The fifth, sixth, and seventh of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, beginning with “blessed are the merciful,” describe the inner character of the Christian. He is merciful, pure in heart, and always ready and anxious to make peace.
5. “Blessed are the merciful.” Mercy is first, because it is what we experience first when we are saved by Jesus Christ. It is like grace in that it comes to those who don’t deserve it. But mercy has the additional quality of grace being poured out on those who apart from it are miserable and pitied. Christ had mercy on us and saved us. Therefore, we are to be merciful in our dealings with others. Jesus promises that if we do, we will receive mercy upon mercy, constant mercy.
6. “Blessed are the pure in heart.” What Jesus promises here, is that those who are brought into His Kingdom and who experience His grace will be purified of all sin and will see God one day. Referring to Jesus Himself, the apostle John later wrote, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
7. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This beatitude calls people not just to be peaceful persons but to be peacemakers, that is, to work actively for peace among antagonistic persons. Can followers of Christ do this? They not only can, they must, for they have experienced the peace between themselves and God that God Himself made possible through the cross of Jesus Christ. Christian peacemaking includes witnessing to the Gospel, but it also extends to all kinds of human reconciliation.
This is especially timely considering the current political climate.
8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” This last beatitude is stated briefly, then elaborated on – changing the pronouns from the third to the second person (from “others” to “you”). This change shifts the focus of persecution from something that is being thought of in a general way to something that will affect Christ’s followers personally. The matter is made personal in another way too, since persecution “because of righteousness” now becomes persecution “on My account,” that is, because of their relationship with Christ.
The persecution Jesus is talking about and for which believers are to “rejoice and be glad” is not the hostility that will come to them from the world because they have made themselves a nuisance, insulted people they are trying to influence, or been rude, crude, or fanatical. It is because they have become like Christ in His righteousness and are therefore being hated for righteousness’ sake, as Jesus was.
When Jesus came into the world, he exposed the evil in the world simply by being righteous, and the world hated Him for it. Before He came, people could get away with hypocrisy, lying, dishonesty, and pride, because others acted the same way. But when Jesus came, those dark vices were exposed for what they are, just as light always illuminates the darkness.
We do not experience much real persecution for the sake of Christ today – but this is something the early Christians understood very well and believers in many countries that are hostile to Christianity also understand today. Peter understood it. He refers to this beatitude twice in his first epistle, persecution: “If you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” and “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed.” Persecution is a common experience for Christians, but it is proof that we belong to Jesus here as well as evidence of those heavenly blessings we will enjoy hereafter.
Salt and Light in the World. Much has been written about vv.13-16, it is difficult to say anything new about them. Jesus uses two images to illustrate how His disciples are to function in the world. They are to be like salt, which does three things: It (1) flavors food, it (2) preserves some foods from decaying, and it (3) makes a person thirsty. We are to do similar things, especially make others thirsty for the life that is to be found in Jesus Christ. We are also to be like light that cannot be hidden. Christians are to be like a city on a hill or a lamp that is placed on a stand to provide illumination for a household.
Salt is of value. Light is something that is noticed or stands out. Those who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven will be both. They must be both. But the only reason they will be able to function as salt is that they will be joined to Jesus Christ and so receive their “saltiness” from Him. And the only reason they will be like light is that they will have received their light from Jesus.
Donald Barnhouse said that when Christ was in the world, He was a bit like the sun, which is here by day and gone by night. The sun gives light, but when the sun goes down, the moon comes up. The moon is a bit like the Church. The moon shines too, but it only shines because it reflects the sun’s light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” But when He was thinking that He would soon be taken out of the world, He told his disciples, “You are the light of the world.”
In this age the world is illuminated by the Church, sometimes brightly, as in the full moon of revival, sometimes only dimly, as today when there is only a thin sliver of genuine Christianity and we do not even know if it is a waxing or a waning quarter. But full moon or waning quarter, we are always to reflect the light of Jesus Christ as brightly as we can.