Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest political and spiritual leaders, said that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount went “straight to his heart.” So why can’t we – spiritual descendants of Jesus, the Savior of the world – embrace the beatitudes with our whole hearts?
This is a question I asked in a bible study group I recently led and it’s the same question I have for you! In fact, it was a question I had for myself when I realized I only vaguely knew what the beatitudes actually were.
In this post, you’ll find some digestible background about one of Jesus’ most popular sermons (the sermon on the mount/the beatitudes), why the beatitudes were so groundbreaking, who Jesus considers blessed and how we can fully embrace the ways in which God has called us to live. If you’re more into video, please subscribe and watch the bible study over on my youtube channel instead!
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
What are the beatitudes?
It all begins at the most popular sermon Jesus taught: the sermon on the mount. It was there that the beatitudes were birthed.
“Beatitudes” derives from a Latin word called “beatitudo”, which means “blessedness.” There are 8 of them and they all talk about future rewards for specific qualities. Basically, the beatitudes illustrate how we should mirror Christ through attitude and actions. They show how we can best be followers of Christ as we live out our lives on this earth.
Where can the beatitudes be found?
The beatitudes can be found in Matthew 5:3-13. It says,
“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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Okay, whoa. These rewards sound great but the ways in which to achieve them sound pretty intense, don’t you think? Well, let’s talk about its real significance, shall we?
Why The Beatitudes Were So Groundbreaking
Writer RT Kendall calls them “laser-guided bombs in the culture that Jesus was preaching to.” And I’d like to argue that it still is today. Jesus preached the exact opposite of what his followers were expecting and it was devastating because He challenged their worldview.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was learning about the promises of God and what we inherit by being the descendants of Abraham. And so I definitely had a little laugh when I imagined how the listeners must’ve responded when they heard “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” They believed the kingdom of God was theirs solely because of who they were but Jesus clarifies that we can only inherit the Kingdom when we recognize our brokenness and how badly we need him.
Jesus took them – and now, us – from tradition and into the truths of a relationship with Him. Writer RT Kendall continues and says, “Jesus drops this grenade and it touches every nerve in the audience because every single one of them underneath the facade of their life realizes they actually are poor in spirit.”
Who Will Inherit the Kingdom of God? Who Are The “Blessed Ones?”
In those times, the ones that “appeared” #blessed were the rich and the royal and the religious leaders, called Sadducees and Pharisees. They were the tax collectors and Roman officials. Society thought highly of them and they thought highly of themselves – they were those who were quick to enforce the laws of religion rather than care for God’s people and humbly await His Kingdom come. The supposed “blessed ones” looked down on the lower class and “obvious” sinners with undisguised disgust.
However, Jesus made it clear that “the blessed ones” were not the priests, the rulers, or the wealthy. He proposes a different hierarchy by flipping it on its head. Though he traded out traditional views, he gave hope to those that didn’t hold any status. (That’s not to say riches and fame disqualify one from inheriting the kingdom of God, no. God can use anyone with any status for His glory.)
The blessed ones who inherit the kingdom of God are the everyday people. They are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the pure, the persecuted, the peacemakers. The kingdom of God is ours. And though many of us may be denied earthly success, the eternal kingdom cannot be taken away.
This new kingdom is not one that is organized from the top-down but from the bottom up. But it seems we often don’t understand this today with the prosperity-gospel climate.
Have the beatitudes lost its impact?
We see the beatitudes on t-shirts, we hang the verses on the walls of our home, we’ve probably recited them in Sunday school. However, they are way more than platitudes.
The beatitudes are a higher standard God is calling us to; it is something we must attain. And so we must challenge those who hold places of religious prominence and humbly and confidently remind them (and ourselves) of what it takes to inherit the kingdom of God. By God’s grace, we must live lives that best represent Jesus. Because what He says will always matter.
The beatitudes were groundbreaking then and they are still groundbreaking right here and right now.