The Makarios Life: The First Beatitude (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’d been talking with her on the phone for quite a while. Now I had come to the end of myself, not simply physically weary, but spiritually. She was still anxious, overwrought, doubtful of her salvation, overrun with the voice of the Accuser undercutting the gospel she had known and believed for most of her life. Painful circumstances had brought her to the end of her rope. And I was at the end of mine, spiritual weapons blunted and defeat looming.

I was, in effect, poor in spirit. Impoverished, like the woman who said to Elisha: “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4:2). Destitute.

But Jesus had said this was a characteristic of those in the kingdom. So I was good, right?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 3)

Blessed/Happy: μακάριος “makarios” mak-ar’-ee-os (Gk.)
– “blessed,” “happy,” “possessed of peace (shalom), well-being”
— in the Amplified Bible: “happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous–with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”

This is the very first beatitude, a statement of blessing. Jesus’ eight beatitudes are the dramatic opening to his teaching in Matthew 5, 6 & 7. The beatitudes are the tour de force of the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, consummate prophet, priest, king, knows how to grab the attention of his listeners by describing the happy, fulfilled life, the desire of every human being. He describes “the makarios life,” that is, the “blessed/happy life,” of those who follow Him. This life is available to every believer. The kingdom of heaven had already come with His appearance, even as it will come fully on the day He returns. As believers, we are citizens in His kingdom, and as kingdom-dwellers, we should possess all the qualities that the beatitudes describe.

The makarios life is the life of someone described in Psalm 11, and in Christ Jesus, we possess its qualities. So, as Jesus says, happy are we! And this first beatitude gives the foundational characteristic that leads to all the other attributes listed of the blessed life. Living the makarios life means we are first and foremost “poor in spirit.”

Well, I was certainly feeling my spiritual poverty on the phone with my desperately anxious friend. So why didn’t I feel blessed?

Simple. The kingdom of God is not a matter of feeling. It is knowing and believing and trusting that God’s word and promises are true. It is a matter of taking with both hands God’s revealed truth and turning around continually to Him, looking to Him, and relying on Him to provide for all that we need to apply that truth in our lives and our relationships. That is kingdom-living. That is happiness-producing. That is blessedness. That is the makarios life!

So I acknowledge my spiritual lack and gather the riches of the kingdom in Christ Jesus. And I give my friend what Christ gives me: His love.

Do you remember the song we grew up with as children, the one we taught our children? I ask her. We used to sing “Jesus Loves Me”?

Yes, she says.

Can we sing it together?

Jesus . . . loves . . . .

Her voice fades pitifully. I can feel her anguish, hear her cries of panic and uncertainty, powerless to hope, powerless to believe. She can’t bring herself to say “me.” Jesus loves ME.

She hardly has the breath to sing through her cries, so I sing it for the most part alone. She is silent while I sing. Listening. Then I ask her:

Can you, dear one, say “Jesus loves me”?

Patiently we repeat the words of the song. Simple words. Words at the heart of the gospel.

She stumbles many times, as if in unbelief at the immensity of the statement, that Jesus could love her, even her.

Yes, I remind her, Yes! Jesus loves you. Yes! Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones — us, you and me – to Him belong. You are weak and I am weak but He is strong. Say it, dear one: say, “Jesus loves me.”

And when at last she does say it, substituting her name for the “me,” it is as if another gate of hell had been broken through, and the Accuser driven back in defeat.

It is a moment of great victory. You see, the kingdom of God is ours, the poor in spirit, in the person of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself on the cross for us. And He gives us the kingdom He won for us.

I am weak but He is strong. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Sister! Brother! Preach it to yourself, to each other. We are living the makarios life. Hallelujah!


1Psalm 1
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Romans 12 & the Sermon on the Mount

Reading Romans 12, I am struck by how it seems to compress the whole of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount while at the same time expanding on the Beatitudes. Basically, Romans 12 simultaneously provides a bird’s eye view and a X-ray magnification of Matthew 5-7. Both passages, of course, are specifically addressed to followers of Christ.

Continue reading “Romans 12 & the Sermon on the Mount”

The Agony of Weakness

Augustinus_2
Augustine of Hippo

The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. They were ugly and they came from the very gates of hell as I spit them out at the one I loved most in the world.

They had all the backing of my frustration, my feeling that I had been pushed to the limits of my endurance in an untenable situation. And after they leapt out into the open, I cringed in shame and despair at the pain I had caused, loathing myself, and most of all, feeling crushed by the weakness and frailty of my flesh, my corrupt human nature.

I was unworthy of the beloved standing before me, hurt and disappointed, unworthy of the love that I knew would forgive me the next moment. Worse still, I was unworthy of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in me, having been born again by that same Spirit through God-given faith in Christ Jesus, to whom I had been united.

I knew better. I was committed to a life of holiness through union with Christ. I knew I had been called to

“walk by the Spirit, and . . . not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

As part of the body of Christ, the church, had not Christ Himself proclaimed that the very “gates of hell shall not prevail against it”? (Matthew 16:18)

It wasn’t the first time I had failed that day to “walk by the Spirit” and I knew it would not be the last. But each time I did, I was bitterly aware that I cut myself off from the joy and strength of my salvation. My life became brittle and dry without the well-spring of the Holy Spirit’s felt presence, as I had once again grieved Him.

Continue reading “The Agony of Weakness”