Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 11: The Beatitudes

To be an effective disciple of Christ, it might be helpful to understand the Beatitudes as taught by Jesus. Some like to feel that the Beatitudes are so named because they set forth some of the "attitudes" that disciples of Christ ought to "be" possessing; thus the name, "Be-attitudes." The word Beatitude is a French word which derives its meaning from the Latin word, beatitudo, or beatus, which means to be happy, or blessed. Therefore, one might say that the Beatitudes are blessings of happiness.

Upon a bit of investigation, it appears that all of the Beatitudes relate to one another in a progressive manner designed to form and refine a more spiritual pattern of Christian discipleship. The pattern may be the following: conversion, maturation, sanctification, persecution, and redemption of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Let’s take each Beatitude one at a time, observing how this pattern develops, and let’s see how we can relate them to our personal lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit: for Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20.)
Being poor is no magical status for one to possess, he must also come unto Christ. That also goes for the rich. Temporally and spiritually speaking, all must come unto Christ, the rich and the poor. Without a relationship with Jesus they are nothing and have nothing of value, either in this world or in the world to come.

The word poor, as used in this Beatitude, comes from the Greek word ptochos (pto-khos’), meaning "a beggar," "pauper," and "distressed." One might say the "poor in spirit" feel to be as common as a beggar, being distressed with the recognition of all their sin. These are those racked with the guilt of their own sins, who possess a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They genuinely realize how sinful they really are, how low—even as the dust of the earth—they have become. They understand that they are both temporally and spiritually poor, have nothing, and are nothing without the atoning blood of Christ. Speaking of the Lord, Isaiah wrote, "For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." (Isaiah 66:2.)

Those who truly believe that they have nothing and are nothing, and come unto Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, will be given all, even the "kingdom of heaven." The Apostle James encouraged the Christians of his day by saying, "... Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2:5.)

Blessed Are They That Mourn: for They Shall Be Comforted. (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:21.)
The Greek word for mourn is pentheo (pen-theh’-o), meaning to "grieve." Those that mourn are those that grieve with sorrow and regret, realizing that their personal sins have been the cause of great suffering for Jesus. They also grieve for the sins of the world that make all men miserable, which sins have also caused the Savior to suffer. Because of their repentant attitude and humility, those that mourn, or grieve, shall be "comforted" with the good news of the resurrection, merciful forgiveness, and the redemptive loving grace of Christ.

Blessed Are the Meek: for They Shall Inherit the Earth. (Matt. 5:5.)
The "meek" are the mild, humble, submissive, obedient and teachable ones. The original word for meek means "mild" or "humble." These are those who truly seek forgiveness and are not ashamed to beg for Divine direction. They humble themselves and trust in God instead of man, and are led by the pure light that comes only from Christ.

From the pen of the Psalmist we read: "The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground." (Psalms 147:6.) "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." (Ps. 37:11.) "The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever." (Ps. 22:26.) "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." (Ps. 25:9.)

There is a reward for those that are meek. Because they ask, seek, and knock in meekness, they shall find the way. The mighty ones of the earth, those who do not humble themselves before God, shall be cast down, and the earth shall become the possession of the meek. The meek shall be blessed with the abundance of the earth. We are to follow in the footsteps of the Master, for we are to be meek as He was meek. In these words He taught: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matt. 11:29.)

Blessed Are They Which Do Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness: for They Shall Be Filled. (Matt. 5:6; Luke 6:21.)
Hunger, in its original word, means famished or to crave. Those that "hunger and thirst after righteousness" are those that crave to be fed by the Spirit, looking for that direction in life that leads back to Heavenly Father through Christ Jesus. They desire only to taste the heavenly bread that feeds the spirit and satisfies the starving soul, and to drink from the waters of life that can only quench a spiritual thirst. They are those that shall be filled with the Spirit of God.

Righteousness in this scripture means equity, justification, right, and holy. In a true sense, then, those that "hunger and thirst after righteousness" crave that which is just, right and holy. In a world gone amuck, many hunger for justice and crave that which is right and equitable. The only way to fill that hunger, or quench that thirst, is for one to turn his life over to Christ, and let Him be the chef that prepares a table of unparalleled delicacies. Isaiah, in these words, invited us to eat and drink freely: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness". (Isa. 55:1-2.)

