Tag Archives: city

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 4

Martin Luther once said:

`Twas a strange thing the world should be offended at him who raised the dead, made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, etc. They who would deem such a man a devil, what kind of a God would they have? But here it is. Christ would give to the world the kingdom of heaven, but they will have the kingdom of the earth…”a

A short review will help as we discuss the next beatitude.

The world perceives the kingdom of heaven to be a threat to their kingdoms. As the atheists of the first century acknowledged, these Christians turned the world upside down with their message and their lives. The kingdom is God’s world coming to earth. This new world is a world that manifests itself in an entirely different fashion than the present kingdoms. It is upside down; it is foolish to those whore are perishing.

In short, the Beatitudes are instructions for how we are to live in this world; but beyond that, it is also how we turn the world upside down. The Beatitudes reveal how the actions of Christians will transform the world from an ethic of shame to an ethic of honor. They are value statements. When you read them do not limit the word blessed as simply happy, but look at it as honorable.  In other words, to live this Beatitude/Beatific life is an honor. Jesus is saying that if you live in this way you will be honored and exalted in due time. Again, this is the paradox of the Christian message: that when you are poor in spirit you are honored in the kingdom of heaven.

The Beatitudes serve as a poem divided into two sections; each section contains 36 words. In this poem, Jesus is not telling us that if we live this way we will enter the kingdom of heaven, rather Jesus is saying that this is how kingdom-disciples live; those who have been transformed by the grace of the gospel are now called to transform the world.

We established the first beatitude “poor in spirit” as a foundational beatitude to understanding the other seven. To be poor in spirit is to depend on the infinite riches of God in Christ Jesus; it is to reject the self-sufficient way that so many live in our day, and instead embrace a life of supreme dependence upon God’s Word. Our look at the Beatitudes continues in verse 4:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

[2] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[4] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The Beatitudes are about Jesus coming as Restorer of His people. Israel has been an outcast and now Jesus comes to restore her; but he is coming to restore a particular type of people– a people who mourn. How honorable it is for those who mourn, for they shall be comforted! This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 61, which says that Yahweh will comfort those who mourn.What is Jesus not saying not saying in this Beatitude? Jesus is not saying that those who are constantly in a state of self-pity and shame and who are looking deeply inwardly for sins and are crying over their transgressions will be comforted. There is a sense in which we mourn over our sins, but this is not what mourning means in the context of the Beatitudes. In this context, those who mourn are those who grieve over the condition of this present world. Those who mourn are those who hope that the world will be made right. Those who mourn have a biblical sense that something is not right in this world and this leads to marvelous expectation for the work of the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted because they know that the kingdom of heaven is the only hope for the world. They believe that the Gospel will transform lives and form a new humanity. N.T. Wright says:

But the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, but rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God—the God recognized in Jesus—who is radically different from them all, and whose in-breaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness…b

N.T. Wright summarizes well this beatitude. Those who mourn are those who seek the shalom of the city; they are the ones who desire to see the present world reconciled to Jesus Christ and who desire the kingdom of heaven to be the ultimate and true kingdom of all the world. Those who mourn wish to see that tyrants will be confronted by the good news of God’s kingdom and be humbled and bow down to King Jesus. This beatitude is a parallel to the prophetic word of the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 9. In that chapter, Yahweh is going to destroy the city, but He will protect and mark one particular group of people: those who mourn over the abominations of the city. These are the ones who will be comforted. This background shapes how we understand this beatitude. The ones mourning are the ones who grieve over the atrocities and the many sins committed against Yahweh and His anointed One. The people in the kingdom of heaven don’t live their lives expecting to escape this  they live their lives hoping to see this world transformed. This is why we are called to mourn, and in our mourning we will find that Yahweh will comfort us with a vision of a transformed world.

Practically, we cannot mourn something we do not understand. We cannot understand the depths of this broken world unless we see this broken world. We are called to act in our mourning. Crying over the lost condition of the world is not enough. We mourn by participating in restoration. We lament the state of things and we know that there is destruction and doom for those who do not turn to the kingdom of heaven in repentance, but we also become active participants in restoring this broken world. The vision is global, but it begins locally. We begin by looking to our own city; to our own neighborhoods and our own families. Is there enough brokenness around us to keep us longing and mourning for God’s kingdom? How honorable are those who mourn; who understand the true significance of how the world has been wrecked by sin, but also how the world will be restored by Jesus Christ. They who mourn will be comforted.

  1. Martin Luther, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Table_talk/table_talk.html  (back)
  2. http://godspace.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/nt-wright-the-kingdom-of-god-and-the-need-for-social-justice/  (back)