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.