The Beatitudes, Part 2
Jan 25, 2014
In Luke 6:20, the first Beatitude commends those who are “poor.” Matthew says “poor in spirit,” showing Jesus’ intent to connect this to Isaiah 66:2, “humble [poor] and contrite in spirit.” To be contrite means to be stricken or smitten. Those who are “contrite,” then, are those whose conscience functions properly when the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin (John 16:8). They are appalled that they said or did something that went contrary to the character of God. Such humble people are blessed with a healthy conscience, as opposed to those whose conscience has been seared as if with a branding iron (1 Timothy 4:2).
Of course, we must also recognize that some people have an overactive conscience, living in constant guilt, never knowing the true freedom of forgiveness of sin. A malfunctioning conscience such as this does not accept the blood of Christ as being sufficient to lay past sins to rest. They feel a continuous need to punish themselves. Such people need a revelation of the power of the blood to forgive sin, so they may find rest in Him.
The twin problems of conscience are mentioned in 1 John 1:8, 9,
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess your sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The fruit of a healthy conscience is “confidence before God,” as seen in 1 John 3:21, 22,
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
Confidence is the main characteristic of faith. It has been said, however, that sometimes a clear conscience is the result of a poor memory. That is not quite accurate, but if a clear conscience is the result of a seared conscience, the result is a blessed feeling that is not based in reality.
Hence, Jesus pronounces woe upon “the rich” in the counterpart to this Beatitude (Luke 6:24). It is not their wealth per se that is evil, but their pride which causes them to oppress others. In time such people may obtain a seared conscience, thinking that it is their divine right to oppress others.
The second Beatitude found in Luke 6:21 says,
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied….
In Matthew 5:6 this is listed as the fourth Beatitude. It may be that Matthew’s list was the actual order in which Jesus gave these Beatitudes, but that Luke rearranged them in order to give then poetic structure and to relate them to the four “woes.” Matthew did not mention these woes, so he had no reason to structure the Beatitudes as Luke did.
In this Beatitude, Jesus used physical needs as a metaphor for spiritual realities. Most of the poor understood hunger and thirst, having experienced it for themselves. Their vivid memories allowed them to truly understand both the need and the desire for spiritual food and drink—the meat of the word and the water of the word.
Amos 8:11, 12 gives a vivid word picture of this when he prophesies about a famine of hearing the word:
11 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. 12 And people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”
A three-year famine occurred in the time of King David, after his predecessor (Saul) had broken Israel’s treaty with the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1). America, too, has been guilty of hundreds of broken treaties, and for this reason, I believe, we have experienced a famine of hearing the word. In the midst of millions of Bibles, our nation suffers from a serious lack of understanding that has caused us to stray far from the laws of the Kingdom and to support a counterfeit in the Middle East.
For this reason, the prophet’s description of this “famine” is seen everywhere, as people often travel thousands of miles to every place where the Spirit of God seems to be poured out. I have observed how many seek a word from God every time a well-known prophet comes to their area. There is truly a famine of the word in the midst of plenty.
The blessed ones, however, hunger and thirst, not merely for direction or even healing, but for righteousness. In our Western culture, we think of righteousness in terms of morality or ethics. But in Hebrew culture, righteousness is inseparable from the law, and so it is largely bound up in the concept of justice.
Keep in mind that the Greeks thought philosophically, while the Hebrews thought judicially. Even their concepts of history differed, for the Greeks viewed history as a series of events, whereas the Hebrews viewed history as the Acts of God. Luke blended the two perfectly in his second book, The Acts, which is a history of The Acts of God in bringing the gospel from the confines of Judea to the world at large.
To a Greek the idea of righteousness was expressed in their classical art, where they pictured beauty in ideal forms. They were searching for “the perfect man,” both morally and physically. The Hebrew idea of righteousness was bound up in a covenant relationship with God, whereby the great Judge might “justify” them in the divine court. They sought vindication from the Judge. They wanted God take their side in any court case against them, extending grace to them. By His grace they were justified.
Yet such vindication, grace, and justification depended on their covenant relationship with God. The problem was that the Old Covenant failed to give them grace, because it was based on their perfect obedience in keeping their vow to God. Because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), that covenant failed to maintain their relationship with the Judge of All. Only the New Covenant could succeed, because it was based on God’s promise (vow), by which He obligated Himself to do what no man could do.
Biblical righteousness (tsadaq) is based on the New Covenant relationship which Jesus Christ has mediated. That relationship, based upon the promise of God, gives us the right to claim all the privileges that spring from it. And so, when tsadaq is used to describe the righteousness of God, it should be understood as the righteous acts of God in the earth. So Micah 6:5 says, “in order that you may know the righteous acts [tsadaq] of the Lord.”
The same is seen in Revelation 15:4, “for Your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Under the Old Covenant, men vowed to do righteous acts and failed; but under the New Covenant, God vowed to do them and succeeded. Hence, man’s righteousness, by which he obtains vindication, grace, or justification in the divine court, is only possible through the New Covenant relationship that we enjoy. For this reason, after Isaiah prophesied of the death of Messiah in Isaiah 53, he proceeds to tell us in Isaiah 54:17,
17 No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication [tsadaq] is from Me, declares the Lord.
In other words, the divine court rules in their favor. They are given grace, while their accusers lose their case. All of their accusations are thrown out of court. Those in covenant with God are vindicated and justified by their faith in the blood of the Lamb.
The second Beatitude in Luke’s account speaks of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. How will they find satisfaction? How will their spiritual bellies find the food and drink that they desire? That which they seek cannot be found in the Old Covenant, but only in the New. Hence, Paul tells us in Romans 11:7,
7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened.
Israel as a nation sought for righteousness through the Old Covenant and failed. But the chosen ones, “the election of grace,” did obtain it. How? Romans 11:5, 6 says they obtained it through “God’s gracious choice.” It was by the New Covenant, which was based upon the promise of God. His righteous acts extended grace to those who have a New Covenant relationship with Him.
These, then, having received justification from the divine court, are able to live their lives with with a clear conscience. They are no longer bogged down in the divine court trying to deal with the accuser of the brethren. They are free to become the expression of the righteous acts of God through them.
This is the life of “the elect,” or the “chosen” ones. These are the overcomers. They are the ones who, having been forgiven, are able to forgive others. They are the ones who, having known the slavery that sin had brought, are able to set creation free by speaking the words and decrees of God and by doing what they see their Father do. They become part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the problem.
Those who truly hunger and thirst after such righteousness will be satisfied. And wherever they set their foot, the Kingdom of God is there. Isaiah 32:15-17 prophesies of the conditions on the earth as the overcomers rise up to do the works of their Father:
15 Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field and the fertile field is considered as a forest. 16 Then justice [mishpat] will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness [tsadaqah] will abide in the fertile field. 17 And the work [or outworking] of righteousness [tsadaqah] will be peace, and the service [labor] of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.
We see, then, that those who truly hunger and thirst for biblical righteousness will be satisfied. At some point in their lives, they will no longer suffer from the famine of hearing the word. And as this spiritual food and drink strengthen them, they will be able to be the channel of blessing to the world, as the righteous acts of God come forth from them. The result in the world will be peace, not war; and the reward of the blessed ones will be seen in their actions. Having entered into God’s rest, their labor is a rest-work, and the result is “righteousness, quietness, and confidence forever.”
This is part 2 of a mini-series titled "The Beatitudes." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 24 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones