Summary: Are the Beatitudes reals "be happy attitudes"?
It Takes Faith to Believe these Blessings
Last week in the sermon “Who Heard the Greatest Sermon Ever Preached” (available in this archive) we discussed the setting for the Sermon on the Mount. We noticed the mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles who were following Him. When Jesus saw these crowds, he went up on the mount to sit down and teach His disciples. We couldn’t be sure if only the twelve heard the sermon or whether the whole crowd. But we also noticed that it does not matter in the sense that the eleven would be sent out after Jesus’ resurrection to proclaim Jesus to all the world, both Jew and Gentile and to make disciples of them.
We also noticed that since the sermon is directed to His true disciples, whether the eleven or the surrounding crowd, that this sermon was not meant for the Jewish nation as a whole as a new ethic for the Jewish people. Neither is it some sort of esoteric teaching of the life in the millennial kingdom. This sermon is addresses to those who heard it. And as it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to have Matthew record it in the Scripture, it speaks to us as well. So if this sermon is addressed to Jesus’ disciples of Jesus from the time of Jesus, we have to understand what Jesus is saying to us by this sermon.
Exposition of the Text
The Sermon begins with a series of “blessing” statements. Anyone who reads it with a sense of literalness knows that they seem quite different than the “be happy attitudes of Robert Schuller. The modern health and wealth gospellers would hardly consider these “blessings” at all. Why would Jesus consider people who are poor in spirit, weeping, meek, persecuted for His sake, and so on as being “blessed”?
Matthew contains these statements of blessing at the beginning of His gospel on one mount and a series of curses or woes on the Pharisees, Scribes, and other Jewish leaders on another mount in Jerusalem. In it he seems to be framing the gospel with the mountains in Deuteronomy in which blessings for obedience were shouted from one mountain and curses for disobedience from another. If we follow this pattern here, Jesus’ disciples are blessed because they obey Him and the Scribes and Pharisees cursed because they did not.
The first blessing is to those who are “poor in spirit”. Poor in spirit is not necessarily the same as being materially poor. However there is at least some correlation as Luke who records a similar sermon given on another occasion by simple recording “blessed are the poor” without the “in spirit”.
Being poor in spirit is seen by many commentators as being people who know of their desperate need of salvation and have lost all hope in themselves and look for the Savior. This is true enough, but as this verse is in the context of the difficulties that a disciple of Jesus will encounter, there is also a sense that followers of Jesus might suffer the loss of material goods as well. This seemed to have happened to believers in the early church as the writer of Hebrews addresses this situation directly. So I would think it wise to keep the possibility of loss of possessions as the cost of discipleship a real possibility.
This poverty, however it is defined had a promise “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. We must notice that it says “is” and not “will be”. The Kingdom of Heaven is not some far off Eden in the sweet by and by but is a present reality to those who are suffering poverty in spirit or goods because of the gospel. This of course means true for us as well. We who believe in Jesus are already in the Kingdom. At this moment, we are in the Kingdom marked by suffering fir and with Christ. But someday, we shall enter into the joy beyond the cross with Jesus as well. But we are not less in the Kingdom now than we will be then.
In verse 4, Jesus blesses His followers who are mourning with the promise that they shall be comforted in their mourning. Here the promise has a future tense verb. The believer in times of sorrow and joy is still in the Kingdom. But mourning and the promised comfort are separated in time. We are reminded of the verse in Psalm 30:5 that joy comes in the morning afterward. In other words, “mourning today, morning tomorrow”. Jesus in John 16 reminded His disciples of their upcoming travail over Jesus’ arrest and death. They are reminded that they would mourn and the world would be glad. However their mourning would be turned to joy on Easter morning.