The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 are beautiful and challenging at the same time. They are a pronouncement of the good news (gospel) that Jesus brings to the world – assurances of blessings and comfort for the needy, in a world that is broken and resistant to God and his people. Against all cultural norms, God blesses not the rich, powerful, and self-righteous but the lowly and spiritually desperate.
One tricky question that arises with the Beatitudes is whether they promote a “works” mindset: doing the “right things” in order to receive eternal rewards. Instead of requiring good works, the Beatitudes announce unexpected blessings to surprising people. These people are marked by a spiritual posture, towards God and towards others.
The verses describe hearts that are humble and hungry towards God. The “poor in spirit” recognize their brokenness and look to a solution beyond themselves. Those who mourn see a broken world and their own broken lives clearly and soberly. The meek humbly wait on God’s intervention instead of trying to force their own self-made solutions. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and are pure in heart know that God and God alone can bring renewal and salvation to our lives and world.
The verses also envision hearts that are soft towards others. This characteristic naturally flows from people who rightly evaluate God and themselves. Recognizing our own frailties and dependence upon God creates softer hearts for those around us. Soft hearts show mercy to others in need. Soft hearts desire to bring peace and reconciliation to situations marked by strife and hostility. Soft hearts refuse to lash out against enemies in the midst of persecution.
Humble, sincere, and merciful people don’t often come out ahead in a world that can be ruthless and resistant to God. But Jesus promises God’s presence and power to endure, along with the eternal blessings of being with Him in the new creation.
The opening Beatitudes set much of the tone for the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. Humble, faith-filled dependence manifests itself in hungry hearts towards God and soft hearts towards others, according to the Beatitudes. Jesus then unfolds the full extent of loving God (valuing his kingdom and reward above all things), and loving others (merciful and counter-intuitive love, even for enemies) throughout the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus also models humble dependence on the Father and a hunger for righteousness. He mourns over sin and the rejection of God’s abundant kingdom. He demonstrates compassion and love to those who don’t hold onto illusions that they can rescue themselves. And he rejects self protection or even retaliation when he goes to the cross and pours out his life sacrificially, to bless broken people.