The Beatitudes, Part Two: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Beatitude” means “a state of blessedness,” and it’s used to describe the type of people Jesus spoke about in the beginning of His famous sermon on the mount. We talked about the first one last week, so today we move on to the second.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4, all quotes from WEB translation)

The Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios (G3107), which means blessed and happy (Thayer’s dictionary) and is a state of being “fully satisfied” (Zodhiates’ dictionary). Seems like an odd word to pair with mourning, doesn’t it? I’m not sure about you, but “happy” and “satisfied” aren’t usually what I think of when I think of grief and lament, even if it comes with a promise of comfort. What is Jesus talking about here?

A Time to Weep, A Time To Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)

Mourning is right and proper in its time. While joy is a fruit of God’s spirit, He does not demand unrelenting cheerfulness from us. There is a time for mourning, weeping, grief, and lament. It can even be good for us to experience those feelings. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,” it says in Ecclesiastes, because death reminds us of what really matters in life (Ecc. 7:1-4).

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

Mourning is a proper response to realizing that we have personally sinned, and that the world is twisted by humanity’s sins and the devil’s influence. This type of mourning is often connected with a realization of our spiritual helplessness (which is covered in the first Beatitude) and it can lead to the sort of humility that it’s good for us to have in relation to God.

To Comfort All Who Mourn

Of course, not all mourning is a good thing. In many cases, it’s prompted by the sorts of unjust, tragic, grief-inducing events that God intends to put an end to in His kingdom (the sort of events we were reminded of yesterday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). One day, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more” (Rev. 21:4). That time has not yet come, but God still cares deeply about us when we’re in pain and He offers comfort.

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me, because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified. (Is. 61:1-3)

Jesus fulfilled this scripture by coming to earth and beginning His ministry (Luke 4:16-21). And what an incredible blessing it is that the Word, God, would come from heaven to earth in a human body with the expressed purpose of comforting those who mourn!

Fully Satisfied With and By God

In his definition of makarios, Spiros Zodhiates says, “In the biblical sense, a blessed person is one whom God makes fully satisfied, not because of favorable circumstances, but because He indwells the believer through Christ.” Those who mourn are not blessed simply because they’re in distress, but because God responds to human distress with comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

God knows what it’s like to grieve and, because of Christ’s sacrifice, what it’s like to suffer as a human being. When we turn to Him for comfort, He responds in a way that makes us blessed even when external circumstances are terrible. Though His presence may not take away our reasons for mourning or the unpleasant feelings that go along with that, He is there. He does not abandon us, and that is indeed a blessing.

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The Beatitudes, Part One: Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

We’re only two weeks away from the first of the fall holy days on God’s sacred calendar. Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, also called Rosh Hashanah) is on September 19th this year. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) follows ten days later. Traditionally, those ten days and the month leading up to Yom Teruah are a time of reflection and self-examination for Jewish and Messianic believers.

There’s been a lot to distract us lately. I wanted to bring my Bible study back to basics, and also use that as a tool to look at myself and how I’m doing as we move into this fall holy day season. Today’s post is the first of a series on the Beatitudes. As an interesting note, I looked up the word history for “beatitudes” in the Online Etymology Dictionary and found that it comes into English “from Middle French béatitude (15c.) and directly from Latin beatitudinem.” It means “a state of blessedness” not, as some clever speakers have said, a “be-attitude” (as in, an attitude you’re supposed to “be”).

No Glory In Ourselves

The beatitudes come at the beginning of the sermon on the Mount, which Jesus delivered to His disciples after withdrawing from the multitude and traveling up onto a mountain (Matt. 4:23-5:2).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5:3, all scriptures from WEB translation)

Jesus had a few Greek words He could have picked that would translate into English as “poor.” The one He used is ptochos (G4434). It means “reduced to beggary,” destitute, helpless, powerless, “lacking in anything” (Thayer’s dictionary). This does not refer to someone who is poor but still able to earn a subsistence. The ptochos have nothing (Zodhiates’s dictionary).

Adding “in spirit” means Jesus isn’t talking about physical poverty, though. Being “poor in spirit” involves acknowledging our own spiritual helplessness. We don’t have to be destitute physically, but we do need to realize that none of the physical stuff we have (or don’t have) can stop us from being spiritually destitute.

Yahweh says, “Don’t let the wise man glory in his wisdom. Don’t let the mighty man glory in his might. Don’t let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh. (Jer. 9:23-24)

Blessed are those who don’t let intellect, might, wealthy, or worldly prestige get in the way of their commitment to God. It can be hard to have an accurate view of your spiritual helplessness if you’re wise, mighty, or noble, but we must all become “poor in spirit” if we are to live with God (1 Cor. 1:25-31).

