In Luke 6, Jesus speaks about those who are blessed—and He counts as blessed those whom we usually call unfortunate. And Jesus pronounces woes on those whom we generally consider to be successful . . . that is, woes on those who are rich, full, who laugh, and are well-respected.
Our values and the values of Jesus are often in conflict.
To be blessed is to be satisfied, and to be enriched with good things. In the spiritual realm, it means to have hope and forgiveness. Jesus says that the satisfying life (the blessed life)—comes from a number of unlikely sources.
In the early verses of Matthew 5, Jesus describes eight qualities which are designed to bring blessing into our lives and glory to our Creator. These attitudes of the heart (meekness, mercy, peacemaking, poverty of spirit, etc.) are the marks of true righteousness.
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-3).
Some translations use the word “happy” to describe the blessing in verses 3-12, but the word “blessed” is better. Happiness means “favored by circumstances,” or “pleased because good fortune has come our way.” The Greek word markarios is much deeper. The word describes a condition of inner satisfaction, an untouchable joy that comes from knowing Christ and from walking with Him.
In our English language, the word “blessed” is the better translation.
The world tries to picture “happiness” in a multitude of ways. Happiness is a warm puppy. Happiness is a new Honda Civic. Happiness is sixteen candles on a birthday cake. Happiness (on a bumper sticker in a big city) is five green lights in a row. Worldly happiness depends on outward circumstances. Christian blessedness is an inner joy that comes from walking with Christ. It is an untouchable joy that comes from knowing Christ and walking with Him.
Each of the eight beatitudes speaks of a “blessedness” which comes from some of the most unlikely places:
The world says, “Happy are the proud, for theirs is the praise of men.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The world says, “Happy are the carefree, for they are seldom serious.” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The world says, “Happy are those who assert themselves, demanding their rights.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The world says, “Happy are those who thirst after pleasure, they shall never be bored.” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
The world says, “Happy are the fighters, for theirs shall be called the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The world says, “Happy are those who avoid ridicule by compromising, for they shall be popular with the crowd.” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The world’s view of happiness is to show an assertive spirit, to display a clever mind, and to get all the material things one can possibly afford. Jesus says that deep joy comes from other sources, and then He named the eight beatitudes. The beatitudes stand in stark contrast to the attitudes of the worldly person.
These are things that Jesus taught His disciples. There is a blessing in being poor in spirit, in mourning, in meekness, in hungering for righteousness, in being a peacemaker, and in being persecuted for doing right.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3)
The “poor in spirit” are those who sense their utter helplessness without God. To be poor in spirit is the opposite of being haughty and proud. They see themselves as poor sinners in God’s sight, and not even worthy of salvation. The people in the church at Laodicea were haughty and satisfied, and said, “I am rich . . . and have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). This is the opposite of being poor in spirit.
Those who are poor in spirit are not helpless creatures, with no backbone or stuffing. They are not floundering around and confused. They are energetic people, but they simply acknowledge that in themselves they have no spiritual assets, and are constantly in need of God’s grace.
William Carey was the founder of the modern missionary movement. He was the first missionary to India in the late 1700s. He had accomplished a great deal of work. Many were brought to Christ through his ministry. He translated portions of the Bible into more than forty dialects of India. But on his tombstone in England, there is a simple inscription. His name is carved on the stone, and the dates of his birth and his death, but there is no listing of honors and achievements—even though many accomplishments could have been named. And then, there are the words from a hymn penned by Isaac Watts: “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm; on Thy kind arm I fall.”
Blessed are those who are poor in spirit—those who recognize their spiritual poverty apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4)
To “mourn” means “to sorrow over our own sins” and also “to grieve over the pain of others.” Mourning includes grieving over the sad condition of the world in which we live.
Jesus says the Christian life is not all joy and laughter. It is not necessary to be always bubbling and smiling in order to be a good Christian. Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn”—those who are intensely sorry for their sins; those who grieve over their lack of devotion to Christ; those who grieve over the hurt of others and the sad condition of the world about us.
