As we who love Jesus live in the light of God’s kingdom, we may look strange to observers. But those who live out the Beatitudes and the ethics of Jesus’ sermon—those who are merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who are pure in heart—speak hope to a world in desperate need of it. It’s the challenge and the promise of these short, powerful statements of Jesus, words that have the power to change the course of history.

Cultivating qualities described in the first three beatitudes leads to the hunger and thirst described in the fourth (Matt. 3-6). And in a similar way, application of beatitudes 5, 6, and 7 leads to the persecution found in the eighth (vv. 7-10). As we look outside of ourselves to offer mercy, live in purity, and make peace, the world will often reject us, just as it rejected Christ. God’s way of living usually contradicts that of the world: Give when others take, Love when others hate, Help when others abuse. To find the deepest form of happiness — hope and joy — follow Jesus no matter the cost.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Just as those who are materially poor have little to offer monetarily, people who are poor in spirit stand before God with open hands, wholly dependent upon Him.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” As Christ followers, the brokenness of this world extends deep into our souls. The people Jesus calls “blessed” deeply mourn both their personal sins and those of the world. It is what prompted Jeremiah to cry out over the apostasy of Israel, and the tax collector to say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). Such mourning is necessary for repentance and eternal life in the presence of the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

“Blessed are the gentle (meek), for they shall inherit the earth.” Biblical scholar W. E. Vine says that meekness is what allows us to wait on the Lord and “accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting,” just as Jesus did on the cross. Jesus seems to be calling His followers to a life that appears both foolish and misguided to the world, but those who live this way are blessed because God fights for them (Ex. 14:14; Deut. 20:4).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” A feeling of emptiness hovers over the first three beatitudes. As we look within, we empty ourselves of spiritual pride, mourn our neediness, and offer our battles up to God. But all that emptying leads us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We all know what it feels like to be taken advantage of, but to hunger and thirst for righteousness goes beyond grumbling against the darkness. Jesus is talking about craving justice above all else—the kind of desire that doesn’t merely look to the sins of others but gazes inward, at the heart. Though our world is cracked and bent toward injustice, Jesus promises to satisfy those who hunger and thirst, because God, through His kingdom, is bringing perfect righteousness to our world.

The hunger Jesus spoke of could not be satisfied with a mid-morning snack; the thirst was more than an iced drink could quench. Hence, this beatitude issues a challenge. In effect it asks, “How much do you yearn for God’s agenda? Do you want it as much as a starving man craves food or one dying of thirst wants water?”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Because there’s no limit to God’s mercy—no sin too great to forgive, no debt too large to pardon—there should be no limit to ours. As John Piper says, “Our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us.” Those who have experienced such great leniency stand ready and willing to pardon others and are blessed for it. A life marked by this kind of radical forgiveness reveals a heart that loves God and seeks to please Him.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see good.” Jesus once compared the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but full of death inside (Matt. 23:27). The Pharisees focused their attention on signs of outward purity, but God wants us to have pure hearts that overflow into pure lives. And He promises us there will come a day when we who love Jesus stand before the Lord with pure hearts and see Him face to face (Rev. 22:4).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peacemakers will be called what they already are—sons and daughters of the King. “Because [we] are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts” (Gal. 4:6). That means His peace is ours. We must then lay down grievances and pettiness and extend this great gift to others. That’s what allows us to pray for those who persecute us and to “be at peace with all men” whenever possible (Rom. 12:18).

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The promise for those who are persecuted is the same as that given to those who are poor in spirit: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus endured all the pain and humiliation “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), and with this promise, He sets joy before His followers, too.