A friend of mine once tried to teach me how to waterski. It was a Sunday afternoon, on his family cottage lake. This friend, we’ll call him Kyle, takes pride in his instructional skills. Kyle thinks that everyone should know what it feels like to waterski…even guys like me who in 40 years of their lives and never done so. He warned me it might hurt a day later and that I might fall a few times, and still… I still agreed to this. He reiterated this one bit of instruction over and over again: Don’t try and pull yourself forward, simply lean back and you’ll move forward. This defies logic to us non-waterskiing types. After numerous falls into the lake, some moments hurting more and some less, I actually was up, skiing, for several seconds, until of course I got nervous, began to pull my self forward and wiped out again. But for those few seconds I did it – I waterskied. I leaned back in order to move forward.
Jesus’ teaching about finding or discovering life is very similar. We want to make things happen and pull ourselves forward, but Jesus says, in various ways, with various metaphors, that we must somehow think in reverse for us to move forward. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) may be the best example of what he’s trying to convey.
When you encounter the teaching of Jesus, you’re either compelled because of its profound power or you’re scared because of how it reaches deep into your soul and touches buttons that you didn’t know you had.
In Matthew 5 we get what is probably the longest recorded block of Jesus’ teaching. He sits at the side of a hill, with a crowd close by and his disciples even closer, and begins to teach on an array of topics: Relationships, Trust, Generosity, Anger, Worry, etc. He starts off these hillside chats (or sermon on the mount) with what has been called ‘The Beatitudes’ – 8 sayings, principals, guidelines, to move forward in God’s Kingdom.
The Beatitudes are the foundation of everything that follows in Jesus’ sermon. It’s like he’s laying an under pad before installing the flooring – it will ensure that the steps we take will be solid, not lose or unbalanced.
Jesus is wanting to pull us forward; to lead us into a new way of life that is by far better than any life we can have without him. The Beatitudes may best represent Jesus way of moving us forward by looking at things in reverse. He tells us that a blessed life comes from poor spirits, grieving souls, meek characters, pure hearts, and the persecuted. In many ways, Jesus is saying to us, look, take note of the way this kind of person lives, if you you want what they have (the kingdom of heaven, the earth, a full life, mercy) then you’ll want to live like they live.
Let’s take a closer look…
Blessed are the poor in spirit…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
A poor spirit isn’t something to look down on, but a posture to work towards. Why? Because to be poor in spirit is not to lack courage, but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. When we arrive at that conclusion, we will finally realize that we ‘really’ need God.
This is also Jesus’ sly way of announcing that God doesn’t play favourites. God’s kingdom and life can’t be earned or bought, it’s given to those humble enough to receive it.
Blessed are those who mourn…for they will be comforted
Why is Jesus looking for people who grieve? Because those who grieve have hearts that drip with compassion for broken things and broken people. Some say that the ‘mourning’ Jesus is referring to is the weeping over Israel’s complacency. Found in verses like Psalm 119:136, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.” Jesus is looking for people with a heart that hurts for others.
One thing we know for sure, those who are grieving will not be forgotten, but instead, comforted.
Blessed are the meek…they will inherit the earth
The word ‘meek’ which is not used too often these days, generally suggests gentleness, humility and self-control. This is a characteristic our world is lacking. Put up your hand if you’d like to see more gentleness and humility.
The meek also have a quiet faith and trust in God – they go to him again and again, trusting that He’s the first and last place to go.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…they will be filled
I can’t help but think of my favourite food. What’s yours? Mine is Pasta. I grew up in an Italian home, so when I think of the Beatles song, 8 days a week, I think of Pasta. I could eat it everyday and not get sick of it. Jesus says that our favourite food or what we should crave and hunger for is Righteousness. He’s talking about two things:
Justice – Do we hunger and thirst for things to be better; for things to be made right?
God – Do we hunger and thirst for God; for his character, his love, his grace. Psalm 42 & 63 says, “My soul thirsts for the living God” When we get a taste of Him, we’ll want more and more.
