The first section of the “Sermon on the Mount” is a series of statements often referred to as “The Beatitudes”. When his disciples come to Jesus on the hillside amidst the crowds, he opens his mouth to teach them and what he says conveys the first impressions of how the Kingdom of Heaven redefines reality.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Poor in spirit” was not a state these Jewish commoners actively aimed for, yet it was a state they were often in. They believed they were God’s chosen people, yet life under Rome’s fist and religion’s thumb often looked more like abandonment, creating hearts devoid of hope. Even while persistently reaching to grab hold of hope, their neglected status incessantly fueled their impoverished souls. Perhaps cursed may have been a more apt adjective to describe their state. Reality, however, was no longer as it had seemed; new reality rang in their ears as Jesus described them as Blessed. It was a profound paradox produced by the presence of Jesus and the kingdom he proclaimed; one that would counteract the cursed reality it contradicted as it expanded with blessedness in the hearts of the hopeful.
The blessedness Jesus bestows is not possession of materials or resources, but the reality of God’s redemptive reign in our midst, enrichening our wanting souls with his salvation work, pulling our poor spirits into the glorious abundance of himself. While the subsequent blessing statements are in the future tense, Jesus’ first issuance of blessedness here is in the present tense, as if the present blessedness of God’s kingdom reality spills over into every aspect of the life of his listeners.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The atmosphere of first century Israel weighed heavy, crushing spirits with heartache and mournfulness as the people longed for times of refreshment; but those who would believe the good news of the kingdom of heaven would find themselves wrapped in the comfort of its blessedness. “Comfort, O comfort…”
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Though the people of the land tried to humbly delight themselves in the Lord, the exploitative nature of the tyrannical world they knew always reminded them they were not gaining any new ground; but as the blessedness of God’s kingdom reality begins to bring all of life into subjection to the King, the meek shall realize they are sharing in the inheritance of an Earth being redeemed.
Having enriched impoverished souls and comforted mournful hearts, the blessedness Jesus proclaims also proceeds to satisfy the desires that have reflected the character of their God.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Right living can often get lost in ambiguity as we turn it into obsessive rat-race rule-keeping or the hypocrisy of performance art. But for those who have craved right living deep in their carnal being, the blessedness of God’s kingdom reality brings them into the essence of righteousness, embodied in the person and presence of Christ.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Those who have made mercy their mission have captured a vision of the dynamics by which kingdom reality is dispensed to the neighborhoods and peoples all around. Mercy begets mercy. Those who have shown it shall have it revisited upon them because it is the culture they have cultivated through the blessedness of kingdom reality.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The condition of our hearts shapes the substance of our vision. When the blessedness of kingdom reality is set into purified hearts, we are given visual of the King through whom everything in life is being encompassed, subjected, and sanctified. While impurity impedes clarity, purity expands our capacity to encounter God through the blessedness of his kingdom reality.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
First century Israel had no shortage of violence, striving, and tension, the participation of which deluded their identity as God’s people; those who would prioritize and participate in kingdom-centered peace, however, would within the blessedness of kingdom reality find a Father identifying them as his own and aligning them with his redemptive purposes.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Persecution needs clarifying; persecution is resistance to the cost of kingdom reality, namely humanity’s self-sovereignty. In persecution, it is not we who are being resisted or rejected, but the righteous life of kingdom reality. This is important to know because it prevents us from taking persecution personally; inversely it also prevents us from assuming we are blessed because we are being persecuted. We are not blessed by persecution, but we are blessed in persecution because it brings the kingdom of heaven already in our midst, via the presence of Jesus, to the forefront of reality.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The King and his kingdom bring a blessedness that liberates and sanctifies us to freely and fruitfully follow the King. But blessedness has a cost; it’s a way of life constantly in tension with what human nature prefers. To foreigners of kingdom reality, it seems like a curse, and so they resistantly respond to it as such. The paradoxical irony, however, is that Jesus has already redefined reality by calling this way of life Blessed, a reality which refreshes and renews its kingdom citizens. And so we respond with rejoicing and gladness, because God’s reign is setting his redemption into our weary world.
Jesus’ words provide a first impression of how kingdom reality is encountered and embodied in the lives of disciples: relief in light of God’s kingdom reality, comfort amidst suffering, a humility content with God’s redemptive work, satisfaction in God’s righteousness through Jesus, a heart of mercy towards a world that doesn’t deserve it, a purity that paves our perception of God, a priority for peace which plays us into God’s purposes, gladness that God’s kingdom perseveres even when it’s difficult to see. God’s kingdom reality has been set in our earthly midst; if we believe that good news and participate in the good life it brings, we shall be brought into its blessedness to give witness to this reality by which God is redeeming this world.