Instructions for people of the Kingdom
Some things we need to talk about
Before we read and study this astonishing passage there are some things we need to talk about. If we can come to terms with these ideas, then the Beatitudes come into very sharp focus.
First: The Kingdom of heaven
Not a physical location in the “right now” …but it will be so in the future in the “not yet”.
Not a place in time, not a circumstance that does not exist now but will come in the future.
The Kingdom of Heaven is synonymous with Kingdom of God.
We are made citizens of that Kingdom by a covenant made possible and established with the blood of Christ. It is a covenant in which:
We are a forgiven, born-again, gathered people who have deliberately bound ourselves together in the terms of the covenant agreement.
The character of our fellowship allows no room for ambivalence or disinterest.
Our Kingdom citizenship is not some abstract idea, nor is it a moral and ethical system but rather it is an allegiance to God that is personal and intimate and publicly lived. We are a people who know God's true name, character, purpose, and will.
The passage we read today is the preface to Jesus’s radical new proclamation of that Kingdom.
Often read in a way that misses the mark such as those sermons which interpret “blessed as "hilarious" or “deliriously happy”.
One view is the individual gifts view:
As if we are being told to look around the room and find someone who is meek...they get to inherit the earth.
Someone else is mournful and they will be comforted.
Different spiritual qualities possessed by different individuals...I may not be mournful, but I might be a peacemaker and therefore worthy of the blessing for that specific spiritual quality.
But here is the problem with that reading:
If you are a peacemaker you will not get to see God, but you will be called his son
But if you are pure in heart, you will not inherit the earth, but rather you will see God
Another view = cause-and-effect between each characteristic and the resulting blessing. Each element of the "beatitudes becomes a transaction.
Put in a meekness coin and out comes a certificate to inherit the earth.
The more coins you put in, the more “blesseds” you receive.
Another view is the guidelines for Godly living view
Jesus is sitting on a hillside surrounded by the multitudes dispensing social counseling and psychological therapy
If you want to be happy, do this or that or some combination and you will be “blessed” …a result that is so indistinct as to be open to a nauseating array of results.
BUT correctly read, the beatitudes are one package.
This is the full nature of a true disciple has and what all His followers are promised. We, by the gift of grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives are transformed into a people who are: poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, who are a force for peace, and who are willing to endure persecution for the one who rules the Kingdom.
Part of the whole
Even though we will read the Beatitudes as a single unit we must understand that they are only fully understood when placed into the full text of Jesus’ sermon and the great body of Jesus’ teachings to the apostles. There we find that this kingdom:
Will only be entered by the righteous whose holiness exceeds that of the religious elite.
Will admit only a select few and many will be surprised at their exclusion.
Will admit those who were formerly excluded from the covenant of God.
Will admit those whose nature is that of a little child.
Will admit the poor far more readily than the rich.
Will admit those whose lives of sin would have been previously excluded under the old covenant.
Will admit those who Christ himself judges to be his “sheep”.
Finally, we must clearly understand who Jesus was talking to on the side of that mountaintop. (Read Matthew 5:1-2 again).
Not the multitudes, even though they heard all that he said.
JESUS WAS SPEAKING TO HIS DISCIPLES, THOSE WHO HAD MADE A COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW HIM, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD NO IDEA WHAT THAT DECISION WOULD COST THEM.
THIS IS A PORTRAIT OF DISCIPLESHIP.
THIS IS THE STANDARD BY WHICH DISCIPLESHIP...TRUE DISCIPLESHIP IS TO ME MEASURED.
WE, HIS PEOPLE, ARE IN THE BOW WAVE OF THE NEW KINGDOM...A KINGDOM OF THE NEW COVENANT,
UNTIL THE WHOLE KINGDOM COMES,
UNTIL CHRIST RETURNS TO RESTORE ALL OF THE BROKEN CREATION,
UNTIL CHRIST RETURNS AND GOD PLACES ALL .... ALL .... ALL UNDER HIS FEET.
UNTIL THEN WE ARE TO GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES, BRING MORE INTO THE KINGDOM,
AND HERE JESUS TELLS US WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE THOSE DISCIPLES ARE.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT IS CHRIST DESCRIPTION OF A COVENANT PEOPLE, LIVING ACCORDING TO KINGDOM PRINCIPLES.
THIS SERMON IS NOT A SERIES OF GUIDELINES.
