Beatitudes and the
Last in a Series of 10 Messages on the ‘Beatitudes’ delivered by Pastor Eric Chang on May 25, 1980.
Today we continue in our study of the word of God in the Sermon on the Mount. We shall continue to consider the Beatitudes because there are more riches here which we have yet to consider. Last week when we looked at the Beatitudes, we saw that there is a close connection between the fruit of the Spirit and the Beatitudes. We saw that, as Paul says in Gal. 6:8, if we sow to the Spirit we shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. What does it mean to sow to the Spirit? Well, we saw the answer in the Sermon on the Mount and especially in the Beatitudes. Many times as a young Christian, I asked myself this question: when the Lord says, “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate” [Lk. 13:24], what does it mean to ‘strive’? What exactly do I have to do? Now, if I see a gate and I am told to strive to get through that gate, I know what I am supposed to do. I expend a certain amount of effort to get through that gate. But in spiritual terms I do not know what that means. I do not know what it is I have to do to “strive to enter in at the narrow gate”. But now we find the answer precisely here in the Beatitudes: that we are to aim to be poor in spirit. We are to aim to mourn for sin, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on. All these things become the goal (an aim) in our life that we seek to attain to.
We Seek to Attain Spiritual Things through God’s Enabling
But immediately a question arises. The question is this - if you have been listening to the expositions on the Beatitudes, you might immediately ask: “But did you not say that these things are God’s work in us? That it is God who makes us to be poor in spirit? He enables us to be meek. He enables us to mourn for sin. He helps us to see sin as it is. He is the One who inspires our hunger and thirst for righteousness. So is it something that we seek to attain? Is it something that we strive for? Or is it something that God does in us? How can you say on one hand that it is something that God does in us, and on the other hand, that it is something that we have to strive for?” Now if you think that there is any contradiction here, then you have not yet understood a vital principle in the Scriptures.
Take for example, the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and all these wonderful things. As we are told, the first and foremost is love. But although it is a fruit of the Spirit, it is still a command to us. “You shall love the Lord your God”. [Mt. 22:37] “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mt. 22:39] You must love one another. The Lord says in Jn. 15:12, “I give you a commandment (a new command): you shall love one another.” So, on the one hand, it is a command for us to obey: we must strive to obey (i.e., we must seek to attain), and on the other hand, it is something that God does in us. There is no contradiction here in Scripture at all: it is something that God enables us to do. We find the same thing, time and again, in Paul’s words. On the one hand, he tells us it is the fruit of the Spirit, but then he also tells us that it is something that we must pursue, that we must strive after, that we must seek to attain. In 1 Cor. 14:1 he says, “Make love your goal”. Aim for love! The Greek word there is “to pursue”, “to run hard after” love to attain it. So on the one hand it is a command; on the other hand it is something that we must attain - but attain by God’s grace. So there is God’s work and our desiring of God’s work in us. It is always complementary. It is never contradictory in Scripture. It is something always seen to be parallel with each other and never as two contradictory issues. In the same way, for example, we are told that the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23 is love, peace, joy, faith, gentleness, meekness and all these things. In 2 Tim. 2:22 Paul tells Timothy that he must make these things his goal. He must “strive after” love and peace and faith and holiness. These things he must strive for. In other words we are to ‘strive’ for the fruit of the Spirit. We are to seek to attain the fruit of the Spirit. It is to be our goal, our direction.
We find the same situation when we come to Scripture. The Scripture tells us, of course, that it is God who saves us. Yet we are told to save ourselves. The apostle Peter in Acts 2:40 in preaching to the people in Jerusalem says, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.” So, who saves? Is it God who saves or do we save ourselves? Is it God who saves us? Or do we save ourselves? Well, again you see Scripture sees no kind of contradiction in this. It is God who saves us. But He does not save us in spite of ourselves, against our own will. That is, if we reject that salvation, God does not force His salvation down our throats. He saves us but with our cooperation. How do we save ourselves then? Well, in the same passage, Peter tells them that first of all, we are to repent. God does not save us without our repentance. So Acts 2:38 says, “Repent, and be baptized.” Even before this, in v21, we are told another thing that we need to do: we are to call upon the name of the Lord. So we save ourselves by availing ourselves of God’s salvation; and we avail ourselves of His salvation through repentance and through calling upon the name of the Lord. These are things we must do if God is to save us.
