The Citizens of the Kingdom
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Matthew 5. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you, or there is a stack of Bibles at the back, if you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Matthew 5, this morning.
Last week, we started a new sermon series on the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is a new term for you, or if you have never really thought that much about it, throughout this series, we will be looking at what the Kingdom of God is and what bearing it has on our lives, today.
And the definition for the Kingdom of God that we will be working with is that the Kingdom of God is the sovereign rule of God, through Jesus Christ, which is both a present reality and a future hope.
And this sounds like a contradiction, right? How can something be present and future? How can something be now and not yet? And the way we explained this is that the Kingdom of God is something we see evidence of, now, but it is also something that we hope in, later.
Helena, after the service last Sunday, mentioned how she thought that this sounded a lot like an engagement. When Helena and I got engaged, it did not mean that we were immediately married. We were certainly one step closer to marriage, but we weren’t married, yet.
Getting engaged doesn’t mean that you are immediately married and that you can experience all the benefits of the marriage, now, but it does mean you are headed in that direction. And the evidence of it, now, is in the engagement ring and the planning of the wedding.
Likewise, the Kingdom of God is a “now, not yet” Kingdom, where we see evidence of the Kingdom of God breaking into our ordinary world, now, with the promise of the consummation of the Kingdom, later.
And we also looked at how Christ is the King of the Kingdom of God. We can so easily become enthusiastic about Jesus, right? But so often, the Jesus we are enthusiastic about is not who Jesus really is.
And what we believe about Jesus is that He is the rightful King of the universe, who gave up His right, in order to take on the form of a servant, to die on a cross for the ransom of many, and who was raised to back to life as the risen King.
This Jesus is the King of the Kingdom, who will one day return to make all things right. And if our enthusiasm is for a Jesus other than this, then our enthusiasm is for a Jesus who does not exist.
And then, lastly, we looked at how the Kingdom of God is not a place, it’s not a people, it’s the sovereign rule of God over all things.
There is a quote by Dutch theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper, which perfectly sums up the sovereign rule of Christ. Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
There is the temptation to think that, because there is injustice in the world or because there is sickness or because there is death, Christ isn’t sovereign over all and His rule doesn’t amount to much.
But we believe in a God on His throne, amen? Even when things seem out of control and even when things just aren’t right in the world, we believe that God has dwelt among His people, that He has gone to the cross, that He has borne our transgressions, and that He has defeated sin, Satan and death on the cross.
This is the King, who laid down His life for His subjects, so that all those who believe in Jesus can belong to the Kingdom—the rule—of God.
This is the Kingdom of God that is available for all. And in the passage that we will look at, this morning, we will see what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We will see a picture of the ideal person committed to following Christ, as ones who live in the world, under the rule of God.
Now, what I want to avoid is a kind of moralism to come out of this. By moralism, I simply mean the belief that says, “In order for me to be loved and accepted by God, here is a list of behaviours that I must conform to.” It’s the mentality that says, “If I behave this way, then God will bless me.”
And I don’t want us to leave here thinking that we just need to be better versions of ourselves, and then we will be good with God. That’s not what Scripture teaches. So, I want to make sure we avoid the temptation to think that way, when we are given a list of good things to live out as followers of Christ.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
What I want to lay out for us, this morning, is God’s good design in how His people—the citizens of His Kingdom—are to live. For what reason? So that we, who have been loved and set free from our sins by the blood of Jesus, might be a Kingdom that reflects the King.
And I know that this pushes against our natural autonomy, right? I mean, who knows what's best for me other than me. And yet, the God who loves us and who has called us to Himself, desires to see us flourish as citizens of His Kingdom.
So, if you have your Bibles opened to Matthew 5, we will begin reading in verse 1: “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This passage is the beginning of a long section of Jesus’ teaching, in what is called the Sermon on the Mount. And if I could summarize what Jesus is laying out for us here, it would be that true transformation into a citizen of the Kingdom, happens from the inside-out. This isn’t outward behaviour modification. No, if we truly want to live the Kingdom life, then our heart needs to change.
So, we are going to take this line by line. And as we go through this, we will see our need for God to do a heart-changing work in us.
Look at verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It seems like an interesting place for Jesus to start, doesn’t it? What does being poor have to do with the Kingdom of God? And why does it seem like Jesus is saying that we need to be poor in order for us to receive the Kingdom of God?
Well, what is one significant characteristic of the poor? They're needy, right? They’re totally dependent upon someone else, because they don’t have an abundance of resources.
So, to be poor in spirit, means that you are spiritually bankrupt. You are as dirt poor, spiritually, as you can possibly be. It’s not like you have a little bit of currency to get by, you have nothing, spiritually. That’s poor in spirit.
Now, here is the reality: We are all, by nature, poor in spirit. We are all spiritually bankrupt. We are all spiritually needy people, totally dependent upon Someone else for help. This is all of us. Everyone is born equally and utterly poor in spirit. But not everyone is “blessed.”
