Matthew 5:1-11 - The Meaning of Blessing

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Introduction: What does #blessed mean?

Basic definition of blessed: A person who is to be esteemed with a life to be envied.
Even though “blessed” or “blessing” seems to be religious language, our culture can’t let go of this language
Instagram has 132 million posts that are tagged with the hashtag #blessed
The vast majority of posts on Instagram that use this hashtag are:
Cars
Homes
Healthy and thriving families
A LOT of selfies of people with healthy and functioning bodies
Men with rippling muscles
Women in bikinis
People post pictures of all of these things (which aren’t necessarily bad) are posted with a description of how blessed they are to have them
Blessedness according to Instagram seems to involve wonderful things that make people happy
Blessed are the wealthy, for they will never know pain or sorrow.
Blessed are those who own expensive cars, for they can display their wealth and status so easily.
Blessed are those with strong and beautiful bodies, because they will surely find romance.
Blessed are those who have found romance, for they will also be fulfilled and satisfied in their partner.
Blessed are those with many thousands of social media followers, for they will constantly be surrounded by loving community.
Blessed are those who take numerous and extravagant vacations, for they will see the world.
Blessed are those whose family appears healthy and functional on social media, for such people never know conflict.
Blessed are those with furry companions, for they know true friendship.
Blessed are those whose children never disobey, for theirs is a house of peace.
Blessed are those who know that God’s highest goal for them is to give them all of the above blessings, for they are the ones with whom God is truly delighted.
What does blessed mean?
Fortunate, happy, grateful, lucky
But people don’t usually use those words to describe the great things in their life; they use “blessed”
Traditionally, this idea flowed out of the concept of having the favor of God or some other higher power
This is some of what we see in the Bible, but as we will see we need to be very careful how we view this
In the current cultural mindset, the idea of a higher power has all but disappeared, with only the vague implication of it remaining
So what are people meaning when they say “blessed”?
I think it’s actually a way to stealth boast about my strengths, my accomplishments, my possessions
There’s nothing quite like invoking holiness as a way to brag about your life. But calling something “blessed” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/fashion/blessed-becomes-popular-word-hashtag-social-media.html
Two ways using the terminology of blessed makes me look good:
It allows me to not appear shallow by using words like “happy” or even “grateful”
It allows me to not paint my successes as just a product of dumb luck
By saying I am “blessed” I’m saying rather than being just lucky, I have been blessed by some higher power that has seen fit to bless me
But wait a second, didn’t I say that the concept of a higher power has all but disappeared from our culture? Yep.
The secret and subtle shift in the usage of the word “blessed” is that we acknowledge that it carries the element of a higher power, but we don’t mention who that higher power is. What’s the implication?
Our world has become increasingly man-centric, and the truth is that if we’re honest, that higher power is in fact ourselves.
We have that new job because we blessed ourselves with a great interview and an impressive resume
We have that fancy new car because we blessed ourselves with wealth and success
We have that beautiful body because we blessed ourselves with hours put in at the gym
The idea of “blessed” as those who are to be esteemed and who have lives to be esteemed is not actually that far off; it’s just that we have put all of our esteem in how awesome people can be and what they can do for themselves.

I. Biblical Definition of Blessed

OT Concept of Blessed
God claimed Israel to be his special people and his treasured possession
He commanded them to be faithful and obedient to him
The choice for them was between life and death, blessing and curse
To be blessed meant to have God’s favor as their God and to be his people
In God’s covenant with Israel, his favor and blessing was demonstrated in many material terms (see Deuteronomy 28 - blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience)
Fullness of life
Wealth
Family
Health and Beauty
Honor and influence
Wisdom
Success and victory in their endeavors
Moses concludes this section with a plea for Israel to choose blessing and life through obedience and not curse and death in disobedience Deuteronomy 30:19-20
Deuteronomy 30:19–20 ESV
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
Important Biblical Order: God’s favor is given freely and then people are supposed to respond with faith and obedience
Deuteronomy 7:6-11
Deuteronomy 7:6–11 ESV
6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.
People that think the OT teaches that you have to earn God’s favor do not understand it
God freely gave Israel his favor; they did not need to earn it, but they were supposed to respond to it
The problem is:
They had hard hearts of sin that were not capable of actually loving God and responding to him with true faith and obedience
They misunderstood the blessing of God in dangerous and ultimately tragic ways

