A Lesson in Addition
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3–10, ESV)
One common misconception about this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is that these Beatitudes are listed haphazardly in completely random order, like some sort of grocery list compiled over the course of a few weeks. On the contrary, Jesus, ever the master teacher, intentionally places one after the other because each one lays a foundation for the next. The beatitudes are not a random collection of descriptions of the blessed person. No, they are rather an ascending staircase of the Christian life. Let me show you what I mean.
Take for instance the first: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is not speaking of a person’s lack of wealth here. The start of every believer’s spiritual life is a willingness to admit that they have nothing to offer God – no good deeds or righteousness of their own that they can use to buy salvation. To be poor in spirit means to be spiritually bankrupt, and the wonderful truth of it is this is exactly where God wants us.
The rest build from there. If we meditate on each one in succession we begin to see the flow of the Christian life.
Blessed are those who mourn… Not those who are simply sad because of life’s hard knocks, but those who mourn over their sin. The true Christian is always repenting, always willing to admit the wretchedness of their indwelling sin. First we begin to feel spiritual bankrupt, or poor in spirit, and this moves us to mourn over individual sins.
Blessed are the meek… To be meek means to be humble, and where does godly humility come from? From realizing that we are spiritually bankrupt and sinful. We see the brokenness inside of ourselves and come to the realization that we need something (or Someone) to cleanse us. This is meekness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… What is hunger and thirst but a longing for something you need but do not have? Those who experience spiritual bankruptcy, mourning for their sin, and the resulting meekness will be led to desire the righteousness that only God can give. Again, this is exactly where God wants us.
Blessed are the merciful… Mercy begins in our own hearts. The merciful person is the one who understands they have received a great deal of mercy themselves. Those who experience the first four beatitudes exhibit mercy toward others because of their own humble, spiritually needy posture before God. They know full well how merciful God has been toward them. How can they not be merciful toward others in response?
Blessed are the pure in heart… The Pharisees thought purity of heart came from law-keeping. Jesus taught us the pure in heart are those who admit their sinful state before God, who approach God in humility and repentance, and who consider others more significant than themselves. The pure in heart are those who have lived the five previous beatitudes.
Blessed are the peacemakers… As with the first two, this beatitude is spiritual in its meaning. Blessed are those who seek to bring other men and women into peace with God. Again we see how this beatitude builds off the others, for once someone has experienced the previous six the natural response is to help others experience them as well.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness… This is the final step. Once we have been humbled and purified by God and have experienced peace with him through Christ, and we have then become peacemakers ourselves, the world will respond the way it always has toward the true citizens of the kingdom: with persecution. It is inevitable. Jesus said as much. But there is no other way if you want to follow Christ.
The beatitudes are Jesus’ lesson to us in addition – one intentionally added to the next totaling up to a life of blessedness before God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
~ John Davis