Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying… Blessed.” These are the opening words of Matthew 5. They mark the beginning of what has been called The Sermon On The Mount. This “sermon” is considered one of the greatest moral/ethical teachings in history. This sermon begins with what we call The Beatitudes, these are a series of statements that all begin with the word blessed and then states those who are blessed. This sermon and the beatitudes that lead into it is delivered by Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Jewish rabbi whom Christians proclaim to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and God Himself. This sermon speaks of a kingdom that is and has come, and it speaks of the nature of that kingdom, what life will be like in that kingdom, and the kinds of people that will be in that kingdom.
A Strange & Peculiar People
Life is a precarious venture. It is littered with pitfalls and successes, pain and joy. So many of Jesus’ words offered comfort to those who were oppressed, marginalized, and worn down by the world. He calls out to those who have recognized like the writer of Ecclesiastes not just the vanity of man-centered endeavors, but also the toll it takes on body and soul. It is why Matthew 11:28-30 brings a tear to the eyes of the person who sees in Christ her true comforter and healer.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)
It is here that The Beatitudes stand as a source of hope and comfort to the one who understands these words of Christ. There is a phrase I often include in the lyrics I write, it changes slightly depending on the context, but it is always in the form of a question: Why me? Or, Who was I? Or How could it all have come to this? It is a cry from my heart to God asking Him: “Why did you choose me?” “Who was I that Christ would be a friend to me?” “How could my life have come to this place where I am a child of the High King of Heaven?” I know who and what I was, and what God brought me from and where He has currently placed me. I know who I currently am and my present failures and shortcomings. I know my weaknesses, my hang-ups, my frustrations, and so much more. Thus, those questions will at times incessantly call out from the depths of my soul as they do for many Christians, and rightly so.
When we walk away from a lukewarm faith and understanding of Christ and the Gospel we are no longer Laodiceans. Instead, we do realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). And in realizing that one can only ask God, “Why me, what do you see in me, who am I that you love me?” The psalmist pondered the same question, “…what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:4–5).
We understand that the Almighty Creator of the universe God the Father gave His son over to death that we might have life. That the holy and righteous Lord of Glory Jesus the Christ handed over His life to the grave that we might be brought forth from our tombs. That the Spirit that brings life and light brought Christ back to life that we might have life eternal in Him. You wonder why Jesus calls these people and His disciples blessed as they sit listening to Him on the mount? Because He himself, the Lord of Light has come near to those who are far off in darkness, those whom the world looks down upon, and He has brought the Kingdom with Him.
Jesus not only reveals that the Kingdom has come near to those who seem unfit for it, but also that those who are in this Kingdom possess these attributes the Beatitudes highlight. They have not attained these attributes or worked their way into being the type of people the Beatitudes describe. No, rather they have been mystically transformed into these kinds of people by the grace of the Father. This is the blessing, to be called by the Father, brought into His Kingdom, made like Christ, and designated a holy and chosen people forgiven and loved by Him.
So, as we work through the Beatitudes keep these things in mind and consider them in your heart. Many different perspectives will be offered by the various writers who are going to approach these blesseds.
A Word About the Writers
The writer of Hebrews says of the people of God:
“Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:12–16 ESV)
We have pulled together a team of eight writers. Eight people who “desire a better country.” Eight people who trust in the promise of Christ that He has prepared for them a city. And not just any city, but like Abraham they look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10). Eight people who have not simply studied The Beatitudes, but have allowed those words of Christ to permeate their entire being, to capture their imaginations and grip their souls as they live out life as citizens of this kingdom in the here and now. These people are not perfect, trust me I know each of them personally. They have not arrived at some superior state of being or enlightenment.
These are humble men and women who recognize their need for the grace and mercy of the Lord Christ, and whose lives have been so irreversibly changed by the Triune God that they desire to tell, teach, and preach of the Savior to any who will listen. They, like so many of us, are the poor in spirit, the merciful, those who mourn, the persecuted, those who hunger and thirst, the reviled and despised, the peacemakers, the meek, and the pure in heart of Matthew 5:1-12. They are not popular or well-known, they are not renowned exegetes or theologians. They are quiet people who live quiet lives, yet they have much of value to share with those who are willing to listen.
And Here We Go…
We truly hope that over the next two and a half months you will find these writings to be encouraging and uplifting, but also challenging and convicting. I am deeply grateful to Tim and Mike both of whom are pastor and friend to me, we share many laughs together. Shane has become a close friend and brother that takes me deeper into rich and practical spiritual exercises and disciplines that shape my heart, mind, and soul. Wailer (Chad) has become an older brother that supports me in what I do while giving me wisdom in the form of Jewish proverbs, complex metaphors, or a series of facial expressions that say more than a thousand self-help books ever could. Jeff has unwittingly become my partner in crime as I take on project after project constantly enlisting him to run with me in all of my pursuits, and he willingly, and maybe sometimes regrettingly, runs with me.
All of the lost hours of my days are usually found with Amy as we have timeless conversations about faith and theology where she constantly helps to reshape my thinking while also getting my head to connect with my heart. Adena stands as a shining example in my life of a godly wife and mother that still manages to pour into her friends and read as if she is researching for a dissertation while also having a good time (I’ll keep quiet about St. Patrick’s Day). Marci has stepped into my life as a little sister that frustrates me while making me laugh because her wit and intellect allow her to go toe to toe with me, and often defeat me as our conversations move back and forth between clever banter and rigorous theological dialogue.
Me, I’m just a guy that continues to stumble along through life trying to find my place in God’s glorious universe. Because of His mercy I’m living and breathing today, and by His grace I continue on, knowing that He is my light and my guide, my strength and my joy, my hope and my salvation. These people and myself, we are blessed, not because of anything we have done, but because He has chosen to enter into our lives and use us for His glory.
Glory be to Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior forever and ever. Amen.
Next Monday, July 9th, Dr. Tim Brophy will give us his thoughts on Blessed are the poor in spirit.