Well, our family is officially a part of the “Fitbit” craze. Many of you know what I am talking about. Cheryl got me this Fitbit watch for Christmas, and it keeps track of how many steps you take every day — most people’s goal is to try to get 10,000 steps a day (unless you’re Bradley Kirkley, who likes to make you look bad by getting double of what everyone else gets, but I digress …). So it keeps track of how many steps you are getting in walking, and running, or whatever exercise you are doing — but it also does more than that. It keeps track of a whole scope of things which affect your physical health: it counts your steps, the number of stairs you have taken up & down, how many minutes you have been active during the day, and how often you have been exercising — in fact it will “buzz” you with a reminder if you have been sitting down too long, and tell you to get up and get 250 steps to keep your metabolism going. It tracks your heart rate, and if you wear it to bed, it will even tell you how much sleep you aren’t getting! It feeds all this information to your computer, so you can go to your Fitbit app page, and see right there on one page, all these elements of your physical health: exercise, heart rate, sleep, miles walked, minutes you’ve been active, how much water you’ve drunk (if you punch that in), current weight and how much you’ve gained or lost — so right there on one page, you get a pretty good one-page “snapshot summary” of your physical health.
But what many people do not realize is that a “snapshot summary” is basically what we find in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. You KNOW that the words that open this sermon must be of utmost importance — these are the FIRST words of His FIRST sermon in the FIRST book of the New Testament — you KNOW that because this is such a strategic place, that what Jesus is saying here is something very, very important for us.
And indeed it is. Jesus begins His great sermon with these 8 “Beatitudes” (“beatitude” means “blessed”, so since each of these verses begins with the word “blessed” we call them the “Beatitudes”. But we need to understand that these are not just 8 random kinds of people that Jesus says God is going to happen to bless. Rather, these 8 qualities together form a “snapshot” summary of the kind of person that Jesus wants His disciples to become spiritually. Just like with a Fitbit, you can look at a one-page summary of your physical health, so with the Beatitudes, you can see a one-page summary of what spiritual health looks like.
Instead of physical things, like “miles walked or ran”, “how many stairs climbed”, or your heart RATE, this list is composed of spiritual things, like “being poor in spirit”, “mourning over sin”, and being “PURE in heart.” The Beatitudes are a “snapshot picture” of the spiritual qualities that Jesus wants to build into your life as His disciple. Just like you can go to your computer and see on Fitbit a picture of your physical health, so we can turn to these Beatitudes, and see how we are measuring up spiritually to what Jesus wants us to become as His disciples.
So understanding what these 8 Beatitudes ARE, let’s look together for a few minutes at what these qualities mean; at what we will look like as we become the disciples that Jesus intends for us to be as we walk with Him every day. (Now, since we studied these 8 qualities in depth about a year and a half ago, with a sermon devoted each one, we are just going to do a brief summary/overview today. If you want to study these more in-depth, you can go back and listen to those messages on our church app, or study them in print form on my blog, http://www.shawnethomas.com.)
A. Poor In Spirit
The Bible word here for “poor” literally means a “beggar”; one who has nothing and who has to depend upon someone else for everything that he has. But notice Jesus doesn’t say just “blessed are the poor”, but “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT.” He’s not talking about your money, but about your spirit. The person who is poor in spirit realizes that he is “spiritually bankrupt”, and that he has to depend upon God for everything spiritually:
— it means you depend on Him for your salvation. This person knows he has sinned and can’t save himself, so he is “poor in spirt” and knows he has to rely on God to save him through Jesus’ death on the cross.
The publican who went to pray at the temple is a great example of this. He wasn’t proud like the Pharisee; all he could pray was: “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” He had no righteousness to bring to commend Himself to God; he was totally poor in spirit. And you MUST be poor in spirit to get into the Kingdom of Heaven — notice that Jesus says here that the “poor in spirit” person is blessed, “For THEIRS is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Bible language is emphatic: “theirs and theirs ALONE.” You cannot get into the Kingdom of Heaven unless you are poor in spirit, and recognize your need for salvation.
Many observers have questioned whether our President, Donald Trump, is really saved, because of some comments he made on the campaign trail that he doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Asked later to clarify that, he said “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes? I work hard, I’m an honorable person.” (Christian Post article, July 23, 2015) These kinds of statements are why people should be legitimately concerned about his salvation — or the salvation of any person who says similar things. If you do not realize that you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, you are not “poor in spirit”, and you will not go to Heaven. This is step #1. Jesus said you must be poor in spirit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You must admit your sin and put your trust in Jesus.
But poverty of spirit is not only for salvation; it continues to be a vital quality all through the disciple’s Christian life. The disciple of Jesus knows that his Master said “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), so he goes to God every morning in prayer as he begins his day to get help. He knows he can’t do it on his own.
