The importance of reading the Beatitudes in context

We wouldn’t assume that we understood a pastor’s sermon if we listened to the first five minutes of it, walked out, and didn’t listen to the rest of it. Context is vitally important—we need to listen to the entire sermon for the parts to make sense.

It’s the same as we study the Beatitudes. They are the first part of a sermon given by Jesus in Matthew, chapters 5-7. For us to understand and apply them correctly, we need to read the whole sermon and keep in mind the message of the whole as we study the parts.

John Stott, in his book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, summarizes the whole of the sermon by describing the Sermon on the Mount in this way:

It is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.

What an odd concept today, to think about, to study what Jesus wants his followers to be and do. So often when Jesus is mentioned, if people have a question about him, it’s often along the lines of  “What can he do for me?”

The Beatitudes do answer that question. Jesus will give the Kingdom of heaven, satisfaction, comfort, the inheritance of the earth, mercy, a vision of God, the privilege of being called a child of God, a great reward in heaven. Extraordinary blessings truly, but blessings with conditions. Continue reading

Persecution and suffering as central to the Christian way of life

Prosperity, fun, games and a great time—is that what the Christian life is all about? Sometimes that’s what it seems that television preachers seem to say. For most of Christian history, that current view of what it means to be a Christian would have made no sense at all. For most of Christian history, the Christian life has been something to take very seriously, to be lived seriously. Troubles, trials, and honestly persecution were the lot of many and were not a surprise.

Thomas Watson, a Puritan pastor write quite a bit about this in the following selection on our last beatitude. His original piece was quite long (almost 30 pages more), I’ve chopped it down to a fraction of that size for you. Though still lengthy, please take the time to read it and share it with your Christian friends.

Commentary on the last Beatitude
by Thomas Watson

We are now come to the last beatitude: ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted . . ‘.

Our Lord Christ would have us reckon the cost. ‘Which of you intending to build a tower sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have enough to finish it?’ (Luke 14: 28). Religion will cost us the tears of repentance and the blood of persecution. But we see here a great encouragement that may keep us from fainting in the day of adversity. For the present, blessed; for the future, crowned.

……The observation is that true godliness is usually attended with persecution. ‘We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14: 22). ‘The Jews stirred up the chief men of the city and raised persecution against Paul . . .’ (Acts 13: 50).

Luther makes it the very definition of a Christian, ‘Christianus quasi crucianus.’ Christ died to take away the curse from us, yet not to take away the cross from us.

Those stones which are cut out for a building are first under the saw and hammer to be hewed and squared. The godly are called ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5). And they must be hewn and polished by the persecutor’s hand that they may be fit for the heavenly building. The saints have no charter of exemption from trials. Though they be ever so meek, merciful, pure in heart, their piety will not shield them from sufferings. They must hang their harp on the willows and take the cross. The way to heaven is by way of thorns and blood. Continue reading

Reasons not to be persecuted

Difficult times come no matter what, but as the following commentators show, it makes a big difference why are we suffering persecution.

Commentary by  Henry Morris, Ph.D.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.” (Luke 6:22)

“Blessed” means “happy,” and it would seem paradoxical to try to find happiness by being persecuted. Most Christians are extremely reluctant to do anything which might make them less popular with their peers, let alone anything which might lead to social ostracism or even physical suffering. Yet Jesus said that this is the way to find true happiness.

He did not say that blessing comes through suffering for foolishness’ sake, or for carelessness’ sake, or for sinfulness’ sake; “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). The principle is amplified by Peter: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; . . . But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:14-16). Continue reading

The cost of peacemaking

Throughout the various commentaries on the meaning of “peacemakers” the authors note that there is an active command implied in this Beatitude. We are not only to enjoy the peace we have as followers of Jesus, we are to actively be about making peace in our world.

But what does it mean to do that? Though it will be different for every follower of Jesus, one thing we can be certain of is that often, it won’t be easy.  We know that because of the example of our Lord. We just finished the celebration of Easter and Easter shows us the cost of peace.

Jesus was humiliated, mocked, beaten and crucified to bring us peace. He was abandoned by his friends and ultimately by his God in the process of making peace.

Though our trials will never approach the agony of his, we shouldn’t be surprised at the cost of peace-making. We will often be misunderstood; we may be alone in our efforts to bring peace.

There are tremendous costs when we work at being a peacemaker:

  • We may be mocked if we attempt to be peacemakers in the way Jesus did. As the Bible says , “he opened not his mouth.” He didn’t defend himself, retaliate, become abusive or nasty. Keeping our mouth shut is never easy.
  • We have to give up the “right” to seek justice for ourselves and we must trust God as ultimate Judge.
  • We may, either emotionally or literally, have to pay the debt of someone else to bring about peace, as Jesus did for us.
  • We may need to offer forgiveness and reconciliation even if we don’t know if it will ever be accepted—as Jesus did.

