Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Eight Beatitudes

The eight beatitudes are the solemn blessings (beatitudines, benedictiones) which mark the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, the very first of Our Lord's sermons in the Gospel of St. Matthew (5:3-10). Four of them occur again in a slightly different form in the Gospel of St. Luke (6:22), likewise at the beginning of a sermon, and running parallel to Matthew, 5-7, and here they are illustrated by the opposition of the four curses (24-26). The fuller account and the more prominent place given the Beatitudes in St. Matthew are quite in accordance with the scope and the tendency of this Gospel, in which the spiritual character of the Messianic kingdom -- the paramount idea of the Beatitudes -- is consistently put forward, in sharp contrast with Jewish prejudices. The very peculiar form in which Our Lord proposed His blessings make them the only example of His sayings to be considered poetical -- the parallelism of thought and expression, which is the most striking feature of Biblical poetry.

The text of St. Matthew runs as follows:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The First Beatitude
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The meaning of the word "poor" in Greek means one who has nothing and is completely empty. Was Jesus saying the economically poor are blessed? No, for there is no spirituality in poverty. Poverty in itself is not blessed, because the poor can be as arrogant and as ungodly and as lost as the rich. So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means that the poor are those who realize that they can never achieve salvation on their own and instead put their complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
The poor in spirit are those who are not self-assertive, self-reliant, self-confident, self-centered, or self-sufficient. The poor in spirit are not baptized in the waters of self-esteem. They do not boast in their God given characteristics such as their birth, their family, their nationality, their education, their physical looks, their race, their wealth, or their culture. None of that matters. The poor in spirit are those who are conscious of their sins and know in their hearts that they are completely unworthy of the grace that a most holy and loving God pours down upon them. They realize that all their righteousness is, as Isaiah said, like filthy rags before a holy God.
In Luke 15 we see how the prodigal son became poor in spirit. In his pride and arrogance he left his father's house, wasted his inheritance and fell into great need in some far away country. During a severe famine, this son had no job and nothing to eat. At that point, the text says, he came to himself. He went back to his father and said, "I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15:21). That is being poor in spirit.
We also see an example of being poor in spirit illustrated again in Luke 18 in the account of the Pharisee and the tax collector. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14). That is being poor in spirit. What was the result of the prayers of these men? The Pharisee went home condemned, while the tax collector went home justified.

The Second Beatitude
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The person that mourns is the one who recognizes that he is a sinner before God. Such a person mourns over his various sins because he recognizes that not only do his sins greatly hurt our heavenly Father, he also realizes that he is empty of righteousness, and does not even begin to deserve salvation and the joys of heaven. This miserable, but repentant sinner, realizes that only through the grace of God does he have forgiveness and salvation. Jesus says such a person is blessed, and there is no greater blessing than to receive such divine approval. Those who are blessed in this way by God will see God and dwell with him forever.
No one mourns in this way unless the Holy Spirit convicts him of sin and reveals to him that he is a violator of the laws of God. We must also realize that as believers we all have violated God's law. As Christians, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we must realistically declare that not only are we spiritually bankrupt, but we are completely lost without Jesus Christ living in our lives. And only Christians will declare that they are by nature enemies of God, acknowledging that to sin means to set oneself against a holy God. The unbeliever on the other hand feels that this is nothing but foolishness, and he has no time for any of it. The wicked refuse to take down those barriers to God such as pride and arrogance. Psalm 10:4 "The wicked are too proud to seek God; God is in none of their thoughts."
Using the prodigal son once again as an example, it tells us in Luke 15 of this young man who became very dissatisfied at home, and looked to the world for answers. This man left his father's house to go to a far country to experiment and find pleasure with sin, but soon the fun was over. He became famished, lonely, brokenhearted, and rejected by all. But by God's grace this young man came to himself, became sober and began to think clearly and Godly.
In verse 20 of Luke 15 we see this young man going back home. He was now a poor, wretched, miserable, naked specimen of humanity, but he was going home to his father. He mourned and wept as he walked, and when he reached his father, he said, "Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Just make me a servant of yours at the lowest rank, for I need to be comforted. Save me, for I am lost."
How did the father react to his son? He cried out in joy and then comforted him. The father hugged and kissed him and gave him a fine garment to wear. He told the servants to put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. He ordered a great celebration with music and feasting. And when the other son questioned why the father was doing these things, the father said he had the greatest of all reasons: "This son of mine was dead but is now alive; he was lost but now is found" (Luke 15:24). What awesome comfort this son had received.