II. Dangerous Modern Views of Blessed

You have to earn God’s favor with righteous living
Blessing means the gifts God gives rather than God himself
The prosperity gospel and the secularized usage of “blessed” are not far apart
They both view blessing in purely temporal, materialistic terms - your best life now
They both imply and insinuate that it’s ultimately up to you and what you have to do in order to be blessed
The secular humanism version of blessed denies that God exists and so views blessing in terms of what I can give myself by virtue of my great intelligence, work, skill, beauty, wealth, etc.
The prosperity gospel imports the materialistic and temporal blessings of the Old Testament into New Covenant theology
Like any great lie, the prosperity gospel takes a wonderful biblical truth, and gives it just a little but critical twist
Jesus is pronouncing eschatological blessings here
Those who are poor in spirit now will possess the kingdom of God
Those who mourn now will be comforted
Those who are meek will inherit the earth
The trick though, is that these are all depictions of how things will be in the fully realized kingdom of God
That kingdom has come near in the person of Jesus, but is not fully inaugurated; it will not be fully realized until the next age
The promises of the prosperity gospel will surely come, but in the next age, not this one
The day is coming when God will wipe away every tear
He will end every sickness and disease
He will heal the brokenness of every body
He will bring about a thriving, flourishing kingdom of plenty, of wealth, of joy, of happiness
But that day is not today, and that age is not this age
There is great damage to people that is done by the prosperity gospel as well as the secular humanism version of blessedness
If being blessed means having a perfect family, a fancy car, plenty of money, a healthy and beautiful body, tons of influence and friends...
What does it mean if I have none of those things?
A car that barely starts
Struggling to pay bills
A broken and hurting body
Loneliness and sorrow
It means I’m cursed
I need to work harder, do better, give more money, etc.
Against these “best life now” versions of blessing, Jesus pronounces blessing that is so wonderfully refreshing.

III. Blessed are the poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:2-3
Matthew 5:2–3 ESV
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Those will have the kingdom of heaven, the favor of God, the blessing of God, are the poor in spirit
Two words in Greek to refer to poverty
πένης
A person who has to earn his living as a servant because he has no property of his own
πτωχός
A person who is so completely destitute that they are forced to beg for the help of others
Jesus says the kingdom, the blessing, the favor of God belongs to those who counterintuitively know that they have absolutely nothing to offer him
In other words, the only thing needed to enter the kingdom of God is for a person to understand just how desperately they need him
This is offensive to us
Why? Because in our pride, we can’t stand the thought that we can do nothing at all for God
Our pride dictates that we have something to do with our salvation, that we earn the favor of God
We want to acknowledge a kind of poverty in ourselves like the first word, like “yeah ok we’re poor, but at least we are able bodied enough to work for God and earn our keep.”
We do not want to say that we are destitute on the corner begging because we have nothing of our own
We want to be able to say, “you know why I’m blessed? Because I earned it.”
But that’s not the gospel
The gospel says that God has already done everything required to bless you
He has given his Son on the cross in your place to absorb the penalty for your sin so that your sin might be forgiven and you might be reconciled to God
Through faith in Jesus, you are rescued into the kingdom of God and have the hope of all eternity with him
But you come not as someone who works for a wage, but who receives a truly free gift which you do not deserve and could never earn
“They who truly come to God for mercy come as beggars and not as creditors: they come for mere mercy, for sovereign grace, and not for anything that is due.” - Jonathan Edwards

Conclusion

Old Jewish story
The old Rabbi said, “In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.” “Why don’t they anymore?” a young student asked. “Because nowadays no one stoops so low.”
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