The most famous sermon ever delivered, the “sermon on the mount,” begins with eight statements known as the beatitudes. Did Jesus not know it is best to begin a sermon with a joke or funny anecdote?
Jesus: “In the story of the Good Samaritan, why did the Pharisee cross the road? Because he was chicken! Thanks folks, I’ll be here til Passover.”
The word “beatitude” itself is cryptic. What the heck is a beatitude? Basically, it means “blessed,” or perhaps better, “in a good state of being.” Taken as a whole, the beatitudes are a list of attitudes that define proper Christian character. You could say Jesus was telling us, “these should be your attitudes.” Get it? Be-your-attitudes. Beatitudes!
Each beatitude states a Kingdom concept that deserves a full discussion, but few believers take the necessary time to decipher their deeper meanings. The Aramaic words and phrases Jesus used, like “poor in spirit,” sometimes translate poorly into English. Even the simple word “blessed” may be misinterpreted by 21st Century ears. Blessed does not mean “happy.” Blessed conveys the attitude of someone whose heart and mind are correctly aligned with the Holy Spirit. That person may indeed be happy, but they are also at peace with their circumstances and in right standing with God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” John Newton wrote those lyrics in 1779. It is difficult to find a word in the English language worse than “wretch” without resorting to profanity, which is frowned upon in hymns. In his formative years, Newton was a defiant son who renounced his faith and became a slave merchant. He was famously obscene, mean and… lean, having been nearly starved to death by sailors who grew to hate him. A near death experience led him to faith in Jesus. Newton recognized his depravity and he became poor in spirit. His vileness was no worse than any other person, me included, but it moved him to repent. We are all wretches compared to God, who saves us by His grace (unearned kindness and mercy).
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
We often think of mourning as sadness over the death of a loved one, but we mourn other things as well. Maybe the loss of a job or the loss of innocence to drug addiction. We mourn divorce and failed relationships. All are painful and sometimes the pain lasts a lifetime.
In Revelation 21:4 the writer tells us that in heaven, God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain anymore…” Followers of Jesus should have an eternal perspective. If you are a human being, then mourning is inevitable… but it will not last. Genuine joy comes later, in heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Meek does not mean weak. In this context meekness is power under the authority of someone greater. Tony Dungy played football in the NFL. As a coach, he won a Super Bowl. He’s had a successful career as a broadcaster, speaker and author. He is strong mentally and physically. He is highly accomplished and seems capable of doing anything. Yet, he is humble. “I don’t have the strength or wisdom to get through a single day without guidance and grace from God,” said Dungy. He is meek, not weak.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Righteousness means “acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right.” Jesus-followers might define it as being Christ-like. This beatitude refers to more than just personal righteousness, however. It also implies a desire to see righteousness in the world. We should be concerned about justice, fairness and well-being for all. Jesus is telling us here, very clearly, that we should seek righteousness, both personally and globally, with the same urgency a hungry person seeks food and water. Are you starving for righteousness?
(see A Beatitudes Attitude, part 2)