Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a series of statements commonly called “the beatitudes.” The beatitudes focus on the character Christians are to have. The more we develop these qualities in our lives, the more we will impact the lives of others.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
“Poor” does not refer to what a man has, but to what a man is. The “poor in spirit” are those who recognize their own spiritual destitution. They know that their resources are utterly insufficient, and that they must rely on someone else. That someone is, of course, God.
Regardless of their education, income, or social status, the “poor in spirit” see themselves as they really are — unworthy.
We have a good example of someone demonstrating this quality in the Parable of the Pharisee and tax collector.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:10-13).
The Pharisees were a strict religious sect among the Jews. Therefore, it is not surprising that a Pharisee would be in the temple praying. Tax collectors, however, were considered to be immoral. They often took more money than the law required to fatten their own pockets, and loaned money at excessively high interest rates to those in need. It would be a bit surprising to see a tax collector praying there.
Whereas the prideful Pharisee boasted that he was so much better than everybody else, the tax collector stood over in the corner, looking down at the ground, and hitting his chest, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He was poor in spirit.
Is it any coincidence that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a call to humility? I don’t think so. He wanted to make it clear that the door of the kingdom was built low, and that no one who stands tall can come inside. As James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
The “mourners” are those who have genuine grief or sorrow for sin — both their own sin and the sin of others. It is my understanding that there are nine different Greek words used in the New Testament for sorrow, and that the one used here is the strongest. It denotes the most intense or severe kind of sorrow. In fact, this same word is used of the disciples mourning for Jesus before they knew He was raised from the dead, and of Jacob’s grief when he thought his son had been killed.
Perhaps the best example of someone demonstrating this quality is David after committing adultery with Bathsheba.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:2-4).
David felt terrible for what he had done. His soul was truly grieved by the sin he committed before God. That’s what it means to mourn.
The Bible tells us that Jesus “wept” over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41, and that Lot was “tormented” by the sin of Sodom in 2 Peter 2. They obviously had genuine sorrow for sin.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
The “meek” are those who have a mild or soft disposition. They have a gentle spirit. This is the result of implementing the first two beatitudes. The person who comes to grips with his own unworthiness, and is truly saddened by the sin in his life, will walk humbly before God and man.
Meekness is not weakness. It is strength under control. It refers to one who has his passions, instincts, and impulses disciplined. In fact, the ancient Greeks used this word of an animal that had been tamed. The animal is still strong, but its strength has been harnessed.
Both Moses and Jesus are described as “meek” in Scripture, yet neither of them were whippy or cowardly.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
Jesus knew what it meant to be hungry. He fasted for forty days in the wilderness, as did Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament. I doubt that any of us have come anywhere close to that degree of hunger.
A starving person loses interest in regular activities, and develops a single, all-consuming desire for food. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” are those who have an intense craving or yearning for God and His Word. They long for the truth above anything else.
The Psalmist demonstrated this quality when he wrote, “My soul thirsts for God,” in Psalm 42:2. Then a few chapters later, in Psalm 63:1, he wrote, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.” He had an all-consuming desire for God!
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
The “merciful” are those who have loving-kindness towards others. They not only feel sorry for the hurting, they take action to relieve their pain. Weymouth’s translation says “compassionate.”
A good example of someone demonstrating this quality is the foreigner in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’” (Luke 10:30-35).
The 17-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous in the first century. It had a lot of rocky terrain which made it easy for robbers to ambush travelers. In fact, the road became known as the “Way of Blood” because so many people were assaulted on it.
Jesus said that one day a traveler fell among robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and left him for dead. As he was laying there, a priest came down the road and saw the man, but did nothing. Then a Levite passed by and saw the man, but did nothing. Each of these men were religious, yet neither showed their Jewish neighbor any compassion at all. Then a Samaritan passed by. He was the least-likely person to help, since there was such animosity between the two groups. Yet he went over, bound up his wounds, took him into town, and made sure he had adequate care (at his own expense). Rather than moving away, he was moved with compassion. He was “merciful.”
We should note that God is said to be “rich in mercy” in Ephesians 2:4, and Jesus is referred to as our “merciful” high priest in Hebrews 2:17.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
“Pure” refers to that which is clean or uncontaminated. The “pure in heart” are those who have no pretense or hypocrisy; they are utterly sincere and true. This is in contrast to scribes and Pharisees, who put great emphasis on external cleansing while neglecting holiness. Jesus said in Matthew 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
The “peacemakers” are those who seek peace with God and man. They despise division and are eager to pursue reconciliation when possible.
There is a big difference between “peacemakers” and “peacekeepers.” A timid wife might “keep the peace” at home by letting her husband and kids run all over her. That is not what this text has in mind. Sometimes war must come before peace; resistance before reconciliation. Christians are never called upon to have peace at all costs.
We should note that God is called “the God of peace” in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Jesus is called “the prince of peace” in Isaiah 9:6, and the Gospel is called “the gospel of peace” in Ephesians 6:15.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” are those who suffer mistreatment for the cause of Christ. Notice that Jesus said, “On my account.” They might be humiliated, harassed, or harmed physically. Paul said that all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12), and Peter said that we should not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16). It just kind of comes with the territory.
In some cases, our early brethren were stoned, crucified, and beheaded. Others were burned at the stake or thrown from tall rooftops. Still others were fed to vicious animals. We call them martyrs; Jesus calls them blessed!
If we incorporate these qualities in our daily lives, we will influence the world for good. We will be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” that Jesus requires. You know why? They will see Him in us!