The Right Attitude for Dwelling With God

God is looking for those who have a poor, or humble, spirit. He always has been, and this wasn’t a new Concept for Jesus’s Jewish audience.

For the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, says: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Is. 57:15)

God is so mighty, so powerful, so much higher than us. The more we understand Him and His greatness, the easier it is to be of a poor, humble, contrite spirit. Nothing we are is impressive compared to God, and we have nothing worth offering Him but ourselves.

Yahweh says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build to me? Where will I rest? For my hand has made all these things, and so all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but I will look to this man, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Is 66:1-2)

Having an understanding of our own relative unimportance and our spiritual helplessness are vital to a relationship with God. He doesn’t work with people who don’t want Him or who refuse to acknowledge they need Him. It is the “poor in spirit” who catch His eye, and they’re invited to dwell with Him forever.

Their’s Is The Kingdom

Not everyone is “given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:10-16). You need an invitation from God, and you need to respond to that invitation by turning to Him and becoming “as little children,” “for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like these” (Matt. 18:3-4; 19:14).

Therefore, brothers, be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble. For thus you will be richly supplied with the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:10-11)

God is seeking in us the humility and trusting nature of a child that knows all their needs will be met by loving parents. He wants us to grow and thrive and do great things, but the starting place for all that is a recognition of our spiritual helplessness. We need Him, and we need to know that we need Him in order to inherit the kingdom He has prepared for His people.

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Reasonable Wisdom

What’s the difference between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom? James gives us part of the answer when he describes “the wisdom from above” as “first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without hypocrisy, and without partiality” (James 3:17, WEB).

We’ve been studying through this list for several weeks. Now James complicates things by using a word found nowhere else in scripture to describe wisdom as “reasonable.” Alternate translations include “easy to be entreated” (KJV), “obedient” (LEB), “wiling to yield” (NKJV), “open to reason” (TLV and CJB), and “submissive” (NIV). This makes it a bit difficult to see what else God has to say about reasonable, obedient wisdom but we’re going to dig in and do our best to study it anyway.

Persuaded of Good Things

The word we’re discussing here is eupeithes (Strong’s number G2138). It’s a compound word formed by putting eu (G2095) in front of peitho (G3982). Eu is extensively used as a prefix in compound verbs so it’s no surprise to find it here. It means “well” and “good.”

Peitho’s basic meaning is “to persuade, particularly to move or effect by kind words or motives” (Zodhiates’s Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament). It also means to be convinced or persuaded to believe something is true. This word can be used in a positive sense (such as Paul persuading people that Jesus is the Christ in Acts 28:23) or in a negative sense (such as when certain people persuaded the multitudes to stone Paul in Acts 14:19).

But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. (Heb. 6:9, WEB)

The wise aren’t persuadable to just any idea, though. Wisdom is “reasonable;” eu peitho — good persuasion. The wise are not skeptical or suspicious, for they are obedient and easy entreated. But they’re not easily persuaded by deceivers or convinced that evil is truth. Read more

Gentle Wisdom

The Bible speaks of two different kinds of wisdom, one that is of the world and one that is of God. In his epistle, James gives us a list of characteristics that describe “the wisdom that is from above.” he says that it “is first pure, then peaceful,” two characteristics we talked about in posts titled “Pure Wisdom” and “Peaceful Wisdom.”The next characteristic on this list is “gentle.”

Intelligent people often have a reputation for having a cutting wit and a low tolerance for those who don’t see things their way. Wisdom doesn’t act like that. It is gentle in a fitting, proper, and unassertive way

Defining gentleness

There are several Greek words you can translate as “gentleness.” The one James uses is epieikes. This word has to do with legal fairness and indicates moderation, clemency, and equable dealings with others. It involves being “lenient, yielding, and unassertive.” The closely related word epieikei expresses “the virtue that rectifies and redresses the severity of a sentence.”

This type of gentleness is about actively choosing equity and justice in our dealings with others, even when you could assert your legal rights against them. Gentleness keeps us from “the danger that ever lurks upon the assertion of legal rights lest they be pushed to immoral limits” (Spiros’ Zodhiates’ The Complete WordStudy Dictonary: New Testament, entries 1932 and 1933). Read more

Doing Deeds of Mercy

Mercy is an outward action. We can see this clearly when we think of how God shows mercy to us. He pours out mercy on us though we’ve done nothing to deserve His forgiveness and compassion. Jesus died for us. The Father provides for us. They alleviate the consequences of our sins. Their mercy is active and changes things in the lives of people who come to Them for help and relationship.

