The last beatitude is about persecution: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We need to point out that this is persecution because of righteousness and not for being obnoxious, difficult, foolish, or insulting to those who are not yet Christians. The blessing promised is for persecution for righteousness’ sake only. 

The fourth beatitude encourages a hunger and thirst after righteousness. It stands at the center of them all. Righteousness is what we most lack, and, therefore, our greatest problem is how we as sinful men and woman become right before God? We can deal with other problems. We can find partial solutions. But if we are not right before God we have missed the only thing that matters ultimately.

The third beatitude concerns meekness. What do you think of when you think of meekness? Most of us think of Caspar Milquetoast or else the skinny 98-pound weakling in the Charles Atlas ad. That is not what meekness meant in the ancient world. Aristotle once outlined what the proper virtues of a civilized man should be. Men are usually too extreme, he said. They either exhibit too much of something, or they attain too little of something else. They should aim for what Aristotle called “the golden mean,” that is, the virtue that stands in the middle. 

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means the opposite of being rich in pride. And that is where the happiness of the new life begins. It begins, not where we stand before God and throw out our chest and say, “Well, look at what a great guy I am. I am building my life all by myself, and I am doing quite well.” It is not that attitude at all. It is the attitude in which we stand before God in our sin, acknowledge our need, and say as the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

No portion of our Lord’s teaching is better known and probably no portion of the Word of God is more difficult to read than the Beatitudes given in Matthew 5. This is because it is impossible to read these verses without realizing acutely that while they may describe the Lord Jesus Christ, they most certainly do not describe us.