(Note: The following is the substance of a speech Rev. Joostens delivered at the Men’s League Meeting held in Southeast Church on April 5 of this year. We think that it is worthy of publication under the above rubric.)
By way of general introduction this evening I want to say that I am honored that you asked me to speak to you. For this, in and of itself, always shows a certain confidence in that which a minister has to say, or, better, in the way he interprets the Scriptures. It is my prayer that we may enjoy one-another’s fellowship for an hour, and above all that we may profit from His Word.
I was immediately attracted to the topic which your chairman announced for this evening. As is customary, you gave me three topics to choose from: “The Signs of Christ’s Second Coming,” “The Third World and Its Affect Upon the Church,” and the topic as announced this evening. I exercised my prerogative and chose the last of the three in your order of preference. It is not that I have anything against the first two. They are fine topics and could be made very interesting. But as some of you know, I have done a little work with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. I have preached on it in my congregation. I find in the words of Christ a beauty that is overwhelming, as well as a profound simplicity that goes very deep in meaning. We do well to apply the words of Christ, as we find them in the beatitudes, to our lives.
But with your consent, I want to change the topic just a bit. I believe that this is a necessary change—necessary, because the question as stated in our topic is unanswerable for me. Not that I cannot answer it for myself—this I can do. But I cannot answer it for you. The question under consideration is an intensely personal one. We must all answer it, this evening and from day to day. Yet, I can tell you what the Word of God says about this question, and in that light, how you and I ought to see ourselves in light of the beatitudes. That leaves you and me personally with the question, “How Must We See Ourselves in Light of the Beatitudes?”
There are basically two things which we must understand in order to answer this question intelligently. First of all, we must understand the nature and characteristic of the beatitudes. They must be interpreted in their immediate context. This is true because Christ never spoke without rhyme or reason. He did not, as it were, shake sermons out of His sleeve. The beatitudes stand intimately related to the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, they are the introduction to this sermon. An important point is made here, for, as you know, an introduction leads an audience into the sermon pr lecture. It prepares the audience to receive the main thrust of the speaker. And the main point of the Sermon on the Mount is the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, if we misconstrue the beatitudes, we cannot understand our place in the kingdom of heaven. It is especially for this reason that a consideration of the beatitudes is worthwhile and even incumbent upon us.
In the second place, we must not only understand the beatitudes from a general point of view, but also specifically. This is going to present a problem this evening, for one could profitably spend the entire allotted time on each of the beatitudes. Ministers often preach once on each of them. This luxury of time we are not afforded this evening. Therefore we will move right into the main thrust and practical implication of each beatitude. Forgive me if I gloss over all the necessary, logical connections; and perhaps you can save your questions for afterwards.
Let’s first understand the place of the beatitudes in the discourse of Christ. They are, as we said, an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount proper. It is general knowledge that Christ in this sermon expounds the truths of the kingdom of heaven. This is the kingdom that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament type of the theocracy of the nation of Israel. Especially as we see it manifested during the reigns of David and his son Solomon. David, who was a type of Christ, went forth conquering and to conquer, and so subdued all Israel’s enemies under his feet. He established the bounds of Israel as they were originally promised to Abraham, from the northern river Euphrates to the great river of Egypt, the Nile. It was during the reign of Solomon that peace prevailed in the theocracy. In that kingdom God dwelt with His people in a typical way, in the tabernacle atop Mt. Zion. It was a picture of heaven. In the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Christ instructs us regarding the reality of this type. The reality stands diametrically opposed to the earthly that characterized the type. He spoke of the kingdom of heaven in which He would be the Lord supreme. He would sit as King, not in the earthly Jerusalem, but as the Son in the heavenly Jerusalem.
And that kingdom, explains Christ, is based upon righteousness. That’s true because its very origin and conception was in the mind of the Righteous One, God Himself. It is a kingdom in which He will rule through His Son, Christ Jesus. You understand that that kingdom, in all its perfection, is the final reality of God’s covenant fellowship with His people.
That, in light of our topic, brings us to the more important aspect of that kingdom, namely, its subjects. I think, we all understand that the subjects of a particular kingdom have to fit the characteristics of that kingdom. An illustration will suffice to point this out. We are Americans. The kingdom (or republic, it makes no essential difference) to which we belong is our country. Therefore, we are citizens of this land. Yet there are others that are not Americans and are aliens to this country. So it is with Christ’s kingdom. Those who are citizens of the kingdom of righteousness are righteous. And those who are unrighteous have no part in the kingdom. Or, to become more plain, those who are the heirs of the kingdom of heaven are God’s people who have been made righteous in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is precisely here that we hit upon the significance of the cross of Calvary. The citizenship of the child of God has been purchased for him with the blood of the Lamb. The kingdom belongs to those who are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. In short, this is the whole point of the beatitudes.
You see, it is in this introduction, the beatitudes, that Christ delineates very carefully the subjects of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, what Christ does in effect is this, that in His very introduction He says to some, “You are going to understand what I have to say to you,” while to others He says that they will not perceive the truth of the kingdom. He causes a division in His audience between those who are carnally minded and spiritually minded. It is for this very reason that some read this passage under consideration and cannot grasp its truth, while others-dare spiritually uplifted by it. Is it any wonder, therefore, that some men consider these beatitudes to be nothing but a bunch of paradoxes? They tell us that the beatitudes are contradictory in and of themselves. And they mockingly illustrate: The poor are rich? The meek shall inherit the earth? The mourning are comforted? Those who are hungry are at the same time satisfied? And the thirst of the thirsty is quenched? How can this be? You see, this is the division which Christ creates. Some perceive His words while others shake their heads in disgust. The words of Christ are a sharp two-edged sword, a savor of life unto life and of death unto death. That’s why the beatitudes effectively introduce the Sermon on the Mount. Christ dealt with the spiritual reality of heaven. His instruction would apply to some and be foreign to others. The beatitudes have no universal application as the “social gospelers” like to have us think. Spiritual principles cannot be applied to the carnal heart.
This brings into clear focus the ultimate question for this evening. How do we see ourselves in light of the beatitudes? As the light of the beatitudes shines upon us, it reveals one of two things. It shows us to be either citizens of the kingdom of heaven or aliens. Let’s examine the light of the beatitudes.
It is often debated as to exactly how many beatitudes there are. There are some who wish to include verses 10, 11, and 12 among the beatitudes of Christ. It seems to me that there is but little justification for doing this even though they have the characteristic, “blessed,” in common. Quite obviously, they do not belong with the foregoing verses. This is evident from the fact that they do not describe a particular characteristic of the citizen of heaven but rather the lot of those who do possess these distinctive characteristics. Their lot in life is one of persecution. There are seven beatitudes which we find in verses 3-9 inclusive. The number seven, of course, cannot be accidental. It is the number of the covenant of God. How beautiful, therefore, to have seven beatitudes or characteristics of God’s children, descriptive of the Christian! We have in the beatitudes a complete and essential description of God’s people, the citizens of the kingdom of Christ. These seven words of Christ are the mold, into which those who have a place in heaven fit.
Of necessity, we must be brief in the discussion of these beatitudes individually. But let us proceed. We find the first beatitude in verse three of the fifth chapter of Matthew. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The paradox which carnal men find here is quite apparent. Poor people are not blessed or happy but wretched and miserable. The carnally blind, when considering this beatitude, have dollar signs in their eyes and cannot fathom the spiritual reality here. Note, Christ says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He is not speaking of earthly Aches, power, or fame. No, not at all! Christ is speaking of our spiritual liabilities and assets before God. He who boasts in his own spiritual riches is essentially the Pharisee, who says to God, “I thank thee that I am not like my neighbor who prostrates himself in the dust.” The Pharisee is able in his own carnal self-conceit to stand erect and boastful before the Almighty in order to tell God how rich he is spiritually. But Christ says that he who finds himself upon his knees before God, confessing his sin and spiritual poverty, is blessed. I am reminded in this connection of the general outline of the Heidelberg Catechism. What three things are necessary for me to experience comfort? First of all, that I know the greatness of my sins and misery. You see that we are able to see our spiritual poverty. Then, secondly, we will be driven to the cross, and, finally, express our gratitude to God for His riches of Christ’s righteousness that fill our poverty, making us heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
The second characteristic is, “Blessed are they that mourn: .for they shall be comforted.” Here again there is the distinction between the carnal and the spiritual. The world also mourns. They bemoan sickness, death, all kinds of disasters, etc. But Christ again speaks specifically about the child of God who is a citizen of heaven. We mourn because of our spiritual poverty, as we spoke of that just a while ago. We mourn because sin ever cleaves to us! An excellent scriptural passage that is illustrative of this is Romans seven. Here Paul bemoans the sin which he has according to the flesh. He cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” For those who so mourn, there is comfort. Yea, for them there is the Comforter, the Spirit of God, Who reveals unto us the mystery of salvation.
