The Beatitudes Revisited
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“Blessed are the poor in spirit...”
When we often think of the poor, we feel sorry for them because they have very little. Recently, I have had the pleasure of attending the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) and heard Mama Maggie Gorban, who is the founder of St. Stephens Children Ministry, speak. She is an amazing woman who gave up her comfortable life in Cairo to serve among the poorest of people in Egypt. One thing that she said made me stop and relook at this verse. She said that because the poor have nothing, God becomes their everything.
Whether we are poor materially, emotionally or spiritually, that statement still stands because especially when our spirit have nothing left, God becomes the reality that He is the answer. In Luke 6:24, Jesus woes the rich. I’m not sure if that is only talking about materiality or not, but I do know this. If we live a life that is driven by our temptations and filled with the things of the world, we will draw further from God. The scriptures talk about how we cannot belong to the world and God at the same time (1 John 2:15). If we were to indulge the things of the world, our inheritance ends when we are put into the ground at six feet deep. But for those who are in desperate need of a saviour, God will become everything to them, and they will ultimately inherit the treasures of heaven.
I do sometimes wish that I am poor. My sinful nature tells my brain that I don’t want to be poor because I need money and things to live. But if I can just be poor in spirit enough to desperately want God to transform my life, my relationship with Him will be drastically different.
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
I am reading Phillip Yancey’s “What Good is God?” and the book was relating the events of the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2008. Yancey went to speak at the funeral service and made this statement. “In grief, love and pain converge.” He spoke of how pain was a sign that we can still feel, that we are still alive.
But there is something even more beautiful. We grief because we have a relationship with the subject that we are grieving about. It is because we love that we feel the lost and the pain. He illustrates this by an example in John 20:24-29, when Thomas doubted Jesus’s resurrection. His words were “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were…I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) It wasn’t enough to see Jesus in the flesh, but Thomas wanted to run his hand over the scars that had put Jesus on the cross. Only when he was satisfied, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
There is no promise of a pain-free life. There is no promise of an end to grief and tears. Even God came to earth to feel pain, to feel sorrow and to feel hopelessness. But this beatitude tells us that it is okay to mourn, because they will be comforted. That comfort may not be immediate or even in their life on earth, but one thing is for sure. God can redeem what now seems irredeemable. If we have knowledge and faith that God’s peace transcends all understanding, our tears will be wiped away from our eyes. If we can learn to love, and mourn for those whom we love, our sorrow will be turned into joy in heaven.
“Blessed are the meek…”
Meek is a word which I don’t often use. I somehow find that word very weak and unworthy. But meek can mean several things. It can mean gentleness towards others, obedience towards God, or having humility.
The interesting thing is that at the GLS, the speakers discussed what it means to be humble and how we show view humility, as well as making tough decisions that may not necessarily be viewed as gentleness. But Matthew Henry comments that being meek does not mean that we don’t speak up when there is a need for it, but rather to do it without creating a rift between parties. They are slow to anger and can control their emotions, something which I need to work on. Those who are meek are people who can be in any situation, around anyone and under any circumstance and still not be affected by the external environment. They are blessed because they do not anger easily.
For the meek, they will inherit the earth. Matthew Henry states that the meek has a real tendency to promote their health, wealth, comfort and safety even in this world. Those who obey and follow God, His will and His word will be able to enter the kingdom of God and inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
Righteousness is who God is. The question is, what is righteousness? There are a lot of people in need of help right now in this world. And there are people who want to do the right thing and help those in need. But those people may not necessarily be Christians. Michelle Rhee, an educational activist, radically changed the education system in Washington DC because she believed in a cause and she was hungry for it. She said in an interview at the GLS that we need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. This, to me, screams hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Of course, this verse was talking about the things that are important to God. We can’t go around promoting something like abortion and homosexuality and call it righteousness. Sure, maybe to the eyes of the world, they are the oppressed and the righteous to the world today, but what are the things that God call righteousness? Because it is those matters that will be blessed by God. “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:33)
Those who come and fall at the throne of grace, those who seek the presence of the Lord, will be filled because they will know and experience God. Once you experience who God is, you will never look back again. There is a saying that you are what you eat. If you eat too much fatty foods, you will most likely become fatter. If you inhale drugs, you will be intoxicated and possibly go crazy. If you drink too much alcohol, you will get drunk. Similarly, if you hunger and thirst for worldly desires and temptations, you will end up filling empty because those worldly matters cannot satisfy that part of your spirit that only God can fill. But when we hunger and thirst for God, and the things of God, our lives will radically be transformed and we can be filled with things beyond our imagination.
