52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 30


Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 30
Watching Now

I. Introduction

II. Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

III. Consequences of “Poor in Spirit”

A. Blessed are those who mourn...

B. Blessed are the weak...

C. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...

IV. Relate to Others

A. Blessed are the merciful...

B. Blessed are the pure in heart...

C. Blessed are the peacemakers...

D. Blessed are those who are persecuted...

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson Transcript



Early on in Jesus’ ministry he went up on a mountain and there he preached his most famous of all sermons, what we call the ''Sermon on the Mount.'' The language of the Sermon on the Mount has permeated the English language, even when people do not know where the language comes from, we talk about “turning the other cheek,” or we talk about “the Lord’s Prayer.” These are all things that have come out of three chapters in Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7. John Stott’s book on the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best books I have ever read, and this is how he starts the book: “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best known part of the teachings of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood and certainly it is the least obeyed.”

The Sermon on the Mount begins with what we call the 8 Beatitudes; Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn.
 The word “beatitude” is from the Latin word for “blessed” and it is the first word in each of these eight statements. It is important to understand up front that the primary meaning of this word, of the word “blessed” or the word “beatitude.” Its primary meaning is not subjective; the word does not mean “happy”, despite some modern translations. People who are blessed by God may be happy, but they are not necessarily happy in terms of outward grinning, smiling, and that kind of stuff. The basic meaning of the word “blessed” is objective. It is concrete and to be blessed means to find approval and in this context, find approval from God. 

In other words, the Beatitudes are the message of how you and I can find approval with God and then how that blessedness lives itself out day in and day out of our lives. We may be happy, but that is not the issued. The issue is are we blessed, are we approved by God?

Related to God

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

The first one starts, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means to recognize our inability to be approved by God on our own. It is the recognition of our inability to be approved by God on our own. To be poor in spirit is to say there is nothing that I can do about my sin. There is nothing that I can do about my separateness from God. To be poor in spirit is to recognize that you and I are spiritually bankrupt, that we come to God with nothing in our hands to deserve forgiveness or salvation. Stott’s quotes the old song, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling, naked come to thee for dress, helpless, look to you for grace, foul I to the fountain fly [which is Jesus], wash me Savior or I die.”

That is what spiritual poverty is all about. It is the opposite of self-sufficiency. It is, in fact, Christ-sufficiency. So Jesus starts by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” blessed are those who understand they have nothing in their hands but they come to God spiritually bankrupt, not deserving anything. This poverty of spirit is the fundamental characteristic of every disciple. You notice that it is listed first, which is very important because it is out of this one Beatitude that all the other Beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount flows. This is the anchor of the Sermon; this is what the whole Sermon is all about. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It is the fundamental characteristic of every disciple of Jesus Christ. Every person who becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ does so, first of all, by understanding that they have nothing to offer Him and if they never come to that point, if they think they can bargain for their salvation, if they think they can help God save them, if they think that they deserve it in some way then they have never become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Because it all begins with poverty of spirit, with saying, “I am spiritually bankrupt. I do not have anything to offer.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, and then the promise is that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, theirs is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is God’s rule in and over creation. The Kingdom of God is God’s rule in and over my life, and when He is ruling in my life, then I am truly blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Consequences of “Poor in Spirit”

Having given this central affirmation, Jesus starts pulling out the supernatural, if you will, consequences of what it means to be poor in spirit. One writer calls the Beatitudes a “golden chain” where every link is another beatitude hooked into the previous one and drawing out from it and together they form a golden chain. 

Blessed are those who mourn

The second link in that golden chain is the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is not salvation by sorrow--there is no such thing. You can be as sorry for your sins as you want and you are not “in” the Kingdom of God. There is no such thing as “salvation by sorrow,” and it is not even salvation or entering into the Kingdom by simply acknowledging sin; rather, when we understand our spiritual poverty, when we understand our spiritual bankruptcy, it should move us to tears, to mourning and our confession of our emptiness must move into contrition, to deep sorrow, to repentance. That is what “mourning” is. It is not just saying “Yeah.” It is not just acknowledging the fact, but it is with an understanding in my spiritual bankruptcy that the only thing that can happen is that I have to be moved to mourn over my lack of spiritual wealth in and of myself. 

