In a nutshell it’s living a Christian life keeping foremost in mind the rock-solid assurance that no matter how messed up we think we are God will bless us with His presence and love. That’s why the Beatitudes are such an integral part of the Celebrate Recovery ministry. Most folks who show up at a meeting for the first time are there because they’ve run out of options trying to deal with their debilitating hurts, habits or hang-ups. (Incidentally, the Beatitudes don’t apply to those who’ve never sinned. However, to the rest of us they give us the hope necessary to keep placing one foot in front of the other one day at a time.) Just like the men and women in the audience who heard Jesus deliver His “Sermon on the Mount,” most know what it’s like to feel their spirit’s been broken or to wonder where their next meal will come from or to be paralyzed by profound sorrow or to be shunned by others, etc. and find His words immensely comforting. However, we mustn’t commit the error of thinking Christ was listing conditions that’ll guarantee God’s approval, salvation or favor. Christians who are upbeat, cheerful, encouraging, charitable and empathetic lights in this fallen world will inherit the kingdom of God, too. The Beatitudes weren’t aimed solely at the down and out of society on the verge of throwing in the towel. Jesus’ message was aimed at everyone. But in particular those whom the religious big wigs considered not worth a wooden nickel. The Son of God was announcing that, despite one’s imperfect character or existential hardships, the Father in heaven’s amazing grace is readily available to all who seek Him. I don’t know about you but that’s the best news I’ve ever received.
To establish a “Beatitude attitude” it’s vital we savvy what they’re really about. In a previous essay I delved deeply into the “poor in spirit” stuff so I’ll skip forward to the “those who mourn” demographic. Grief’s a Grizzly whether it’s over the death of a loved one, getting laid off from a job and not being able to find another, a savings-depleting illness or a gut-wrenching divorce. Any of those tragedies (and a host of others) can cause one’s very soul to sink into the disorienting abyss of depression and despair. Jesus was saying that regardless of how sad our situation may appear, God’s hands are ever beneath us, forming a dependable safety net. Jesus brought up “the meek” next. They are the extremely introverted, the overly shy ones afraid of their shadow, the easily intimidated among us. It includes people who, for one reason or many, don’t think they have a say in anything that happens to them. They feel like they’re clutching a flimsy life preserver while being carried helplessly downstream in a raging river. Jesus tells us that the Heavenly Father is firmly in control of what happens on this planet and, if we put our trust in Him, the whole earth – even the valley of death – is ours to walk through without fear. Christ then moves to “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” At first glance this would appear a good category to be in. But in context it’s more likely He meant anxious, frustrated perfectionists who constantly complain life just ain’t fair, that they never get a break when it comes to justice being served and the bad guys (i.e. those who hold different views from theirs) always win. Jesus says that if they enter the glorious kingdom of God they’ll gain a perspective that’ll make all their gripes look petty.
More than most, Jesus knew the world can be cruel to “the merciful.” Secular society considers such individuals fools who are naively setting themselves up to get steamrolled by the ambitious who’ll gladly take advantage of them; that they’ve yet to learn happiness is achieved only by diligently looking out for #1. But Jesus tells us the very mercy we selflessly bestow upon our neighbors will be generously bestowed upon us in the heavenly realm. He then mentions “the pure in heart.” I gotta ask at this juncture, “Have you ever met someone who’s 100% pure in heart?” Well, I haven’t. Thus our Lord was probably referring to those who conceitedly think they’re pure in heart. On that hillside 2,000 years ago Jesus was obviously targeting the uppity, “holier-than-thou” Jewish authorities but in the modern age it can apply to anyone who thinks overly much of themselves and too little of everyone else in the vicinity. To them nothing ever gets done right and they’re misery-spreading nitpickers most of the time. As irritating as they are and definitely no picnic to be around, Jesus says God has room in His kingdom for them as well; that one day they’ll meet the great I AM face to face and be satisfied to finally know what absolute perfection truly is. He then acknowledges “the peacemakers.” It’s common knowledge that being one who tries to maintain civility can position you smack dab in the middle of a storm and it’s usually a no-win place to be. Taking a neutral stance often means neither side will appreciate your efforts. Just ask a police officer who’s had to wade into a heated domestic dispute. Jesus says God appreciates those willing to mediate arguments more than we can fathom.
Christ also gave a nod to “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” If you live long enough you’ll find out that doing “the right thing” isn’t always advantageous to your reputation or well-being. Those who don’t like telling the truth think you shouldn’t tell the truth, either. They’ll warn “loose lips sink ships.” It’s not unusual for an honest whistle-blower to be vilified. Jesus told those who have the intestinal fortitude to steadfastly uphold God’s stated moral ethics will be richly compensated “…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matthew 5:10). And last but not least, Christ spoke to those discriminated against, ostracized, slandered and ridiculed for being what many sarcastically call a “Jesus Freak.” No doubt this segment was aimed mainly at His faithful disciples who were being laughed at for following a non-credentialed nobody from Podunk they’d been brainwashed to consider the long-prophesized Messiah. They, more than anyone else, were the worst off on the list because most of the Jewish nation declared them shameless heretics. Later on Jesus will inform them the oppression won’t end even after He’s gone. “They will put you out of the synagogue, yet a time is coming when the one who kills you will think he is offering service to God. They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:2-3). But nonetheless He encourages them to “Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way” (Matthew 5:12). To be compared to any of the prophets was a supreme honor.
