Chapter OneThe Ideal
Blessed are you .
It is more than a coincidence that whereas the last word of the Old
Testament, which enshrines the Old Covenant, is "curse," the first
word of our Lord's first recorded sermon under the New Covenant
is "blessed." This latter word is the keynote of His kingdom.
The Old Covenant of law could pronounce only a curse on those
who failed to fulfill its demands. The New Covenant, which was
sealed with Christ's blood, does not reduce the law's demands but
imparts the desire and the dynamic to fulfill them. The "thou shalt,
thou shalt not" of the Old is replaced by the "I will, I will" of the New.
In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus set forth the characteristics
of the ideal subjects of His kingdom-qualities that were present
in perfection in the life and character of the One who announced
them. It is a fascinating exercise to match each of those virtues to the
life and ministry of the Lord.
In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed His words primarily to
His disciples but did so in the hearing of the crowd (v. 1). "His disciples
came to him, and he began to teach them." So this is a message for
He directed their attention away from the idea of being satisfied
with mere outward presentability to an immeasurably higher and
more demanding lifestyle. The standard He set is so high that no one
can live the life depicted in the Sermon who is not the one depicted
in the Beatitudes. The whole Sermon is revolutionary, but nowhere
more so than in these verses. They cut right across the popular idea of
the definition of blessedness and happiness.
Many think that if they had abundant wealth, absence of sorrow
and suffering, good health, a good job, unrestricted gratification of
appetites, and kind treatment from everyone, that would be blessedness
indeed. But Jesus completely reversed that concept and substituted
many of the very experiences we would like to sidestep-poverty,
mourning, hunger, thirst, renunciation, persecution. True blessedness
is to be found along this path, He told them.
The word blessed can be rendered "O the bliss!" or "to be envied, to
be congratulated," and it is applied to eight conditions of life that
divide into two groups.
Four Passive Personal Qualities
Christ begins by calling four passive personal qualities blessed.
Spiritual Inadequacy. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven" (v. 3), or "O the bliss of those who feel inadequate!"
On the surface those words have a hollow ring to those whose lives
are plagued by that debilitating condition. Of course it is to the poor
in spirit that our Lord is referring here, not to the poor in pocket.
There is no virtue in poverty per se; it is certainly not an automatic
There are two words for "poor" in Greek. One means someone who
has nothing superfluous; the other, one who has nothing at all, is
bankrupt, and has no resources. It is this second meaning that Jesus
referred to. The lesson is clear. The person who is to be envied is the
one who, in consciousness of his spiritual bankruptcy, is cast back on
God and draws on His limitless resources. As Luther said, "We are all
beggars, living on the bounty of Cod." But such poverty leads to spiritual
affluence. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Spiritual Contrition. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be
comforted" (v. 4), or "O the bliss of the penitent!"
This is another paradox. It is as though one said, "How happy are
the unhappy!" This quality is the product of the poverty of spirit of
the first beatitude. It is not bereavement that is primarily in view,
although that need not be excluded. The word mourn conveys the idea
of grief of the deepest kind. It is mourning over sin and failure, over
the slowness of our growth in likeness to Christ-mourning over our
There are two mistakes that the disciple may make. One is to believe
that Christians must never be happy and laughing; the other, that
Christians must always be happy and laughing. As a wise man said,
"There is a time for everything . a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).
No one attains full maturity without the experience of sorrow. There
is room for the disciple to mourn over the slowness of his growth and
the paucity of his spiritual attainment altogether apart from any actual
sin in his life.
Mourning and bliss are not incompatible, for Jesus said, "Blessed
are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:21). The blessedness
is in the comfort God gives, not in the mourning itself. "They will
Spiritual Humility. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the
earth" (v. 5), or "O the bliss of the humble!"
Humility is an exotic flower in our sooty and smoggy world. It is no
native of earth and is little esteemed by man in general.
The word meek is more than amicability or mere mildness of disposition.
Its meaning has been weakened by the line in the children's
hymn "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild." He was meek but was far from
mild. The impression the hymn leaves is that Jesus was rather weak
and ineffective. In fact, He was the very reverse of weak.
