The words of Jesus are not difficult in the sense that they are difficult to understand. Instead, they are quite simple. They are difficult because they center in on the core of our being. They speak to the “me” that lives inside. His words are upside down to human expectation. Even and all too often, to Christian expectations.
“In the beatitudes Jesus throws out a fundamental challenge to the non-Christian world and its outlook, and requires his disciples to adopt his altogether different set of values philosophy.” Online pages 732-733. (Stott, John. “The Message of the Sermon on the Mount.” Inter-Varsity Press. Apple Books.)
We slide too easily into traps about the sermon on the mount. At best, non Christian people view these words of Jesus as a “moral” high ground. They are quoted as things to aspire to, to make us better people. Close your eyes and you can hear a phrase from the words of Jesus repeated in a graduation or political speech!
The result is that all of the radical power is sucked out of them and the words are left on the floor bereft of the power of the Son of God.
Many of us too wonder if Jesus really meant what He said. They are so shocking to our senses that we assume that there must be a caveat of explanation somewhere that makes them sound more human, more reasonable.
But they are not and never will be reasonable.
Jesus is not describing the rule and role of the kingdom we live in here on earth at this moment in eternal history. He is describing the kingdom that God intended from the beginning. Before we chose our path. The path of rebellion to God.
And so, Jesus says in Matthew 4:7, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The invitation is a prelude to the sermon in the mount. Jesus did come to take the rule of the kingdom already on earth. That kingdom is polluted. Ultimately, everything about it has to be destroyed and a new heaven and a new earth has to be brought to be for the original designs of God to be restored. He invites us to the kingdom of the rule of heaven: the kingdom of God!
“The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less than the reign of God over his entire created universe The kingdom is not man’s upward climb to perfection but God’s breaking into human history to establish his reign and to advance his purposes.” Anthony Hoekema. (Alcorn, Randy. “Heaven.” Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004-10-01. Apple Books)
Many in that day would have heard His invitation and misunderstood it. They would have thought about an earthly kingdom restored to the Jews. They would not naturally have thought about a kingdom as Jesus is about to describe.
“Seeing the crowds He sat down to teach them” 5:1-2). Jesus clarifies the invitation to enter into His kingdom. John has already said to those who came out to hear him preach, “bring forth fruit that demonstrates repentance” (3:8). They had come out to John confessing their sins, but had they come out to repent of their sins and live new lives?
John recognizes that their confession is incomplete. This kind of confession is not enough to enter into the kingdom that God has prepared and Jesus is to rule. Where was the sign/assurance that confession had given birth to repentance and repentance to new birth and new birth to a new way of life? John understood the righteousness that was demanded to enter into this kingdom, and it should have been evident.
And so Jesus too makes it clear what it means to enter into a kingdom connected to God and that He rules.
Who are these people of the Kingdom?
In first order is the kind of people who would enter in. They are people who demonstrate characteristics that God Himself blesses. He pronounces His amen over them. They are:
5:3 poor in spirit, 5:4. those who mourn
5:5. the meek 5:6. those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
When you have the opportunity to see what is inside of kingdom people, they have a different view about life. They have recognized how deep is their alienation to their creator because of their sin. They have realized that this separation has ripped apart the most important reasons for which God gave us life in His image. They do not hide behind self justification but wholeheartedly embrace His pronouncement of judgement over them.
Instead their first response is to mourn over their alienation. They feel the pain of separation. They recognize the spiritual and personal damage that it has created. They know that they are exposed to the eyes of Him who sees all things, and they weep for their rebellion.
Instead of mounting a defense of their worth, they meekly accept God’s judgment. Their desire for restoration and relationship with God, their creator, cleanses away all pretense. They are not weak as the world would think. Instead, they are believing.
They gladly believe Gods judgment over them and His promise of rescue to them. This strange mixture of submission with expectation breeds not weak people, but exceptionally strong people!
They are people who hunger and thirst after righteousness. They realize that this world, without the words of God, without the witness of Jesus, and without the witness in those who believe God, is devoid of righteousness.
The closest we can come without God to anything approximating “righteousness” are acts that are birthed from whatever is left of the image and likeness of God in us. Our acts are far less than God designed in the beginning. Though they do still reflect His image and likeness, they pale in comparison.
These people can do a lot of things with their lives. They marry, have children, work, share community with others. They read, create, dream, write and act. But above all of these appropriate human activities, is the pursuit of something more important than life itself, righteousness.
It is their daily bread. It is the air they breathe. It is the vision of life. It is the final promise that awaits them after this life is over. It is the central description of their creator, God their Father. It is the one word that most embodies what He means by healthy and whole. It is the life they desire to live, here and now, everyday.
The heavenly kingdom is made up of these kinds of people. And as we shall see, only these kinds of people. They are unique people when viewed in contrast to those around them.
In Hebrews 11 the writer recounts the lives of some of these people and they were hardly weak in their meekness before God. They were focused and intentional about righteousness, both possessed and lived. The promise of righteousness restored by God animated their lives.
Untold numbers of people who believed God have died without inheriting what He had promised. They lived in the assurance that the God who had created the world, put a promise of hope and restoration in it from the very beginning, rewarded those who sought after Him, was also building a place for them where all of His original designs would be restored.
Each of them was called by God to live their own unique journey of faith. From a worldly point of view, some of them were not called to do much. Joseph simply believed God by asking that his bones be taken to the Promised Land once it was occupied. The parents of Moses rejected the Kings edict and took steps to rescue their son.
Some of those who believed God suffered little. Some saw God do tremendous things on their behalf, and they too did some exceptionally human things. Others suffered greatly. These were mocked, flogged, put into chains, killed, and lived lives of privation and constant threat. All of them had one thing in common. This is a centerpiece to living in the faith to which each of us is called.
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
Notice the strength of the words. Even though they did not receive the promises as yet, they greeted them; they acknowledged that they were exiles, strangers to this world. They were in this world, but they were citizens of another world, much more important to them. If they had valued this world as equal to or even, more important, they could have built a life that prioritized it: “they would have had opportunity to return.” They believed God, embraced His promise, and set their eyes upon the heavenly promise, a promise of full restoration to the righteousness, which He has promised.
The cost was never too high, or unreasonable. Even when painful, or demanding discipline beyond human expectation: they kept their eyes focused upon God, His creation power, His righteousness, and His promise.
How unnatural is this to the “reasonings” of the world in which we live? A world that has per chance deceived us as well into believing that salvation is only about a world to come. “Someday when I die, I am prepared for heaven, I have escaped hell.”
Instead, in the Bible, salvation is the means by which God restores us to Himself, His designs and prepares us for the world that is to come. Along the way, in this world He calls each of us to believe Him, and live our unique journey in the way in which He designs it. Until, He decides that we have completed our purpose in this world, and He calls us to Himself and the world that He is preparing for us.
That world is the real world. For it is a world free from all of the corruption brought into this one by Satan, and us.
These people in chapter 11 call us to follow them. They, all of them, lived in faith, and died in faith, “not having received the things promised.” For God was not done with this world yet, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” (St Augustine)