Summary: In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows the way of the believer. As we follow Christ daily, we will be blest. Our focus should be on the blessing, not the circumstance, and we should share the blessing with others.
Today is a sermon on a sermon, perhaps the most famous sermon of all: the Beatitudes, part of Jesus’ longer Sermon on the Mount. The word “beatitude” means “blessed” in Latin. The Beatitudes are all about finding blessings in unexpected places. Who would expect to be blessed in persecution, or in mourning?
I’ve always approached the Beatitudes as a standard to reach for: we should have more mercy, we should be peacemakers, we should hunger and thirst for righteousness. But an article by Gary Carver [https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/4638/sermon-options-february-2-2020] encouraged me to look again. If you actually look at the text, Jesus is not setting up some kind of gold standard for his followers. What he IS saying is, “This is what will naturally happen as you follow me. You WILL be blessed. This is part of the life I am calling you to.” Let’s consider what it means to be blessed, how it may affect our life, and what we are to do with it. First, we can...
1. Choose blessing by following Christ
Verses 1 and 2 set up the setting for Jesus’ famous sermon:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (vv. 1-2)
Rabbis traditionally sat down before they began to teach. All of his gathered disciples would recognize by his actions that he was about to share some profound thoughts for following God. So these scriptures are for the person who is already a follower of Christ, already a believer. Sure, others can aspire to becoming a peacemaker, or to one who grieves with hope. But for the believer, these are a given.
Carver imagines Jesus saying something like, “You who have responded to my call with your faith are blessed. Because you are mine, you have the ability to choose a certain kind of life.” And Carver summarizes, “When you make this choice, wonderful results can happen.” In my own words, as you choose daily to put Jesus first, everything changes! In Jesus’ own words,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” – Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25)
So, right off the bat, recognize the beatitudes as a summary of blessings that are there for the believer to choose. As we follow Christ daily, putting him first in our lives, these things WILL happen: we will be “poor in spirit” (v. 3) as we become acutely aware of our poverty apart from God and our desperate need for God; we will be “meek” (v. 5), operating with all our power under control of the Holy Spirit (meek Christ-centered husbands will never “lord it” over their wives or children; they will never abuse their strength); and we will hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness and be satisfied by it (v. 6). These things will happen automatically as we follow Jesus and become filled with his Holy Spirit.
And then, #2, we need to remember...
2. When hard times come, focus on the blessing
This life is hard. Elsewhere (Matthew 24:9), Jesus promised persecution for those who would follow him. It’s not easy to be a believer at times. Yet, here in the Beatitudes, Jesus over and over urges us to focus on blessing over trial. Consider verses 11 and 12 as an example:
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus says, “You receive a little persecution? Don’t worry about it. You’re in good company. And I’ve got you. The Father in Heaven will take care of you. You’re going to be ok. In fact, you’re going to be more than ok; you’re going to be blessed!”
When bad things come our way—maybe the death of someone we love, or someone maligns our reputation—Jesus says, “Focus on what you’re gaining, not what you’re losing. Focus on surviving and thriving, not on just being a victim.”
For instance, you find yourself lacking spiritually (v. 3)? Know that as you hunger more for God, you’re going to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. You find yourself in mourning over loss (v. 4)? Know that God will comfort you. As you are able to focus solely and primarily on God’s will and God’s plan (v. 8), your purity of heart will enable you to see God on the move.
This week our nation and world has been mourning the loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, along with his family and friends. When a celebrity dies, everyone mourns, because everyone is suddenly reminded of the fragile nature of life. Anyone can die at any moment, including those we love. Yet, we as Christians are also reminded that death has no final hold over us, nor over the Christian believers we love. God has the final word and God has overcome death. Even in mourning, we are blessed, as we look ahead to the life that awaits us in Christ.