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Sermon on the Mount: 7 Questions to Ask of Each Beatitude

*Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a 13-part series on the Beatitudes. Here’s the complete list of articles in the series:

  1. Who Does Jesus Think He Is?
  2. Crowds or Disciples? 
  3. The Sermon’s Most Important Word
  4. The Pursuit of Happiness
  5. Poor in Spirit
  6. God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil 
  7. Meekness
  8. Hunger and Thirst
  9. Mercy or the Mob 
  10. Pure in Heart
  11. Peacemakers
  12. The Persecuted
  13. 7 Questions to Ask of Each Beatitude

A friend of mine said that the Beatitudes are like an onion: you keep peeling back new layers, and each one kinda makes you cry. They are not the sort of thing you dig into, exhaust, and then move on from. They deserve to be sat with, meditated on. So we’ll wrap up our look at the Beatitudes by opening them up. We could probably mine these things indefinitely, so here’s a series of questions that should help us do that. With just a little bit of background understanding into what Jesus is saying, these could make a darn good DIY small group study.

For any given Beatitude, ask:

1. If a person fit into this category, what virtues would they have?

As we mentioned before, these aren’t technically commands (“be this”). Some of them aren’t even inherently good. But surely there are virtues that they point to or grow out of. For example, we mourn simply because living in a fallen world means suffering loss. That’s not great. But mourning does imply some level of authenticity. Maybe, if we are crying out to God, it even implies some level of dependence on him. Those are good things, and they are attitudes we can actively foster.

2. How is this Beatitude counter-cultural or counter-intuitive?

People have long observed that these Beatitudes are kind of shocking. They cut against the grain of our culture and expectations, but they each do so in interestingly different ways. Some go against our culture (say, pure of heart or meek). Some seem to go against religious culture (hence the long history of trying to spiritualize the poor of spirit and those who mourn). Some just seem to go against reason (how can you be happy about mourning or being persecuted?). There’s paradox here, and the purpose of paradox is to crack open the shell of your worldview so you can see something new.

3. How is this characteristic linked to its reward in this life?

The middle six rewards are all in the future tense: “For they will . . .” But when? As we mentioned before, there is ambiguity in the Kingdom. To some extent it is “Now.” To some extent it is “Not yet.” Jesus doesn’t resolve this tension. He dives right into it.

So how do we see each Beatitude play out in this life? It may do so 1) because the Kingdom has started breaking in; and 2) because this world was created by God in the first place. Although it is broken, it often still operates along the grain of his character.

4. What examples of this Beatitude do you see in Scripture?

This is basically a way of exploring the previous question. Honestly, we often gloss over real life or don’t know how to recognize these things when we see them. But we expect to see them in the Bible, so that may be an easier place to start.

5. How does this Beatitude find ultimate fulfillment in the next life?

Yes, we can often discern these Beatitudes working out in this life. But when judgment day comes and the Kingdom is established once-for-all, there will be no more ambiguity. What kind of hope does it provide to know that, on that day, those who mourn will be comforted? The merciful will receive mercy? The pure in heart will see God?

6. How have you seen/experienced this Beatitude in your own life?

This question is indispensable. Jesus is going to be very clear that all the stuff he’s saying only matters when the rubber meets the road. This is the question where we glorify God for the ways he has worked and encourage each other to keep walking on the path he marked out.

Now, all small groups take some time to develop a level of familiarity, comfort, and emotional safety. If your group has been together for a while, but this question seems too personal, then you need to disband and find a new group. You’re wasting everyone’s time.

7. How do you see this Beatitude in Jesus?

This probably already came up when you were looking for examples in the Bible, but it’s worth drawing out on its own. If the Beatitudes are a portrait of a citizen of the Kingdom, how much more are they a portrait of its King? Part of the reason Jesus became a genuine human being was so that he could show us how human beings are actually supposed to live. That’s why we talk about following him. He is the model that we are called to imitate.

Looking at Jesus’ life and ministry, surely we will find examples of these Beatitudes at work. But you don’t have to follow this line of questioning very long before you find yourself at the foot of the cross.

Was Jesus poor in spirit? If someone is under so much stress that they literally sweat blood, I’d say they’re overwhelmed and desperate.

Did Jesus mourn? Crying out, “Why have you forsaken me?” sure sounds like grieving a loss. Even if Jesus is simply quoting Psalm 22:1, he’s quoting it because he is taking every curse on himself. He is bearing the full brokenness of the world. He is, on the cross, experiencing every grief we’ve ever felt, including David’s.

Was Jesus meek? As we said before, a guy hanging on a cross isn’t forcing anyone to do anything. And yet, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

Did Jesus hunger and thirst after righteousness? If righteousness, in this context, means living out the Kingdom life, Jesus was fulfilling his unique role in the kingdom. Moreover, this role he is fulfilling on the cross is what opens up the possibility of righteousness to all of us. So, yes, Jesus desired righteousness enough to die for it.

Was Jesus merciful? In the extreme. He didn’t just extend mercy in the abstract to everyone far away. He extended mercy to the very people who put him on the cross. Refusing to “other” them, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Did Jesus have a clean heart? Absolutely. That’s the only reason his sacrifice was accepted (Lev. 1:3).

Was Jesus making peace? “For God was pleased . . . through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20).

Was Jesus persecuted? The cross was the ultimate act of the world rejecting him. “Though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).

We are citizens of the Kingdom. And if the Beatitudes are a portrait of our King, then the final version shows him hanging on a cross. Brush stroke by brush stroke, they show us who our Master is, and who we are called to be. Some strokes are beautiful, some are melancholy. In the end, what they all say is,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).

It is the ultimate reversal that the way of blessing is the way to the cross. But for those with eyes to see, the picture of the Beatitudes is a portrait of the Way of life.

For those with eyes to see, the picture of the Beatitudes is a portrait of the Way of life.

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