When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Matthew 7:28-29
In Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. It was in the previous chapter that Jesus began to gather His disciples and gave them this promise: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So they followed Jesus all about Galilee, as He taught in the synagogues, as He healed the sick, and finally to a foothill where they would receive their first fishing lessons: ‘Ten Steps towards Salvation,’ more commonly known as the Beatitudes.
Afterwards it would be recorded that they were amazed at His teaching (probably) because these things had never been presented by anyone (specifically any Rabbi) before. I’ve heard it said that when the Rabbi’s taught, they’d preface their remarks with, “According to Rabban (our master) Gamaliel…” or, “As Hillel the Elder would say…” giving their authority and honor to their teacher. Jesus made no such prelude and as a result His astonished listeners took note that He spoke of His own authority. The doctrine Jesus presented was of His own making; it was new, it was provocative, and it was perfect.
It’s here that we identify the purpose of the Beatitudes as they are not merely ideals that focus on love and humility or even a moral standard by which folks should ascribe. No, there was a bigger picture being presented here, one that is characterized by a narrow path. It is the destination realized in the personal receipt of God’s grace via the redemptive of power of Christ’s finished work on the cross and I would submit that if we handle them in any other regard we are sidestepping their inherent worth.
As we expound briefly on each tenet, I’ll characterize the Beatitudes as steps with the understanding that salvation is based upon faith alone, not works or steps. Having said that, in the Beatitudes we see a growth process that every believer goes through. Fundamentally these spiritual positions are the bases that an evangelist should broach, in this order, when sharing the Good News.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”
If salvation in Jesus Christ is our ultimate destination (and it should be), then it’s clear to see that step one, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” has less to do with worldly ideals or moral character, but rather it is the realization of spiritual poverty due to (our) sinful nature. I believe Jesus is conveying to His disciples that in order to lead a soul towards salvation, the lost need to take ownership of their spiritual depravity. When the Apostle Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), this was the point he was driving home. It is no accident that poor in spirit is first in this sequence. It is in this vital first step that we first recognize that we’re not okay and move closer to discerning our solution in Jesus Christ and can begin to see the blessedness of the situation.
“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25a)”
“Blessed are those who mourn”
Step two, “Blessed are those who mourn,” is the consequence of grasping step one; if there was sincerity in that first step, we will be mournful. It’s at this place where we may first recognize the blessing of Jesus as our comforter and healer. This is the circumstance we find the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:11. Jesus said to her (and He says to us), “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
The Apostle Paul wrote of this location as well: “[G]oddly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).” We don’t get to this point unless we take ownership of the message presented in steps one and two.
“Blessed are the meek”
In step three, “Blessed are the meek,” we recall the maxim, ‘meekness is not weakness, but rather strength under control.’ In our Christian realm it speaks to submission to God (for) our own good, but more importantly for His good purposes. It’s here that God breaks us in the same way a rancher would break a wild stallion. Just as a broken vessel will give up its contents, so to in our brokenness we are emptied. In this place Jesus encourages us, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matthew 11:29).” This is the blessing of the meek.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”
We have realized our spiritual poverty, we have mourned and been comforted, and we have been emptied. In this condition it is only natural we would desire replenishment. We are hungry! At some point during the process, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside us to guide and to give us understanding. We also learn that steps two and three are maintenance steps and if a daily spiritual routine is not established, we will regress in some fashion.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”
Filled with His Spirit, we discover that the fruit of the Spirit is love and out of love grows mercy towards others. We recall Luke 7:47, “Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” If we have been attentive students through the previous steps, we will likely appreciate the great volume of sin that Christ has cleansed on our behalf. Aside from all the blessings we will have received up to this point, this fruit bears witness to the changes God is making in us.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”
In step six we see the difference between the cleansed heart and the pure heart. All believers have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, but a pure heart comes as a result of finishing the race, so to speak and step six speaks directly to the sanctification (or refinement) process. We see glimpses of God throughout our journeys, and of course we see Him more clearly when we are closest to Him, but it is when we finish well; our purified state, we shall see Jesus. In step six there is encouragement to continue on this narrow path.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”
Step seven speaks to evangelism and sharing the great wealth that we have received in Jesus Christ. It should be obvious that when we share the Gospel, we’re sharing the Prince of Peace, therefore in every instance we are peacemakers. Zacharias said Jesus will “Guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:79)”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you”
Steps eight and nine (and ten for that matter) are related and often listed together as the eighth Beatitude. There is some redundancy and I sense that Jesus repeats Himself not because eight and nine are somehow more important than the first seven steps, but rather to emphasize that these things will occur if we are faithful and obedient servants. We could also argue that if Jesus had omitted this information, He would have not given us the entire story.
We also see that these two promises affirm that if they are occurring, then we are walking properly. In other words, it is a prophetic pat on the back from Jesus Himself that we’re on the right path. In contrast, if these things are not happening in our Christian walk it should give us pause. It could be that we haven’t been practicing our peacemaking skills or that our tendency is to only preach to the choir.
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
We plainly see that it echoes steps eight and nine, but it reminds us we’re in very good company. The lesson of step ten is to exercise the blessings that we have received as a result of our salvation and our ongoing purification, and that we are paying it forward. We see the Beatitudes as a series of road signs bringing us to very specific places of blessings. It’s here in step ten that Jesus proclaims if we’ve enjoyed the journey so far and joyfully anticipate what lies ahead, it should be reflected in our attitude and demeanor. Again, if it’s not, something is askew.
In conclusion, I believe that in teaching His disciples the Beatitudes, Jesus provided a checklist of the issues that needed to be addressed when sharing the Gospel message. In one sense it was coded (as were the Parables of Jesus) so the masses would not necessarily glean from them initially, but these lessons weren’t for them necessarily, but for those who would be sent out to share the Good News. We could also note that in the same manner that the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) is a model prayer not to be recited word for word (necessarily), so are the Beatitudes a model to be recalled in sequence as a reminder to the bases we should cover when sharing the Gospel message, the continual discipleship process, and of course for periodic self-examination, as per 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”