Poverty in spirit means that you totally rely on God: for salvation, for everything in your life. And you SHOW how much you are poor in spirit, by the way you pray. Someone said recently that we generally don’t pray about the things we think we can handle ourselves. I think that’s true. When we think “I’ve got this”, then we don’t bother to pray about it. But when we think we can’t handle something, then we pray. So your prayer life is a good indicator of how “poor in spirit” you are. And your pride shows it as well. You can’t be poor in spirit and be proud; because you know that everything good that you have, only comes from God. The person who is poor in spirit depends upon God for everything, and especially for his salvation.
Again, this quality of “mourning” is not what many of us think it is. This is a spiritual quality. It is referring to mourning over our SINS, and the sins of other people.
— James 4:9 says “be miserable, MOURN, and weep” because of your sins before God. That publican in Luke 18 is a great example of this too. He not only was “poor in spirit” and recognized he needed help from God, he also “beat his chest” before God in prayer. He was mourning his sin. This is what Jesus was talking about here. When we mourn over our sins, we are blessed, because it means we are taking our sins seriously, and we are going to take them to Jesus, where they can be forgiven.
This is the opposite of the worldly attitude. Ungodly people will tell you things like: “Oh, don’t worry about your sins; just move on and forget it. Be happy.” But Jesus says you can never truly be happy until you are HOLY! MOURN your sins — and let your mourning over your sin cause you to repent, and bring you to Jesus, where you will be forgiven, and then you can truly be happy. But you can’t just “skip over” the mourning & repentance part. It is ONLY those who mourn, who can really be comforted.
This is one of the problems with the modern “pop” forms of Christianity. It leads us not to take sin seriously. We think things like, “Well, Jesus died on the cross for everyone, so I don’t need to worry about my sins.” And there is no mourning over sin; no repentance — and we try to celebrate and “be happy”, but there is no real blessedness there, because there has never been any real facing up to the sin. Jesus says if you want to be truly “blessed”, you must face up to your sin; you must mourn over it; and let that mourning bring you to real repentance, in which you will then find real forgiveness, and the real joy that comes with it. But you will never have the real joy, unless you have the real repentance first. Only the mourners over their sins will be comforted, Jesus says.
— And then when we have mourned our own sins, we are to mourn over the sins of other people as well. In I Corinthians 5:2, Paul tells the Corinthians, who were just going happily along with their church life, while one of their church members was living in gross immorality, “You have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead.” Paul condemned these Corinthian Christians, because they didn’t MOURN over the immorality of people right in their own congregation.
This is a word for us too. The sins of people we love — in our families and in our church family — should GRIEVE us. We shouldn’t just go merrily along while someone we love is in sin. The Bible says we are to be mourners over sin: OUR OWN SINS FIRST — and then the sins of others.
The third Beatitude is “meekness”, another misunderstood quality. “Meekness” doesn’t mean “weakness”; it doesn’t mean you are a pushover. Biblical meekness means that you are submissive to the will of God.
If you want to know what Biblical meekness is, study Psalm 37. That whole Psalm perfectly describes meekness for us. In fact, Psalm 37:11 in the original language is almost an exact quote of what Jesus says here: “The humble shall inherit the land/the meek shall inherit the earth.” And a key verse in Psalm 37 is :3, where it says, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Meekness means that you so trust in God, that even when bad things happen to you, and bad people oppress you, you do not sin in return; instead you trust in the Lord and do what is right — you don’t take things into your own hands in an evil way, because you trust that GOD is going to put things right in the end.
King David was an example of this: even when King Saul persecuted him unjustly, he didn’t strike back at him, or kill him when he had a chance. He said, “I’m not going to stretch out my hand against God’s anointed.” He trust in the Lord and did what was right — and as you know, he ended up inheriting the land as King. “The meek inherited the earth.”
This verse challenges us to trust God, even when people and situations hurt us; we trust Him and do what is right anyway — and wait for HIM to bless us in His time, which WILL come for the one who trusts Him like this.
D. Hunger For Righteousness
Again, remember this is a spiritual quality: Jesus isn’t talking about FOOD, but a hunger for RIGHTEOUSNESS; a hunger to be right with God and others. It’s the heart that drove David to write in Psalm 63, “My soul thirsts for You; my flesh yearns for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Like we saw last week, the one who is hungry for righteousness knows that the word of God is more important to him than his daily bread — and it drives him into God’s word and prayer every day. That person will be blessed as his spiritual hunger drives him to God, where He will be satisfied in His presence.
