some character who overcomes them. It took many years and two world wars to
defeat just a handful of nations intent on killing, stealing and plundering
other nations. Since the end of the second WW more people have died from war
than all the people who died in the two World Wars.
Christians are to be distinguished by their inner desire to see sin
eradicated from the world, and also from their own lives. “Fools make a mock
at sin” (Prov.14:9) but Christians hunger after righteousness. This is a very
challenging statement by Jesus because it cuts to the roots of the Christian
life. It is undeniable that many Christians do NOT hunger after righteousness,
to their shame, but instead indulge in many sinful pleasures when they ought to
instead be condemning them.
Righteousness means ‘a high moral standard’, which translates into
speech, thoughts and actions. How Christians behave, how they dress, how they
treat their bodies, what they watch, listen to and attend, who they associate
with. If you meet a Christian who speeds or drives recklessly, smokes regularly
and swears without conscience, you might conclude that that Christian is not
hungering after righteousness.
But Jesus promises that those who do hunger and thirst after
righteousness will one day be satisfied – no doubt in the fully inaugurated
kingdom of God, when it is set up on earth, with the King of kings on His Throne
ruling all nations.
Blessed are the merciful.
Keeping in mind that in this and in all the eight ‘beatitudes’
the sense is on the personal level, not the level of the state, or the
military, or the office. In every case what Jesus is referring to is personal
behaviour, personal qualities and personal character. To take these eight
qualities anywhere else is to court disaster.
Vines says the word “merciful” means ‘actively compassionate’.
For example, when a Christian is beaten up by an intruder, but when the police
ask if the offended party would like to prosecute, he declines, and instead
prays for the intruder. This ability by Christians to forgive and show
compassion actually empowers them, rather than makes them ‘pathetic
punch-bag’s for the world, because it enables them to rise to a higher level
of life, rather than move on the lower brute ‘animal’ level of the world.
Again, one of the favourite devices in movies is for the offended party,
usually the ‘hero’ to take revenge for personal wrongs, usually with
spectacular fight scenes and wild pyrotechnics. It is doubtful whether many
people would want to watch Clint Eastwood forgiving the baddies, or Bruce Willis
on his knees praying for the highjackers. What most people want to see is
revenge and payback.
On the other hand, Jesus offered compassion to all his enemies. He taught
them, healed them, and gave them his very life. On the cross he prayed for their
forgiveness, and he would not call on the legions of angels ready to attack and
destroy the Jewish leaders at a moment’s notice.
Many missionaries have shown similar compassion when they have returned
to the very people who have tried to kill them, many Christians have turned the
other cheek in their homes, schools and workplaces. Mercy is a quality which God
delights in. He judges only as a last resort, and judgment is His domain, not
are the pure in heart.
Pureness of heart is a rare quality, especially today when the world
seems to want to bombard us with its advertising, immoral images and corrupt
entertainment. One can hardly watch TV for an hour without seeing and hearing
many offensive words and pictures. Pop songs glorify sensual pleasures and sex.
Many novels and magazines do much the same. Right from childhood’s earliest
days, adults seem to want to corrupt the minds and hearts of children through
various forms of entertainment, dirtying their consciences and dragging them
down with toilet humour, foul language and dirty jokes.
But Jesus wants Christians to have unmixed motives, pure hearts, clean
thoughts, and clear consciences.
How can this be? There are several ways by which a Christian may obtain a
pure heart. 1. By constantly reading the Bible, which can wash away the dirt of
sin from one’s thoughts. (Heb.10:22, 1Cor.6:11, Prov.30:12, Lev.8:21), 2. By
allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell within (1John 4:4), and 3. By actively
choosing good things and actively refusing bad (Phil.4:8)
Blessed are the peacemakers.
This verse has often been misquoted. What it does NOT mean is the people
who are either of a quiet disposition, who don’t like confrontations, or
arguments, or the people who are against war. Marching for ‘peace on earth’
is not what Jesus is talking about, because the cause of war is sin and sin
cannot be eradicated simply by signing peace deals. Peace is not the absence of
war either, because many ‘peaceful’ nations are full of unsaved sinners who
are still at war with God.
On a personal level, a Christian is a ‘peacemaker’ when he actively
promotes peace around him. It is on the personal level that peace must
come, through salvation, but also through settling disputes and resolving
conflict. Jesus said those who live in this way will be “sons (children) of
God”. In other words they will have the family likeness. Like Jesus they will
have a good effect on the people they live close to. On a personal level they
will be like perfume to those who have contact with them, at home, at work, or
wherever they move about day by day. (See Prov.27:7, Phil.4:18 and 2Cor.2:15,16)
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
These days it is actually a put-down to call someone a ‘do-gooder’,
or a ‘goody-goody’! This is surprising because the world needs as many
‘do-gooders’ as it can get. It is the ‘good’ people who keep the world
from falling into crime, anarchy and chaos. Perhaps those who use this
expression as an insult have never really thought it through – and perhaps
they are opposed to righteousness?
Jesus expects his followers to always do what is right. This means
keeping the principles inherent in the Ten Commandments. Righteous people are
honest, clean-minded, reliable, faithful to their family or spouse,
self-controlled, self-disciplined, hard-working, and helpful. In some situations
the presence of a Christian can be an extreme irritant to the ungodly, because
even though the Christian does not condemn or criticize those around him, his
very lifestyle witness to the ungodly and leaves them feeling condemned. In some
cases this is unavoidable – for example Joseph and Daniel, and of course
“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”
(2Tim.3:12) and we are told in Titus 2:12 that we ought to be denying
ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live
soberly, righteously, and godly,
in this present world”.
The ninth ‘beatitude’.
Having covered all eight ‘beatitudes’ briefly we come to what could
be called ‘beatitude’ number nine, because Jesus extends number eight from
persecution for righteousness, to persecution for His sake. History attests to
this. Millions have died or been tortured, hounded, rejected and mistreated
because of the name of Christ. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a testimony to
persecution of Christians, so is the History of the reformation. The Inquisition
and other arms of the Roman Church have the blood of many true saints spattered
on their sleeves, as do the Roman Emperors, and many other leaders throughout
history. Christian missionaries are frequently killed or driven out, and today
the fact that a person is or isn’t a Christian may mean the difference between
their gaining a position in a university or not.
But suffering for Christ’s sake, although painful and miserable, is
also an occasion for great joy, because it places an ordinary Christian in the
same company as the great prophets of the Bible. If we stand with them, we shall
also receive rewards with them.
When Christians practice all of the qualities listed above, they represent to the world the very best possible demonstration of God’s Kingdom in action in this age. They also form the ‘beachhead’ for God’s coming Kingdom. It is as if the future glories of God’s coming reign have intruded from the future and started to operate in the present. Eventually the qualities seen in the small minority of believers, i.e. Church, will become the universal standard for all people everywhere. When the meek inherit the earth, the whole earth will be full of meek people.
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