I am sure most of us have heard of the Beatitudes. If you haven’t, pls turn to Mat.5. They form the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. They are sometimes called “the beautiful attitudes”. They are connected with happiness or blessedness.
Everyone is interested in happiness. The whole world is longing for it, and seeking it. Blaise Pascal the 18c. Physicist & Philosopher said – there is nothing anyone does, but that it is connected with their desire for happiness. He even included the person who commits suicide. In their misguided frantic thinking, they hope that death will release them from their misery.
The tragedy is, the vast majority are no better. They desire happiness, but they are seeking it in a way that is bound to produce misery. We say to most people in this season, “Happy New Year”. But how few they are, who really know anything about true happiness. That is the nature of sin. It is deceitful. It offers happiness, but produces ruin & misery.
The Beatitudes, which introduce the Sermon on the Mount, says to us, if we really want to be happy, this is the nature of it. The Beatitudes are one of those things that are well known, and often quoted by people who like to show they know something about the Bible. And perhaps this is where we need to start. The 1st thing we need to consider.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” We tend to rush past what is familiar. You know what an aphorism is. When my kids were small they started using the word “bulk” – something was ‘bulk good’. Even the word “cool”; when I was a kid it was “groovy”. Dallas is good with them. He always knows the latest.
After a while, such words & phrases start to lose their meaning. It becomes domesticated. It can be used without thinking of the meaning.
For many Christians, that is what the Beatitudes have become. We are so familiar with them that the words can glide off our tongues without disturbing us. Yet each of these beatitudes is full of power, and when properly understood they can totally overthrow and transform insipid Christianity.
A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. (Or appears to). The most famous paradox is the statement – “I never tell the truth.”
Philosophy is all about being consistent. That is what the world expects. The wealthy are rich. The strong are powerful. Mourners are sad. Poor people are to be pitied. But our Saviour has a different message; and His message is often a paradox in the ears of the world. Poverty gives birth to riches. Mourning is the precursor of joy. Persecution would normally produce misery, but our Saviour says it gives birth to happiness.
They are sacred paradoxes, and as such, the Beatitudes will always contradict the world’s view of happiness. So that brings us to the 2nd characteristic…
The world prizes power, popularity, influence, physical beauty, and riches. This is the world’s view of fulfilment.
The same with the church. It is all about projecting unity and influence. It is not concerned with the truth of the Bible. If you are to have any influence, you must have a united front, and that is at the cost of truth. Our Lord teaches, “blessed are the peacemakers”, but it is not peace & unity at any cost. That is not true peace.
We will see that none of these values of the church and the world are to be seen in this list. That doesn’t mean the worlds values are always sinful. But they are not the measure of blessedness. They have no bearing on your place in the kingdom of God.
Take the question of wealth for example. Nothing in the beatitudes condemns wealth, but it is noteworthy that it is not mentioned as a condition for blessedness. Our Lord said, “A man’s life consists not ….!” But the world says, ‘if I could only win the Lottery – pay rise or promotion – blessedness does not lie in these things.
Thomas Watson: “Outward things can no more cure the agony of conscience than a silken stocking can cure a gouty leg.” When king Saul was distressed & depressed (1 Sam. 28:15), all the jewels of his crown could not comfort him.
Wealth & possessions will no more keep trouble out of our spirit, than a paper screen will keep a bullet out of our body.”
What kind of person is God pleased with? Do we ever ask ourselves that question – “Is God pleased with me?” What sort of behaviour gives God pleasure? Who does God look upon with a smile and with delight? Isa.66:2 “to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.” What does that mean? We need to study the Beatitudes to find out.
Who does God enjoy dwelling with? Does He enjoy riding in your car with you? Does He relish being in the kitchen with you when you are cooking or cleaning dishes? Isa 57:15 “For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” What does He mean? Our Lord tells us all about it in the Beatitudes. This is the nature of true religion.
The Bible never describes Christians as two categories of people. There is only one class of Christians, and they are described in the beatitudes.
How much are we aware of the fatal influence & tendency of the RC church when it introduced the concept of two groups of Christians? The religious and the laity. Exceptional Christians and ordinary Christians. That tendency is not only completely unscriptural; it is destructive to true godliness and has been the ruin of countless millions of souls.
What it does, it deceives people into believing they can be Christian, without being converted. The Bible speaks of various offices in the church, such as pastors & teachers & evangelists & elders & deacons & so on. They are offices & recognised positions. The Beatitudes are not descriptions of offices, they are descriptions of character.
LPTW – It is the RC church that canonizes certain people, not the Bible. If you follow the historical process of what constitutes a certain person a “saint”, you can see in the RC church, the thought of ever being a saint is well beyond the reach of most church goers. But if you read the introduction to almost any NT letter, you will find it was addressed to those in every church, and they were all “called to be saints.” Every single one of them were ‘canonised’, if you want to use that term. The idea that only a chosen few are meant to live on some super spiritual level while the rest of us are meant to live some casual mediocre Christian life is a denial of all our Lord’s teaching. We are all meant to exemplify everything in these Beatitudes. And may I say in the 5th place – not only are all Christians meant to be this way, but…
It is not right to suggest some manifest one and not another. It is not that some are ‘poor in spirit’, and some ‘mourn’ and some are ‘meek’ and some are particularly good ‘peacemakers’ – No! Every Christian is meant to be all of them, and to manifest all of them always.
It is true to say, in some Christians we will see more of one item than another, but not because it is meant to be that way. That is due to the remaining imperfections in us. That does not mean we should not all submit to what is intended to be true of us all. The proof of what I am saying will become obvious when we begin to analyse each Beatitude, and we will find that each one suggests and implies the one following. For example, you cannot be ‘poor in spirit’ without progressing to the next one, where you will ‘mourn’, and you cannot ‘mourn’ without it producing meekness and ‘hungering & thirsting’ for righteousness’ – and so on.
So the ultimate test that our experience with one Beatitude is genuine, will be if the next is also present in some degree. Each one suggests and implies the one following. The Beatitudes are complete and entire. You cannot divide them. They are not simply random statements. There is a definite structure to them. As important as this is, the next point is even more important…
They are not inherent to human nature. They are produced and cultivated by grace alone. They are the operation of the Spirit of God upon us. No one is naturally this way. We need to be careful of the imitations. There are some people who appear to be naturally ‘poor in spirit’; that is not what is described here by our Lord.
Some people appear to be naturally meek. I am sure we have all heard someone refer to a particular person they know, who never goes to church; never prays; never reads the Bible; and has no interest in religion, but he is more of a Christian than many people who do all these things. He is always polite; helpful; humble; never unkind with his judgments – just a really nice person. And if anybody lived the Beatitudes, this person does. Well friends, it will be our business to show that what we have here, is not a natural temperament. It is a disposition produced by the grace of God.
Just look at a man like Saul of Tarsus. Could you ever hope to meet such a man who was more fiery & proud & arrogant, yet see the change that the grace of God produced in him? Study his life, and you will find all the Beatitudes are manifested in some way or other.
The 1st and last beatitude promise the same reward. – “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” He starts and ends with this. This is the Lord’s way of reinforcing who we are. The first thing we have to realize about ourself is that we belong to a different kingdom.
We are living in two absolutely different worlds. “You are in this world, but not of it.” We have to keep reminding ourselves of this. We too easily forget it. We become bogged down with discouragements & trials & disappointments. Sometimes we have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves and say these words – “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is our destiny, and in reality, we are already part of it. May this be the basis of our Happy New Year.