The Path of Righteousness
Matthew: Christ The Promised King • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 32:22
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Remember where we’re up to?
If you’ve not been with us the last few weeks, or you just need a quick refresher, we’re beginning our Journey through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, called that because it’s a sermon he delivered on a mount. ain. We started out by trying to step back and look at the whole: What’s the big picture? What is Jesus trying to do here?
Our conclusion was this is Jesus’ blueprint for his kingdom of transformed hearts - this is a picture of the Kingdom Jesus is establishing - something not just for the future, for heaven, but also something beginning here and now. This is what it will look like as his coming Kingdom draws near. This is him describing how he expects his followers to actually behave. And that is something which is only possible as he transforms our hearts.
Then last week we started looking at the way he begins his teaching: with this set of short saying often called the Beatitudes - because they all begin with “blessed are”, or in Latin, which used to be all the rage, “beati”. “good on ‘ya” was how we learned to understand “blessed”, and we walked through the first three of them: good on ya’. Why? because Jesus is calling those who know they have nothing to offer, those who know this world is broken, those who know they are nobodies - calling them to hope: there’s a reason for anyone and everyone to hope. Hope because Jesus is going to turn this broken world upside down.
And we closed out last week with a focus on the fourth beatitude, the one which shows us how: Mt 5:6 those who long for things to be right in our world will have that longing satisfied. We saw the only way to righteousness out there is through righteousness in here - through God transforming hearts.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
I know that’s a lot - but we’re just getting started. The first three beatitudes taught us there’s hope for everyone. The fourth one, the hinge, told us how. The next three beatitudes begin to tell us what that will look like. And that’s our focus for today. So so hang on tight because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover!
First, let’s read Jesus’ whole set of beatitudes together again - Sarah’s going to do that for us this morning but come read along with us. We’re in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5 - page page 968 and look for the big 5. Matthew 5 beginning at verse 3. We’re not ignoring the last one - we’re just leaving it for next week. So Matthew 5 verses 3-9. Page 968.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Thanks Sarah. What are these next three beatitudes? I want to tell you they’re the path of righteousness and its destination. The path and its destination. We might call them kingdom virtues - each a reflection of the transformed heart that’s the core of how Jesus satisfies the hunger and thirst for righteousness.
“Good on ‘ya” if you see these virtues in your life - not because you’re earning the great rewards Jesus promises here, but because these virtues are evidence of Jesus transforming your heart - and that root transformation is the only way to these rewards. Not earning but evidence, ok?
And right out of the gate it’s really important we see these virtues come into the lives of Jesus’ followers bit by bit. See, if there’s only a “good on ‘ya” for the truly, completely, utterly pure in heart, for example, well that’s only Jesus, right? And it’d be a bit pointless for Jesus to be talking only about himself here, no-one else.
Here’s a picture for you: think about turning some waste land into a garden. You plant a bunch of seeds but there’s very little to see when you’re done. For a while you might wonder if you actually did anything at all - the ground looks just the same as it always has. But actually, under the ground, the transformation’s started. Days pass, weeks, and then finally, finally, slowly but inexorably, a shoot pokes up above the ground.
Now it’s just one shoot - tiny, fragile, unimpressive. The waste land looks pretty much like waste land still. But that one shoot shows you the transformation’s started. The garden is on its way. The power of the seed has been unleashed. That’s how I think we have to be reading these kingdom virtues. Something that’s growing, perhaps only just beginning to be visible above the ground. But it shows you the seed has been planted - so good on ya - because it’s evidence Jesus is transforming your heart - and with that come these wonderful promises.
And if you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian today, I want you to think about it this way too: it’s not a question of whether the Christians around you are perfect people, teflon-non-stick clean, shiny and happy. Let me save you the trouble and tell you right now they’re absolutely not. The question is whether anything’s growing in that wasteland at all. Do you see anything growing? Any of these virtues sprouting?
Let’s dive in: why does Jesus start by blessing the merciful after our hinge? Why is that the first kingdom virtue he picks up on? To answer that question, first we have to consider what mercy really is, what it means.
At the top level, mercy is simply having compassion on the needy. If you trace the word through Matthew’s gospel, that the sense you’d see most people using the word with - again and again, people who are suffering call out to Jesus “have mercy” - and what they are wanting is exactly this compassion: help; relief; healing. The Good Samaritan shows mercy, for example.
But when we find Jesus using this word, it’s more specific still: Jesus talks about mercy as having compassion on those who’ve failed, who don’t measure up. Twice Jesus rebukes the judgemental tut-tutting attitudes of the Pharisees, those rulesy purists, with the truth that God desires mercy not sacrifice. But perhaps the clearest picture comes from Jesus’ parable in chapter 18: a servant’s vast, unpayable debt is completely forgiven by his master - but shockingly he won’t forgive one of his peers a trivial one. Unlike his master, he won’t show mercy.
That’s the sense here - blessed are the merciful; blessed are those who have compassion on the needy - particularly on those who don’t measure up, who’ve failed. Good on ‘ya.
