Everybody seems to be looking for the American dream, the thing that will make us happy. We want comfort and to do whatever we want to do. Most people say that money is the way to do this. Everyone looks for “freedom” but barely anyone can explain what it means.
But Jesus presented a completely different approach to what God expects of us. He presented states of being as he began his Sermon on the Mount that challenge any one of us. Many scholars debate whether or not he even meant for us to attempt these states of being in the present or in the future.
We have been studying kingdom character, and I believe Jesus wants us to practice these states of being in the here and now. The Beatitudes are one of the most powerful and humbling experiences any Christian faces.
A lot of times in the Sermon on the Mount people want to reduce or interpret Jesus’ words so they mean something a little bit easier to fulfill than taking him at his word. For instance, when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when we are offended by someone, he means it literally. We must forgive our offender.
So I want to take a few minutes and look at the Beatitudes in both Matthew and Luke. Each one is slightly different from the other, Matthew’s version being much longer than Luke’s. But there are other differences. Let’s take a look at these challenging Beatitudes.
The Beatitude Formula
Each of the Beatitudes has its own formula, and all of them are about the same. First we begin with the word “blessed.” This is the final state of being for the person who does what Jesus says in the rest of the beatitude.
To be “blessed” needs to be happy or fulfilled, satisfied, in God. The people who do the things Jesus mentions here, who are dwelling in these states, they see the intended result and are blessed. God’s blessings are numerous and we don’t always see them for what they are.
Sometimes his blessing comes in a different way than we would’ve thought. For example, the Bible promises that those who give to the Lord will be blessed. I could give the Lord money but not be blessed with money. He might bless me in some other way.
The next part of the formula is an undesired state. For instance, to be poor in spirit, or poor if you read Luke’s version, is not desirable for anyone. I know very few, if any, people who would like to be poor. We all seek to be wealthy instead.
These undesired states are absolutely necessary for our spiritual growth. It is through these undesirable states that we see God move in our lives. I will explain more as we go through each one of them.
Finally, there is the intended result that God blesses us with when we enter into these undesirable states. For instance, in our first illustration, those who are poor in spirit inherit God’s kingdom. The blessing comes in enjoying the kingdom of God while poor in spirit.
So you can see this structure that goes from proclaiming the person blessed or happy in God to live in an undesirable state that brings that blessing in most ways related to the undesired state. God turns the tables on our undesirable states to make us blessed even as we endure them as believers.
Spiritual Versus Down-to-Earth
The moment you begin to look at the different versions of the Beatitudes from Matthew to Luke, you will notice they are slightly different. First, Matthew presents a fuller version of the Beatitudes than Luke.
Another point to make about Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is that they are more down to earth. He focuses on the things that happen to us now. Where Matthew would take the spiritual approach to be poor in spirit, Luke simply says that those who are poor on this earth are blessed.
Luke takes a rubber meets the road approach to the Beatitudes. He doesn’t talk about the spiritual states of being. He brings the literal situation of the poor person into play. He presents another facet, another perspective, on what Jesus said in the first century when he talked about those who are in these undesired states.
Matthew on the other hand focuses on the more spiritual aspects of the Beatitudes. He includes more Beatitudes than Luke does, fleshing out Jesus’ teaching in his perspective. I must point out that having two different perspectives gives us two different ways to apply the Beatitudes to our lives.
This is not mean that they contradict one another. In means that we have two different ways of looking at the same principles and states of being. I will explain this better as I go along to each of the Beatitudes. Let’s dive in!
The first beatitude begins by speaking about the poor, or the poor in spirit. But the ending of the beatitude is the same. The kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) and the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20) are the same thing.
The difference is that the audience that is addressed would see them different ways. Luke is writing to what I would imagine is a young believer in Christ, Theophius. His audience is probably more Gentile Christians. But Matthew writes to Jewish Christians.
Throughout the Bible you may notice that those who are poor tend to be talked about in a higher light than the rich. James especially deals with the rich who are abusing the poor in his church (James 5:1-6). But the entire New Testament views the poor in a positive light.