John Wesley used to preach to miners during their lunch break. They were in their work clothes. Their faces were covered with black coal dust. But when they heard the gospel message, many were moved to tears. They were grief-stricken because of their sins. They wept, and Wesley said he could see the places where tears had washed down over their grimy, dirty, dusty faces. There were clean white lines down over their cheeks—paths where the tears had dropped from their eyes.
To mourn is to see sin the way God sees it. To mourn is to weep over sin, and to grieve over our sometimes feeble response to God’s love. To mourn is to realize the awfulness of sin, and to be intensely sorry for it.
3. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)
The word “meek” is a many-faceted word, but primarily speaks of an attitude that does not insist on its own rights, but gladly submits to God’s laws and accepts God’s dealings with us as good. Meek persons do not dispute or resist God’s will. Meek persons acknowledge that God is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, and that God works out in our lives that which will prove a blessing in the end—and so they accept difficulties and hard places without bitterness or complaint against God.
It is more than ten years ago now, that our youngest daughter—a loving wife and sweet mother of two little boys, died at the age of 32—from a massive brain tumor that was destroying her body. The tumor appeared in various parts of her head, and near the end of her life was pushing her eyes almost out of their sockets.
Over a period of 8½ years she had seven radical surgeries, including sawing her jawbone, splitting her tongue, cutting her nose at the bridge and pinning it back in place again—all in an attempt to get to the tumor with a laser knife. Her husband did all he could to get the best medical help that was available. In the midst of all those surgeries, their little 22-month-old son was killed in an automobile accident. After more than eight years of suffering, she slipped into a coma for a few days—and on the morning of August 9, 2001 she went into the eternal world to be with the Lord.
How shall we respond in the midst of the hard places in life? Do we get mad at God? Do we commit suicide? Do we give up? Do we become bitter toward life?
The meek person submits to God’s providence, and says, (not, “Why is this happening to us?”), but, “Lord, what do you want to show me in all this?”
Meekness is not weakness; meekness is submission to the will of God. It takes a strong person to submit to God’s will in the midst of the hard places in life.
Meekness is quiet submission to the will of God through the joys as well as through the sorrows of life—and this is another step on the road to true character building.
4. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6)
The fourth beatitude is a description of those who yearn for holiness, those who long to become more like Jesus. Christians who are spiritually healthy will hunger for a life of purity. They will be thirsty for fellowship with God in prayer. They will look forward to the Lord’s Day when they can fellowship with God’s people. They will be restless and unhappy unless they are making progress in developing Christian character.
Those who long for righteousness like a starving person longs for food, “shall be filled.” That is, from time to time, they will experience satisfaction. (Righteousness, as used by Jesus in the Gospels, speaks of right living, good conduct, and upright character.) God does not promise those who seek after holiness to be filled with wealth and fame, but He does promise that those who sincerely seek after righteousness shall be filled with goodness and joy.
5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7)
The word “merciful” refers to “compassion” and “sympathy” and “feeling with” another person. Mercy is much more than a brief emotional wave of pity. Mercy is a deliberate effort to identify with other persons, to try and feel things as they feel them, and then to help meet their needs. Those who are merciful keep their eyes open for opportunities to help others.
Taking a meal for the family of someone who is sick; doing the chores for someone who met with an accident—these are ways of showing mercy. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Showing sympathy for others, to the point of helping the individual—that is true mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)
The Greek word translated “pure” means “unmixed in motive” and “free from contamination.” It is easy to try and serve God with mixed motives.
For example, we can give generously to a good cause—in order to gloat with self-approval.
We can do a good deed for another—hoping that others will see something heroic in us. That is a mixed motive.
We can attend church services, not because we are thirsting after holiness, but to enhance our own prestige in the community. That is a mixed motive.
We can engage in careful study of the Scriptures in order to get a pleasant feeling of superiority over other Christians. That is a mixed motive.
We can dabble with sexual relationships outside of marriage, and think that happiness comes in that way. But if we saturate our minds with passionate, lustful thoughts, we contaminate what God really intends for us.
