Matthew 4:18—5:16, Discipleship and Beatitude

What Blessedness Is

[January 22, 2012] What does the word “Blessed” mean?

If we take it out of its Biblical context, which is what a lot of modern translations and preachers do, the word can simply mean “happy.” But poverty, being mournful, and hungering and thirsting, and having people say every evil thing against us, are not generally conducive to happiness, at least not outwardly and not immediately. We would be wrong to judge the quality of each other’s Christianity by how happy we were. Not only does Paul reports being “pressed beyond measure,” being in “much affliction and anguish of heart,” being “sorrowful,” having “fears within,” being “excessively burdened so that [he] despaired even of living,” having “no rest in [his] spirit,” and needing encouragement, but even Jesus’ soul could be troubled and exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. So let no one deceive us by equating spirituality with happiness.

But if “blessed” does not mean happy, what does it mean? Biblically it means that we come into God’s favor and are the object of His beneficence and benevolence. This may not be visible on the outside. We may not even know it ourselves (which is why Jesus needs to tell us!). A persecuted Christian may sit in prison discouraged and despairing, but because he or she remains faithful, she is blessed, even though she does not know it. One day she will, for hers is the Kingdom of the Heavens. If only she knew it now, she could leap for joy, so great will be her reward. Happiness will come, but it may be delayed.

The word “blessed” is a very Biblical word. It is heavy with allusive weight. If we knew our Bibles, it would conjure up many passages that would tell us how to understand what Jesus is saying. For example, we first hear of God’s blessing in Genesis 1:28. “God created the human being in His own image; in the image of God He created the human being; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Before humanity rebelled against God, we were blessed and made fruitful and told to subdue the earth, that is, to take it back from the devil, and to have dominion like the angels but as the image of God within the earthly creation. The earth itself was blessed by the blessing that God placed on us. How different things turned out! We rebelled and have become a curse to the earth instead.

God made a new beginning in Genesis 12. There God says to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” The blessing is the same, but now God is recovering the creation through the Seed of Abraham. That Seed, as we know, is Christ—who will redeem Israel and be a blessing to all the nations on earth. But that jumps ahead, for in the Old Testament that Seed had not yet come. What we have there are pictures and parables of what is to come.

The children of Abraham went to Egypt and became enslaved there. God delivered them through the hand of Moses and brought them to the borders of the Promised Land. There, in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Moses declared the blessing on them, if they would be faithful to God. “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you listen to the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your animals, the offspring of your cattle and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your storehouses and in all your undertakings; and He will bless you in the Land which the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways.” So it goes on for fourteen verses. If they would be faithful, the blessing of God will be upon them. But if they are unfaithful, the blessing will turn into a curse and they will live out their days on earth under the judgment of God, just like the Gentiles, only worse, because the Gentiles are ignorant of God while they are not.

This is the same blessing that was given to Abraham and has to do with the blessing intended for Adam and Eve before the fall. But Israel proved unfaithful and in need of repentance. Moses declares to them, however, in Deuteronomy chapter 30, that if, while they are under the weight of God’s judgment, they return to the Lord their God and listen to His voice, with all their heart and with all their soul, then the Lord will turn their captivity and be compassionate to them, and He will turn and gather them from all the peoples among whom the Lord their God had scattered them, and will bring them into the Land and He will bless them.

Ultimately, the blessing of God on the Land was to be His own presence among them there. He was to dwell in their midst as the Shekinah in the Temple. And the fields of all the Israelites were to be blessed with fruitfulness, and they were to take of this fruitfulness and bring it to the Temple and offer it to the Lord in gratitude and love as they celebrate this blessedness with one another in great feasts.

All this is a material picture, and Israel only got to know a taste of it by the mercy of God. It points however to something greater, and the prophets of Israel knew this and tried to point it out, “searching,” as Peter says, “into what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ in them was making clear, testifying beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these. To them it was revealed that not to themselves but to you they ministered these things, which have now been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, which things angels long to look into” (1 Peter 1:11-12).

Israel, if they repented with all their heart and with all their soul would enter into the blessing. But Israel could not go the whole way; and so they waited for the Coming One whom all the prophets and—at last—John the Baptist announced.

Jesus is the Place Where the Blessedness Rests

When Jesus asked John to baptize Him with the baptism of repentance, He stepped into the way of repentance on behalf of Israel. As He rose from the waters, the voice of the Father declared, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight.” The Father found that which delighted Him. In other words, it was as if He were searching and waiting. Jesus alone is the faithful One in whom the Father has found His delight, the One in whom He is at last well pleased.

