Friday, November 19, 2010

The Beatitudes - Written For Christians or For Everyone?

I thought I'd pause from apologetics on this post and write on an upbuilding topic. One of the most important sermons ever given was the sermon on the mount. There are so many different ways of looking at the sermon on the mount that it can be one of the hardest parts of the Bible to read. In another way, it is one of the easiest. You simply read, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" and that seems perfectly clear to us. We read, "Do not murder" and 'Not only don't murder, but also don't be angry with your brother.' It all seems easy and absolutely clear. It says, 'Don't do these things. Do these other things.' So why can it be so difficult to read? The difficulty is that it is so clear to read. There is not a way to shrug it aside or explain it away. People don't struggle with it because it is unclear, or complex. They struggle with it's impossibility.

I think that most people would be perfectly happy if Jesus had just repeated the command "Do not murder" and left it at that. But Jesus went further. He said, 'Don't murder. But also don't get angry with your brother. And beyond that if someone is angry at you then you need to go make peace with them. In fact if someone is suing you, you go and give them a gift!' It gets harder and harder even to the point that he says, "You must be perfect as your Father is perfect." That's when you know you have a problem. It all seems impossible to attain. Again, people don't struggle with it's clarity. They struggle because it is extremely clear.

So how are we to understand the Beatitudes? Are they impossible to live up to? I would have to say in a way they are. In one way they drive us to Christ, like the Law did, and shows us that we need his grace. We are somewhat like Isaiah when realizing the extent of his sinfulness he said, "Woe is me. I am undone."

But there is more to the story, I think. Notice Matthew 5:1,2. It says that this sermon was given to Jesus disciples. It is not given to all people saying that they should try to obey, because it is given to people who already know they can’t obey perfectly. Jesus Sermon is for people who already have accepted Jesus as their Lord and King. It's not for people that are hoping to get into the kingdom or become disciples. It is for the people that are already in. Of course, there were others that were not disciples that were listening and hence at the end of the sermon they were amazed at Jesus teaching. So others can benefit from it. But it was primarily for his disciples.

To expound on this, look at the 1st Beatitude. It says, "Blessed are the poor". To a secular person, this seems absolutely ridiculous. The 2nd says, "Happy are those that mourn." This also would not seem to make sense. However, a Christian would understand this. The would realize that it means "Happy is he who mourns over the right things like sin and death and the state of the world, and is not merely indifferent towards it." It is far better to mourn over your sin that to be proud of it. Mourning over your sin leads to blessings. But to get to that point one needs to be spiritually discerning. That is why it makes sense that the sermon is primarily directed to disciples of Christ.

The Sermon is also meant for those that know that God is their King and Father. Jesus told us to address God as "Our Father". Only believers are allowed to address God in this way. This shows that this sermon is not meant to be something that can bring you in to become a disciple of Christ. It assumes you already are one. To go further, the sermon gives instructions to those that "fast" and those that "pray". Jesus does not say "If you fast" but "When you fast". He does not say "If you pray" but "When you pray". Nor do we read "If you give to the poor" but "When you give to the poor". These are things that believers do, not unbelievers.

Only a believer would be interested in following the command of Jesus when he said, "Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees." They were considered to be some of the most holy people of that time. Only someone that was interested in Jesus reign would try to follow that.

For all these reasons, the sermon was meant for believers. Yes, the crowds can listen in, but it is essentially for those that know God and know the life of the kingdom.

One of the beauties of the Beatitudes is it's invitation for Jesus disciples to become more like him! When you read the Beatitudes, try to see how Jesus is the perfect representation of all that is said.

Consider, Jesus said, "Blessed is he who mourns." Jesus mourned over the lost sheep of Israel. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He wanted to gather them up like a mother hen gathers her chicks and protect them. But they were largely unwilling, so he mourned.

Jesus also said, "Blessed are the meek." Was not Jesus meek and humble? Didn't he say "Come to me all who are loaded down and I will refresh you. For my yolk is easy and my burden light." The greek word for meek, can also mean "humble". And what humility Christ showed!

The 4th Beatitude is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." Jesus was perfectly righteous and he not only hungered for his own righteousness, but for us, that we should be righteous too. He was so hungry (and meek) that he let himself get baptized, even though there was no clear instruction for this, in order to "fulfill all righteousness".

What a wonderful person our Lord Jesus Christ is. As we read through these Beatitudes it really is important that we, as disciples of Christ, recognize our own spiritual need and how this is fulfilled in Jesus. While the Beatitudes seem so easy to read, as one would read a novel, we should not read through them quickly and avoid all the implications of it. These are to be savored like a fine wine. They should be enjoyed, but also allowed to become part of our hearts. They should strengthen our love for God and our Lord Jesus, and draw us closer to them.


  1. ***The difficulty is that it is so clear to read. There is not a way to shrug it aside or explain it away.***

    I liked this, Dan. Sort of like the 'turn the other cheek' that can get ignored.

    I don't think that Christ was speaking only to his disciples though. He was speaking to Israel, and more specifically to save the lost sheep of Israel. There should have been no unbelievers among them, so that is kind of a moot point, imho. They would all have fasted and prayed, etc, so there would not have been a reason to say 'if' over 'when'.

    Christ still speaks, though, and to all of us. Just not everyone hears or chooses to listen.

    Hope you are doing well,


  2. It is true that everyone can benefit from the Beatitudes. That is one reason why it is so well known. In fact, Harry Truman said he was a Christian in the sense that he followed the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. So it has universal appeal.

    But a close reading of Matthew 5:1,2 shows that he was specifically talking to his disciples. It says, "His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying..."

    Jesus rarely taught in private. Most of what he taught was freely available to both believers and unbelievers. That is why the Pharisees were commonly present when he was teaching.

    I guess the point I was trying to make is that the Beatitudes have special meaning to Christs disciples.

  3. I reread the passage, and yes, I see what you're saying. He spoke so that all who came could hear him (the end of the passage says that after he had finished speaking to the crowds, and that the crowds were amazed at his teachings), but He was more specifically addressing his disciples. However, isn't a disciple is anyone who chooses to follow him?

    I do agree that the Beatitudes have special meaning to His disciples. (if you are not a disciple/follower, then it might be hard to believe in the words, especially in 'blessed are you, for the kingdom of heaven is yours...')

    I understand and agree with your point.