The Marks of a Christian
I have a cousin who was born on the Fourth of July. She lives in Seattle, and sometimes she watches these sermons, so please indulge me as I wish her a happy birthday. Happy birthday, Jennifer!
Now, if she’s watching, I’m going to embarrass her here for a moment.
When Jennifer was growing up, she and her family lived in Roanoke, and every year, my parents and I would drive up to Roanoke to visit them for the Fourth of July holiday.
As it does with many families across the United States, this holiday celebration included fireworks, often purchased from South of the Border.
My father and I would set up in the street in front of their house, and we’d light off Roman candles, and firecrackers and whatever else we’d been able to buy at that tourist trap on Interstate 95.
And here’s the thing: For the longest time, Jennifer always thought that the fireworks were for her birthday. I don’t know — maybe she still does.
So, happy birthday, Jennifer. Enjoy your fireworks! And happy Independence Day to the rest of you.
Two hundred and forty-five years ago, we declared independence from a king who was a tyrant.
But today, I want to tell you that we are still subjects of a king. This king is no tyrant, but He is, nonetheless, one who demands loyalty from His subjects. His laws were once written on stone on Mt. Sinai, and now they are written on the hearts of His people.
And He has given us all a blueprint for how life in His kingdom should look, for how we as His subjects should believe and behave as those who bear the name of and are being remade in the image of His Son and co-regent, Jesus Christ.
Last week, we began a series of messages on the manifesto of King Jesus, a message He preached that has become known as the Sermon on the Mount.
Today, we will begin exploring the content of this manifesto, this proclamation of the Kingdom’s purpose and mission, and we will begin where Jesus began, with a series of blessings that we’ve come to know as the Beatitudes, which you can find at the beginning of Matthew, chapter 5.
This word, “beatitude” comes from the Latin for “blessed,” and as you can see, each of the statements that Jesus used in this introduction to His sermon begins with the word “blessed.”
Let’s take a moment and read through these together in verses 3-10.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What we’ll see is that there are two sets of four blessings that Jesus pronounces here, followed in verses 11-12 by a brief explanation of the last blessing.
Today, we’re going to look at the first four of the beatitudes, which describe the relationship between subjects of the Kingdom and their King. Next week, we’ll look at the last four beatitudes, which describe the proper relationships among subjects of the Kingdom of God.
But first, we need to be able to understand this word that is translated here as “blessed.”
Some of your translations may have this as “happy,” and that’s accurate in the context of the ancient Near East, when Jesus delivered this sermon to His disciples.
But that word has less force today, when it has come to describe everything from the feeling you might get when your team wins the Super Bowl, to the feeling you get driving a new car, to the excitement of having a full plate of bacon put in front of you.
Blessedness in the time of Jesus went deeper than any of those things. At its base, to be blessed was the opposite of being cursed, and that distinction would have been an important one for Jesus’ Jewish listeners.
His use of the word “blessed” would have reminded them of the blessings and curses that God had pronounced through Moses for Israel as the Hebrew people stood at the base of Mt. Gerizim in Moab, prior to going into the Promised Land.
Reading from Deuteronomy, chapter 28:
“All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. “Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
And then there was a long list of wonderful things the people could expect God to do for them if they were obedient to His commandments.
BUT, if they disobeyed, things would get bad for them.
“But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. “Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. “Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
So, to be blessed means to be in a right relationship with God, to be a subject of His boundless grace and mercy, to be spared from His righteous wrath. And those who are blessed in this way are full of joy and contentment. They are satisfied.
So, each of these beatitudes describes what sort of people are blessed, and understand that it’s not a pick-and-choose sort of situation. Those who are subjects of the Kingdom of God are expected to have all of the qualities in this eight-verse list.
Furthermore, each of the qualities listed here builds upon the others. And so, “blessed are the poor in spirit” is the foundation upon which all the others are built. In other words, it’s not possible to be a part of the kingdom of heaven if you are not poor in spirit.
But what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
The word for “poor” here means bankrupt or destitute. This is someone who has to rely on the mercy of others to survive from day to day, someone who has no resources of their own.
