(The first beatitude)
After Jesus had called his disciples, He took them to a mountain to teach them. Matthew tells us of this first “sermon” of Jesus. Each one of the first couple of sentences starts with the word “Happy” (in this context, the highest level of joy and blessing). Jesus begins by telling his disciples of the attitudes required to experience this highest level of happiness: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised! Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully! Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God! Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children! Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted“ (Matt. 5:3-11). It wasn’t just a singular sermon; it entails the essence of Jesus’ teachings for the inner circle of people whom He chose to equip for spreading it as his message. The beatitudes are not a couple of new laws to live by in order to live happily. They are not wishes for what may lie in future, but a joyful exclamation over the treasures which Jesus’ followers already possess. The beatitudes describe the nature of someone who leaves everything behind to follow Jesus. It is about a happiness which no one or no circumstance can take away from Jesus’ followers.
In this message we only look at the first sentence: Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! That means: Happy is the one who realises how utterly helpless he is and who knows that he is entirely dependent on God. It is to realise the extent of our being lost, our debt and emptiness.. It is to know that when we stand before God, we do so with empty hands and that our only hope lies in the One whose hands were pierced when He was crucified for us. It is only to those that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
No one can lay claim to even a small portion of the kingdom of heaven on personal merit. The most decent person is just as much lost as the murderer, and equally dependent on God’s grace as is the rapist. Before God we have nothing to boast about or to be proud of, not even our faith. Everything is grace. For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it (Eph. 2: 8-9).
Heaven is the place of perfect love and unparalleled joy and peace. It is this kingdom of heaven which already belongs to those who know how dependent they are upon God. We don’t need to perform to be acceptable to God. We can be people who have received God’s forgiveness through Christ, people who are imperfect, but who experience God’s peace: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
Our heavenly Father, thank you that You came in Jesus to teach us what the highest level of happiness is. We thank You for Jesus’ death on the cross which made it all possible. Amen.