The Way In Is the Way On. An Overview of the Beatitudes…
I have been serving here at SBF for 11 months now – and I can tell you that everything we have been studying up to this point has been preparing us for the study we are about to embark on…
We will take our time and work through the first 16 verses of Mathew 5. These are also the first 16 verses of the most famous sermon of all time – The Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), which consist of chapters 5-7. They are all red-letter verses, in other words these are the words of Jesus.
Here’s what John Stott the late pastor, author, and missiologist has said about the SOTM:
“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.”
Now, reading the SOTM only takes about 10 minutes so it’s widely thought that Matthew is giving us the “Cliff Notes” version (i.e., highlights).
We need to make some theological distinctions as we lean into the Beatitudes and the SOTM…
Some of the theological roots of SBF include what’s known as a dispensational view of the Bible.
Dispensationalists and most of the rest of Evangelicalism would differ on the interpretation and application of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM).
Classical dispensationalism would argue that the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are not gospel but pertain to life in the millennial kingdom after to the second coming of Christ. (If you have a Scofield Study Bible – that would emphasize the classical view of dispensationalism.)
It should be noted that there are more moderate views of dispensationalism. If you have a Ryrie Study Bible – he’s a more moderate dispensationalist. Yet he would still believe that primary fulfillment of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are in the millennial kingdom. (Popular contemporary dispensationalists include John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll. I have also heard that John MacArthur has become more moderate in his dispensationalism, but I don’t have first hand knowledge of that. Charles Swindoll would also be considered a more moderate dispensationalist.)
The basic evangelical approach is to recognize that the kingdom of God has come in the person and work of Jesus. (Mk 1:15: “kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel). This “kingdom now” theological perspective teaches that Jesus established the kingdom of God (KOG) at His first coming and will consummate the KOG at His second coming – and we live in the age (or dispensation) between the two. One theologian, George Ladd, has said we live in the presence of the future – between the already and the not yet.
So, how will this affect our study of the Beatitudes? I believe the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) ARE for today – and that they are the means to allowing the gospel to be worked into our lives – and then through our lives to others.
Here’s how I would say it: “The Gospel is not advice, it is news.” (Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, Crossway 2011: 188.) It is the ultimate Good News. I would suggest to you that Sunday Services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ centered) change (i.e., sanctification) is rooted first and foremost in remembrance. We are to remind one another primarily of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.
We cannot commend what we do not cherish. -John Piper
And the essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked IN – and then THROUGH our lives – which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering – and this will be the main intent of our series.
Today we will take a look at the Beatitudes. Allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.
Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to follow him, surrender to Him, and to depend upon His strength and power.
The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”
More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is not always exuberant, but can also be described as calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances. Joy fueled Paul’s contentment – Phil 4:11.)
With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive. (This is why, at face value, it’s harder to be a Christian than Jewish…)
What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside. Some people find it liberating – others hate it. (Mat 23:27: hypocrites and whitewashed tombs.)
The Beatitudes, I have come to see, is our surrendered response to the Gospel. I see the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity. This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith. The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel IN and THROUGH our lives.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit…
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Petersen – MSG)
Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul. In a word, it is DESPERATION.
Prodigal Sons (Lk 15:11-32) The younger prodigal came to the end of himself (v.17) and though he had no idea of the Father’s love, made his way home.
In the recovery movement this would be similar to steps 1 & 2:
- Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
2. Blessed are those who mourn…
I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…
- Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…).
- Family of origin issues. (We all have negative traits and generational sin patterns that we bring into our Christian experience. Are you in touch with yours?)
- My own dumb choices.
As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.
I want to own my sin everyday.
This is where the upside down life comes into play. The Beatitudes are counterintuitive (paradox: seeming contradiction). We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief. Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”
The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…
**The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.
3. Blessed are the meek…
Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.” The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken. We can either surrender to Christ and invite His breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.
Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.
5. Blessed are the merciful…
Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.
As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart… Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.
Did you know that your virginity CAN be restored?
2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers…
Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.
Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).
Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts are fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.
Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”
I will also say there is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.
To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost. Peacekeeping creates a false peace. Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, marriages.
- Someone makes inappropriate sexual comments to you at work. You know its not accidental because its repetitive and degrading. But you keep your mouth shut because you know they’ll threaten your job or make you miserable if you say anything.
- A family member makes a scene at a family gathering. It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing. You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.
- Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice. It grates on you. But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.
8. Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (usually it’s “religious,” moralistic people!).
Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it.
By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.
 The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, InterVarsity Press, 1978:15.
 Dispensationalism is a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations (dispensations) of God’s dealings with humankind. It maintains fundamental distinctions between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ’s Second Coming.
 As one dispensationalist put it, “this Sermon cannot be taken in its plain import and be applied to Christians universally…It has been tried in spots, but…it has always been like planting a beautiful flower in stony ground or in a dry and withering atmosphere” (I. M. Haldeman, The Kingdom of God, p. 149).
 The moderate dispensationalist [still] views the primary fulfillment of the Sermon and the full following of its laws as applicable to the Messianic kingdom” (Dispensationalism Today, 107-08).
 A good primer on this alternative to dispensationalism view would be the “The Gospel of the Kingdom” by George Ladd.
 “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)