E. Merciful (5th)
The merciful person is the one who has been “poor in spirit” and who has “mourned” over his sin, and brought his sin to Jesus and has been forgiven. So now he turns around and shares with others the mercy that he himself first received from the Lord.
But what does it really mean to show “mercy”? Some of us think we are showing mercy because we “feel sorry” for other people. But according to the New Testament, mercy is seeing a need, feeling compassion, and DOING something about it. As I have mentioned before, repeatedly we see in the Gospels where it says that Jesus “saw” a need, “felt compassion”, and then did something: healed the person, fed the multitude, taught the crowd — whatever was needed. Then in Luke 10, in the story of The Good Samaritan, Jesus says the Samaritan did that very thing: “he saw, felt compassion” and helped the man robbed on the Jericho Road. And it goes on to say that he “showed MERCY to him.”
SO the disciple who is merciful is the one who is so grateful that Jesus saw, and felt compassion and had mercy on HIM, that he does the same thing for others: he sees, feels compassion, and does something for them. And if we do NOT do that, it calls into question whether we have ever really received Jesus’ mercy ourselves!
F. Pure in Heart (6th)
This quality of purity in heart stands out in contrast to the outward religion that was popular in Jesus’ day — and of course still exists today. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were big on “ritual cleanness” —washing their hands in purification ceremonies, etc., and they criticized Jesus for not doing it. But Jesus said it is not those who wash their HANDS who are right with God; but those whose HEARTS are clean, who will see God.
The disciple who is pure in heart knows that real religion is not just about what you DO, but WHY you do it. What is your motivation? He knows that you can do all the right things on the outside, but still be filthy INSIDE. As Jesus said later in this Chapter, it’s not only the one who actually commits adultery with a woman who sins, but also the one who looks on her to lust in his heart. This disciple knows he can NEVER be this pure in heart on his own — that’s why he knows he HAS to trust Jesus as his Savior if he has any hope of ever seeing God. But this 6th Beatitude reminds us that Christianity is a religion of the HEART, not just outward deeds.
G. Peacemaker (7th).
A peacemaker is not just someone who brings people together — like we often think of — but is especially one who helps bring man and God together. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Ephesians 2 says “He Himself IS our peace, who made both groups (Jew & Gentiles) into one … and reconciled them both in one body to God through the cross.” Jesus made peace between man and God through His death on the cross, which then draws people together as they each come to God.
When we are peacemakers, we help bring people who are alienated from God, back to Him. We show them how they can be forgiven, and make peace with God. We might call this person an evangelist, a witness — again, they have received the gift of peace with God, so they share with others how they can have it.
(In our adult VBS class starting tonight, we are going to be talking about how we can be better “peacemakers” in this sense of sharing Jesus with others. Many of us have been looking at witnessing the wrong way, and Dr. Alvin Reid of our Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest has a great book, called Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out, which I think can be a great help to us on this. I hope you’ll join us tonight through Wednesday at 6:30 each night for class, which I pray will help us to build this quality of Biblical peacemaking into our lives.).
H. Persecuted For Righteousness
The final quality of the Kingdom Disciple Jesus wants us to be, is that we are persecuted ONLY for the sake of righteousness. Again, a lot of people misunderstand this. This is NOT a blanket promise of God’s blessing for you anytime that anyone does anything wrong to you. It specifically has two conditions: that they accuse you “falsely”, and that they do it “on account of Me.” If they do something to you and you deserve it, there is no blessing for that! And secondly, it is only “on account of Me” — because of your faith in Jesus as your Lord & Savior.
This last quality is actually a little different than the other 7. The others are character qualities which are built into our lives. This 8th one is how people will treat us, if those first 7 are present in us. When the world sees you mourning over sin, when they want you to just be happy; and when they see you resisting outward religion because you want to be pure in heart; and they see you seeking to lead people to Jesus when they want you to just leave people alone, then you WILL be persecuted for it. Scripture says in II Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted.” Now, many of us would say, “But I am not persecuted!” But don’t you see; that is to our shame. Evidently the world sees so little of the 7 qualities of the true disciple in us that no persecution ever even comes our way. Our lack of persecution just shows how far we are from being like the Ideal Disciple Jesus shows us here in Matthew 5:3-12!
So that’s a whirlwind summary of the 8 qualities of the Disciple of the Kingdom we call the Beatitudes. Again, if you want to study these more in-depth, check out our sermon video series “The Disciples Character” on our app, or you can study the sermon texts at shawnethomas.com.
But here’s the thing: When you look at all these qualities put together, you begin to recognize that this “snapshot” is actually a picture of someone you know. It’s like when Cheryl & I are watching a BBC movie, sometimes we’ll be watching for a while, and all the sudden, one of us will say: “Hey, we know that actor — that’s the guy who played Mr. Collins in the Old “Pride & Prejudice” or whatever movie. You suddenly recognize who that person is.
