Summary: In the fourth, fifth and sixth Beatitudes, Jesus continues to describe the child of God. He or she hungers and thirsts for righteousness, shows mercy and offers God a pure heart. We consider what Jesus is asking for.
Last week we started a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount starts with nine statements that Jesus made which begin, ‘Blessed are.’ ‘Blessed’ means ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’. We often call these statements ‘the Beatitudes.’
If we asked people in the world today for their list of ‘blessed are’ I think they’d come up with something like this. ‘Blessed are you when have lots of friends. Blessed are you when you’re successful in your job. Blessed are you when you’re wealthy. Blessed are you when you have a pretty wife.’ And so we could go on. If we went to the scientific community we might come up with a slightly different answer. Here’s one. In 1938, Harvard Medical School started a study of 268 Harvard students, looking for clues to leading healthy and happy lives. It’s one of the longest-running studies of adult life ever done. The study found that the happiest (and healthiest) people were those WHO CULTIVATED STRONG RELATIONSHIPS with people they trusted to support them. So, according to the Harvard scientists, ‘Blessed are you when you have healthy relationships with people close to you.’
REVIEW OF LAST WEEK
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ first three Beatitudes. I’m going to review those and then we’ll go on to the next three.
I have a feeling that the Harvard scientists I mentioned would nod their head in agreement at Jesus’ first Beatitude. In the first Beatitude Jesus’ focus is on our most important relationship of all: our relationship with God. Getting that right is where being blessed starts.
Jesus’ first Beatitude is, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
‘THEIRS IS the kingdom of heaven’. Wow! People in right relationship with God don’t simply ENTER the kingdom of heaven, God’s kingdom. It becomes THEIRS! That’s the result of a right relationship with God.
What leads to that right relationship? There are verses in the Old Testament which talk about people being ‘broken-hearted’, ‘crushed in spirit’, ‘humble’, ‘contrite’ [e.g. Psalm 34:18 and 51:17, Isaiah 57:15 and 66:2]. Jesus describes this as being ‘poor in spirit’. Those Old Testament verses then say that God draws near to such people, saves them and dwells with them.
This is a REALLY important understanding. I can’t stress it enough! WE DON’T GET OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD RIGHT BY BEING GOOD. WE GET IT RIGHT BY COMING TO GOD POOR IN SPIRIT. Or, as the Old Testament expresses it, ‘broken-hearted’, ‘humble’, ‘contrite’. We have nothing to offer God. We can only seek his mercy.
You want to come back to God? Don’t try to be good. Or at least, that’s not the starting point. Humble yourself. Be contrite. Say sorry.
The second Beatitude is, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’
We know that God hates sin and he grieves over the suffering which sin causes. We also should mourn sin and the suffering which it causes. We shouldn’t always wear a broad smile. If we do mourn, God promises comfort. Just as in the case of the first Beatitude, this is also an Old Testament idea. Last week we looked at a passage in Isaiah [Isaiah 61] where Isaiah looks forward to the coming of the anointed one, Christ. Christ would ‘comfort all who mourn’; he will give ‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning’. And Isaiah goes on to talk about a time of restoration. One day, Christ will deal with the brokenness and hurt that sin has caused.
The third Beatitude is, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’. Again, this is an Old Testament idea. David wrote, ‘But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace’ [Psalm 37:11]. Jesus’ statement is almost word-for-word the same as David’s!
As God’s people, I hope we don’t chase after money. But we value enormously this beautiful and amazing world which God created and entrusted to our care.
Imagine your parents have a lovely little cottage somewhere on the Jurassic Coast. It has a pretty garden, full of flowers and butterflies in the summer. It has a view through a wooded valley towards the sea in the distance. One day, you’ll inherit that cottage. If that was your situation, you’d count yourself blessed.
As Christians we tend to think in terms of spiritual blessings and there’s a danger that we can be dismissive of physical and material blessings. But here Jesus is talking about a physical and material blessing. We, the meek, will inherit not just a cottage on the coast but the earth!
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Let me make a brief observation about these first three Beatitudes and their relationship to the Old Testament.