Introduction to the beatitudes

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.  Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This portion of scripture is a part of a wonderful sermon that Jesus preached called the sermon on the mount (mount is a shortened way to say mountain).  This part of the sermon is called the beatitudes. Beatitude means blessing. When Jesus used the word “blessed”, He literally meant “happy”. Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, and so on.  What Jesus was talking about was this is what living in the kingdom of God is all about.

We have been talking in chapel about what the kingdom of God is, it is where God reigns as king.  We have talked about what it is not, it is not where you and I try to reign as king or queen over our life.  It is a kingdom that is made up of Christians, not non-christians. Starting in two weeks, we will start looking at the specific beatitudes, of how each and every Christian is called to live in the kingdom of God.  Today we are going to introduce the beatitudes and look at them as a whole.

First, the beatitudes talk about being happy.  The word that Jesus uses, “blessed,” means “happy”.  Everyone wants to be happy. God has created us to seek after things that will make us happy.  He did that so that we would seek Him because it is only when we truly delight in God, are we happy.  Psalm 1 said a blessed person’s delight is in the law of the Lord. In meditating on God’s Word. Day and night.  The problem is that we chase after things that we think will make us happy but produce misery. What happens when you eat too much candy?  What happens when you stay up too late watching movies or playing video games? What happens when you play instead of doing your homework? What you and I think will make us happy only gives us a few minutes of pleasure but it ends in misery.  Why is that? It is because we are chasing after earthly things to make us happy instead of seeking after God and obeying Him. What we will find is that Jesus tells us in the beatitudes how to be happy. And it is shocking. Be poor in spirit? be mournful? be meek? hunger and thirst for righteousness? be merciful? be pure in heart? be peacemakers?  These are the characteristics of happy people? Jesus says yes!

Second, the beatitudes are for all Christians, not just super Christians or pastors and priests.  Back in the medieval times where there were kings and castles, knights and ladies, there were also common people, farmers, and peasants.  One of the things that people thought back then was that only priests, monks, and pastors were the real Christians. This way of thinking is still around today.  We hear that Christians are supposed to be meek, merciful, pure in heart and we think only super Christians can do that. Only the Captain America of Christians can have those qualities.  Not true. In fact, the beatitudes is something that Jesus doesn’t suggest, but requires us to strive for as part of the kingdom of God. Even more than that, we are not called to have some of the beatitudes but to be striving to grow in all of them.  We can’t just be peacemakers but not care about being poor in spirit.  In God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as proud peacemakers. We can’t hunger and thirst for righteousness and not be merciful.  A truly righteous person is not going to withhold mercy and kindness to others. All these work together. You cannot separate them out.  It is something that if you are a christian, you are called to strive after all of them.

Third, living out the beatitudes is not natural.  It is not something that comes naturally. The beatitudes are not about being a nice person.  It is not about working hard to be a good person. To be a person everyone likes. It is about the actions and attitudes that can only come from a heart that has been saved by grace.  That has been changed through the power of the holy spirit.

Last, the beatitudes are about being like Christ and the more we are like Christ, the less we are like the world around us.  This is a very difficult idea to swallow. It is very tempting to want to try to fit in to what is going on around us. To talk like everyone else.  Watch what everyone else watches. Listen to music that is popular. Do what everyone else does. But we also want to have our christianity too. The lines between what marks a christian and what marks a non-christian are blurred.  It is so hard to tell because christians have tried to fit into the world around them. I fear that even here at Annapolis, there are times we want what to do what every other school does just because everyone else is doing it.

Growing up, my family always had horses.  We had several acres of land that we fenced off for pasture.  We noticed that the wooden fence around our corral was not looking right.  It was leaning forward. One day I saw why. We had a horse that was this beautiful tall, strong horse and she was pressing her chest against the fence to reach out and eat the grass on the other side.  The fence was there for her protection because the grass on the other side was really rich and green and she was eating too much of it and was getting sick and starting to founder (if you don’t know what that is talk to Avery Hensley or Ms. Williams).  How often are we like that horse, we press our faces so close to the fence that is meant to protect us from temptations and sin that we have an imprint on them. God says thou shall not but we get as close as we can to it instead of being like Joseph when offered a chance for momentary pleasure in Potiphar’s house he ran away.  

Here is a way to test your heart.  What do you admire? Who do you look up to?  There should be a distinct difference between what a christians admires and what a non-christian admires.  The athletes that we look up to. The singers who we have posters of. The TV and movie actors and actresses that we can’t wait to watch.  The cartoon and video game characters that we pretend to be. Are these people poor in spirit or are they full of themselves? Boastful? Do they hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Or do they want power and money?

I enjoyed watching football growing up and there was a time I admired one of the best defensive backs in professional football, Deion Sanders, who played for the Cowboys for a time.  He was very good and when he would run in for a touchdown, he would showboat by high stepping into the end zone. He would look back and taunt the other team. He was one of the first players to have an elaborate end zone dance.  His nickname was “primetime” and he thought he was the show. I eventually got sick of watching him make it all about himself, plus he was from Florida State. In contrast, this last football season, Carson Wentz was the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.  He was having a career year until he was hit in the knee and suffered a season ending injury. His back-up Nick Foles, stepped in. Both Carson and Nick are christians and they had been helping each other get better, one as the starter and the other as a back-up.  Nick was cheering on Carson as the starter and now the injured Carson was in the role as the cheerleader. As many of you know, Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl and eventually outlasted the Patriots for a Super Bowl victory. Both quarterbacks were quick to praise each other, their teammates and to give glory to God.  Men in the NFL living out a true christian faith look and sound so different than most of the other men in the NFL. The same is true for you and me. Our hearts desire should be more and more like Jesus and the more we become like Him, the more unlike we will be to those who are following their own path.

What are you looking to to make you happy?  Who or what do you admire? Who do you want to be like?  Are you OK with being more like Jesus and less like the world?  These are not easy questions to answer. It is a daily struggle.  The beatitudes will help teach us how we are to live for the kingdom of God.  Which direction are you moving closer to? Are you moving closer to that fence that says “keep out” or are you growing in your obedience to God and His word.  The hard part is that it may cost you friends. You may not ever see that movie that everyone is talking about. You may not be able to play that video game that all the kids are going crazy over.  If by walking away from those things, you are moving closer in your relationship with Christ, it is worth it. It is worth it every single time. No matter what anyone says. It is only by staying on Jehovah, staying means remaining firm, solid, in one place, that will you find the peace and rest your heart is longing for.  Another way of saying that is you will be blessed and happy.