To say the Beatitudes were and still are scandalous is to put it mildly. Jesus proclaimed that what was once considered unattainable for members of the “great unwashed masses” was now miraculously attainable. The “No shoes, no shirt, no service” sign had been permanently removed from the Pearly Gates because the promised redeemer of all mankind had arrived. This was no “secret” aspect of Jesus’ ministry. In His hometown of Nazareth He boldly quoted from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Of course, when He let them know He was in fact the very one the ancient scriptures referred to the locals went ballistic and threatened to lynch him. And when the imprisoned John the Baptist sent Jesus a note asking if He was for sure the real McCoy Jesus didn’t report back that He was hobnobbing among the religious elite. He responded with “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:5-6). Both verses reflect Jesus’ pervasive “Beatitude attitude.” Christ came not only to die for our sins but to tell commoners God’s grace was not just for the affluent or famous or the guys who wore the fancy robes in the temple. It was, via Him alone, freely available to all who’d believe.
If you think things have changed drastically over the centuries you’re woefully mistaken. Today “the blessed” are idolized as being the naturally thin ones who have sculpted bodies, are endowed with particularly attractive features, whose looks don’t belie their actual age, who own a certain amount of charisma, etc. Conversely, the overweight, plain-looking, over-the-hill, insecure, those not possessing an engaging personality, etc. are looked upon as being decidedly un-blessed. That’s why cultivating a “Beatitude attitude” mindset is indispensable to living a fulfilling and productive Christ-like life in the here and now. Dallas Willard wryly summed up the Beatitudes thusly: “Blessed are the physically repulsive; blessed are those who smell bad; the twisted, misshapen, deformed; the too big, too little, too loud; the bald, the fat, and the old – For they are all riotously celebrated in the party of Jesus.” Christ was publicly announcing in no uncertain terms that no one can tumble so far down that God will fail to notice them. That nothing can befall a human being that’ll cause the Heavenly Father to love them less. That no handicap, disease or birth defect can render a person ineligible to be adopted by God Almighty and crowned a bona fide heir of His treasure-filled, universe-sized estate. As a bonus, nobody has to wait until they’re deceased to reap the benefits. Jesus’ unwavering message was “… the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). By “the kingdom” He meant a literal mental/spiritual place where one can live the kind of gratifying, joyous existence men and women have yearned for since being banished from the Garden of Eden; that it’s available today in what Willard called “the quietly transforming friendship of Jesus.”
But the odorous rhinos in the room will always be those folks whom even the most forgiving of Christians are apt to deem irredeemable. I’m talking about cold-blooded murderers and despicable pedophiles. Ruthless drug lords and heartless sex-traffickers. Brutal terrorists, hate-infested racists and horrendous serial killers. Whether we like it or not, the Bible doesn’t exclude them when it states unequivocally, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That means even a monster like Hitler, if he sincerely accepted our Savior into his heart just before offing himself in his Berlin bunker, walks the golden streets of heaven right now. Okay, I’ll be honest. I don’t want God to be that merciful. Yet, according to our Lord, He is. Jesus’ shocking parable of the workers in the vineyard confirms it. The hard-working guys who sweated in obnoxious heat plucking grapes from sunup to sundown got paid exactly the same as those who showed up late and only worked one hour. Naturally, those who felt they’d been conned by the landowner got together and lodged a formal complaint. The landowner brought it to their attention they’d been given the wages they’d agreed to at the beginning of the day and that what the others received was really none of their beeswax. He told them “Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:14-15). If I get puffed up and perturbed over who God decides to grant eternal life (in the process implying I know better than Him who is and who’s not worthy of salvation) aren’t I no better than those indignant workers, being envious of God’s unfathomable generosity?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he lists those who can’t inherit the kingdom of God. He includes fornicators, adulterers, active homosexuals, robbers, drunks and many more. But then he adds a clarifying “however” statement: “Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In his letter to the Colossians Paul presents a similar roster of sinful behaviors and then writes “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it. Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11). Bear in mind that in those days and in that region a Scythian was more despised than a lowly Samaritan ever was in Israel. Scythians were beyond loathing and to be avoided at all costs. Yet here was Paul telling the church their most hated enemies were just as precious to God as they themselves were, that they needed to adopt a “Beatitude attitude” towards even those they considered scumbags. It doesn’t matter where you or your neighbor has been. All can be blessed because God is no respecter of persons.
When we contemplate the profound ramifications of the Beatitudes it’s vital we understand just how radical and revolutionary they were back then and still are today in the third millennium A.D. He was telling the downtrodden average Joes and Janes that regardless of how harshly and unjustly the world was treating them they were nevertheless as special and dear to God as the wealthiest, most respected human being on terra firma. But that was only the preamble of the Lord’s ground-breaking sermon. By the time He finished preaching He’d made crystal clear to his listeners that regardless of how oppressed they felt they had no right to look down on anybody because those folks had the same opportunity to freely enter the glorious kingdom of God as they did. Not everyone in the crowd cottoned to that announcement. Some wrote Him off as an unrealistic dreamer, spat and walked away. But many in the audience sensed they were in the presence of the Son of God and that what He was preaching was about to turn everything they’d ever believed about God upside down. They knew they were witnessing the most stupendous event in history unfolding right before their eyes. The saints were marching in. Oh, to have been in that number!