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An Introduction to the Kingdom of Heaven

Date: Nov. 1, 2015

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 5:1-16

Key Verse: Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Last week, we learned about a great prophecy that was fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Matt 4:15,16)” As we are going through the book of Matthew, this is a very exciting time. In the darkness of this world, a light has dawned, light has broken forth, a new kingdom is emerging, with the arrival of the chosen One of God, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the Lord Jesus Christ. After his triumph over temptation and withdrawal to Galilee, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What is this kingdom? What would it be like? Would it be like David’s kingdom in the days of old? Or would it be like the Roman Empire of the times of Jesus? What does the kingdom of heaven look like? People are still asking this question today, maybe you are now, as they had when Jesus came.

Look at v.1, “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.” So, you want to learn about his kingdom, the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says, “Come, let me show you,” and he takes you up to this mountain. His disciples came to him, and sat around him. Jesus saw the crowd, but he went up to teach his disciples, those close to him. He will teach primarily to his disciples, but anyone from the crowd was welcome to come, listen and learn. They just had to go up the mountain. You too, will have to follow Jesus and learn from him, and hopefully that is why you all wake up early in the morning, get ready, and come to church, some from down the road, some from several miles away, and some by bus. It takes effort, but may you be rewarded with the knowledge of his word. In this chapter begins what is called the Sermon on the Mount, and the great subject of the sermon is the kingdom of God, also known as the kingdom of heaven. You can think of the Sermon of the Mount as the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. From ch. 5 through ch. 7, Jesus will talk about the nature of the kingdom of God, the laws and practices of the kingdom of God, and at the end how to enter into this kingdom. Today we will study the first part of chapter 5, and get an introduction to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What does the kingdom of heaven look like? How near is it? It’s here. Jesus will tell us what the kingdom of heaven looks like, by telling us about its people and its purpose. You can learn a lot about a nation by the people within it, and what it does, so I pray you will also learn about the kingdom of God by its people and its purpose. More than that, I pray if you haven’t already, that you may desire to enter the kingdom of God, or if you are already a citizen, then to see how you might continue to grow in living a life worthy of the calling you have received.

So first, let’s have a look at the people of the kingdom of heaven, from verses 1-12. Look at v.3-5, as Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount: “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.” Jesus begins his discourse on the kingdom of heaven with “Blessed.” The first 9 verses in his sermon start with “Blessed,” that is why they are called the Beatitudes, because I think that word in Latin means blessed. At first I thought it meant something like beautiful, or the “Be-attitudes,” like attitudes you should have, but beatitude means blessing, so these are called the beatitudes. The word blessed is given 9 times in succession. That will tell you immediately what type of kingdom this is. It is a blessed kingdom of blessed people. The word “blessed” means to be happy, to be fortunate, and isn’t that what everyone wants? We want to be happy, and those in the kingdom are happy. Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are meek. How are those blessings at all? Aren’t blessings things like money, power, and fame? Doesn’t that go to the people who have talent, looks and or brains? Movie and music celebrities, the founders of Facebook, Google or Amazon, star athletes, don’t they have it all? These are hardly people who seem poor in spirit, or meek. They are self-made go getters who seize the day. But you hear of many who have ruined their lives or careers in scandal, many athletes who say, “don’t turn me into a role model.”

Not everyone can get into top 1% of society, not everyone has the talents, looks or brains to be a part of the world’s elite. But the kingdom of heaven does not require you to be the world’s elite. In fact those who are in the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit, and the meek. They are often found in the poorest of society, or among the regular joes. Even the rich can be poor in spirit, but sadly that is often the exception rather than the rule. But the kingdom of heaven and its blessings are open to the common man, folks like you and me. So how are folks who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are meek blessed? They are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, and they will inherit the earth. They may not be blessed with riches, though God knows they need money. Very often the rich are never satisfied, hardly comforted, and in the end, can they keep their riches? What will they do with all that they’ve earned after they die? But the poor, the mourning and the meek will inherit the earth.

Now we cannot read v.3-5 as “ways to be saved, or to get into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not telling us how to be saved, Jesus is talking about those who are saved. We cannot make ourselves poor in spirit so we can receive the kingdom of God. In fact pride resides in our hearts. We cannot force ourselves to mourn, and being meek just seems to go against our natural tendencies. Then how can we enter the kingdom of heaven? It is only through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)” Jesus is the only one who has the power to bring us into his kingdom, and we are called to repent of our sins and believe in him. When we believe in Jesus, we acknowledge that we have sinned, and that only he can save us from our sins by his death on the cross. He and he alone has the power to transform us into children of God, children of the kingdom. It is not a physical transformation, but a spiritual one. In Christ we receive a new spirit, and have a new life. Children of the kingdom are poor in spirit, because they know there is no good thing in them. They mourn for their sins and for the sins of others. They mourn that because of their sins, Jesus was crucified. But they are comforted because the Savior rose again from the dead.

