Recently, I was at the grocery store with my kids. (Ok pause for a second…for all you mothers out there with young children…this is not highly recommended because as you probably already know, shopping takes twice as long because your kids keep asking you to buy everything bad for them and then you can barely figure out what you need to purchase for dinner that evening!)
So on this particular trip to the grocery store, I did cave in on a couple of their wishes (I know…lack of discipline on my part) After we checked out with the woman working at the cash register, she kindly said “Good-bye! Have a blessed day!”
My youngest son Bryce turned to me and asked, “Is she a Christian?” I whispered to him that I wasn’t 100% sure but I would guess that she was.
We hear the words blessed/blessing often especially in our Christian circles but do we truly understand its meaning? From comments like “I feel so blessed.” to “What a blessing!” to “You really bless me.” …I find myself saying these statements as well from time to time. I even have cute t-shirt that says “BLESSED”.
What does the word “blessed” mean to you?
I recently asked a few people this question. A few of the comments I received was “feeling favored” … “I feel happy” … “feeling thankful” … and “positive feelings”.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word “bless” means “to make holy; to praise or glorify, to approve; to bestow prosperity or happiness upon; favor.”
What recently intrigued me about this word “blessed” and its’ significance is its appearance 9 times in one single passage of the Bible (Mathew 5:3-11) which is commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes”. This passage called “The Beatitudes” is the beginning part of the longest sermon Jesus preached called the “Sermon on the Mount”.
The Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew Chapters 5-7 is a collection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings which emphasizes His moral teaching. It is the first of what is termed the Five Discourses of Matthew (FYI…a discourse is a speech, talk, explanation, or thought on a subject) and takes place relatively early in Jesus’ ministry after He was baptized by John the Baptist, had fasted in the desert, and began to preach in Galilee.
According to English preacher and theologian John R.W. Stott…
“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed”.
Jesus preached this profound sermon on a hilltop nearly 2,000 years ago showing his disciples how to live as His follower and serve in God’s Kingdom. And because a large crowd had formed at the base of this mountainside, many others heard this remarkable message too.
If we were to summarize the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would possibly be…How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.
This famous sermon has great relevance for us today because I am sure we all (myself included) could use some help learning how we are to live a life that is dedicated and pleasing to God.
However, if we glance back above at the quote from John Stott, we can see that this sermon is not easily understood and not commonly obeyed. This poses a challenge because, if we don’t understand something, how can we obey it or know what we are to obey?
One thing I do know however is that we all want to be blessed…I know I do!
The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount called “The Beatitudes” gives us 8 promises of blessings.
Scholars have debated the actual number of beatitudes listed in this passage but most have decided that there are 8. And therefore, this brief overview does not include Verse 11 as the 9th beatitude. (For a greater understanding of the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety, I would suggest you read through chapters 5-7 in Matthew on your own.)
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 NIV
Because the word “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatitudo, meaning “blessedness”, a general biblical understanding of the word “blessed” is important in understanding how “The Beatitudes” are relevant for us today.
In the Bible, the word “bless” and its forms such as “blessed/blessing” appear over 400 times. There are several Hebrew and Greek words that are usually translated as “bless” or “blessing/blessed.”
SIDE NOTE: In the Bible, the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often translated “bless” is barak, which means “to praise, congratulate, or salute” and is even used to mean a curse. (Genesis 12:1-2. 22:16-18, Job 2:9). Another Hebrew word for “bless” is isesher, which is translated as “happiness.” (Job 5:17, Psalm 1:1-3)
In the New Testament, there are two primary Greek words translated as “bless.”
The first translation for “bless” is eulogeo which focuses on “good words” or the “good report” that others give of someone and also describes the blessing that we say over our food (Matthew 26:26). Interestingly, this word is where we get our English word “eulogy,” in which we speak well of one who has passed away. (Ephesians 1:3, 1Peter 3:9)
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios which means “happy”. Some say it’s a more nuanced word than just “happy” and means “supreme happiness.”
Notice in this passage that the phrase “blessed are” in each beatitude implies a current state of happiness or well-being. This expression held a powerful meaning of “divine joy and perfect happiness” to the people of that day.
In other words, Jesus was saying “divinely happy and fortunate are those who possess these inward qualities.” Notice also that after each current “blessed are,” there is also promised a future reward.
Because there is such great depth in each of the beatitudes…too lengthy for the purposes of this devotion…a brief overview of each will still give us some perspective and life application so we can better understand and follow Jesus’ teachings.
Verse 3…Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The phrase “poor in spirit” speaks of a spiritual condition of poverty. It describes the person who is humble before God and recognizes his or her need for God.
The promise is “the kingdom of heaven”. “The kingdom of heaven” refers to people who acknowledge Jesus as King and have accepted God’s free gift of salvation.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who humbly recognize their need for God, for they will enter into His kingdom.”
Verse 4…Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Everyone experiences sad and tragic losses at some time or another in this life. But the mourning in this verse is ultimately for a world that is lost and ruined.
