October 16, 2017

Portrait of the Disciple

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Matthew 5:3-12

Christ’s words here paint us a picture of what His disciples should look like – what our heart and actions should portray. It’s a familiar passage, to be sure, but somewhat archaic in its wording. Let’s break it down thought-by-thought into more contemporary paraphrasing.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Great joy belongs to the one who knows his spiritual inadequacy. “Poor” gives the idea of total bankruptcy, not financially, but spiritually. The disciple must be a spiritual beggar, realizing his complete lack in himself and falling prostrate before God to draw on Him and His limitless resources.

Blessed are those who mourn: Great joy belongs to the one who is spiritually contrite. A seeming contradiction – happiness and mourning. This mourning comes from the previous thought of being “poor in spirit” – a grief over sin and spiritual stagnation that characterizes the one who knows his spiritual inadequacy.

Blessed are the meek: Great joy belongs to the one who possesses spiritual humility. This humility is the opposite of assertive aggressiveness, the opposite of demanding “my rights” or “my way.” It is also the antithesis of spineless weakness: Christ was called meek, and yet He overthrew the moneychangers in the temple. Moses was called meek, and yet he lashed out in righteous anger at the sin of the Israelites. Rather, true meekness is like a strong horse bridled by its rider: an energetic being of strength and power, but controlled and disciplined.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: Great joy belongs to the one who has spiritual aspirations. Not only must the disciple know his own inadequacy and grieve over it, he must continue to be discontent with it. He must passionately desire and work towards greater spiritual knowledge and a closer relationship with his God. He must cry out with the psalmist, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God(Psalm 42:1).

Blessed are the merciful: Great joy belongs to the one who is compassionate. Mercy is something given to those who don’t deserve it; God has shown us mercy by providing an escape from Hell. We can show mercy to others by being empathetic, by understanding their difficulties and, rather than criticizing or judging them, seeking to help them instead. Note here that, those who show mercy will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: Great joy belongs to the one who has sincerity and purity of heart. This sincerity speaks of inner purity and cleanness of heart; this disciple keeps short accounts with God and with men. His heart is free from any shadow of sin or pride or hypocrisy, allowing him a clear view of his God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: Great joy belongs to the one who is a maker of peace. Note here that the blessing is not directed to peace-lovers or peace-keepers, but rather to peace-makers. The peace-maker is one who will enter a situation fraught with conflict and seek to reconcile and restore tranquility, even at personal cost. For instance, Christ is a peace-maker: He restored peace with those who would be called His children by shedding His own blood on the cross.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account: Great joy belongs to the one who remains faithful to God in the midst of persecution.  All true believers will suffer in this world, either through chastisement (personal correction for sin) or through persecution (suffering at the hands of a world who doesn’t know Christ). The disciple who suffers this kind of persecution does not suffer as the result of his own sin or fanaticism or tactlessness; he suffers because he remains faithful as a disciple, loyal to God and consistently obedient to His Word.

So what is promised to the disciple who is spiritually inadequate, grievous over his sin, humble before God, passionate toward God, compassionate toward others, inwardly (and outwardly) pure, bent towards reconciliation, and a sufferer of persecution for Christ’s sake?

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven: spiritual affluence for spiritual poverty
  • they shall be comforted: spiritual blessedness for spiritual penitence
  • they shall inherit the earth: spiritual inheritance for spiritual humility
  • they shall be satisfied: spiritual satisfaction for spiritual hunger
  • they shall receive mercy: reaping mercy for showing mercy
  • they shall see God: purity of vision for having purity of heart
  • they shall be called sons of God: peace with God for making peace on earth
  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven: eternal rewards for temporal suffering