And they are meek because they are poor in spirit, so they trust in God. To be meek means to be mild, and gentle. But not in the sense of being weak or a pushover. To be meek is more similar to being submissive, as a student is to a teacher, or a son is to a father, or a slave is to a master. A soldier who follows orders and does his duty is not considered weak, but meek. So the meek entrust their lives to the Father, and they will inherit the earth. Today the whole earth is ruled by secular powers, most if not all of the nations are unbelieving. But one day the whole earth will belong to the kingdom of God, and it will be given to the children of the kingdom, like an inheritance. This also suggests that the children of the kingdom will live in that time, in eternity, to receive the promise. 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.

Being poor in spirit, mourning, and meek leads to another blessing – look at v.6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Imagine that. What if the world hungered and thirsted for righteousness – what a different world we will live in! This hunger and thirsting refers to craving. The world does not crave righteousness. The world craves money, power, fame. The world craves the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. The world craves all that is selfish, and it can never be filled. It is never satisfied. But those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who crave righteousness, they will be filled, meaning, they will be satisfied. This is truly a blessing, and I can see how this can make you happy, because you are satisfied. What is this craving for righteousness? A person in the world might crave for righteousness. They of course want to see justice. They want others to do good to them, and to do good to others. Sadly, this cannot always be satisfied because of sin. Righteousness is more than justice, and in doing good to one another. Jesus did not say, blessed are those who don’t lie. Blessed are those who don’t steal. Jesus went deeper than just outward behavior – he went to the source of where good things come from: righteousness. What is righteousness? It is perfection. It is absolute goodness. It is right-ness. And we can only hunger and thirst for true righteousness if we are poor in spirit, mourning, and meek. We crave righteousness when we know that our souls are bankrupt, unable to do any good. We crave righteousness because we mourn for all that is wrong due to sin. We crave righteousness because in our meekness, we understand that only God is righteous, and trust him to give us righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. God satisfies our craving by making us right through the forgiveness of our sins. He not only cleanses our sins, but he fills us with righteousness. 2 Cor 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God makes us his righteousness because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus himself promised that after he rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he will send us his Holy Spirit (John 16:7). When we believe in Jesus he will fill us the Holy Spirit, that is the spirit of truth, it is a spirit of righteousness and holiness. It is the Spirit of God himself, the infinite, eternal Spirit of God comes to live within us. The world cannot satisfy our hunger and thirst for anything, but Jesus satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness. He said once to a Samaritan woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14).” Is this desire in you? Is your spirit poor, do you hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God?

In the next 3 blessings Jesus shows the natural outworking of inner righteousness. It’s interesting he gives the beatitudes in this order, because they seem to build on each other. He doesn’t start with “Blessed are the merciful,” but he begins with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” then moving to “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and coming now to “Blessed are the merciful.” To me this suggests that these are things that are borne out of righteousness, like fruits working themselves out, rather than a list of “things to do.” Look at v.7-9, “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.” To be merciful means to show mercy, but also to be active in kindness, that is, actively helping those who are in need, or in trouble. To be pure in heart – the heart is where thoughts, words and actions come from, so to be pure in heart is to be unselfish, to desire the best for others, and to desire to do good to them. To be a peacemaker is similar to mercy, it is to be actively making peace. It includes, but is more than just loving peace, or desiring peace. It is the practice of making peace between you and another, maybe taking the first step to apologize, or making peace between others, but probably and mostly making peace between men and God by preaching the good news about Jesus Christ.