Blessed are the pure in heart…they will see God
This beatitude sounds simple, but it packs a punch, referring both to how we live as well as our commitment to God’s Kingdom. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (it is the well-spring of life).” Jesus reiterates this in Matthew 15 while saying, “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from their heart…”
Why is this so important? Because our attitude and behaviour is driven from what’s going on inside. Jesus knows this and challenges us to guard our hearts.
Blessed are the merciful…they will be shown mercy
Jesus teaches us that ‘feeling mercy for someone’ and ‘showing mercy to someone’ are two very different things. The difference being, “I feel so bad for them” vs “What can I do for them”. Being merciful is the ultimate expression of compassion. It’s connected to God’s mercy towards us. We read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, “…should you not have mercy on your fellow slave…as I had mercy on you”.
Those who are merciful don’t judge people for their sin, rather they identify with their neighbours struggles and attempt to show mercy as God shows us mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers…they will be called children of God
These words from Jesus possibly require the most action. Jesus is looking for makers of peace – producers of reconciliation. How much does the world need this? In light of recent events (ISIS, Middle East), peace is a much sought after commodity. Jesus is prophesied by Isaiah to be the Prince of Peace. And he’s asking us to follow in the family business. No matter what our day job is, we are disguised as Peace Makers.
Jesus says that these people will be called children of God. In that case, Peace Making runs in the family. It’s a family trait. It should be what followers of Jesus (children of God) are known for.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness…theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Jesus leaves the toughest for the end. Really Jesus? Blessed are the persecuted? That’s a hard pill to swallow. But if we follow what he says it’ll make more sense. Take a glance through Jesus’ life and subsequently, the church, his body, that grows out of Jesus life, and we’ll see that opposition is a normal mark of a disciple. We find these words in 1 Peter 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”
Because Jesus knows that this is a tough one to follow, he gives some further explanation. Listen to how The Message paraphrases Matthew 5:11-12,
you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it
means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.
You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t
like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good
company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of
Jesus says that if we suffer for doing good, we are in good company. Think about anyone in history that made a difference in our world, they probably suffered or met resistance or hit a few walls along the way. Encountering resistance means you’re on the right side – you’re doing something good. Jesus says that he encountered it and so would we.
I don’t know about you, but I want my life to count for something. I want to be in the company of people who follow Jesus, do good, show mercy, work for peace…no matter what the cost. Even though on the surface it may look like they not making up ground, their lives have accomplished much more.
That’s what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes. It may look like, in comparison with our world or society, that we’re in reverse, but we’re actually gaining ground. Don’t pull yourself forward on the water skies, lean back and see how far you’ll get.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Beatitude force us to ask questions about identity. Who we are? Who we are becoming? What our lives will count for?
How can we resist values that lead nowhere and instead, embrace Jesus’ values that lead to…
– the kingdom of heaven for the poor
– comfort for those who mourn
– the earth for the meek
– a vision of God for the pure in heart
– a full stomach of righteousness
– mercy shown & mercy received
– being in the family ‘PEACE’ business
– being in good company, even if it ruffles my feathers
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
small(er) group questions:
Can you think of an example where the solution to your problem was totally different than you logically thought it could be? What would that be? Any stories?
Take some time to read through Matthew 5:1-12.
Which Beatitude resonates most with you and/or which one might you have a bit of an issue or problem with?
Focus on at least 3 in your group discussion.
– After reading what it means to be poor in spirit, how can this be a positive in your life or the life of a close friend?
– In regards to Jesus wanting us to have a pure heart, why is a verse like Proverbs 4:23 so important?
– No matter what we do for a living, how can ‘peacemakers’ be our part-time work? What are some creative ways of producing peace or reconciliation?
– Do you struggle with Jesus’ last Beatitude?
How are the Beatitudes Jesus’ reverse way of moving us forward? Why do you think the main question that arises is about our identity – who we are?