Out of the Depths

Out of the Depths

Our Lord begins his Sermon on the Mount, by pronouncing divine blessing upon his disciples, by using the Beatitude statements as the materials to generate a portrait for us of a true believer, a true disciple, a true follower of Christ.

Each Beatitude of Matthew 5 begin with the words “Blessed are.” The Greek term translated “blessed” is makarios, which can mean “happy” or even “carefree.” By using the word “blessed” to describe his disciples, Jesus is not congratulating them for a certain type of favorable behavior for which they will be rewarded but is affirming a quality of spirituality that is already present within the Christian.

The term “happy” can often be misleading as it is often employed in reference to an emotion or feeling based on circumstances. Jesus is not referring to the ordinary happiness based on entertainment, experience, or favorable circumstances. He is turning the world’s value system on its head, for Jesus “happy” disciples are poor and hungry, and they mourn and suffer persecution. So, rather than “happiness” in its mundane temporally satisfying sense, it refers to the deep inner joy of those who have long awaited the salvation promised by God and who now begin to experience its fulfillment. For disciples of Christ, happiness means wholeness and joy, even in the darkest hour.

It seems the whole world is longing for happiness, and it’s tragic to observe the manner in which people are seeking such happiness. The vast majority of people are seeking happiness in ways that will only produce utter misery in the end. However, Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount, that if you really want to experience Christian happiness, here is the way. In other words, this is the only type of person who is truly happy, the type of person who is truly blessed.

Upon first examination of the Beatitudes, these are not the traits we would naturally choose first for ourselves. The classic virtues of the past and the fashionable virtues of the present––toughness, independence, individuality––these are missing from the list. Instead, the first three Beatitudes describe weakness and neediness.

Why does Jesus bless poverty of spirit, mourning, and weakness? Why does he bless hunger and thirst and suffering? The only answer we can derive is that Jesus is emphasizing kingdom virtues, and therefore, Christians must expect the characteristics of the disciples of Jesus to differ dramatically form the virtues of this present age.

The Beatitudes are not eight random statements about virtue or descriptors of some exceptional Christians. Jesus isn’t describing the outstanding characteristics of a few of the most elite Christians. Rather, they are the portrait of a kingdom citizen, and more than that, they portray the heart of the King. He is offering a description of every Christian in every age, in every circumstance, in every setting, in every culture––and we are all meant to conform to its pattern and rise to its standard.

The Beatitudes do more than describe a disciple; they also describe Jesus, the Master. Matthew is implicitly asking disciples to pattern their lives after Jesus. In Matthew 20:24–25, Jesus states, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”

The gospel of becoming like the Chief Shepherd is evident in almost all of the Beatitudes:

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and he mourned when he saw that the people were scattered like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” and Jesus is meek and humble and lays a gentle, easy yoke upon his people (Matt 11:28–30).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and he hungered for righteousness, in fact, he fulfilled all righteousness (Matt 3:15).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful,” and He was merciful as he was moved with compassion on the sick and needy and empathized and healed them (Matt 14:14–21).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” and He was so pure that no one could find a legitimate charge against him at his trial (Matt 26:59–60).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and he often offered peace in healing and salvation to the people he met, and eternal peace to all who believe on his name (Mark 5:34; Luke 8:48; John 14:27).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,” and he was persecuted constantly, even to the point of death (Phil 2:8).

Within the Beatitudes, Jesus is shaping his disciples into conformity to himself. The Apostle Paul says we should aspire to be like Christ, for such Christlike maturity reaches “the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). Believers know Christ and therefore should put on the new self, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:20–24). We are “imitators of God,” loving one another and forgiving each other as Christ did (4:32–5:2).

Therefore, the Beatitudes are not a list of suggested Christian characteristics that we can pick and choose from. It is quite clear that every Christian is to manifest all of these characteristics, and they do not occur naturally, but are gifts of God’s grace that define us as Christians in contrast to those who are non-Christians.

There is no higher privilege and goal than in being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Our heavenly Father takes pleasure in us when we resemble his excellent character. He not only permits us to pursue such a lofty goal, but more importantly, he grants abundant grace for the journey, making it a privilege rather than a burden.

“Out of the Depths” first appeared on Reformation21

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