Many will go to almost any length to feed their body with physical bread and quench their thirst with water. True Christians, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, will give all they have for the bread of life and living waters. It is their eternal and unending quest. They that lose their life in this quest shall find it in Jesus Christ. (Matt. 10:39.) The Apostle John records that Jesus said, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:35.)

Blessed Are the Merciful: for They Shall Obtain Mercy. (Matt. 5:7.)
The word "merciful" comes from the word eleemon, meaning "compassionate." The "merciful" are those who show forth pure charity, compassion and forgiveness to their brother, just as compassion and forgiveness was extended to them through the grace of Christ. We are taught that "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." (Ps. 103:8.) As disciples of Christ, we are to follow His example as Luke records: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:36.) Those who are merciful and show compassion shall, in like manner, obtain "mercy," even grace from Christ for the grace they extend to others—even grace for grace.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart: for They Shall See God. (Matt. 5:8.)
Through the atonement and the pure love of Christ, the "merciful" become clean and sanctified. The merciful are those whose hearts have been cleansed through the blood of their redeemer, Jesus the Christ, who purges out the old and refines the new through the fires of refining adversity. Only those that have clean hands and are purified shall see God. It is written: "Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully." (Ps. 24:3-4.)

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: for They Shall Be Called the Children of God. (Matt. 5:9.)
The "peacemakers" are the peaceable ones of the earth. Those that preach the words of redeeming love help bring peace to the souls of those that are "poor in spirit." They publish peace to the world and the message of sanctifying grace. At the birth of Jesus, the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14), and Jesus gave us security when He said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27.) Matthew recorded the words of the Master: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28-30.)

Peace comes through the assurance of eternal life because of the atonement and grace of Christ. Total peace and assurance come only to the clean and sanctified, those that are "born of God." When they receive that assurance, they truly become the "children of God."

Blessed Are They Which Are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake: for Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:10.)
The cost of discipleship may include persecution for the sake of righteousness. History tells us that those who totally consecrate and fully turn their lives over to Christ, who strive with all they have to follow Him at all cost, will be greatly harassed, debased, and plagued with abuses and persecutions—even by members of their own faith who claim to profess Christ. Why is this so? It may be because very few have their eyes single to the glory of God and His praises, instead of their own glory and the applause of the world. Or it may be because many are not obedient as they know they should be; they could have a subconscious guilt, and because of this guilt they are inspired by the adversary to make all men miserable like the devil and themselves are miserable.

However, the persecuted must remember and understand the Savior’s message when He said, "... Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matt. 5:44) Judgment is not ours, but His. Speaking to ancient Israel, Moses wrote, "And the Lord thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee." (Deut. 30:7.)

When one truly and wholeheartedly seeks repentance, desiring to follow the Lord, having turned his heart over to Christ at all cost, he will be oppressed, victimized, and "persecuted for [His] name’s sake." In praying to the Father, Jesus said, "I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:14.)

Persecution of those that truly love the Lord rages even among His professed followers, among those that do mighty works in His Church and in His name. Jesus addressed this very issue during His Sermon on the Mount, a scripture we have considered before: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:21-23.) However, for suffering that which shall be inflicted upon the true disciple of Christ—to the very end—he shall be rewarded with the "kingdom of heaven," or in other words, a Kingdom in Heaven.

Blessed Are Ye, When Men Shall Revile You, and Persecute You, and Shall Say All Manner of Evil Against You Falsely, for My Sake. (Matt. 5:11; Luke 6:22.)
As mentioned above, when one becomes a true follower of Christ, willing to endure all things unto the end, others will berate, criticize, oppress, and speak falsely all manner of evil against him. Many will speak all manner of lies against us for His sake, some being betrayed by family, friends, and brethren—being cast out of the synagogue or church, cast into prison, and even put to death for the testimony of Jesus. (Matt. 5:10-11; Luke 21: 12-17.) This will happen both in and out of the Church of God. This often occurs because false accusers are blind to truth, knowing only how to follow the word of man instead of the Spirit of God. False accusers want others to be miserable like unto themselves. If they cannot be happy, they feel no one else has a right to be happy.

While teaching His disciples about the signs to precede His Second Coming, Jesus also mentioned what would befall His followers during that time: "But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony.... And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." (Luke 21:12-17.)

