Purity, Peace, and Persecution
The beatitudes paint a comprehensive portrait of a Christian disciple. We see him first alone on his knees before God, acknowledging his spiritual poverty and mourning over it. This makes him meek or gentle in all his relationships, since honesty compels him to allow others to think of him what before God, he confesses himself to be. Yet he is far from acquiescing in his sinfulness, for he hungers and thirsts after righteousness, longing to grow in grace and in goodness.
We see him next with others, out in the human community. His relationship with God does not cause him to withdraw from society, nor is he insulated from the world’s pain. On the contrary, he is in the thick of it, showing mercy to those battered by adversity and sin. He is transparently sincere in all his dealings and seeks to play a constructive role as a peacemaker. Yet he is not thanked for his efforts, but rather opposed, slandered, insulted and persecuted on account of the righteousness for which he stands and the Christ with whom he is identified.
Such is the man or woman who is ‘blessed,’ that is, who has the approval of God and finds self-fulfillment as a human being. John Stott notes the transvaluation of Jesus’ description in the following words:
“Yet in all this the values and standards of Jesus are in direct conflict with the commonly accepted values and standards of the world. the world judges the rich to be blessed, not the poor, whether in the material or in the spiritual sphere; the happy-go-lucky and carefree, not those who take evil so seriously that they mourn over it; the strong and brash, not the meek and gentle; the full not the hungry; those who mind their own business, not those who meddle in other men’s matters and occupy their time in ‘do-goodery’ like ‘showing mercy’ and ‘making peace;’ those who attain their ends even if necessary by devious means, not the pure in heart who refuse to compromise their integrity; those who are secure and popular, and live at ease, not those who have to suffer persecution.”
In the beatitudes Jesus throws out a fundamental challenge to the non-Christian world and its outlook and requires his disciples to adopt his altogether different set of values. As Helmut Thielicke (a German pastor of the confessing church during the Nazi regime) puts it, ‘Anybody who enters into fellowship with Jesus must undergo a transvaluation of values.’
This is what Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis at the end of WWII, termed the ‘extra-ordinariness’ of the Christian life. He continued:
“With every beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, and their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest. It is particularly obvious in the blessing on mourners. Jesus means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate and its fortune. While the world keeps holiday they stand aside, and while the world sings ‘Gather ye rose-buds while ye may’, they mourn. They see that for all the jollity on board, the ship is beginning to sink. The world dreams of progress, of power and of the future, but the disciples meditate on the end, the last judgment and the coming of the Kingdom. To such heights the world cannot rise. And so the disciples are strangers in the world, unwelcome guests and disturbers of the peace. No wonder the world rejects them!”
Stott thus concludes this section as follows:
“Such a reversal of human values is basic to biblical religion. The ways of the God of Scripture appear topsy-turvy to men. For God exalts the humble and abases the proud, calls the first last and the last first, ascribes greatness to the servant, sends the rich away empty-handed and declares the meek to be his heirs. The culture of the world and the counterculture of Christ are at loggerheads with each other. In brief, Jesus congratulates those whom the world most pities, and calls the world’s rejects ‘blessed’.”
Join us this Lord’s Day as we conclude the ‘blessed attitudes’ section of the Sermon on the Mount. Will you take up the call of Christ and counter this world while longing for the world to come? Come and see.