Jesus called the first four disciples to follow him – and when they did, he proved he wasn’t bluffing. He led them all around the northern region of Galilee as he taught and healed. Everywhere Jesus went, more followed. Crowds began to form.
But one day he stopped. He climbed a mountain (more like a hill compared to our Appalachians). He sat down facing the crowd so that the earth behind and sea ahead form a natural amphitheater. Then he opened his first and best-known sermon with these lines:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The word “blessed” is obviously central to this teaching. It also has the potential to confuse us. Used in this context, “blessed” means “blessed by God.” This is quite different from what the world calls “blessed.” Most people hear “blessed” and think more like, “fortunate” or “happy” or “privileged.”
Need proof? Pull up #blessed on your social media platform du jour. It won’t take much scrolling to find some pretty entertaining examples of blessedness.
Starting the day off right. #Blessed
#blessed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups filled with Reece’s Pieces are coming
#BLESSED BE THE DAY Logan Huntzberger signs up for ‘Gilmore Girls’ reboot
These are the sillier examples. There are, of course, things that hit closer to the mark. Pictures of families, of newborn babies, of tranquil vacation spots, of a peaceful cup of coffee in the early morning hours. The world calls those moments examples of being #blessed. But even those are a far cry Jesus’ descriptions:
Hungering and thirsting.
Pure in heart.
Persecuted because of righteousness.
Hated by others for the sake of Jesus.
The people and situations Jesus names as “blessed” are really different from our understanding of #blessed. If you still don’t believe me, let’s reverse it. Re-read Jesus’ sermon-opener from the opposite perspective, which would be cursed. What if Jesus instead preached this:
“Cursed are the poor in spirit…
“Cursed are those who mourn…
“Cursed are the meek…
“Cursed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
“Cursed are the merciful…
“Cursed are the pure in heart…
“Cursed are the peacemakers…
“Cursed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
“Cursed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…”
Is it just me, or does this list make a lot more sense? The mourning, the meek, the compassionate – those are the ones that the world beats up, they’re the ones that get taken advantage of, they’re the ones who cry and suffer alone. They’re cursed from the world’s perspective.
Jesus’ perspective is different. “These folks are this one way that doesn’t look good to you,” Jesus says, “but – surprise! – they will be called children of God, they will inherit the earth, they will inhabit the kingdom of heaven. In God’s eyes, they’re blessed.”
The ones we think are blessed – from Hulk Hogan to new moms with babies, from those that eat Reece’s filled with Pieces to people who can afford vacations – aren’t the ones God views as blessed. Or, maybe they are blessed, but for totally different reasons thank we think.
So what does this mean? If we understand who Jesus sees as blessed, what are we supposed to do?
The application is not to make ourselves poor or meek, to intentionally put ourselves in situations where we will mourn, to go around poking metaphorical bears so we’ll be persecuted. Too often we think being blessed is something we earn. Here, being blessed is something God gives.
Instead, if we hear and believe these nine blessings, our perspective is changed. We see things differently; we see them how God sees them. This starts with how we see others. The poor aren’t people to look down on; they kingdom of heaven is going to them. The meek aren’t people to take advantage of; they’re going to inherit the earth.
If we hear and believe these nine blessings, we will start to see our own lives differently, too. Being merciful isn’t a pointless endeavor; it leads us to mercy. Longing for God and God’s way might mean we miss chances to raise our status in the world – even lower our status in this world – but we will gain the kingdom of heaven.
If we hear and believe these nine blessings, we will start to see the future differently. When we mourn, we aren’t hopeless; one day we will be comforted. When the world is beating up on us, we aren’t defeated; we’re promised a reward in the time to come.
What difference does it make to hear and understand Jesus’ blessings? It changes our perspective. And what different does that make? Well, it will depend on your current position.
When Mary found out she was pregnant, she burst into prophetic song about what God had done through Jesus Christ:
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
These blessings invite us to see the world as Jesus sees it, and as Mary saw it. To see the world’s values turned upside down. A world where blessings aren’t earned, but given by our good God. A world where our position may be surprising: greater than we think, or maybe less than we think.
If you want to follow Christ, keep reading these nine blessings. Read them every day this week. Let them filter your own vision, change your perspective. Let them show you where Christ is leading you next.