Why is this attitude a Kingdom virtue? Because this is exactly the attitude of the King himself. Mercy is the door into the Kingdom of transformed hearts for all of us who fail to measure up. Having entered through that door, how could any of Heaven’s citizens be anything other than merciful themselves? It seems so obvious.
If Jesus has had mercy on the wasteland we’ve made of our lives, and Jesus plants the seed of something beautiful in our hearts instead, how could we not have compassion on those around us whose lives are wastelands too - or where there’s just the very first shoots of change showing? How dare we look at that and spit on it in judgement - when we’d have nothing different ourselves without Jesus?
And when you think about it, this kingdom virtue of mercy is specifically evidence of an inside-out transformation, a heart-first transformation. Try for an outside-in transformation instead, reverse the polarity as it were, and it breeds the exact opposite.
Let me explain: think about trying to measure up to the standard that Jesus sets out for us through these next chapters through your own efforts, by gritting your teeth and trying harder - from the outside in. You might achieve some results, even some similar-looking results. Could you be more generous, more selfless, more godly? Let’s imagine you could if you tried.
But, if you actually deliver a better performance, it’s an almost unavoidable consequence that you’ll look at those around you who don’t, and scorn their pathetic failures when you compare them to your own majestic accomplishments. That’s the attitude we’ll see in the Pharisees again and again. The difference between an attitude of mercy or one of judgement is where you think any rightness in you comes from - who you think planted anything beautiful that’s growing in your wasteland.
Merciful? Good on ‘ya. Ok. So what about the next one, “pure in heart”? Again, we’ve got to understand what’s blessed first. Here it’s not just someone pure, but pure “in heart”. Let’s unpack that.
For us, the heart is where we feel things, the home of our emotions. We might pit the heart - the emotions - against the head - the facts, the reasons. So you might be tempted to pull in that sense here - people with pure emotions - but in bible times the heart was a bigger concept: it was the home of our emotions - but also the home of our reason, our will. It’s like the control centre, the headquarters where all the different parts of us come together.
Ok, so what does it mean to pure in this control centre? Well, like I said earlier, all of these are progressive things or Jesus is only talking about himself! So what we’re looking for is the first shoots of purity in the control centre starting to poke up above the ground, not the finished product, the destination, the completed package.
Maybe the biggest thing to notice here is that purity is a matter of the heart - inside - not just a matter of conduct, outside. So just like we were talking about with the merciful, there’s something fundamentally inside-out about this virtues too. The origin is critical, not just the effect.
Perhaps that should point us back again to the way all of these virtues are evidence of transformation which leads to these promises, not things which earn them. But we’ve got to keep going - there’s more here still.
Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Final one for today, blessed are the peacemakers. What do you think Jesus means here? My mind naturally jumps to the places blighted by war. There’s no shortage of them nor has there been - “in the past four thousand years there has been less than three hundred years of peace” one commentator grimly reports.
Seeking peace not war at the global, societal level is unquestionably important - though it’s no simple matter. But it’s not the only domain we should consider when we’re thinking about peacemaking. I think there are two other threads which probably belong more centre stage.
First, there’s an active pursuit of peace much closer to home which Jesus is going place a priority on:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
This absolutely is peacemaking - Jesus call us to take initiative in seeking reconciliation in our individual relationships, not just the big picture of peoples and nations. We’ll think about this in more detail in weeks to come.
But perhaps the most important peace making is something every Christian has experienced directly: God, in love, takes the initiative to make peace with us, his enemies. Rom 5:8 is a wonderful statement of exactly this:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Even though we’re the ones who have done wrong, turned our back on him, and walked away, God takes the initiative in making peace with us, in pursuing reconciliation. Jesus is the model for us here - Col 1:19-20 tells us the same thing:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
So here’s another place we’d very naturally expect to see green shoots begin to spring up if we’ve really experienced this internal transformation: Just as God has made peace with us, so he also brings us into that same business, engages us in peace making, calls us to be his ambassadors to those around us also in need of peace with God. Those who had their back turned to God just as we had. Those who God, in His mercy, is choosing to take the initiative with and reach out to in love through us.
I think we can absolutely understand our mission as Christians to share the hope that we have in Jesus with the world around us as peace making - and ultimately as the most important peacemaking of all. And blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.
We’ve talked about the first half of each of these beatitudes a little - let’s switch our focus onto the second half - what’s promised for those who are blessed, the reason Jesus says to them “good on ‘ya”. I think there’s a progression here, a ladder almost of promised blessings for those whose hearts are transformed, who have these shoots sprouting up to evidence that.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The first promise ahead is “they will be shown mercy” - and remember we thought about what’s meant by mercy here: compassion on the needy - but more specifically compassion on those who have failed. The first piece of good news for Jesus’ followers at the beginning of his teaching, the first rung on this ladder of promises, is that there’s mercy ahead of us rather than judgement.
Rather than getting what we deserve for all the ways we’ve failed in life - and it’s no secret that we’ve all failed when we measure against God’s perfect standards - we can live confident in the hope and anticipation of God’s mercy in the end, his compassion on those in need, particularly on those who have failed. This is mercy not because we’ve earned it, being such good, such nice people - we wouldn’t need mercy if we had earned it. All we’ve earned is judgement. Instead this is mercy because of his love for us, his grace towards us.
