4. Those who Mourn

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 4

Mt 5:3 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We do not look forward to mourning; it is not something we would consider as a good part of life yet Jesus, in only the second of these Beatitudes, says those who mourn are blessed. How can it be? Mourning follows death! Solomon seemed to have the same idea: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:3,4). The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning? Whatever does he mean?

Having recently been to a funeral of a family member, I have recently been reminded of another aspect of death and of the mourning that follows: it sheds light on life, it makes you think about life and what follows it. Death brings a perspective to life that is often missing. Yes, there is grief there for the loss of a loved one, but in the midst of that is this inner reflection that goes on, what is life about, what follows it? That’s what Solomon meant.

Before we put any spiritual sense to today’s verse, let’s take it at its face value. Those who mourn will be comforted? Is that always true? Well time, they say, is a great healer, but does it bring ‘comfort’? I think ‘acceptance’ is probably the right word, the ability to come to terms with the fact that death has occurred and life must go on, but not ‘comfort’. Comfort suggests a positive, good feeling. For many people with no spiritual experience or no relationship with God, death is a thing to be feared, or even hated, as it is seen to have snatched a loved one away. No, mourners are not always comforted, so what was Jesus saying?

When we put it in the context of the previous beatitude, when we think back on the things we thought about in the previous meditation, we realize that part of the process that we referred to, of coming to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and our need, does in fact involve mourning. We realize that the life we have lived fell far short of what we felt it could have been. We come to an awareness of our own failure, our own shortcomings and we anguish for that life. Indeed, even though that life is still there, we mourn over it, we grieve because of it. It is this process that brings us to the recognition that we must get right with God, and if God have provided a way for that to happen, we must accept that.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul uses the language of death: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:2-4), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.(v.6-8), “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(v.11)

What Paul was saying was that to become a Christian we have to die to our old life, we have to give it up and let God bring us a new one. Now we don’t mourn the old life after it has gone, that is the strange thing. No, we mourn for it, while we still have it. It is that mourning, that grieving over it, that brings us to Christ, that brings us to a place of surrender, where we are willing to let go our old life and let Jesus renew us. While we are in that state of mourning we wonder if indeed we are hopeless. Speaking of our old life, the apostle Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph 2:1). He then added, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4,5). That’s the life we had before we knew Christ – we were spiritually dead and hopeless and helpless, and then the Holy Spirit started convicting us and we started mourning that hopeless deadness. That was a vital part of bringing us right through.

So, the first beatitude shows us our need to come to an awareness of our spiritual poverty (dead in your transgressions and sins) and the second one shows us our need to realize the awfulness of that life, and mourn over it. These are the initial stages of us coming to Christ, the ‘bad news’ that precedes the ‘Good News’.

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3. Poor in Spirit

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 3

Mt 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

We live in a world that extols greatness, strength, power, beauty, cleverness. In various disciplines involving psychology we speak of building self-esteem. Indeed when writing on parenting skills we spend much time on the need to build the self-esteem of our children. We go on courses and build up our CV so that when we go for a new job we can say how good we are. We go through annual assessments that prove how we are not only doing our job but doing it better and better, and thus we seek for promotion. Everything about life in this world is about promoting self.

It is helpful to have this awareness of the world – and we do need reminding of it – particularly when we come to such fundamental teaching as found in our verse today. When I became a Christian I went to my nearest church and attended the Bible Study where, to my surprise, everyone seemed to say that this and the following verses were impossible and therefore weren’t for today! What they failed to realize is that it is impossible to experience this verse while holding on to the world’s values of pride and self-centredness. If this and the following verses come as a shock to us, it is because we have become so rooted in the way of the world, that we have lost true perspective.

These Beatitudes of Jesus are in a purposeful order. There is nothing haphazard about them, and this first one is absolutely foundational to the whole of becoming and being a Christian. It is absolutely critical! But please note that it doesn’t say, “Blessed are the Poor.” It is true that Luke, recording a similar set of teachings, says that (Lk 6:20) but Matthew picks up the emphasis – “in spirit”. There is no glorying in poverty in the Bible. In fact, part of God’s promises of blessings, as we noted yesterday, include the blessings of provision (Deut 28:4,5,11). The absence of such provisions were part of the curses on Israel (Deut 28:17,18,38-40). Oh no, this is not blessedness of material poverty, but blessedness of being poor in spirit.

