The Beatitudes are Progressive

This is a follow-up to last week’s blog. It gives a little more insight into the book, Charter of the Christian Faith.

I began seriously studying the Beatitudes while attending the Oklahoma Baptist University in 1985. At the end of the semester, I had to choose one of five topics for my thesis, and I chose Matthew 5:1-12. As I began the research, I experienced almost as much confusion as I did when I read the Beatitudes as a child. But the more I dug into the topic, the more interesting it became, and the greater impact it had on my life.

A major concept I discovered is that the Beatitudes are progressive; they are sequential steps to godliness. It wasn’t obvious when I compared Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God with Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. The words didn’t adequately convey the intent of the Beatitudes; that’s why it’s difficult to comprehend the depth of the message. But when I realized that poor in spirit is sincere humility and mourning is deep sorrow because I have offended God, it became clear that there is an order to these concepts.

This example will clarify my point. When we want to learn math, we don’t begin by studying lambda calculus or advanced trigonometry. We start with adding and subtracting, and progress from there. In like manner, we’ll find out that everything we need to know, or even want to know, about enhancing our relationship with Jesus, starts with humility: the first Beatitude.

As we study the Bible, we find that the Beatitudes, and how God uses them to change and mature us, flow in magnificent sequence—in perfect order.

As we often climb stairs one step at a time to enter a house, mankind has known for thousands of years that we learn one step at a time. Jesus knew it and was a master teacher. That’s why these are not random thoughts to mull over; they are sequential. Following a logical order, each Beatitude is the step to reach the next one.

The goal that God the Father set before all of us is for us to become like Christ, but He knows it will be a life-long endeavor. Therefore, He provided the eight-step process the Church calls the Beatitudes to make the spiritual journey more understandable. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount, prefaced by the Beatitudes “is considered to be the most important sermon Jesus ever preached and starts with what is considered to be the most important attitudes that we need to have, The Beatitudes.”11

Preceding each chapter, is a pictorial illustration of the journey. The man represents humanity, the donkey represents the human mind without Christ, and the lion represents the Lion of Judah, and that is Jesus who is available to help us.

How did Jesus begin this teaching?

And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain; and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him. And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying….

Whoa! Stop there. Let’s think about this.

There were 5,000 men, plus possibly another 5,000 women and children. How could a multitude that large hear, let alone understand, someone sitting down? Something doesn’t seem right about this picture.

That’s why we study. Let’s read further and analyze the scene.

Although Jesus spoke to large crowds at other times, Matthew 5:2 reveals that Jesus may not have been speaking loudly to thousands, or even hundreds of men, women, and children in this setting. Others may have heard, but the entire Sermon on the Mount—three chapters—was spoken primarily to these twelve men. Why do I say that?

The phrase He opened His mouth is a solemn pronunciation. This is in contrast with verses such as Mark 15:1 which says, And they cried out again, Crucify him! To cry out is to shout! But the phrase He opened His mouth is an important, quiet activity. Jesus was teaching His followers personally, quietly, and without the interference of a noisy crowd.

According to the end of chapter seven, there were many people on the hillside, and some listened in and learned from the Master. (Jesus also taught these same truths to others in different places.) But in this setting, although others may have heard, Jesus purposely addressed a small group of twelve men.

Learn more about Jesus’ primary teaching in the New Testament, and how you can become an effective representative of Almighty God by reading Charter of the Christian Faith. You may find the book on Amazon.

THE BE-WHATITUDES?

For many years I’ve taught about the Bible and from the Bible. One of the series I’ve been asked to teach on quite often is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew. Because of the profound nature of that section of Scripture, I call this teaching, Charter of the Christian Faith. Today’s blog is a portion of the preface of my book by the same name, and will give you a feel for what’s in the following pages. The foreword is written by Rev. David Ravenhill.

I remember as a child in Sunday School, one of my teachers wanted us to memorize the be-something-or-others; but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I hated memorizing, and these things didn’t make any sense to me. Not only did I not understand them, but the teacher also couldn’t adequately explain them, either so I never got a gold star for learning those be-whatitudes.

But I did mentally retain other verses that made sense to me. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I understood those verses, even in the King James Version. In fact, most of what I committed to memory was from the KJV.

Also, Acts 1:11 clearly told me that while the people stood watching the incredulous sight of Jesus ascending into the sky, angels told them how Jesus will return. Men of Galilee, they said, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go! (NLT). That gave me confidence that Jesus would come back, and it told me how He would return. No questions, no guesses. No less than 67 famous people, and more than five hundred others, have claimed to be the returned messiah; but people should have understood they were fake messiahs because not one of them came the way the Bible says Jesus would return.

Nevertheless, I had a hard time with the Beatitudes, but I wasn’t alone. Author Philip Yancey said in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, “I learned the Beatitudes [as a teenager] yet I never faced the fact that none of us—I above all—could make sense of those mysterious sayings, let alone live by them.” He later said, “If I fail to understand this teaching, I fail to understand Him [Jesus].” That is a powerful statement.

Teacher and song-writer Bill Gaither said, “What we call the Beatitudes still challenge our value systems every day.” Many people—including many in the Church—view the Beatitudes merely as lofty ideals: holy-sounding platitudes which are beyond our grasp. Some people think of them as verses or sayings to comfort the spirit in time of trouble. But is this the primary intent of the first major teaching that Jesus gave us in the New Testament? I don’t think so.

I believe Matthew 5:3-12 is the Charter of the Christian Faith, and this Charter is developed in the full Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven.

Again, quoting E. Stanley Jones, “Years ago when I asked Mahatma Gandhi what we could do to naturalize Christianity in India so that it would cease to be a foreign thing, among other concepts he replied: ‘Practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down’—and he had in mind the Sermon on the Mount.… This fresh discovery, by a Hindu, of a truth long buried beneath the armaments of the fighting West, has been one of the most important spiritual discoveries of modern times.”

In order to properly understand the Beatitudes, we must realize they were not originally intended for our consolation, and they’re not statements to make us sound spiritual. Rather, they comprise one of the most important sets of instructions we could ever receive.

I’ll share more highlights in weeks to come, but you can order your copy on Amazon today. Also, check out my website at genelinzey.com.