First Mennonite Church
August 16, 2020
We Have Been Declared “Blessed”
Text: Matthew 5:1-5
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Today, I would like for us to start considering what are called the “Beatitudes.” These are the series of sayings in which Jesus describes his followers as “blessed.” As we will find or already know, Jesus describes as “blessed” some of the things we wouldn’t readily associate with being blessed.
It is common to hear people saying things such as these:
“I am so blessed to have healthy and well-behaved children.” Or, “I am so blessed to have a beautiful house in a safe neighborhood.” Or, “I am blessed to have this nice car, or a good paying job, or abundance of food, etc.” This view of what blessed means seem to say that a family with sick child or children struggling at school cannot say it is blessed. It would mean that the employee who lost his job or the person who drives a clunker or lives in a crowded, run-down apartment is not a blessed person. We seem to have associated being blessed to having abundance, comfort, and a worry-free life.
There are some versions of the Bible for this passage that have “happy” instead of “blessed.” And although the use of the word happy might simplify for us the meaning of what Jesus says in the Beatitudes, the word misses to capture the depth of what Jesus was saying. Happy is often the emotional response to something positive. Happiness is often a fleeting emotion. We get happy when the food comes out perfectly especially when we have guests. We are happy when our hard work gives good results. We are happy when the doctors tell us we have a clean bill of health. We are happy when we get a break from the heat. So, then, what is the meaning of the word “blessed?”
The Greek word commonly translated as blessed is makários. This word describes a believer as being in an enviable position for being a recipient of God’s grace in Christ. To be blessed describes the privileged position of being in the kingdom of God. To be blessed means being included in the realm where God is working his good will.
When Jesus uses the word translated as blessed, he is speaking not simply to individuals but to the community, and he is declaring an objective reality based on God’s grace—a divine act—and not subjective feelings, and much less something we earn or achieve on our own. To be blessed means God has given us something we cannot afford for ourselves.
By this definition of blessed, we can see that it is not something we achieve, but that is given to us. To be blessed is not the same as being happy, for the opposite of being blessed is not being unhappy, but being cursed.
Being blessed is about who we are…because of what God does for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it does not matter whether we are rich or poor, drive a new car or an old clunker, whether we are employed or unemployed. When we come to Christ Jesus and commit to follow him, as Lord and Savior, we are declared blessed by God.
Although the Beatitudes have an ethical dimension in them, they are not commandment, imperatives or exhortations with which to shape our character. They are descriptive of those who follow Christ. They anticipate the actions, way of life, and mode of behavior of those who follow Christ. The Beatitudes also have a future perspective. They move from the present to the future: “Blessed are…for they will. In that respect, the Beatitudes are the prophetic declaration of God upon those the kingdom of God has dawned in their heart. They describe them now and points out to them what their future holds.
Today, we are considering the first three Beatitudes.
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Luke’s version of this blessedness simply says, “Blessed are you who are poor.” Luke does not specify what kind of poverty Jesus is referring to, as Matthew does. Yet, whether Jesus was referring to those literally poor or spiritually poor, within the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, the poor is a reference to the true people of God (see Psalms 40:17). The poor in spirit are those who rely in God for their identity. The poor in spirit do not take for themselves the labels of the world to identify themselves. They find their identity in the one whom the prophet Isaiah describes as the one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:2). In the great reversal of Jesus’ gospel, the kingdom he preach is one with a king who made himself poor, who was counted among sinners, who died between to thieves. In the same way those who belong to his kingdom are those who are poor in the spirit.
We live in a time when everyone is being forced to choose sides, to define themselves for or against this or that. Today, people are given labels, such as conservative, liberal, pro-this or that, anti-this or that. And often times, people, sometimes including Christians, claim an identity for themselves: such as being red or blue. The poor in spirit find their position in the humble Christ they follow. Their character and identity are shaped and grounded in the principles of the kingdom of God, where they belong. They are gentle, yet steady in the conviction. They are humble, yet made powerful in their proclamation of God’s kingdom. They trust in God that in the end righteousness, justice, and peace will prevail.
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The disciples of Jesus mourn, but not for themselves because they are overflowing with God’s joy. They mourn and lament the present the state of the world, drawing farther away from God. They mourn when human life is cheapened or commodified. The disciples of Jesus mourn when human life is considered an obstacle for personal success or to avoid personal responsibility. The disciples of Jesus mourn when human life is worth only if the person is “legal,” able-bodied that can be used for production. The disciples of Jesus mourn with those who mourn. They mourn as their Master did at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. They mourn until death is finally overcome by the resurrection. Therefore, the disciples of Jesus will shed tears with those who mourn, knowing that comfort will come one day.
- “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Followers of Jesus are gentle in spirit. They do not rely on earthly powers, nor seek to exercise influence according to the way the world exercises power. Further down in Jesus’ teaching to his disciples he told them: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26). Jesus’ disciples are meek and humble. They are blessed and will inherit the earth. The last part of this beatitude can be troubling to many Christians because we say we are hoping for a heaven, not earth. When we hear earth, we thing problems, illnesses, wars, pandemics, and everything we do not like about earth. But let us remember that Jesus is speaking of the eschatological new heaven and new earth. The people who Jesus calls blessed today are the people who rely on their Lord, who holds power on earth and in heaven and that in the end their inheritance is in Him.
My dear brothers and sisters, the Beatitudes describe what the followers of Jesus look like today. The Beatitudes are not for the faint of heart, nor for the super hero. They are for the ones who have seen the light of the Gospel and whose hearts burn with the fire of God’s Holy Spirit in them. That is you and me. Amen!