Summary: Rather than giving a list of ideals to strive for, Jesus was showing the people how widely available God’s kingdom was – even for ordinary, poor, ignorant, imperfect, despised people. The beatitudes describe their struggle & grace to thrive in adversity.
Right Side Up in an Upside Down World
Intro: The more I study the Sermon on the Mount, esp. the Beatitudes, the less prescriptive and the more descriptive they become to me. Here is what I mean by that. Last week as I shared them, I introduced the first one (poor in spirit) as a requirement for entering the Kingdom of Heaven – God’s rule in our lives. But as I’ve read and studies the context I feel I need to revisit the Beatitudes again with fresh insight.
-In years past I think I’ve viewed the Beatitudes as something we should strive for in order to qualify for the kingdom of God, yet that doesn’t appear to be what Jesus is saying, then or now. As I stated last week, I do believe Jesus was acknowledging where people really were in their broken, oppressed lives. He was saying, “I see where you are, what you are going through, and I care about you. Furthermore, there is hope for you! The Kingdom of God is yours for the asking. If you receive God’s ruler ship in your heart and life, then you are blessed and welcome into His family and kingdom.”
-If you read the end of Matthew 4, you see that Jesus had already been ministering to these crowds. Matthew 4:23-24 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.
-Jesus had already begun to impart kingdom life to these people. Sitting in front of Him were people who had just been healed, delivered, and set free. They believed in Jesus and receiving Him. Life change was already happening to them. It is very likely that as Jesus began to teach the beatitudes, that He pulled a person up who had been injured by a soldier who had taken advantage of him and beaten him; however, Jesus had healed him and the man had come to believe in Him and follow Him. So Jesus may have been using a living illustration of someone who was meek, but that person was blessed b/c they had been accepted into the kingdom of God.
-Now, let me clarify what I am saying here. I’m not saying that we do not need to be humble, or mourn when we’re sad, or meek. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hunger and thirst for righteousness, or be merciful, or be pure in heart, or be peacemakers, or be willing to be persecuted for righteousness. But Jesus was not prescribing a new set of commandments that would qualify people for the kingdom of God. He was showing the people how readily available and how widely available God’s kingdom was – even for ordinary, poor, ignorant, imperfect, despised people.
-One book I’ve been reading applies the teaching on the beatitudes in a unique way. I changed some of the author’s words, and came up with 3 sides to the beatitudes. First, there is the silly side. TV, movies, the internet, and magazines tell us that the least fortunate people on earth today are those who are ugly, fat, deformed, bald, old, and anyone who does not enjoy unrestrained romance, sex, and fashion. Some people grow up believing the lie that if only they had the right body shape, the right hair, or the right clothes, then they could be considered blessed or happy. Many people feel they are below the standard of what the human race deems acceptable. It is silly to believe such things, but many of us do. Of course Jesus dealt gently and caringly with those who did not fit in or find acceptance. And He calls His followers to truly look and see the value in each person. Blessed are the ugly. There is beauty yet to be revealed. Blessed are those who smell bad. Blessed are the deformed, too big, too little, too loud, too quiet, the bald, the fat, and the old… for they are accepted and celebrated in the party of Jesus (The Divine Conspiracy, 123). That’s the silly side. But then there’s the sad or serious side.
-These are the ones who have been crushed by tragedy and despair. These are the flunkouts, the druggies, the divorced, those with STD’s, the brain-damaged, the terminally ill. The barren, those who get pregnant too often or at inappropriate times. Those who cannot or will not hold down a job and those who work too much. Those who have been ripped off, neglected, or abused. Parents with wayward children. Children with wayward parents. Those who face emotional abuse or neglect. Those who are incompetent or dim-witted. Those who are lonely and afraid. So many people live in this sad and serious zone with little or no hope for something better. But no matter how dark or how low or how sad the circumstance or life condition, Jesus offers help and healing, and full entrance into the kingdom of heaven. All that humanity has ever really longed for is found in simple friendship with Jesus. Now, alongside the sad we find the shocking.