On Him God’s blessing rests. This is why the heavens opened to Him. It was signified by the descent of the heavenly dove, the power of the Holy Spirit. It was as though He were the Temple of God, the place where God dwells. The pillar and cloud of fire, the glory of the Shekinah, came to rest on Him. Actually it was true, but it was invisible to all but the eye of faith. Later, in Matthew chapter 17, Jesus will take Peter, James and John up on a mountain and their eyes were opened to see it. They saw His majesty and honor and glory as He was transfigured before them and His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as the light, and the same voice spoke out of heaven, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight.”

In other words, it was as if He were not only repentant Israel but the Promised Land itself, and the blessing came upon Him. He was the Temple in the midst of the Land, upon which the glory of God descended and dwelt among the people. He was the spiritual fruitfulness of the Land and He was the offering up of all this fruitfulness to the Father. He was the gathering place of Israel where all could come and worship the Lord and offer their fruits and celebrate with one another. In other words, He was the Promised Land and all that it means when the blessing of God rests upon it. Jesus is the place of blessedness.

So it is no surprise that He proclaimed, “The Kingdom of the Heavens has drawn near.” Indeed, it was in their midst. It was where Jesus Himself stood. He was the Kingdom of the Heavens.

So Jesus is the place of God’s blessing. He is the repentance—the turning to God—that brings the blessing of God. And He is the Promised Land where the blessing of God rests.

Discipleship Means Entering the Place of Blessedness

Therefore the first thing Jesus does when He comes out of the desert is to call a few individuals into His own space, into this sphere of His blessedness. To share His blessedness, to be blessed with the blessing that lies on Him, is to enter the space where He is, to enter His sphere.

Consider this. We hear that all of Syria brought to Him their sick and afflicted ones, and that great crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the other side of the Jordan. But He did not call these people blessèd because they wanted Him or liked Him. No. Matthew says, “When He saw the crowds, He used to go up to the mountain, and [there] His disciples would come to Him.” The disciples are different from the crowds. The disciples are those whom He has called and said, “Come after Me,” and who dropped whatever was in their hands and followed Him. These are the ones who enter His space and are called “blessèd.”

What does it mean to enter His space? If the blessing of God rests on Him, how can it also come to us? We are talking about the place of His Person, the Person of the divine Son. To enter His space is to enter into a relationship with this Person. It is literally a personal relationship, a relationship between two persons. But this relationship is of a particular kind. It is the relationship of fealty, loyalty, allegiance, commitment, fidelity, faithfulness, or, in other words, faith.

We have peculiar ideas about what “faith” means. We think it means believing something to be true, or agreeing with a belief or doctrine or idea. It includes that, but it can exist even when our minds are not completely convinced. True faith can exist alongside questions and doubts and confusion. Faith is not about the contents of our minds, although it is helped and strengthened for sure when our mind is with us. But faith is really about being in this personal relationship. It is your fidelity to the Person that counts, not how confused your mind may be at any point in time. We can wake up as clear as a bell and go to bed with a mind of mush, but as long as our allegiance to Jesus has not changed, our faith has not wavered. Faith is our subjection to this relationship, and therefore it cannot be separated from our obedience to Jesus as our Lord.

We cannot willy-nilly create this relationship on our own, by a decision or act of our will. It happens when we hear the Word and it calls us and we make this commitment to Jesus. It seems like we are doing it, but the Holy Spirit is doing it within us by means of the Word that we hear. He changes something deep inside us. Jesus becomes real to us and we give ourselves to Him. Jesus is the One who creates this relationship by the power of His call, and who keeps us in this relationship.

The beatitudes are not commandments or prescriptions. They are descriptions of what it means when we are His disciples. This is what we will become under the government of God; what we will become when we are in relationship to Jesus, this kind of relationship to Him, the relationship of fealty, or faith.

When we enter into relationship to Jesus, we give Him our allegiance. Then we are in His personal space, His sphere, and that is when we are blessed, when He begins to make us into what He Himself is: One who is poor in spirit, who mourns for the world, who is meek, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, who is merciful and pure in heart, who makes peace, and who endures under persecution. By close association with our Lord in this relationship that we have with Him, we begin to take on His qualities, and when we have these qualities, the blessings that He describes come to us. We enter in and possess the Kingdom of the Heavens.

But the qualities themselves that He presents to us are His own qualities as He takes the way of the cross. In chapter 16 Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” This is what these qualities describe. Chapter 17 shows us what the blessedness is that comes when we take the way of the cross. His Transfiguration is a figuration of our glorification if we also take the way of the cross as He was doing. The way of discipleship is this way—the way of the cross—that Jesus chose at His baptism. But it leads to the blessedness that we see on the Mount of Transfiguration.  One day we will be like Him. Even our body will “be conformed to the body of His glory according to His operation by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21).

This is as far as we can go today. In Christ are all the blessings of God. Let Him dwell in your heart richly as you ponder these things.

Leave a Reply