“Blessed are the merciful…”
This verse is one of easier beatitudes to comprehend because as Christians, we should be merciful, because God is merciful and in reflection of Him, we should show mercy onto others. It is so easy for us to understand the verse than to apply it in our own lives. Many people, I’m sure, are willing to have compassion and sympathy on those who doesn’t have as much as us. Many non-Christians even get involved and have compassion on the less fortunate. But I think for many people, it is those who, by the world’s standards, have sinned whom are the hardest to have compassion and mercy on. Even though we all sin, I’m talking about those at the bottom of the food chain: the prostitutes, the criminals and the ones who are “hopeless cases”. While the world may only have compassion on those, as Rhee said in her interview, who were just unlucky to have been born in that situation, we should have mercy on those who may have chosen to live a life in darkness. We should not only supply people with physical and financial resources, but to also have compassion on their souls.
One of the stories I remember hearing about is one about the leader of the Bali Nine people. He became a Christian while in prison. When some people whom I knew went to visit him, he told them that he understands that God had forgiven him but he still accepted the responsibility for his crime. He was ready for his punishment. His only regret is that he didn’t have enough time to evangelise to his family back home. It struck me that whoever led him to Christ was blessed, because there is one more soul saved and the kingdom of God expanded all the more.
“Blessed are the pure in heart…”
I love this verse because it really separates the ones who are pure and those who are hypocritical. This is a problem I see in the Church today. I was sitting at the back of church one Sunday and the congregation was reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It must have been the thousandth time I have recited it because we did it every Sunday after the sermon. I’m not saying that the Prayer is bad because if you read it with your heart, you will have a new revelation every time. But I started to wonder if we really understood what we were reciting. Do we really believe in it or are we just reciting because we know it off by heart and it is required of us? Sometimes, I know which one I am, and it isn’t the former answer.
The truth is, when I first stepped into the church, my intentions were purely selfish, personal and had nothing to do with God. My intention was to meet people and make new friends. i look back now and I can see that for a while, I was going to church to meet and chat to my friends. God was just something I picked up along the way. Only when I knew what I was getting myself into and rededicated my life to God after my baptism, I felt God’s spirit is transforming me.
We shouldn’t need to put up a smiling mask in the presence of God, or God’s people. We shouldn’t even need to make an effort to be compassionate and help those in need. We shouldn’t need to pretend to be wise or smart. We shouldn’t need to force ourselves to obey God’s will. We do these things because we are weak, we are human and we sin. But if we are pure in heart, God will give us the grace and the strength that we need to overcome obstacles and to work to glorify Him. If we truly love God with all our heart, all our strength, all our soul and all our might, then the fruits of the spirit should just be overflowing out of us.
I actually feel like a hypocrite writing this because I know that I struggle with these issues. Sometimes, I just want to pretend that I’m okay because I don’t want to fall behind. I know that I will not get to 100% in the life on earth. But I know that I will definitely try. We fall, but we must get back up, because if we don’t, we lose. I know that if we try our best to be pure in heart, we will see God because we will reflect His image. Not only that, but others will also see God because they will see God in us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers…”
When I read this, I somehow always read “blessed are the peacekeepers” and completely miss the point. I found out that peacemaking and peacekeeping are two very different things, and we cannot substitute peacekeeping for peacemaking.
Peacemaking is active, while peacekeeping is passive. What I always thought of making peace is to just keep out of trouble. For example, if someone told me a bad gossip about someone else, if I keep silent, I would have thought that the gossip will not get out of hand from my mouth. But what does that really do? It still forms a bad opinion about someone and can distort the view of a person entirely. Another example is when one party of a divorce says that they are willing to wait for the other party turn back to them, and yet never did anything to reconcile.
Peacemaking is really stopping trouble before it starts.
Sometimes, it means to take that first step and speak up about something that is not right. In that first example, maybe we could instead tell the gossiper not to spread gossip about other people and try to stop them from doing so. Sometimes, it seems that we are not desperate enough to mend broken relationships and take action until it’s too late. Then, we blame other people for it, sometimes even putting God into the spotlight. I look at the UN Peacekeeping Forces and I find it quite ironic that peacekeeping should be made with guns and violence. It seems to me that they are always there after the fighting has already started. I mean, if you want to keep, maintain, or make, peace, wouldn’t you want to take action before the violence started?