What about our mercy? I think sometimes we expect God’s mercy to be active yet think it’s okay for ours to be more passive. We mercifully forgive others on the inside (mostly) and don’t take action against them, so that’s good enough. We feel compassion for those in distress, and that’s a kind of mercy, right? We don’t really have to do any merciful acts to be considered merciful, do we? After all, God’s more concerned with what’s inside us than what we’re actually doing.

While God does look on our hearts, if our hearts are in the right place that should motivate us to take certain actions, including deeds of righteousness and mercy. Belief, repentance, and salvation are only the first steps in our walks with God. We’re to enter covenant with Him and start becoming like him. An integral part of this is learning to be merciful as God is merciful.

Mercy Starts With God

In Greek, the type of mercy we’re discussing is elos (G1656). There are other words for feelings of pity or compassion. Elos involves acting on those feelings. Spiros Zodhiates explains it in contrast to “charis (5485) which is God’s free grace and gift displayed in the forgiveness of sins as offered to men in their guilt. God’s mercy (elos) is extended for the alleviation of the consequences of sin.” Mercy is applied grace. It is passing over deserved punishment. It is reaching out to relieve suffering. It is active loving kindness, corresponding to the Hebrew word chesed which we talked about last week.

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6, WEB)

God’s mercy prompts Him to take life-changing, life-saving action. We can’t apply mercy at the same level God does, but we need to learn how to be merciful in the same way that He is.

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A Word for Mercy in Action

The word eleemosune (G1654) refers to actions of mercy. It’s the things we do when motivated by elos. The King James Version translated it “alms” and the concept has come to mean charitable giving in much the same way that the Hebrew word for righteousness, tzedakah, is equated with righteous giving. Originally, though, it was not just about giving money although that was definitely included.

This word is used to describe Tabitha’s “acts of mercy” and Cornelius’ “gifts to the needy” that have “gone up for a memorial before God” (Acts 9:36; 10:4, WEB). Also in Acts, Luke records the story of a lame man who sat in the door of the temple each day “to ask gifts for the needy,” or “alms” (Acts 3:2). When Peter saw this he said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” (v. 6). Peter didn’t have money but he still gave a gift of mercy.

Another example of mercy in action is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. You can read it in Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer asked Jesus who qualified as his neighbor for the command “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answered by telling the story of a Jewish man who was left for dead by robbers. A priest and a Levite passed him by, “but a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion” and helped the man. When Jesus asked this lawyer which of the three who encountered the injured man “‘seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”

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How to do Merciful Deeds

Being recipients of God’s mercy is supposed to motivate us to follow His merciful example. If we don’t, God can withdraw His mercy from us. It’s a scary thought, but that’s what Christ teaches (see Matthew 18:21-35, which I discuss in “Are You Participating in God’s Forgiveness?”).

So speak and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13, WEB)

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God wants to show mercy and we should too. We should delight in loving kindness, as He does (Jer. 9:24). Twice in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks out against those who don’t understand what it means when God says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). His Jewish audience would have known He was quoting Hosea, where God laments Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant (Hos. 6:1-7).

God is not satisfied with obedience only when we feel like giving it or only in the areas we want to surrender to Him. He wants an ongoing, heart-transforming relationship with us as we seek to become more like Him and embrace our Godly identity. And that includes desiring and showing mercy.

The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, WEB)

This is a partial description of how God’s personality, character, and mind work, which means it’s also a list of character traits we should develop as people who follow him. And it includes being “full of mercy.” Let us be wise, godly people who learn to actively show mercy through our actions as well as by having feelings of compassion.

 

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How the Lord Meets with Us: Examining Jesus Christ’s Role as Intercessor

After writing last week’s post about coming to the Father through Jesus, I started studying the words “intercessor” and “mediator.” Interestingly, I found that in Hebrew the word used for “intercession” also means to encounter, come between, and meet with. It’s used in a variety of contexts, but I focused on the ones that related to how God interacts with us here on earth.

There are multiple ways that God can interact with humans. Two of those interactions involve rewarding good and punishing evil. We see the word for “intercession” used in both these contexts. This confused me at first, but as I studied it I found something that is very exciting and encouraging about how the two meanings connect.

Meeting With Punishment

The Hebrew word paga (Strong’s H6293) means “to encounter, meet, reach, entreat, make intercession” (BDB definition). Here’s one place it’s used in Exodus, when Moses and Aaron were talking with Pharaoh.

They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Yahweh, our God, lest he fall on us with pestilence, or with the sword.” (Ex. 5:3, WEB)

“Fall on us” is translated from the word paga. We might paraphrase, “Let us worship God, or He’ll meet us with punishment.” It seems strange to have the same word as “intercession” used for meeting someone with pestilence or sword. Intercession tends to be seen as a more positive thing. If we head over to Isaiah’s writings, though, this starts to make more sense.

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