 When I think of mourning, I think of James 4:8-9, where James says, “Cleanse your hearts you sinners and purify your hearts you double minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” That is what Biblical mourning looks like. That is what it looks like when you move from confession to contrition, and the promise is, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. The good news of this second link in the golden chain is that there is an end to spiritual emptiness and that brokenness can move to wholeness. You do not have to live in the brokenness; you do not have to live in the mourning. 

Now, you do not get there by fluffy preaching that wants you to feel good about yourself even when you are a mess; rather, it is God who leads us through our brokenness, through our mourning and He leads us into wholeness, into comfort. “Blessed are those who mourn because of their spiritual poverty, for God will comfort them.” If you and I are not fully comforted, perhaps it is because you and I have not fully mourned.

 I am reminded of that passage in Romans 7:24, where Paul has been talking about some of the ongoing sin in his life and how frustrating it is and he says “the very things I want to do I don’t do and the things I don’t want to do I keep doing them” and finally it is like he grabs his head and shakes and he says, “Wretched man that I am, who is going to deliver me from this body of death?” You see, that is biblical mourning. And then he answers himself and he says, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ.” There is the sense in which total comfort will not be ours until we are in Heaven, yet the Beatitude promises that even right here and now there is comfort for those who mourn. There is wholeness for those who are moving through their brokenness. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Blessed are the weak

The next link in the chain is “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” You see, the person who recognizes that they are spiritually bankrupt to the point of mourning and weeping and being broken over it is not going to be proud and arrogant, are they? Neither will they be a doormat. Rather, they will be a meek person. Again, the basic meaning of a “meek” person is someone who has an accurate assessment of who he or she is. A meek person is one who knows who they are. John Stotts says, “meekness is essentially a true view of ones self 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[self] as well they do and treat him as well as they do.”

 You see, a person who is meek sees a sinner and he says “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” You see, it is the opposite of meekness that says, “Thank you God, that I am not like the sinner.” The meek person sees the sinner and says, “except for the grace of God, that would be me.”

 For those who are meek, for those who understand who they are because of their spiritual bankruptcy and because of their mourning, the promise is that they “will inherit the earth.” The exact opposite of what you would expect to happen with a meek person, right? Normally we think of meekness as a doormat, and so the meek person is the person who gets nowhere. But Jesus says that it is the meek who will inherit the earth. 

The Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, really all of the New Testament is counter-cultural. It is the exact opposite of what the world says. So Jesus says the first are going to be last and the greatest are going to be the least. Do not come to be served but to serve. It is why John Stott's book is entitled “Christian Counter-Culture”. It is why Hughes’ latest book is called “Set Apart,” because we are to be different. Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who understand in Christ Jesus who they are, because it is those who will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Jesus then moves to the fourth chain and says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” As the meek look at themselves, as they understand who they are, they understand that they have no righteousness in and of themselves. They understand that if they are going to be righteous, if they are going to be made right with God, it is God who can make them righteous. It is going to require God give them His righteousness, so instead of asserting myself and saying, “well, I am going to do this and do that and I am going to earn my salvation, I am going to earn favor with God.” Those who are truly poor in spirit will hunger and thirst not for their own righteousness because they have none, but they will hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. 

