INTRODUCTION TO THE EIGHT BEATITUDES

The work of CrossTies Ministries is guided by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe that the fundamental teachings of our Lord Jesus are to be found in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), a title first coined by St. Augustine and not found in the New Testament itself. This Sermon served in the early church as a catechism or carefully structured, brief summary of the basic teachings of Christ. It is a compendium of what Jesus taught throughout his entire ministry. It was therefore used to prepare believers to live in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to participate more fully in the life of the Christian community. At the conclusion to the Sermon Matthew writes:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

 It serves this same purpose in our day. This is the teaching of Jesus.
   
     Nine Beatitudes introduce his Sermon. They are called Beatitudes because each of the sayings begins with the word "blessed”. The first and eighth Beatitudes encapsulate the other six. Both of these end with the phrase "for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens."
   
     Furthermore, the first eight are all written in the third person. They speak of ‘they’ and ‘theirs’.  The first and eighth speak in the present tense about those who possess the kingdom of the heavens in the present moment. Beatitudes two through seven speak in the future tense about promises that will be fulfilled. The ninth Beatitude switches abruptly to the second person, ‘you’, and thus serves as the transition to the remainder of the Sermon.
   
     We will not attempt to explain all the reasons for the above, but will focus instead upon the first eight Beatitudes. We believe that a thorough understanding of these eight is foundational for the believer’s life in Christ.
        In looking at these ‘blessed’ sayings of Jesus we must be careful not to turn them into eight demands that he makes upon his disciples, followed by eight promises they will receive after keeping such demands or laws. Such an approach buys into the very thing Jesus preached against, namely the spiritual pride of the Pharisees who believed they were capable of keeping God’s Law perfectly. Of them Jesus said,

“They do not practice what they preach…Everything they do is done for men to see.”

He went on to call them hypocrites, blind guides and snakes. They and all who follow them will become desolate (Matthew 23).
        The Beatitudes are, like the entire Sermon, about Jesus. He is both their speaker and their subject. The message originates with him and is about him. The good news of the kingdom is all about him He is also the one who sends the Holy Spirit through this Word into the believer’s heart. He is the one who provides the power to live the life of Christ. Through him, God is bringing salvation to the world.
   
     The angel of the Lord told Joseph to name his wife Mary’s son Jesus (or YA-SHUA in the ancient Hebrew) because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). That is what His name means: The Lord (YAhweh) Saves (SHUA).  Matthew goes on to point out that Jesus’ birth is the complete fulfillment of the prophecy first given to Isaiah: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanu-el is Hebrew for “God (EL) with us (IMMANU)”.
   
     Jesus is the Father’s Son, born of the virgin. He alone knows the Father. He is the one who chooses to reveal all that his Father has committed to him. He says to us, who are weary and burdened by the weight of our sins, 

“Come to me…and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:27-29).

The Sermon on the Mount is the first discourse in the New Testament of Jesus, God’s Son. It has the honor of introducing the reader to the entire New Testament in general and to the person and work of Jesus in particular. It is both the introduction to Christianity and the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus said,

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets (i.e. the Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

        Does that mean that we must now work even harder than the Pharisees in order to enter the precious kingdom that Messiah Jesus has established?  Or is Jesus setting out for us in His Sermon an even deeper understanding of the Law and its demands so that we are fully and completely driven to despair and hopelessness? In other words, is the Sermon basically an exposition on the Ten Commandments and their meaning in order to show us our sin? Is it Law and not Gospel, as even Martin Luther taught? Did Jesus preach this Sermon in order to show us how impossible it is to be saved by the Law? And are these impossible demands only later resolved in the Gospel as presented by the Apostles, especially by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the Galatians and the Romans?
        With all due respect to Dr. Luther, this is most certainly not true. The message of the Sermon and most particularly of the Eight Beatitudes is not a demand, driving the Christian to an impossible moral perfection. Who could bear the burden and weight of such teaching? No, the Beatitudes bring blessings because they come as demands already fulfilled in Christ. He is the one who has fulfilled every demand of the Law. Everything in the Law is now accomplished in Him. The good news, the Gospel, is that Jesus both fulfilled the Law for us and offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. His is the blood of the new covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). Jesus is the preacher of the Sermon. He is also the living content of it. It is about him. He is the one who provides the spiritual power, the Holy Spirit, so that the believer may live his or her life in Christ. Christ is present in his Word. This is key to understanding the Beatitudes.
        Therefore, if any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. As the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The first Beatitude speaks of those who are in Christ as “the poor in spirit.” They have God’s blessing as a gift, not as a reward. They are the ones convinced that Christ died for them. His love both empowers and motivates them to live for him who died for them and was raised again. The disciple of Jesus is thus freed from the demands of the Law. Jesus fulfilled those demands and now he calls to his disciples. “Come to me…and I will give you rest,” he says (Matthew 11:27). Matthew himself was a tax collector and therefore an outcast from Jewish society. Jesus called him. “Follow me,” he said. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of being intimate with such sinners he replied,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6). For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

The perfected law gives freedom to the one who comes as the sinner to Christ. He comes empty and impoverished. He brings nothing. Then the Righteous One, gives to the humble believer Jesus’ righteousness.  Christ Jesus is his life. The Spirit of Christ lives in him. He believes and knows that in Christ the Law has been fulfilled perfectly. Whoever has the Spirit of the Lord within him is thus freed; he is free from guilt and shame and so free from sin’s dominion and power to accuse and to destroy. He is blessed. And the more he looks upon Christ the more he is transformed and changed by Christ’s love. He is tied to the cross of Christ. He is Cross-Tied. The crucified and risen Christ lives in him and works through him. Thus, by his life, by what he does, the disciple shows that Christ lives in him (2 Corinthians 3:15-18 and James 1:25). With the Apostle he says,

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

It is to this teaching that we now turn as we study, one by one, the eight Beatitudes, the blessed teachings of Jesus, God’s Son and Savior of the world.

 

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