The secret is: there is no secret. Yet, even though it is obvious, it is ignored. That’s the real secret. People pay gurus millions to learn what they already instinctively know, but have ignored. For instance, the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are an obvious secret if we just take time to reflect on life. Spiritually self-satisfied people are shallow and empty, but those who recognize their spiritual poverty are pleasant. Those who mourn for society’s ills are more ready to change than those who ignore them. Humble people have more friends than the arrogant. Desiring to do right is better than wanting to do wrong. Everyone wants mercy; giving it is golden. Pure hearted people are true friends. Everyone wants peace, but few work for it. Doing the right thing is still right, even when others abuse us for it.
Why does the beatitude regarding being poor in spirit include a promise of heaven here and now (Matthew 5:1-12)? The kingdom of heaven is certainly future, but it is also now. True Christianity is not among the spiritually arrogant who judge and condemn others as not being spiritually filled. Let us wake up from the delusion of consuming that which is not spiritual food, and realize that we are not filled, not satisfied and spiritually destitute. When we realize the deception and know our spiritual poverty, we become the Church, those whose only hope is heaven. Only then can we experience a taste of heaven on earth. We seek the real thing instead of a counterfeit spirituality. Our imitation diet of spiritual junk food which feeds a counterfeit kingdom is swept away leaving room for the kingdom of heaven.
Nobody wants to mourn. We want pleasures, see things and make an impression. How can mourning be a blessing (Matthew 5:1-12)? Let’s contemplate the opposite. What if we never learn from our mistakes? What if nobody ever cared about world problems? When would we ever change for the better? When would we ever want to help others improve? When would we ever want to make a better world? A careless attitude that never mourns for the evils of our world, never mourns for personal mistakes is a dangerous attitude. Mourning helps us change. Mourning means we are processing things, learning a lesson. Mourning means there is hope for better decisions next time and a better future. If we don’t mourn our mistakes, we will never be comforted. So yes, blessed are those that mourn, for THEY will be comforted.
The secret is that the meek are very strong people. That is why in Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus said blessed are the meek. Meekness is not weakness. It is just the opposite. Weak people try to cover their weakness by boasting, shameless acts, violence, pretentiousness, pride and conceit. Meek people don’t need to pretend. They are strong enough face the truth. They know they are but dust, soon to return to the dust of the earth, and that human life is a mere vapor. Humble people are a pleasure to be around. The opposite is true of arrogant people. They have few true friends because they are so repulsive to be around. History shows that crude, overbearing buffoons do not last long. Gentle and considerate people are loved by all and inherit the land after spineless bullies are long forgotten.
There is a disease in the land, a craving to do wrong. Even chocolate seems more desirous if we call it wicked or sin. In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. It seems so strangely out of fashion to desire what is right. It is a secret well-known to those who do, that there awaits an incredible experience, a sense of happiness beyond words. That is what is meant by the word blessed. It is a transcendent happiness that is beyond the fleeting thrills and hilarity of this world, but is otherworldly, eternal. Why? What is right about right? Wrong produces pleasure for a night, a headache tomorrow and grinding burdens for life. The secret is that right may be difficult, but it leaves unspoiled happiness for this life and the next.
We want justice. We criticize politicians, police, businesses, employees, parents, teachers, neighbors and children. When it comes to criticism of us, we again criticize others for their lack of mercy. Why is this, when we show so little? Why do we want justice served on others, but cry for mercy for ourselves? Why do we show so little mercy? A merciless atmosphere makes us walk on egg-shells. Mercy creates an atmosphere of trust. Lack of mercy creates a police-state-like atmosphere of secrecy and distrust. Mercy creates a warm, affirming atmosphere. Without mercy, we tend to cover up problems and leave them unresolved. In an atmosphere of mercy, we are not afraid to admit mistakes and they can be worked on. As Jesus taught in Matthew 5:1-12 be merciful and when we need it, it will be there for us.
What would it be like to have a clean heart, free from evil motives? What are the results of a contaminated heart with wrong intentions? Why is the one better than the other? The Pharisees thought they were clean, but their hearts were not pure. With right motives, we want to obey when only God is looking. How do we get a pure heart? It only comes from God (Ezekiel 36:25-27). It comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus suggested that those who have a pure heart will see God. They look beyond mere human conditions to see God. Those with pure motives look for God in everything and thus see him. Old Testament laws regarding being ritually clean or unclean point to this purity of heart. Are our hearts contaminated or pure?
