Matthew 5 begins with what we know as the beatitudes. These are Jesus’ opening statements of the “Sermon on the Mount.” In these powerfully counter-cultural statements, Jesus describes those whose hearts are ready to experience true happiness. In this issue, we’ll pause to take a brief overview of this important passage.
The passage can be divided into three parts: the heart, the character, and the result. In the first two beatitudes, Jesus paints a backdrop of a heart of spiritual poverty and mourning. It is as if to say, “Happiness is not at all what you think.” And this is consistent with His message of repentance. And it helps to define for us what He really means when he talks about repentance.
The repentance Jesus calls us to is more than just a forsaking of “sins.” It is a letting go of our faulty way of looking at life. It is a breaking free from the bondage to our old, earthly way of thinking and living. In the beatitudes, Jesus in effect proclaims, “This world is upside down. Learn to see the world, yourself, and life in a completely new way.” This is the heart of the beatitudes, the heart ready to experience true happiness.
And as his picture of this new way unfolds, who are the ones at the forefront? First, the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Then, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who make peace. And finally, those who are persecuted for following Him.
These are the big winners in this new way of looking at life. Not the powerful, the rich, those who look for every angle, every advantage for themselves, fight to get ahead. Rather, it’s those who answer Jesus’ call to win by losing, to seek peace and righteousness rather than victory and pleasure. This is the character of those who follow Him, and those who are truly happy.
In short, the beatitudes are a call to discipleship. Without coming out and saying it, he’s saying “follow me.” Have you ever thought about the fact that the beatitudes perfectly describe Jesus Himself? He chose to become poor, though He was equal with God, (Philippians 2). Jesus is the perfect picture of meekness, purity of heart, a hunger and thirst for righteousness and all the rest. And more than anyone else, Jesus would be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
But what else is Jesus saying? He’s saying, “This life is so full of Joy! This is the way to be truly happy! Follow me and find real life! You may not have what you always thought would make you happy, but you’ll have what really counts! You might even be persecuted for believing in me, but you’ll never be sorry!”
So Jesus is saying that the ones who follow Him can get to a point that they are happy no matter what. Even under the pressure of persecution. Even under the pressure of poverty or even death. Look at the utter joy of Stephen as he is stoned for his faith (Acts 7). Because their happiness does not come from circumstances. Their happiness comes from their relationship with Him.
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