“Blessed…blessed…blessed…blessed…blessed…blessed…blessed…blessed…” Matthew 5:3-12
Jesus introduces his sermon about kingdom life with a pack of blessings that was unlike anything his listeners had ever heard. That is not to say that this kind of language was wholly foreign to his audience. Even a simple search through the Old Testament turns up verses like, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” (1 Samuel 26:25), and, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Psalm 84:4). However, these are usually single statements. Never before had anyone had the audacity to pile up eight or nine blessings in a row. In this introduction, Jesus is blowing the doors off of what was acceptable or necessary to express that what he is about to say is important. He is announcing a blessedness that goes well beyond any blessing that came before it.
In choosing to introduce his sermon with these blessings, Jesus is communicating with the language of covenant. The closest comparison to a list of blessings like we see in Matthew 5 might be found in Deuteronomy 28. There, Moses conveys the blessings which the Lord would give to the people of Israel on the condition of their obedience. However, if they disobeyed the commands of the Lord, Moses promises curses and not blessing. So Deuteronomy 28 begins with six blessings and is followed by five curses. Curses, however, are entirely absent from Jesus’ introduction. Instead, he welcomes his hearers by describing those who are already blessed, not on the condition of future obedience, but as a description of their current character. In other words, Jesus is describing a realized blessing, not a future potential.
Jesus’ congratulations extends to the kind of people God has already approved (Carson, 16). He is indicating that these people are blessed because they are already living in a privileged situation. The shocker for Jesus’ listeners was that his description of this fortunate situation was a reversal of what would have been considered “the good life” (France, 159). The description of the person Jesus has in mind may have contradicted the intended vigorous blessing in the minds of Jesus’ listeners. Nevertheless, Jesus’ blessings are all in the present tense. These people are blessed right now.
After giving each blessing, Jesus gives the reasons for these blessings. Of these eight blessings, six of the reasons for the blessings are future. “Blessed are…for they shall be comforted, …they shall inherit the earth, …they shall be satisfied, …they shall receive mercy, …they shall see God, …they shall be called sons of God.” These people are blessed right now, but the reason for their blessing is still future. They have not yet inherited the earth or seen God. And yet, while the hope of these privileged people lies in the future, their experience is not merely potential. Verses 3 and 10 act as bookends for this section, giving both a present blessing and the one present reason for that blessing. They are blessed “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven already belongs to them. This present ownership promises future consolation in the midst of present poverty, sorrow, meekness, hunger, and persecution.
Sinclair Ferguson points out that these blessings do not focus on what we are to do. “Rather, they describe…the covenant grace and joy that belong to those whose lives show the marks of the Kingdom of God” (Ferguson, 13). The great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones agreed, concluding that these blessings describe “the sort of man who is to be congratulated” (Lloyd Jones, 32). In this way, the Jesus’ blessings offer us both comfort and confrontation. These blessings continue to loudly congratulate those who have received the grace of God and tasted his joy. At the same time, these blessings challenge our definition of what “the good life” is here on earth. Jesus intends both his congratulations and his challenge as an invitation to learn from him and walk with him.