Summary: The first beatitude. Not the economically poor but those who are poor in spiritual qualities.
Certain portions of Scripture seem to be etched more deeply into people's minds than others. Psalm 23 is definitely one of these, so also is I Corinthians 13 and Hebrews 11. The Sermon on the Mount, as Matthew chapters 5-7 is commonly called, is another. Its popularity may stem from its position near the beginning of the New Testament, causing it to be read more frequently than other parts. People know it well because of its clear teachings of the Christian way of life. The sermon on the Mount contains Jesus' description of what His followers should be and do, it comes closer to being Christianity's manifesto than any other single portion of the Bible.
Scholars debate whether Jesus actually gave the Sermon as a single discourse, but Matthew presents it as though it was.
Among other things, it contains the Beatitudes, brief illustrations on the spirit of the law, and advice about the personal and private nature of a relationship with God, including the so-called Lord's Prayer. It teaches us how to avoid the pulls of this world through trusting in God and seeking His Kingdom and righteousness before all other priorities in life. Chapter 7 includes the well-known Golden Rule in 7:2, a caution against judging, a warning to beware of false prophets and a final admonition to found ourselves on solid ground by not only hearing but doing.
In the last study we saw how the Beatitudes was related to the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians chapter 5. We also saw in Beatitudes Part 1 how the Beatitudes were part of the value system of the new covenant.
In the beatitudes, our Lord gives us a description or characterization of the true believer in terms of his relationship to both God and man .
Second, there is clearly an element of surprise or shock in the beatitudes. “The people listening to Jesus that day must have been spellbound from the very beginning. They must have been enthralled by the very opening sentence, for Jesus was telling them things which on the surface seem absurd.
He was actually saying that it was not the rich, the happy, the well-fed and the popular who were to be considered blessed , but rather the poor, the mourners, the hungry and thirsty, and the persecuted ones. Obviously, these descriptions are concerned primarily with spiritual and not material conditions. However, the fact remains that Christ was proclaiming the exact opposite of what most people would expect to hear. He was saying that those who would be His disciples must be willing to have their worldview, their priorities and even life be completely turned upside down. For every beatitude is in striking contrast to the character and conduct of the scribes and Pharisees.
The beatitudes, properly understood, reveal to us the fundamental difference between what a true believer and unbeliever is. The beatitudes are not a set of rules; but, rather, are descriptions of what Christians are supposed to be. They are descriptions of a life of daily repentance, of sacrificial living, of taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. In our day when the church and the world have so often been blurred by syncretism, the beatitudes are exceedingly important. They reveal a very clear cut distinction between believers and unbelievers. The Christian has a completely different outlook than the current world spirit. The very things that men of this world aspire to are condemned by the beatitudes. And the very things that our Lord expects us to admire, seek and long for are things that the world regards as weak, foolish and a waste of time.
It is wrong to interpret the beatitudes as if certain beatitudes were meant to apply to only certain disciples. In other words, some believers are called to be meek, while others are to be merciful, and still others are to be poor in spirit. No. All the qualities that our Lord sets forth are expected of each and every Christian; there are no exceptions. Just as Paul’s list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit reveals God’s requirement for Christian character, the Savior’s nine beatitudes describe our Lord’s concept for every citizen of His kingdom. Therefore, all of us are responsible to study them, learn what they mean and apply them to our lives.
It is also important that we recognize that the characteristics in the beatitudes are the result of God’s grace alone. These descriptions, properly understood, are not possible for unregenerate men. They can only be produced by the power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and the continued work of God’s Spirit in sanctification. We must not for a moment suppose that the mere fact of being poor, and hungry, and sorrowful, and hated by man, will entitle anyone to lay claim to the blessing. The poverty spoken of is a poverty accompanied by grace. The want is a want entailed by faithful adherence to Jesus. The afflictions are the afflictions of the Gospel. The persecution is persecution for the Son of Man’s sake.