As Matthew chapter 5 opens, imagine the scene you would have encountered if you were with Jesus. First, you know very little about this teacher. His ministry has just begun and you are just a few days old as a follower, but you have already been witness to some amazing things. Just the day before, Jesus was teaching in the Synagogues and healed “every disease and affliction among the people.” (Matt. 4:23) As far as you can tell, no teacher has actually healed anyone.
His message is the kingdom of God. Your curiosity is piqued as you try to absorb the meaning of life in this new kingdom, for it is clearly different from the kingdom you have spent your life in so far. After all, in the kingdom of God, people are healed.
Then the crowds begin to follow him. The people are made up of the recently healed and the “need-to-be-healed.” The people bring to him “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” (Matt. 4:24) This crowd is not comprised of the socially mobile, the cultural elite or the rich and handsome. In fact, this crowd smells just a bit.
It is at this point that Jesus gathers his disciples around him on a hillside and begins to teach them and the crowd a little more about the kingdom of God, and instead of beginning with a list of requirements or moral imperatives, he begins with blessing; he begins with what it is to be blessed in the kingdom of God.
The Beatitudes have been an abundant source for discussion and sermonizing, and it often happens that passages as familiar as this one lose their impact. Through the years, many have interpreted them as a list of moral requirements. In other words, this view holds that the formula of the Beatitudes is something like, “I am only blessed if…” But that misses their point entirely.
We should approach the Beatitudes more like an illustrated sermon. As each blessing is given, imagine Jesus pointing to some soul in the crowd who has just received his healing touch or who desperately needs it. What Jesus is explaining is that “Even this one is blessed in the kingdom of God.” To the new disciples, the word “blessed” means to be a privileged recipient of divine favor and was normally applied to the wealthy and powerful. But now, surrounded by a crowd of needy and broken people, this teacher says they are privileged recipients of divine favor.
The Beatitudes are living examples of what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God through a relationship with Jesus. The beatitude of this crowd obviously had nothing to do with their merit or their own achievement; it was a gift from God. Receiving God’s favor is not about my current or anticipated situation, and being blessed, now that the kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus, is not tied to my earthly happiness.
You should say this out loud today: “I am blessed.” It does not matter what your circumstances are. If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you are a privileged recipient of divine favor and a member of the kingdom of God.