This morning I was a visiting speaker up the road. “We’re really looking forward to the Beatitudes!” they enthused.
“I love the Beatitudes!” I said. “Who’ll be preaching them?”
“We thought you were!”
Oh. No-one told me. I’d brought a another sermon to preach. And that’s essentially what I spoke on, but I couldn’t resist giving them something on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Here it is in a nutshell: the Christian life is not about payback!
The Beatitudes are 8 blessings that define the character of the kingdom. They are the gateway to the sermon on the mount – just as Psalms 1 and 2 are the gateway to the Psalms (beginning and ending with “blessed”). They speak of the one who belongs to the kingdom as one who is “blessed”. And who belongs to the kingdom?
Straight off the bat, it’s the “poor in spirit”. Or as a good friend calls them, “the spiritually rubbish.” The first description of a kingdom person is not of their spiritual accomplishments but their spiritual poverty. In fact the first four blessings are all about our complete emptiness before God. Before the Father we are “poor in spirit”, “meek”, “mourning” and totally lacking in righteousness! We can claim no riches with the bank of heaven. Instead we are needy beggars, hungering and thirsting to be filled.
And God does fill us. He fills us with righteousness. What does that mean? Well just compare v10 and v11 and you’ll see that “righteousness” is Jesus. He’s the Gift of God for desperate sinners. To those dying of hunger, God gives His Son as the Bread of life. And so the hungry are fed. What next?
Well the second half of the Beatitudes are about our relationships to the world. And suddenly we’re not spoken of as empty. Now we’re full and asked to give to the world. We show mercy, we’re pure in all our dealings, we make peace and, as we reach out, we are persecuted. These four Beatitudes feel very different to the first four. Here we’re being asked to pass on that which we have freely received.
Before God: Beggars. Towards the world: Benefactors.
When we grasp this we realise there is a flow to the kingdom. From the Father comes the grace of Jesus. We receive Him by faith and by His Spirit we are swept out to the world to offer that same grace. Martin Luther once said “God does not need your good deeds, your neighbour does.” This is the flow of the kingdom. From God, out to the world.
Have you ever burnt yourself out trying to “do it for God”? I have. Do you often think of God as, essentially, a Taker who’s always asking more from you? Every day I fall for that lie.
We need to remember – before our Father we are poor, mournful, meek and hungry. And that’s a good thing. Be a beggar before God and allow Him to fill you with Christ, the living Bread. Your Father is a Fountain of life and blessing and it’s all yours in Jesus. (Read Ephesians 1:3-14 if you doubt that!). If you’re moved to respond to such grace don’t, whatever you do, “pay it back”. God’s grace is not a loan! It’s a free gift. And it always runs downhill.