“Those who mourn” speaks of those who express deep sorrow over sin and repent from their sins. The freedom found in forgiveness and the joy of eternal salvation is the “comfort” of those who repent.
Notice the slight difference from the previous beatitude. In the last one, the promise was that those poor in spirit have the kingdom. It is present tense whereas here the promise is for the future.
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. They know that death does not have the final victory.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who mourn for their sins, for they shall receive forgiveness and life eternal.”
Verse 5…Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
In the Bible, the “meek” are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self-control. The word meek has been defined as “strength under control.” Meekness and gentleness are part of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). They are produced by the Holy Spirit that dwells inside us as Christians.
Similar to “the poor” in verse 3, “the meek” are those who submit to God’s authority and make him Lord (Lord simply means King, Master, the One in control).
And the future promise is that “they will inherit the earth”. This is more than just a physical possession of land…it signifies a sense of place, security, and an inheritance from God.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who submit to God as Lord, for they will inherit everything he possesses.”
Verse 6…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Hunger” and “thirst” speak of a deep need and driving passion. Some scholars believe this “hunger and thirst for righteousness” has 2 meanings.
One would be in our personal life…the strong desire to be pleasing to God, to do what He wants, to live up to His will.
And out of this personal hunger would grow the desire for “righteousness” in our world…for social injustice in a world that is unrighteous and unjust. Righteousness means “right standing” and “morally right or justifiable”
The promise is that they will “be filled” which means receiving complete fulfillment and satisfaction of their soul’s desire.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who passionately long for Christ, for he will satisfy their souls.”
Verse 7…Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown 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.
Being “merciful” to others includes both forgiveness of the sinner and compassion for the suffering and the needy. They are called “blessed” because they place showing mercy above themselves, showing kindness to others.
It is not that they are merciful by nature, but because they have been shown mercy and live in constant dependence on the Lord.
The future promise is that those who demonstrate mercy “will be shown mercy.” Likewise, those who have received great mercy will show great mercy.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who show mercy through forgiveness, kindness, and compassion, for they will receive mercy.”
Verse 8…Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
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 in heart” come only good things, acts of love and mercy, desires for righteousness and justice, decisions that please God.
The promise is that “they will see God”. The “pure in heart” are those who have been cleansed from within. This is not outward righteousness that can be seen by men, but inward holiness that only God can see.
The Bible says in Hebrews 12:14 that without holiness, no one will see God.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who have been purified from the inside out, being made clean and holy, for they will see God.”
Verse 9…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons 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 (Isaiah 9:6,7).
Only God can give us peace in the midst of the strife, conflict, and chaos of this world. 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. True peacemakers are those who promote the Kingdom of God.
And the promise is that “they will be called sons of God.” That means they will be true children of God. This adds to what life will be like in the kingdom described in previous beatitudes: possession of land, stilling of hunger, vision of God, and now sonship.
All these begin when people enter the kingdom by faith, but will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom finally comes.
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and bring this same message of reconciliation to others. All who have peace with God are his children.”
Verse 10…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Those who are persecuted because of righteousness” means those who try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness will find opposition.
Just as Jesus faced persecution, so will His followers. Those who endure by faith rather than hide their faith to avoid persecution are genuine followers of Christ. They should rejoice, for their reward in heaven will be great.
But the promise stated here for those who suffer such persecution in this world is that their destiny will be a complete contrast to their present opposition… “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Paraphrase: “Blessed are those daring enough to openly live for Christ and suffer persecution, for they will receive the kingdom of heaven.”
To bring this rather extensive and challenging study of “The Beatitudes” to a close, my hope is that we have a greater understanding of these 8 blessings and the Christ-like characteristics/qualities that lead to these future promises. These blessings are the basic building blocks upon which a lot of our Christ-like actions are based.
And my prayer is that as Christians we would seek to develop these characteristics that Jesus felt was so important to share with His disciples on a hilltop one day 2,000 years ago….and so important for us today in living our lives as His followers and serving His Kingdom.
- What does the word “blessed” mean to you?
- Is your definition different from the definitions/translations discussed above?
- Have you previously read through “The Beatitudes” before?
- Why are “The Beatitudes” so important?
- Do the explanations above give you greater understanding into their relevance for your life today?
- How can we develop the characteristics of “The Beatitudes?”
- “The Beatitudes” are so important for us today because they give us the true meaning of being “blessed”. They are 8 current blessings that lead to future promises for us as Christians and give us clarity on who God considers “blessed.”
- Developing the characteristics of these beatitudes should become a priority because they are the building blocks upon which our Christ-like actions are based. However, these characteristics do not just develop overnight. They develop gradually the more we pursue God and allow Him to completely transform us from within. And it begins with Beatitude #1…humbling ourselves, recognizing our need for God, and letting Him have control of our life.
- Pray and ask God to help you in developing these qualities. If you struggle with letting God have control of your life, pray that God will give you the strength and discipline to surrender to Him. Because it is in this surrender that He will transform you.