Here Jesus teaches the ethical guidelines for life in his kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterises life in the kingdom, now in part, but fully in the future. This is the righteousness that they should all exhibit if they repent and enter His kingdom. It is the picture of the perfect disciple of Christ who is the heir of the promises we have considered for days now in this Lent series. But Jesus does not here tell people how to become like this.
Each saying is proverb-like. Cryptic, precise, and full of meaning. Each one includes a topic that forms a major biblical theme. These days some want to translate the word “blessed” as “happy.” But that is to devalued. This term is an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. Happiness may indeed be a part of it; but it is a happiness that comes to the person who is favoured by God. The Lord’s declaration of “blessed” is a pledge of God’s reward for the inner spiritual character of the righteous. And Jesus is praising them for their character and pledging divine rewards for it.
1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
If anyone is going to enter the kingdom of heaven they must become poor in spirit. It is the call of repentance. They must humble themselves before God and acknowledge that they bring nothing of their own power, possessions or merit to gain entrance. Those who truly humble themselves and express their need of the Lord, they have the kingdom of heaven. “If my people….”
The message of the kingdom is that it is entered through repentance for sin and submission to the will of God. The first step then is to confess that by oneself we can do nothing, and so to seek the gracious provision that God has made.
Once within the kingdom, we are to live our lives in total dependence on God to supply our needs.
2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The instruction here concerns the focus of the mourning, not the mourning itself. The mourning that will be comforted is the mourning of disciples who have the proper understanding of the reasons for the mourning. And they will have the proper faith to see them through. As people face the sadness of life, they can do so with hope if they have mourned over sin – a clear sign of faith in the Saviour.
3. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Meekness and gentleness and goodness are part of the fruit of the Spirit – they are produced in the Christian by the Holy Spirit. So the direction people should follow to cultivate a spirit of meekness would be to walk by the Spirit, or be controlled by the Spirit of God so that the qualities of Christ can be produced in and through them.
4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”.
Most Christians are for righteousness! Paul teaches that the spiritual person is one who begins with commitment to God’s will. And the closer one lives to the Lord, the more sensitive he or she becomes to the unrighteousness and injustice in the world. The truly spiritual person then will begin to long for righteousness.
5. “Blessed are the Merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
People who know God’s mercy will be merciful. It is important, then, that we have a good understanding of the grace of God in our own lives. This comes from the experience of confession of sin and thanksgiving for forgiveness – Christian life that often get neglected. Christians some times get to the point of thinking that they deserved the grace they have received, and they become then intolerant of others, even judgmental. The reality of our own spiritual condition and God’s provision must never be forgotten.
6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
A pure heart begins with conversion when God gives us a “new heart,” and it continues through the spiritual growth as we follow Christ. Walking in the light, meaning learning to live by the word of God, will change the way we think so that our hearts will grow more and more pure. But as the light of the word reveals impurities, we must deal with them and change.
7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
The disciples of Jesus should be promoting peace. They do this by spreading the Gospel of peace to the world, and by promoting reconciliation within the church too.
8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The lesson is that people should be living for Christ in this world, championing righteousness and justice, showing mercy, remaining meek and poor in spirit. But they should know that genuine righteousness is offensive to many, and so they will be prepared for opposition. These last verses have an implicit claim to deity by Jesus. In the Old Testament the prophets were persecuted because of their faithfulness to God. Now Jesus says that his disciples will be persecuted because of their faithfulness to him.