Beatitudes: A Surprising Conclusion

With this article we bring to a conclusion our study of the beatitudes. They end as they began, in a startling way.

“Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7). Mercy is a quality not wholly unknown even in a world of basically self-seeking men. But it is a selective, capricious mercy that does not move from principle and is not a settled disposition of the heart and character. The same man who is capable of occasional compassion still finds the sorrows of others too burdensome and revenge too sweet.

The mercy which Jesus praises is borne of the penetrating awareness of one’s own desperate need of mercy, not simply from men, but specially from God. It is a mercy that shows compassion to the helpless (Luke 10:37) and extends forgiveness even to the one who gives repeated offense (Matthew 18:21-22). This compassion is not prompted by the appealing qualities of the offender (How would we treat the “ugly” sinner?) but rises from our own sense of gratitude for that mercy which God has shown us. We also were not appealing when God sent His Son to the cross (Romans 5:8). Citizens of heaven’s commonwealth have not forgotten which side of the tracks they came from (Titus 3:1-5). One of the greatest expressions of this kind of mercy is its selfless concern for a sinful and unattractive but lost world (Matthew 9:36-38). It is a driving force in gospel preaching.

Mercy toward men does not merit mercy from God, but it is an evidence of the penitent spirit which is a divine condition of forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35). Kingdom citizens live among their fellows, not as an arrogant spiritual aristocracy, but as forgiven, and forgiving men.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). This beatitude is not without its challenges. Men are tempted to apply it to those irenic spirits whose gift for negotiation and compromise pours oil on troubled waters. But the whole context of the sermon rebels against this view. These are not peacemakers in the ordinary sense of mediating human disputes, but in the ultimate sense of bringing to men the peace of Christ (John 14:27). What is the value of peace bought at the price of principle or of a momentary tranquillity that is not grounded on reconciliation with God? The true peacemakers are those who are themselves at peace with God (Romans 5:1) and men (Romans 12:18) and who preach in the world a gospel of peace and reconciliation (Ephesians 2:13-17). No other people could be called the children of “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33). When men are reconciled to God and the peace of Christ rules in their hearts, the spirit of compassion, meekness and forgiveness produced in them ministers reconciliation with all men (Colossians 3:12-15). If, in spite of all, others are still disposed to see such people as enemies, the fault does not lie in them. They are the true servants of peace in the world.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10-12). Here is a concluding surprise. These peacemakers have become the persecuted! Jesus, having now dealt with the attitude of kingdom citizens toward God, themselves, and others, now turns to consider the attitude of the world toward them. One would have thought that such people as Jesus has described would be received with great rejoicing in the world—a humble people, heedless of themselves, given to the needs of others. To the contrary, the Lord now reveals that they will stir the world to a bitter animosity and hatred.

The Son of God has never sought to withhold the realities of suffering from His followers. His candor with those who enthusiastically sought Him is remarkable. He urged them even in their ardor to soberly count the cost (Matthew 8:19-20; Luke 14:26-33). The Lord will have no disciples out of their naivete. He wants no sudden shocks to destroy their faith. He has spoken plainly so that when His disciples suffer they can know that it is just as He said it would be and take heart with the assurance that their Master's promises of glory are just as sure—“for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

And what is the cause of this hateful, knowing persecution of a humble, gentle people? Not some secret malignant conspiracy. Not the clandestine practice of unholy and immoral rites. Their crime is simple. They have chosen to be righteous in an unrighteous world. They are too much like their Master (John 15:18-20). Their love and simplicity only serve to throw into harsher relief the dark selfishness of an ungodly generation which hates the light and feels keenly the silent judgment of the Christians' contrasting innocence (John 3:19-20).

The Lord’s disciples should rejoice at an opposition which reveals that the spirit and character of their Savior has been seen in them. They should rejoice because they have been granted the privilege of suffering for one who endured such abuse for their sakes (Philippians 1:28-29; Acts 5:41). But, most of all, they should rejoice because their suffering is not empty. They can embrace it joyfully, knowing that it transforms the character (James 1:2-4) and works for them “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). No temporal threat can intimidate the one whose true treasure is secured in heaven. As one has observed: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”