Word of the Cross Bible Study
June 29th, 2011

Read Matthew 5:2-11: “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

People who are “poor in spirit” are those who are humble before God. They realize that they have nothing in this life that they can contribute to receiving the kingdom of heaven. They have afflicted their souls, meaning that they have humbled themselves and repented with deep contrition; and they have come to the king as helpless and hopeless sinners. There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, and no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God. Everyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must be “spiritually poor,” for salvation is a gift from God.

The blessing Jesus announces that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now this of course does not mean that all poor people are in the kingdom. One thinks of the self-made poverty of the prodigal son. No, the poverty is not the chief thing, but the qualification of the spirit it. It is the poor in spirit, those who have humbled themselves and become dependent on God--they have the kingdom of heaven. In fact, everyone who is in the kingdom had to become poor in spirit. They all come with a broken heart and a contrite spirit seeking the Savior.

Read Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

So for mourning to be “in the faith,” it will be likewise a mourning not just for the suffering and sadness of life, but for the sinfulness that causes it. They understand that their grieving is ultimately for a world that is lost and ruined, in which God and his will do not prevail. But in their mourning the disciples of Jesus have opened their heavy hearts to the Lord, and they know that their grieving is not without hope. They know that their weeping and grieving is but for a time only. They know that death does not have the final victory, for the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible. They know that the Messiah will turn all that away someday. And that hope brings them comfort.

So the promise is that they will be comforted. They will be consoled above all when God wipes away all tears, and death will be no more, nor grief nor tribulation (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4). This is what citizens of his kingdom can expect.

Read Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

In the Bible the meek are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self-control; they are free from malice and a condescending spirit. The meek may like the poor have no resources of their own; but then they may, for Moses was described as being meek and humble (Num. 12:3). But the meek do not exploit and oppress others; they are not given to vengeance and vendettas, they are not violent, and they do not try to seize power for their own ends. In short, they have emulated the nature of Jesus in their lives and learned from him. This does not mean that they are weak or ineffective in life. They may be gentle and humble, but they can and do champion the needs of the weak and the oppressed.

The promise here is that they will possess the land. What land is meant? Probably the Promised Land. All through the Bible this was the promise to the people of Israel, a land. But possessing the land signified much more than a possession; it signified a sense of place, security, an inheritance from God. But the land was constantly invaded and the people exiled and scattered. And yet the promise of the regathering to the land remained in the promises of the New Covenant. Those promises seem now to be realized with the second coming of the Messiah when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The promise is for all who are in the New Covenant. And the promise will be fulfilled in a far more glorious way than anyone could imagine. The new creation will not be possessed by the powerful despots, the ruthless tyrants, or the manipulative schemers. It will be possessed by the meek.

Read Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

This beatitude is saying much more than most people think. It is not simply describing those who are righteous, or who try to do good things. It is describing their passion in life--they hunger and thirst for it. Like the poor and the meek these people put their lives into the hand of God and hope for his help.
We have already thought about righteousness with its meaning of conforming to the standard, i.e., doing the will of God. Here the word probably has two meanings. One would certainly be in the personal life--the strong desire to be pleasing to God, to do what God wants, to live up to the will of God. But out of this would grow the desire for righteousness in the land, for social justice in a world that is unrighteous and unjust. The desire for personal righteousness cannot be separated from the world around.

And because that is a proper desire it will be fulfilled. It may not be filled immediately, but certainly shall be in the future when the king establishes his reign of righteousness. But the promise of the King is that the desire for righteousness will be filled. Theologically this happens in several stages. The basic desire to be right with God is met by the gracious gift of righteousness. This we call justification, being declared righteous in the courts of heaven. Then, as a disciple of the Savior, the desire to do righteous works will find fulfillment by the power of the Spirit. This we call practical sanctification, becoming more and more like Christ. And in the future, when the Lord returns and establishes universal righteousness, we shall be changed. This we call glorification, being transformed into the glorious state.

Read Matthew 5:7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

One thing that is common to the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness is that their life is not self sufficient but looks outward for help. They understand mercy for they know their own inadequacies, dependence, weaknesses and incompleteness. And, when they receive gracious and merciful bounty from the King, they in turn know to show mercy to others. Showing mercy to others includes both the forgiveness of the sinner and compassion for the suffering and the needy.

They are called blessed because they place showing mercy above their own rights; they take no hostile stand against people in need, but try to show kindness to others and heal wounds. It is not that they are merciful by nature, but because they have been shown mercy and live in constant dependence on the Lord.

