The Gospel of the Beatitudes

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

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5

What we have come to call the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 have always perplexed me. I never knew quite how to read them or what to do with them. Recently, I’ve been teaching a class here at Hunter Hills Church on the Sermon on the Mount, and it has forced me to get into the Beatitudes and try and understand this text. Thankfully, a friend of mind pointed me to The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

Here’s the deal, I’ve always read the Beatitudes with a great deal of shame and guilt. I’m not particularly poor in spirit, nor do I mourn very often, and rarely would I be described as meek. So I read these things and think, “What do I need to do to be more like these people Jesus describes?” That’s not an altogether bad question to ask. Certainly the people described here have some things to aspire to. But, I began reading people’s commentary on the Beatitudes and realized I was starting with the wrong question. Because the deal is, these are no commands at all. These are announcements of good news; these words are gospel.

The crowds that have gathered around Jesus are the broken, outcasted, and left behind in society. Randy Harris in his book The Living Jesus says that this group following him goes back to a Hebrew word anawim. The anawim are those Israelites who were so worthless, that when their enemies carried them off into to captivity, they left this group behind. They are not even worthy to be someone’s spoils of war. These are the pitiful, the worthless, and the marginalized. In the first century world, and even in our world today, these folks find no place.

However, Jesus has come announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. King Jesus has entered the world, and in God’s kingdom, Jesus tells these people they are blessed. Jesus tells these people that though they are throw away in the world’s eyes, in the kingdom, they have a place. In God’s world, this world that is upside down to ours, they are blessed.

It amazes me to study the history of the world over the past 2,000 years. People want to make the case that Christ literally rose from the dead with science and other such matters, but the selling point for me is the history of the world since that time. Everywhere followers of Christ have been, people who were the throw aways in societies have been found significant to Christ followers. In cultures where the disabled are tossed aside, God’s people take them in and give them a home. In parts of the world where orphanages overflow with the unwanted children, God’s people are adopting and giving them a home. Even in our modern culture, those we see as burdens on society like our homeless brothers and sisters often find friendship among God’s people. Why is that? It is because we have been shaped by the gospel of the Beatitudes.

“The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the gospel of the Beatitudes.” – Dallas Willard

So the Beatitudes aren’t commands at all, they are announcements of good news. They are an announcement about the nature of the kingdom of God. They are the announcement and proclamation to the broken, the outcasted, the throw aways, the anawim, that you are loved, that you are blessed, that you are significant in God’s kingdom.

Today, my guess is several of you feel like this group who needs to bask in the blessing of God. I know I do. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you have done, the announcement of the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ is that you are blessed. You are loved. You are God’s.

I have someone in my life who has self-inflicted wounds she’s lived with most of her life. She’s not a product of her culture or her life’s situation. She’s a product of her own sin and guilt. And here’s another portion of the good news. Even if your situation is self-created and self-inflicted, the gospel of the Beatitudes reminds you that you are blessed. Right where you are, just as you are, you are deeply loved by God.

That’s an announcement of good news that gives me hope. That’s an announcement of good news that reminds me how God views me, and reminds me how I ought to view others. It’s an announcement of good news that propels me to partner with God in his redeeming work for the world.

“First and literally the beatitudes are Jesus’ surprisingly counter-cultural God-bless-you’s to people in God-awful situations.” – Fredrick Dale Bruner

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