Commentary by Walter Albritton

                                   September 21, 2008


What it means if the Beatitudes are all about Jesus


Matthew 5:1—7:28


Key Verse: Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  – Matthew 6:33


The focus of this lesson is the Beatitudes with which Jesus began what is called the Sermon on the Mount. The significance of the Beatitudes is monumental. John Wesley called them “the sum of all true religion.” Therefore they are worthy of our best study. Indeed, a lifetime devoted to the study of the Beatitudes would hardly exhaust their meaning.

Matthew uses four chapters to explain who Jesus is. Then he allows Jesus to speak for himself. Chapters five, six, and seven are much more than a “sermon;” they also are more than a summary of the core values of life in the kingdom of God.

While Jesus uses the Beatitudes to describe the holy life that pleases God, we must be careful not to assume that the Beatitudes are a “list of rules” by which Christians must strive to live.  The values described by the Beatitudes do not become characteristics of our lives simply because we adopt them as our code of conduct. Is it actually possible to live daily in the “Blessed” way Jesus describes? How have the saints and theologians of the church helped us to understand the Beatitudes?

Years before John Wesley, Martin Luther saw the Beatitudes as a true interpretation of the law of Moses, a law intended to create such a sense of failure that those who try to live by this law would be driven to cry for mercy. Yet it hardly makes sense to think that Jesus would set up hurdles of law upon which his followers would fall so that finally they would go limping to God for mercy. Surely the Beatitudes are a call not to law but to grace, the grace freely available to all who are willing to seek first the kingdom of God.

Henri Nouwen gives us a strikingly helpful insight. He says the Beatitudes “are all about Jesus.” The Beatitudes are “a portrait of a child of God” and “a self-portrait of Jesus, the Beloved Son.” And Nouwen says, “these words present a portrait of me as I must be.”

Author Rob Warner, agreeing with Nouwen, says “The Beatitudes are supremely Jesus’ self-description –together they represent the finest summary of both the character and the blessedness of Christ himself.”  

If then the Beatitudes tell us who Jesus is, and who we are meant to be, this confirms the fundamental teaching of Paul that true discipleship is life “in Christ.” Discipleship is not a matter of performance but of participation in Christ. The key is not imitation but incarnation. We invite Christ to live within us so that his indwelling presence can produce in us the humility and reverence that please God.

The Beatitudes are not then “merit badges” we can earn to achieve God’s approval but a description of the character of Christ, the character that shows up in us when he is truly Lord of our lives.

There is a close correlation between the Beatitudes and the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step in AA is to admit that “we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Step two is to admit that “we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” AA begins with humility and dependence upon a higher power.

Recently John Baker and Rick Warren (Saddleback Church) have offered a recovery program based on “eight principles from the Beatitudes” called Celebrate Recovery. This new program is AA baptized. Celebrate Recovery broadens the focus from addiction to alcohol to “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” from which we all need recovery. Like AA, Celebrate Recovery affirms the “attitudes of the Beatitudes” as the roadway to recovery. Humility and dependence upon Christ (the higher power) are the primary keys to a changed life.

The bottom line remains clear however. There is no way to “do” the Beatitudes in our own strength. Only Christ within us can enable us to model the behavior called for by the Beatitudes. Even then, the glory belongs to Christ for we ruin it if we become proud of our Christlike behavior.

In the final analysis, it is not our core values but Christ in the core of our being that determines the way we live. When Jesus is everything, then our values and our decisions resemble the One about whom the Beatitudes are a self-portrait, our Beloved Savior Jesus Christ.

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