And I think this beatitude invites us to find evidence that God’s love is set on us in that we’re beginning to be transformed by it, beginning to show some echoes of that same mercy ourselves in our own lives. Blessed. Good on ‘ya.
Mercy not judgement - that’s just the first rung on the ladder. But it goes further, beyond just not getting what we deserve, beyond just being tolerated. Matthew 5:8 "they will see God”
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
This second rung I think is talking about God’s presence rather than His absence. About the hope Christians have of ultimately being with God. It can feel like a pretty abstract thing, the idea of being in God’s presence - kind of incomprehensible particularly when we’d talk about God as omnipresent, being everywhere.
Why do I think about presence here? The bible tells us plenty of times that God is invisible: Col 1:15, 1 Tim 1:17, God’s not material like us, not made out atoms, but altogether other - so when we think about seeing him, it’s probably not so much that our eyes would register something visually based on reflected light rays of varying wavelengths.
When you look back into the bible at what’s associated with seeing God, what’s caught up in it, the presence of God seems to be key, His immanence. People are afraid to see God in the Old Testament - terrified in fact - because our imperfection, our uncleanness is fundamentally incompatible with his presence. I think of the prophet Isaiah’s famous vision of God - and how he responds: Is 6:5
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
The transforming work that Jesus begins in our hearts when we begin to honour him as saviour and Lord means that one day we too will be pure like him. So we actually can have this hope of being in his presence - without fear, without that incompatibility. And again, we have evidence for this: beginning to see the green shoots of purity grow up in our hearts and lives.
Not that our moments of purity, the slices of it in our lives earn the right to be in God’s perfect presence, but those slices are evidence of the fundamental transformation going on in us. That’s the grounds for hope here, for confidence even.
Mercy not judgement. Presence not absence. But then there’s this third rung, the summit I think of the blessings Jesus declares here - blessings we are offered through him: being called children of God Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Mercy. Presence. But more than that, relationship. Family, even, the closest of relationships. Jesus is rightly called God’s one and only Son. Jesus has a uniqueness in God’s family that we’ll never share. But through Jesus, God is offering not just mercy. not just reconciliation. Incorporation into his family. Brothers and sisters of Christ himself. Picture yourself sat around the table with family, unbreakably part of it, forever included, loved, and secure.
That’s pretty heady stuff, pretty epic blessings that Jesus lays out for us here. So yeah, “good on ya’” - no wonder!
But every week we try and step back when we’ve made some progress at understanding what the bible is saying to us, and ask the question “so what?” so..
Well, first, do you want these promises? I hope you do - they are truly pretty awesome in the proper sense of the word. Maybe you understand them in part - I think none of us truly understand them in full - but even in part, these are amazing things. So if you want to enjoy these promises - mercy; presence; relationship - if you want any confidence at all around them, you have to go look in your life for the evidence. For the things Jesus flags with his “blessed” phrase, “good on ya”. Without that evidence, not so good on ya, right?
Remember as we’ve been working through, we need to stay clear here that we’re talking about evidence rather than earning it - evidence of Jesus’ foundational transformational work in your heart, rather than feeling we need to deliver such an impressive performance that promises like these should be ours by right.
But what if there’s no evidence? or at least you can’t see any? Sometimes we don’t see ourselves that clearly; many times we have a higher view of ourselves than we should, solid rose rather than just rose tinted spectacles. But that’s not everyone, that’s not always - sometimes we have too low a view of ourselves too.
Sometimes it might take someone outside yourself to see and notice these green shoots springing up - so if you’re questioning whether there’s really any evidence for a transformed heart in your life at all, can I encourage you to talk to a friend, talk to someone who knows you well, who sees you - could you dare to ask them whether there’s any of this evidence, to see whether they could encourage you that there really are green shoots - even if they’re tiny, just poking above the surface?
And on the other side, I’d really encourage all of us if we are seeing these sorts of shoots poking up in someone else, to tell them! Encourage them - God is at work on your heart. “Good on ya” you could say, even!
What if you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus here today? So what for you? I need to tell you these promises aren’t just good things you could either take or leave. These promises are essential - and their opposite is a terrible thing: judgement; separation; enmity.
Please don’t leave today thinking you need to earn your way into these promises. No one ever could achieve that “good on ya” declaration just by toughing it out and pulling their socks up. Please understand this is all rooted in a transformed heart. That Jesus’ beautiful kingdom plan could only ever be realised through transformed hearts. There’s no outside-in path to becoming truly merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers; the only path is inside-out: a fundamental change of heart.
What should you do? What could you do? Pray for a hunger + thirst for righteousness - trust Jesus’ blessing here which promises you will be filled. Ask him to plant the seed of a transformed heart inside you, the seed his wonderful kingdom grows from. Because the fruit it bears is wonderful - the Kingdom come. And the future it guarantees is yet more - mercy; presence; relationship.