Well it is the same with this snapshot in the Beatitudes. When you put all of these together, you begin to recognize Who this is: these 8 qualities form a composite picture of the character of Jesus Christ Himself!
Remember, God’s goal for our lives is to become like Jesus in our character. The Bible repeatedly tells us that becoming like Him is God’s goal for us:
— I John 3:2 says “we will be like Him”
— Ephesians 4 says God’s goal is to build us up “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ” — in other words, when we are mature, we will be like Jesus.
— Romans 8:28 famously says that God is causing all things to work together for good — and then :29 tells us what that good is: “to become conformed to the image of His Son.” God is working everything together in your life, to make you more like Jesus. That is His goal for your life.
But what does it MEAN to be like Jesus? It doesn’t mean that we are going to look like Him physically; it doesn’t mean that we are to grow a beard and go around in a robe and sandals, and so on. It means that God’s goal is for us to become like Jesus in our INNER CHARACTER. But what is that inner character like? How do we know if we are like Jesus? It’s not just whatever we dream that up to be; the character of Jesus is revealed to us here in these Beatitudes.
JESUS is the perfect man of the Beatitudes:
— He was totally poor in spirit, depending on His Heavenly Father for everything.
— He mourned — not over His own sin, because He didn’t have any; but over the sins of the world. He grieved over the hardness of heart that He found. He wept over our sins.
— He was meek; totally submitting to God’s will and not His own; he trusted Him and did what was right when others were hurting Him — especially at the cross.
— He was hungry and thirsty for righteousness; memorizing scripture, praying all night; seeking His Father.
— He was merciful: how often the gospels tell us He “saw, and FELT COMPASSION, and did something to alleviate the needs He encountered.”
— He was absolutely pure in heart; “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.’
— As we saw in Ephesians 2, Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker, bringing God and man together through His death on the cross.
— And He was persecuted by His enemies only for His righteousness.
When you look at these 8 Beatitudes, you see a “snapshot” of the perfect disciple God wants you to become — and if that snapshot looks familiar, it is because it is a snapshot of Jesus Christ Himself! And it is God’s goal for each of us as His disciples, to become like Him.
That is why these 8 qualities are found here as the FIRST words, of the FIRST sermon of Jesus in the FIRST book of the New Testament. God put these right here in this strategic place for a reason. These are VITAL for every Christian. This is our goal; this is what we are shooting for. This is what God wants us to become. We need to realize what they are; we need to realize how important they are; and we need to seek to work together with God in His ultimate purpose of building these qualities into our lives.
— We need to know these verses; we need to memorize them. If you are not currently memorizing any other scripture, I encourage you to memorize these 8 Beatitudes. We’ll read these out loud together here in church over the next several weeks to help get them into your mind. Make it a priority to learn them.
— And then pray through them regularly, that God would build them into your life — and pray for them to be built into your loved ones lives as well.
— Then from time to time, you can review these, and allow the Lord to speak to you about how you are “measuring up” spiritually to the “Spiritual Fitbit” picture that God has given us here in these Beatitudes.
Listen: THIS RIGHT HERE is what God cares most about in your life. That’s why He put these here, because they are so important. THIS is what He wants to see in your life. We get all focused on Fitbits and exercise and things like that — and I Timothy 4 says that bodily discipline is good; it IS of “limited value” — but listen me: on the day God judges you for this life, He will not be checking your Fitbit! Psalm 147 says “He does not delight in the legs of a man.” God’s not going to be asking how many steps you got in, or how many miles you ran. (He DOES want us to be good stewards of our bodies, so we can fulfill His plans for us here on earth.) But what He is really going to be looking at is your SPIRIT. And in a Christian person, what He will evaluate is how much you became like Jesus; how much like these Beatitudes you became. If that’s so, then as Christians, we need to spend a little less time checking our Fitbit, and a little more time checking ourselves against these Beatitudes!
— Many of us as Christians need to spend this invitation time praying for God to build these qualities in our lives. Just read over these again, and spend some time praying over them, while the music plays.
— Some of us need to start today, memorizing these 8 Beatitudes, so that we can pray about them for ourselves and others regularly.
— But remember: before you can work on any of the other Beatitudes, you have to have the first one. You have to be “poor in spirit”, and admit that you have sinned, and that you need Jesus to save you. It is ONLY the poor in spirit who will see the Kingdom of Heaven. If you have never done it; admit to God that you are spiritually poor — you’ve sinned — and ask Him to do for you what you can’t do for yourself, and save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Then from this day forward, you can claim this first Beatitude as your own: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”