As we resume our discussion of the Beatitudes, let me start out by saying that the Beatitudes are predominantly concerned with righteousness, that is, conformity to God’s will. Righteousness is a big church word that simply means "right relations" - right relations with God and right relations with other people. In fact, maybe you've already noticed that the first four Beatitudes deal with the relationship between us and God. The second four are concerned with our relationships with other people (being merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and being persecuted).
Let's look a little closer at the last four Beatitudes…
Blessed are the merciful (v. 7)
The merciful are those who identify with people in need. Sometimes grace and mercy are confused. Grace is showing love to someone who doesn't deserve it (like God showing love to us). Mercy is showing love to someone who is brokenhearted or in need. To be merciful then, is to enter into the feelings of someone who is hurting, or lonely, or distressed.
Dr. James Dobson tells about how some geese chose the Focus on the Family property as a stopping place on their annual southern migration. Morning and evening they came and went. After a few days Dobson noticed a crippled goose. They named him "Chester" after a character with a limp on the old TV series Gunsmoke. They watched day after day as Chester limped along behind the rest and often sat isolated from the other geese. They watched each day, hoping he would survive another cold night.
Dobson said watching the lonely goose made him wonder how many of us there are who, for one reason or another, are limping through a difficult time in our life. Isn't it odd though - how when we need people the most, we tend to isolate ourselves from those who might give us comfort or counsel? Have you seen a "Chester" lately? Sometimes they cry out for us to look their way and give them a helping hand, but often our inclination is to look the other way. Jesus said those who notice - the merciful - are blessed.
Blessed are the pure in heart (v. 8)
The pure in heart are those who's MOTIVES match their actions. Perhaps by now you're picking up on something with the Beatitudes; there's a thread of continuity that runs through their message, you change your life by changing your heart. Jesus teaches that you change the inside and what's outside follows, but we usually reverse the order. We try to change the inside by altering the outside.
Let me give you an example. I am very meticulous about having clean cars. To me, a car that has been freshly washed, vacuumed and waxed just runs better than a dirty car. I had a car one time that began having transmission trouble - the transmission would slip and the car would be stuck in a low gear and you could only drive at low speeds. It was weird, but sometimes the car would do this, and others it would drive fine. I know very little about fixing engines, but I know a whole lot about how to shine up the outside of a car.
Eventually the transmission problems got worse - and I discovered something: No matter how clean or shiny I made the outside of my car - it didn't help the transmission. Cosmetic changes are only skin deep. The same goes for us.
Blessed are the peacemakers (v. 9).
Peacemakers are bridge builders. Peacemakers always find a way to bridge the canyons of difference and hostility. I love the story about a little scrawny guy who was confronted on the playground by three bullies, any one of whom could have beat him to a pulp. The little guy was a peacemaker - and very bright. As the three bullies stood there telling him what all they were going to do with him the little guy backed away from the bullies, drew a line in the dirt, looked into the eyes of the biggest, meanest bully, and said, "Now, you just step across that line." Confidently the big bully did exactly that, and the little guy just grinned and cheerfully said, "Now we're both on the same side."
Peacemakers know how to discover common ground with adversaries, how to keep communications open and how to connect when others consider it impossible. Jesus said peacemakers were blessed to the point that they would be called "Sons of God." Let's not forget that Jesus, God's own Son, was called the Prince of Peace. Be a peacemaker.
Blessed are those who are persecuted… (v. 10)
Those who are persecuted are those who are willing to stand up for what they believe without getting defensive or compromising. One of the most important aspects of this Beatitude is to be sure you're being persecuted for righteousness' sake. There are plenty of us who are persecuted for one reason or another, but how many of us can truly claim we are being persecuted for righteousness' sake? If you are persecuted this way though - say you're passed up for a promotion because you refuse to do something your employer tells you to do because of your beliefs. If this sort of thing happens, Jesus says, you will be blessed.
Let's Live Them Out
So what are we doing to do about these last four Beatitudes? How we can put some wheels on these last four Beatitudes and make them functional in our lives right away. Here's how to cultivate these characteristics in your life and in mine:
For the fourth Beatitude, about being merciful, try to think of others first. Try to identify with people in need.
Everyone is concerned about exercise these days. L.B. Hicks writes that "The best exercise for strengthening the heart is reaching down and helping someone up." Remember Dr. Dobson's injured goose, "Chester?" Why not make an effort to identify a "Chester" in your life and then ask God to show you the best way to minister to that person?
During his brief ministry on earth, Jesus always had a special place in his heart for the least, the last and the lost. If these people were Jesus' concern, they should be ours as well.
The action step for the fifth Beatitude, the one about being pure in heart, is to test your motives. Your thoughts should match your actions.
There are many fascinating legends about the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One legend tells about why the beautiful palace was built. It seems the favorite wife to the maharaja died. Devastated, he resolved to honor her by building a temple that would serve as her tomb. The queen's coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the maharajah's grief was eclipsed by his passion for the project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The maharajah brushed the dust off his leg and ordered a worker to throw the box out.
The maharajah didn't realize he had ordered the disposal of the coffin - now forgotten - hidden beneath layers of dust and time. The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten - the maharajah needed to do a motive check.
The Beatitude about being a peacemaker, which we defined as being a bridge builder has a difficult action step for many. That step is to take the first step in the peace process. We must learn to cooperate, not compete.
So many of us live in prisons of our own making - the prison of pride. We want to make peace, but we wouldn't dare take the first step toward the other party if our life depended on it. In each and every situation you and I have a choice, will we put the fire out, or will we throw gasoline on it? Will we get over it, or will we get even? Will we let our hurts heal, or will we let them turn into hate?
Let's say we do get even. Let's say your adversary does get what he deserves. Play the thought out to its dreadful conclusion and I think you'll see that peacemaking - forgiveness - reconciliation is always the better choice. Take the high road.
The final Beatitude is the one about being persecuted. What do you do during personal attacks? The key is to trust God during personal attacks. Every Christian should expect opposition. This goes hand in hand with what we just discussed. After you have taken the first step towards reconciliation, either between you and another person or between two other parties. Once you have done this, the step to take next is to trust God to do what only God can do.
When the storms of personal attack come (and trust me, they will come) you and I can be filled with panic and paranoia or we can be filled with peace. The personal peace that you and I so desire is not the absence of problems in our life. Peace is the presence of God in our lives.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour." Is right now a critical, decisive hour for you?
Some of you reading this are probably wrestling with some of the issues discussed here. Maybe you know someone who needs mercy and God has sent you to be merciful on his behalf to them. Or maybe lately you've come to realize your motives don't match up to the reality of your life. You're saying one thing and doing another. Or perhaps a great chasm has opened up between you and someone you used to love dearly and the time has come for someone (YOU!) to take the first step to build a bridge - to be a peacemaker. Or maybe you've been under attack lately and you've had about all you can stand. You're considering taking things into your own hands - don't do it, trust God to fight that battle for you.
Philippians 1:6 promises us that God is faithful and will complete the good work he has begun in you. Will you allow him to do that? Will you cooperate with him as he does?
I will post our discussion questions for the "salt and light" session of our Sermon on the Mount class on Friday.