The promise is that they “shall be satisfied.” I think of verses like Psalm 107:9. Speaking of God it says, “For He satisfies the longing soul and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” Or John 6:35 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” This is the satisfaction that our King holds out to us. He is the King and we are as His disciples in His Kingdom. The promise is that if you and I hunger and thirst after His righteousness, then you and I will be satisfied. And if you hunger and your hunger is not satisfied, and if you thirst and your thirst is not satisfied, if He is not your greatest joy and if Jesus is not your deepest delight, then perhaps it is because we have only nibbled and sipped on his righteousness instead of hungering and thirsting for his righteousness. The image in Psalm 52 is so powerful. “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you, O LORD.” It is the picture of a deer being chased through the woods by a hunter, relentlessly running to the point it is almost ready to die if it does not get something to drink. Even with all the danger involved with being hunted it has to stop and it has to drink. It has to take in water. As the deer longs, pants for water, so my soul pants for You, so my soul hungers and thirsts for your righteousness. I wonder how many of us hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness? I wonder how many of us nibble and sip at it instead. We sing “Knowing you Jesus, there is no greater thing.” And I wonder how much we really believe that. It is especially in the combination of the first and the fourth beatitude that you have a beautifully clear expression of the essence of the Gospel. It starts by being poor in spirit, that there is nothing in my hand that I can bring to God that will deserve me being saved. And you look at that and the person who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ has to be driven to his knees, because the person has to stop saying, “Well, I can do this and God will let me into Heaven.” Or “I am not as bad as the other person, so somehow that gets me into Heaven.” But when, especially, the non-believer, the non-disciple looks at the first Beatitude, it has to drive the person to his knees in recognition that there is nothing in their hands. I often talk about the ABC’s. It is to ''Admit'' you are a sinner; admit that you are separated from God, that your sin has separated you from God and there is nothing in your hand that you can bring. And then ''Believe'' that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for your sins, which is the 4th Beatitude, blessed are those who seek for God’s righteousness, a righteousness that was made available through Jesus’ death on the cross, that can be freely given to all who are impoverished of spirit. It is just another way of expressing the Gospel. Impoverished in spirit and therefore hungering and thirsting not for our righteousness but for the righteousness that comes from the cross and what Jesus Christ has done for you and for me.

Relate to Others

Jesus finishes the first half of the Beatitudes and most of them have been focused on the disciple and how one relates to God. The second half of the Beatitudes changes focus to how you and I relate to other people. In other words, if you understand your poverty of spirit, it has driven you to mourn and wail, you have come to an accurate assessment of who you are, that you are meek and therefore you are hungering not after your own righteousness, of which there is none, but that of Jesus Christ. Then how are you going to relate to other people?

Blessed are the merciful

The 5th link in the golden chain says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Mercy is simply compassion for people who are in need. If we understand our own spiritual bankruptcy, then how can we not but extend mercy to others and in the extending of mercy to other people, we find that both from God and from other people it is given back to us. If you and I respond to people in arrogance and in anger and not with mercy, then we probably have not yet come to grips with our own poverty and God’s righteousness. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

Blessed are the pure in heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” The word “pure” in its most basic level means “undivided” or “unmixed.” It is the opposite of hypocrisy, the opposite of being two-faced. Jesus is saying blessed are those whose loyalty to their King is undivided, who are wholly committed to the King; fully devoted disciples. They are “pure,” in other words. They are not giving some of their time to the world and some of their time to God, but they are pure and undivided in their loyalty to the King. In just the next chapter, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus is going to say, “No one can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” God and the material world. We try though, do we not? There is something inside us that wants our loyalty, wants our heart to be divided. Some of it to God and some of it I am going to keep back for myself. But you know, it is interesting. There is no promise to see God if you are a part-time disciple. There is no promise to see God if you are some-time committed disciple of Jesus Christ. It is “Blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they [no one else] they will see God.”

