I (Josiah) have read from the Beatitudes many times. It seems to me to be a picture of God’s coming kingdom here on earth. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom. The earth will be given to the meek. Those who mourn will be comforted. It gives the reader a sense of what God wants to do with His creation.
I don’t know about you, but when I read the Beatitudes I have always had this idea of needing to live up to these different morals, so that I will be given each of these promises. If I become meek, I will inherit the earth, or if I am poor in spirit, I will inherit the kingdom. However, last year when my church did a book study using Glen Stassen’s book, Living the Sermon on the Mount, I was given a new perspective on the beatitudes that I found helpful. Stassen, in his book, wants to push back against myself and the others who have read the beatitudes as a list of morals that we need to live up to. He wants to take a radically different approach in reading the beatitudes. He wants to read them with the lens not of, “What do I need to do?” but of, “What is God already doing or saying that he will do?” One of the examples Stassen gives is, “‘Joyful [Blessed] are those who are poor and humble before God’ because God is gracious and God is acting to deliver the poor and humble.” We can see from this way of reading the Beatitudes that it takes the pressure off of us to live up to these moral standards and places the work of bringing in God’s kingdom back onto God.
When we read the beatitudes this way it breathes new life into these verses. It is no longer just, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” or, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” It comes alive, and you read it as, “Blessed are the merciful, for God will be merciful towards them,” or, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God will fill their hunger and thirst.”
Reading the beatitudes this way not only gives us a glimpse into what God’s kingdom is going to look like, but reveals to us that God is still at work in bringing the kingdom evermore present to earth. It encourages the reader to look throughout the world to see the places where God is at work announcing his kingdom; looking to see how God is at work in the lives of the poor in spirit, those who are meek and those who mourn; looking to see what work God is doing in their lives and how that relates to His greater announcement of the coming kingdom.
It is wonderful to see the kingdom of God active and well in others’ lives, but it can be difficult for us to see how God is shaping our hearts and minds as we live in the already, but not yet. What does it mean to be pure in heart? How does God help us to be pure in heart as we live in the already, not yet? This is the beatitude that I (Brad) would like to think about for the next little while.
The expression “pure in heart” means, “an undivided obedience to God without sin.” This undivided obedience comes from the heart, which is, “the center of human wanting, thinking, and feeling.” Those who are pure in heart, “will one thing, God’s will, with all of one’s being and doing.” They do not necessarily “attend to all of the ritual purification ceremonies of the Pharisees.”
The pure in heart will see God. Though we realize that no human can look fully at the glorious face of God (Ex. 33:20), the hope that culminates this age is that “they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Rev. 22:4).” The people in Jesus’ day saw an immediate fulfillment of this hope in Jesus who is Immanuel—God with us. “For those who have set their heart on God and not simply religious ritualism and who respond to Jesus’ message of the gospel of the kingdom, they are invited to enter into a fellowship with him in which they will experience the unthinkable; they will see God in Jesus.” This is our hope, too.
We long to be pure in heart so that we too will have Christ’s name upon our foreheads and enter into fellowship with Him. Unlike the people of Jesus’ day, we do not have the advantage of physically seeing Jesus, but Christ through the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Though we often find our obedience divided between God and idols, the Holy Spirit is working in us to make us more and more each day to be like Christ. “That is, [our] lives are [becoming more] in focus with the reign of God.” As we live in the already, not yet of the kingdom of God, let us take time to reflect upon the places where God is at work announcing his kingdom, so that we too may become pure in heart and see God. a