Why are we harassed if we do the right thing, like keeping the speed limit, supporting the boss or avoiding slander? In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus said blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right. How does that work? It is a fact of life, that if we do the right thing, we will be insulted and vilified. It is a badge of honor to be abused for doing right. It confirms that we are on God’s side. In that sense it is a blessing. The opposite is also true. If everyone loves us and we are never mistreated, maybe we are doing something wrong. Unwanted attention like ridicule and torment is not always because we have done the right thing. Sometime we are at fault. However, when it does come because we were righteous, it is a blessing.
What does it really mean in Matthew 5:1-12 to mourn? How does sorrow produce blessedness and bring comfort? Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time to mourn. Mourning is part of the process of repentance. It prepares for a change of heart about going the wrong way. Fasting is associated with mourning, a short period of abstinence from foods in order to pray. James 4:7-10 shows the need to mourn and humble ourselves before God, cleansing our hands of dirty deeds and purifying our hearts of wrongful thoughts so that he can lift us up. If we find no cause for joy in our past mistakes, or in the evils of this world, then there is hope for a change of heart. If we then turn to God to save us, he will bless and comfort us.
Why does Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12 promote meekness? The opposite of meekness is self-importance. Pride fights and creates strife whereas humility makes peace. Arrogance seeks vengeance while meekness forgives. Ego boasts great things, but purity is unpretentious. Impatience makes enemies, while forbearing creates friends. Antagonism creates hard feelings while mutual submission creates trust. Hardheadedness makes life difficult, whereas a pliant spirit smooths the way. Combative personalities are bad company, while affable hearts are welcome. Inheriting the land can be a metaphor for God’s provision to Israel. Who is more likely to be given a job or considered for a promotion, the arrogant misfit or the humble team player? Humility is a great secret of the universe that is ignored by the proud to their own hurt. Surely, the meek are blessed and inherit all the good things of life.
Why does Jesus promise in Matthew 5:1-12 that those with an appetite for righteousness will be filled? A natural result of mourning the evils of this world is to desire justice. However, if we do not also mourn for our own sins we are in danger of becoming arrogant and self-righteous in spirit, instead of humble. Hungering and thirsting to do the right thing means that we sincerely pray that part of the Our Father which requests, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Some argue that it is impossible for human thoughts to attain this high standard completely and they are probably correct. Yet, the Holy Spirit patiently works with our carnal minds and pricks our consciences towards this end. Jesus’ promise is that if we crave justice and righteousness, we will be filled.
Why did Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12 promote mercy? Examples of Jesus’ mercy in the New Testament were healing the sick and befriending sinners. Our world is filled with cruelty, intolerance, indifference, tyranny, disdain, accusation and punishment. All of these things exhibit a lack of mercy. In a merciless world few people care about the sick or sinners, unless the system can make money off them with high medical costs or isolate the worst sinners in prisons without hope of reform. Yet in the midst of a merciless world are a few who show compassion without a dollar sign attached. There are some tenderhearted souls who work with sinners to guide them towards a better life. Jesus promised that if we show mercy towards the poor and the guilty, we too will be shown mercy. Surely we all need it.
Are not the pure in heart that Jesus blessed naive and foolish? How can a pure hearted person survive in the real world? The Greek for pure in Matthew 5:1-12 is used elsewhere to mean clean after having taken a bath (John 13:10). The Pharisees thought that they were righteous if they were clean on the outside. Jesus corrected them by saying that being clean or pure in the eyes of God begins on the inside. It has nothing to do with naivety and yet everything to do with innocence. There is a world of difference. The pure in heart can be wise as serpents and yet remain harmless as doves. Their intent is for good and without pretense. They carry no malice or dishonesty in their hearts. How can the real world survive without such blessed people!
Did not Jesus say that if they persecute you in one town, flee to the next (Matthew 20:23)? Persecuted means to pursue or chase away. How is that blessed? Why did Jesus call the persecuted blessed in Matthew 5:1-12? How can the harassed be blessed? Some estimate that 60% of Christians today live in countries with heavy restrictions on religious freedom and a quarter of us suffer severe mistreatment. How are we blessed? If that abuse is because of righteousness, then we identify with Jesus. If we cherish what is right, if we love God, if we love his Church, then we will be hated. Just as there is no half-pregnancy, this is also true: we are either on Jesus’ side or not. Persecution for righteousness is a sign that we are blessed to be on God’s side.
Some people love to fight. They think it’s exciting. Is not making peace a foolish waste of time and money? It has not worked in the Middle East where agitators on all sides ceaselessly instigate mayhem. Yet in Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus calls the peacemakers blessed. Why? On our planet there is no peace, but imagine a world where nobody tried to referee between sides. It would descend into complete anarchy. Humanity exists in a constant state of hostility. Animosity between people and God, between nations, between governments and their people, within churches and families are an ongoing fact of life. Peacemakers bring a measure of calm to a potentially escalating situation often at great personal sacrifice. While some men love a good fight and look to create strife, only peacemakers are blessed to be called the children of God.
