On the north shore of the Sea of Galilee the land gently slopes from the shore-line up to the top of the surrounding foot hills. The slope is sparsely covered by trees thus leaving large grassy areas. The view from the slopes was one of looking over the gleaming Sea of Galilee and upon the villages which fringed it’s western shore. Small fishing boats dotted the lake, occasionally returning back to the villages. Whilst looking out over the sea of Galilee one could see the small town of Capernaum just to ones left sitting snugly on the shore line. This town had given Christ two of his apostles, Peter and his brother Andrew.
Indeed the overall picture from these northern shores was one of serenity. And it was to here that Christ brought the twelve, to instruct them on principles of the kingdom. They sat down on the slopes and before long were joined by the multitudes which had become a familiar sight wherever Christ went. The teachings that followed are familiar to us as the Sermon on the Mount.
Let’s go back to these grassy slopes on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, sit down among the multitude and listen to what Christ has to tell us. He started the preaching by offering eight blessings on the crowd. These blessing were given to those in the crowd who showed certain characteristics which Christ was looking for. Of course Christ already perfectly exhibited the eight characteristics. These eight blessings or beatitudes as they are known to some can be found in Matthew chapter five and verses three to twelve.
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 filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain 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.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
They are words which form the very basis of all righteousness. They form the rock on which any believers efforts are built. And most importantly they were attributes which Christ had demonstrated in his life. Christ was trying, through this preaching, to draw men to the fountain of life and light and away from the darkness of human ambition and death. And he said after he had spoken of the blessings:
"be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect".
The ideas Christ mentions in these eight blessings should not be ideas which we think about in our quite time when we are meditating, but ignored in the rush of our daily lives. They are things which form part of our life all of the time. Jesus was teaching the disciples through these eight blessings how to live life on the same high level which he was on.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Christ is telling us with this blessing the state we should be in, in regard to anything which we achieve through our endeavours. We should have a complete lack of satisfaction in ourselves, our egos should not be inflated. Indeed sometimes it is easy for us to let our self-esteem increase by such things as our superior education, or our social status, inherited brains, or capacity for hard work or sweetness of nature. But all this means nothing before God except if it can be used in His service in some way.To be poor in spirit, means lowering our egos to nothing and putting ourselves completely in the hands of God. If we do this we will receive a blessing!
Gideon was a good example of being poor in spirit. He desperately wanted the deliverance of this people, but he at no stage tried to convince the people that he had the sort of the attributes which leaders are made of and that he should therefore lead them. Instead an angel came to him asking him to lead the people. Gideon poorness of spirit showed through in his response to the angel when he said:
So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15
This poor spirit brought a great victory for Gideon and the Midianites. God was with them in battle partly because of Gideon’s poorness of spirit which is a characteristic which shows spiritual strength.
Therefore, God wants a man of poor spirit and he asks for this many times throughout the Bible like the time he asked for it through his prophet Isaiah when he said in chapter 66 of Isaiah that he was looking for a man who was poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at my word.
Blessed are they that mourn
The word “blessed” means happy. So it seems strange that Jesus should be saying here “happy are they that mourn”. For this seems to contradict itself. How can someone be happy when he mourns? Well, Christ is saying that we should be mourning at our spiritual condition, for we know that God has commanded us not to sin, yet we cannot help but sin. We should mourn at our limited success at being Christ like. We should mourn at the general conditions of the world around us.
What comfort then is there, for those that mourn? The answer to this can be found in Luke’s version of this blessing:
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Luke 6:21
So, he that mourns over the general conditions of today will laugh with joy when he enters the kingdom of God where he will be with his saviour. Jesus and his apostles experienced mourning and yet were joyful.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12-13
James told his readers to:
Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. James 4:9-10
Paul himself mourned or lamented over his own unworthiness by exclaiming in Romans:
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:24
If Paul laments over such things then surely we must do the same. And when a man is bowed down with depression at his own spiritual condition, there is hope for him. When he suffers from a heavy heart because of his limited success at Godliness then the happiness Jesus has promised is within his grasp.
