Recorded in Matthew 5-7 is the most famous of Jesus’ sermons, known as the Sermon on the Mount because, according to Matthew 5:1, it was delivered on a mountainside. I think we should consider giving it a more auspicious title, such as The Bombshell Sermon, The Upside-Down Sermon, or The Sermon That Ruined Religion. After all, this was a sermon in which Jesus grabbed a lot of closely held legalistic assumptions that made people feel they were fulfilling God’s law, picked them up, turned them upside down, and shook them until everything fell out of their pockets. He contradicted the system of religion that ruled his listeners’ lives at the time—basically the same kind of system human nature is always constructing around its own perceived strengths. He told his audience their thoughts and intentions were just as important as their actions. He told them to offer the other side of their faces to people who wanted to hurt them. He told them to love their enemies, to pray and fast and practice generosity in secret, and to save as much wealth as they could—in heaven, not on earth. He told them to look at their own sin before correcting others. And before he said any of it, he completely overturned common religious assumptions about what it looks like to be blessed by God.
The opening statements of Jesus’ sermon, in Matthew 5:3-12, are commonly known as the Beatitudes. These are statements of blessing, announcing God’s favor and good things intentionally given to specific kinds of people. Then, as now, people were commonly thought to be blessed if they enjoyed comfortable circumstances and got what they wished for—and particularly if they had reason to be self-satisfied in their piety. But Jesus told a different story. Essentially, he told his congregation that the ones who are truly in enviable position are spiritually needy, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure-hearted, peacemaking, persecuted, and mistreated because of loyalty to Christ. As Lawrence O. Richards wrote, “These surprising statements of blessing underline the difference between human values and God’s and call us to view life and success God’s way.”
The word translated as “blessed” in most versions of these verses is makarios, referring to a position made enviable by God’s favor. It’s important to note that this blessing is positional, not emotional. As W. C. Allen pointed out, the language used in the beatitudes “describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others.” There is no expectation that people who mourn feel happy, that people who are poor in spirit feel rich, that people who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel satisfied. In fact, while these verses speak of blessing in the present tense, they speak of comfort, fullness, and inheritance as future realities. A simplistic parallel is the enviable position of a child with a broken bike, desperately wishing someone would fix it, who learns she’ll be getting a brand-new bike (currently hidden in the garage) for Christmas. She may not feel blessed, because she doesn’t have it yet, but she is because it has her name on it.
In reading these verses about those who may not feel blessed but are, we discover that God blesses people who acutely feel the effects of human corruption, who are willing to live a countercultural life, who are living for a world beyond this one. In Verse 6 we see that God blesses a specific group of people with a promise of satisfaction, and it’s not the ones who claim to have all they need now; it’s the ones who continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
This verse pronounces blessing on people who are longing not only to be righteous, but also to see God’s righteousness reign. They are longing for the better world we were all made for—a longing that will not be satisfied in this life. Jesus did not proclaim that these people are blessed because they can direct their longing toward a relationship with him and thus receive satisfaction here and now. He did not trivialize their hunger and thirst just as he did not trivialize the pain of mourning or the ongoing work of peacemaking and being pure in heart. Coming into right relationship with God does not dismiss the need for these attitudes and actions. These are active lifelong conditions God sees and will reward. Jesus declared we are in an enviable position not if we are fully satisfied in him, but if we stay hungry and thirsty—desperate for his kingdom, desiring not the immediate satisfaction of our appetites but for God to be honored and obeyed in our hearts and everywhere. This is an appetite God created in us and wants to satisfy. As Albert Barnes wrote, “They shall be satisfied as a hungry man is when supplied with food, or a thirsty man when supplied with drink. Those who are perishing for want of righteousness; those who feel that they are lost sinners and strongly desire to be holy, shall be thus satisfied. Never was there a desire to be holy which God was not willing to gratify, and the gospel of Christ has made provision to satisfy all who truly desire to be holy.”
But it gets even better. The hunger of unsatisfaction is not only a blessing for the future; it’s also a blessing now, in several different ways. And we choose those ways when we embrace a life of unsatisfaction.
This excerpt is taken from chapter 3 of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World. To get this book for half price, pre-order a copy from the publisher.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.