Was it mildness He displayed when, alone and with uplifted whip,
He drove the materialistic traffickers with their sheep and cattle out of
the Temple? He was anything but servile and spineless. When He
asked the disciples who men said that He was, they replied, "Some say
Elijah, some John the Baptist"-two of the most rugged characters in
the Bible! The word meek was used of a horse that had been broken
and domesticated, giving the idea of energy and power, controlled
In heaven, the seven angels sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb
(Revelation 15:3)-Moses, the meekest man on earth, and Jesus who
said, "I am meek and lowly in heart." But both could blaze with sinless
anger when the interests of God were at stake. Meekness is no
This virtue challenges the world's standards. "Stand up for your
rights!" is the strident cry of our day. "The world is yours if you can get
it." Jesus said, on the contrary, that the world is yours if you renounce
it. The meek, not the aggressive, inherit the earth. The meek have an
inheritance. The worldly have no future. "They will inherit the earth."
Spiritual Aspiration. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled" (v. 6), or "O the bliss of the
The blessing promised here is not for mere wistfulness or languid
desire. It is for those who have a passionate craving not after happiness
alone but after righteousness-a right relationship with God. The
truly blessed person is the one who hungers and thirsts after God
Himself, not only the blessings He gives. David knew that aspiration
when he wrote, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul
pants for you, O God" (Psalm 42:1).
The discovery that happiness is a by-product of holiness has been a
joyous revelation to many. We should therefore "follow after holiness."
God is eager to satisfy all the holy aspirations of His children.
"They will be filled."
Four Active Social Qualities
The ideal disciple will have four active social characteristics.
Compassionate in Spirit. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be
shown mercy" (v. 7), or "O the bliss of the merciful!"
It is always to the undeserving that mercy is extended. If it were
deserved, it would no longer be mercy but mere justice.
It is possible to have a passion for righteousness and yet lack compassion
and mercy for those who have failed to attain it. Mercy is the
ability to enter into another's situation and be sympathetic toward his
plight or problem. Like meekness, this is a distinctively Christian
grace. We are naturally geared more to criticism than to mercy.
Pity can be sterile. To become mercy, it must graduate from mere
emotion to compassionate action. Although mercy does not condone
sin, it endeavors to repair its ravages. Mercy encourages the one who
has fallen to begin again.
Our personal experience will be the rebound of our attitudes and
Reactions. Just as in physics, where action and reaction are equal and
opposite-those who are merciful will be shown mercy, and if we are
shown mercy, we will be merciful. "They will be shown mercy."
Pure in Heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God"
(v. 8), or "O the bliss of the sincere!"
Cleanness of heart brings clearness of vision. The emphasis here is
on inward purity and reality in contrast to external respectability.
The revelation of God envisaged here is not granted to the mighty
intellect unless that is accompanied by purity of heart. It is more than
an intellectual concept that is in view; it is not a matter of optics but
of moral and spiritual affinity. Sin befogs the vision. The word pure
here means "unadulterated," free from alloy, sincere and without
hypocrisy. "They will see God."
Conciliatory in Spirit. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be
called sons of God" (v. 9), or "O the bliss of those who create harmony!"
It is not peace-lovers or peacekeepers who qualify for this beatitude,
but peacemakers. Nor is it those who maintain an existing peace, but
those who enter a situation where peace has been broken and restore
it. The beatitude speaks not of a pacifist but of a reconciler.
Very often peace can be made only at a cost to the peacemaker himself.
It was so with our Lord. "He made peace by the blood of his
cross." He achieved it by allowing His own peace to be broken. The
disciple is to follow in His train. To be a lover of peace is good. To be
a promoter of peace is better. "They will be called sons of God."
Unswerving in Loyalty. "Blessed are those who are persecuted
because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed
are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds
of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great
is your reward in heaven" (vv. 10-11), or "O the bliss of the sufferer
What was done to the Savior will be done to the disciple. But even
insult, reviling, injury, and persecution can work blessing-not in the
persecution itself but in the divine compensations it brings.
The tense of the verb conveys the sense, "Blessed are those who have
been persecuted." The blessing is in the results that flow from it.
