11. Insulted & Slandered

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 11

Mt 5:11,12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

There is dispute about whether today’s verses constitute one of the beatitudes and, in as far as it starts with “Blessed”, they are, yet beyond that they don’t have the same structure and seem to be more of the general teaching style that follows in the rest of the sermon. It also seems to simply be an extension of the last true beatitude. Why should Jesus do that? Well the previous beatitudes were clearly heart processes that lead to salvation, culminating in two practical outworkings of the Christian faith. Up to verse 10 they had all been things you could clearly see as workings of the Holy Spirit as He does His convicting work. The last beatitude however, is unique in that it isn’t His work, but the work of the enemy. For that reason Jesus’ listeners and subsequent readers, might have thought, “What? How can this be? Does he really mean this or has he just wandered in his thinking for a moment?”

The fact that he then repeats and enlarges on what he has just said, indicates that Jesus is quite serious in what he is saying and really wants us to take hold of it, and that in two particular ways. The first way is in respect of the fact of persecution itself. It is clear that the disciples had really struggled to take in what Jesus said a number of times about his own coming death. Sometimes we don’t hear things because we don’t want to hear them. We don’t like hearing bad things and persecution certainly comes in that category. So when Jesus wants us to take on board the unpleasant, he says it twice!

When he does that in these verses, he enlarges it and puts persecution in the midst of a group of things we might consider lesser forms of opposition or unpleasantness: people insulting us and speaking evil of us. The world today is very good at this and their insults will not only be to call us names but they will seek to marginalize faith and particularly seek to downgrade Christianity to the level of other world faiths. In Jesus’ time they accused him of threatening to tear down the temple in Jerusalem. Later on they accused Christians of cannibalism (eat my flesh – Jn 6:53). Today the tendency is more likely to be to ridicule the faith. In whatever form it comes it is still insult and speaking wrong of us.

The second thing that Jesus wants to ensure he conveys, because it goes against the grain, is the way we respond to such things. With outright persecution the advice might have been, “Run!” and in fact on one occasion that’s what the church in Jerusalem did (see Acts 8:1), but Jesus doesn’t say that, perhaps because it is the obvious thing and will happen anyway. We noted in the previous meditation how, later in the sermon, he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them. That really is facing up to persecution positively. Here in today’s verses it is almost worse: Rejoice and be glad. Rejoice when you are being hounded for your faith? Be glad when they are out to get you? Well that’s what Jesus says so don’t let’s try to spin it any other way!

Why rejoice? Because it puts you in the same category as all of those other servants of the Lord who, down through the years, have suffered for the faith (the prophets of the past). It puts you in the same category as Jesus himself (Jn 15:20) but, even more as we noted yesterday, there is coming a future reward for you when you enter heaven. There is indication in Scripture that we will be rewarded according to what we have done here, and especially if we have stood in the face of persecution. Perhaps, if we are going through a time of peace, we don’t appreciate this fully, yet the truth is that when you are going through it, the thought of the future eternity in heaven does help in a very real way, and the thought of our heavenly Father receiving us joyfully and praising us for the way we have coped (even if it is through His grace!) helps steady us in the face of what comes from the enemy.

So, do we only have a comfortable view of Christianity or a real view? Have we accepted the fact that there will be opposition and that God’s grace will be there for us? When people respond less than graciously towards us, do we pray graciously for them? These are very real challenges already for many people in the world today, and may become more so for many more of us in these last times.

9. The Peacemakers


Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Consider the order again: awareness of spiritual poverty, grieving for that state, acceptance of God’s will, yearning for His goodness, acceptance of all others in the face of my own failing and His will, and purity of desire for God. The different facets of this process of coming to salvation start with recognition of our plight (v.3,4), then rejection of our old life and desiring for God’s way (v.5,6), which then move on to characteristics of the seeking heart as seen in its attitude to others and towards God (v.7,8). Each of these is an indication of the convicting work of God’s Holy Spirit as He seeks to draw us to God through Christ.

Today’s verse is a further such characteristic that blends attitude towards God and towards others but which really is more than attitude; it is action and as such will form the first of the two final beatitudes that are about living out the Christian faith. First of all we have to see what God is doing. He is working by His Spirit to reconcile us to Himself and bring us to a place of peace with Him: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.(Col 1:19,20). Peace with God is one of the key results of the work of Jesus applied in our lives. Now when that comes and a person is born again, what we so often see is a desire in that person for that peace to come to others. This being a bringer-of-peace or being a peacemaker, isn’t about bringing warring parties together in a global conflict, as good as that is. This peace is the peace of salvation. When this peace comes all sorts of other peace situations can follow, but the bringer of peace, or the peacemaker, is a bringer of the Gospel experience, of the knowledge of the love of God. That’s what a true peacemaker does; they bring others to the place of ultimate peace – peace with their Maker.

But why should they do that? They do that because of the work of the Holy Spirit working within them. The Father desires all peoples to come to know this peace (Rom 16:20a, 2 Pet 3:9b), the Son died to bring peace (see Col 1:20 above), and the Holy Spirit works in our minds to put us at peace (Rom 8:6, Gal 5:22). How many of the letters of the apostles start with the desire for ‘grace and peace? For example, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Paul – Eph 1:2). “Grace and peace be yours in abundance(Peter – 1 Pet 1:2). “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ” (John – 2 Jn 1:3). Even James added in, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (Jas 3:18). All the apostles realized that peace was a crucial issue in the Christian life and its outworking started with being brought to peace with God through Jesus’ work on the Cross, and peace would then be an ongoing experience of the Christian’s daily relationship with God.

But what about the second part of the verse? “They will be called sons of God.” Why? Because sons exhibit the same characteristics as their father and so Christians will exhibit this same desire to bring peace to others, through Jesus’ work, that the Father desires. The bringers of this ultimate peace as doing the same work of the Father that Jesus did. Everything Jesus did was ultimately bringing people into the knowledge of God his Father, and in that knowledge, have peace. In the Old Testament times, ‘sons’ were known as those who carried on their fathers’ businesses. That is why we are sometimes referred to as sons (regardless of gender); it is a reminder that we are adopted to become like our Father in heaven and to do His work, and carry on His business, here on earth. That is the significance of ‘sonship’ (and if you have gender issue problems, remember we’re all, regardless of gender, part of the ‘bride’ of Christ!).

So, to conclude, if the Holy Spirit is truly bringing change in us as He convicts, there will be a change in attitude towards all others (v.7), there will be a wholeheartedness towards God (v.8) and now there will be a looking outwards to bring the same peace we are experiencing into the lives of those around us. Thus we become peacemakers. Are you?

8. The Pure in Heart

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 8

Mt 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Many of the key words in the Beatitudes are not words in common usage today. Perhaps this says more about us today than about the beatitudes. The idea of purity, or the word ‘pure’ is one such example. Purity is something that only gets referred to when we are talking about gold or silver, very rarely about qualities of our lives. However, that concept, of purity of gold or silver, does help us understand something more about what is being said in today’s verse. All of the early uses of ‘pure’ in the Bible are to do with “pure gold” that was used in the construction of the tabernacle. Forty times in the historical books in the first half of the Old Testament there are references to “pure gold”, gold without any impurities, the very best, the very finest gold possible. That was to be the quality of material used in connection with the worship place of God.

But our verse refers to purity of heart. Now Vines Expository Dictionary identifies ‘heart’ as meaning, the ‘inner man’ (Deut 30:14), and the seat of ‘desire or inclination’ (Ex 7:14), the ‘emotions’ (Deut 6:5), ‘knowledge and wisdom’ (Deut 8:5), ‘conscience and moral character’ (Job 27:6), ‘rebellion and pride’ (Gen 8:21 ).

Now remember we have said again and again that we must see each verse in context, as a follow on from what has gone before. In the previous meditations we said that there was a submission to the will of God and a desire to receive God’s righteousness, and then having a merciful attitude towards all others as an indication of the reality of understanding of our spiritual poverty and need for God. One of the key verses in the Old Testament that is pertinent here is, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). As we come to God to receive His salvation, the Lord closely examines us to see how effective the convicting work of His Holy Spirit is. Having a merciful attitude towards others is one good indicator, but our attitude towards God is the key thing, and that is where this verse applies.

So, to quote what we said about what we find in Vines Dictionary, the Lord looks on the inner person (as our verse above says). He looks to see the reality of the desire that is there. It is only when our desire for his salvation is pure or real, that He gives it to us, and of course He is the only one who can see that reality. Perhaps that is why some people appear to come to a place of commitment but don’t seem to ‘come through’.