This being poor in spirit, needs to be distinguished from simple poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit is what the self-centred, godless person has, the person who says they have no knowledge of the spiritual world, no sense of God’s presence. This person has a poverty of spirit and seems to revel in it. The person who is poor in spirit is like that other person in that there is this absence of spirituality, but the big difference is that they are aware of it! Here is the crucial element – awareness.

The Old Testament gives us many examples: Moses – “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh” (Ex 3:11 ) and “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.(Ex 4:10). This was Moses’ attitude: who am I that I could do your bidding, I’m a nobody! Gideon: “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Jud 6:15 ). Similarly in Gideon – I’m a nobody!

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejected the things the world clings to, his pedigree (Phil 3:5), his abilities at work (3:6), all these things he considered rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ (3:8). In his first letter to the Corinthians he spelled out his ‘philosophy’: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28). No, you don’t get into God’s kingdom by being strong or worldly wise, you get in by realizing, like Paul, that all these things are worthless, they count for nothing before God, He is not impressed.

How do you get into heaven? By trying hard? By working harder? By being pious? By being religious? No, by recognizing your spiritual poverty, recognizing that you are weak and poor and need God’s help, recognizing that without Christ you can do nothing (Jn 15:5), without Christ you are lost. That is the condition for getting to heaven, that you recognize your need and recognize that it is only fulfilled in Christ. Note that it isn’t mere humility which can be a simple recognition of limitedness. This being ‘poor in spirit’ seen in the context of the whole Bible teaching, is a recognition that we need Christ for salvation. I can get into heaven no other way.

Finally note that when I come to God like this, He promises that He will provide a way (and has provided a way) for me to come into His eternal presence – and that starts the moment I come to Him like that. Eternal life starts the moment we come to God recognizing our need, and recognizing that God has provided the means of satisfying that need through Christ, through His death on the Cross and by the life of his Spirit. Here on earth we get glimpses of heaven as Jesus expresses himself. When we die on this earth, our eternal future is in that other dimension, in the presence of God, called heaven.

Not only do we need to realize that to become a Christian, but if we are to go on with God then we need to be reminded of it again and again. Like Moses and Gideon and Paul, I’m not up to the job, I’m not even up to the Christian life on my own, I constantly need Christ’s help day by day. When I recognize this and turn to him, then suddenly there is a new heavenly dimension to my life, suddenly the power and presence of God’s presence through Jesus, through his Spirit, breaks through in me and in my circumstances. That is how important this verse is. It points to the requirement for us both becoming a Christian and living life as a Christian. Our starting point is a point of recognition, of realization, of awareness. May it be so!

2. Blessedness

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 2

Mt 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit

A problem that many people have is that these ‘Beatitudes’ are so familiar that we miss some of the crucial points about them. Each one of them starts with this word, ‘Blessed’. Now many people think that this simply means, ‘Happy’ and although that is true there is a much deeper meaning in it.

We need to go back into the Old Testament to see the meaning of the noun ‘a blessing’ and the verb ‘to bless’. The reference to blessing comes first to Abram: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” (Gen 12:2,3) What we see there is God decreeing good for Abram and, through Abram, eventually the rest of the world. As a result of God’s decree, Abram will father a great nation, his name will be respected and God will do good for those who purpose good for Abram and bad (curse) for those who purpose bad for him. We see therefore, from the outset, that God’s blessing is His decree of good for a person.

Probably the first and most significant narrative about blessing comes with Isaac and his two sons, Esau and Jacob (Gen 27). When Isaac pronounces a blessing over Jacob it cannot be revoked or repeated for Esau. A blessing through a person is seen there as a prophetic decree (from heaven) of goodness over that person.