A DISCIPLE IS CHARACTERIZED BY THE WHOLE PACKAGE...CREATING DISCIPLES MEANS GROWING A PEOPLE OF GOD WHO DECIDE TO FOLLOW JESUS AND BEGIN TO LOOK JUST LIKE THIS!
The language of “Blessed”
First a literary device
v. 3 “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”
v.10 “the kingdom of heaven is theirs”
Two bookends: Everything inside is a package, not separate items on a menu, not stages of spiritual development, not unique spiritual qualities, not transactions, not therapy.
OUR COMMISSION AS CHRISTIANS IS TO FIRST BE AND THE MAKE DISCIPLES WHO LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THIS. This is the mission of a covenant people.
But what was Jesus was doing HERE, specifically in THIS place on THIS mountainside?
Again, a literary device: Two bookends. Matthew is painting a picture and Jesus is the main character. Here is Jesus in the fashion of Moses on the hilltop delivering the law. But instead of Moses here is the Son of God announcing the law of a new kingdom, a kingdom of heaven. And this law is like nothing anyone has ever heard before. In this law there is astonishment at its beauty and despair at its severity and rigor.
17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 This is what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not continue to hear the voice of the Lord our God or see this great fire any longer, so that we will not die!’ 17 Then the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 because he was teaching them like one who had authority, and not like their scribes.
When Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount, he will have finished giving us the law of the kingdom of heaven and a new covenant. And when he finished the people were astonished. He did not give them a reading of something already provided. He did not pronounce his interpretations of the law as was the customs of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus pronounced a new law with authority given directly by the Father for a new Kingdom established by a new covenant in fulfillment of the old.
D.A. Carson writes this:
THE MORE I read these three chapters—Matthew 5, 6, and 7—the more I am both drawn to them and shamed by them. Their brilliant light draws me like a moth to a spotlight; but the light is so bright that it sears and burns. No room is left for forms of piety which are nothing more than veneer and sham. Perfection is demanded. Jesus says, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).
D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 11.
Lessons in the language
“μακάριος - The special feature of the group μακάριος, μακαρίζειν, μακαρισμός in the NT is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God.”
Friedrich Hauck and Georg Bertram, “Μακάριος, Μακαρίζω, Μακαρισμός,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 367.
An adjective used like a noun. Asyndeton is a vivid stylistic feature that occurs often for emphasis, solemnity, or rhetorical value (staccato effect), or when there is an abrupt change in topic.5 Thus, it is found, for example, with: 1. commands and exhortations, put forth in rapid succession (cf. John 5:8; Eph 4:26–29; Phil 4:4–6; 1 Thess 5:15–22). 2. sentences in a series (cf. Matt 5:3–11 [the beatitudes]; 2 Tim 3:15–16)1
Quite frequently ὅτι introduces a dependent causal clause. In such instances it should be translated because or for. So: “Blessed are the poor in spirit because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them”.
Now we are ready to read what Jesus said.
Poor in spirit: much more than need or want. It is a deep and profound brokenness for the sin and arrogance of a life apart from God's grace.
There is no approach to God's presence except the difficult way of a broken spirit.
As long as we continue with one ray of hope that says "we are really not all that bad"...
As long as we persist in the endless struggle to achieve God's notice ...
As long as we deceive ourselves in the illusion that our own effort or our own value can make us right before God ...
Then we will never find the peace and security of God's grace that we so desperately long for as citizens of the Kingdom
Those who mourn: We live in a world that expects things to be right.
Sadness is unnatural and needs a cure to return to “normal”.
Hunger or joblessness or even dissatisfaction with a job that pays well but provides no personal fulfillment … all these are terrible misfortunes that deserve a remedy.
And so, we ask God why is there evil in the world? Why is there violence and hatred.
Never realizing that God never answers that question because it is the wrong question.
It comes from an expectation that all should be right in the world.
This is NOT the view of a true disciple of Jesus Christ
The only valid question is "why is there ANY good in the world...why is there any beauty and goodness and kindness and love and respect?
The environment is broken.
The government is broken and run by people who are inherently selfish, deceitful, dishonest and arrogant.
Evil in the world is ONLY restrained by God's grace as he works patiently toward a time when his sovereign will to be completed and that everyone should hear the Gospel.
If it were not for God's grace evil would triumph over EVERYTHING and EVERYONE
The true disciple looks at a lost world and weeps and mourns for the ravages of sin both in ourselves and in others...He or she
Cries for lost neighbors,
Yearns to speak the Gospel into broken homes,
Weeps for the violence and hatred,
The tears cannot be stopped for a wayward son, a lost daughter, or a bitter husband who simply will not come to repentance and faith.