And, since Jesus says “blessed are the poor in spirit,” we know that He was not talking about an economic situation.
The ones who are blessed, He says here, are those who recognize that they are spiritually empty, the ones who have come to understand that they have nothing to offer God and that they depend completely on His grace and mercy.
These are the ones to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. And this is how we know that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount aligns with the gospel and was presented as a message to believers.
All of us were dead in our trespasses. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And there is nothing that any of us could do to bridge the chasm that our sins have created between us and the God who created us to be in fellowship with Him.
But Jesus came; He lived a sinless life; He gave Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to pay the debt for our sins; and He was raised to life by God on the third day so that we who come to Him in faith that His sacrifice is our only means of being reconciled to God can have eternal life.
And it all starts with recognizing our own spiritual bankruptcy. It all starts with saying, “Lord, I am a sinner, and only You can save me.”
Nobody will become part of God’s Kingdom until they admit that they do not deserve to be there, that, in fact, they deserve to be banned from it because of their rebellion.
But Jesus’ promise is that those who come to him with such a bankrupt spirit will be made part of the realm in which God rules, that they will experience His Kingdom, both in their hearts in their mortal lives and in the new heavens and new earth that will be their eternal home.
And, by the way, the word “theirs” here is a translation of what’s called an intensifier in Greek. The sense of it is not just “theirs,” but “theirs themselves” or “theirs alone.” And it’s the same way each of the times you see the word “they” or “theirs” throughout the beatitudes.
Jesus is here describing the only ones who will be part of the kingdom of heaven.
So, from a bankrupt spirit, we move to a broken heart.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Remember that these blessings build upon one another. So what do you think is the mourning that Jesus talks about here?
This verse is often used at funerals, and there IS a sense in which those who mourn a loved one’s death will be comforted.
But remember that when we’re interpreting what Scripture really means, we have to look at it in its context. Here, the context is Jesus’ discussion of the Kingdom of heaven, and this verse comes right on the heels of a verse that talks about those who are spiritually bankrupt.
From the context, what’s clear is that Jesus is talking about mourning our sins.
If we really understood how much of an offense sin is to a perfect and holy God, I believe we would be miserable over it.
And that’s just the sense of this word, where it appears in the Epistle of James.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
You see, it’s not enough to simply admit that you have sinned — to say that you’ve done something wrong. Anybody can do that. Almost everybody would admit that they have done something wrong at some point in their lives.
What makes us different as subjects of the Kingdom of God is that we have experienced a true grief for our sins, that there has been a heart-felt shame over how we have rebelled against God.
Nobody laughs their way through the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. Nobody skips or runs through the narrow gate. All who come through that gate come limping and weeping, because they understand that their sins amount to cosmic treason against God.
But then there’s the promise of Jesus. All who come through that gate limping and weeping over their sins will be comforted.
They will experience the peace of God, because their sins have been forgiven, and God has accepted them into His kingdom not as servants, but as adopted sons and daughters.
So, we who would be a part of the kingdom of heaven must come with bankrupt spirits and with broken hearts. But we also must come with a broken will.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” That’s how verse 5 reads in my translation. Yours might say, “Blessed are the meek.” Perhaps it says, “Blessed are the humble.” The Hebrew translation of this Greek word would have meant “bowed.”
This is a picture of one who has submitted his own will to another.
In fact, Jesus used this word again in the Gospel of Matthew, when He said:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Sharing the yoke of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we are to be gentle and humble in heart, just as He demonstrated Himself to be.
I mean, think about it: The King of kings and Lord of lords — He through whom all things were created — came to us as a servant. He was obedient to His Father all the way to the cross, knowing in advance the physical and spiritual suffering He would face there.
In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He died, Jesus, knowing that the time for His betrayal and unjust arrest was at hand, prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
He knew the physical suffering that was to come. But even more than that, He knew the spiritual suffering He would face in those three hours of darkness on the cross, when He and the Father, who had existed in perfect fellowship with one another for all eternity, would be separated from one another for the first time.
