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Matthew 5:1-12 - You Are Blessed

5:1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

About the Beatitudes: The beatitudes from Jesus Sermon on the Mount are not simply a collection of sayings that constitute advice for successful living.  They are declarations of a present and current reality addressed to obedient faithful believers.  They declare, in the strongest possible terms, an objective reality that is ours as a result of divine action.  WE ARE BLESSED!  That is our reality because Jesus says it.  In the Greek, our blessed status is brought into being by Jesus’ declaration and is as real now as it will be later when God’s will is finally and completely fulfilled.  The beatitudes, while not instructions or demands, do have an ethical component.  Blessed status results in blessed action.  We do not strive to live a certain way in order to receive blessing.  We have already received the blessing and therefore strive to live a certain way. 

To whom is this teaching addressed?  The beatitudes are addressed primarily to the disciples.  “Disciples” here  does not refer to the 12 (only 4 have been called to this point in the story), but rather to believer’s in general or, for Matthew, the church.  The language makes it clear that Jesus’ words are not only addressed to those long ago who heard him speak, but are the present address of the Lord, who is still present with us today.  This is startlingly clear in the way Matthew has chosen his tenses.  He wants this message compellingly presented to us today.

What does Jesus mean by the word Blessed?  This is a rich and multi-dimensional concept.  It comes from words in both the Old and New Testament that mean “to be in a privileged position”, “to be in good circumstances”, “to be fortunate.”  To “be blessed” also implies to be “whole”, “at peace”, “filled with well-being”, “saved”.  Today we sometimes use the word “okay” in this way.  For example, when someone is hurt or grieving we give them a hug and say “It’s okay.  It will really be okay.”  The beatitudes have that sense of pronouncing a current reality while holding on for future fulfillment.

The Setting:  In Matthew, Jesus’ great sermon takes places on “the mountain”.  No one knows exactly which mount.  (In Luke, the sermon takes place on “a level place.”)  That is not important.  The “mount” has a theological purpose.  It reminds us of Moses and his authoritative teaching from Sinai.  Here we have Jesus’ authoritative teaching, also from “the mount”.

Word Study

Vs. 1 – up the mountain – a phrase used in the Old Testament in association with Moses.  It implies authority.

Sat down – this is the position used by revered rabbis for formal teaching.

Disciples – this word refers to followers in general.

Vs. 3 – Blessed – see above.

Poor in spirit – This phrase refers to those who are in poverty and also to those who are without arrogance and who know how little they bring to the world on their own. They are the ones who know their lives are not in their own control, they belong to God in every way.

Kingdom of heaven – this phrase means the same as the kingdom of God.  It refers to the rule of God over human life and history.  It is both present in Jesus and yet to come in the final fulfillment.

Vs. 4 – those who mourn – This phrase does not simply refer to an individual’s personal grief.  It refers to those who actively lament the present condition of the world and its people, to those who do not resign themselves to their own or their communities’ conditions and suffering as final and inescapable. It draws from Isaiah’s work in which the people mourn the destruction of the Temple.

Will be comforted – We will see a new day!  Our pain and lamentation over our own and our common situations will not be for nothing.  We will see better.

Vs. 5 – meek – gentle. (Gk. Praus) A VERY difficult word to translate.  We will explore this further later.

Inherit the earth – be a part of the new reality that is God’s realm.

Vs. 6 – hunger and thirst for righteousness – have a deep and all encompassing desire as a necessity of life to actively do God’s will

Will be filled – that desire will be met by God!

Vs. 7 – merciful – concrete acts of mercy, not just a merciful attitude.

Receive mercy – from God

Vs. 8 – pure in heart – not just the avoidance of impure thoughts but single-minded devotion to God.  The opposite of pure in heart is divided heart or loyalties, being immobilized by doubt.

Will see God – refers to our hope for the fullness of God’s reign in the end times or in heaven.

Vs. 9 – peacemakers – Roman emperor’s referred to themselves as “peacemakers” and  “sons of God”.  Jesus is reclaiming those phrases.  Peacemakers are not those who are simply non-violent.  They are those who actively work for reconciliation.

Children of God – like God, reflections of God, heirs of the blessings of God.

Questions for Personal Reflection

  1. What ways do you think you might live differently if you lived with a constant awareness that you are blessed? Be specific. What behaviors would you change?  What feelings would change?  What priorities would change?
  2. The beatitudes do not refer to different categories of people (poor, meek, etc.) but each refers to each of us. We are all at times poor in spirit, mourning etc. How have you experienced the dynamics described as blessed in this lesson?
  3. The beatitudes apply to individuals and to the community as a whole. How do you experience the dynamics of the beatitudes in the community of the church? Who are the poor in spirit? Etc.  In our community?  In our nation?