We are all poor in spirit, but blessed are those who feel it, who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy—their need for a Saviour from their sinful condition. Blessed are those who bring their empty hands—their spiritual bankruptcy—to God. Blessed are they, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
I have heard a few people ask, “Isn’t Christianity a crutch for people who can’t make it on their own?” And my answer to that is, “Yes.” Christianity isn’t for the strong; it’s for those who know they are weak. Christianity is absolutely a crutch, because those who know they need it, depend on it.
In Mark 2, the Pharisees, the religious elite of the day, were grumbling and complaining that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors. And in verse 17, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In other words, the only people who will ever come to Jesus are the sick—those who know that they are spiritually and morally crippled.
And blessed are the poor in spirit—the weak, the weary, the worn, those who know they can’t make it on their own—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Verse 4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
This actually goes along with the previous verse. How does mourning lead to comfort? Well, when we grieve our sin, when we cry out to God for mercy, He responds to us with words like that of Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I read that in my devotions this week, and it was such a comfort to me. You see, God is not some cosmic killjoy, who commands us to do certain things and to not do other things, arbitrarily, and who is waiting for us to mess up, so that He can punish us. No, God is wooing us to the path of life.
If you want to know what the good life is, it’s not bigger, better, faster, stronger, it’s life within the will of God. And we know this, right? We often stray from the good that God desires for us and knows what’s best for us, into what we think is best for us. But there comes a point when we realize that God was actually right.
And we rightly confess that God’s way is the better way, and what we receive from God is not shame and guilt and “you should have known better;” what we receive is incredible mercy and grace. We don’t receive what we should receive, instead we receive comfort in the arms of a good God who desires the best for His children.
And I see this shortcoming in myself, as I deal with my own children. I have lost it on Liam, for some things he has done, that were not a big deal. I did not show comfort; I showed anger. And it wasn’t because he strayed off the path of the good life that I am trying to lead him on; it was more or less because of something that bothered me.
We put God on display for the world, by how we respond to our children and by how we respond to each other. How are we presenting God? Are we giving people a picture of an angry God? An apathetic God? A spiteful God?
When we, who are poor in spirit, mourn over our sin—our spiritual bankruptcy—the assurance we have is that we will be comforted by the God of all comfort. But even our present comfort is a taste of the comfort to come, when there will be no more mourning and no more tears, for the former things will have passed away.
Jesus continues, in verse 5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The definition of someone who is meek is someone who is humble, gentle, and mild. If you have been made aware that you are poor in spirit and you mourn over your sin, the good news is that you will be saved. But do you know what? It wasn’t you who did that.
Those who are meek are those who recognize that it was God who called them, it was God who saved them, and it was God who even gave them the faith to believe in Him—that this was not a result of anything they had done, but was a result of the complete grace and work of God. This is the meek.
And how they inherit the earth is through the work of the truly Meek One, who would suffer wrong, who would be falsely accused, who would be reviled, who would be beaten and scourged, who would be sentenced to death, and who would suffer and die on a cruel, Roman cross, and whose response would be: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The One who had every right to fight back, the One who had every right to speak up against the injustice that was being dealt Him, the One who had every right to be judged fairly, gave up His right, to pay our sin debt, so that all those who trust in Him would inherit, not just the earth, but all things, as heirs of the King.
I read a quote, this week, that said: “Meekness isn’t weakness; it’s strength under control.” And I like that. Meekness isn’t weakness; it simply acknowledges that they are where they are as a result of the work of God, and not because of anything they have done. Blessed are the meek.
Verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
We read, last week, about Jesus feeding the five thousand. All there was for food was five loaves of bread and two fish, but Jesus multiplied it, so that everyone there could have their fill. And just like how Jesus provided physical food for their bellies, He also provides spiritual food for their souls.
And in John 4, Jesus, a Jewish man, asks for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman. Crossing all sorts of cultural boundaries, Jesus offers her something more than water to quench her soul, offering her living water that would make her never thirst, again.
I have something called hypoglycemia. If I don’t regularly eat, or if my diet consists of a lot of sugar, I crash. I found this out, working at Walmart. Every day, at lunch, I would drink a bottle of Coca-Cola, and then half an hour later, I would almost pass out. So, I learned quick: Cut the Coca-Cola and eat regularly.
Jesus is saying those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. If you’re starving or parched, spiritually, then you need to eat and drink what Jesus is offering. You need the bread that multiplies and the water that will make you never thirsty. In other words, you need Jesus.
And the way to get Jesus is to dig into the Word of God. And don’t go for the spiritual candy floss, the spiritual Coca-Cola, like the one verse, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s in the Bible and it’s good, but it won't be enough to whet your appetite. If you're starving, then you need to dig in and get full on the Word of God. What you need in order to have your fill, is in here. It’s the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Eat and drink and be satisfied, Jesus is saying.
Verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Once we have eaten and drunk our fill, then we need to work off the calories. We need to put into practice what satisfied our hunger and thirst for righteousness. It does us no good to let nutritional meals sit in us; we need to work it off.
