Theme: Understanding the Beatitudes
This week’s lessons on the Beatitudes teach us that true happiness comes by living in a way that is contrary to the world and even to our natural way of thinking.
Scripture: Matthew 5
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. Our Lord said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” but we are not poor in spirit. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” but we do not mourn—at least for the right things. He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” but we hunger and thirst for sin. Hardly any portion of the Word of God runs more counter to our natural way of thinking.
Unfortunately, even good Bible students have sometimes misunderstood the Beatitudes (and, indeed, the entire Sermon on the Mount). The principal reason has been failure to recognize that Jesus is not so much concerned with a new system of morality as He is with the need for a new life. Only when we receive His life can we begin to live as He instructs us to live.
At the beginning of this century the social gospel movement was teaching that all that is really needed for peace on earth is a better understanding of this sermon. If people would only proclaim the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, so the argument went, the world would begin to see the wisdom of this way of life and eventually the kingdom of God would come. Well, the kingdom of God did not come, and the reason it did not come is that this movement was wrong.
It is not enough merely to understand the Sermon on the Mount. First you have to have Christ’s life. Indeed, if we do not understand this, we really do not understand the sermon. It will do no more good to preach the Sermon on the Mount to unsaved individuals than it would be to preach it to a corpse. Paul calls the unsaved person “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:5). If we are dead in trespasses and sins, we are unable to respond to righteousness. We need to be born again.
When we talk about the distortions of the social gospel movement, we should not be blind to the distortions that many evangelicals have made. By and large, evangelicals have dismissed the sermon by one subterfuge or another. Some have dismissed it as legalism. They say, “We are not under law; we are under grace. We must turn from the law to Jesus Christ for salvation. We cannot really be expected to live by the Sermon on the Mount.”
Others have claimed that the morality of the Sermon on the Mount is impossible to live by in this world. So it must be for the kingdom age: “If you hunger and thirst after righteousness in this world, you won’t get anywhere. You must compromise to get by.” The only difficulty with this viewpoint is that the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking of a sinful age precisely like our own. He said, “In this age, this sinful age, you have to live as I would have you live.” So while many have tried to dismiss them and relegate them to another age, we need actually to humble ourselves before Christ’s teachings and accept them. When we approach the Sermon on the Mount in this way, we will find it to be precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ said it is: a formula for blessedness or happiness.
The word “blessed” is very interesting. One of the words from which our English word “blessed” is derived is the word blod, meaning blood. Something was called blod-ed, or blessed, if it were set apart by a blood sacrifice. Another part of the meaning comes from the Latin word benedicere. It means to speak well of someone. When we praise God, we speak well of God. We bless His name. A third idea also contributed to the meaning of the word “blessed.” It was bliss. Bliss means happy or joyous, and since it sounds a lot like blessed, blessed came to take on its meaning as well. When our Lord said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” it is this latter meaning that is involved. Blissful is the one who learns to live in this way.
Why are the Beatitudes a difficult portion to read?
From the study, what is the main reason why the Beatitudes have been misunderstood?
Application: Set a goal this week to memorize the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 5:3-12.