ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE BLESSED?

I am currently teaching a Bible study in which we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). In these verses Jesus pronounces blessed those who have and live out eight qualities and aspects of life.

At first reading, at least four of the characterizations Jesus affirms do not strike us as describing someone who is blessed. On the surface, not many of us would associate “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” as blessed people.

By the way, although some suggest the word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, I think that devalues the idea of being “blessed”. The idea of “blessed” is that God congratulates those who have these qualities and that his favor is on them. Max Lucado writes about the beatitudes with a book entitled The Applause of Heaven suggesting God claps for those with these characteristics.

Out of the four that seem contradictory, the one that seems most paradoxical to me is “Blessed are those who mourn.” If we use the popular translation of blessed some use, the description reads “Happy are the sad.” “Those who mourn” are those who suffer pain and loss, who grieve, and whose hearts are broken. Jesus tells us they are blessed—and we want to ask, “Are you sure they are blessed?”

In preparing to talk about this beatitude, I was struck again as I reread something John Stott wrote in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on this second beatitude about those who mourn, he wrote “we need to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter.”

The Bible does not tell us that if we worship and love the Lord, have faith in Jesus and follow him we will live problem and pain free lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” And in the Old Testament there is a book of five chapters entitled Lamentations!

Most commentators note that when it comes to mourning there are different levels. We mourn our own sins, the sins of those around us, and the condition of the world. But we also grief our personal losses. Dealing with pain, suffering, loss, and grief is a part of life. Is there anyone reading this post who has not suffered a loss? It seems like I have had more occasions to mourn the last 10 months than usual.

Dr. David Gallagher reminds us “God never promised an easy journey, but God did promise to be with us through it all.” A little later he warns us, “A major misunderstanding we sometimes face is that grief is our enemy to be avoided. In reality, grief is a dear friend.”

We may not realize it at the time, but perhaps part of the blessing of mourning is the capacity to hurt and grieve—to know and feel sorrow. And maybe part of the blessing is having God with us in our grief, even though he doesn’t immediately take it away.

Let’s keep wrestling with Jesus’ pronouncement that those who mourn are blessed. I’m confident he’s sure we are—and I’m making progress in understanding it.

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CONGRATULATIONS!

Most people appreciate it when others congratulate them for something they have done. And some expressions of congratulations mean more to us than others, depending upon who offers it. If it’s a coach, teacher, or someone we look up to who congratulates us we are especially pleased.

How would you like to be congratulated by God? In the opening verses of what we call the Sermon on the Mount Jesus highlights eight character qualities that describe His followers. These are not eight types of His followers, but rather eight qualities that ideally characterize every Christian. They are called the beatitudes as Jesus begins each with the pronouncement that those who have the quality are blessed. One of the best ways to think of this idea of being blessed is as a congratulations from God.

We recently went over the Beatitudes in my classes “Jesus in the Gospels” and I gave the students an assignment to write about their favorite beatitude. I thought if I asked them to do it, I could do it as well. In this post I want to share my two favorite beatitudes. (And it’s okay for me to choose two because I told them if they couldn’t narrow it down to one it was okay to write about more than one.)

My two favorites are the first and sixth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Out of the eight, these are the two that are most easily and most often misunderstood; and they are my favorites.

To be poor in spirit doesn’t necessarily mean to be financially or materially poor. Nor does it mean to be poor spirited in terms of being no fun, sad, or lacking in energy. To be poor in spirit is to recognize your own spiritual poverty before God and your need for His mercy and grace. To be poor in spirit is to admit that we are not worthy and cannot save ourselves, so we accept God’s gracious offer in Jesus.

To be poor in spirit is to be congratulated by God. Each beatitude not only includes God’s congratulations at the beginning, but also a specific promise at the end. Those who are poor in spirit are not only to be congratulated, they also possess the kingdom of heaven. And the reason the poor in spirit are in the kingdom is because they know their spiritual need and have had it met in Jesus.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 provides a great example of both one who was not poor in spirit and one who was. In the introduction to the parable Luke tells us Jesus directed it to “some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” Those two attitudes are certainly not characteristic of those who are poor in spirit. Take a moment and read the parable and the rich in spirit prayer of the Pharisee. And consider praying the poor in spirit prayer of the tax collector: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

To be pure in heart is not primarily about having a pure mind or body. Nor is it about being totally free of all sin or externally following a set of rules. To be pure in heart is to be honest and sincere. (However, it does not mean you are brutally honest and uncaring.) The pure in heart are not manipulative and do not have hidden motives. There is no pretense and to be pure in heart is the opposite of being hypocritical.

To be pure in heart is to be congratulated by God. And not only that, the specific promise to the pure in heart is that they will see God. That is, of course, a promise to see God in the hereafter; but I think it also means our pure hearts will help see God and His working in this life.

From time to time I hear someone describe someone else with the description “With this person what you see is what you get.” That phrase suggests to me basically what this quality of being pure in heart is.

Hopefully you and I are growing in and exhibiting these two qualities of being poor in spirit and pure in heart. If we are it is not for me to congratulate any of us, but I think we can be encouraged to know that God congratulates us.

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