“Christianity is a religion for wimps, sissies, failures, for the meek and weak and cowardly. It’s humiliating–it calls us ‘sinners’ and tells us to be poor and humble. Bah! What we need is a manly religion, a courageous religion, not the religion of ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek & Mild,’ who’d never hurt a flea!”

That is not a direct quote from anyone, but it summarizes a fairly widespread criticism of Jesus and Biblical Christianity. How shall we respond to this accusation? We should say that it’s a gross distortion, based on misunderstandings of what is meant by meekness, humility and poverty of spirit. Consider various hymns that may sound like they’re putting down us humans:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Many who sing those words really mean: “That saved a wretch like you!”

Here’s another golden oldie that makes our critics fume. Note the italicized words:

“Come ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched,
Weak and Wounded, Sick and Sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, grace and power….”

Well, whether our critics like it or not, those words by Joseph Hart fit perfectly with Jesus’ first beatitude, which we studied last month. And they are words of hope. Everyone needs the treasure Christ offers, and everyone can qualify for it if they choose.

#1. Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I believe it was William Barclay who put it, “O the bliss God has for those who know and admit their deep needs; the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” And Dale Bruner wrote, “It is the purpose of every command in the Sermon on the Mount to drive us back to the 1st Beatitude…. The 1st Beatitude is the goal of every subsequent sentence in the sermon.”

I agree. Why? Because pride, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, and spiritual smugness are probably the greatest of all deterrents to salvation. Almost certainly more people will miss heaven and go to hell due to proud self-righteousness than anything else.

On the other hand, the humble person is simply a person with an accurate opinion of himself. He or she realizes and admits his lack of uprightness and need for virtue. “Lord, I do not measure up to Your standards. I do not deserve heaven; I do deserve hell. I have no hope except in Your mercy.” Scripture proclaims that this attitude is the expressway leading to salvation. Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector makes that clear (Luke 18:9-14).

#2: Blessed are those who Mourn, for they shall be Comforted.

This world is full of disappointments, sorrows and griefs. Sadness overflows because of broken dreams, hopes that will never be fulfilled. Think of homes broken by divorce. Bereavement due to death. The sting of injustice. Fulfilling jobs lost and boring jobs required. Disappointments with parents, or children, or spouse. Failures — our own, or of others which affect us. Broken health that plagues us more & more. We rightly sing, “Jesus knows all about our struggles….” and “Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares….” All of that is true, and also important.

But in context here, the main emphasis is on mourning for sin: ours… mine. In the first Beatitude poverty of spirit means realizing and admitting my sins and sinfulness. That is absolutely necessary, but we need to move beyond it. Confession is one thing; contrition is another. Or maybe it’s truer to say confession minus contrition is artificial. Both are essential. The psalmist cried out not only, “I confess my iniquity,” but also “I am sorry for my sin” (38:18). Elsewhere he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Paul put it thus: “I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended…. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:9-10.) The attitude, “Oh I’m sorry I got caught, shamed and punished,” just doesn’t cut it. James also didn’t mince his words. Listen: “Come near to God, you sinners… Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (Jam. 4:8-10.) I doubt he’d be a popular preacher today.

But to the penitent mourner comes consolation, sooner or later. Jesus guarantees that. To the contrite come the comfort of God’s forgiveness and the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine.

#3: Blessed are the Meek, for they will Inherit the Earth.

Critics say, “There you go again: praising wimpyness.” Wrong! Meekness is not weakness. William Barclay observes that in the Greek language various aspects of meekness include humility, graciousness and gentleness. The Greek word might describe a gentle breeze but not a hurricane; a gentle voice that is not harsh nor abrasive, but calm, tender, moderate, peaceful.

“See,” blurts our critic, “you’ve admitted it once more: Christianity is just for wimps, those who are ‘gentle, humble, tender, calm, and peaceful.’ What I want is excitement — loud and strident and in your face – blood and guts. I want professional wrestling!”

Friends, hey — you want strength, look at Jesus. True, He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” But– see the film The Passion of the Christ again. Once more watch Him scourged; once more see Him crucified. Was that weakness? Was He a wimp? Oh no!

What is meekness? Aristotle defined it as the Mean (middle ground) between too much anger and not enough anger! Yes, there is a time and place for anger and force. See Jesus cleansing the temple, driving out the racketeers who were making enormous profits and swindling the worshippers.