The Third Beatitude
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
The Greek word for meek, praus, was used to refer to domesticated animals. The word does not refer to a wild, unruly animal; it refers to a strong and powerful horse or an ox that was trained and disciplined so that it could be controlled by a human. The word meek used in Matthew 5:5 refers to a strong person who is under control--a God controlled person. A meek person is a man or woman of God whose strength is controlled by God. He or she is controlled by God in thought, word, will, emotion, and action. The meek man is one who submits, not to his own will or to the will of the world, but to the great and gracious will of God.
A meek man is not a weak man. He is not wishy-washy, effeminate or timid. He is not someone who you can walk all over. A meek man is not passive and spineless. In fact the meek man is just the opposite. The one who has put his/her faith and his/her trust in Jesus Christ will be meek before God, but mighty and bold before the world and before satan. To the sinful world and to satan the meek person will be far stronger than they are.
What makes a person meek? They see God. And they see God in everything. No one becomes meek unless they can see this infinite, personal, almighty, all-wise, all-holy God, and when they see God they are immediately humbled. When we are able to see God by faith, then that is the time when the Holy Spirit allows us to become meek. Thus the meek person does not rely on himself, saying, I can do all things. I have confidence in myself. After all, I am strong and able. No, the meek person says, I see God, and he is able and willing to help me. I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.
A meek man is patient. He has a long view of life, knowing in the end it is not the wicked who win, but the meek. How can he be sure of this? The meek person knows that in the end God wins, and if God wins then the meek win. God himself tells us that the meek, not the wicked, will inherit the land. The wicked may indeed possess the land for a short time today, but the Lord tells us that when he comes back, the meek will possess this land. Psalms 76:9 "Then God arose to judgment, To save all the humble of the earth".

The Fourth Beatitude
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for Righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
To help us understand this beatitude we first have to ask ourselves, what is meant by righteousness? And righteousness means being in complete accordance with what is just, honorable, and Godly. Righteousness are those things that are upright, virtuous, noble, morally right, and ethical. You could say that righteousness is a life style that is in complete conformity to the will of God. It is a lifestyle that Jesus not only finds pleasing, but one that he approves of.
Jesus Christ is the one leading the righteous person through life. It is Jesus who is making the decisions that the righteous person will follow. For the righteous believer, all his daily actions, everything that he thinks about, every decision that he makes, everything that he reads and looks at, will be done the same way that Our Lord would have done them. The true believer will know immediately whether something is right or wrong, just or unjust, godly or ungodly. How could the true believer not know that something is wrong when the Son of God is living within him?
Jesus Christ who is dwelling within the righteous person is communicating constantly with the person's heart, conscience, soul, and spirit. The Lord is not going to let the believer just wander into sin? Jesus Christ will be talking to the believer long before the sin is even thought about. And while this is going on the Holy Spirit will be hard at work doing his guiding and his warning. This is why when a righteous believer sins, it winds up being extremely painful, usually leaving the sinner with great sorrow. Sin for the righteous believer is never worth the pain and dishonor he knows that he has brought upon the Lord.
Hunger and thirst are appetites that return frequently and they require that they be met often during the day. Similarly the true believer calls for constant meals of righteousness to do his daily Godly work, just as the living body calls for its daily food. When a believer hungers and thirsts after righteousness he becomes a new man and this new man now bears the image of God. This new man greatly desires to do the will of God for he now has great interest in Christ and all that Christ said and promised.

