Beatitudes: ‘How Lucky You Are If…’

By Neil Earle

Jesus was so different than people picture him.

If he was the “New Moses” he was certainly poles apart from the dynamic Charlton Heston-like figure who stomps down Mount Sinai with two tablets of stone in his arms, thunder and lighting in the background as in the movie “The Ten Commandments.”

Moses had foretold a prophet coming greater than him to whom Israel must listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). But when Jesus the New Moses showed up it was after having a mystical experience on a mountain top, calling a group of non-descript fishermen, and spending his time among people with seizures and paralytic, whom we might consider sidelined (Matthew 4).

Rather than craggy Mount Sinai, Jesus began his Kingdom message atop a green hill with a serene view of the bright blue Sea of Galilee below him. Young, eager 30-year old Jesus sat down with his disciples gathered around him, a stark contrast to 80-year old weather-beaten Moses on the crags of the barren desert.

What was more amazing was what Jesus said. He did not issue commands and edicts written with the fiery finger of God. No. What followed were called “the Beatitudes” from a word for “blessing” and these eight sayings were couched in the tone of stressing Promises rather than Commands. A much much kinder, gentler Moses.

According to one expert: “A beatitude is an exclamation of Congratulations that recognizes an existing state of happiness.”

“Congratulations to the poor in spirit.”

“Congratulations to you who are meek.”

If this manner of speaking seems not what we’re quite used to, then listen to New Testament expert R.T. France: “Blessed is a misleading translation of makarios which does not denote one whom God blesses but represents the Hebrew ‘fortunate.’..It introduces someone who is to be congratulated, someone whose place in life is an enviable one” (Matthew, page 108).

Frank adds that “happy” is an even better word and some translators would be content with the word “lucky.”

The Lucky Disciple:” A Profile

“Lucky are the poor in spirit.” What could Jesus mean because he says those who are the ones already in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Poor in spirit are those who don’t feel they are the superior and arrogant ones. They don’t push other people around. Such are the spiritually mature who measure themselves not by other people and what they are doing but by the character and standards of God. It’s a conviction of emptiness that only God can fill. Its an acknowledgment of utter helplessness in the things of the Spirit. It follows the awakening to the fact that only God’s goodness is good enough.

In the Beatitudes Jesus is like a coach sending his team out for the final set of a tough game. He wants them to rise to what is the best in them. He sketches out quick motivational verbal lightning flashes, an orienting talk on how they be at their best. Similarly Jesus says the Kingdom will belong to people who hunger and thirst for those right traits of the godly person whose lives form the building blocks of the Kingdom of God.

The first and fourth Beatitude are closely linked. That fourth Beatitude “thirsting for righteousness” says commentator Arthur Pink, is that “that yearning for a closer walk with Him, longing to be clothed with the white robes of righteousness. These aspirations can only come from the new nature created by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It denotes not those who have it but those who thirst for it still.”

Pink gets even more telling: “If the one who backslides hates himself for his backsliding, sorrows over his sins, desires to repent of them and longs to be restored to communion with God, then he is among the blessed.”

A Hopeful Yearning

Sinners can hear no better news than that. The thief on the cross was one who hungered and thirsted for the kind of godly faith and submission he saw Jesus exhibit on the cross. So he was with Jesus in paradise that very day.

It’s this kind of forward yearning that makes Jesus’ Beatitudes so hopeful and motivational – for there is a promise at the end of each one. The poor in spirit are lucky because they have emptied themselves of Self so that Jesus may come in and fill them. “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus offers. The meek respond.

Who are the meek who are briefly profiled in the third saying?

Meekness is linked with gentleness in many Biblical passages. “I am meek and lowly of heart” says Jesus (Matthew 11:29). “I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” Paul states (2 Corinthians 10:1 AV). The Bible appeals to us “to be no brawlers but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2). The meek don’t make demands or always seek their own way. They are wonderful neighbors, encouraging work mates and inspiring bosses.

Meekness is the by-product of being poor in spirit and being able to show empathy – that is what it means when Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn.” When we are mature enough to rise above self and get a look at the world’s suffering then we are grasping what Jesus meant when he said the mourners will be comforted. Those attuned to the mess we humans have made of our planet can mourn in hope, knowing the depths of sin we have sunk into and God’s promise to relieve us. This attitude is good preparation for something of great worth – a merciful attitude.

A friend of mine named Daniel Zamarano had his son shot by a young tough. In the long drawn out trial scene that went on with he and his wife still in mourning, Daniel could take it no longer. He burst out in court that he had suffered enough and he could see that the family of the perpetrator was suffering just as his family was. “Enough,” he said to that courtroom and you could cut the atmosphere like a knife. Daniel later told an interviewer what motivated him to show such outstanding mercy. “When I thought of Jesus hanging on that cross, for me,” he said, “how could I not feel different towards the murderer’s parents.”

This is reaching the heights of compassion and mercy and we need a lot more of it if our society is to hold together. The merciful will obtain mercy but just being a person like Daniel is victory enough.

What about the pure in heart?

Those are the ones sincerely trying to live the Kingdom way here and now. What makes them pure in heart is their attitude – they sincerely want to be Jesus’ disciple. The pure in heart have caught a glimpse of the way things will be in eternity and they long for that with all their might. In Paul’s phrase, they have not yet reached the goal yet but they “press towards the mark” (Philippians 3:13). They will see God eventually because he and they are on the same wave length already – merciful, humble, pure in heart. They bear insults bravely, they return a soft answer, they know how to react when they are unjustly accused.

That, by the way, leads to the last beatitude. The pure in heart know how to handle persecution. In some ways this is the climax of all the other traits. Congratulations to those who can turn the other cheek and know it will work out for the best. Congratulations to those who bear no ill will, who hold no grudges. Carrying around resentment, hatred – these “bad attitudes” can shorten anyone’s life. The lucky ones are those who have risen above all that. Let’s try to be like them.