What is blessing, and how do we get it?
We would surely want to live under blessing!
How can we consider ourselves blessed?
What is the path of blessing?
Jesus provided 8 statements that describe this!
Jesus “saw the crowds” – natural concern, from which he would give of his best. Given the state of the world (and religion) at this time, Jesus would be teaching things that would stand in clear contrast to the ways of the world. Given the state of the world at most times in history, this same teaching would stand out as crucial and life-changing.
Jesus “went up the mountain” – this resembles Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive God’s ten commandments. This would indicate that Jesus would be adding new meaning to the commandments of old, especially in respect of how they can be lived in the cut and thrust of modern community life. Where certain interpretations had gone astray, and become restrictive rather than life-giving, Jesus would be going back to basics. Jesus made this clear a little later (5:17), when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfil”. This then shows the continuity between what God had tried to establish in days gone by, and now how Jesus would personify the ways of God in his very, life, death and resurrection. Jesus would get in behind the letter of the law, and show how this could be effectively lived out in a positive way.
Jesus “sat down” – this was cultural, what any respected rabbi would do to share important truths.
“His disciples came to him” – those that had already responded to Jesus and begun to follow him, would need to be the first in line to get this teaching. They could not expect the crowd to understand it or believe it or apply it, if these disciples didn’t do so first themselves. The disciples would need to be the first models of the attitudes and character traits that bring real and lasting blessing.
Yet we sense that this teaching was for everyone to hear and take notice of. We picture a broad gathering of diverse people coming to listen to this ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Following Jesus’ baptism and victory over temptation, Jesus began to teach with authority and heal the sick. People were coming from everywhere to see and hear Jesus. What the disciples would hear in the front row, would also be for the crowd that gathered in behind – as they became interested in what all the fuss was about.
The root Greek word translated “blessed” in Matthew 5 is makarios, meaning: receiving divine favour, being fulfilled, having spiritual joy and peace, and experiencing God’s grace and presence. When we hope for “blessings” on behalf of others, this is surely what we would mean. In our text (Matthew 5:3-10), Jesus also mentions particular blessings that flow in response to certain attitudes or priorities or behaviour or character traits. We shall look at these one by one. Here, the basic lifestyle of a Christian (Jesus-follower) is mapped out. We would need to embrace these 8 characteristics if we are to live out our faith with credibility.
Men, especially, as they consider their roles and responsibilities of being father, husband, grandfather, son, brother and friend, should look carefully at the character traits being presented by Jesus. Some of these have been read as soft or weak at times, but this could not be further from the truth. Here in the mouth of Jesus are the most significant and family-building attributes around. And, if males looked at these more seriously, they would avoid so many behaviour patterns that cause family disruption.
If anyone wants to be a rode-model, or leader, in home, church or community, then here are the points to consider. If anyone doesn’t like the way the world looks or acts, then here are the ways forward to make a difference. If we want to offer hope in our neighbourhoods, then here is the pathway. Here is an alternative vision of interactive community life. Here are high, yet achievable, ideals. You’ll note that these character traits are NOT about ability, rather about availability … availability to God, and then to others.
1. The Poor in Spirit – there is particular blessing attached to being “poor in spirit”. Now this was, and is, right in the face of a world culture that prizes power, wealth and status. This refers to an emptying of self, such that there is maximum space for God. There is here the admission of spiritual bankruptcy without God. This is like accepting our weaknesses as opportunities for God to be our strength. This is a move from self-dependence to God-dependence. This is a return to the way we were meant to be. Rather than having to push ourselves up, this to be utterly content to be dependent on God. This is a reliance and trust in God way above any material possessions or personal ambitions. This is to understand that a preoccupation with money and worldly goods often means that others lose out. This is about NOT taking upon ourselves all the pressure to succeed or to win or to be great. That only produces anxiety. Our only goal … is to be the person God created us to be.
