Last week I began the post talking about worldviews. We all have one – some way of interpreting our life and the existence of the universe. A difference in worldviews can lead to intense arguments because the individuals involved do not properly comprehend what is being said by the other person. Of course, hearing what others are saying can be challenging, but knowing what they mean can be quite difficult due to language barriers, accents, vocabulary, etc.
The principle of hearing and saying is made evident early in our lives when we first play the telephone game. One person says something and then the statement makes its way around the room to determine if everyone passes along the same message. We must hear correctly, then process the words correctly, then say it correctly to the next person, and hope each person does the same. (BTW, if you play it with me, it will not work, because I always will say something like “Don’t eat pickles!”)
When people speak, you may hear them, but do you understand them? Do they speak clearly enough? Too fast or too slow? And, what about the use of vocabulary? For instance, if I mention the word “team” what comes to mind? Team can cover many different sports at many different levels. Some might think of a professional baseball team. Others might think of a junior high basketball team. I have in mind our mission team to Kenya. So, even when we hear correctly, and understand correctly, our interpretation can lead to far different conclusions. This reason makes good communication difficult. And when the people communicating have different worldviews, their arguments can be intense because they may use similar words, but their understanding suggests they may as well speak different languages.
Jesus faced a similar problem in the first century. The people He healed had certain expectations. The people He taught had other expectations. Some in the crowd appreciated what He said. Some did not understand. And some wanted to kill Him for everything He represented. Therefore, my intention in this series is not only to help us understand what Jesus is saying to us, but to know what the original hearers would have heard. Until we know what they thought, we cannot fully appreciate what we ought do – after all, Jesus said the words to them, not us (at least to them first; the Bible says them to us on His behalf).
So, each week, I will use the same format to look at these verses in light of what the people in the first century were thinking, what Jesus said, how our world may mis-apply the teachings of Jesus and how having a true knowledge of God will affect our thinking. We will consider the true knowledge to be built upon God’s promise, as recorded in Habakkuk 2.14, which says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
With that as our foundation, let us look at the next set of verses in this great sermon of Jesus.
Remember, Jesus has just begun His public ministry. In Matthew 4, He calls people to repent because the Kingdom of heaven is near. Beginning in this chapter, Jesus begins to teach people what that means – that is, what does living in heaven look like, or more directly what it means to live “on earth as it is in heaven.”
What did the people think?
I am keeping this question first because what people say and what is heard are often two different matters. When Jesus said what He said, the people had to wrestle with this new way of thinking because some of it was quite contrary to what they thought they knew to be true.
Blessed are the merciful – The word mercy would have invoked one thought for the first century Jew – God (YHWH). Exodus 34.6 is a great statement about God’s mercy. This verse is a critical verse to Jews and is read at each of the festivals and is particularly important in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which we reviewed in October 2016. Some believed that mercy is God’s greatest attribute.
Blessed are the pure in heart – Again, most any Jew who heard Jesus would have quickly thought of an Old Testament passage – particularly Psalm 24.3-4: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart...” That was a challenge for the Jew then, but as we will soon see, is quite possible for us.
Blessed are the peacemakers – Again, one word – Rome. The people wanted peace, but they wanted to govern themselves. Rome’s presence in the region meant people often tried to keep to themselves in hopes that they would be left alone (be at peace).
Blessed are those who are persecuted – Again, one word – Prophets. The people knew the plight of the prophets. On the Mount of Olives are tombs of the prophets (labeled as such now, would have been well-known then). (pic – from trip) Many people revered the prophets for their faithfulness to God, so Jesus words likely had great impact here.
Having considered what the people may have actually heard, let us know see if we can discern what Jesus said.
What did Jesus say?
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. God is a merciful God and will provide mercy, but He does so to those who show mercy. By His very nature, God is merciful, so those who want to be a part of the Kingdom He rules, and those who are to be considered His children, must be merciful as well.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. The 1st Century Jews were taught how to live with clean hands, but not with pure hearts. The rules that the Pharisees put in place were to protect the people from doing wrong such as “Don’t heal on the Sabbath.” But a pure heart would worry first about the person and then the rule. It is the ones with clean hands AND clean hearts that see God (can ascend the hill to the high place).
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. God is a God of peace. Here is where definitions make a big difference. Does God desire peace between nations? Maybe. But He does want us to be at peace with each other as individuals. Furthermore, He wants us to be at peace with Him. Those that are at peace with Him will help others to be at peace with God too, and thus are truly His children. I will mention this further below, but the key here is peace makers not peace keepers.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. First, we must realize that the promise from this blessing is the same as the first one which was being poor in spirit. If we are poor in spirit, then we defer our spirit to someone else. Jesus is explicit here that the someone else is the one who is righteous (remember we must also hunger and thirst for righteousness, v. 6). Being persecuted does not mean you are blessed; being persecuted for chasing after God and doing His will means you will be highly rewarded. Second, the promise is in the present tense. “Is” means now, just like verse 3. The other six beatitudes are future oriented (“shall”). Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, those who are poor in spirit and are persecuted for the sake of righteousness have already made the “at hand” part a reality for themselves.
