Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 13, 2011

An Audacious Claim

For the next four weeks I am leading a study on the beatitudes during our Sunday education hour. The beatitudes are the list of characteristics that Jesus considers to be blessed. They are found to at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. I thought that I would use the blog as a venue to post some observations and notes that come out of this Sunday discussion group.

The beatitudes often catch us off guard. The claims that Jesus makes about what it means to live a blessed life do not line up with the values of our world. Jesus subverts our cultural expectations. While Jesus pronounces the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the pure in heart “blessed,” our culture says the opposite. Our cultural beatitudes would sound something like this – blessed are those who have it all together for they don’t need any help, blessed are the powerful for they have control over their life, or blessed are the morally uninhibited for they know how to enjoy life.

The beatitudes often contradict the values of our Christian subculture as well. It has been my experience that the church does not always know how to respond well to those who are in a place of grief or poverty of spirit. We do not know where brokenness fits within the Christian life.

Sometimes our aversion to the beatitudes is because of bad theology. A pastor friend of mine was at the hospital visiting his son who almost died in a hiking accident. One of the elders from the church came to visit him and said that there must be some sin in his life since his son was injured. The elder called him to confess his sin so that God would remove this suffering. Obviously this elder had never read the book of Job, or much of the bible for that matter. This is an example of a type of theology that equates suffering with God’s punishment. It is an example of a health and wealth gospel that teaches that God blesses his people materially and spares them from hardship if they are good and believe in him.

Sometime our aversion to the beatitude life is because our churches often foster a culture of denial. Often in Christian culture we deny our struggles or our challenges because we want to look like we have it together. The irony is that our only hope of “getting it together,’ is when we come to a place where we recognize our need for God. That is why poverty of Spirit is the starting point for this new life in Christ. The whole sermon on the mount begins by Jesus saying we start by recognizing own poverty so his kingdom can break into our lives.

I think the part of the beatitudes that we struggle with is this word “blessed.” Some translations use use the word “happy,” which can be a bit misleading. The greek term for blessed (Makarios) does not mean happy in the subjective sense. When we are mourning we aren’t happy. Instead, makarios means to be considered fortunate. It is sometimes used to mean ‘congratulations. Therefore, it is not a subjective feeling but an objective pronouncement from others (in this case God). What this means is that from God’s perspective, he sees that there is significance and blessing that comes from hardship. The blessing is that those who are poor in spirit are in a place where they are ready to receive God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their dependence and need for help. They’ve been humbled and are therefore in a position to receive God’s intervention. If we hope to be transformed we must begin by relinquishing control. We must be humbled enough to recognize our need for God.

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Responses

  1. It’s so easy to turn the beatitudes into moral virtues we somehow attain through our own efforts. Wrong! I appreciate your reminder that the “blessedness” of the beatitudes are not “a subjective feeling but an objective pronouncement from [God].” We live in the reality of being recipients of God’s blessings.

    Sounds like a great course!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Dave. I agree that we can turn these into moral virtues. I think there is an intentional order to the beatitudes – as many commentators argue – which suggests that before we get to the more ethical beatitudes (mercy, purity, peacmaking), we must first experience the attitudes of dependence.

  3. Good stuff Bro, hope I can make it for the ” Congratulations to the poor” lecture. I don’t think Wall Street would agree……………En Cristo….


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