Q. How do you understanding the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). What do these verses say to you?
A. Matthew 5, verses 1-2 are paramount in understanding the beatitudes. “His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying….” In other words, this is not teaching to non-disciples, to unbelievers. It is for Jesus’ disciples, those who “come to Him,” that is, who submit to His authority, which is also how the Sermon on the Mount ends (Matt. 7:28-29). “He began to teach them…” indicates that this was their introduction to what it means to be His disciples. Literally, “He opened His mouth and taught them….” which some say implies that He held nothing back from them.
Note that Jesus does NOT say, “You must be poor in spirit. You must mourn. You must be meek, must hunger and thirst for righteousness, must be merciful, and pure in heart.” He does NOT say, “You must be peacemakers, and you must be persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Nor does He say, “You must be salt for the earth and light for the world.”
What does He say? He says, “You are blessed.” Blessed by whom?
Jewish speech was filled with circumlocutions: carefully crafted ways of talking about God without mentioning Him. One of the ways they did this was by expressing things in the passive voice: “You are blessed,” by which they meant “God is blessing you.” How do we know that Jesus is employing circumlocution in Matt. 5:3-11? Because of a second circumlocution Jesus uses in verse 12: “great is your reward in heaven,” which means “God is giving you a great reward.”
Jesus is telling His disciples that by submitting themselves to Him as their Teacher-Trainer-Coach, God is blessing them in a progressive way. Yes, they are spiritually bankrupt, something to grieve over. But as they relinquish control to God, He begins to fill them with the very character of their Master. They develop a spiritual hunger and thirst that only God can satisfy. They begin to have compassion for other people. They let go of selfish motives and take on God’s perspective about the world and its people. They become active mediators and intercessors, introducing God’s peace as the solution to conflicts they encounter.
And yes, God blesses them even as they endure trash-talk and worse from bitter opponents, because even as they suffer they preserve what’s alive in the world and expel what is corrupt. Even as they bleed, they illuminate those around them with God’s glory.
They have a deeper righteousness than the most religious people they know. They have a more profound piety than the paragons of virtue in their community. Their simple prayers connect with God more immediately. They escape the tug-of-war between God and greed that pulls others apart. They choose to trust God for their needs, even as they make the priorities of His kingdom their own.
They refuse the role of judge and jury over other sinners as well as the role of the rending of the wild dog or the trampling of the swine. They choose their Master against the crowd and will not be deceived by the disguise of false prophets, testing them by their fruits. They remember that obedience is more than just talk and that the solid foundation of their Master’s teaching is proven by the great storm.
And why are these the people whom God blesses? Because God loves all the people of the world and has brought to His world a Savior – the one and only Redeemer. But His mission for all lost people is to redeem them through a community, through a multiplying ministry. He blesses us, so that through us He might bless others.
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Want to go deeper?
I highly recommend D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.