What does our world say?
Merciful – The world typically likes a good story about mercy. The news media sometimes refer to these stories as “feel good stories.” The fact that many people gravitate to this type of story truly reveals that we are made in the image of God. Of course, there are a number of people who are merciless, but more than not, I think the world does better with this idea than with most. One difference is that Jesus means God will show eternal mercy, while many people will use the word karma for someone getting something in return for helping another.
Pure in heart – This idea fits well with the idea of persecution. People who do not follow Christ cannot be pure in heart and make fun of others who wish to be. But the words are usually about what a person does (“goody two shoes”), not their heart. The word “hypocrite” gets at this idea perfectly. We are called hypocrites when what we do does not seem to match with what we believe. And we do this all the time, so we are hypocrites. But, as we will see in a few minutes, that does not disqualify us from seeing God because it is our heart that matters.
Peacemakers – Most people will agree with this for the sake of the good, but not for the sake of God. Some people are just agitators, but most people tend to avoid conflict so the world is not opposed to this idea – at least not in the way the word is usually interpreted. Again, two distinctions make the world’s understanding false. First, Jesus said peace makers not peace keepers and second the peace here is primarily concerned with God.
Persecution – Again, if we consider the idea of mercy, most people are appalled at outright persecution. By that, I mean killing, mutilation, and torture. But many people accept soft-persecution which is generally more verbal in nature or indirect harm (such as burning a cross in a yard like the KKK used to do). The reason people accept this is because they are not willing to be peacemakers, but would rather keep the peace with others by not getting involved.
These ideas might describe how the world views Jesus’ statements now, but what about when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the water covers the sea?
How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this idea?
Being merciful – The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cause people to be merciful, not just to receive mercy, but because showing mercy is the right choice. If the knowledge of God’s glory is pervasive, then His character will reach through His followers to impact the world greatly. And His character, in His own words includes mercy. (Read Exodus 34.6-7.)
Blessed are the pure in heart – We can only be pure in heart because of Jesus. We must return to Psalm 24.3-4. It takes clean hands AND a pure heart to see God. Most people focus on the externals (what we do), but God is concerned with the heart (who we are). As I mentioned above, people will call us hypocrites because the who we are (or want to be) does not always match up with what we do. So, we are hypocrites. But, the truth is that only one has been truly pure in heart, and that is Jesus. Thus, He can see God. And the invitation is extended to all who believe. Thus, I can see God despite not being perfect, because Jesus is perfect.
Blessed are the peacemakers – As I have said a couple of times already, making peace is the call here. Most people are willing to keep the peace, but making peace requires effort. It requires seeking to understand all sides. It requires being willing to see a greater goal. The perfect example of a peacemaker is God, who did so through His Son Jesus. He initiated the process. He made the effort. We just need to believe and receive. Paul begins many of his letters greeting the churches with the grace and peace from God. For those who have received that peace, a requirement exists to be at peace with one another, and to bring others into an eternal peace with God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted – To this point, I have not mentioned verses 11 and 12, so let me do so here. Notice in verse 11 Jesus says that our persecution comes from false accusations about us because of Jesus. What Jesus means is that if others persecute us because of what we are doing for Jesus, then great is our reward. But if others lash out at us with good cause, then we should consider their efforts a part of our punishment, not persecution.
In these eight statements of blessing, Jesus truly challenged the thinking of the 1st Century Jew. He is still challenging the thinking of people today. Some of these thoughts are truly threatening to our usual mindset. Does Jesus actually say we are to “rejoice” when we are being persecuted? Yes. But He does so because His mindset is not bogged down by the cares of the world; Jesus mindset was fully integrated with the Kingdom. And a part of his goal with this sermon was to teach people to understand how to think differently and to live differently because of their faith in God.
We tend to concern ourselves with a lot of worries that often end up meaningless. In these eight statements of blessing, Jesus effectively says, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Of course, His words are far valuable than a 1980s song, but if we truly adopt an attitude of hakuna matata because of our faith, we will begin to realize a different type of life – one that is “on earth as it is in heaven.”
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:
JOURNEY: J – JESUS
Jesus makes the Kingdom possible. He is teaching the people then, and teaching us today what kingdom-living looks like, but without His sacrifice we could only look from the outside-in. Unfortunately, too many people believe that they are satisfied by taking that approach. But if we are truly merciful, then we will be peacemakers between others and God, even when we encounter persecution, proving our hearts are pure, and then, we can know we will see God!
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE
How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?
Reading the words of Jesus should encourage us to take action. We do not have an excuse that we don’t know what God wants us to do when the words of Scripture are from His very mouth. This week, in addition to learning more about what Jesus is asking of you, begin to do what you already know He wants you to do – beginning with this eight-item list in Matthew 5.3-10.