Then we have the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” This beatitude certainly is utter folly according to man’s thinking. If you are meek and humble you will never acquire anything here below. In fact, say they, the exact opposite is true. Those who are unscrupulous in their dealings, and forward, own large estates. But Christ is speaking of His own! An example will suffice to point out the folly of carnal thought. We read in the Scriptures (Numbers 12:3), “Now the man Moses was very meek . . .” And what do we find out about Moses in Hebrews eleven, the chapter of the heroes of faith? We find that he forsook the riches of Egypt and all that was his in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter to cast his lot with the people of God who found themselves in persecution. This he did because with eyes of faith he perceived that God had made a covenant with this people and made them the heirs of heaven. The meek shall inherit the earth! The wicked, bold, and unscrupulous have no claim to it even now. They are usurpers. But God’s people, who are meek, shall inherit the earth, not as it is but as it shall be!
The fourth beatitude is, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Again the world laughs. For the hungry and thirsty, as well as the poor, are wretched. After all, happiness is to have our belly full and our thirst quenched. But, again, notice the spiritual distinctiveness. They who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. O, the child of God who is aware of his sin and the reward due him for it, hungers and thirsts after righteousness. We know that there is only one way to be right with God, and that is to stand in the righteousness of His Son. “As thirsts the hart for water brooks, so thirsts my soul, O God, for Thee.” (Psalter No. 114)
And, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” The world stands utterly outside this blessedness. They in no way whatsoever experience God’s mercy, because their hearts are filled with hatred and they operate according to the principle of selfishness. They know only of a warped kind of “pity” which they manifest to their own profit. This is behind all the philanthropy of this world. It is done out of self-esteem and self-glorification, if not solely for tax purposes. That is no mercy! But Christians who experience their own spiritual poverty in the misery of their sin and have tasted of the great mercy of God toward them as manifest in His Son, know how to return mercy. For it is the feeling that we are recipients of the compassions of our God that spurs us on to pity regarding our neighbor. It is nothing but a vicious cycle. Even as fire must consume to be fed, the body must take in in order to excrete. So we receive mercy for mercy!
The next to last beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” The world always judges by external deportment. They judge a man by his outward appearance and pay no attention to that which is inside. His performance is what counts. They overlook the hatred and filthiness that revels within. But the spiritual truth is that no one who is characterized by mere “outward good” will even enter into the kingdom of I heaven. The eyes of the Most High God are all pervading. There is nothing that remains hidden before His eyes. He knows the very intention of our hearts. Those who are pure of heart in the sight of God are blessed. And the filthiness which besets our hearts by nature, though it can be glossed over by the world, can only be eradicated by the regenerating Spirit of God. They shall see God. Imagine that, td stand before the face of God. We shall see God in the face of Jesus Christ and forevermore walk in the light of His countenance. That is blessedness!
The last of the characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven is, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” If any beatitude has been abused, as far as its true meaning is concerned, this is it. Seemingly there is no text which better fits the philosophy of the world, especially in our day. Those who work toward peace are hailed as the heroes of our day. But the kind of peace that the world seeks is nothing but a peaceful coexistence, whether among nations, labor and management, or marriage partners. And, regarding the aims of the world, God’s word has this to say: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” (Is. 48:22) God’s children are peacemakers. They alone can be peacemakers, for in them God has taken away all hatred, enmity, and strife. They can seek after the true peace that passes all understanding, which is found at Calvary, by bringing the Scriptures to bear upon all rivalry and hatred. And in the application of that Word, God through us makes peace. In so doing we are His children. We may call Him, Abba, Father!
Now that we have arrived at this juncture we must return to our initial question. How do we see ourselves in the light of the beatitudes as we have just discovered them to be? Are these our characteristics? Oh, don’t brush this question off too lightly. After all, they are the declarations that proceed from the lips of the Master. And the King ought to know the requisites for entrance into His kingdom. Happy are those who fit the criteria and definition of the beatitudes. Consider them, will you? Don’t say, “Oh, but they apply only to special Christians.” This is not true. Every child of God conforms to the beatitudes; else he is a hypocrite. Nor may we pick and choose from among the seven. Don’t console yourself by saying, “Five out of seven is not too bad.” All of them must apply. We don’t stack up too well, do we?!
Thanks be to God! These characteristics are spiritual ones. They have their root in the grace of God and never in ourselves. They come to us through the working of His Spirit. You see, they describe the new man in Christ. It is according to the new man within us that we can claim the description of the beatitudes to be ours. Then, to work them out in our daily lives remains a struggle. But, rest assured, if the struggle is there, then some day in glory these attributes will be put into perfect practice.
I thank you.