In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus said blessed are the peace-MAKERS. He did not say blessed are the peace attempts, or peace-wish-makers, or peace-hopefuls. Making peace requires sacrifice, compromise. For two warring factions to make peace, each must be willing to give up something. Negotiations must be a win-win for both sides. That is the hard part. Reconciliation can take a long time, and it is easy to be tempted to give up. If peacemakers are blessed, are peace-breakers cursed? Surely those who stir up trouble, make war and sow discord are loathsome and contemptible people. Nobody likes a troublemaker. History blackens their name and they are despised by all. Pride may prevent us making peace, but necessity demands it. Living in freedom must also include freedom from strife and warfare. Peace does not just happen. It has to be made.
In modern English, when someone is discouraged, we sometimes say they are in poor spirits. That is not what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:1-12 when he said blessed are the poor in spirit. The word poor here means someone so destitute that they don’t even have food. How can that be blessed? To understand, let’s take the opposite extreme, someone who believes they are spiritually filled and in need of no more. This is the attitude that some folks have. They are obnoxious, self-satisfied, shallow and unpleasant to be around. They may constantly judge us as inferior and compare us with their so-called higher level of spirituality. They are in fact deluded by spiritual fools gold. Being poor in spirit is simply facing up to the facts. We are all desperately poor and in need of God’s merciful provision.
What does “poor in spirit” really mean in Matthew 5:1-12? Poor can mean dispossessed and abandoned. A poor person has a deep sense that the world has failed them. Can a wealthy person be poor in spirit? That depends. Wealth is a deceiver. It makes us think that we are a big person, as opposed the the less fortunate who are viewed as little people. It can deceive us into thinking that the world has provided for us. In reality, the world has failed all of us. So, Jesus did not say “poor in possessions” but “poor in spirit.” The description is independent of this material world. The people of God rely on God not this world’s solutions. They boldly face the truth of our abject spiritual poverty. They are blessed people, because heaven rules them not this world.
Is saying, “I’d be more than happy" just exaggerating? No, it turns out the popular saying contains a great deal of truth. We can be more than happy. What is more than happy? Being blessed is more than happy. After Jesus gave the beatitudes during his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1-12), it was written down in Greek using a word that is usually translated as blessed in English. However, it has also been translated as happy at times. A discussion among translators has been whether happy or blessed is a more accurate translation. Most translators seem to have come to the same conclusion, that happiness can be fleeting, but blessedness remains. The beatitudes are not keys to a fleeting emotion, but a core inner condition. So, the word blessed was chosen, because yes, we can be more than happy.
We have the truth, but are often times not satisfied with its simplicity or its demands. Jesus promised to send his disciples the Spirit of Truth (John 14:8-27). He also said that the world cannot receive him, because it does not see him, nor knows him. What does that mean? Just watch the nightly news to find out. It is often filled with propaganda, lies and slander. Every advertisement on television tells us perceived advantages of the products they are selling, but rarely the dangers. Politically, we live lies nationally and internationally. How can we then discern the truth? Jesus also said that his disciples knew the Spirit of truth because he dwelled with them, and would be in them. He is in the church today. Are we satisfied with this world’s lies or can we handle the truth?
The old Pentecost was 50 days from the Sunday during Passover season (Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12), the day when a holy meal was first waved before God and then consumed by the worshiper. In John 14:8-27 Jesus foretold a time when he would leave and send the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 is the fulfilment of that prophecy. The Holy Spirit is our comforter or legal advocate, who sits alongside of all of us who are in the church like a lawyer does in court as someone on our side. We cannot find the Holy Spirit in the world, but only in the community of believers. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for the work of Jesus to continue in the church after his departure. He does this by teaching and reminding us of the things of God.
Pentecost (count 50) is also called shavuot (weeks). The feast of weeks commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit enables God’s law to be written on our hearts. The 50 days or 7 weeks of counting between Passover and Pentecost signifies anticipating the coming of the law as also the Holy Spirit (John 14:8-27). Another name for the festival is the day of firstfruits. Firstfruits of the year were brought as an offering. It pictures the church as firstfruits of God’s harvest in the world. It is also called the festival of reaping, picturing God’s beginning to reap for his kingdom. Among Jews the book of Ruth is read on Pentecost. It appropriately pictures Christ’s redemption of his Bride, the church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption (Ephesians 4:30).
