The Teaching of Jesus - Beatitudes
I used to have one of those record players that you could stack several albums and they would play one after another—pretty high tech. One of my teachers was talking about learning by osmosis—the idea that people can learn things passively, like even when they’re asleep— decided to do a little experiment. Some of my friends were really into Rush but I hadn’t really paid much attention to them, so for two weeks I put the 2112 overture as the third album on my record player when I went to bed. The idea was that I’d be asleep before it came on and after two weeks I’d see how much of it I had absorbed. Not very scientific but after two weeks when I listened to it, I pretty much knew every note. Later, when I tried the same trick with audio books and recordings of the Bible—it didn’t seem to work at all, other than giving me some strange dreams.
Anyway, I’ve always thought it was interesting that they quote Jesus saying “the meek shall inherit the earth.” What does that even mean? Are we supposed to try really hard to be meek and humble and lowly in the hopes that if we’re meek enough, then God will give us the earth? That doesn’t seem like a very meek ambition. “I’m so humble, I want to rule the world.”
This is a line that comes from the beginning of Jesus’ first teaching in the Gospel of Matthew—which is the first Gospel, so we could say this is the first teaching of Jesus. It’s called “The Sermon on the Mount” but the first little section—the part we’re gonna be looking at today—is a mysterious collection of blessings known as the Beatitudes [not BE-ATTITUDES]. Contrary to what you may have always thought, they’re not the “Be Attitudes” as in “attitudes that you should strive to be!” but the word comes from how it would be said in Latin. They are “blessings” and the word for “blessed” in Latin is “beati.” So, “Blessed are the poor in spirit" appears in Latin as “beati pauperes spiritu.” Gotta get a little Latin in there now and then since we meet at Aristoi Classical Academy.
Before I read these, I think it’s important that we all understand what the word “blessed” means. It’s not like #blessed. It doesn’t just mean “happy” or “lucky.” In the Gospels, when Jesus blesses someone, He is giving them the blessing of God—He is giving them salvation. So when we hear the word “Blessed” come from the mouth of Jesus, we need to hear it as “saved,” “redeemed,” “uncursed.” It’s a very complete word of Jesus healing and making a person right with God. Present and future salvation—it’s a big deal.
So, here they are, Matthew 5:1-12
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“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.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God.
The Beatitudes In the first four chapters of Matthew, Jesus is miraculously born, shown to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Promised One who brings the reign of heaven. And it’s all shocking and strange—not what anyone was expecting, not the way any of us would have done it. He ways are not our ways. He’s been healing people and telling everyone to repent because the reign of God is here—He’s picked a small group of disciples and a large crowd is starting to follow Him everywhere He goes. The crowd is curious, they see that something is happening, but they’re not believers. When you see “crowd” in the Gospel of Matthew, it’s always a curious mob of skeptics.
So now Jesus is gonna get down to it, the rabbi is gonna start teaching. Jesus has made it clear that He’s come to bring God’s salvation to God’s people. Now He’s gonna answer everyone’s burning question: who’s gonna be saved? Who is gonna be part of the kingdom of heaven?
Is it the good people? The ones who do everything right? The goody-goody two shoes who act like the hall monitor at school? Boy Scouts and crossing guards? The ones who don’t sin?
Well let’s see: Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the ones who are hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers—did I leave anyone out? Oh, and also those who are persecuted, reviled and attacked. Jesus is like, “Those are my people.”
So what does this mean? All we gotta do is make sure we’re poor? That one’s pretty easy, just go shopping at the Galleria and max out our credit cards. Those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty—basically just make sure you’re miserable in every way, right? Then let people walk all over us and be merciful, peacemakers, people pleasers—and hope that we get targeted by really evil people who want to hurt us and hate us—you know, so we can rejoice and get a great reward in heaven.
Is that what Jesus is talking about? Is that what we’re supposed to do?
It’s not, but I’ve probably heard a thousand sermons on the Beatitudes that misunderstood them kinda like that. Taking the blessings of Jesus and turning them into something we’re supposed to do in order to get His blessing.
The Beatitudes are the doorway to understanding Jesus’ teaching. If we get them wrong, we get everything wrong. It’s a question of how we see the world: Are we trying to do something so God will bless us? Or are we responding to God’s blessing in how we live our lives?
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank You for blessing us through Jesus. Help us to understand His teaching and truly take it to heart. Help us to hear His words and be changed into the people You want us to be. AMEN
So Jesus so the crowds starting to follow Him and He went up on a mountain, pulled His disciples close to Him and started teaching them. Some people see this and they immediately think of Moses on Mount Sinai—like this is Jesus being the “greater Moses,” He’s about to go to town on the Ten Commandments. I don’t think that’s what’s happening though—not exactly. When Moses went up on the mountain, who did the talking? It wasn’t Moses. This is Jesus, the Son of God—the LORD Yahweh—we’re not to think of Jesus merely as the greater Moses, we’re to think of Him as God Himself—it’s the disciples who are gonna be like Moses.