The Lord also looks at the reality of our emotions. How pure are they? Are our tears, tears of remorse, tears of having been found out, revealed for who we are, or are they tears of genuine contrition, tears of anguish over the awfulness of who we are? The Lord alone knows the reality of our emotions at that point.

The Lord also examines our knowledge, the awareness of our state. Some people in big meetings have an emotional experience but there is no content to it. They do not know why they are feeling what they are feeling, but when we truly come to Christ under the conviction of his Holy Spirit, we know that we are sinners, we know that we are lost, we know that we are helpless and we know that only God can help us.

The Lord also looks at our conscience, our desire for moral standing. This is very similar to the previous one – He looks to see that we are going beyond mere emotions, that our cry is a genuine cry from deep down to be put morally right.

Finally the Lord looks deep inside us to see if, at the moment of conviction, there is a genuine dying to the old rebellious nature. When the Lord sees that, He knows that we are truly sincere and willing to forsake the past and let Him bring us a new life.

The second half of the verse gives us an amazing promise: they will see God .. The first implication is that when God sees this heart purity we have been considering, He then reveals Himself to us. By His own Holy Spirit coming to indwell us (Jn 14:17, 1 Cor 3:16) He enables us to have the most intimate relationship possible. “See” in that sense would simply mean ‘experience’. In the longer term, the promise of the New Testament is that when we die we will go to heaven and there we will see the Lord face to face. Purity of heart opens the way for the Lord to bring us His salvation, the ultimate expression of which is eternal life with Him in heaven. Yes, we have years to live out that relationship here on earth and possibly through dreams and visions we will ‘see’ the Lord, but the final outworking of that relationship is a face to face encounter in eternity in heaven. That is our destiny; that is the destiny of those who come to the place of purity of heart.

7. The Merciful

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 7

Mt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Mercy is not a word that is often used in modern living. Justice, maybe, but not mercy. In the Bible mercy comes up at certain significant places: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6) was God’s call to His wayward people. Jesus chastised the hard hearted Pharisees with this same verse: “ go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.(Mt 9:13) and again, “If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.(Mt 12:7). A blind beggar called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk 18:38). So what is mercy? Mercy is exercising a benign attitude towards another when all the circumstances would expect punishment or harm or judgement that fairness or justice would naturally demand. Yes, that is mercy; it is not something earned or deserved or warranted, it is just given.

Now something important to note here is that God is described in the Bible as merciful: “Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great(2 Sam 24:14) and “the LORD your God is a merciful God ” (Deut 4:31 ) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.(Lk 6:36) That last verse shows why this is significant. God is a merciful God and He wants His children to be merciful. The most extreme act of God’s mercy towards the human race is His sending Jesus to save us. We deserve death, we deserve punishment for our sins. God didn’t have to send a substitute to carry our sins and our punishment. We didn’t earn it, and we didn’t deserve it. It was just something God just decided to do, an act of pure mercy. Can you see this, it is very important? You might say that love drives mercy, but otherwise in our natural thinking it is totally illogical. Justice demands we be destroyed, but God decides otherwise and makes His plans accordingly, which results in Jesus taking our sin so that justice is seen to be done, but the whole setting up the means of salvation is an act of pure mercy.

Now we are ready to consider our verse today. Having seen each additional beatitude as a further step in the process that opens the way for God to bring salvation to us, we should think of this verse similarly. What have we said were the steps so far? They are to recognize our spiritual poverty (v.3), to anguish over it (v.4), to be open to the will of God (v.5), and to yearn for God way of righteousness (v.6). Yes those are the steps. Now what we have in today’s verse is a proof of a right heart attitude. We can say we are open to God’s will and we can say we want to be righteous but there is a simple and practical expression of that right living: it is to live with the same attitude towards others that God has. When we come to Christ and are made aware, by the conviction of his Holy Spirit, of our sin and our failure, when that truly takes hold of us as the mourning indicates it does, at that point our sense of failure will mean that we will have no negatives towards any other person; all we will be aware of is our own failure, our own inadequacy, our own weakness. At that point we are willing to be utterly merciful in our attitudes towards others because we realize we have no grounds whatsoever to think ourselves better than any other person. It is in the midst of conviction that we become merciful; it is part of the process.