Blessed are the meek
To be meek means recognising your true worth before God and then applying this attitude of mind in the situations of every day life. Beatitude #2 tells us that our true worth before God is poor because of our desires to sin. So being meek means taking a attitude something like that which is described in one of the Psalms where it says:
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret…..Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it only causes harm. Psalm 37:7-8
This placid unassertive attitude to life is possible only for the meek of the earth. Meekness is not a weakness, as it seems to the world which say it is effeminate and taste-less, but through the words of Jesus the disciples realised that it was a quality to be found only in the bravest and strongest characters. For it requires a high degree of courage and self control to achieve a proper meekness before God, and we are told that if we are meek we shall inherit the earth, so by a strange paradox, by forsaking the world we inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
Christ here is telling us that blessed is the man who continuously is trying to change himself or improve himself. No believer in Christ could possibly be satisfied or content with his current spiritual position. He would and should always be striving to make himself more Christlike. He would be always hungering and thirsting after Godliness and this is made easier by the fact that he knows that one day his hunger will be satisfied and that he will be filled as it says in the last part of verse six.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matt. 5:6
Consider some of the verses in the Psalms and how the Psalmist looks for God; and thirsts and hungers after him:
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2
O God, you are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
Like a traveller in a desert with a raging thirst, cannot take his mind off the thought of bubbling springs of cool water…so we should be with our striving for the kingdom knowing that our thirst will only be fully quenched at Christs coming.
Blessed are the merciful
Mercifulness does not of it’s self mean soft- heartedness or compassion, it means a forgiving spirit. Mercy is essentially an attribute belonging to God only and is used by him in the forgiveness of sins extended to men who have nothing to offer in return except their repentance. Likewise as man experiences forgiveness of sins from God, so also he should extend the same forgiveness to others. Christ saw this as being so important that he included it in what we know as the Lord’s prayer where he says:
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
Therefore, it is obvious that we shouldn’t store up criticism and love resentment of others as this goes directly against what our Lord has asked. The man of mercy who can throw away hard feeling from his mind and in all his mental attitudes and thinks kindly towards those that don’t really deserve it, ensures for himself a peace of mind and a happiness unknown to the one who would rather resent. This man of mercy will himself some day in the future experience mercy from his Father.
Blessed are the peacemakers
Christ was called the prince of peace mainly because it is through him that fellowship between God and man is permanently established. We must all strive to be at peace with God by being in fellowship with him. Paul wrote in Romans in regard to this peace-making :
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1
For it is through Christ that we are reconciled to God. Paul always started his letters with the greeting ‘grace and peace” which combined to wish the person reading the letter ‘forgiveness of sins and the consequent life of reconciliation with God”.
The peacemaker is one whose work leads to renewal of fellowship, not between man and man, but between man and God. He is a preacher of the gospel.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake
Persecution is a test of your faith. It distinguishes between the counterfeit believer and the true believer.
Blessed are the pure in heart
The Pharisees presented an outer image of being clean with their 100% commitment to the laws yet inwardly they were depraved and unworthy to be God’s children. That is why Christ is telling us that only those who have a heart truly devoted to God will be blessed. To be pure in heart then is to have a mind which God regards as fit for his fellowship, a mind not given to evil, or defiling thoughts, but a mind cleansed by heaven. How can we purify our hearts? Peter answers this question in Acts chapter fifteen when he says :
So God, who knows the heart,….and made no distinction between us and them [Jew and Gentile], purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:8-9
We can purify our hearts by faith. Not just that faith which believes the promises to the fathers, but that faith which sees God in action, in all the diversity of life’s experiences. This is what the last part of verse eight means when it says “for they shall see God”. People in the first century in Judaea and Galilee saw no beauty in Jesus which would make them desire him for that reason, yet they still desired him because they saw God in him. The twelve apostles believing in Christ and being with him constantly saw God in him, through His Godly character.
To verify this, Jesus once said
"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father".
And at another time John said:
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him".
So becoming pure in heart means you obviously become more like Christ. And the more like Christ you become the more you see God.
These eight blessings offered to all who believe, describe characteristics which Christ himself exhibited through his life. Therefore, we see that the blessings or beatitudes as they are more commonly known, are the seeds from which a lot of the other aspects of our Christ-like lives come from.
The secret of the law of Christ does not lie in the disciple loving his enemies or in turning the other cheek – for both of these actions will come from the blessed condition of being poor in spirit. The man who is poor in spirit will not seek the mote in his brother’s eye. Likewise, one who is pure in heart will have made those painful sacrifices which have deprived him of offending hands and feet and eyes. Likewise, he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness will not be over-anxious to get his share of the lesser blessings of this life.
As a result, we see these blessings as being the basic building blocks upon which a lot of our Christ-like actions are based. These fundamental truths which sum up all that Jesus has to say about discipleship require a lot of careful considering.
Like those people sitting on those grassy slopes overlooking the sea of Galilee, Christ is saying to us that we will be blessed if we develop those characteristics set out in the Beatitudes. Let us take those words in those eight blessings to heart so that we might be more pleasing unto the Lord.