The Fifth Beatitude
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Mercy is love toward those that are miserable, those that are wretched, and those that need some type of help or assistance. The merciful are those that are tender hearted and who truly feel in the deepest parts of their beings the pain and the suffering of those who need mercy. But most importantly is the fact that the merciful are those special individuals who go out of their way and make the effort to help. Having compassion on those that are in any way hurting is only the first part of having mercy. Doing something about it, is the all important second part.
We as believers must show mercy to all men and we do this by both sympathizing with them and by taking care and tending to their needs. And we do this with readiness and gladness, with affection and tenderness, always ready to give and to forgive. Our Lord instructs us to show the same type of mercy to others that he shows to each of us. St. Paul talked much about showing mercy and a good example is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God".
Therefore, to be merciful as a Christian does not mean to perform isolated, occasional acts of charity. A Christian is to be habitually merciful, and all acts of mercy should be done in a thankful and cheerful manner. Just imagine how absolutely wonderful God would feel if in the act of being merciful he heard you say, "Praise be to you God for this opportunity that you have given me to help someone else in need. Thank you Father for letting me be of some assistance to another human being." So doing an act of mercy in a thankful and loving manner has to make God our Father just beam with joy.
This beatitude is also very concerned with mercy through the act of daily forgiveness. Of forgiving offenses that have been inflicted upon you, and in which you show mercy towards everyone who wrongs you regardless of the reasons and regardless of the circumstances. Our Lord demands that we forgive one another just as he is constantly forgiving you. Matthew 6: 14-15 points this out so very clearly. "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses".
Many ask why should Christians be merciful? Because God does, not when we are good, but when we are miserable, helpless, wicked, ungodly, and powerless. He shows us mercy when we are his enemies and we are disobedient, unrighteous, dead in trespasses and sins, foolish, ignorant, suffering, and miserable due to the consequences of our sin. Yet God looks upon our misery and wretchedness and truly feels our pain and is very happy to extend his mercy to each of us. So instead of pouring out his just wrath upon us, he is compassionate toward us. He freely justifies us, forgives our sins, extends his mercy upon us, and fills us with his own righteousness. And that is why we ought to be merciful every day to the miserable, the helpless, the wretched, and the needy.

The Sixth Beatitude
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Psalms 119:9 " How can the young walk without fault? Only by keeping Your words ".
Out of the hearts of men come all kinds of evil things. Everything from evil thoughts and greed, to slander and arrogance. All these evil things come from the inside of man, from his heart, and this evil from the heart is what makes man unclean. Mark 7:20-23 "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." Jeremiah 17:9 "More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?"
Therefore, one of the most important questions that we can ask is how can we be truly clean in our hearts and remove the filth and sin? How can we be clean in our imaginations, in our thoughts, in our words, in our decision making, and in our desires? How can we think what God thinks, will what God wills, desire what God desires, hate what God hates, and love what God loves? In other words how can our hearts be clean hearts, free from sins like pride and envy, free from evil thoughts and evil deeds?
The path to a clean heart begins with the realization that we have impure hearts. The entire Bible revolves around the central theme that the Lord looks at the heart of the person and not at their external appearance, their behavior, or their achievements. The Lord does not acclaim education, intellect, business success, or social position, as the world does.
God must clean us. God alone is able to make rotten people clean in their imaginations, thoughts, words, deeds, and desires. The clean of heart are those who are free from evil desires and evil purposes. So if God is the only one who can cleanse us, then how does he do it? Well the Bible tells us that God has a plan to deal with the problem of sin infected hearts. God has a plan to save us and make us holy in thought, word and deed. And the plan is found in many places such as in Romans 8:29. Here God tells us that he wants "to conform us to the image and likeness of His Son". Thus God's plan is to make us like his own Son, like Jesus Christ. His purpose is nothing less than that we are clean of heart just like Jesus Christ is.
How does God clean and purify us? First of all, when we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ and put our entire faith and trust in him, God will supernaturally regenerate us and give us a brand new nature, a new self. We become a brand new creation. He tells us what he is going to do to us in Ezekiel 36:26-27. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you".

The Seventh Beatitude
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The peacemakers are those children of God who not only have great love for God, but also have love for all of mankind and they attempt to do everything possible for the advancement of peace everywhere. The term "peacemakers" includes all who make peace between men, whether as individuals or as communities. It includes even those who endeavor to make peace even though they fail.
The peacemakers are those who have a peaceful disposition because to make peace is to have a strong and hearty affection for peace. It is to love, desire, and delight in peace. The peacemakers also want to preserve the peace and when the peace is broken, then the peacemakers have a great desire to recover it as quickly as possible. The peace that God bestows upon his believers is in turn shared by the believers with the rest of mankind, so that the peace-receivers are transformed into peace-givers. Romans 14:19 tells us, " Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another".
One would imagine a person of this amiable temper and behavior and who strives for peace would be the darling of mankind. But our Lord well knew it would not be so, as long as satan is the prince of this world. We must realize that not only is satan a troublemaker, but all those who follow him are troublemakers. They all are enemies of God, opposing God in their thoughts, their wills, and their actions. The devil and his followers can be considered the true enemies of peace.
However peacemaking does not mean seeking peace at any cost, for the peacemaker realizes that peace at any price will usually end up in complete and total destruction. So a peacemaker is not an appeaser. He's not one who smiles a lot and doesn't take a position on anything. He is not one who has an easygoing personality and who is nice and flabby and can easily be shoved around. He's not a doormat. A peacemaker is one who through strength and Godly knowledge endeavors to establish a right relationship between estranged parties based on truth and righteousness.
The peacemakers realize that there is only one way that this world can have peace, and that is by turning to Jesus Christ. What Jesus did on the cross was bring peace between not only God and man, but also between man and man. Christ's death tore the barrier of the veil at the entrance of the Holy of Holies from top to bottom and opened a way for us to have access to God, so that we can now come into the very presence of God and have peace with our Father. And when we are at peace with God, we will be at peace with all men.