As His perfect and holy Father heaped the sins of the world upon Him so that Jesus could take the punishment we all deserve for our rebellion against God, Jesus knew that His Father would have to turn from the sinless Son who had become sin itself on the cross.
But Jesus was completely submitted in obedience to His Father, and this was God’s plan from before the beginning of time to reconcile mankind to Himself.
And so, Jesus prayed,”Nevertheless, not my will but thine. … My father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
We want to come into the kingdom of heaven as masters of our own fate. But what Jesus says here is that it is the gentle — the meek, the humble, the submitted, the one whose will is bowed and broken — that will be a part of the kingdom of heaven. They are the ones who will inherit the restored and recreated earth in eternity.
Bankrupt in spirit. Broken-hearted. Broken of will. And now, begging for righteousness.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
This is the same kind of hunger that the gospel writers record of Jesus at the end of His 40-day fast. This isn’t the hunger when you experience when you miss second breakfast or your midnight snack.
This is a heart-deep, soul-deep hunger.
This is the thirst that is described when Jesus called out from the cross, after a night and a day of torture, and said, “I am thirsty.”
But this hunger and this thirst that He describes in this beatitude is a hunger and a thirst for righteousness.
This is a hunger and a thirst for all things to be right in this world. This is a hunger and a thirst for the world to be the way God always intended it to be before man came along and rebelled against Him.
This is a hunger and a thirst for goodness and justice and mercy and peace. A hunger and a thirst for being in a right relationship with God.
And Jesus’ promise here is that those who have this quality will be satisfied. The Greek word here has the sense of being filled with food.
There will one day be no more hunger or thirst for righteousness, because the universe will be filled with the righteousness of God and the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
And what I hope you will see as you think back through these four beatitudes is just how different the Kingdom of God looks from the kingdom of the world.
The world says blessed are those who are rich in spirit, those who think they’ve got it all together, those who are self-sufficient. But Jesus says, blessed are those who know that only He is sufficient.
The world says, blessed are those who laugh and make merry. But Jesus says, blessed are those who weep over their sins.
The world says blessed are those who are strong and take charge of their lives and the lives of those around them. But Jesus says, blessed are those who are meek and gentle, those who submit their will to God.
The world says, blessed are those who are full to bursting. But Jesus says, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I said last week that we will see during our study of the Sermon on the Mount that those who would be part of the Kingdom of God are called to be completely different.
In fact, it has been said many times that the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. In so many ways, it is the opposite of what the world blesses.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
That’s the way King Solomon put it in the Book of Proverbs.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, the way to be lifted up is the be brought low, and the way to be brought low is to be lifted up.
That’s why, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will describe the way into the kingdom as entering into the narrow gate.
There are not many who live in this worldly system of ours who will be willing to take that first step of admitting that they are spiritually bankrupt, much less mourning for their sins, submitting in obedience, or hungering for righteousness.
But these are the qualities of those who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Just as Jesus preached this sermon to His disciples, to those who had already followed Him in faith, Paul wrote to the body of believers in Philippi that they should “work out [their] salvation in fear and trembling.”
The idea in both cases is that each one of us who is called by the name of Christ should count the cost of following Him. Every Christian should make it a regular habit to examine his or her life and see whether it reflects the kingdom values that Jesus shared in His sermon on the Mount.
And these four beatitudes are the place to start, because they represent the basis of what it means to have saving faith.
Have you thrown yourself at the foot of the cross, admitting that there is nothing in you that merits your salvation and trusting that you can only be saved by the grace of God through faith in His Son?
Do you grieve over your sins, recognizing what a great offense against God your past and present rebellion represents?
Have you submitted yourself to Him in obedience, giving Him not just your life but your very will?
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? In other words, are your values aligned with His?
Are you on the narrow path? Have you entered through the narrow gate that leads to life? Or are you on the broad road that leads to destruction?
Jesus said that many will take the broad road to destruction, and few will enter the narrow gate that leads to eternal life.
Are you on the broad road or the narrow path? What do your values tell you? Have you truly considered the cost of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven?
I hope you will do so this week. Take some time to celebrate our nation’s independence. But then take some more time to consider what the one true King has called you to be as subjects of His kingdom.