Peacemaking actually brings peace and makes amends. Peacemaking allows those who acted in violence a chance to repent and be saved. Not through force or power, but through love and grace.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…”
This is probably my favourite beatitude and it is not just because I worked at Open Doors for four years. Some Christians don’t believe that persecution happens in today’s world, even though the Bible talks about it in the New Testament. If you follow Jesus, you will be hated by the world because the world hates Jesus. But the reality is, persecution is very much an important issue today and this beatitude is so true because there are many lessons that we can learn from the Persecuted Church.
I am really humbled, and at times think of my unworthiness, by the faith that has been shown through the Persecuted Church. I think too often, the western world tries too hard to change God to fix our problems and put God into a box that we have made for Him. The Persecuted Church does the exact opposite. Like what Dr Henry Cloud said at the GLS, the wise person would adjust themselves according to the light provided while the foolish person would try to adjust light to suit them better. The Persecuted Church does not try to avoid persecution, but to adjust their attitudes so that they will be able to withstand the incoming storms.
The other day, I was asking God why the bus had to be late after I finished work and I started to complain about how my schedule was thrown off. Look at the Persecuted Church, believers in some countries face torture, imprisonment, and even death, for their faith in Christ, for their believe in righteousness, and they stood on solid ground through it without a word of complaint. I am amazed at how Eritrean gospel singer Helen Berhane praised and thanked God through song during her time in prison, when she was thrown into a dark and cold shipping container. My faith in God needs to grow if I want to experience what she had.
For many of us, we can try to make excuses not to go to church. “It’s too far away.” “I have to study for an exam.” “I’m meeting with some friends.” Research had shown that only 10% of those who say that they are Christians go to church on Sundays. How many Bibles do you have at home? How many of them do you actually read? How many times have you read the Bible through? How many verses can you memorise off by heart? I am too ashamed to tell you the answers. Some of us seem to take this for granted because it is always there for us to use. We have the freedom to evangelise and the resources to do so, yet why is it that Christianity is in declining at the moment in the western world?
A friend of mine showed us this website at devotions one morning.
It was called “Not a Fan of Christ”, or something along that line. Here was the interesting thing. At first, I thought, this can’t be right. We love Christ, why can’t we be a fan of something that we love? But the twist comes from the word “fan”. I was a fan of all sorts of sports teams and celebrities when I was younger. I use to have all of their CDs, posters and sometimes went to their games. But after a period of time, I got bored with them. There were a few times when my favourite sports team lost, or when the singer had a controversy against them, and I would start to dislike them. Many people are Christians just because they came along for the ride. They use God as an ATM machine and believe that God will give them the things that they want out of life.
But true faith prompts us to become followers of Christ. And to be a follower of Christ, the costs are ridiculously high. It is so much more difficult to do than to say it. To be a follower of Christ, we must take up our cross, walk the narrow road and be prepared to endure suffering and persecution. The Persecuted Church have shown us that even though they don’t have the freedom or the resources to fully preach the gospel, their faith and trust in God allows them to be victorious against pain and suffering. Believers would memorise Bible chapters and books because they don’t have enough Bibles and cannot be found with one. They would gather in the darkest of nights and whisper their hymns so that they can praise God and not be found out. Some of them would travel hours, even days, to meet and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Persecuted Church taught me two important words. Unity and forgiveness. Through persecution, churches of different denominations unite together to preserve through suffering and support each other in prayer. I see the finger pointing within the Australian church between denominations and I feel like we need a wake-up call. Someone once told me that Christianity is the only religion that shoots its wounded. When one person is led astray, we start to condemn and judge that person. Only when a tragedy strikes does the church come together as one. The Persecuted Church taught me that forgiveness is possible. Not the small mistakes that people make, but the big things like murder and destruction. The compassion and the grace of the Persecuted Church have always astonished me. “Pray for those who persecute us so that they may come to know Jesus Christ.”
Indeed blessed are the persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The Persecuted Church have endured more than what you and I could ever endure in this life, but through their suffering, their faith, their relationship with God, will surely have increased tenfold. Even though there will be losses and pain, the Persecuted Church has grown stronger than ever before.
I’m not trying to put you off anything, or to offend anyone. But when I read the Beatitudes now, there is another perspective that I see now. What seem to be empty promises is really a reality that we should know about and take into account. We can learn from those who are very different to us because they may experience something that we won’t ever experience but can help us on our journeys with God.
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