So we could say that being “poor in spirit” refers to humility – the sort of humility that allows God to shine. This is the sort of humility that allows us to see ourselves clearly, where our failings lie, maybe where some of our blind-spots have been, and how much we need God. We have often been so keen to impress, that we haven’t taken time to notice or attend to these areas. The humble throw themselves on the mercies of God. At the same time, this is the sort of humility that frees us from being … driven, performance based, people-pleasing, anxiety ridden wrecks. The disciple Peter was there that day on the mountain in the front row. Later, at a time of reflection, he was able to write these words in a letter (1 Peter 5:5b-8):
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
The blessing here, for those who are “poor in spirit”, is the “kingdom of heaven”. Here is the understanding of what ‘heaven’ is about, what God stands for, the wisdom of the ages. This is the blessing of truly knowing God. This is the blessing of knowing that you are participating with God is his reign over his Kingdom. This is the blessing of a citizenship far and above that of earth. We live on earth, but we are really citizens of heaven – God’s eternal people. We don’t sing so much “Advance Australia Fair”, but rather “To God be the Glory”. And, we remember that the “kingdom of heaven” (or the “Kingdom of God”) has a king, and his name is … Jesus!!
God brings favour to those who humbly seek him with an acknowledgement of their powerlessness and poverty, and a commitment to faith and simplicity. How do you rate on the “poor in spirit” or “humility” scale from 1 to 10?? Are you receiving the blessing of truly knowing God?
Now if we were to rate ourselves at the low end, then we need to quickly remember that we are works in progress. God has far from finished with us, and we also have the opportunity of investing in one another, so that we all move up the scale.
2. Those Who Mourn – there is a particular blessing attached to those who “mourn”. These are those who open themselves emotionally to what is happening around them, and especially to how life impacts on them and on others. This is the opposite of closing off to the need of others, and the opposite to denying one’s own behavioural deficiencies and need. “Mourning” is often about regret, especially where others have been hurt. We regret what we did, and we also regret what that has meant (in the lives of others). Allan Meyer calls this attitude ‘emotional honesty’. “Mourning” or ‘emotional honesty’ is about a sense of unease about the more negative or sinful aspects of our life. We “mourn” that everything is NOT as it should be, and that there is so much more of God that we could be appreciating.
To “mourn” is to be prepared to be vulnerable and confess our sins. In James we read, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (5:16). That probably doesn’t mean everybody, but it does mean trusted supportive wise others. Rather than covering them up, those that “mourn” talk openly about their struggles, let others into their pain … with a view to gaining support, wisdom, and being able to move forward. Those “that mourn” do NOT resort to appearance management (to avoid the issues).
Those that are prepared to be brutally honest about themselves, are likely also to be the ones who will take the required action i.e. to repent (to change). The true “mourners” will also seek to make amends where they can. An new testament example of this sort of "mourning" is Zacchaeus (Luke 19). Those who “mourn” also respond with encouragement to others who are suffering or struggling – they will “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The feelings of others will be acknowledged; where others have burdens, we sense that we carry (or share) those burdens as well.
To be a “mourner” is also to “mourn” the situation so many people find themselves in … within such a broken world – spiritually, and also in the sense of oppression, persecution and the victims of violence. Godly “mourners” refuse to close their eyes to any human sorrow. When our heart is broken because of the world’s suffering, we have opened ourselves wide for God’s comfort to enter!
So, the blessing here, for those who are sincere in their “mourning”, is “comfort”. Essentially I think that this would be God’s comfort. God will say that “I am here for you … I always have been”. “I will forgive you … and guide you on the path of change”. God will say, “I love you, and in the midst of your mourning and emotional honesty, I will comfort you, and accompany you through to the other side”. God says, “ I have heard your prayers for the needs of the world”.
But God’s comfort is not the only comfort we might receive. Vulnerability and honesty can lead to new friendships, through which human solidarity and comfort can be found. Comfort comes as life is shared together.
How do you sense [God’s] comfort???
How do you rate on the “mourning or emotional honesty” scale from 1 to 10?? Are you receiving God’s comfort?