Wouldn’t the world also be such a better place if people practiced these things: to be actively kind, pure hearted, and actively peacemaking? The blessings that follow also indicate that these are the fruits of the faithful, as the blessings are connected with God himself. The merciful are shown mercy, in the spiritual sense and as Jesus will teach later, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt 6:14-15).” God repays for kindness as well, so as you are kind to others, so God will reward your kindness (Ruth 2:12). The pure in heart will see God. God is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous (Prov 15:29). Jesus might have also borrowed this language from Ps. 24:3-5, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.” The pure in heart may not see God with their eyes yet, but they see him working in their lives, and one day, they will see God face to face. Only the pure in heart, who have entered into the kingdom of God, will see God face to face. And peacemakers will be called children of God. God adopts the peacemakers, they are his children, and they receive all the rights, benefits and privileges of sonship with God. A child receives an inheritance from the father, but also, the father cherishes, protects, provides, cares for and listens to his children. All of these blessings are not payments for work, they are all free blessings by the grace of God. They are all given to us, bestowed upon us, children of the kingdom, by God’s grace. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Keep that in mind, as now, we come to the ultimate blessing. Or, at least, it’s the blessing Jesus takes 3 verses to explain. If you thought the other blessings were great, here’s the big one. Can we all please read v.10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What?! Really?! The ultimate blessing is persecution because of righteousness? How? Why? What does that mean? This may be because this is the hardest experience a Christian will face. That may be why this is the last of the beatitudes, because you may need all of those blessings to get to this point. A child of the kingdom of heaven will be persecuted because of righteousness. Notice: because of righteousness. You will not be blessed if you are persecuted because you are a weirdo (joking, even I’m a weirdo). You will not be blessed if you are persecuted because of a crime, or some scandalous sin. But you will be blessed if you are persecuted for righteousness, that is, in spite of being kind, and pure, and peacemaking, people will still revile and harass you. Why would they do this? As we heard in 1 John 3:1, the world does not know Jesus. The world is in darkness and sin, and opposes Jesus. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice the parallel to the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus bookends his beatitudes (like 2 covers on a book) saying, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In the first, those who are poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven. In the last, those who are persecuted for righteousness, may have become poor for the sake of Christ. They may have lost possessions, homes, jobs, relationships with family or friends. Because of persecution for righteousness, they may have lost some things, but they are promised the kingdom of heaven.

It may be hard to understand or accept why this is considered a great blessing, so Jesus expands on this in the following two verses. Notice also that he transitions from speaking generally to speaking directly to his disciples that are around him. He speaks specifically to those close to him from here until the last verse in today’s passage, v.16. Look at v.11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” He tells them “Rejoice and be glad.” The King James version translates it as, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad.” When are you exceeding glad? You may be exceeding glad when you ace a tough exam. You may be exceeding glad when you get a nice pay raise, or a good job. Jesus says be exceeding glad when you are persecuted. This is the mark of true blessedness, strength and power. It is to be happiest even when the world is at its worst toward you. Paul writes in 2 Cor 4:7-9, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Jesus said to rejoice, but it is not an empty joy, it is a joy from heaven. And here are the reasons for that joy: first, great is your reward in heaven. I don’t know what the reward is, but it will be great. And coming from the mouth of the Son of God, the one who died and did not spare his own life for me, I don’t need to know exactly what it is; I trust that it will be great indeed, greater than I can probably imagine. Second: for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The prophets are among those in the hall of fame of faith. Among them were Elijah and Elisha who performed great miracles to turn people back to God. There’s Daniel who by God’s power interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and trusted by mighty kings, and Isaiah who wrote about the suffering servant, the Messiah. You are in good company when being persecuted for righteousness, you prove to be a successor of the prophets, having the same faith. You would be counted worthy of suffering for the name of Christ, who himself suffered in order to save us, as as he said, great will be your reward.

We have seen that the people in the kingdom of heaven are humble, kind, pure, peacemaking and patient, most of all they are blessed. Now let’s look briefly at the purpose of the kingdom of heaven. You have seen the beauty with which Jesus laid out the beatitudes, statements with truths so profound. Truths unknown to the world until Jesus uttered those words, truths against the common wisdom of the world, but laid out so simply, each related to another with a slight progression. No one before him or after him has been so masterful with language and truth. It makes me believe even more that Jesus is the Son of God, and these are the words of God. Now Jesus will give 2 metaphors, so common, so simple to understand, yet they perfectly illustrate what he is trying to teach about the purpose of the kingdom of heaven. They are salt and light – they are different from each other, but in the sermon they work harmoniously with each other.

Look at v.13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Salt has a preserving power, and it was used largely to preserve meat so people could eat. I saw a commercial for some naturally harvested sea salt, and there was a quote that said, written during the Roman Empire, “People can live without gold but no one can live without salt.” I think Roman soldiers or people in those times may have been paid in salt, which is actually where we get the word “salary.” Your salary is your salt. That may also be where the expression “Is he worth his salt?” comes from. Salt preserves life, and Jesus said his disciples were the salt of the earth. Sin corrupts and destroys life, but the salt of his disciples, their good deeds, their sound lives and their purity would be preserving influences in the lives of those around them.

