When is the last time you heard someone say he or she was blessed? When did you last use that word to describe yourself? In Matthew 5:1–12 Jesus uses the word repeatedly to describe those who make up his kingdom. He uses it to describe you.
You are blessed. Listen to your King. Matthew in chapter 4, told you that Jesus went throughout Galilee preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Now the apostle give you a sample of that preaching. The kingdom is present, because the King is there. He is speaking authoritatively. He goes up a mountain, not necessarily to the very top, and crowds gather to hear him. You have echos of God speaking from Mount Sinai. Then only Moses could ascend the mountain. This time the crowds can approach, because one greater than Moses is speaking. He is the perfect mediator. Don’t think of this as a contrast between Old Testament law and New Testament grace. God was gracious at Sinai, and Jesus in this sermon, challenges you to a whole-hearted obedience. God had told Israel that they were a kingdom of priests. Now Jesus, as the great King, instructs you in how to live in his kingdom. “When Jesus began to talk about the Kingdom, He first wanted to tell who its citizens were. . . . Grace, His favor that that forgives sin, reigns supreme in the Kingdom. The citizens of this Kingdom are those who submit in faith to His grace, who do not trust in their own wisdom or rely on their own virtues but are wholly dependent on the grace of God, accepting that grace and making no excuses for unbelief. People who live by God’s grace in such a way show that they take after their Father in heaven and resemble Him.” (S. G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 3, p. 50).
Experience the blessing of fellowship with your God. The world, even when thankful for something good, tends to think in terms of “lucky.” Some translations use “happy” or “fortunate,” but while those convey something of the joy involved, they lack the connection between God’s presence and blessing that you find in the Old Testament. Look at Psalm 1, with its description of a person who is walking in fellowship with God and keeping his ways. Think of Psalm 139, and of the Aaronic blessing. The positive walk of fellowship with God carries with it a rejection of the ways of the wicked. God is gracious, but still just. Notice the blessing that the pure in heart receive (v. 8)—they shall see God,
God’s blessings surprise you. Inherit the kingdom as the sons of God. Notice how many of the Beatitudes speak of being in the kingdom. The King summons you into his kingdom. He describes its benefits, and calls you to share in them. But he goes beyond that. He calls you, not just his subjects, but identifies you as his sons. Because he is the Son, he calls you to be sons of God, v. 9. As one who receives God’s mercy and belongs to his kingdom, you have now become sons and daughters of God! “The kingdom neutralizes the effects of sin, but it does far more than this. It carries man to the highest level of knowledge and love and service and enjoyment of God of which he is capable, and nothing less than the attainment of this our Lord associates with the term ‘sonship.’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church, pp. 73–74).
Understand the standards of your King. Jesus turns the expectations of the world on their heads. Poverty is considered a curse, but Jesus pronounces those who are poor in spirit as blessed. This is not just a matter of low income, but it is a poverty of spirit, a recognition that you don’t have what it takes to be in the kingdom, but rather are dependent on the King. Yet, what you inherit is noting less than the kingdom of heaven. Mourners and the hungry and thirsty are blessed. Their grief is not only over loss, the hunger is not just for food, but the Lord meets the needs of his people abundantly. The promised blessedness is future. The humble and meek may not inherit this earth—it may be the new heavens and earth that they inherit. But the blessedness of the future has an already aspect as well. Though not in its fullness, you begin to share in that inheritance even today. “In them [the Beatitudes] Jesus describes the bliss of the kingdom of heaven as the inheritance of the [new] earth, as being filled with with the divine righteousness, as the seeing of God, as the manifestation of the children of God, all of these expressions pointing beyond the order of this world to the state of bliss and perfection that shall be revealed in the future world.” “Though the full realization of the of the salvation promised to the poor in spirit may be something of the future according to the rest of the Beatitudes, this nevertheless does not mean that the blessing must be conceived as something that cannot be given and received in the present.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, pp. 37, 78). Peace making is difficult to pursue and, like meekness, is likely to be perceived as a sign of weakness. But peacemakers are called sons of God.
Experience the blessing of suffering. You are united to your Savior in suffering. When you heard the word blessed, or used it yourself, was it in the context of something good or something bad that was happening? We tend to be thankful for and to call ourselves blessed when things go well. But Jesus actually emphasizes the blessing of being persecuted for righteousness, v. 10, and then drives the point home by using the second person and addressing you (verse s11–12). Jesus had just rejected Satan’s temptation of a suffering free path to receiving the kingdoms of the world. The kingdom his Father offered would be reached only by suffering more intense than what you and I can imagine. Even now, at the beginning of his public ministry, the Messiah has his eye on the cross and the empty tomb beyond it. The suffering Savior calls you blessed when you suffer for his sake. Paul makes clear that we are united with Christ, not only in glory, but also in suffering. Peter, encouraging suffering Christians, points to the suffering of Christ on the cross.
You are blessed when you suffer! North American Christianity tends to be complacent and comfortable. But, if united to Christ, you ought to expect suffering. Not all suffering for Christ is outright persecution. The tension and pain of living as one who belongs to the kingdom of heaven, but still living in a world that is under the curse of sin and subject to its effects is part of that suffering. But recognize that sharper suffering may be coming. I read this week of Dr. David Mackereth, 56, a National Health Service employee, who was fired from his post in Britain at the Department for Work and Pensions in July because he would not use a transgender pronoun, saying he believes “gender is defined by biology and genetics” and the “Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female.” The employment court that heard his case and ruled against him stated specifically that belief in Genesis 1:27 was “incompatible with human dignity and conflict(s) with the fundamental rights of others. Examples could be multiplied. Be prepared for suffering. It may cost you your job or even your freedom. Certainly we who live in nations where we have some voice in government and some appeal to law can and should be active in resisting evil. But your weapons are not those of the world, but rather those of God’s kingdom. Don’t let suffering take you by surprise. But put the suffering in perspective. Christ suffered and entered his glory. The new and glorious creation, the heavenly kingdom is before you. And even until then, you have the assurance that the Lord will never leave you or forsake you. The Savior suffered and gave his life for you. He will not abandon you, no matter what you face.
Are you blessed? Whether life is good or difficult, whether facing challenges or smooth paths, you can answer “Yes!” if you are the recipient of God’s mercy in Christ. His suffering is leading you to glory.