Jesus Fulfills the Beatitudes
Toward the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he enters Jerusalem—knowingly headed to the Lamb’s slaughter. With less than a week of his mortal life remaining, would-be kings or rulers would not have spent their time with the least influential in society.
For example, what does a presidential candidate do in his final days before an election? He seeks to rally the troops. He presents his case and seeks to explain why he would be a better leader than the other candidate. He barnstorms and campaigns. He sprints to associate himself with the most powerful persons, teams, and symbols he can. He pulls out all the stops as a claimant of power.
Jesus could not have been more different. As we’ve seen in the Beatitudes’ teaching, God’s people are very unlike the world, and our Master was as unconventional as possible in his last days as he entered to assume his regal role.
The long prophesied Messiah was coming to take his throne—as prophesied by Zechariah. This is the holy and powerful Messiah entering a city that does not wish to recognize his kingship. In fact, in the days to come, they would loathe him so much that they would eradicate him--or seek to do so. They would conspire against the Lord and his anointed, but God will have the last laugh. The One enthroned in heaven is not threatened. No, he holds all power.
And one day this Jesus will come as Rev. 19 depicts, wading in blood up to his hips, swinging his sword all the way. A holy fury will beam from his eyes; and he will destroy sin.
But that day must wait. Before he is inaugurated, he must suffer. He will be mocked. He will be ridiculed and rejected. Common people will scorn and scourge the prince of Glory.
And some inner sense of justice makes all who understand this cry out: “Unfair!! Grossly wrong!”
But God in the flesh will have nothing of the power politics that we see so often. Instead of grasping for the throne, Jesus willingly came to Jerusalem in the humblest of circumstances, in the most lowly of conditions. He knew all too well that power, wealth, and wisdom would not last.
Only his atoning sacrifice will purchase eternal life, and he humbled himself in the greatest way possible. While the eight descriptions and prescriptions in the Beatitudes show us what the blessed life will be like, there simply is no better human model of the all these things than Christ himself. These teachings are not merely good advice; they are embodied in Jesus. As Christ headed to the cross, he lived out these attitudes. Christ was blessed in his impoverishment, as he mourned, in his meekness, in his appetite for righteousness, in his mercy, peacemaking, and being persecuted?
Let’s focus briefly on how Jesus fulfilled each of the first four Beatitudes in his life.
#1. Matthew 5:3—Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Jesus did not enter Jerusalem with the fanfare of success and accomplishment. In one parable he contrasted the Pharisees with one humble person. The Pharisees saw the poor and prayed, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not like” this poor man. The humble man, in that parable, prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The poor in spirit know they are not deserving and also that power is not to be grasped at.
Jesus associated with the poor in his entrance—not the wealthy, not the powerful. He knew that those who barely scraped by often were better motivated to look to God than those who had an abundance. Our Lord approached his royal throne, surrounded by the poor, not the “Who’s Who” of Jerusalem. Be sure to see how Jesus practices this beatitude and does not shy away from the poor in spirit. The Palm Sunday narratives are saturated with that. Christ left all his glory and opulence behind in order to redeem his people.
#2. Beatitude. Blessed are those who mourn.
When did Jesus weep?
In Matthew 23:37 he certainly lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you to myself.” Jesus saw the choices that the Jewish leaders were making; he knew the sad ending that was ahead, and he called them to himself. But he was mourned since he knew that the prophets often had a bad reception in Jerusalem and they were rejecting Messiah.
Then at Lazarus’ tomb, in that short verse that some like to memorize, as Jesus saw the sadness of this family in their grief, “Jesus wept.” Yes, he had emotions; yes, he knew sadness. Jesus wept. This is not the stoic God, who cannot feel.
And over the defection of the Rich Young Ruler, after this fine candidate came to Christ but went away because he would not follow Jesus, Christ was sad—sad that the human heart would not turn to God when there was so much blessing awaiting him. Lamenting the hardness and unbelief within human hearts is seen in Christ as he enters Jerusalem.
The Book of Hebrews adds a detail that is not always prominent in some sermons. It speaks of our Lord as offering “up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7). Our Lord mourned in the Garden.
At the cross? His heart was broken. Jesus is a “Man of Sorrows,” acquainted with our grief; he is not a comic jester.
#3. The Bliss of those who are Meek.
We see meekness most clearly in the final days of Jesus. God the Son gave up the riches of heaven. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Again, the root of meekness is a total dedication and submission to the will of the Father. The climax of Jesus’s submission was his willingness to experience the shameful and painful death of the cross in obedience to the will of his Father. At Gethsemane, He prayed “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” God the Father answered Jesus’ prayer for salvation from the death of the cross, but not by enabling him somehow to escape the ordeal. The Father’s answer to the prayer of Gethsemane was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day. Jesus humbly submitted to the will of the Father in this matter, selflessly putting aside his personal desire. Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame,” for the joy of victory which was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He was like an athlete who endures the agony of competition for the sake of the anticipated joy of victory. Jesus’ anticipated joy was the completion of the work of redemption which would result in our salvation and the Father’s glory. This is meekness.
This meekness produces a gentle spirit. Isaiah prophesied concerning the Messiah, “A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). The bruised reed is close to being broken, and the smoking flax is close to being extinguished. These represent the broken and downtrodden masses who are easily overcome by brute force. Yet Jesus in compassion healed their diseases even while their leaders plotted his death (Matthew 12:14-21). The Son of Man exercises his authority not by forcing others to serve him but by serving others even to the point of giving his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45). He wants us to follow him by exhibiting meekness.
There is a good example of Jesus’ gentle patience near the end of his earthly ministry. When Jesus had “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,” a Samaritan village refused to receive him during his journey. James and John suggested to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Jesus responded, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” They then went to another village (Luke 9:51-56). Here is gentleness rooted in a singleminded dedication to the will of the Father. Here is gentleness rooted in a sense of mission.
Jesus’ meekness is seen clearly in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and meek, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and by burden is light.”
It is not weakness as the world often thinks; it requires the greatest spiritual strength to be meek in a world like ours with hearts like ours. This beatitude is almost a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11. There in the OT the meek will inherit “the land,” by which is meant of course, the Promised Land.
And if you don’t think Jesus was meek, listen Phil. 2:6-8; Christ who was “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness . . . and humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Christ’s meekness was in full view as he journeyed to the cross.
#4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness.
“Zeal for my Father’s house has consumed me,” said our Lord early on in his ministry. He was “about his Father’s business” from a young age (Lk. 2). In dealing with the temptation of Satan, Jesus responded that his soul was nourished: “But by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,”
Jesus loved God’s Word and righteousness. He was in the synagogue every Lord’s Day, not thinking that other priorities were more important. He hungered for the day when the righteousness of God would be seen in full display. His food was “to do the will of him who sent me.” Rather than grabbing for glory or fame, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his appetite for God’s righteousness was on full display.
Our Lord modeled the radical dependence on God that Jesus summoned in these first four Beatitudes. He not only taught them to us, He lived them for us.