Blessed are the peacemakers

Jesus moves on to the 7th link in the chair. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” You see, if a person is merciful; if a person is pure, if he is a fully devoted disciple of Jesus, he is not going to pursue violence, but rather, he or she will share in the character of their King and so they will be his son or his daughter and God is a God of peace and his children are peacemakers. Now this is not, obviously, peace at all costs. There are certain things that we have to do that upset the peace; sin, theology, different standards that we are called to. But I think Jesus is talking about the same thing that Paul is saying in Romans 12. In verse 18, where Paul tells the Roman church, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” There will be times where there will not be peace, but as far as it depends upon us, we are called in the fact that we are merciful and the fact that we are pure in our heart, that we will be characterized as being “peacemakers.” Ultimately, no matter how hard you and I try to be peacemakers, there will be points in time where peace is not going to happen and that is what the 8th and the final Beatitude is all about.

Blessed are those who are persecuted

In verse 10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Probably knowing that that is a very difficult pill to swallow, Jesus adds a commentary, ”Blessed are you [who are approved of God] when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely, on my account, [this is not persecution because you are a jerk. This is persecution because you are a pure in heart disciple of Jesus Christ.] “Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in Heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” No matter how hard you try to live at peace there will be some who will not live at peace with you! As you live out your life as a wholly devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, a son and a daughter of the King, it will inevitably result in persecution and in conflict. It is stated nowhere more clearly than in John, starting at verse 15:18, Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world the world would love you as its own, but because you are not of the world [counter-culture] but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” Then he adds the promise, ”but if they kept my word they will also keep yours.” John Stott says, “Rejoice and be glad! We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor to sulk like a child [when we are persecuted] nor to lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog, nor just to grin and bear it like a stoic, still left to pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should rejoice and even to “leap for joy”. Why so? Well partly because Jesus added “Your reward is great in Heaven”. We may lose everything on earth but we shall inherit everything in heaven. Partly because persecution is a token of genuineness, a certificate of Christian authenticity, but the major reason why we should rejoice is because we are suffering, he said, “on my account,” on account of our loyalty to Him and to His standards of truth and righteousness. Certainly the apostles learned this lesson well for having been beaten and threatened by the Sanhedrin “they left the presence of the Council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His name.” They knew, as we should, that “wounds and hurts are metals of honor.” 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh that this church would be come known as a persecuted church. Not that we are a church with good worship. Not a church where “oh the Bible is preached,” but a church that is composed of people who recognize that we are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God in and of ourselves. People whose bankruptcy has pushed them to mourn and to wail over their sin and the sin in this world. A church that is meek, that understands who they are in Christ Jesus, that hungers and thirsts for His righteousness, and then out of these convictions to be a church that we move to live in a counter-cultural way as fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ which can only end in one thing, which is persecution. Oh that we would become a biblical church and be persecuted for our faith because everyone who looks at us knows the “this world is not my home and we are just passing through.” Does this sound too difficult to do on your own? The answer is yes. It is, in fact, impossible to do on your own. It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for anyone to save themselves. That is why Jesus has already said to Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” That is the only way that you and I can fully recognize our spiritual poverty, is for God to do a work in our heart and to make us aware of that. A way in which we end up admitting our sins, admitting our separateness from God and then through the work of God’s Spirit in our lives, He draws us to himself to help us believe that Jesus’ death on the cross DID pay the penalty for our sins as he empowers us to seek his righteousness and then that same Spirit calls us to live in a counter-cultural way as we live out our lives, sons and daughters of the King of the Kingdom. Oh that we would be that kind of church.

Memory Verse

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).

Reflection Question

  • Are you truly willing to be counter-cultural? Are you willing to come out from among the people and be different? What would stop you?
  • Define “poor in spirit” in your own words. What does it look like in day-to-day living?
  • In your own life, how does the first beatitude show itself to be fundamental, basic, to all you do?
  • Give examples of the difference between confession and contrition.
  • What does “hungering” and “thirsting” after God’s righteousness look like in daily living? Are you satisfied in God? Are you nibbling and sipping?
  • Think of some situations in your daily life where you are called to be a peacemaker, but you are struggled knowing whether it was peace at all costs.
  • What would motivate you to “rejoice and be glad” when you are persecuted because of your hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness? What might this look like, practically?
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