Decoding the Beatitudes
2013-10-09
Jesus, the greatest man to walk the earth, began the greatest sermon ever preached, with the greatest introduction.  We call them the Beatitudes.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught that the beatitudes are instructions for living the Christian life.  It will only take you a minute of trying to live out these beatitudes to realize that if Jesus meant these as imperatives then he set us up to fail.  But Jesus hasn't set us up to fail.  We have failed in our understanding.  Let's decode what Jesus is saying and apply it to our life.  If you understand Jesus' original intent you will experience incredible freedom in the Beatitudes.

First, when reading the Beatitudes we must not conclude that Jesus is calling us to a religious attempt at earning salvation by living out the Beatitudes in order to be loved by God.  Salvation is all by grace. Paul says in Ephesians that even the faith we possess is a gift from God.  Salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.  He chooses His people.  He lived perfectly in our place.  He died in our place.  He rose from the dead.  He reigns now.  He accomplished redemption for us all on His own.  Faith is His gift to give.  Jesus isn't changing up the means by which we enter into a relationship with God.  The Beatitudes are statements of grace, not law.  We do not enter into the Kingdom by doing our best.  We enter because Jesus has given us his best.  

Second, we must not tie up the Beatitudes on the backs of Christians as ethical demands.  God doesn't save us only to have us responsible for keeping our salvation.  God begins the work and He completes the work.  That is why you will not find imperatives in the Beatitudes.  An imperative is instruction or what we might call a command  For instance, the ten commandments that God gave Moses and Israel are imperatives.  We call them the "thou shalts and shall nots".  The Beatitudes are not thou shall or shall nots.  The only imperative that can be found in the Beatitudes is when Jesus tells us to rejoice when we experience God's blessing in the middle of persecution.  Jesus is not giving us ethical demands for the saved but rather qualities that already exist in the saved.    

Third, in order to understand the Beatitudes you must not look at these statements as future-only statements.  When Jesus says that those who mourn over their sin will be comforted he is certainly talking about the here and now as well as the not yet of the future Kingdom.  I find great comfort in the fact that I have been forgiven of my sin.  That comfort is something I experience every day of my life.  But it is also something I know I will experience more fully in the presence of God.  The meek will inherit the new heavens and new earth but they also get to experience what God has to offer in the current earth and enjoy those blessings now.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will taste righteousness now in part and in full when Jesus makes all things new.  In each of the Beatitudes we see great blessing that we experience now and that we will experience more fully in the future.  

When I read the Beatitudes I see two really big take-aways.  The Beatitudes were meant for us to investigate our faith and to rejoice in them as declarations.  You can read what Jesus said 2000 years ago and ask yourself if there is evidence of these declarations in your life.  Jesus is saying that those who follow him possess these qualities already.  The followers of Jesus know they don't have what it takes on their own to be reconciled to God (poor in spirit), they know they are sinful and need Jesus (mourners), they don't lord themselves over others because they know they are not God (meek), they desire to do what is right (hunger and thirst), they love justice and practice mercy because they have been shown mercy (merciful), they seek God because they love God (pure in heart), they make peace with others because God made peace with them (peacemakers), they see persecution for what it is and they rejoice because they are making much about Jesus.  Are these qualities present in your life?  If they are not, Jesus does not mean for you to try harder, but instead to lean further into the Gospel.  We must seek Jesus, not the Beatitudes.  When we seek Jesus we will grow in mercy, peace, and love.  We will mourn over our sin as we see what it has done to others and to Jesus himself.  We will allow others to persecute us because Jesus was persecuted.  Jesus changes us and gives us these qualities.  We can never possess them on our own.  

A second response to the Beatitudes is to rejoice!  Rejoice because Jesus has given you all that is necessary to meet the requirements of his teaching.  If Jesus had delivered these Beatitudes as imperatives then no one would be a citizen of heaven.  Instead Jesus is describing what he has made possible in us.  Rejoice in what Jesus is doing in your life.  Look to Jesus, not the Beatitude.  


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