So it is somewhat like this: God stretches out His hand to save us, but we also must reach out our hand to take hold of His. That is the act of faith. If He were not there to save us, we have no hope at all. We can only stretch out our arm in vain. If you were sinking in the sea and there was nobody there to save you, you can keep stretching out your hand and yelling at the top of your voice, that would not help you at all. But if there is a hand there ready to save you, you can stretch out your hand and take hold of that hand. That is the part that we must do. So for example, he says, “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate for the narrow gate, the narrow way leads to life.” Now life is a gift, but we must strive to enter into it. In other words, that door is open to us, but God does not push us through the door. We must strive to enter in through the door. Now if God in His grace did not open the door, you could strive all you like, but you would not be able to get in. If He did not in His grace open that door, then you could not get in, no matter how much you strive. But in His grace He has made that door open to us. He has opened the door. He has made life available to us. He gives us this life in Christ Jesus. Yet we must strive to enter in through the door. So I would like you to bear very clearly in mind these two factors: that there is no kind of contradiction in Scripture between God’s grace on the one hand and our effort on the other. Both are required.
God Gives Us Grace and We Take Hold of it!
Now there is so much error in this matter: we emphasize grace in such a way that man has no responsibility at all, or we emphasize effort to such an extent that grace does not figure at all. Now we must avoid both these errors. It is an error to stress grace in such a way that man becomes entirely passive, i.e., that man does nothing at all. There we come close to a predestinarian teaching that if God wants to save you, He will sort of grab you out and save you, whether you like it or not. There is no such teaching that I can find in Scripture. On the other hand, we must avoid the other error that it is through our effort that we save ourselves. That is equally false, equally absurd. In Scripture we have always both. On the one hand, it is God who takes the initiative. It is God who reaches out to save us. It is God who makes His grace available to us in salvation. It is God who presents to us eternal life in Christ Jesus. But on the other hand, it is our responsibility to accept that grace, to take hold of it, to possess it, to make it our own. As Paul says, “As Christ has made me His own, I make Him my own.” [Phil. 3:12] I make eternal life my own. That is why Paul says, “I press toward the mark.” [Phil. 3:14, KJV] I strain every nerve to get to the mark. But if it were not for God’s grace, I would not have the strength to press forward. If it were not for God’s grace, there would not even be a mark to press forward to. Now God has given me a goal in life and He is giving me the strength to attain that goal. As Paul says in Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [NKJV] But still it is I who has to do it, though it is His grace that enables me to do it. Brothers and sisters, we must maintain a perfect balance of understanding. We must not fall into one error or the other. One error is to say that God does everything and we are purely passive; we do absolutely nothing. Or on the other hand, we do everything and God does nothing. Both are false. Let me say it one more time: God holds the initiative. He is the one, first and foremost, who made His eternal grace available to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. But He does not stuff it down our throats. We must strive to attain it. We must strive to take hold of that grace. We must strive to make it our own. Then we can see that that is why both these aspects in Scripture are constantly placed side by side. That is why Paul is able to say, on the one hand, that love is the fruit of the Spirit, and on the other, to tell us that we must pursue love, that we must strain every nerve to get hold of love, to make love our own. Paul sees no kind of contradiction there at all.
That is why when I was expounding on the Beatitudes, I was saying that only God can enable us to become all these things - to be pure in heart, to be meek, to become, in short, a new person. But it is for us to desire these things, and not only to desire in a vague sort of way, but desire intensely, to press forward, to strive, to “press towards the mark” to use Paul’s strong words in Phil. 3:12. [KJV] So here we find then that we must bear carefully in mind both these aspects. Only when we have both these aspects fully and clearly in our minds are we going to avoid all kinds of spiritual errors. Now once we have understood this, we are in a better position to understand the Beatitudes because, first, we must will it, we must desire to be poor in spirit. If you do not even desire to be poor in spirit, how is God going to make you poor in spirit? Is He going to somehow force you to become poor in spirit? If He were to do that, we would all automatically, as it were, be saved. We would all automatically become poor in spirit. We would become meek. Everything would be fine even in the church.
But do we see people in the church poor in spirit? Do we see people in the church meek? Do we see people hungering and thirsting with that intensity for righteousness? Does everyone in the church hunger in this way? No. Is it God’s fault? Of course not! Is His grace insufficient for us? Or is God after all doing nothing at all? Well, what happened to His grace, in other words? Is His grace ineffectual? Of course not! Then why are we not all poor in spirit? Why are we not the spiritual giants that we ought to be?
Of course the responsibility, once you have understood what I have said so far, becomes very clear. The responsibility rests with us. It is because we have not desired this poverty in spirit. We are still gloating in our pride. We have not wanted to be poor. We want to be rich in spirit. We want to be self-sufficient, self-reliant. We want to be autonomous in ourselves. We do not want to be dependent upon God. And the moment we do not want these things, then of course, we cannot become poor in spirit, even though God, by His power, could make us so. But we do not want this.
How Do We Understand the Bondage of the Will?
Now therefore it is important to understand even in the matter of salvation that the Scripture always puts the responsibility back even on the unsaved man, let alone the Christian who has even more responsibility. There is a verse in Paul in Rom. 7:18 (the latter part) which has often been poorly grasped where Paul says: “I can will what is right but I cannot do it.” Now that sums up in a nutshell everything that Paul wants to say in Rom. 7 and is the key to the whole thought of Rom. 7. You see, to will is present with me; to do it is what I cannot attain to. That is the whole problem of man. Man does not have a bondage of the will in the sense that he cannot will what is right.
To say that man is under bondage of the will in the sense that he cannot will what is right is false. It is contrary to Scripture. [To say the least,] it is a misleading term - and I would say it is misleading because Paul does not say the will is under bondage: “I can will what is right....” My problem is not that I cannot will it, it is that I cannot do it. We all know about New Year’s resolutions, those good resolutions for the New Year. “For the coming year, I am going to do this and I am going to do that. I am going to wake up at 7.00 a.m. instead of 8.00 a.m. so that I can read one more hour of the Bible and I can pray longer. I am going to do some jogging and so on. Then of course everything fades away. I can will it but to do it I know not how. I just cannot get to doing it. There is no bondage of the will in the sense that we cannot will what is good. Even the unregenerate man can make good resolutions. He can will what is good. He discerns what is good. His problem does not lie in not being able to will it. It is that he cannot do it.
That is true not only of the unregenerate man. I am sure you have discovered that it is true also of the regenerate man. In fact when it comes to spiritual things, we can always will wonderful things. We can simply not do it. That is the problem. The question is we may not even will it. I may not even will to be poor in spirit. But if I do, I can will to be poor in spirit. Paul says it is perfectly possible. There is no bondage of the will as far as that is concerned. The will is under bondage only in the sense that though it can will it, it cannot do it. Only in that sense is the will is under bondage. In other words, the willing is not effectual. You can will a thing, but you cannot will it effectually. You cannot actually get it done.
Here it is important to distinguish between these two meanings of the bondage of the will. Otherwise you end up in serious error. Because if we mean that the bondage of the will means that man cannot will what is good - he cannot even desire to be saved - then of course he cannot so much as call upon the name of the Lord as to be saved. Then, of course, we are back to a predestinarian position: man is entirely passive and his being saved or not saved is entirely a matter of whether God chooses to save him or not. If He wants you to go to hell, you go to hell. There is nothing more you can do about it. You cannot so much desire to be saved. Now that is not Scriptural. Paul very clearly says in Rom. 7, “to will is present with me” - whether of the regenerate man or the unregenerate man. I can will what is good. I cannot do it. I simply cannot do it.
Now once we understand this thing, we understand the whole matter of grace. To be able to do it is precisely where grace comes in. I can desire to be saved but I cannot save myself. Yet I must desire. I must desire to save myself. I must desire to be saved. And then God’s grace comes in effectually and does it.
So there are two stages. First you must at least desire to be saved. If you do not desire to be saved, what can we do about that? Once you have desired to be saved, you must then actually call upon the name of the Lord. That is very important. So now when we come to the Beatitudes, there the principle applies again. It is there. The first question is whether we desire to be this blessed man that the Lord Jesus speaks about. If you do not even desire to be poor in spirit, [then] you do not hunger and thirst for righteousness; you love sin so much. If sin is so delightful and so sweet, then you do not want to hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is clear.
The Beatitudes Should Be for Us a Subject for Prayer
Now through the word of God and through the preaching of the word or through maybe hard experiences, you realize how bad sin is, then you come to desire righteousness, you desire meekness, you desire these qualities. But though you can desire, you cannot attain it. That is when God’s grace and God’s power come in. Nonetheless the thing we must notice here concerning the Beatitudes is that we must long for, we must desire to be this kind of person that the Lord Jesus speaks about. If you do not yet desire, then pray that God may open your eyes to see how desirable it is to be this kind of person, to be this blessed man, blessed in God’s eyes, the man that God can bless. Therefore here is an important point as we study the Beatitudes: we would make the Beatitudes a subject for prayer. I do not know what you pray in your quiet time. Sometimes you may run out of ideas what to pray for. Well, the Beatitudes is something to pray for. It is most essential to pray for that. Pray that the Lord will make us poor in spirit. Pray that the Lord will enable us to mourn for sin, to see sin as it really is and to mourn over it. Pray that the Lord will make us meek. Pray that God will make us hunger and thirst for righteousness. This should become a subject for prayer. Everyday you can pray for this: that God will enable us to be these things. Or you can pray one day for one item and the next day, the other. So you have nine items to pray for in a rotating sequence. Here I find something emerges. The Beatitudes then should be for us a subject for prayer. We are not just to say, “Well, I am not poor in spirit, so what can I do about it since God has not been pleased to make me poor in spirit?” That would be a very wrong attitude. We must pray that God will be pleased to give us the grace to be this kind of a blessed man - blessed in God’s eyes.
Exploring Possible Connections between the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer
But how is it then that we do not find this actually mentioned as an item of prayer? Or is it mentioned as an item of prayer? Well, to my mind and to my knowledge, no one has actually ever connected the Lord’s Prayer with the Beatitudes either. Yet, have you ever noticed how many items there are in the Lord’s Prayer? Nine items. Coincidence? No. You see, here we noticed, so far as I know no one has actually connected the fruit of the Spirit with the Beatitudes. And we saw there is a very intimate and internal connection between the two. But as I meditated and prayed about this thing I realized suddenly there was an internal connection - an integral connection - between the two. But as I meditated and prayed about this thing, I realized suddenly that there is an internal connection between the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, too.
Let us look at the connection. In some of the items, the connections are so obvious that it is amazing that no one, to my knowledge, has ever noticed it. For example, it says right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Had we understood the meaning, we would have immediately seen the connection with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Yet most people have thought of “daily bread” as the literal physical bread. Quite a mistake, of course! Those of you who have heard our exposition on the Lord’s Prayer would remember that we pointed out in that exposition (made some three years ago) that the bread that the Lord is talking about is not the physical bread but the bread of heaven. “I am the bread of life”, the Lord Jesus says. [Jn. 6: 35, 41 & 48] “Labor not for the bread that perishes but for the bread that endures to eternal life”, the Lord Jesus says in Jn. 6:27. Had we understood that point we would already have seen the internal connection between the Beatitudes with the Lord’s Prayer but we did not.
Take the last two which are so obvious. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What are the last two Beatitudes? The last two are precisely concerned with persecution for righteousness’ sake (which is where temptation comes from) and the last beatitude says, “And they shall say all manner of evil....” “Deliver us from evil....” There we would have seen the connection straightaway. But amazingly so far as I know no expositor that I have heard of has ever seen the connection and yet the connection seems to be staring at us all the time. This is precisely the point. The Lord Jesus makes the Beatitudes the subject for prayer there in what we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is the subject of prayer.
1) Addressing Him, “Our Father” and Being Poor in Spirit
Let us trace the connection on the points which seem to be less obvious. The first item says: “Our Father who art in heaven”. Our Father in heaven - do you see the connection with being poor in spirit? If you were somewhat more familiar with the Lord’s teaching, the connection would have clicked very quickly. How? Take for example Mt. 18:3. Maybe once you see it, the connection would click in your mind. What does Mt. 18:3 say? The Lord Jesus says here, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become....” Like what? “...like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is the first beatitude? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” For whom is the kingdom of heaven? The Lord Jesus said that except you become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven, for of such are the kingdom of heaven. Of what? Of little children! Of such are the kingdom of heaven. So the poor in spirit are the little children - the spiritual children! What does it mean: spiritual children? Unless you become like a child, a nobody in this world, utterly dependent upon God as a child is dependent upon his father, you will in no way enter the kingdom of God. The connection is so clear. “Our Father” - only the poor in spirit, the people who have become like little children [call Him this]. The children are nobodies in this world. They possess nothing; they are nobodies. They are poor in the sense that though they may be heirs, as Paul says in Galatians, “Though the heir of all things, they are no better off than slaves so long as they are children”.
Children are people who have no status in this world. They are nobodies. “Unless,” the Lord said to His disciples, “you humble yourself and become the nobodies of this world” (like these little kids running around there that nobody looks at, nobody has any regard for because they are nobodies. They have achieved nothing; they have attained nothing), “unless you become like them, you will in no way enter the kingdom of God” - unless you become children, unless you can say, in the poverty of spirit, “My Father, I am dependent wholly on you. I am nothing. I have nothing. I am simply your child. Have regard for me.” The connection is so clear.
How is it that we missed the connection between the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer? “Our Father”! I think nobody can truly say “Our Father” except the person who is truly poor in spirit, who has become a child spiritually, a child in his spirit. In relation to God, he is simply a child dependent upon Him. What does your child do? If you do not go out and work, your child will starve to death because you child cannot earn a living. Your child has not the strength nor the knowledge nor the understanding to do anything. He cannot survive in this world. The child depends on the father so long as he is a child. That is where we stand in relation to God. We become His children. We have no spiritual self-confidence. We do not try to earn our salvation any more than a child can earn his living. He will starve to death.
My little girl often talks to me and I would ask her, “What would you do when you grow up?” Well, it is hard enough to think what job she could do at this stage. She cannot even sweep the floor properly. What can you do? What are you going to do to earn a living? A child has no means of survival in this world apart from the pity and compassion of grownups, especially the parents. There is no way to survive. In the same way we cannot survive spiritually. We are totally dependent upon God for our spiritual survival. Totally dependent! We have no other way. So only when we recognize our dependence [can we call Him Father]. Sometimes a child does not even realize his dependence. He thinks, “I can do it!” Just let him go ahead and try. You will see what he will do. He cannot do it and yet sometimes the child imagines it can. So when we realize our true state, our actual condition, and we become poor in spirit before God, then and only then can we say, “Our Father, who is in heaven....” The connection is so obvious, isn’t it? But obvious only when it is expounded. So now what about the other points? All the other points follow in the same way. In fact I can trace the connection through to so many places but our time will not avail for this.
I can show you, for example, that the Beatitudes can be found everywhere in Paul’s teaching. Paul’s teaching is simply saturated with every item of the Beatitudes which shows how much the Beatitudes were in Paul’s thinking. In fact his whole doctrine of salvation is based exactly on this basis of poverty of spirit - that we cannot save ourselves through the keeping of the law and through our own efforts, that we, like children, are completely dependent upon God. It is the Spirit of God (Paul says) that is sent into our hearts that enables us in our poverty of spirit to cry out, “Abba! Father!” [Gal. 4:6] This is the whole foundation of Paul’s theology. It is all based right there. Paul understood the Lord’s teaching so well and so perfectly. Everywhere, item by item of the Beatitudes, you will find throughout Paul’s teaching. In fact you can find it even in just one letter - in Paul’s biographical letter, Philippians, the letter that I call the biographical letter. You can find every item of the Beatitudes right in there. For example he speaks about having suffered the loss of all things. When you have suffered the loss of all things, you are poor. Paul counts them as rubbish. There is the poverty of spirit! He regards all these things as not dear to himself that he may have Christ.
2) Hallowing His Name and Being Pure in Heart
Well, let us look at the second connection. Here I notice a transposition, a change of order, and this is quite important. The second item here is holy, “Hallowed be Thy name.” When I compared this to the Beatitudes, I found that the only one that is likely to fit in with it is the item “pure in heart”. Who is pure in heart but he who seeks to hallow God’s name, to make God’s name holy both in my life and in the life of others, that God’s name is exalted and glorified. The pure in heart! Now we will see a reason for this. This is the only one of the later items in the Lord’s Prayer in which you find this kind of transference: the sixth item (“pure in heart”) being transposed to the first item of petition. That is very interesting. But you can see immediately how “Blessed are the pure in heart” and “holy be your name” are internally connected. That is very easy to see and requires no great exposition.
3) “Your Kingdom Come” and “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”
Or take the next item, “Your kingdom come”. Again if you are at all familiar with the scriptural teaching of the OT you will see how it coincides immediately with those who mourn. Who are those who desire God’s kingdom to come but those who mourn because of the present state of sin in the world, who mourn because of sin in their own life, who mourn because of sin in the church, who mourn because of sin generally. They long for “Thy kingdom come”. If you do not mourn for sin, you cannot say from your heart, “Your kingdom come” because you are very satisfied with things as they are. Sin does not disturb you; it does not bother you. I do not see many Christians very anxious that God’s kingdom should come, that the Lord Jesus should come again, because I do not see that much concern for righteousness, for holiness. I do not see that much grief over sin. I do not really see it. If we grieved so intensely about sin, we would constantly be longing: “Your kingdom come”, your salvation come, deliver us from this sin, this bondage of sin that we are in. As Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Rom. 7:24] Who shall deliver me? He knows of his sin. “Wretched man that I am!” he says in Romans 7. And then he looks forward to God’s salvation, to the coming of God’s kingdom: “Thanks be to God”. Christ will give us the victory. He longs with earnest expectation, with outstretched neck for the coming of God’s kingdom. That is what the Greek word means. “Thy kingdom come”. Paul longs for the kingdom because he mourns over sin. He speaks of himself as wretched man - he in this body is still under bondage to sin.
There the connection is clear. If you go into the OT, it is equally clear. In Ps. 80:5 the psalmist speaks of tears, mourning over sin. In v2 he says, “Come to me! Oh, God! Save me! Let your salvation come! Come and save us!” Or in Ps. 6:6&7 we see the same thing. We read of the mourning and weeping over sin, of grief over sin. In v4 we find there:
“Turn, O Lord”, and save us. Turn and save us. Turn back. Come back to me. Save me. This longing for God to come. For the coming of the kingdom of God is God’s own coming. It is Jesus’ coming. So you see this constant connection between the mourning over sin and the longing that God should come and save.
4) “Thy Will Be Done” and “Blessed Are the Meek”
The next passage as we press forward is, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Your will be done on earth” - who speaks of this kind of a prayer but the meek? The meek shall inherit what? The earth. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. In both cases you have there the word ‘earth’. Very interesting! Who desires that God’s will be done? Who says “Your will be done” but the meek? The meek are those who desire God’s will to be done. “Not my will, O Lord, but yours be done.” That is the language of the meek. It is the proud who says, “My will be done. I want it this way.” The meek says, “Thy will be done! As perfectly as it is done in heaven, so let Your will be completely done on earth.”
5) “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” and “Hungering for Righteousness”
The next parallel is already so obvious. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Who would pray such a prayer but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? They are the ones who hunger for the bread of life. For where is righteousness but in the bread of life? Everywhere the connection is so obvious.