So He starts teaching, and the first blessing is “the poor in spirit are blessed, because the reign of heaven is theirs!” Who are the poor in spirit? What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
When Jesus started His ministry back in His hometown of Nazareth, He was in the Synagogue on the Sabbath and read from Isaiah 61:1-2—remember that?
He read, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.
Then Jesus said Isaiah was talking about Him and they tried to kill Him.
When John the Baptist was in prison, he started to wonder if Jesus was actually the Messiah or if they should be looking for someone else. Jesus said “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” Mt 11:4–5
In other words, yes, I’m the Messiah—it’s me—but it’s also telling us who the “poor in spirit” are.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are not just the poor. They’re people who are spiritually helpless, bankrupt. They’re like the other people on that list—the blind, the lame—they’re like dead people. So, who is gonna be blessed? Who is gonna be saved? People who can’t save themselves. People who know they can’t bless themselves. This is step one to understanding the Teaching of Jesus—you’re not gonna get it if you don’t get this. It starts with you needing His help. You’re not gonna be part of what God is doing in the world if you don’t understand that Jesus has to bless you first. Jesus has to redeem you. Save you. You come to Jesus poor in spirit or you don’t come to Him at all.
See what I mean that these Beatitudes are the doorway to understand Jesus’ teaching? The message of Jesus is that He was bringing the reign of God—the kingdom of heaven. Who can understand the teaching of Jesus? The poor in spirit who know they have nothing to offer Him.
Once you see yourself this way—once you know you’re spiritually bankrupt—once you know the whole world is lost and spiritually dead—that’s gonna break your heart. “Those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted.” This isn’t a command for Christians to walk around being sad, it’s not Jesus telling us to be crybabies if we want Him to bless us. That might make sense if there was any chance in this world that God’s people would need a reminder to mourn—if life was gonna be such a joyride that Jesus needed to remind us to look around and find something to be sad about—because otherwise we’d probably be so busy with our perfect bliss we might not notice anything depressing. That’s absurd.
Jesus is saying in spite of the darkness and misery that surrounds us every day, in spite of the fact that we’re all spiritually poor, that we’re miserable sinners, on this sad planet—we have the hope that God is gonna comfort us. It’s a hope we have by faith—because for now the comfort is only by faith in His promise—a promise that someday God will give us relief. This is the deal—Jesus promises to fill human emptiness.
And this is how all the blessing work, how salvation works—we receive it by faith. We don’t fully see it now but we got a little taste of it—enough to give us a living hope for the fullness of it in the future.
The Beatitudes are the doorway to understand everything else Jesus’ teaching. Only the poor in spirit are gonna get it. Only those who know why their in mourning are gonna be comforted. When Jesus blesses you, it changes how you see the world.
Instead of spending every moment trying to get ahead and get as much as you can for yourself, you start to see that it’s not all about you.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The next blessing is a lot like the first one, “the meek, or the lowly, will inherit the earth.” Again, this isn’t a command to be meek or humble or anything like that—those are perfectly good qualities, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. This is like the first Beatitude, the meek and the lowly are people who gotta have their needs met by someone else—they need to be rescued by someone else. It’s not an attitude, it’s a condition. Jesus is saying, “You wanna know who I’m gonna give the earth to? I’m not gonna give it to strong people who take advantage of the weak—I’m not gonna give it to the people who try to take it by force. I’m gonna give it to the meek.
We look around and see evil people prosper—the ruthless appear to have all the power. We’re not to despair—and we’re not supposed to take up arms and advance the kingdom of God by violence—no, the righteous shall live by faith. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, not to us. Our job is to wait for God to act in history. To hope in the Lord. To trust in Him. It doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to do, but what we have to do is counter intuitive—we have enemies but the way we’re supposed to fight them is by offering them friendship. We’re supposed to love our enemies. Show mercy. Make peace. It takes a lot of courage—to be meek is to have confidence in the Lord instead of our own pride and strength.
The meek shall inherit the earth. This is apocalyptic language, “when Jesus returns,” end of days language. When everything will be made right once and for all. We look around this world and we see that everything is broken—but at the same time, we’ve been given a little glimpse of what could be, what will be—just a taste, by faith—and those of us who Jesus has blessed, the ones that He’s saved—we want more. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. We hunger and thirst for more. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness—who long for the true justice of God—they’re gonna be satisfied.
The beatitudes are the doorway to understanding Jesus’ teaching—it’s how we get in. When Jesus blesses you—it changes you, it changes your trajectory, your direction. It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Jesus blesses us and we turn around and start heading in a different direction. A better direction. We have a completely different horizon that we’re walking toward.
Then we’re gonna start being a little more like Him—He showed us mercy, so we’re gonna start being merciful. Blessed to be a blessing. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” This isn’t God telling us that He’s only gonna be merciful to us if we’re merciful to each other—this is saying that once Jesus shows someone mercy, they’re gonna be merciful. That’s who they are now. They’re merciful because they know that in the last day, when God judges the whole world with perfect justice—when they stand before God, they’re gonna be shown mercy.
To be shown mercy is to be forgiven and to be given a pure heart—which is good because only those whose hearts are pure are gonna see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Most people think this Beatitude is a reference to Psalm 24, which we sang earlier. It says “Who will go up to the mountain of the Lord and who will stand in His holy place? Only those whose hearts are pure and have not looked to an idol.” This is talking about someone who goes to worship God—someone who desires to go up to Zion, which is a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem, to worship Yahweh, the One True God. Their hearts are pure because they haven’t gone to worship a false god, an idol, in a false temple. So, this is a pretty powerful image if you think about it: here’s Jesus on a mountain, speaking with the authority of God, telling the disciples if He blesses them then they’re gonna have a pure heart and they’re gonna see God. Jesus said if you’ve seen Him—you’ve seen the Father—no one comes to the Father except through Jesus—the image of the invisible God. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. They’re looking at Him.
The Beatitudes are the doorway to understanding Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus blesses you—it changes you, it gives you a pure heart, access to God and peace that you can’t get anywhere else.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. No one can have peace in themselves, or in the world, or with God unless it is given to them by Jesus. Jesus has to bless you if you are gonna have peace. And once you’ve been blessed with peace—it’s just like when you were shown mercy—you’re gonna want to share that peace with other people. We’re not gonna keep it to ourselves—we’re gonna be peacemakers.
This is the Great Commission. This is the mission of the church. We see other people who are poor in spirit, who are meek, need to be rescued, people who are looking for something—people who need hope, people who need peace—we’re just supposed to tell them what God has done for us. We tell them about the blessing that’s available because of Jesus—and you know what happens next, right? They line up around the block for enlightenment and joy, right? They’re so glad we told them about Jesus. People love for us to talk about Jesus. They can’t get enough of it! Telling them that they should stop trying to be self-sufficient, stop striving to get ahead in the world, stop selfishly grasping for power and money and sex—people love that! Everyone’s like, “Oh, thank you so much! Where have you been all my life? I was so blind but now I see!”
Sometimes. Not usually. Usually they roll their eyes so hard you’d think it was painful. When we talk about Jesus, sometimes people can hear us and sometimes they can’t. It’s not our job heal the deaf and bring the dead back to life—that’s what Jesus does.
Our job is just to plant the seeds, it’s not up to us whether they grow or not. We’re just supposed to put it out there. Seeds of mercy. Peace. Justice. Truth. Gospel. Worship God and love people—let the chips fall where they fall.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And sometimes it’ll really make people mad. Sometimes we’ll try to be a peacemaker and things will get violent. Jesus said He didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. Right after “Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” just like the first blessing. We’re back to the beginning. Sometimes when we share the blessings of Jesus—when we share the Gospel and show mercy and make peace. This spiritually bankrupt, broken, dark, evil world fights back like the wounded, cornered wild animal it is. But Jesus wants us to know that those who are persecuted for His sake are promised the kingdom of heaven. That should give us some confidence.
When Jesus blesses us, it changes everything about us. We start to show mercy, we seek God alone, we make peace—and we share this blessing that Jesus has given us with other people. The Beatitudes are the doorway to understanding the teaching of Jesus—we either start with Jesus blessing us, saving us because we can’t save ourselves—knowing that we’re empty and He fills us—or we misunderstand everything about His teaching, making it start with a bunch of ethical demands and things that we think we have to do.
We’re passive in this blessing deal. We’re blessed by osmosis—Jesus blesses us when we’re lost, when we’re spiritually dead. His blessing is like a song He sings to us when we’re asleep.
So, if you ever think you’re not good enough, like you’re a phony, or there’s too much pain and sadness in the world, if you ever wish you could do something about it but you know you can’t—that’s exactly where you need to be for Jesus to bless you. Blessed are you when you need to be blessed: You’ll be comforted, you’ll be satisfied, you’ll receive mercy, you’ll see God, because the kingdom of heaven is yours. AMEN