The meek person gets angry and acts in anger– but only at the right time, for the right reason, and to the right extent. The meek person is not passive or spineless, but wise and self-controlled. The Greek word translated “meek” was used to describe a horse once wild but now tamed. Once fierce and uncontrollable, he is now obedient and useful. So meekness is strength under control.

Meek Christians don’t seek revenge on those who wrong or insult them. Since God has forgiven us our wrongs, we forgive those who wrong us, and seek peace with them. Meek Christians aren’t eager or quick to demand their rights, but are patient. Meek Christians are humble and poor in spirit with men as well as toward God.

John Stott writes, “It’s easy to be honest about my sins when I’m alone with God. And it’s also easy to say — in unison with the congregation — the confession in the Anglican Prayer-Book that states, ‘We have done what we ought not to have done, and not done what we ought to have done,’ and ‘we are miserable sinners.’ But if some person I know says to me, ‘You are a miserable sinner,’ I feel like hitting him in the nose!” I don’t want others to think of me what I know is true. I don’t want to confess my sins or struggles in a specific, personal way.

We need meekness – so that we will inherit the Earth, as God promised. Again critics say, “Ha–that’s stupid! Meek people will never conquer the earth. It’ll be taken only by force, –by those who push, fight, and struggle to dominate it.”

We agree we’ll never conquer the earth. But that’s not what Jesus said. His promise was we’ll inherit it. We shall be given authority over the earth as God’s gift to us. Rev. 5:10 says of our Lord, in the future: “You have made [your people–us] to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and [we] will reign on the earth.”

Let’s reply: “Yes, come, Lord Jesus. Hasten that day!”

#4. Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for they shall be Filled.

Over and over the Scriptures say that God’s richest treasures come only to those who hunger and thirst, yearning for the Lord:

“He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Psa. 107:9.

“If…you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and all your soul.” Deut. 4:29.

“Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” Psa. 119:2.

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.” Psa. 119:10.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jer. 29:13.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” Phil. 3:13-14.

“Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Heb. 11:6.

May we beware of being self-satisfied rather than pressing on. We should hunger for God and righteousness as a starving man craves food. As Frederick Faber put it,

For the lack of desire is the ill of all ills;
Many thousands through it the dark pathway have trod.
[The joy, the delight] of predestinate souls
Is a jubilant longing and pining for God.

And what should we hunger for? Righteousness. It is not enough to mourn over past sin, (Be-attitude #2) — we also need to hunger for future improvement – growth in holy character. It’s not enough to yearn for our sins to be forgiven; we need to long that sin will be overcome — replaced by uprightness.

There are two dangerous errors people make about righteousness: 1) Some Wait, Trying to Make Themselves Righteous. “I’ll come to Christ only when I’ve improved myself and start living like a Christian.” But that is as crazy as saying, “I’ll go to the Doctor only after I get well.” It’s as dumb as saying, “I’m gonna wait till I win the Lottery before I pay my bills.” Be-atitude #1 says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, who admit they lack it and need it, so they go to Jesus to get it, to receive His free gift.

The 2nd Deadly Error is this: Some Think They Need Not Seek Righteousness.

They say, “Oh well, we’re saved by grace, not works or righteous character.” That’s a true statement, except for the first word—that pronoun “we.” For though no one will ever be saved by their own goodness, that does not mean we can ignore righteous character and obedient living. Nobody is just going to saunter into God’s Kingdom because they’ve been nice, pretty good folks! A few sentences after speaking the nine “blesseds,” Jesus bluntly declared, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s not trifle with the Lord and Supreme Judge of the human race.

Do my sins disturb me? Do I yearn to be more Jesus-like? How big is my appetite for integrity? How much do honesty, purity, love, and dependability mean to me? Righteousness: Don’t wait till you achieve it on your own–you never will. But don’t think you don’t need it. Pursue it with all your heart, trusting in God’s enabling.

#5. Blessed are the Merciful, for they will be Shown Mercy.

Merciful people first seek to understand others–to empathize with and be sensitive to them. Then they seek to stand under others–to support and serve them.

Calvin observed that the merciful are those “who are not only prepared to put up with their own troubles, but also take on other peoples’ troubles”–to share their burdens. They come to the aid of the needy and suffering folks. We can’t do everything for everybody, but we usually can do something for somebody. We can often lend a hand, or words of comfort or counsel, or give some financial aid–in such a way that will help, not hurt. In a misery-wracked world, there is always need for mercy-inspired care-givers. May we be good Samaritans.

