When someone sneezes, we automatically say “God bless you” 1. It is common these days for someone to wish you “Have a blessed day” instead of just “Have a good day”. The T-shirt reads “Too Blessed to be Stressed”. Where I live, in the southern U.S., the running joke is that you can say anything bad you want to about a person as long as you follow it up with “Bless their heart” 2. 🙂
The “Beatitudes” 3 section at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12 says “Blessed are…..” nine sentences in a row. What did He mean by that?
The word “Blessed” comes from the Greek makarios, and means “happy” or “fortunate”. So, in that case, did Jesus say:
- Blessed are the rich?
- Blessed are the famous?
- Blessed are the powerful?
- Blessed are those with many children/family/friends?
- Blessed are those with important or satisfying careers.?
- Blessed are those attract a lot of attention?
Ummm…No, that’s not what He said. Instead, He said:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
- Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I don’t know about you, but those don’t intuitively mean “happy” to me! It seems that Jesus meant something other then normal, temporary, human happiness. He was explaining what brings people closer to God, and to His deeper, more lasting, more settled happiness.
Let’s look a bit closer at His statements.
Poor in Spirit
These are those who are humble, aware of their need for God. They are the ones who will be part of His kingdom, because they know that they don’t deserve it! They will be willing to accept and depend on His grace, instead of their own merit. Those who have pride in themselves or their own accomplishments, and think that they can make it own their own, won’t.
Those who have been hurt and broken, and who have let the experience soften them to accept comfort, will receive it. Those who react to pain and loss by becoming hard, angry and brittle won’t be able open up enough to accept comfort from God (or anyone else).
This word “praus” can also be translated as “meek” (notice: NOT as “weak”!). It has the connotation of being teachable, willing to accept instruction and follow directions. I doubt that Jesus meant “You’ve been a good little girl. Here, have a world to play with.”. But those who accept Jesus as both their Savior and their Lord, who submit to His leadership, will inherit alongside Him as children of God. Those who bow up their backs and refuse to be led will not be part of the family (they won’t even be willing to be).
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Those who desperately want to be right with God, can be. All it takes is accepting Jesus to receive all His righteousness in trade for their sin and flaws. Those who think that they already are righteous will be stuck with only what they earn on their own. Compared to an almighty, holy God, that’s not much…for any of us.
Those who forgive, “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), and treat others better than they deserve will, in turn, receive forgiveness and grace when they are the ones in the wrong. Those who extract every last bit of retribution that they can will, in turn, find others exacting that same retribution from them.
Pure in Heart
Those with clear, un-sullied motives will find themselves aligned with God, whose motives are always clean, pure, and loving. Those with ulterior motives won’t be able to recognize God’s goodness; they will be too busy projecting their own dirtiness onto Him.
Those who work toward harmony will be behaving like God does, a “chip off the old block”. Those who enjoy stirring up trouble will not be reflecting Him (even if they call themselves “Christians”).
How can those who are persecuted be happy?! It’s not for the fact of persecution, of course. It’s for the reason for the persecution: their identification with God. Being on His side is worth it. He has been there (Jesus was crucified, remember); He is there going through the hardship alongside His child; and He will be there waiting with open arms on the other side.
One of my fears is that if I ever face the kind of persecution that my Christian family around the world already faces 4 5, I’ll wimp out. Disclaiming God in order to avoid temporary persecution would definitely not lend itself to being blessed by Him.
What all of these Blessings have in common is that they move a person away from themselves, and toward God. They all focus on Him or reflect Him in some way. They all are the opposite of human nature’s usual self-centeredness.
To focus on “getting ahead” in this world is to move backwards in God’s economy. This was just as shocking to the original first-century listeners as it is to us. We may think that we are more modern or progressive, but they had plenty of greed and scrambling for first place also…just as much as we do.
In this entire sermon, all of Matthew chapters 5 through 7, Jesus taught that God looks at things very differently than we do. He was insisting that we are looking for happiness in all the wrong places, that He Himself is the Source of true happiness 6.
He was turning their world upside down. And He wants to do the same to ours!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Or just “Bless you” if we’re reluctant to mention God
- “She’s dumb as a sack of rocks, bless her heart!”, “Bless his heart, he’s the meanest old coot I’ve ever met.”
- From the Latin “beatitudo“, meaning “blessed”, “happy”, or “blissful”
- “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17).