There is a warning though. Jesus said, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Though he could make men salt of the earth, Jesus knew what was in a man. He knew the sinful tendencies of man and the temptations in the world, so he had the wisdom and foresight to give them this warning, so that his disciples could be on the watch themselves. In Jesus’ time, the salt that was harvested could go bad, and usually its due to other minerals or things that would corrupt the salt, and it could no longer preserve. It also became harmful to the soil, and made soil infertile, so people could not even dump it in the fields. The salt was only as good as sand, like traction on a wet floor, and dumped on to a road to be trampled. We should be on our guard for corrupting influences, for worldliness or sin that would render us useless. 2 Pet 2:20 says if we fall away we will be worse off at the end then at the beginning. Nobody is perfect, I sin too, every day, some worse than others. But I come back, by God’s grace to Christ, I ask forgiveness, I pray for protection from temptation each day. I strive daily to do right and do good according to his word. God helps me one day at a time, by his grace.

The second metaphor Jesus gives is light. Look at v.14-16. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” As salt preserves life, light powers life. One commentary described it like this: salt is the conservative party, and light is the liberal party. So salt would be like the Republicans and light would be the Democrats in our country today. But instead of being opposed to one another, they work harmoniously. Salt on the one hand preserves life, light, on the other, gives its life for another. A candle burns its wax to give its light. The sun burns its hydrogen atoms to give its light. The Christian is both salt and light, preserving life, but also giving his life as light for others. Notice the progression also from v.14-15. There is the light of the world, the light of a town and the light in a lamp, or a home. Christians are to be lights everywhere; for the world, for their communities, and in their homes.

Jesus also gives a warning to the more light-minded individuals as well, and that is not to hide or conceal the light. Jesus first told his disciples “You are the light of the world.” Jesus also said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So what does that mean then, “You are the light of the world?” It means that we are witnesses to the true light, Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world, but he was only here for a short time, a little over 30 years, and after his death and resurrection, he returned to heaven. But he has given us his light, that we may be the light of the world for him. How do we conceal this light? It is either when we are ashamed or embarrassed to tell people about our faith, or when our actions do not testify to his light in our lives. We shine the light in two ways: one by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to others, and two by our good deeds. We are representatives of Christ here on earth; ambassadors of the kingdom of God. Unbelievers who don’t read the Bible come to their conclusions about God by reading the lives of Christians. Whenever a Christian becomes caught in a sin, the world takes the opportunity to bring reproach and malign the name of God. The faithful disciples should have nothing to be afraid of, those who are poor in spirit, mourning and meek. By the grace given to them by God, they should show kindness, purity and peace to others, letting their light shine by their good deeds so that the Father may be glorified. The good deeds are not to glorify themselves, but God And this is the purpose of the kingdom: to glorify God. The very first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man.” Answer: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

The chief end of man is the glorify God and enjoy him forever. To enjoy God forever, isn’t that a blessing? We enjoy our friends, our families, our spouses and our children. We can also enjoy God forever. We glorify God when we are a blessing to others. We are blessed to be a blessing. This is how the kingdom of God operates. God gave a promise to Abraham way back in the beginning of the Bible referring to his kingdom. From the first man Adam to Abraham, there was not a nation God could call his own. God would establish his kingdom through Abraham, the founder and father of all God’s called out and chosen people. God told Abraham in Gen 12:2-3, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God blessed Abraham, and said he will be a blessing. 2,000 years later, that promise was fulfilled, when Jesus was born from the line of David, from the line of Judah, from Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. And here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus the King inaugurates God’s eternal kingdom, blessing all of its children, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

This has been an introduction to the kingdom of heaven. If you don’t like humility, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking now, you may not like it in kingdom of heaven. If you don’t like to glorify God in all that you do, you may never find joy in the kingdom of heaven. Take note of all the blessings – this is what it will be like in the kingdom of heaven. It is a kingdom of perfect love through humility and meekness, a kingdom of eternal blessedness, eternal joy and happiness, and enjoying God. There will be no more mourning or persecution. God is calling sinners into his kingdom, even to this day. As of now, the world is ruled by unbelievers, but one day Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and establish his eternal kingdom over all of the earth. He is coming with his reward, and will reward all who have been faithful as his light during these times of darkness here on earth. One day soon, my friends, Christ’s great kingdom will come to earth, a kingdom of love and light. If you so desire to be in God’s kingdom, turn, and believe in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not cast out those who come to him in faith. To all those who belong to the kingdom of heaven, be blessed and be a blessing to the glory of God our Father who is in heaven.

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