The Fortunate Ones

  Matthew 5:1-12  

Who do we look up to? Who are the people who are held up to us as examples to emulate—people whom we should want to be like? What qualities/characteristics are admired today? Who today is considered blessed?—fortunate?

Pro athletes? Movie stars? Political leaders? The rich?

In the Beatitudes Jesus gives us his list of the “Fortunate Ones.” How does his list compare with ours?

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“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.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Our passage is the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount” which will continue until the end of chapter 7.

Here is what’s happened since last week:

4:12-17-- After his temptation, Jesus begins his public ministry preaching a message very much like John’s – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven in near” (4:17).

4:18-22 – Jesus calls his first disciples

4:23-25 – A preaching/healing tour of Galilee – Great popularity and Crowds!

The mention of the crowds in 4:25 leads directly into the statement of 5:1, 2--

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

Jesus taught his disciples with the crowds in the background overhearing. That the crowds were listening is proved by Matthew’s comment at the end of the Sermon:

28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:28-29).

So, the sermon begins with the disciples gathered at the feet of Jesus and with the crowds listening in.

How will the Lord begin?

He begins by pronouncing a certain kind of person fortunate. We call these pronouncements “beatitudes,” from the Latin word for happiness or blessedness. Let’s see how the whole group is put together.

First, how many beatitudes are there? Simply counting the “blesseds” in the passage gives us nine. But, look closer. Eight of the “blesseds” are worded in the same way. “Blessed are the . . .” But verse 11 is different, it says, “Blessed are you . . .” None of the others say, “Blessed are you.” Verse 11 is probably an expansion of verse 10, which says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” The insulting in verse 11 is a specific instance of the persecution in verse 10.

You can see that the eight beatitudes of verses 3–10 are a unit when you look at the first and the eighth. Notice the promise of the first beatitude in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And notice the promise of the eighth beatitude in verse 10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Both have the identical promise, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But the other six beatitudes sandwiched between these two are all different. Verse 4: “For they will be comforted.” Verse 5: “For they will inherit the earth.” Verse 6: “For they will be filled.” Verse 7: “For they will be shown mercy.” Verse 8: “For they will see God.” Verse 9: “For they will be called sons of God.” Notice that all of these are promises for the future. But the promise of the first and last beatitude in verses 3 and 10 seems to relate to the present: the disciples are assured that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I draw two implications from this:

1.   By sandwiching six promises in between two assurances that such people have the kingdom of heaven, I think Jesus means to tell us that these six promises are blessings of the kingdom. In other words, these six things are what you can count on when you are a part of God’s kingdom. This is what the kingdom brings: comfort, earth ownership, satisfied righteousness, mercy, a vision of God, and the awesome title, son of God. You don’t have to pick and choose among these promises. They all belong to the kingdom. And . . .

2.   Bookending the future promises by present assurances is (I think) Jesus’ way of saying that, in some sense, the kingdom of heaven is present with the disciples now (“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), but that the full blessings of the kingdom will have to wait for the age to come (“They shall inherit the earth”).

Jesus has brought the kingdom to earth and we can experience a foretaste of its blessings today, but the full experience of life in the kingdom of God must await the age to come.

The beatitudes themselves give perfect illustrations of this principle:

Verse 4 says that those who mourn will one day be comforted. As Revelation 21:4 says,

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

But look at verses 11–12,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”

In other words, even though the final reward of comfort is kept for us in heaven, we can now rejoice even in the midst of suffering. And is not this joy a foretaste of the promised comfort? There is no joy without some element of comfort.

Or consider verse 7. It promises, “They will be shown mercy.” But in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23–35, the king says to the wicked servant, “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33). In other words, Jesus teaches that we do not merely wait for the age to come to receive mercy. It has come in Jesus. We taste it here and now in forgiveness of sins and innumerable blessings of this life.

Or consider verse 9. It promises, “They will be called sons of God.” As Romans 8:23 says, “We . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” So, the full benefits of being sons of God await the resurrection. But look at Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see you good deeds and praise you Father in heaven.” God is already our Father! We are already sons! That is, we have a foretaste of sonship now.

The point of these three examples is that the kingdom of heaven is both present and future. We have foretastes of the reign of God now, but we will experience vastly more in the future. I think this is why verses 3 and 10 assure us that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but verses 4–9 promise that the kingdom blessings are still in the future. It is both.

It is vital that we understand what the Beatitudes are and what they are not. The Beatitudes are not a list of requirements to enter the kingdom of God, nor a ladder to ascend to a high enough level of spirituality to be counted worthy. They are an announcement of how fortunate people are who already possess the power of the kingdom. “How fortunate are you who have the kingdom power at work within you, for you will inherit the kingdom with all its infinite pleasures forever and ever.” The Beatitudes are announcements that people like this are very blessed — very fortunate.

But that is not all. The Beatitudes also contain an implicit invitation to become this kind of person. The disciples sit at Jesus’s feet and hear his words as congratulations. “Oh, how fortunate you are, my dear brothers, to be chosen of God, to have your eyes opened, to be drawn to the Savior, to be poor and mourning and meek and hungry and merciful and pure and peaceable! Rejoice! Rejoice and give thanks, my beloved disciples, that you are this kind of person, for it is not your own doing! It is the reign of God in your life.” So, the disciples hear the Beatitudes as words of celebration about the work of God in their lives.

But what about the crowds standing behind the disciples? How do they hear these words of congratulations? How should they hear them, if they are not poor in spirit, if they are not mourning or meek or hungry for righteousness or merciful or pure or peaceable? What do these words mean for them? They are certainly not congratulations.

What are they then?

If you see people being promised the blessings of eternal life because they are poor in spirit and mourning and meek and hungry for righteousness and merciful and pure and peaceable, don’t those words of promise beckon you to become that kind of person? Indeed, don’t they awaken in you the desire to be that very kind of person? Perhaps not for all. But for some, they do.

So, the Beatitudes are words of celebration for disciples. And they are words of invitation for those who observe – people who come out of curiosity or tradition. And for some, they are words of transformation — by the power and mercy of God