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Monday, January 18, 2016


Recently at church we went over the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12). You know ... from Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount. There are (essentially) eight "blesseds" in there. And I thought they deserved a look here.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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." (Matt 5:3-12)
First, I think we make a mistake when we try to understand "blessed" as "happy". They'll try to tell you that. Indeed, some of the translations actually use that word instead. "'Blessed', you see, is old school," they'll say. "What's really in view is 'happy'." Except I disagree. There is a fundamental difference between "blessed" and "happy". To be happy is to feel pleased or contented. To be blessed is defined as a connection with God. That is, to be blessed is to be given something good by God (or someone else, I suppose), as opposed to being happy which is simply to feel good about your circumstances. Okay, so that's word games. Fine. But does "happy" really make sense in the text? Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matt 5:10). Do you really understand that to mean "happy"? Do we really expect to be happy "when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account"? No, happy isn't the right word.

So what is "blessed"? In Jewish context (and Jesus was a Jew), there were blessings and curses. (That wasn't "happy" and "sad".) The standard Jewish blessing went like this.
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num 6:24-26)
And in this Hebraism we see "bless" and "make His face to shine upon you" as a parallel, a "same meaning". So is "be gracious to you" and "give you peace." "Blessed" means that God's face is toward you, that He keeps you and is gracious to you and gives you peace. "Cursed" is ... the opposite. Are you necessarily happy if God's face is toward you? No, not necessarily, but there is something much better, much deeper, much richer there even when you are not feeling pleased or contented. Do you see? That is the idea of "blessed". Much better than "happy". May even include "happy", but, oh, so much more.

So to the Beatitudes. What conditions will see this kind of attention from God? I think if you read the text you will see a logical progression. There are (in order) "the poor in spirit", "those who mourn", "the meek", "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", "the merciful", "the pure in heart", "the peacemakers", and "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake". I see, in that, a sequence. It begins with a recognition of personal spiritual bankruptcy (poor in spirit). "I have nothing, spiritually speaking." Properly recognized, this cannot help but produce mourning (those who mourn) for that condition because not only am I spiritually bankrupt, but there is no remedy I can apply. As a result, I present myself to God meekly (the meek), deeply desiring the the righteousness (hunger and thirst for righteousness) that only He can provide. As a result, I can be merciful (the merciful) to others in the same condition I was and God supplies a pure heart (the pure in heart). As a renewed believer, I can be a peacemaker (the peacemakers). (Note: A peacemaker is not simply someone who resolves conflicts between people -- definitely that, but not only. A peacemaker is also one who can offer God's peace to others.) Finally, having been spiritually bankrupt, mourning that condition, realizing I have no self-help available, but turning to God for His righteousness and receiving His mercy and a pure heart from which I can be at peace with others and offer them God's peace as well, we arrive at the Christian life, a "taking up your cross", a life dedicated to Him which necessarily includes persecution and trials (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

Each step seems to follow logically from the previous. Each condition also has its own reward. From "the kingdom of heaven" to being "called sons of God", the outcome of these proper responses to God have wonderful compensations. But "blessed" -- God's face toward you, His keeping and grace and peace upon you -- these are marvelous on their own. May we all seek to be blessed in the way Jesus offers here.


Bob said...

do the blessing point toward the new kingdom? it is as though Jesus is saying that for all the suffering and shame we may endure, the blessings will be manifested in the kingdom to come. i am sure that we can try to apply these blessing now, but it seems that the real reward it yet to come. i like the progressive view that you outlined. very interesting..

Stan said...

I would say both. There are blessings now; there are blessings to come. For instance, there is a sense in which we inherit the kingdom now and a sense in which it has not yet happened. Not yet fully realized. There is the fact of God keeping and caring and giving us peace now and the more perfect version yet to come.