And because they understand mercy and show mercy to others, the word from God is that they shall obtain mercy. Ultimately this looks forward to the coming of the king and the Day of Judgment when by his mercy they will be welcomed through the judgment and into the kingdom. They will receive mercy, not because they did enough good deeds, but because they understood how important mercy is in their own spiritual pilgrimage and having entered into that state of grace were eager to share it with others. They learned to forgive others because they were constantly being forgiven; they learned to show mercy to others because they were being shown mercy every day.

Read Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

This beatitude picks up an Old Testament image and applies it to its fulfillment in the kingdom. It describes both an inner purity and a singleness of mind. The “heart” is used in the Bible for the will, the choices. And so to be pure in heart means that the decisions one makes, the desires one has, the thoughts and intentions of the will, are untarnished by sin, and that the will is determined to be pleasing to God. From the pure of heart come only good things, acts of love and mercy, desires for righteousness and justice, decisions that please God.
The description of the human “heart” outside the household of faith is very different--at its worst it is constantly acting selfishly and causing pain (Gen. 6:5). Jesus said it was what came from the heart that defiled people, evil thoughts, impure desires, blasphemies and the like (Matt. 15:18, 19). Nothing short of a change of heart will bring about a pure heart. Jesus does not explain that here; but his language of being born again will necessarily begin the process. The transformation from a heart of flesh to a pure heart will come by following Christ, but it will not be an easy or a swift change. But those who enter this kingdom of righteousness must have this new heart.

And the promise for them is that they will see God. What an incredible statement! The Bible says that no one has ever seen God (Exod. 33:18-23; 1 Tim. 6:16). People have seen appearances of the Lord in various forms, like Moses on Mount Sinai seeing the hem of the garment (Exod. 33), or the Israelite leaders eating with the Lord and seeing the God of Israel in the form of the revealed presence (Exod. 24), or an Isaiah (Isa. 6) or John (Rev. 1).

One aspect of this promise is here and now by faith--they will see God in all the events and circumstances of life. But the Bible promises much more. Here on earth the vision of God is denied to us; but one day when heaven will be opened he will be visible to our transfigured eyes. As Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I and not another. Howe my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27).

Read Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

God is the God of peace; His whole plan of redemption is to provide peace with God for those who were formerly alienated from God, and ultimately bring peace to the whole world (Isa. 9:6, 7). This is the goal of the work of the Messiah.

But in the human race, however, there is strife and conflict with little hope for peace and unity. The peace that God brings is not a cessation of hostilities, tolerance, or the readiness to give way. True peace that the world needs calls for a complete change of nature. And only God can give this kind of peace. It is a peace that the world does not understand (John 14:27). It begins with reconciliation with God and extends to reconciliation with other people.

Those who are peacemakers are then first and foremost people who understand what true peace is. Their effort is to strive to establish a peace that embraces God’s provision of peace, so that people will be in harmony with one another because they are at peace with God. In other words, the true peacemakers are they who promote the kingdom of God. Their lives are given to working for promoting the kingdom of God, reconciling adversaries, quenching hatred, uniting those who are divided, promoting true understanding and spiritual love. And they do this because they know what true peace is. So the quality described here is one that is spiritual and not simply a political seeking of peace.

And the promise is that they shall be called the sons of God. That means they will be true children of God. This adds to what life will be like in the kingdom--possession of land, stilling of hunger, vision of God, and now son ship. And all these begin when people enter the kingdom by faith, but will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom finally comes.

Read Matthew 5:10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

In this fallen world when people try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, they find opposition. One would think that such a life would attract people to the kingdom of God. But the fact that it does not naturally do that tells us clearly that the race is not only alienated from God, but in rebellion to God. They might want a form of justice, but in their own terms. They much prefer power, and privilege, and possessions. And so John the Baptist called for righteousness and went to an early death. And Jesus proclaimed all the right virtues but found opposition to his message because it called for them to enter his kingdom. And if they persecuted these, will they not also oppose the disciples?

The beatitude is not simply for all who have suffered persecution. God, as the righteous judge of the earth, will deal with that as well. But this beatitude is for followers of Christ, those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. And as the next verse clarifies to the disciples, that means suffering for Christ’s sake. They have been identified by faith with the King, they carry his name, and they proclaim the good news that there is a kingdom of righteousness and peace that is spiritual and eternal. But they will find opposition. Nevertheless, they should rejoice, for their reward in heaven will be great. God will make it up to them, and more.

But the blessing stated here for those who suffer such persecution in this world is that their destiny will be a complete contrast to their present humiliation--theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And that, the disciples know, is something worth dying for. But it is not a future reality only--they have it now (and so this blessing parallels the first).

Read Matthew 5:11 "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."

The last couple of verses have an implicit claim to deity by Jesus. In the Old Testament the prophets were persecuted because of their faithfulness to God. Now Jesus says that His disciples will be persecuted because of their faithfulness to Him. He is God.