Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
A few thoughts for meditation:
Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples to teach them what his kingdom was like, and how a true follower of Christ should evaluate himself and his relationship to God and others. The opening section, often called the Beatitudes, records the spiritual condition of the man who God blesses. And it’s important to see that the values of this kingdom often contradict or reverse the values of this present world.
He began with the “poor in spirit”. It is not the high religious achievers who enter the kingdom but those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt and dependent upon God for salvation. They come with empty hands and ask only for mercy. Only those who approach God with that attitude will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not only are they bankrupt, but they “mourn” and grieve over their sin. They do not make excuses or rationalize their disobedience to God. They will also mourn over the trials they endure for following the Lord as Jesus will mention later. But they shall be comforted by God. “Meek” here refers to gentleness and self-control, free from attitudes of revenge or malice. Only these kind of people will eventually inherit the earth from God.
Christ’s description progresses. A disciple “hungers” for righteousness, not only in himself but for the world around him. His new relationship to God creates in him a “homesick” longing for the Messiah to return and set all things right. And this hunger will eventually be satisfied. Next, he is “merciful”. Mercy refers to both his attitude of forgiveness toward those who offend him, and his attitude of compassion toward those who are suffering. This mercy is grounded in the other attributes of spiritual poverty, mourning, meekness, and hunger for righteousness. People of such character demonstrate that they have received and understood the mercy of God to themselves. Next, he is “pure in heart”, which means he has a single-minded devotion to Christ and his kingdom, a focus which shoves aside any hypocrisy or distractions. Such will eventually “see God” in the end. Building on these attributes, Jesus described how a true disciple is a “peacemaker”. He works to bring about reconciliation. He longs to see man reconciled to God through the gospel. And he longs to see people reconciled to one another and enjoy communion as neighbors should. Such who labor for that peace show themselves as “sons of God”, reflecting the character of their heavenly Father.
Finally, Jesus went from peacemaking to persecution. Some reject the pursuit of peace with hostility. They reject the gospel message and the reconciliation it can bring. Christians ordinarily face some sort of opposition to the message about Christ which they share. To those who may suffer such injustice, God promises the kingdom. This is the same promise made to the “poor in spirit” earlier. It creates the bookends for this passage. The true disciple and believer embodies all these attributes and looks forward in hope to all these promises. He trusts God to protect him as he strives to love and serve others and to vindicate him when he is opposed or mistreated. To stress this final point, Jesus added even more clarification. Those who face opposition on account of Christ are “blessed”. Normally, we would not describe suffering as a blessing but a sign that we were doing something wrong. But in this case, you are following Christ in the path of the cross and looking forward to life in the world to come. The trials you face now are nothing compared to the joys of heaven later with Jesus. And even more, it means you are following the path and examples of faithfulness set long before by the “prophets”. They too suffered for righteousness sake as they proclaimed God’s word and pointed forward to Christ. This is the “normal” Christian condition in this fallen world, taking up our cross to follow Christ. Some will embrace the message and join us on the road. Some will reject it and continue to oppose God. But that is the only path through which any will experience the saving power of God and eventually see God himself. Much more could be said about these marks of a believer, but hopefully this is enough to begin reflecting over your own heart and mind.