Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Warren Vanhetloo’s newsletter “Cogitation.”
Jesus strongly condemned religious teachers of His day for being concerned about legalistic trivia, such as tithing garden produce while ignoring serious teachings of the Old Testament (Matt. 23:23). He emphasized that difference already in His first extended public sermon, after which the people expressed astonishment at His teaching. “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:29 KJV). He vividly set forth in a few verses the important instruction of the Hebrew Scriptures, being ignored by the intelligentsia of the day. His hearers knew their Bibles well enough that they recognized that His summation came from their sacred book. He was not ignoring the Scriptures. He was not contradicting them. He was not adding to what God had earlier revealed. He was emphasizing the real meaning of the Old Testament.
Jesus declared those who are humble before their God and toward other men to be both blessed of God and happy within. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). That evaluation is contrary to the attitude of most in the world. His followers, however, could recognize that God dwells “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15). They knew it had been predicted that the anointing of the Messiah was that He might “preach good tidings unto the meek” (Isa. 61:1). Repeatedly it had been proclaimed that God favors him that is of a poor and contrite spirit (Isa. 66:2; see also Ps. 18:27; 34:18; 40:17; 69:29, 32-33; Prov. 16:18-19).
Jesus assured also, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). They who heard Him knew that their Bibles taught that the anticipated Messiah would include in His ministry the purpose “to comfort all that mourn” (Isa. 61:2; cf. Ezra 10:6; Isa. 57:18). It made sense that those who sorrow are favored in that they have a more conscious awareness of the closeness and concern of their God. Jesus did not lack pity; He encouraged confidence in the purposes of the Almighty.
Also contrary to typical human estimation, Jesus preached, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). The meek include those who are gentle, humble, and maintain self-control. They that are brutal and vicious constantly endeavor by their cunning and strength to take over portions of the earth or its produce. Their gains inevitably are short-lived. Those who know the Lord and walk humbly with Him are patient and long-suffering, already enjoying the genuine joys of the promised new earth. “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Ps. 37:11). “The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever” (v. 29). “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth” (Ps. 37:9; cf. Isa. 66:22).
Genuinely happy and richly blessed of the Lord are those who show mercy, Jesus declared, “for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). David rejoiced of God that “with the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful” (Ps. 18:25). Solomon realized that “the merciful man doeth good to his own soul” (Prov. 11:17) and that “he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Prov. 14:21).
Jesus pronounced that peacemakers are favored and well blessed of their God, even recognized as true children of God (Matt. 5:9). His followers without doubt could recall, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace … that publisheth salvation” (Isa. 52:7; cf. Prov. 15:1; Isa. 9:6-7).
Even more significant than a man’s outward activity is his inner condition, which Jesus stressed, saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Those who were present had often heard from their Scriptures, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it… . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17). God loves pureness of heart (Prov. 22:11; also see Ps. 24:4; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 9:26).
The condition of the heart and the longing of the heart should correspond. What a man desires controls his life. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Those who heard this probably often sang, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2; see also 63:1).
The God who formed us desires not mechanical bowing and scraping or perishable gifts from our hands. He longs for willing hearts to submit fully to Him and to walk faithfully, just as His Son walked among men. With the guidance of His Word and the reminders of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do so. Our “want to” needs to be stirred up and our rebelliousness put down.
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. At the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it. You may send e-mail to him at email@example.com.