For this reason, being poor or poor in spirit has a slightly different meaning between the two, but they reach the same conclusions, and the same favor in the New Testament. Those who are poor seem to embrace Christ easier than the rich. They need his grace and his blessings.
The wealthy tend to rely on their own resources and must be brought low, even made poor, before they can see Christ in the same light. This characterization is not always the case. We cannot add a spiritual characteristic to those who are poor.
Some people who are poor have no intention of accepting any faith. They looked other things like money to get them out of their poverty. Although the Bible does give a slight amount of focus to the poor in spiritual matters, there are wealthy believers who readily accept and embrace the gospel also. We cannot color one group as all the same.
Matthew chooses a more spiritual route, talking about the poor in spirit. Here he refers to anyone who is spiritually bankrupt by choice. What I mean by this is that they choose to accept that they know nothing of Christ until they have Christ.
God gives his kingdom to those who seek it, who realize that they cannot find it on their own. They embrace the ability to be poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt and without any redeemable qualities spiritually, until we meet Christ.
Once they know him, it changes their entire outlook. They then become people of his kingdom. He blesses them with being part of, and knowing God’s kingdom. So whether you are poor on this earth without wealth, or you are spiritually bankrupt and seeking God for every morsel that comes from him, you will receive the kingdom of God.
So how can we become poor in spirit? We must humbly come to God for every little bit that he has for us. We must continue to seek his kingdom and righteousness. And it won’t hurt if we are poor, without wealth on this earth. It may make it easier to see ourselves as poor in spirit also.
Comfort for Weeping
Both Matthew and Luke also contain the next beatitude, which is a blessing for those who weep or mourn right now (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b). They both have different words for morning, Matthew choosing mourn while Luke chooses weep.
These are people who are in the state of mourning for many different reasons. You could take it as mourning, for instance, because of the passing of a family member. But you can also weep for this world because of its wrongheaded values and ungodly behavior.
Whatever the reason for mourning and weeping, Matthew and Luke present different results. Because Luke is more down to earth and thinking of the more practical applications of the Beatitudes, he says those weep now will laugh later.
But Matthew says that those who mourn will be comforted. Why are they so different? They really aren’t. Both are enduring a state of mourning or weeping. But this time will pass. Whether they are comforted or they can laugh again, comfort is the key to both states.
You can’t laugh after you’re done weeping unless you have been comforted. And those who see other believers and other people mourning should come to their side and provide what comfort they can. We don’t always understand the situation, but we can always be a shoulder to cry on.
Luke does a unique thing here, putting the beatitude about being hungry now ahead of the beatitude about weeping. But both Matthew and Luke include being hungry (Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a). It makes sense for Luke to put being hungry right after being poor.
For Luke, the practical theologian, those who are poor are given God’s kingdom. But the poor often are hungry as well. Being poor includes not being able to provide everything you need. He makes a difference in time between being hungry now and being satisfied.
Enduring hunger for this short period of time brings a poor person to be satisfied. Luke isn’t clear on whether the satisfaction is spiritual or physical, but I would lean more toward the physical, since Luke presents the practical approach.
Matthew once again goes toward the spiritual side. His is not a physical hunger that you endure on the earth. It is hunger and thirst for righteousness. It has the same result as Luke, that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.
To hunger and thirst for righteousness perhaps speaks to hoping that the world would be righteous. It may be part of the idea of God’s kingdom happening here on earth, as is prayed in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2).
It could also be seeking God’s righteousness, the righteousness that God gives to all believers. It may be to seek out true righteousness from God instead of hoping it will appear in the world. To seek God’s righteousness is to do the right thing for every person involved. It’s not easy to do, but that is why those who see it happen will be satisfied.
We’ve only just begun to dig into the Beatitudes. In my next post, I will continue to talk about the Beatitudes and finish the rest of them. Leave me a comment and tell you to think so far.