Before examining the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11, it would be helpful to offer a few words on the meaning of the word translated “blessed” in our English Bibles.
The word in the original is makarios, which in Homer denoted the “transcendent happiness of a life beyond care, labor and death.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, TDNT) Later authors used this word to describe the happy state of the gods above earthly sufferings and labors. Similarly, the word came to denote the wealthy who are above normal cares and worries of lesser folk.
In the New Testament makarios “refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his salvation and the Kingdom of God. Always there is a “connection between right conduct and heavenly recompense.” (TDNT)
Specifically in Matthew 5 we see “the power of these statements lies in the reversal of human values.” (TDNT) These statements are somewhat shocking on the surface because the initial understanding of them goes against our natural sensibilities. Who automatically thinks it a blessing to be poor? Who strives for opportunities to mourn? Who thinks that the path to advancement is paved with gentleness?
Yet, these are some of the things that Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes. On the surface, they seem to be paradoxical or contradictory in nature.
John MacArthur in his commentary on Matthew, points out that because we are encouraged in Scripture to pursue spiritual blessings, we cannot make sense of these statements in a purely physical sense. Within the bounds of physical life, we cannot make sense out of someone saying it is blessing to mourn. From the standpoint of our human, fleshly existence, it does not seem good to be poor. Mourning and poverty seem to work against our physical well being.
All through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is driving us past our physical existence and pushing us to look beyond our physical existence to something better. Unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when we pull back the curtain, we find something more spectacular than we expected.
It should be noted that to get “behind the curtain” requires an insight into the supernatural. We must get beyond the merely physical. In Ephesians 5:1, the Apostle Paul reminds us that apart from Christ we are dead in our “trespasses and sins.” Dead people cannot perceive stimuli, they cannot respond. To understand the full import of what Jesus is telling us in this sermon and in these Beatitudes, we must be made alive by faith in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:4-9)
In these 9 pronouncements of blessing in Matthew 5, we will be challenged by Jesus to look beyond ourselves, to peek through the keyhole into eternity, to broaden our horizon to take Heaven into view.
I find these statements to simultaneously stimulate me, encourage me, and scare me. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit, I cannot even begin to appropriate these blessings. But when I surrender, when I set aside my limited perspective, I get glimpses of how it could be. Like a 5 year old learning to ride a bike, I begin to see how my wobbly endeavor could lead to the Tour de France.