Jesus begins The Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Beatitudes. They set a foundation for the rest of Jesus’ message. Beatitudes means blessedness. They set out the character of the believer. In them, eight characteristics are mentioned. Often a study of the Beatitudes looks at each of the eight characteristics separately, which has some benefit. Still, Christ did not intend for us to understand them as eight distinct groups of disciples, rather eight qualities all of His disciples are to possess.
What is the blessedness spoken of in the Beatitudes? We discover the blessedness in the second half of each Beatitude. Those believers who have the character mentioned in the Beatitudes possess the kingdom of heaven, and they inherit the earth. John Stott rightly notes, “The eight qualities Christ mentions constitute the responsibilities, and the eight blessings, the privileges, of being a citizen of God’s kingdom.”
We discover that the first four Beatitudes describe the Christian’s relation to God. The second four layout the Christian’s relations and duties to other people. Look at the first four Beatitudes: “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” (Matt 5:3-6). Remember, the first four Beatitudes deal with the Christian’s relation to God.
We discover in these Beatitudes a spiritual progression. To be “poor in spirit” acknowledges our complete spiritual bankruptcy before God. We are to “mourn” over our sin, coming to God for forgiveness. We are to be “meek,” humble, and gentle towards God and others. Then, we are to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” After all, what is the use of confessing and contrition of our sin, acknowledging the truth about ourselves to God and others, if it does not lead us to want God’s will and desire to walk in His ways, while we call others to do the same?
Now, remember, these last four Beatitudes deal with the Christian’s relations and duties to others. Jesus declares, “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” (Matt 5:7-12). Christ teaches that the genuine follower of Christ lives in community with others. They walk with God without withdrawing from society. They are not insulated from the world’s pain. Rather, they show mercy to those battered by sin and life. They are sincere in word and deed, living in integrity towards God and others. They live at peace with God and are peacemakers. For all of this, they are at times persecuted. These are those who are “blessed,” who have the approval of God and rest in His comfort, power, and joy.
Here’s how Christ begins His sermon. Those who have the character mentioned in the beatitudes possess the kingdom of heaven, and they inherit the earth. No doubt, the ways of God and the Bible can cause great confusion to people yet to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. God exalts the humble and humbles the proud. He calls the first last and the last first. He honors the servant and sends those who live as overlords home empty-handed. God declares the meek to be His heirs. The culture of the world and that of Christ stand in direct opposition to one another. All of heaven applauds those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord and are living like it. Christ calls such people, His people, “blessed.”
Here are the characteristics of a believer, the character of a Christian. Remember, we will not be perfect until Christ returns, but this does not excuse us from partnering with the Lord in our journey of being perfected by Him. God has a fantastic work He desires to do in and through you. In response to this truth and the Beatitudes, there are three crucial questions we all must answer: What is my response? What is my next step? Am I willing to take it with Christ? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!