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The Beatitudes

Someone asked me recently to explain the Beatitudes (found in Matthew 5: 3 – 10) in the simplest terms possible. I thought I would share my answer here on the blog as well. The preaching found in the Bible, directed to people who had not yet converted to Christianity, was very similar. Whether it was John the Baptist (Luke 3: 2 – 14), Jesus (Mark 1: 14 – 15), Peter (Acts 2: 38) or Paul (Acts 26: 19 – 20), the message was repent and turn to God. John the Baptist and Paul seemed to emphasize that the life of the new believer should change once they had repented, while Peter focused on turning to God and being baptized and Jesus emphasized believing the Gospel message that He was the person through who we could return to God. But those sermons all fit the same template. The teachings found in the Bible, directed to those who had already become Christians, however, is wide and varied. The way it is presented in the Gospel of Matthew, it appears that what we call the Beatitudes today, or the blessings, was one of the first lessons taught to those who had chosen to turn toward God through Jesus. It was how Jesus chose to kick off His long and detailed teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount and we know Jesus thought this particular lesson was very important. We know this because Matthew tells us in the first verse of chapter five that Jesus sat down before He began to teach, the sign from a Jewish teacher that things were about to get serious. So what was the point of those 8 verses captured by Matthew? I believe the two main points are that, when it comes to God, we need to make ourselves teachable or trainable and, in relating to other people, we must resist some of the natural inclinations that keep us from being effective agents in God’s work. The first four Beatitudes say that we will be blessed (in this life and the one to come) if we acknowledge our spiritual dependence on God, honestly feel bad for not following God’s teaching, make ourselves as open to new training as possible (the word often translated as meek or humble means to be open to the coaching or direction of another) and greatly desire God’s truth from the heart, not just for academic reasons. The last four verses say that, although these things may not come naturally, we will be blessed when we choose to show grace and mercy to others, when we work from pure motives of good intentions toward others (whether we get credit for our good motives or not), if we refuse to divide into groups of us vs. them based on the differences between us and if we hold to God’s standards for the benefit of those watching us even when cultural or political forces might be in opposition. Whether we are reading the Sermon on the Mount or any other teaching in the Bible, we should approach it with the attitude of “am I making myself as open to learning and new direction from God as possible and am I ready to apply what I learn as an ambassador for God, resisting any impulses to the contrary when it comes to how I deal with others”? Read the Bible through that lens and see if it doesn’t make a difference. Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.

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