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Blessings? Really?

January 30th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Really? Blessed are those who mourn. Really? Blessed are... From the prespective of the world, Jesus' statements seem to be very paradoxical. Why does Jesus say we are blessed? Let's find out!

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Epiphany 4A – “Blessings? Really?” – Matthew 5:1-12 – January 30, 2011

As Jesus sat down on the mountainside and began to teach His disciples and the crowds that followed, the Beatitudes must have been like a splash of ice-cold water in the face of those who are self-satisfied and full of themselves. The Pharisees, for example, were wealthy, successful, powerful, and very religious. They thought the coming of the Kingdom of God would surely bring them happiness, and that God would surely reward them for being such good people. Their righteousness, however, was only skin-deep. It was a show. It was fake. They looked good on the outside to other people, but in God’s eyes they were rotten to the core.

If we are like the Pharisees — and to some extent all of us are — then we should pay attention! God wants us to empty ourselves of all the things on which we have prided ourselves. He wants us to take off those religious masks and the fake smiles and simply be ourselves with Him — warts and all. He knows our true spiritual condition much better than we do. He knows the secret, hidden sins of our hearts and minds. He knows the true motivation behind each of our actions — the selfishness, the greed, the ambition, the desire. He knows what we do when we think no one else is watching. None of this is news to Him! He just wants us to acknowledge our pitiful condition before Him — that our own righteousness just doesn’t have what it takes to “make the cut” in the kingdom of God.

However, the Beatitudes are also a cool drink of water for those who have a bad taste in their mouths from all the wicked, evil ways of the world, and are longing for something better — for something that brings true refreshment and satisfaction instead of leaving us dry and empty. Jesus takes what the world calls “blessed” and turns it completely upside down. In the process, He gives special honor to those who are despised and hated by the world, and shows us all from where true joy and happiness in life really come.

Once we have been emptied of all our sinful pride and self-righteousness, we discover that God has always wanted to fill us with the good things that can come only through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior, who is more than willing to forgive us, cleanse us, and make us new from within — a new heart, a new mind, a new life!

Jesus began by saying, “BLESSED ARE…” These first words mark Jesus as the Giver. The word “blessed” shows that God has acted or will act for our good. It all over the OT: Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Psalm 65:4 Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! Deuteronomy 33:29; Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD?

Jesus’ Beatitudes declare what He IS and GIVES. In pronouncing these blessings, He is announcing Himself as the Messiah! Jesus then identifies those who are blessed: 1) “The poor in spirit”: people who are helpless, and look to God to meet every need. 2) “Those who mourn”: people who are heartbroken, and look to God for comfort. 3) “The meek”: people who are powerless, and look to God for strength 4) “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”: people who are empty, and look to God for purpose and satisfaction in life.

Jesus also names the blessings they receive: 1) The poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven. Really, we are all helpless before God. We are born into this world as spiritual corpses—spiritually deaf and blind. The kingdom of God, then is available to all people—as long as we first realize that our condition before God is that we are nothing more than beggars. We come to God with nothing in our hands. All we can bring Him is our sins. But through Jesus He gives us everything we need.

2) Those who mourn will be comforted. It is simply a myth that Christians aren’t ever supposed to be sad. We mourn because of sin in the world, and the pain that it causes. We mourn because of sin in our lives, and how we know it must make God feel. We mourn because we’re homesick: we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, and we long for our heavenly home.

3) Those who are meek will inherit the earth. Jesus foresaw that the world would not be conquered by force or might or military power. Instead, God rules all over the world today in the hearts of believers by the power of the Gospel — the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Based on His authority (and not ours) we have the mandate to go to all nations of the world and make disciples.

4) Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Many people today are “rich in things but poor in soul” — they have money in the bank but spiritually they are bankrupt. Jesus shares with us a very important secret: true satisfaction and contentment in life only come from God.

These first four Beatitudes are really a unit — they are all referring to the same kind of person, and they are all conferring the same kind of gift. Jesus is giving to those who have nothing and need everything. Jesus is giving them what He knows will truly answer their needs: the true riches of the Kingdom of God.

The last four Beatitudes are also a unit. The rewards all look ahead to the final judgment and the new creation God is making. They are promised to all those who — in Christ —have already tasted the flavor of life in the world to come, and are demonstrating it in the present by what they do.

1) The MERCIFUL—those who have known God’s kindness and want to show his compassion to others—WILL BE SHOWN MERCY. 2) The PURE IN HEART—those whom God has cleansed from sin and now want to live for God according to his Word—THEY WILL SEE GOD. 3) The PEACEMAKERS—those whom God has reconciled to himself and want to help others be reconciled—THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD. 4) The PERSECUTED—those who unjustly suffer, are mistreated and face rejection for the sake of the Kingdom of God—THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM.

Now, the “Pharisee” in us might want to make the Beatitudes a legalistic set of requirements for us to enter the Kigdom of God. If a person could truly be all the things they describe, I guess that might work! But the fact is that because of our sin, we could never be poor enough, sad enough, meek enough, and persecuted enough to make up for all our sins.

Jesus is not here giving us the entrance requirements for heaven. Instead, He is talking about the nature of the kingdom of God — a kingdom that is radically different from the kingdoms of the world. The people wanted (and still want) a “messiah” — a hero, or a savior — who would come in all his pomp and glory.

We often admire people who are better, faster, richer, and stronger than us. We look up to them and try to be like them. But Jesus was not what we would have expected — instead He was everything we needed. Salvation, you see, is not from trying to attain to an impossible standard of perfection. Our deliverance could only take place because Jesus willingly became like us and experienced first-hand what it means to suffer — even to the extent of suffering the pains of hell itself when He was nailed to the cross.

Therefore, if the Beatitudes are like a cup of refreshing water for us, it is because they reflect so well the cross of Christ. Jesus was rich with all the wealth of heaven, but He became poor for us. Jesus was strong, but He became weak for us. Jesus was worthy of all honor, but He subjected Himself to ridicule and mockery for us. He was the source of every blessing, but He endured the harshest curse for us.

On the cross, Christ showed us God’s mercy — God placed the punishment we deserved squarely on the shoulders of His own beloved Son. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins, purifying us from them by His innocent blood which there was shed. On the cross, God made peace with us, forgiving our sins and reconciling us to Himself even though we were His enemies.

I like making people laugh and feel happy and good, so I joke around a lot and even do some pretty foolish things. I would do just about anything to make people smile or laugh. My foolish antics have at times caused my wife to be very embarrassed for me.

Today we learn that God is something like that. He will gladly become “foolish” — at least in our eyes — for the sake of His Son. Now it may seem like foolishness to us for Jesus to call the poor, the mourning, the meek, and the hungry “blessed”. The merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, and the persecuted seldom make the evening news.

But if God wants to call these people “blessed”, who are we to question Him? After all, it is equally foolish to call sinners like you and me righteous and holy. But thank God —that’s exactly what God does for the sake of His Son. Now if that’s the kind of foolishness God indulges in, well that’s just fine with me!

Are we poor? In Christ we have the kingdom. Are we sorrowing? In Christ we are comforted. Are we meek? In Christ we inherit the earth. Are we hungry and thirsty? In Christ, our righteousness, we are filled. We see this now through faith. One day, praise God, we will see it with our own eyes in the kingdom of heaven.

Just in case we still doubt that we are blessed, that we are included in what the Beatitudes are all about, then look at how Jesus puts the very last blessing: He says, “Blessed are YOU…!” And we respond, “Amen. Even if I may suffer for the sake of the Gospel, and even if there is little earthly reward, yes, dear Lord Jesus, in You I am blessed indeed — forever and ever. Amen!


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