The Beatitudes (Part 2)

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 5:7-12

This is a continuation of the previous post that examines the Beatitudes. Here we go…

“Blessed are the merciful.” This Beatitude is best illustrated by Jesus in Matthew 18:23-35, which is the story of the unforgiving servant. Although the servant was shown extreme mercy in the forgiveness of a debt so large he could never repay it (in the story, it amounted to 200,000 years’ worth of wages), he turned around and failed to show mercy to his fellow servant who owed him what amounted to 100 days of wages, or 0.00000137 percent of the debt the unforgiving servant had been forgiven of by his master. The words of Jesus in Matthew 18:35 should give us all pause. After the wicked servant was cast jail “until he should pay all his debt” (which we know to be impossible), Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Those who have been shown mercy, therefore, must be merciful.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” This idea of a pure heart before God is not novel. Rather, Jesus is reiterating a number of passages that follow this theme such as Psalm 24:3-5, which says, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psalm 73 deals with this concept of a pure heart as well, with the author, Asaph, admitting his sin and mistrust in Lord. He starts by making the statement, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Then, in the next verses he admits that he “almost stumbled” and was “envious of the arrogant when [he] saw the prosperity of the wicked.” How many times do we look at how the wicked seem to prosper and enjoy life, and wish that we could have wealth and a conscience that would allow us to indulge in the world? Asaph struggled in this way until he “went into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17) where he then understood that the wicked will be “destroyed in a moment, swept away by utter terrors!” After seeing his error and repenting, Asaph comes to this magnificent conclusion:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish, you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

This Psalm is particularly helpful in comprehending Jesus’ statement that the pure in heart shall see God. The writer of Proverbs asks, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean. I am pure from my sin?’” (20:9) The answer, as we know from Psalm 73 as well as from 1 Peter 1:22-23, are those who draw near to God in faith and have had their souls purified by “obedience to the truth” – those who “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” So, the pure in heart are simultaneously those who have been born again – which is all God’s work – and those who actively draw near to and seek God – our responsibility. We cannot live lives full of idolatry and unfaithfulness and expect to be counted among the pure in heart. Rather, as Asaph, we need to admit our faults, come before God in humility and let the water of the word of truth (the Gospel) wash us and make us clean.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” This is one where the true cause and effect are somewhat hidden. Jesus says those who make peace will be called children of God. But, how can we, who are by nature selfish and proud, make peace with other fallen humans? It’s only because we have first been made to be at peace with God through the atoning and reconciling work of Christ on the cross. We who were once enemies of God and unable to love or be at peace with Him or others are now able to make peace because of what overflows from our lives as a result of Christ’s work in us. Those who are the children of God will seek to please their Father and seek to do as Paul says in Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” James, the half-brother of Jesus also says in James 3:18, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Jesus’ words about being persecuted by those who persecuted the prophets is a scathing indictment on the Jewish people and indicates the worst persecution would come from within rather than without. This is made even more explicit in Luke 6:22 where Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (emphasis mine). John 16:2 says as well, “The will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”

As mentioned in the introduction of the previous post, the causal relationship is deeper than the “if this, then that” of the Beatitudes. Some have viewed these eight statements as a kind of religious punch list that, if followed reasonably well, will lead to entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. However, we know this assumption is patently false. We will see more and more as we move through the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is raising the bar higher and higher lest anyone think they are capable of entering the Kingdom on their own merits. Thus, this, and the following verses reveal our great need for the Gospel to be applied to our lives and that Jesus Christ is the only hope for anyone to be saved from the just, eternal wrath of a holy God.

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