The Beatitudes (Part 1)
Matthew 5: 1-12
Not unlike the establishment of any new realm, the pronouncements in the Gospel of Matthew defined the messianic Kingdom of Heaven and her Savior by outlining the Kingdom’s values, priorities, and goals. As we delve into the Sermon on the Mount, we note that Jesus walked His talk with an exemplary lifestyle based principally on the character qualities of those who would be His disciples, and therefore, members of His Kingdom. The descriptive certainly do not represent a form of religion, unlike the Jewish faith of his audience, as its source differentiates it as an internalized transformation impacting the whole being towards servanthood to God and others. The first four Beatitudes addressed the disciples’ journey into the Kingdom: implying a discerning awareness that we are our own impediment in embracing the things of God, and that He is responsible for this enduring change in us. Except for the first and last Beatitudes (where the second half of each verse is in the present tense), the promise following each commendation is future oriented.
Humanly, it is totally counter-cultural to proffer a worldview that we are unable to help ourselves, and being ‘poor in spirit’ is the essential attitude to see us through life (Matt 5:3). But in the Old Testament, possessing a poverty of spirit implies the experience of being humbly dependent on God’s protection in the face of opposition from the ungodly rich and the arrogant self-confident who treat God as irrelevant. Bearing in mind how flawed we are, it is expected that we would inevitably continue to mess up our world: both personal and corporate. And with an awareness of the symptoms of our spiritual bankruptcy (cf., Is 53:6), we begin to admit that we are unable to save ourselves – the meaning of being ‘poor in spirit.’
The second Beatitude follows on from the first. When we interpret the symptoms that plague us as sin, we begin to comprehend the depth of neurotic self-righteousness and its consequent expressions in depravity that have devastated humanity. The ‘mourning’ goes beyond a personal bereavement to a realization of the intolerable and incomprehensible situation for those who seek after God. Those who mourn will eventually be comforted in God’s redemptive course (Matt 5:4).
It takes courage to face up to sinfulness, as it can overwhelm one’s self-esteem. And even more gumption is needed to meekly repent. The spirit of gentleness or meekness is selfless and teachable, and consequently liberating and therapeutic; it is certainly not weakness. The solution for sin was in God’s eternal plan, and the context of our reconciliation with the Creator and preparation for eternal life are only possible when there exists a humility in trusting God for His solution rather than fretting and scheming to forge a right ourselves, from a wrong (cf., Ps 37:7-9), as He promises here a reversal of fortunes (i.e., euphemistically as ‘shall inherit the earth’; Matt 5:5).
The apex of the Beatitudes is in the fourth, where an expression of God’s character is mooted: His righteousness being an intrinsic quality of the Kingdom of Heaven and the guiding principle of all life in Christ. Hence, to experience the blessedness of the Kingdom is to live a life as God requires of us – to possess in personal character a pressing determination and struggle for equity or fairness. The Greek interpretation describes it as ‘hungering and thirsting for perfect righteousness’ (Matt 5:6; cf., Rom 3:10). As its source can only be found in God, any expression of it in the face of inequity and sin would combine both genuine love and anger, with a heart-felt cry for justice and mercy. Yearning after this righteousness and being held by it is to find our identity in Christ, due to His finished work on the cross.
It is obvious that we cannot gain entry into the Kingdom without an inward transformation of the human heart by an act of God (Jesus in explaining to Nicodemus called it being ‘born again’ in John 3:3), so that its stony disposition becomes malleable by the Spirit of God in our walk with Him (Ezek 36:26-27) and in refocusing our priority in Christ, as we become His followers.