The “pure in heart” are those who seek to serve God with unmixed motives, and with activities that are not contaminated by the passions of the flesh. The “pure in heart” are not partly dedicated to God and partly dedicated to the world. The “pure in heart” are those who seek to please God above all else.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9)
A “peacemaker” is one who seeks to bring harmony and reconciliation between persons who are estranged. God hates the actions of those who sow discord and stir up trouble and pit one group against another. And yet every community and every church has some people who thrive on divisions and conflict and unrest.
Peacemakers are needed in our churches because holding grudges and evil speaking are common sources of conflict among believers. Peacemakers are needed in our homes because quarreling often leads people to treat the worst, those who really love them the most.
Parents should teach children to play with puzzles, tools, and marble-rollers—rather than with toy guns and replicas of ugly military equipment.
Those who have peace with God should cultivate the art of peacemaking. We should do our best to settle disputes—to bridge gaps and to heal breaches whenever we have an opportunity to bring opposing parties together.
A peacemaker must be careful not to hold grudges, not to take sides, and not to become disagreeable in disposition. Instead, we must answer a critic with gentle words, for “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). We must try to see the other person’s point of view. We must practice forbearance and forgiveness. We must be quick to apologize when we have wronged another, and quick to forgive when another person has wronged us. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree agreeably.
A peacemaker is one in whose presence spite and bitterness cannot long survive. Peacemaking is promoting peace and harmony with others; it is seeking to bridge gaps when conflicts arise and tensions are high.
8. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10)
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Verses 10-12 describe those who suffer for Jesus’ sake—those who are mocked and laughed at because they seek to live by the principles taught in the Bible. Persecution refers to being harassed to the point of ridicule and distress—and sometimes even to the point of injury to the body.
Some think of persecution primarily in terms of martyrdom, but there are mild forms of persecution (such as ridicule and distress), and there are more severe forms of persecution (including injury and even martyrdom).
Persecution is bound to happen because nearly every action of the godly Christian life is a silent condemnation of the ungodly lives of others around us. And their troubled consciences build up in them a feeling of hatred, which often manifests itself in sarcasm, ridicule, or just plain meanness. The same world that slandered and rejected and crucified the Son of God, will likewise persecute His followers. Jesus says so in John 15:18-19.
Becoming a Christian is not a means of escaping trouble; stepping out for Christ is a sure means of getting into trouble. The primary reason some are not persecuted is because they have softened their convictions, and accepted the standards of society, until there is hardly a difference between them and the unbelieving world. The point of the eighth beatitude is that when we are sneered at and persecuted, we are not to resent it, but rather to rejoice in it.
The beatitudes are sources of true blessing in life. True righteousness will manifest itself in these right attitudes in the heart.
Happiness is not found in unbelief. Voltaire was a noted French infidel. Near the close of his life, he said, “I wish I had never been born.”
Happiness is not found in seeking pleasure. Lord Byron lived a life that was saturated with elicit pleasures. He wrote later in life (his body racked with venereal disease) — “The worm, the canker, and the grief, are mine alone!”
Happiness is not found in having lots of money. Jay Gould was a multi-millionaire; he had plenty of money. He said one time, “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Real happiness—inner blessedness—comes from knowing Jesus Christ and walking with Him. It comes from experiencing the forgiveness and freedom from guilt which comes to those who have turned their lives over to a new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The following poem, found in our daughter’s journal after her death, has a great message for those who are meekly suffering under the hand of God.
I Asked of God
Humbly I had asked the Lord to give me joy
To crown my life with blossoms of delight;
I pled for happiness without alloy,
Desiring that my pathway should be bright;
Prayerfully, I sought these blessings to attain—
And now I thank Him that He gave me pain!
I asked the Lord that He should give success
To the high task I sought for Him to do;
I asked that all the hindrances grow less—
And that my hours of weakness might be few;
I asked that lofty heights be scaled—
And now I meekly thank Him that I failed!
For with the pain and sorrow—came to me
A gift of tenderness in act and thought;
And with the failure came a sympathy,
An insight that success had never brought;
Father, I had been foolish, and un-blest
If you had granted me my blind request.