If we are to be a covenant people, we must understand our mission to make disciples. And all of Christ's disciples weep for those who are lost and hurting and blind and empty. God's people mourn because the kingdom is here but not yet.
The humble or meek or gentle
How impatient we are.
How mean spirited we can be when things don't go our way.
How easily we come to judge others outside the faith: “They won't get a job” … ”They are just lazy” … ”They don't speak very good English” … ”Why don't they learn” … ”Look at that hair, its purple”.
And they smell like tobacco and booze.
Luke 6:37 -We forget that we judge those inside the family of faith in order to correct and encourage and help them to grow … But those outside the faith, WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE.
INSTEAD WE ARE TO BE GENTLE, GRACIOUS, KIND, WHETHER WE THINK THEY DESERVE IT OR NOT <---Can there be a sin with which I struggle more than this? Probably not.
If we are to be a covenant people, then whatever arrogance in ourselves must be brutally eliminated and replaced with kindness and encouragement. And in our humility, we know that humility and kindness are not natural in a sinful world. They must be learned.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
The woman at the well was hungry for righteousness and when she found it in Christ she was overwhelmed, transformed, astonished and hungry for more.
If we are not craving of more of God’s presence through his word, if we are ambivalent about the transformation in ourselves that he promises then we must never have tasted the real living water ourselves.
Covenant people despise the distractions, long to be with God, hunger for a transformed mind, curious, questioning, passionate.
Merciful: to grant to others the same measure of grace that God gave us.
Jesus' mercy led him to give up his life for those who hated and rejected him.
This is true mercy when we forgive EVERYTHING...without exception. This is HARD!!!
Christ makes no compromise in this for us. We will only receive the mercy we willingly give away.
Pure in heart - Purity of the heart comes at a price.
The picture is of a disciple of Christ who weeps for his sin and the sins of the world and is so moved to hatred of the sin within that he or she commits to find and root out the impurities of the heart that grieve the savior and inhibit the work of the Holy Spirit.
The heart is made tender by the Spirit. This is why John preached in preparation for the coming of the Messiah and the new Kingdom. A repentant heart searches out and finds the hidden pockets of rebellion, the sullen reserves of arrogance and the hidden private corners of a life kept in secret. I know this place. It is the cry of the heart that pleads with God to never let me go back to the place I was, back to the heart I had, and a mind lost in darkness.
Peacemakers - We want to think of peace as the absence of conflict, and this is true but there is a peace that can live and flourish even in the very eye of the storm. Jesus himself declared this very very different view of peace that crushes the central logic and wisdom of the world.
This is a peace that only comes when a human heart is reconciled once and for all time with the God of creation. To have true peace we must have peace with God and when we have peace with God nothing else in life can drive it away.
In the hospital in Colorado Springs, when Kay woke up after being unconscious for nearly 3 months, she asked me, “am I going to die”. In that moment, perhaps as I have never known before, I was at peace as I said, “no”, you are not going to die. There is a peace that passes or goes way beyond all understanding.
And in the middle of that peace, in the middle of chaos, our quiet, confident heart draws everyone around us to the one who is the only source of peace.
Persecuted for righteousness - Our hearts made tender by sorrow for sin, gentle, humble, our minds hungry for God’s word and presence we are ready to endure whatever God requires of us.
And in dramatic contradiction to the world around us we do so with joy.
“The kingdom of God is fundamentally God’s sovereign rule expressed and realized through the different stages of redemptive history. This biblical doctrine derives from the truth that God, as the one true, living, and eternal Ruler, always existed and therefore reigns over his creation. 'The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation.’”
Um, Stephen T. The Kingdom of God. Edited by D. A. Carson and Timothy J. Keller. The Gospel Coalition Booklets. Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2011, p.10.
The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s declaration of the place and character of those who are enrolled in that Kingdom. We are citizens, and as citizens of the kingdom our Lord has the right and the authority to tell us how to order our lives to bring them into alignment with his nature and purpose. Grace is God’s promise to give his disciples not only the right but the ability to be his children, transformed into his image, sharing in his glory. This is a kingdom in which we already live, in which we already strive to be poor in spirit, mournful of sin, gentle, hungry for righteousness, pure in heart and at peace with God and with others; and in which we are ready to endure any trial until that kingdom is finally and completely fulfilled.