Sermon On The Mount

They Call Them Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

For a thousand years the Church has called them ‘beatitudes’.  So, I started asking people what in the world a beatitude was (nothing scientific, just asking around).  Most folks answered, “You know, those things that Jesus talked about in that Sermon.”  One person even told me, “It’s the attitude that we should be, or have, or do!”  My informal survey has prompted me to go ahead and clarify ancient Greek and Latin when leading people through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5.  Most of the printed Bibles I use include the editorial heading over Chapter 5, “ The Beatitudes”.  Then, as we English speaking folk read through the chapter, we discover that the term ‘beatitude’ never occurs in the text of our translation of Scripture! 

So how did such an anachronism occur?  The ancient Latin translations often included the editorial heading ‘beatitudines at the beginning of Matthew 5.  That was the term that meant the collected statements about happiness, because the verb ‘beati’ occurs nine times in the passage.  That was the expression that the Latin translators selected to convey the older Greek term makarioi, which I would convey in English as ‘how blissfully happy are the ones who . . .”  Please don’t be misled by that definition.  We usually consider happiness as something we feel, something quite subjective based upon our emotions.  As a grandfather, I honestly cannot express the happiness I feel when one of those little people scream out “Papa” while running into my arms.  As great as that feeling of happiness is, the word of Jesus recorded by Matthew in the Greek text moves into another dimension.  In this passage, Jesus is making an objective statement about what God thinks of his followers. Modern psychologists seek paths for mental health, while the Lord Jesus spelled out how to have strong & healthy personalities.  Nobody knows better than our Creator how we may become truly happy human beings.  He made us.  He knows how we work best.  It is through obeying his own moral laws that we find ourselves in Him & fulfill ourselves.  All Christians should be able to testify from experience that there is a close connection between holiness & happiness – between deep devotion and a deep sense of well-being. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit:                             for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn:                           for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek:                                                 for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:          for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful:                                            for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart:                                    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers:                                   for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake:         

                                                                                   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you . . .             for great is your reward in heaven . . .


What Jesus gives us are nine statements of condition (or character), followed by the resultant divine blessing which rests upon those who exhibit these marks.  If a person reacts to his environment in the spirit of these characteristics, his life will be a happy one. Therefore, in this context, I suggest these mean "blissfully happy due to a deep rooted condition".  The condition receives blessing from God, and each blessing is described in the quality of the impact on the life of the disciple, and each blessing is appropriate to the condition of the believer.  Maybe, instead of ‘Beatitudes’, we could call this passage the ‘Blessednesses’.  Then again, rather than struggling with what to call them, just pursue these character traits in the spirit in which Jesus blesses you, and be amazed!

Suggested reading: The Message of the Sermon On The Mount, John Stott, IVP, 1985

Jesus Was Amazing

Sea of Galilee from the hillside

Sea of Galilee from the hillside

I always heard that we were supposed to seize opportunities by grabbing the tiger by the tail, or leaping the Grand Canyon on a turbo-charged Harley, or ripping the unwanted pages from the boring textbook while climbing onto the desktops in grand ‘carpe diem’ style.  Jesus saw an opportunity, He seized the opportunity, and sat down. He sat down?!?  This is how Matthew chapter 5 leads us into the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.  Jesus saw an opportunity to teach his disciples, to gain a few more disciples and to leave the crowd amazed. 

When Jesus sat down on the hillside, his disciples gathered around him [Matt.5:1], for that is what true disciples tend to do.  In classical Greek and Roman society, a man was called a disciple when he bound himself to someone else in order to acquire practical, technical or theoretical knowledge.  The term mathatas – was used to identify a follower who learns, & a learner who follows.  In the culture at large mathatas was applied to an apprentice in a trade, a student of medicine or a member of one of the philosophical schools. One could only be a true disciple in the company of a master-teacher.  This is the backdrop in John 3:2, when Nicodemus came at night and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God."

While Jesus' disciples were identified as mathatas  in Matthew’s Gospel, they were in many ways different from other disciples of rabbinic circles & philosophical schools.

A) In rabbinic circles and philosophical schools, those disciples made a voluntary decision to join the "school" of their favorite master-teacher, but Jesus took the initiative and drafted his men into discipleship (Mk. 1:17 - Simon & Andrew "Come, follow me, & I will make you fishers of men."  v.19-20 James, John; 2:14 Levi "Follow me," ; Lk 9:59-62 "Follow me . . .lord, first let me bury my father. . ."; Jn.1:43 Philip).

B) In rabbinic circles, disciples looked for objective teaching with the aim of themselves becoming rabbis or master-teachers, however, studying with Jesus did not and still does not mean fulfilling 'X' number of academic requirements & then graduating.  Following Jesus as a disciple meant the unconditional sacrifice of your whole life; Mt 10:37-39 "take up cross // Lk 9:23; Lk 14:26 "hate family, mom, dad, wife, kids, own life" (preference); Lk 9:62 "No one who puts hand to the plow & looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God."

C) It is important for understanding discipleship to realize that the call of Jesus always includes the call to service.  The disciples of Jesus are to catch people (as fishers of humans) for the coming Kingdom by proclaiming the gospel & working in the name and character of Jesus (Mk 1:17; Lk 5:10-11).  He sent out the 12 & 70 in pairs to heal, bring salvation & peace, proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Mk 6; Lk 10)

D) Jesus' disciples also faced the same dangers & suffering; as his followers they can expect no better. Mt 16:24-26 "deny self, take cross . . . what good is it to gain the world & lose soul."

E) Disciples of Jesus follow & learn, learn & follow.  The original disciples never found Jesus lecturing in a classroom.  Instead, they would find him heading down the road to Capernaum, Nazareth, Nain or hiking up the hill to Jerusalem.  The Epistle to the Hebrews declares that following Jesus is more like running a race:  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us [12:1 NIV].


Yes, Jesus saw a crowd of people and seized that opportunity to sit down in order to teach some of the most amazing truth ever proclaimed.  Let me encourage you this week to read again Matthew chapters 5-7, and be amazed.