Thus we see from these examples that when someone is ‘blessed’ it doesn’t just mean that they are happy, it is that they are happy because God has decreed good for them and the happiness is as a result of that decree. (Of course when God decrees something it always happens.) We see the practical outworking of this in the Law in Deuteronomy. In Deut 28 we find God’s promises of blessing on Israel if they will be obedient to Him and in verses 3 to 13 we find a whole range of ways that God will decree goodness for them, all very practical matters. Put simply we might say that if Israel did what God said, then He would make sure everything worked out well for them in their lives, but it wasn’t something automatic, it was a specific act of bringing goodness from God.

So, when we come to these ‘beatitudes we need to see that it isn’t just a case of people being happy if they live in these ways, but their happiness comes in specific forms in the second part of the verse and that is something specifically brought by God. It is not a general ‘happiness’ that anybody experiences, they are specific ways of receiving happiness and they will only be received by the person who has the attitude expressed by the first part of the verse. We will reiterate this again and again, but it is vital to see it at the outset. When we have a certain sort of characteristic, as laid down in the first part of each verse, then God will purposely bring happiness by that person experiencing the second part of the verse – and it is something that He and He alone brings.

These things come out of relationship with the Lord. We will see that each of the things in the first half of the verses is an expression or outworking of our relationship with the Lord, and when we enter into that characteristic, the Lord then brings by decree, the goodness and happiness that goes with it, in the thing shown in the second part of the verse. In one sense these things are as sure as scientific laws – they will work like the verses say – but each and every one of them is in fact an outworking of our relationship with the Lord. Be prepared to be excited!

1. The Beatitudes

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 1

Mt 5:1,2 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying….

There was a time in Israel‘s history when, “Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Jud 21:25). It was a day when they had judges to rule over them but there was no one to take a teaching lead, and as a result everyone just did what they felt like doing. In this pluralistic age in which we live, the lie has been sown that no one has the right to say what is right and wrong, and indeed anything and everything is right. It perhaps comes as a shock for some, therefore, when they come to Christ to find that he wants to bring about a change in mindset by teaching them specific things.

Now in the verses above there are three sets of people to be noted. First of all there were “the crowds” and they are distinguished from “his disciples”. The crowds were simply people who had heard about Jesus and came along to hear what he might say. They were interested and no more. Perhaps that is you. You have come across these meditations and wondered about Jesus and thought you’d read along to see what it was about. It’s great that you’re here. We hope you’ll find them both helpful and challenging.

Next there were “his disciples” and this probably refers to the twelve who now travelled with Jesus. ‘Disciple’ really just means a learner. A disciple or follower of Jesus is first and foremost a learner. Again and again in the Gospels we find Jesus teaching (e.g. Mk 1:21, 2:13, 4:1, 6:2, 8:31). Very simply teaching is the imparting of information and understanding to bring about a change in knowledge and outlook. If you are a Christian, you are a disciple. Before we knew Christ we had lots of wrong ideas.

When we came to Christ the Bible suddenly opened up to us and Jesus started teaching us by his Holy Spirit, so that our minds and our ways of thinking are changed. We start to learn things about God and about ourselves that we hadn’t ever realized before. We are taught that there is a new way to live which is quite different from the way we had lived before we knew Christ. Disciples are those who are committed to Jesus and committed to let him teach them so that they not only have a change in life when they come to God through Christ, but it is an ongoing change that is brought about as he teaches us and a new way is opened up before us.

Of course the final person to be noted is Jesus himself. As God’s Son he has God’s wisdom and he imparts that to whoever will come to him. Jesus is a teacher and wherever crowds came to him, the first thing he sought to do was bring them the knowledge of God’s love and the life they could be enabled to live.

In the following verses we will find it is highly challenging and we soon come to realize that we can only live this life with God’s enabling. The Christian life is all about living the life He’s designed us to live, with His help! Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom or rule of God (4:23) and he starts out with these beatitudes (beatitude = blessedness), showing what real happiness is. The way for real happiness is very different from what the world may advocate. We will now consider these eight “If you are this…. then this will cause you to be blessed” sayings. These are Christian fundamentals which apply to everyone.