Suffering is the authentic hallmark of Christianity. "Even if you
should suffer for what is right, you are blessed," said Peter (1 Peter
But not all persecution is blessed. Sometimes Christians bring it on
themselves through unwise and unchristian actions. For persecution
to bring blessing, there are three conditions:
(1) It must be for righteousness' sake, not as a result of our
angularity or fanaticism or tactlessness.
(2) The evil-speaking must have no basis in fact; it must not be
something that is the outcome of our sin or failure.
(3) It must be for Christ's sake-suffering that arises from our
consistent loyalty to Him.
"Great is your reward in heaven."
A. What does it mean to you that the Old Testament delivers
a message of "curses" and the New Testament delivers
a message of "blessing" (p. 11)?
B. Give yourself a progress report on a scale from 1 to 10
(10 high) for each of the four passive personal qualities
of discipleship (pp. 12-14).
C. Which of the four social qualities in the Beatitudes are
you most tempted to ignore? Why?
Chapter TwoConditions of
Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
As usual, Jesus was surrounded by the thronging crowds, who
were listening to His every word. Large crowds were traveling
with Jesus (Luke 14:25), fascinated by the novelty, winsomeness,
and challenge of this new teaching, for it was still in the days of
The situation presented Him with a unique opportunity to capitalize
on their feverish interest. The whole nation was looking for a
charismatic leader who would help them throw off the galling Roman
yoke-and here was someone superbly qualified for the task. All He
needed to do was to perform a few spectacular miracles and then lead
them in a great insurrection.
Did He flatter them, offer some inducement, perform some miracle
to win their allegiance? It seemed as though He were intent on alienating
their interest and actually discouraging them from following Him.
He began to thin their ranks by stating in the starkest of terms the
exacting conditions of discipleship.
The line Jesus took with the impressionable crowd was the exact
opposite of much evangelism today. Instead of majoring in the benefits
and blessings, the thrills and excitement, the adventure and advantages
of being His disciples, He spoke more of the difficulties and dangers
they would meet and the sacrifices that would be involved. He
placed the cost of being His disciple very high. He never concealed the
Robert Browning captures this aspect of the Lord's message in one
of his poems:
How very hard it is to be a Christian!
Hard for you and me,
Not for the mere task of making real
That duty up to its ideal,
Effecting thus complete and whole
A purpose of the human soul,
For that is always hard to do.
It is a well-proved fact that dynamic leaders in all ages and in all
spheres have always met with the best response when they confronted
people with the difficult challenge rather than the soft option. The appeal
to self-interest inevitably draws the wrong kind of follower.
In the early stages of World War II, when the highly mechanized
German armies were sweeping forward almost unchecked, the French
resistance collapsed. Great Britain was left alone with its "contemptible
army" on foreign soil to face alone the German colossus.
I well remember a speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill at that
critical juncture. It outlined in starkest terms the ominous situation in
which the nation was placed, with inadequate weapons, weak defenses,
and the possibility of an invasion imminent. He uttered no soft words of
comfort but challenged the whole nation to rise to the occasion.
We will fight them on the streets;
We will fight them on the beaches .
All l offer you is blood and sweat and tears.
Instead of depressing them, his words galvanized the nation into a
superhuman war effort that turned the tide and won the day.
Why did Jesus impose such stringent terms? Had He been prepared
to soften His conditions of discipleship the crowds would have swept
along behind Him, but that was not His way. He was looking for men
and women of quality; mere quantity did not interest Him.
In His message to the crowds concerning the conditions on which
they could be His disciples, Jesus employed two illustrations:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit
down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to
complete it? . Or suppose a king is about to go to war
against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider
whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one
coming against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:28, 31)
Jesus employed these illustrations to demonstrate His disapproval
of impulsive and ill-considered discipleship. Like the builder, He too
is engaged in a building program-"On this rock I will build my
church" (Matthew 16:18). Like the king, He too is engaged in a desperate
battle against the Devil and the powers of darkness.
In this building and battling, Jesus desires to have associated with
Him disciples who are men and women of quality-those who will
not turn back when the fighting grows fierce. Are we disciples of this