It is when God sees this attitude within us that He knows our heart change is genuine. Our becoming merciful is a proof that the Holy Spirit is having effect in us, and that is a sign that we are truly becoming ready to accept God’s will, and accept His Holy Spirit into our lives. This is an initial sign that we are willing to become like our heavenly Father, to become His children. It is at that point that God exercises His mercy and all of the work of Jesus on the Cross is applied to us, not because we deserve it – because we don’t – but simply because God in His love wants to bring it. Thus we receive mercy.

What is tragic is that, as we go on in the Christian faith, so many of us forget this phase in our salvation and start looking down on people. We become just like the judgmental Pharisees and think we are better than those who have not yet come to Christ, or better than those we perceive to be ‘less mature’ than ourselves. We need to come back to this verse and remind ourselves of the basic truths here. If need be, reread this meditation and ensure you fully understand what is being said, and then ensure you apply it every day of your Christian life.

5. The Meek

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 5

Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Meek’ and ‘meekness’ are words rarely heard in the English language today and, indeed, the NIV only uses the word ‘meek’ three times, one of which is in our verse today. The only time the word ‘meekness’ is used is, “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you” (2 Cor 10:1). The NIV tends to use instead the words ‘gentleness’ and ‘humble’ though these don’t convey quite the same meaning. A dictionary definition of ‘meek’ is ‘humble and submissive’ and therein is the key to this verse. For instance, older versions of the Bible translate Num 12:3 as “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.When the modern versions say he was very ‘humble’ they do not catch the particular characteristic of Moses that made him such a great man.

When we study Moses, one of the things that kept happening during his leadership of the new people of Israel, was that people grumbled or even rebelled. In every situation except one, Moses immediately turned to the Lord and submitted the problem to Him. This wasn’t just humility, this was submissiveness to God. Similarly when Paul above refers to the meekness of Christ, he is referring to his example of being totally submitted to his Father’s will.

Negatively, meekness is the absence of self-assertiveness and self-concern. Positively it is that acceptance of the will of God over all things. When people, as in Moses’ examples, rise up against us, the meek person simply goes to the Lord with the problem and accepts this as something the Lord has so far allowed to happen. Meekness is a characteristic of the prayer the believers prayed in Acts 4:23-30. They had just been threatened by the religious leaders and as they come to pray, they DON‘T pray against those religious leaders, they simply acclaim the Lord’s greatness (v.24-26) and then declared their acceptance of all that had happened as being God’s will (v.27-28) and simply asked God to give them boldness to declare the Gospel while God would do signs and wonders (v.29,30). Observe that in all that they simply sought the Lord’s will in all things. So how does this fit in with the previous beatitudes?

First there was the need for a recognition of our spiritual poverty, second there was the requirement that that be accompanied by a mourning or grieving for that spiritual poverty, and now third, there is the requirement of coming to a place of submitting totally to God’s will. That surely is one of the primary requirements for a person to come to Christ, that they submit to God’s way of salvation, through Christ on the Cross, and allow him to lead them from that time on. How simple those words: “allow him to lead them”. What does it mean? It means that Christ will lead us by his Holy Spirit to bring our lives in line with his Father’s will. This means a change in character, a change in attitude, a change in desires, a change in goals, a change in behaviour. It is a complete submission to God’s plan for our individual lives. As we go through life and upsets come, we turn to the Lord and ask, “What do you want here, Lord?” That is meekness.

But what about the second part of the verse? Inherit the earth? When we speak of an inheritance we mean something that is coming to us that has been left to us following the death of a family member. In this case, as a result of Jesus’ death, it means all that is now ours as a result of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross (to see this more fully, go to the series of meditations that consider the effects of Jesus’ work on the Cross). Now part of this, which many people miss, is that as a result of God’s work of salvation in us, we start to enjoy living, we start to enjoy this world, in a completely new way. We start to appreciate life, we start to appreciate this world as God’s wonderful provision for us.

“The earth” is shorthand for, everything God has provided for us on this planet. No longer are we struggling and striving to get pleasure, to achieve, to get on top of this world. Suddenly now, as we submit ourselves to God’s perfect will for our lives, we start enjoying life in a new way. There is peace, harmony, contentment, enjoyment. As we come to rest in God’s will we inherit life, new life, stress-free life, peaceful life, harmonious life, here and now. What a blessing! That all comes as we give ourselves to the Lord and to His will. That is meekness and that opens the doorway for God to bring to us the blessings of life in this world that He desires to bring. Enjoy!

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’.

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.