O the bliss of the merciful! Mercy begets mercy: those who give it often get it back, though that is not their motive. Apart from God’s mercy to us we all would be sunk. Mercy overlaps with grace. They are so similar that they resemble twin sisters. In His mercy God does not give us the retribution we deserve. In His grace He does give us rewards we do not deserve.

#6. Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for they will See God.

Such purity surely includes sexual purity–and our society overflows with temptations to defile and degrade that intimacy which God intends to be beautiful and joyful within marital faithfulness. But sexual purity is probably not the main thought Christ has in mind here.

His major point is probably that which the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard expressed: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” What does that mean? To be undivided in allegiance to our Maker, Father and Judge. God doesn’t want a loyalty that’s divided and thus diluted. He seeks, and deserves, whole-hearted devotion.

James 4:8 puts it perfectly: “Purify your hearts, you double-minded.” His hearers wanted God but also evil . . . the approval of the Lord but also popularity with the crowd . . . heaven later but also self-centered happiness now. Like Joshua of old, James calls them to make up their minds and focus their allegiance. In Psalm 86:11 (NKJ) the writer makes the same point: “Unite my heart to fear Your name.” Then in verse 12 he explains that prayer. “I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart.” Other versions say, “Give me an undivided heart” (NIV). Or, “May every fiber of my being unite in reverence to your name” (TLB).

Those who are thus pure in heart may see and know God personally and intimately, even now. But we will see the Lord in the fullness of His glory only in Heaven. “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face….” (Rev. 22:3-4a).

#7. Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.

It is our duty, and privilege – though a difficult one – to promote peace: To advance reconciliation between those who are alienated and antagonistic. To support and advance Shalom – wholeness, soundness, loving relationships. To help former enemies forgive, love, work together and pray for each other. And of course to reconcile sinners to God.

How can we do such things? By promoting the blessed qualities which we’ve seen God blesses: Honest humility, contrition, meekness, mercy and righteousness. And by pointing other people to Jesus, the Prince of Peace and source of those traits.

Twice in the past eight years Louisville has been the privileged site of a Christian reconciliation conference. (It’s annual, but held in different cities from year to year.) Ruth and I heard thrilling stories of Christ working in South Africa, Rwanda, India and elsewhere. Through His disciples He is moving to reconcile people full of hostility due to their differing races, tribes, cultures, nationalities and churches.

We heard the testimony of a Christian man who has worked among Catholics and Protestants in North Ireland. One night years ago a bomb was planted under his bed in a hotel room. It blew him out of bed, and killed five of his co-workers. But he survived, despite multiple wounds.

He learned the identity of his would-be assassin, and for years pursued him—in order to bless him! Like Jesus, he realized that peace depends on someone somewhere being willing not to strike back, not to get even. If everyone demands an eye for an eye, before long most people will be blinded. He finally persuaded the bomber to meet with him for a peaceful discussion. And he invited him home for dinner! His wife fixed the meal, and his two daughters also ate with the killer. The vivacious younger daughter moved him to the max when she said, “If you had succeeded in killing my dad, I would not exist today, for I was neither born nor conceived when that happened.” Then the father offered the bomber forgiveness, which the latter recognized would demand from him a whole new attitude and lifestyle. The story is still unfinished, but it’s obvious that at the least that killer will have a very hard time setting another bomb or pulling another trigger!

#8. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

These verses show that being persecuted is as much a mark of Jesus’ disciples as meekness or mercy. Be prepared for tribulation: Dozens of times the New Testament scriptures show us – either through direct warnings or past instances — that we’ll be opposed and mistreated to some degree if we seriously follow Jesus.

That is the cost of righteousness in a selfish, ungodly society. It is steadily increasing even here in our USA, but compared to Sudan, Nigeria, North Korea, China, and elsewhere, we barely know what it is.

Note the relationship between Be-attitudes #1, 2, 4, and 8:

1. The Poor in spirit: the lack of righteousness confessed.
2. Mourners: the lack of righteousness lamented.
4. Those Hungry for Righteousness: the quest for righteousness
8. Those Persecuted due to Righteousness: the cost of righteousness.That is, determination to seek uprightness not just when it’s easy, convenient and safe – but always.

Friends, let’s consider God, and Jesus, and Eternity. Then we’ll agree: O the bliss of the poor in spirit, of the meek mourners, the hungry and thirsty, and the persecuted.

It costs much to follow Jesus, but it pays! “O the bliss!…. O the bliss!…. O the bliss!”  Don’t Miss the Bliss!