And when we talk about being merciful, we are talking about having compassion for someone else, especially one who has wronged us. Now, it’s easier to show compassion for people and causes we like, but to show compassion for someone we don’t like? And yet, Jesus is saying that this is vital to the Christian life.
To make the point: Dr. R. Kent Hughes writes, “If we have no mercy toward those who are physically and economically in distress, we are not Christians. Notice I did not say we become Christians by showing mercy toward the unfortunate, but that we are not believers if we are unwilling to show mercy to them.”
I want you to hear me: We do not become Christians by the way we live our lives. That’s salvation by works. No, we become Christians by grace alone through faith alone. But, that will also affect how we live our lives.
And this is where the Word of God presses in: If belief does not lead to practice, then it is not right belief. An unmerciful life will not be the result of a life lived in full surrender to Jesus Christ; it will be the result of a wrong belief in the gospel.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, not because they are merciful, but because of the mercy that has been shown to them.
Verse 8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
To be pure, in the way the word is used here, is to be free from guilt and sin. For those who have been set free from the bondage of sin and death, our hearts have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. We won’t be perfect, but our attitude will have changed to a need for God.
David, in Psalm 51:10, prays to God: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
This is more than a change in outward behaviour; this is a heart change. This is a heart that desires to live fully for Jesus. And the result of the cleansing work of God in our life, when we ask Him to give us a singleness of heart towards Him, will be the inevitable privilege of seeing God.
Verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
This is so rich. So, last week, we looked at how the Jews were expecting the militant Jesus to come, and not the Jesus who would come to give His life as a ransom for many. The Jews wanted to make Jesus, King, so that He would conquer their enemies. Even some of Jesus’ own disciples were among those who wanted to see the Roman Empire, overthrown.
Now, imagine everyone’s surprise when the promised Messiah doesn’t fight back when He is arrested, He doesn’t plead His case in court, and He doesn’t run away before His crucifixion.
Ephesians 2:7 says that Jesus came and preached peace to the those who were far off and peace to those who were near. There was animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. And through the peaceful mediation of Jesus, all those who trust in Jesus, from all walks of life, are brought near to each other and to God. We are all equal at the foot of the cross.
And the result of the peacemakers is that they shall be called “sons of God.” How we respond to the people around us, in times of conflict or argument, reflects on our heavenly Father.
Finally, verse 10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The greatest pervasion to the gospel, today, is the notion that following Christ will make healthy, it will make wealthy, and it will make you prosperous. Listen to me: Following Christ does not guarantee that you will be healthy. In fact, I look at these verses, and I think the exact opposite is what we should expect.
Let me illustrate this: Every disciple of Jesus dies badly. They are beheaded, they are crucified, they are burned alive, they are stoned to death, they are beaten. John, the last surviving apostle, was boiled in oil, but didn’t die, so they exiled him to an island, where he would die, later.
In Acts 5, the apostles are arrested for speaking about Jesus. And their response to the Jewish Council was that God has exalted this Jesus as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses to these things.”
Do you know what the Council does to them? They beat them and charged them to not speak about Jesus. And do you know what the apostles did? Verse 41: They rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They're stumbling out of the Council, they're not able to walk, and they're rejoicing for the privilege to suffer for Christ.
Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church, said this: “The message of Scripture and the gospel of Christ is not that, in following Jesus, everything goes right, but that He is enough, no matter what happens.”
We should expect to be misunderstood, we should expect to stand out, we should expect to be falsely accused, for righteousness’ sake, and we should question why these things aren’t happening to us, if they aren’t happening to us.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I just want to reiterate this: What Jesus is giving us is not a list of behaviours to check off, so that me and God will be on good terms. What Jesus is giving us is a long list of things that point out to us, how broken we are, how in need we are, and how incapable we are.
None of this is able to be accomplished on our own or in our own power. All of this is possible, if we acknowledge our neediness and ask the Spirit of God to change us from the inside-out. It’s the only way to belong as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We can’t be a citizen of the Kingdom, if we don’t surrender all to the King. Does that make sense?
And as the Church begins to surrender themselves to their King, we will see a Kingdom on earth that reflects the King in heaven. And since this is a “now, not yet” Kingdom, the world will see evidence of the extraordinary breaking into the ordinary, by our willingness to step into Jesus, at every turn, especially when we mess up.
This is more than just atoning for past mistakes. Like, if you know you’ve been unmerciful to a particular person, this isn’t saying that you just need to be more merciful to them in the future, because you likely won’t be, if we’re being honest.
Rather, this is a daily stepping in to Jesus, asking Him to be for us and do for us what we cannot be and do, ourselves. This is asking Jesus, every morning, when we wake up, “Will you shape me? Will you change me? Will you continue to help me? Will you show your mercy to this person through me?”
And as we continue to step in to Jesus, we will see, not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of the people around us, what it looks like to belong to the Kingdom of God. Let’s pray…