Summary: The Beatitudes: "How to Be" Attitudes 1) Toward God 2) Toward our neighbor 3) Toward our opponents
Have you ever played Balderdash? It’s a game where you guess the meaning of obscure words. Take the word “pleach” for example. Does “pleach” mean 1) a peach scented bleach, 2) the curved handle of a plough, or 3) the interweaving of tree branches? The correct answer is # 3. Pleach is the interweaving of tree branches. Try this one. Does “horbgorble” mean 1) the call of a female turkey, 2) to wander aimlessly, or 3) to speak with your mouth full? The correct answer is # 2. Horbgorble means to wander aimlessly.
The Bible and Bible commentaries would be a good source for Balderdash. After all, words like “eschatology”, and “transubstantiation” aren’t used in everyday conversation. The NIV title to our sermon text gives us another word that would work well in Balderdash. The word is “beatitude”. A beatitude is a declaration of blessedness. We’ll make more sense of the word, however, if we remember that the Beatitudes Jesus spoke are “how to be”-attitudes toward God, our neighbors, and our opponents.
Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to disciples – people who already knew that the way to heaven is through faith in Jesus. That’s important to remember because so many people think that the Beatitudes teach us how to be saved when they really illustrate how the saved are to be.
Jesus began by saying that the saved are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). He is not talking about the way we feel on a cold, dreary Monday morning, but the way a Christian thinks about his spiritual status before God. A Christian recognizes that he doesn’t have anything to offer God for his salvation. In fact the root meaning of the word “poor” in Greek is “crouch” the way a beggar does. A Christian does not stand tall before God and proudly point to all the money he gives to God’s work, or to all the time he volunteers at church and in the community. Instead a Christian crouches in the shadows with his head bowed ashamed of missed opportunities to serve. He’s embarrassed that when he does serve God he, more often than not, does so grudgingly not joyfully. Jesus goes as far as saying that a Christian is someone who mourns over sin (Matthew 5:4). When a Christian has been rude to a cashier, she won’t excuse herself by blaming it on the slow service but will be saddened by her failure to be patient. As spiritual beggars before God, Christians hunger and thirst for true righteousness and don’t begin to think that God will accept them the way they are because they’ve tried their best to be good (Matthew 5:6).
Poor. Beggars. Mourners. Hungry. Christians don’t sound to be a very happy bunch do they? Yet Jesus tells us that such people will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). He says that theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). And he promises that they will be filled (Matthew 5:6). Jesus of course is speaking about the forgiveness of sins he’s won for us. That forgiveness comforts and quiets a guilty conscience. It assures us that heaven is ours. And we can be sure that we have this forgiveness because Jesus says that he fills us with it (Matthew 5:6). The Greek word Jesus used for “fill” is one you’d expect to hear at the feedlot. Cattle in a feedlot are filled with so much feed that they are fattened, not just fed. In the same way when it comes to doling out forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t do so sparingly but abundantly so that all of our sins, no matter how large or how many they may seem to us, are all forgiven. So that failed marriage, that school suspension, those years away from the faith are just as much forgiven as the snide remarks we made yesterday.
People who know and believe that Jesus never rations forgiveness will reflect that truth in their attitude toward their neighbors. Jesus went on to say that Christians are meek and merciful, not gruff and intent on revenge (Matthew 5:5, 7). We are to be like Jesus who didn’t lash back at those who spit on him when he was on trial. Instead of seeking confrontation we are to end it. Instead of escalating arguments we are to cool them for Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). If we must have the last word in an argument, let it be: “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.”
Being meek, of course doesn’t mean being weak. Nor does Jesus want us to pursue peace at all costs. When the truth of God’s Word is at stake we will stand firm and will not give in. In fact Jesus said that his teachings would bring disharmony even among family members. A Christian is therefore also someone willing to suffer ridicule for the sake of the gospel.