Disciples in Jesus' Kingdom
The Way Heavenly Citizens Are Before God
Thus, to be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favour of heaven.
It is plain from the context that those here promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-respect. It is not the sorrow of bereavement to which Christ refers, but the sorrow of repentance.
Dr Lloyd-Jones sums it up admirably: ‘Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others … The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.’2 This makes him gentle, humble, sensitive, patient in all his dealings with others.
There is perhaps no greater secret of progress in Christian living than a healthy, hearty spiritual appetite. Again and again Scripture addresses its promises to the hungry. God ‘satisfies him who is thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things’. If we are conscious of slow growth, is the reason that we have a jaded appetite? It is not enough to mourn over past sin; we must also hunger for future righteousness.
The Way Heavenly Citizens Are Before Others
‘Mercy’ is compassion for people in need. Richard Lenski helpfully distinguishes it from ‘grace’: ‘The noun eleos (mercy) … always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, these results of sin; and charis (grace) always deals with the sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, the other cleanses and reinstates.’
This is not because we can merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others.
Some take it to mean inner moral purity as opposed to merely external piety or ceremonial cleanness. This is an important theme in Matthew and elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Deut 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam 15:22; Pss 24:3–4 [to which there is direct allusion here]; 51:6, 10; Isa 1:10–17; Jer 4:4; 7:3–7; 9:25–26; Rom 2:9; 1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 2:22, cf. Matt 23:25–28).
2. Others take it to mean singlemindedness, a heart “free from the tyranny of a divided self” (Tasker; cf. Bonnard). Several of the passages just cited focus on freedom from deceit (Pss 24:4; 51:4–17; cf. also Gen 50:5–6; Prov 22:11). This interpretation also prepares the way for Mt 6:22. The “pure in heart” are thus “the utterly sincere” (Ph).
The dichotomy between these two options is a false one; it is impossible to have one without the other. The one who is singleminded in commitment to the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33) will also be inwardly pure. Inward sham, deceit, and moral filth cannot coexist with sincere devotion to Christ. Either way this beatitude excoriates hypocrisy (cf. on 6:1–18). The pure in heart will see God—now with the eyes of faith and finally in the dazzling brilliance of the beatific vision in whose light no deceit can exist (cf. Heb 12:14; 1 John 3:1–3; Rev 21:22–27).
This emphasis on the inward and moral, whether contrasted with the outward and ceremonial or the outward and physical, is certainly consistent with the whole Sermon on the Mount which requires heart-righteousness rather than mere rule-righteousness. Nevertheless, in the context of the other beatitudes, ‘purity of heart’ seems to refer in some sense to our relationships.
Jesus does not limit the peacemaking to only one kind, and neither will his disciples. In the light of the gospel, Jesus himself is the supreme peacemaker, making peace between God and man, and man and man. Our peacemaking will include the promulgation of that gospel. It must also extend to seeking all kinds of reconciliation. Instead of delighting in division, bitterness, strife, or some petty “divide-and-conquer” mentality, disciples of Jesus delight to make peace wherever possible. Making peace is not appeasement: the true model is God’s costly peacemaking (Eph 2:15–17; Col 1:20).
Every Christian, according to this beatitude, is meant to be a peacemaker both in the community and in the church.
Opposition is a normal mark of being a disciple of Jesus, as normal as hungering for righteousness or being merciful
The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a Christian disciple. We see him first alone on his knees before God, acknowledging his spiritual poverty and mourning over it. This makes him meek or gentle in all his relationships, since honesty compels him to allow others to think of him what before God he confesses himself to be. Yet he is far from acquiescing in his sinfulness, for he hungers and thirsts after righteousness, longing to grow in grace and in goodness.
We see him next with others, out in the human community. His relationship with God does not cause him to withdraw from society, nor is he insulated from the world’s pain. On the contrary, he is in the thick of it, showing mercy to those battered by adversity and sin. He is transparently sincere in all his dealings and seeks to play a constructive role as a peacemaker. Yet he is not thanked for his efforts, but rather opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of the righteousness for which he stands and the Christ with whom he is identified.