A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on June 24, 2018.
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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:8–12).
If asked to summarize the first twelve verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew in one sentence, I would say: The Beatitudes are a description of the Christian life from the new birth to growing in grace. Jesus’ foundational teaching walks us through conviction of sin and eternal life, repentance of sin and forgiveness, living in Christ here and reigning with Him there, craving righteousness and enjoying it, living with a pure heart to know God more, making and sharing the peace of Christ, and being persecuted for Christ’s sake, and rejoicing in it. Blessedness in the Beatitudes is not compliance with a social ethic, rather it is a state or condition of God’s gracious favor.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” No one enters heaven by meriting God’s favor. It is by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. In our depravity, in our spiritual bankruptcy, we bring nothing to our salvation but our sin. Before a righteous and holy God, we are indeed poor in spirit.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Because by God’s grace through faith in Christ we have been saved, God gives us a new heart and His Holy Spirit. When we sin it is a contradiction to who we are in Christ and contrary to the righteousness of His Spirit within us. We are convicted of our sin, and we mourn over it. We weep over our sin asking, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom. 6:2). But, we do not wallow in our sin, for “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We mourn over our sin but are simultaneously comforted by the forgiveness of God in Christ.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” As we mourn over our sin and are comforted in God’s forgiveness, we grow in God’s grace. As we mature in Christ, we become meek like Him, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). As we mature in the meekness of Christ, we find the allurements of this world become less and less enticing, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” As we grow in God’s grace, our spiritual taste buds change. Sin that once tasted delicious now has a putrid stench warning us of its toxicity. We develop a craving for righteousness, and we even begin to enjoy righteousness, finding nourishment for our souls in the things of God. Like newborn infants, we begin to crave pure spiritual milk, and as we drink freely we grow in our sanctification (1 Peter 2:2).
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” As we grow in God’s grace, God’s unmerited love to the undeserving, we understand better God’s mercy, God’s unmerited love to the helpless. As recipients of God’s mercy, we show mercy to others. We find that because of the new birth, as we grow in God’s grace, we are becoming what we are in Christ. God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:25-26). This is the promise of God to His covenant people through faith in Christ, and as such, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
To be pure-hearted in Christ is to be singular in devotion to Him. We must be careful not to think that one can be argued or persuaded into the kingdom of heaven. It is an act of God’s free grace, in which we are redeemed and bought by the blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul, in the context of confronting sexual immorality, wrote, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19a-20b). A pure heart, to be singularly devoted to Christ, is to focus our hearts, souls, and minds upon Him alone.
We do not simply rise in the morning a person; we rise as one in Christ! We do not merely work through the day as a worker; we work as one in Christ! And so it is with our family and free time. What we think, say, and do is to be ruled by Christ. But, when we allow the world, the flesh, and the devil to work their way into our hearts and minds, we do not think our thoughts for Christ, say our words for Christ, live our lives for Christ. This, as I said last week, contributes to spiritual depression.
Examine your heart. Do you desire to see God, to know Him? Before the Fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. Do you desire that kind of intimacy with God? Do you desire a relationship with God that is more meaningful and vibrant than any relationship you could ever know here on earth?
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face;
and the things of earth will grow stangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” So, in Christ we are pure-hearted and peacemaking.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” By God’s grace through faith in Christ, we have become children of God. Paul describes this act of God’s free grace as “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). As such, there is a direct correlation between peace with God and the family of God. In fact, Paul’s concluding benediction to the Romans includes a wish for the presence of “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33). Our God is the God of peace. We are His children. Therefore, we are to be like Him. But what is a peacemaker?
Peace in Christ is lived out in at least two ways: generally in the world and specifically in the church. In general, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 13:18). Do not be hostile or divisive. The Christian’s role is not to fight the unregenerate, but to live peaceably with all. This, however, does not mean the world will live at peace with you. The world’s definition of tolerance wants to define you as intolerant, hateful, unaccepting, and discriminating if you hold to God’s truth and righteousness. The world’s tolerance is wickedly intolerant, seeking to scold you for living and standing for righteousness. Yet, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In fact, the Christian can do something the world considers impossible. In Christ, we can in fact love the unlovable, extend grace to the undeserving, and show mercy to the helpless, while simultaneously standing for righteousness. Remember, the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus was not stoned, but Jesus did say to her, “go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11b). As Christians, we can simultaneously stand for truth and righteousness and proclaim truth and righteousness and never waiver, while simultaneously showing grace and mercy.
For, God has often put us right where we are to share the gospel of peace, for sharing the gospel is really at the heart of being a peacemaker. There is no greater peace than peace with God and to share it with a lost and dying world is to be a peacemaker. You are a peacemaker in Christ. Share the gospel of peace with the lost!
And, because we are peacemakers, we who have peace with God through Christ should live at peace with one another. This does not mean that we accept sin in the church. This does not mean we compromise doctrine or water-down the gospel. But, as we assent in our membership vows, we are to study the purity and peace of Christ’s church. Paul instructed the Colossians, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Col. 5:15). Our peace among one another is inseverably linked to the peace of Christ, for “he is the head of the body” (Col. 1:18). Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Too often the causes [of strife in the church] are pride and the desire for power and position. How slow we are to learn that we are a family, and that the Father’s will is that we should live together in harmony.”
Therefore, as children of God in Christ, let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, let us bear with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). For, in Christ we are pure-hearted and peacemaking and therefore persecuted.
Whose is the kingdom of heaven? According to verse three, it is “the poor in spirit.” But, according to verse ten, it is also the persecuted for righteousness. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” Those who come to Christ by God’s grace spiritually bankrupt, those who are saved by faith in Christ alone, those who live righteous lives for Christ are rewarded with persecution.
Perhaps this is a different gospel than you first heard. Perhaps this is not your best life now that some preacher promised. How ignorant the world is of the true Jesus Christ and His Word! This world has created a version of Jesus that is not to be found in Scripture. For when the real Jesus stepped forward in the fullness of time, the world detested His existence. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…[and] If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). But, it is not just because you bear the name of Christian that you will be persecuted.
Why are we persecuted? We are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” This is a very important distinction. Some Christians are under the illusion that anything negative that happens to them in life is persecution. If you do something stupid, the result is not “persecution.” It’s called cause and effect. But, when we live our lives in the righteousness of Christ, and when we stand for Christ’s righteousness, when our chief loyalty is to Christ, the world will hate us because of it. Sometimes persecution is subtle and sometimes it is overtly harsh, but if you are living for Christ, it will come.
Be aware that living for Christ will bring heart-ache and joy. Here is a promise from Jesus, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). Yes, if you stand for the righteousness of Christ and His Word, you may even be persecuted by those closest to you. I’m reminded of a friend of mine who became a Christian in college. Still a young Christian he began to tell his mother about what he was learning in the Bible. His mother, who attended a church every Sunday, despised what he told her. So strong was her rejection of what he was learning from the Scriptures that it impacted his Christian growth. He valued his mother’s opinion more than the Word of Christ, and it stunted his walk and his joy in Christ.
Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39). The Christian life is a crucified life, for only the true Christian with joy can declare: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). It is only those crucified in Christ who can “rejoice and be glad” when persecuted. It sounds ludicrous to the world, but the Christian counts “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” our Lord (Phil.3:8).
It is in persecution that it is revealed if we are blessedly poor in spirit, mournful of sin, meek, craving righteousness, and merciful. For those who are in Christ, we are all of these as the pure-hearted, peacemaking persecuted. For Christ to us is more precious than life itself.
Will you pray this with me?
O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heav’nly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.
So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.