Who knows what Jesus will ask of any one of us, when the situation requires a peacemaker? As we study this Beatitude, let’s pray we are willing to be His peacemaker when situations require it as we rejoice in the knowledge that as we obey Jesus and actively pursue peace, knowing that these actions identify us as belonging to Him.

Inspirational quotes on Peacemaking

Following are a series of quotes by various authors on this subject of being a Peacemaker:

..it appears, that Christ never intended to have his religion propagated by fire and sword, or penal laws, or to acknowledge bigotry, or intemperate zeal, as the mark of his disciples. The children of this world love to fish in troubled waters, but the children of God are the peace-makers, the quiet in the land. Matthew Henry Commentary

Blessed are the peacemakers: This does not describe those who live in peace, but those who actually bring about peace, overcoming evil with good. One way we accomplish this is through spreading the gospel, because God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Commentary by David Guzik

Other quotes from website http://www.christianity.com:

THE FOLLOWERS of Jesus have been called to peace. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

NOW PEACEMAKING is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. … It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the particular blessing which attaches to peacemakers is that “they shall be called sons of God.” For they are seeking to do what their Father has done, loving people with his love.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

BEING a peacemaker is part of being surrendered to God, for God brings peace. We abandon the effort to get our needs met through the destruction of enemies. Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics

[N]O ONE has ever been converted by violence.
Jim Forest, The Ladder of the Beatitudes

[MANY CHRISTIANS] demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. … I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon?
Kurt Vonnegut, “Cold Turkey,” In These Times

THE PEACE intended is not merely that of political and economic stability, as in the Greco-Roman world, but peace in the Old Testament inclusive sense of wholeness, all that constitutes well-being. … The “peacemakers,” therefore, are not simply those who bring peace between two conflicting parties, but those actively at work making peace, bringing about wholeness and well-being among the alienated.
Robert A. Guelich, Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding

Explanation and expansion of what it means to be a PEACEMAKER

This Beatitude is one of the most challenging because it calls for a radical approach to life—one of peace-making, not conflict or confrontation. Imagine how radical this challenge was when Jesus gave it. In the first century world, the followers of Jesus had the power and cruelty of Rome as an example on one side and the Jews had the Zealots (promoters of violent opposition) as their answer to Rome on the other. Jesus neither condemns or condones any political system—in the midst of them all, he says that if you want people to know you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven (a child of God’s)—be a peacemaker.

The following commentaries help us understand this.

Matthew Henry Commentary

VII. The peace-makers are happy, v. 9. The wisdom that is from above is first pure, and then peaceable; the blessed ones are pure toward God, and peaceable toward men; for with reference to both, conscience must be kept void of offence. The peace-makers are those who have, 1. A peaceable disposition: as, to make a lie, is to be given and addicted to lying, so, to make peace, is to have a strong and hearty affection to peace. I am for peace, Ps. 120:7. It is to love, and desire, and delight in peace; to be put in it as in our element, and to study to be quiet. 2. A peaceable conversation; industriously, as far as we can, to preserve the peace that it be not broken, and to recover it when it is broken; to hearken to proposals of peace ourselves, and to be ready to make them to others; where distance is among brethren and neighbours, to do all we can to accommodate it, and to be repairers of the breaches. The making of peace is sometimes a thankless office, and it is the lot of him who parts a fray, to have blows on both sides; yet it is a good office, and we must be forward to it. Some think that this is intended especially as a lesson for ministers, who should do all they can to reconcile those who are at variance, and to promote Christian love among those under their charge. Continue reading

A Sci-fi parable to help us understand: Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God….

This may be one of the hardest of the Beatitudes to comprehend, in the truest sense of the word—to wrap our minds and hearts around. How do we know if we are pure in heart; what does it mean to see God?

Many commentators (quoted in other entries) talk about what we see has far less to do with what is in front of us than what is inside us. A modern-day parable from the science fiction movie Avatar might help. We’ll take the story and intertwine it with comments on parallels in the Christian life.

Avatar is the highest money-making movie of all time. I don’t think it’s achieved this status because of the 3-D effects. I think it has more to do with the core of the story, which is what happens when a man is reborn and sees a world worth living and dying for—that is what people come to see.

That is the core of this beatitude, that when we have a true vision of God and of the glorious future He has for us, it will infuse every moment with a vision of God’s presence.  This vision of God’s presence in every part of life grows in a circular way—with a bit of a pure heart we can see God’s love and goodness; the more we see God the more we are purified, the more purified our hearts become, the more we can see His hand in every part of life.

C.S. Lewis wrote about how myths were incomplete pictures, humanity’s “good dreams” that found their fulfillment and truth in the true story of Jesus. Lewis  never confused the partial myth for the reality, but he recognized as part of the Imago Dei (the image of God, fallen, yet not erased in every person) is a longing for the reality of salvation in Jesus. The myths in movies do the same thing today—they give us a picture, a glimpse to make us hungry for the real. They do not necessarily do this intentionally, these longings are simply part of core of humanity.