The Eighth Beatitude
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In this beatitude Christ pronounces a blessing on those who are being persecuted. But the persecution that they are suffering is not for misdeeds or evil acts, their persecution is for doing righteousness.
The righteous, through Godly conversation and Godly actions, bring upon them the hatred and enmity of the men of the world. For by living righteously the believers separate themselves from the world and profess themselves not to belong to the world. The Godly life of true believers places a brand upon them that distinguishes them from the rest of the world.
There is much evidence that proves that more Christians around the world have been martyred for their faith in this century alone, than in the combined previous nineteen centuries of the church's history. In many countries today it is a crime to be a Christian. If you live in the United States, you may think that the idea of persecution of Christians is not very relevant today. We are not experiencing any real persecution here in this country. But as you look around in this country, you can't help but see many great evil inroads that have been made into destroying anything having to do with Jesus Christ, the Bible, or the laws of God. The greatest assault against Christianity has been the many laws that have been passed recently, all with the idea of suppressing Christianity in all areas of society.
There are the verbal assaults, via the tongue, usually in the form of cruel mocking and reproachful language. And there is the confiscation of goods, banishment from a group, or even in the workplace where one may be fired, demoted, or spoken against because of one's Christian faith.
If you doubt this then tell a group of your friends what the Word of God says about the homosexual lifestyle, and that God says that it is horribly wrong, and then tell them what the Bible says is going to happen to those who engage in it. Or tell a few of your fellow workers what the Bible says about murdering unborn children and that God considers it nothing less than murder. Then observe the response from these friends and fellow workers. I think you will see most of the time the seeds of verbal persecution beginning to form.
But why is there such persecution in the world, and why is God so offensive to so many? Because the Word of God is a stumbling block to ungodly people. The unbelievers that don't know Jesus enjoy sinning, in fact they revel in it. They enjoy partaking in as many sins as possible. Sinning is what gives them pleasure. To sin is to enjoy life. The reason why ungodly men persecute Godly men, is because of the spirit that the creator has placed within each one of us. When the unbeliever sins, the Holy Spirit is convicting the spirit of that sinner and this causes the sinner to know that he is doing wrong and that his actions are against the laws of God.
Of course this is all foolishness to the non-believing unrepentant sinner, but still the unbelieving sinner feels guilty and doesn't like that feeling, so it is rather easy for him to lash out at the believers of God, blaming them for making him feel bad. That is why the things of God and the beliefs of God are constantly being ridiculed and made fun of. The unbelievers are constantly attempting to destroy anything that has to do with God in a desperate attempt to do away with the source of their feeling bad. Throughout human history blaming someone else for their troubles has always been a very easy way out for a great many groups. Jesus told us in John 3:20 that, "Everyone who does evil hates the light," and in John 7:7 he declared, "The world hates me because I testify that what it does is evil." This can all be summed up by another verse in the Book of John. John 15:20 "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."
Even though persecution usually isn't pleasant, it does have a great many rewarding advantages, for when persecution comes into our lives then we can conclude the following:

That we have put our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
That we can truly call ourselves Christians.
That we belong to the kingdom of God.
That we are righteous.
That we have been chosen by the Father and the Son.
That ours is the kingdom of God now and in the future.
That Jesus is truly our Lord and that is why we are being persecuted.
That our salvation is sure and certain.
That we are not false prophets.
That we are not worldly for the people of the world are not persecuted.
That we are in the very good company with many other Christians.
That eternal life is ours.

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