6) “Forgive Us Our Sins” and “Blessed Are the Merciful”
Notice the connection in the next item: “Forgive us our sins.” Who are those who long for that forgiveness? Those who have their sins forgiven! They are the merciful. In fact in the Lord’s teaching, mercy and forgiveness of sins are parallel in meaning. What does it mean to be merciful? It is to forgive sins. Why do we forgive sin? Because we ourselves have been forgiven. The connection between mercy and forgiveness, the Lord Jesus has made explicit in Mt. 18:32&33. In v33 it speaks of having mercy and in v32 it speaks of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness are identical terms in the Lord’s teaching.
7) “As We Forgive” and “Blessed Are the Peacemakers”
Look at the next one in the same way. “As we forgive those who trespass against us”. Who speaks such language but peacemakers? Only those who desire peace, who make peace, readily forgive the offense against them. It is the attitude of a peacemaker that he does not hold offense against you, that does not bear a grudge. If you bear a grudge, if you refuse to forgive, how can you be a peacemaker? A peacemaker is one who does not hold another person’s sin against him. A peacemaker is one who immediately seeks a reconciliation. He does not say, “We are not on speaking terms anymore. Forget it! If you say you are a Christian, forget it. I am not talking to the likes of you again.” The peacemaker is one who says, “Okay, okay. There is an offense against me but I hold this not against you.” Freely forgive! In Eph. 4:32 Paul says, “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [KJV], so you forgive one another. Forgive one another! A peacemaker is the one who freely forgives because he himself has been forgiven too. So you find there is an inseparable connection between the merciful and the peacemaker. No wonder they follow each other closely.
8) “Lead Us Not into Temptation” and “Blessed are the Persecuted”
Let us come to the eighth item: “lead us not into temptation”. As we have already seen, there the connections are so obvious that it hardly requires any kind of exposition. “Lead us not....” When do we face the most severe temptation? Certainly under persecution for those who have turned away from sin. Have you not often thought to yourself, “Will I be able to survive under persecution?” Even those of you who are training in the Lord’s work, how many times have you thought to yourself, “What would happen if I am severely persecuted for the faith? Would I survive this test, this trial, this temptation?” As you know, in Greek, the words ‘trial’ and ‘temptation’ are the same word. There is no distinction in meaning. “Lead us not into temptation”. Would I be able to survive it? By God’s grace!
But then here also we do not put ourselves in a position of temptation. We do not seek temptation. Even though we love God, we do not go and look for it. The prayer is a caution against looking for trouble. There is enough trouble coming to you without your going to look for it. It reminds us of early Christians. Some of them, in their untutored zeal, went and tempted the Tempter. They looked for trouble. When the Roman emperor gave an edict of persecution against Christians (as you know from church history, i.e., those of you who have read some church history), the governor found a whole crowd of Christians in front of his office saying, “Here I am.” The emperor had said that Christians are to be persecuted. [So this group said,] “We are Christians. Get on with it!” Do not look for trouble! “Lead us not into temptation.” He will not lead us and you do not go and look for it. But temptations and trials will come. And above all, of course, the greatest concern is the concern of the temptation, the supreme temptation of apostasy, which we face under pressure. That is, above all things, what we seek to be delivered from.
9) “Deliver Us from Evil” and “Blessed Are You When Reviled and Persecuted”
Notice then also the last item in the Lord’s Prayer which is so clear, so plain to us. What does the last beatitude say? Read the words very carefully. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my own account” (notice the word evil against you falsely) and “deliver us from evil.” That is exactly what we pray for - “deliver us from evil.” There the internal connection is so obvious that it hardly requires exposition.