In John 14:8-27 Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and they would be satisfied. It was in response to Jesus’ comment (verse 7) that if they had known Jesus they would have known his Father, and that from that time on the disciples know God and have seen him. Philip did not understand and so Jesus explained that what he said and what he did were the Father’s words and the Father’s works because the Father was in him. Furthermore, those who believe in Jesus will also do similar works and even greater than he did. When we think of greater works, we tend to want that the miracles of Jesus but not any great personal sacrifice. Knowing God includes believing him and relying on the Holy Spirit. Then the church will do greater works than these.
In John 17:20-26 the Greek phrase in verse 23 is literally “that they might be perfected in unity.” Christianity is incredibly unified on many essential teachings of the faith: who is God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, humanity, sin, the Bible, salvation, church, our mission and last things. Disagreement on nuances of these and other topics causes some outside the church to believe we are in a food fight of total disagreement, but that is untrue. There is certainly room to grow into greater agreement, leaving the final conclusion to the final judgment. Narrow-minded Christians may think that by threatening excommunication they are creating unity, but that is not unity, just teaching people with brains and wisdom to shut their mouths. Real unity comes about through a bond of peace even with a diversity of opinion (Ephesians 4:3).
When we hear churches preach against ecumenism, it is usually couched in terms of a struggle against heresy. But when we dig deeper, the so-called heresy is often not against the teachings of Christ, but against some lesser twig of doctrine. We have heard people argue such issues as traditions of mere men versus innovations also of mere men, contemporary versus modern music, unknown tongues versus known languages, Sunday versus Saturday, immersion versus sprinkling, ad infinitum. Throughout history, church tradition has tended towards narrower and narrower doctrines, creating increasingly greater reasons for division rather than unity. But, salvation is open to a broader range of people than self-centered denominational politics might allow. With Jesus’ prayer for unity in mind (John 17:20-26), might not just one of the greatest heresies of all be that of narrow partisan divisiveness between churches.
If we reject ecumenism are we rejecting the unity that Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-26)? The so-called hina (so that) clauses explain why unity is important. Jesus works for unity among us so that all of us may be one; so that we might be in God; so that the world might believe that God sent Jesus (verse 21); so that we might be one as God and Christ are one (verse 22); so that we might be perfected in unity; so that the world will know that God sent Jesus and has loved us even as he has loved Jesus (verse 23); so that where Jesus is we may also be; so that we may see Christ’s glory (verse 24) and so that God’s love may be in us (verse 26).
All churches have a measure of disunity. It may be disagreements in the kitchen or the choir, with the denomination or the pastor, doctrinal twigs or musical tastes. All these are normal to church life. The challenge for all of us is to overlook such lesser annoyances and work for unity. That’s why Jesus prayed for you and me, that we may grow into perfect unity (John 17:20-26). The original Greek uses wording which means “working through the entire process (stages) to reach the final phase” and that final phase is unity. It is a process and we are in the middle of it. We cannot be perfected in unity by human institutions, being burned at a stake or politically motivated claims to authority. Jesus is bringing us into unity through the glory that he has given to us.
If Jesus were to pray a prayer just for you and me what would it be? What would he wish us? We actually have a record of just such a prayer. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prayed for his disciples but also for those who would believe the message of the disciples. That message has been recorded in the New Testament and has been preached around the world since. What then was Jesus’ prayer for you and me? It was that we be one. The Greek word for one means in this context “to be united most closely (in will, spirit).” What does that mean when someone undermines the pastor, the bishop, or causes division in a local church? When we are disgruntled and critical of our fellow faulty human beings, how are we contributing to Jesus’ prayer for unity?
When Jesus prayed for Christian unity, did his prayer in John 17:20-26 fail? Are we possibly really one even despite the man-made walls that seem to divide us? Are we one in our practices? No. Christians worship in all different kinds of manners and customs. Are we unified in teaching about every twiggy issue of doctrine? No. Are our human institutions unified? No. But Jesus’ prayer for unity was specific about one thing. He prayed that we may be one, just as the Father is in him and he is in the Father. He prayed that we would be in Father and the Son. So far so good. All Christians who are in Christ and in the Father are unified, but we still have a way to go to experience the unity that Father and Son have between themselves.
Have we ever wondered who is with us? In a world of selfishness, who is really for us? If we love Jesus and are obedient to his teachings, both he and the Father make their home with us (John 14:23-29). Putting that together with the rest of the context then, that means that all three members of the Holy Trinity are with us. The Holy Spirit is promised along with the presence of the Father and the Son. God makes his home with us. How do we prepare for God to live with us? The answer is also given. We love and obey him. How do we love Jesus? He taught that we do so by loving our neighbors in actions, feeding the hungry and thirsty, taking in the foreigner and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned.