The Kingdom Attitudes
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Delivered By
Ben Hopper
Delivered On
January 26, 2014 at 11:30 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 5:1-12
Description
Watch the video of this sermon via our YouTube channel in the video player below.
 
 

 

 

The Context – The Kingdom of Heaven

Most of you have probably heard many sermons from this text, most of which probably exhorted you to do this and do that in order to obtain the blessings mentioned in this passage. Calling the attitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 the “Beattitudes” suggests that these are merely attitudes which any person who lacks them, if they work to embody these character traits and actions, will consequently be blessed. Given the greater context of Matthew's Gospel, however, these are attitudes which identify people who are already members of the kingdom of heaven. The list of Beatitudes are a description of kingdom people.

As Brother Randy pointed out in his message on the Magi on January 5, the first four chapters of Matthew stress Jesus' Messiahship. As the Messiah, He is the one who ushers in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The kingdom of heaven was the focus of Jesus' ministry, and this is seen most clearly in Matthew's gospel which uses the phrase 32 times. John the Baptist declares in Matt. 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We find in Matt. 4:17 Jesus explicitly preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later in verse 23, we see that His proclamation of the “gospel of the kingdom” was coupled with “healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Moving into chapters 5-7, we see an overview of Jesus' gospel message in the Sermon the Mount. In the Lord's prayer in Matt. 6:10, the emphasis is on the kingdom as Jesus prays, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.” In Matt. 10:7 when sending the disciples out Jesus tells them, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” The parables of Jesus in chapters 13, 20, and 22 (13 - sower, tares among the wheat, mustard seed, leaven, hidden treasure in the field, costly pearl, dragnet; 20 - laborers in the vineyard; 22 - marriage feast) of Matthew all help explain the kingdom of heaven.

The context of the Beatitudes, then, is a Gospel message proclaiming the coming kingdom of heaven. Hence, I am calling the Beatitudes the “Kingdom Attitudes” instead. Today's sermon will examine three important aspects of the kingdom.

  1. It's sovereign king

  2. It's subjects

  3. It's substance

The Sovereign King of the Kingdom of Heaven

As previously mentioned, the first four chapters of Matthew establishes Jesus' Messiahship. He is the sovereign king of the kingdom of heaven. As we look at this passage's place in the kingdom of heaven, we should notice Jesus' authority in the first two verses. His position indicates his authority in the passage. First, in verse 1 “he went up on the mountain” or hill, that is he went to a prominent place to be seen. Jesus' “Sermon on the Mount” is one of many great revelations to man given on mountains. The law was given on Mount Sinai. End times prophecy and the Great Commission were given on the Mount of Olives. This sermon, probably the best of all time, is given on an unnamed mountain. Being on a hill or mountain and discussing law and the kingdom would have caused Jesus' hearers to think of Psalm 24:3, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?” as well as Isaiah 2:2 which reads, “Now it will come about that
in the last days
the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains,
and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.” Hills or mountains were often associated with the temple and by delivering His first great sermon on one, Jesus shows His authority.

The second way Jesus shows that He is the sovereign of the kingdom of heaven is that “He sat down” (verse 1). Before the modern classroom, teachers typically sat down when teaching while the students remained standing. We know from other mentions in the Gospels of Jesus' amazing ability to teach. In Luke 2:46-49 at just 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem after Passover to teach in the temple:

At the end of the sermon on the mount in Matt. 7:28-29, the crowds instantly recognized Jesus' authority for we read, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

In saying that “he opened his mouth” Matthew further makes a couple of important points regarding Jesus' authority. At first glance, it may seem redundant that Jesus opened his mouth when speaking. First, this is a Hebrew idiom which indicates that what is about to be said is extremely important. Second, if Jesus did not open his mouth he would have still been teaching. His life and actions are just as important as his message and his death, burial, and resurrection are to our salvation. Third, he is opening his own mouth here. All other prophets throughout history have needed God to open their mouths and speak through them. Jesus, being God himself, did not need such assistance.

A lot of people like what Jesus says in the sermon on the mount, but don't like to think of Jesus as king or lord. According to C.S. Lewis, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. The disciples noticed this and came to Him. 

We have seen the context of the beatitudes is a message concerning the kingdom of heaven and that Jesus is its king. Next, let's look at the subjects of the kingdom of heaven.

The Subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven

These attitudes and actions are not ideals we currently do not possess and need to strive after. They are straightforward descriptions of people in God's heavenly kingdom. Again, I would call them “kingdom attitudes.” Non-Christians cannot said to be truly blessed or possess any of the good things listed alongside the Beatitudes. I can make such a claim, that the Beatitudes are for Christians as a description of true believers, because the text tells us the recipients of the message. In verse 1, we see that “the disciples came to him.” Although crowds were nearby and probably overheard, Jesus primary audience was his disciples. If not, then Jesus could not have used some of the pronouns he uses in his sermon. Use of “you/your” in verses 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16. Not everyone in the crowd was a Christian. Most of them were probably there just to witness another miracle. Since many were not true believers, Jesus could not make such promises to them.

Second, the Beatitudes are a description of subjects of the kingdom because they are not a list of commands. They don't say “Be poor in spirit, merciful, etc.” They are only describing people who have these attitudes. They just are blessed. Also, these attitudes are the preface of a longer sermon. Later in the sermon we see Jesus teaching the proper scope of the law. Instead of starting with commands, Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount with a description of the character of subjects in the kingdom of heaven.

The whole list of Beatitudes mirrors the list of woes pronounced upon the Pharisees in Matthew 23. The Pharisees were unjust, unmerciful, impure in heart, and persecuted the prophets. Just like the beattitudes, the woes pronounced upon the Pharisees identifies them and does not have any inherent commands If he started with commands we may think that doing those commands would grant us entry into the kingdom. He starts with the description to show the great disparity between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of man.

There is a major contrast between the attitudes in the kingdom of heaven and those in the kingdom of man. If I were to ask you what were the quintessential qualities of an upstanding American, what would you say? Ambition, determination, self-reliance, etc. Self-centeredness is the common theme. “I've got to do what's best for me” is the often uttered phrase that sums up this ethos.

Keeping that attitude in mind, let's briefly look at how Jesus describes subjects of His kingdom. The list is progressive; they start with internal states of mind, then outward actions, then responses by others. As the blessed's earthly state descends, their heavenly state ascends.

Looking at verse 3, note that being poor in spirit is the opposite of being spiritually arrogant. It means to accept humbly whatever one's lot is. Paul, in his testimony in Philippians 4:12 displays his poverty of spirit. Those who are poor in spirit recognize their depravity and spiritual “poverty” in relation to God's goodness and richness.

In verse 4, subjects of the kingdom of heaven mourn. Their mourning is not simply a state of depression over everyday events. As the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The mourning described here is mourning over sin.

In verse 5, subjects of the kingdom of heaven are gentle or meek. Meekness does not mean weakness. Perhaps the most best and most succinct way of defining meekness is that it is “power under control.” This verse refers back to Psalm 37:11 which reads, “But the humble will inherit the land
and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” They are calm, relaxed, and easy-going. They do not go out looking to get even or get ahead of others. They don't get bent out of shape when things don't go their way. Instead, they wait their turn which according to this verse is certain to come. It is important to note, however, that a meek person is more likely to be content with whatever they have unlike a greedy, pompous person who is always looking for more for himself.

In verse 6, subjects of the kingdom of heaven hunger and thirst for righteousness. This reminds of just one chapter earlier in Matthew to Jesus' temptation in the wilderness by the devil. In response to the devil's temptation to turn stones into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Christians still need food and water, but our ultimate desire is to obey and worship God.

In verse 7, subjects of the kingdom of heaven are merciful. This should call to mind Jesus' statement in Luke 7:47, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Christians have been forgiven much and consequently should be loving and forgiving to others.

In verse 8, subjects of the kingdom of heaven are pure in heart. This description should cause us to wonder about the composition of the kingdom of heaven due to what we know about mankind's heart in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?” Only those who have been given a new, pure heart can “see God.”

In verse 9, subjects of the kingdom of heaven are peacemakers. Those who desire to make peace among men must first have “peace with God” by being justified by faith (Rom. 5:1).

In verse 10 through 12 we see the consequences of being a subject of the kingdom of heaven while on this earth. Christians are persecuted, insulted, and falsely accused. While members of the kingdom of earth seek to gain favor in the sight of their fellow man, and often find it, Christians are scorned.

Having identified the sovereign and the subjects of the kingdom of heaven, let's now turn to the substance of the kingdom of heaven.

The Substance of the Kingdom of Heaven

Being the first great message of Jesus' earthly ministry, Matthew Henry interestingly notes that it begins with blessings whereas the Old Testament ends with a curse. The meaning of the word “blessed” used so many times in this passage is simply “happy.” It is not a fleeting happiness that changes with circumstances but a deep and lasting joy. God does not want His people to be miserable for misery's sake. Jesus Himself said that He came into the world that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” Those who possess these kingdom attitudes will be comforted, receive mercy, inherit the earth, etc. Human wisdom would say that people who possess these attitudes would be losers and not leaders. In God's economy, however, the “last shall be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16).

Notice the construction of the sentences. They are somewhat passive. You would expect a set of instructions on how to be happy to contain a list of things to do. Do this and that and you will achieve happiness. However, in this passage, those who are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful, etc., do not do so in hopes of being blessed, per se. Their blessedness is not a prize which they win for their actions. Jesus doesn't say “Because you are poor in spirit, you will have the kingdom of heaven.” Instead they just are blessed. Blessedness is a state of being that accompanies these attitudes. The world may think that by being strong in spirit and merciless that one can attain wealth and power, but this passage suggests that blessings stem from being just the opposite. Instead of striving for worldly gain in worldly ways, Jesus teaches us that true happiness is the result of a morally superior lifestyle. Human wisdom says to work hard and strike down everyone in your path to happiness, but Jesus says to be merciful and you will experience blessedness. It seems then that instead of pursuing happiness directly by typical, worldly endeavors, we should just obey God and trust that we will find joy and sanctification in doing His will.

Conclusion

Many have looked at the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 as saying that Christians are to be nice people and nothing else. A cursory reading of this text tells us as much. This passage is very radical in its teaching, however, because it points to Christ as the king of the kingdom of heaven and it describes the subjects of that kingdom. Certainly, being agreeable and friendly and nice results from following the instructions of this passage, but there's more to it than that.

The Beatitudes are not a list of “spiritual laws” or a moral code that if followed will make you rich, successful, and happy. Sure, there is a stark difference between how to be successful in the kingdom of man and the kingdom of heaven. One of the underlying principles to the whole list is that seeking earthly good by earthly means is futile. If we say that the Beattitudes are Christian laws, then we turn the gospel of the kingdom of heaven on its head. The gospel is all of grace. We don't attain the kingdom by any of our own doing. It is only by the grace of God in salvation that we can possess these attitudes and their corresponding blessings. Jesus is the embodiment of the Beatitudes. Was there ever a more mournful scene than that outside Lazarus' tomb when Jesus wept? Could anyone be more meek than our Lord when he was whipped and beaten? It is my sincere hope and prayer that everyone here would have faith in Jesus' perfect life and death and be among the blessed subjects of the kingdom of heaven.

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