Sep 6 2013
Matthew 5:1-16 The Beatitudes of Christ
The church has often associated blessing with abundance, but in the Beatititudes Jesus associates it with lack. He says blessed are the poor in spirit (those who lack confidence), blessed are those who mourn (those who have lost something), blessed are the meek (those who hold back), blessed are those who hunger for righteousness (those who admit they lack righteousness), blessed are the pure in heart (those who are pure inside where it’s not often noticed), blessed are the peacemakers (those who sacrifice self to unite with others), blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness (those who lack comfort in their stand truth).
Jesus taught this to his disciples while on a hill watching the crowds gather to hear him. And it seems that he was comparing the oppressed crowd before him with the civil and religious rulers who imposed themselves upon them. ♦ The civil leaders were harsh and the world of the religious leaders had become a self-centred show. They loved their religious titles, spiritual clothing, places of honour (Mt 23:5-12), and had turned simple things like giving and praying into a public spectacle (Mt 6:2, 5). They believed they had an exalted status; they were children of Abraham, people of the covenant, keepers of the Law, and ‘blessed’ of God. But Jesus saw them as cursed; he said “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees” (Mt 23:23); and he called the poor in spirit and the meek ‘blessed.’ This is challenging. Who do we call blessed today; those who have much or those who have little? Sometimes we Christians fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. We are strong in spirit, self righteous and judgemental. Many of our leaders love religious titles, fancy platform clothing, seats of honour, and make quite a show of giving. Sometimes when we claim to be ‘Children of the King, rich in Christ, the head and not the tail, blessed in every way,’ we sound just like Pharisees. Some of these things may be true, but we cannot be proud about them; Jesus won the victory, we didn’t do anything. And in the Beatitudes Jesus says we are blessed if we remain humble.
During Paul’s time the Corinthian church fell into their brand of anti-beatitude triumphalism. They claimed to be rich, to be kings, to be wise, and be without need. In his rebuke Paul said to them, “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Co 4:7-16). In urging the Corinthian church to imitate him, he was telling them to return from their distorted ideas to the original gospel he had preached; a gospel that would be more in line with the Beatitudes of Christ.
The Beatitudes are a vital teaching; in them Christ shows that the way up is down, that the last will be first, and that the servant of all is the greatest of all. When we start making great claims about ourselves, we become proud, strong in spirit, imposing, and eventually self righteous. In Christ’s eyes this is not a blessing, not to us or the world we are trying to reach.
Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11). Here we see that Jesus practiced the Beatitudes himself. Though he was God he made himself nothing. Now he is exalted, not on earth, but in heaven. The way up is down. Why not take some time to meditate on this?
Other Illustrations used: Bailey – ‘I bowed my head and tasted victory’ | Mohammad Ali – ‘I’m the greatest’| The convoy of the President of presidents | De Klerk gave and Mandela forgave | Army: Qualifying to wear the uniform.
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