Avatar is not a Christian movie, but in its longing for a new life and a new vision, it can give us a vision of what it means to see a new way of life and to live fully with that vision.

Here is the parable,  the story, and Christian parallels:

A  man, a soldier lost the use of his legs in battle.

We’re all in a battle of one sort or another. Life is like that—and sometimes we fight so hard we lose a part of us. We become crippled in our minds and hearts. Our loss limits our motion and vision.

The soldier gets the opportunity to step outside the limitations of his body through a technology that gives him a new body.

All of us have the opportunity to become new creatures when we trust Jesus as our savior.

Initially, he’s afraid. He’ll be strapped into a machine and will lose complete control. In spite of his fear, he trusts. The machine closes over him.

Coming to Jesus can be a fearful thing. We fear we will lose control over our lives.  And we will—we will no longer be our own, we are bought with a price and we belong to the one who purchased us. We may come to Jesus as the man said saying “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” No matter how we come, when we trust Jesus as Forgiver and Leader he accepts us.

The soldier may have closed his eyes in fear, but then he opens his eyes, he is a new man, able to live in a new world: Pandora. In his new body, the soldier runs, leaps, fights and finds love in this new world of beauty.

Once we have given our lives to Jesus we become new. We are born again. We see life and purpose and our world in a new way.

Some others see Pandora as something to be exploited and used for selfish purposes. The soldier sees it as a world to be served.

Some people see Jesus as a source of prosperity and a way to get what they want out of life. True Christians know that following Jesus means serving Jesus.

Though the solder sees through new eyes, but the experiences and joys are temporary, the body is not permanently his. Though temporary, he fights for the new world. At times he loses his new body and new vision, but he does everything he can to retain it and live his new life.

We are involved in spiritual warfare as believers. Sometimes we walk in the newness of life we’ve been given, sometimes we lose all sense of purpose and power and live like we did before we met Jesus.

At the end of the story, the soldier dies. Or more correctly the body of the soldier dies and he is reborn permanently into his new body. He awakes looking at the face of his beloved.
The body we inhabit will someday die, but we will wake with new bodies without sin and glorious. And we will see with physical eyes and touch with our hands, our beloved, our savior, Jesus.

The theme song and movie clips

The theme song of the movie is “I See You”  and here are some of the words:

I see you
I see you
Walking through a dream
I see you
My light in darkness breathing hope of new life
Now I live through you and you through me
. . . . .
Your life shines the way into paradise
So I offer my life as a sacrifice
I live through your love
You teach me how to see

We aren’t asking to see a mystical world like Pandora. Christians need pure hearts and a vision of God to give us the strength we need to see our world and calling in it in light of God’s purpose. When we have that, we will see life with a beauty and purpose we were blind to before. We will fight spiritual battles inside our hearts and in our calling in our world, because we see things others do not see. Someday we will die, but we will awaken to a clear and unending vision of a world far more glorious than Pandora.

Below is a video of the theme song with images from the movie. Watch it and think about how, if a sci-fi fantasy could create such a beautiful world, how much more glorious is the life our Lord has planned for us, now and forever. If you’ve seen the movie, it will help you remember the beauty of it. If you haven’t seen it, simply enjoy the beautiful images. For all of us, let’s pray and strive for pure hearts so we can see, really see our Lord and the wonder of the life and calling our Lord has given us.

A chart comparing grace and mercy

Grace and mercy are two terms that are often confused. Though related, they have very different meanings.

This chart from Precept Austin is helpful in understanding the difference. To download it, click on the chart, a PDF will open and you can then print it out.

Grace and Mercy Chart

A comparisom of Grace and Mercy. Click on the image, it will go to a PDF page which you can print out.

Merciful: wonderful translations of the word

Simply by looking at how this Beatitude is translated by various translations helps us understand the meaning of this wonderful word:

Amplified:  Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!  (Amplified Bible – Lockman)
Barclay: O the bliss of the man who gets right inside other people until he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for he who does that will find others do the same for him and will know that that is what God in Jesus Christ has done.
Philips: Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them! (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: Spiritually prosperous are those who are merciful, because they themselves shall be the objects of mercy. (Eerdmans)
Young’s Literal: Happy the kind–because they shall find kindness.

Commentators on the meaning of mercy

Ray Pritchard explains that mercy includes three elements…

1. ”I see the need”—that’s recognition.
2. “I am moved by the need”—that’s motivation.
3. “I move to meet the need”—that’s action.

Having a feeling of sorrow over someone’s bad situation I now want to try to do something about it. Mercy is more than a feeling, but not less than that. Mercy begins with simple recognition that someone is hurting around you. But mere seeing or feeling isn’t mercy. Mercy moves from feeling to action. It is active compassion for those in need.

William Barclay noted the Hebrew word (hesed) for “merciful” has the idea of

“the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.” Continue reading

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