“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are…’”
People often mistake Jesus’ good news about God’s kingdom as somehow being bad news. Often we misread the beatitudes as conditions for being blessed rather than as Jesus blessing His people. I remember, as an anxious young Christian, reading the beatitudes as yet more rules I needed to keep before God would accept or bless me. But the beatitudes are not to be seen as entrance requirements to God’s kingdom, or as formulas for the blessed life. They are grace.
British theologian and churchman N. T. Wright is helpful in understanding the beatitudes. Wright rejects any views of the beatitudes that say “If you can manage to behave in this way, then you will be rewarded”, or, “Now that you’ve believed in me and my kingdom project, this is how you must behave”. Wright continues:
These qualities of purity of heart, mercy, and so on are not, so to speak, things you have to do to earn a ‘reward’ or a ‘payment’. Nor are they merely the ‘rules of conduct’ laid down for new converts to follow…They are, in themselves, the signs of life, the language of life, the life of new creation, the life of new covenant, the life which Jesus came to bring. They are signs of the Kingdom of God! Those who are part of God’s Kingdom will live into the Beatitudes.
(N. T. Wright, After You Believe)
The beatitudes are not more obligations or commandments. They are Jesus blessing His people. It is remarkable that in Biblical times to speak a blessing over someone was to actually convey the blessing. In the beatitudes Jesus is conveying God’s blessing.
Perhaps our greatest difficulty in understanding the beatitudes comes from not really believing in God’s heart to bless us. Because of my legalistic bent I still struggle with believing that God really longs to bless me. I like to go back to the wise words of the old Bible commentator William R. Newell in Romans Verse by Verse:
To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret
To refuse to make ‘resolutions’ and ‘vows’; for that is to trust in the flesh.
To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth.
PONDER AND PRAY
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26
- Do you have difficulty believing that God wants to bless you? If so, why do you think that might be?
- Why do you think God wants to bless you?
- What do you want To Say To God?