I just started reading through the New Testament again, with the goal of pouring over every verse and looking for its explicit teaching on how I am to be living my life to honor God. Just five chapters in, and it has been very challenging to me to re-examine myself daily. I was particularly struck by my perception of the Beatitudes. Given in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, He gives a series of statements on different groups of people and how they are blessed. It was a shocking inversion on standard beliefs at the time, lifting up the poor, the reviled, the meek. They have become so commonplace to us that I think we forget how phenomenal these blessings are! I just want to list them here before I continue on.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I used to always just look on these statements as a set of bad circumstances coupled with an encouragement from Jesus. I thought that it meant that IF I should find myself in one of these categories, then I can take hope because God is there and taking care of me. I can’t say I was eager to experience any of these personally, but viewed it more as a safety net for the most part. But it struck me the other day as I read through this that my perception may be a little bit off. Shouldn’t I desire the blessing of God? Shouldn’t I desire to live a life totally reliant upon Him? Instead of looking at these as promises of hope when my life takes a bad turn, shouldn’t I strive for these in my life? Obviously the points of being meek and merciful are easier to strive for in theory because as Christians we know we should model these traits. But what about persecution? Mourning? Being poor in Spirit? Those don’t jump out at me as really anything I want to experience, and yet God’s blessing is coupled with these attributes.
Let’s take persecution for example. That doesn’t sound particularly pleasant to experience. Yet isn’t persecution a sign that we are actually modeling Christ? He was persecuted His entire ministry for the things He was saying and doing. So were the disciples and apostles. In fact, it was during the times of persecution under the Roman Empire that the church flourished the most. It was only when the persecution ended and the church gained acceptance across the Empire that it began to languish and become warped by false teaching. How about the church today? How much persecution do we really experience? The culture falling deeper and deeper into sin is not the same as persecution. That is just natural progression of a fallen world. That is just a reminder to us that we have a job to do here, a mission to take the hope of Christ to all those around us and demonstrate to them that they are loved, that they no longer have to be enslaved to their sin nature. That’s not persecution. And we don’t fight it with protests or politics. It isn’t us versus them. It is a rescue mission, and stemming the tide of sin in this culture occurs by reaching one person at a time with the Gospel message. Now maybe our country is heading in the direction of Christian persecution – eventually. But as I pointed out with the Roman Empire, is that such a bad thing? Our we called to live lives of comfort and acceptance, or are we called to share in Christ’s suffering as a part of becoming Christ-like (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Peter 2:20-21, Colossians 1:24-26)? Perhaps a little persecution would do good for the stagnation that is plaguing us as Christians in America.
So instead of avoiding the circumstances illustrated by the Beatitudes, I now want to strive for them, for the blessing of God. I want to mourn the spiritual condition of those around me and be spurred on in urgency to reach them. I want to be poor in spirit, or literally in the Greek, to be a beggar of the soul, seeking God with my entire being. I want to display true mercy and to hunger for righteousness. The Beatitudes bring a wonderful promise of God’s blessing. I want to experience every one of those promises.