Rejoice, and Be Exceeding Glad: for Great Is Your Reward in Heaven: for So Persecuted They the Prophets Which Were Before You. (Matt. 5:12; Luke 6:23.)
Those that are thus persecuted and damaged by others shall have "their rewards in heaven," along with the former Prophets which were also persecuted and martyred. After Peter and John were arrested and delivered by an angel from prison, they testified of the privilege to have been persecuted: "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41.) It is difficult for many to "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad" for the persecutions that are unjustly heaped upon them, especially from those they consider friends. Yet, we are commanded to "have great joy and be exceedingly glad."

The persecution that the righteous are to endure is compared to the persecution that the prophets have suffered. John wrote, "... for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10.) A prophet can be someone who has a testimony of Jesus. Yet when a person has a witness and boldly proclaims it in public, and sometimes even over the pulpit, he is often criticized by those that should be his friends, even from some of those professing faith in Jesus. While recounting the history of Israel and the many abuses that the holy prophets encountered, Stephen, just before being stoned, gave a rebuke: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers." (Acts 7:51-52.)

Isaiah spoke comforting words from the Lord to those oppressed for His name’s sake: "Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." (Isa. 66:5.)

Are any disciples of Christ better than Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Stephen, Peter, Paul, or the Savior Himself? Though it may be difficult for many to rejoice and be glad in such abuse, yet we must have the faith that Paul displayed when he wrote to the Corinthians: "... I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulations." (1 Cor. 6:4.) From the Apostle Peter we also get these words of encouragement: "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing." (1 Pet. 3:13-17.)

The Pattern
The Beatitudes are not just a random sampling of promises or blessings. They present to us a pattern of conversion and discipleship, which can help the true follower of Christ understand what is expected and required of him because of his devotion.

This pattern is simply outlined as follows, and is taken from the verses found in Chapter 5 of the Matthew account:
(1) v3—Poor: They feel as common as beggars, even as the dust of the earth, being distressed with the recognition of all of their sins, realizing that they have nothing without Jesus;
(2) v4—Mourn: This distress brings sadness, and they grieve with remorse for their sins and the sins of the world that caused Jesus to suffer;
(3) v5—Meek: True remorse helps develop mild and humble hearts, allowing the Spirit to touch them;
(4) v6—Hunger and thirst after righteousness: Now humble and teachable, they become famished for that which is just and right, craving to be taught truth and receive light;
(5) v7—Merciful: Having received new light and knowledge, their new understanding helps develop compassion, learning to forgive and extend Christlike charity and love;
(6) v8—Pure: Through the atonement and the pure love of Christ, they become clean and sanctified;
(7) v9—Peacemakers: Sanctification brings peace to the soul and a desire to share their new faith with others, helping to establish peace among the children of God through faith in Christ;
(8) vs10-11—Persecuted and Reviled: These righteous will most likely be persecuted, cast out, and perhaps martyred for His name’s sake; and
(9) v12—Rejoice: The persecuted rejoice for they shall be found faithful as the Prophets, and receive their great reward in Heaven.

Not only does there seem to be a pattern in the presentation of the Beatitudes, but in Christian discipleship as well; for it appears inevitable that he who gives his life to Christ will be persecuted by those who are supposed to be his friends.

I am not trying to make a blanket statement, saying all true followers of Jesus Christ will be persecuted by their families or friends, though there will be persecutions. Such a wide-sweeping statement is not intended. However, all true followers of Christ will be persecuted; for Paul said, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3:12.) Now the Lord doesn’t want us to go out looking for persecution, pretending to be a righteous martyr. Jesus came to bring peace, not contention, but if persecution should rear its ugly head, we embrace it with gladness for Jesus’ name, and rejoice. If persecution arises before us, that is of no consequence to the faithful follower of Christ. Scars received in battle will not count against His disciple, but only add to the glory of both Christ and His people.

There seems to be a pattern, and it might be good for all of us to examine how we interact with those that appear strong in the Lord, allowing them freedom of expression and the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience. The cost of discipleship requires not only one hundred percent commitment, and the opportunity and privilege to be persecuted for the name of Jesus Christ, but it also requires us to be tolerant in the religious beliefs and habits of others, lest we become as the Pharisees.

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