The Lord’s Prayer Draws Out the Internal Essence of the Beatitudes
I would like you to bear in mind then that the Lord in His supreme wisdom has shown us what He has done. He has taken the Beatitudes right there, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and turned it into a subject for prayer and yet turned it in such a way as to draw out the internal essence of it. Oh, the Lord’s teaching is so supreme in its wonder, in the beauty of its construction, in the depth of spiritual quality and insight. Can you see now the connection? Do you now know what you are doing when you pray the Lord’s Prayer? You are simply praying, in fact, the content of the Beatitudes. I trust you will never again pray the Lord’s Prayer without realizing what it is you are saying. When you say “Our Father”, you are praying, “Lord, make me to be poor in spirit.” On the other hand, if you are not poor in spirit, you cannot pray meaningfully the words “Our Father”. You are not rightly using those words. You are using them without understanding and you are just using the words in vain. You now realize how you should pray the Lord’s Prayer. You pray the Lord’s Prayer in an attitude of poverty of spirit. You realize what kind of people can say “Our Father”. Only the people who are poor in spirit can rightfully say, “Our Father who art in heaven”. Then you realize you need to be pure in heart in order to be able to truly say “hallowed be Your name”, because if you are not pure in heart and you say, “hallowed be Your name”, you are simply being hypocritical. You are being a hypocrite. How can you say, “hallowed be Your name” when you are impure in heart? I shudder to think of all these people who mumble [the Lord’s Prayer] every day, and in many church services they finish the service by saying, “Our Father”. They do not even know what they are saying. Do we know what we are saying?
I was brought up in a Roman Catholic school. One of the first prayers I ever learned is “Our Father which art in heaven” and I did not even know what I was saying. Everyday I knelt on my bed [and prayed this] until the time when I finally finished with Christianity and no longer prayed and no longer thought about church and Christians. Many years later the Lord brought me back again and brought me into His eternal kingdom. Yet in that Catholic school, like all other children, you simply repeat what you are told. I simply knelt on my bed and said, “Our Father which art in heaven”, and mumbled and mumbled. I would think, “That is a bit too fast.” So, I thought I had better go through it a second time. So, I mumbled another “Our Father....” It is pathetic to think that there are people in the churches today who use a rosary to count how many times they say, “Our Father.” In fact, sometimes if you go to a priest to confess your sins, the priest will say to you, “Okay, seeing that you have confessed your sins, I pronounce on you absolution, but you will say 20 “Our Fathers”. So the fellow goes there and he kneels down and says, “Our Father...”. The faster you go, the quicker you get it over with.” (You press one bead in the rosary and then the next one to keep count how many times you have said it.) It is absolutely revolting! It is simply terrible that people should be made to do things that they do not even know what they are doing. We must pray these things if we are to pray rightly at all, only with the understanding of the Beatitudes in our heart, i.e., only if we rightly understand what it is we are doing.
Purity of Heart - A Matter of Survival!
Finally I mentioned also that there is one significant change in the order [of the Beatitudes]. So far only one change in the order and that is, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The sixth beatitude is moved forward to become the first petition after “Our Father”. This is very important. The Danish theologian-philosopher, Søren Kirkegaard wrote the book with the title: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. He was quite right! He rightly understood the Lord’s teaching on that point. Purity of heart means you do not serve two masters. You do not serve God and mammon. Purity of heart is that you will one thing, that is, you serve only God with your whole heart, your whole being. Purity of heart means there is no impurity in it. There is no other interest, no other master being served. You serve God and Him alone. It is remarkable that this particular beatitude is moved forward. There is certainly no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer it is moved forward. This purity of heart is the single most important thing we must pray for in order to remain faithful to God. In the next item of the Lord’s teaching, you will see it becomes the matter of spiritual survival. That is very important in the Lord’s Prayer - spiritual progress, but first spiritual survival. So from now on I trust that you will be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer meaningfully, and not just to repeat that prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer, as we mentioned when we were expounding it, is a model prayer. That is to say that the Lord did not say, “Just repeat these words”, but rather, “Make it the subject of your prayer, make it a pattern for prayer. Model your prayer upon this model prayer.” That is, when you pray other prayers, you make this, as it were, a starting point, a focal point for each item of your prayer. And each time you go through the Lord’s Prayer, you will have covered every beatitude. That truly is wonderful. May God truly enable us to truly enter into the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer by understanding ever more deeply and ever more clearly the Beatitudes. Keep meditating on it. And as I said right at the beginning, make the Beatitudes an item for prayer just as the Lord taught us to do in what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church