Life in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12)
Topic: Worship Passage: Matthew 5:1–5:12
NOTE: The sermon was not recorded on February 16, 2020. We have included Pastor Matt's notes here in lieu of the audio recording.
Life in the Kingdom
This morning, we begin the teaching ministry of Christ. Last week, we saw a general introduction to that ministry—it is the ministry of the kingdom of heaven. Christ’s earthly ministry is the inauguration—the beginning and entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5–7 answers the questions: What is life like in the kingdom of heaven now? What will it be like in eternity? How are we to live in it now? Who are we as citizens of this kingdom? And if this is a new kingdom, is there a new law? What does the law of Moses have to do with this new kingdom? This morning, we will consider the Beatitudes, where, after a brief introduction to the entire sermon on the mount, Christ begins to teach. This introduction to the Sermon on the Mount has two important features. First, Christ goes up on a mountain to deliver this sermon, and this is a recapitulation of Moses at Mt. Sinai. Christ himself goes up the side of a hill to look down at the people and declare to them the law of the kingdom of heaven.
Second, Christ is not only speaking to the twelve disciples but to a multitude that is already following him at this point in his ministry. We know this from the description of the crowds found in Matthew 7:28. This was not the private teaching on the kingdom to a select few but a broadcast of the kingdom to any who would hear it. While the Beatitudes could easily make a 9 or 10-week sermon series, this morning, we are going to treat them more generally. What do they mean taken together?
I. Life in the kingdom is hard right now.
Life in the kingdom is hard right now, and our own experiences bear this up. It hardly needs to be pried from our text. Indeed, Christ describes the citizens and recipients of this blessed state as the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake —those who are reviled, persecuted, and falsely accused. Even the positive descriptors here testify to a negative context. If we are meek, it is because the world is filled with pride. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, it is because we are so unrighteous. If we are merciful, it is because there is so much injustice to be merciful toward! If we are pure in heart it, is in contrast to the wickedness around us. If we are peacemakers, it is because there is so much strife. We live in a world that is broken by sin. We live in a world where death reigns over those who are perishing. We live in a world where those who are perishing hate those who are being saved and will do all in their power to destroy the people of God. We live in a world where those who are being saved cannot themselves seem to live as they ought because we are constantly facing temptation and encumbered by this body of death—desires which are themselves sinful. We are too often dragged by our own affections, almost as if against our will, to do the things that in our Spirit we hate but in our flesh we desire.
Life in the kingdom is hard right now. Christianity admits this—it doesn’t hide it or pretend otherwise. If “Christianity” is offering your best life now, then it is a worthless religion and not worthy of your time or attention.
Life in the kingdom is hard right now. Christ knows this, and we can be comforted by the fact that he knows and has even ordained this. Our God is perfectly in control. He is sovereign over all things. But what he has ordained in his perfect wisdom and love is nonetheless hard for us right now.
II. Life in the kingdom is partially blessed right now.
Life in the kingdom is partially blessed right now because great as our current blessings are, they are not yet fully realized. There is more to come. Notice that our text says, “Blessed are...” We are blessed now.
In what sense are we blessed now? First, in the sense that the blessing to come is our hope now. We are blessed now because of what we know will be ours in the end. That hope, because we know it cannot be disappointed, is the source of our joy and peace now, despite our circumstances. Yes, we grow weary in doing good. Yes, we grow weary in sinning. Yes, we cling to Christ in the midst of the storm and cry out, “How long?!" But in the midst of the weariness and the crying out, we know in our hearts that help must come. From the valley of the shadow of death we lift up our eyes to the hills from whence our help comes. Our help comes from the Lord. This unshakeable knowledge sustains us: the Spirit of God is living in us as a pledge—as a guarantee—that sometimes whispers, and sometimes shouts, to us in the midst of the pain and loss and frustration and fear, “You are a child of the King; he knows your weakness, he knows your suffering, he is coming again, and you will one day look upon him in the land of the living. Cling to Christ.”
We are also blessed now because, in a spiritual sense, we have already taken possession of the kingdom. “… for theirs isthe kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom is not something coming someday. It arrived with Christ’s earthly ministry and is even now going out into the world as the gospel is preached. It is spiritual now, and therefore in one sense invisible, but it is embodied in the Christian and in the Church. Our congregation is an outpost of the kingdom of heaven and we are citizens in it. If you are blessed by your membership at All Saints—and I hope you are—then you are blessed by the kingdom of heaven. More than this, though, you are blessed now because you are already in possession of the Spirit. This same Holy Spirit is the pledge and guarantee of the salvation that is ours in Christ who is himself our greater blessing. The Spirit is life, and because we are in possession of the Spirit of God, we are no longer dead in our sins but alive in Christ Jesus! We are blessed now because the Holy Spirit is ours now, and he is at work in us in power and for our good
So, let us not lose hope or lose sight of what will be ours. And let’s give thanks to God for what is ours right now—the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the body of Christ and the gospel preached.
III. Life in the kingdom will be perfectly blessed forever.
There is also a future aspect in our passage. “They shall be comforted… they shall inherit the earth… they shall be satisfied… they shall receive mercy… they shall see God… they shall be called sons of God.” From the 2nd “Blessed” to the 7th “Blessed,” the promises held out are expressed in future terms. We might be able to argue that some of these things are at least partially true now, but given the tenor of the whole list—that most of the items can only be fulfilled on the last day and all of the items receive their fullest fulfillment on the last day—I don’t believe that those partial senses are what Christ has in mind here. Instead, I believe he is focused on the fullest sense in which these things will one day be true. Brothers and sisters, this kingdom as we have it now is not its eternal condition. Christ says, “Yes, it is hard, but all will be made right in the end. I will make all things new.” I believe CS Lewis is right when he says in The Great Divorce, “At the end of everything the saved will look back upon their lives and say, ‘I have always been in heaven.’” I don’t believe Lewis means it literally or existentially. But he means that looking back on all our suffering from the perspective of heaven, we will come to such a perfect understanding of it and all the good God designed it to accomplish, that it will make up for the pain and suffering and hardship—that it will not merely make up for it as though some weight has been placed on the scales to bring them into balance, but the pain and suffering and hardship itself will be seen for the good that God intended it to be and which it in fact was, even though on this side of heaven we cannot comprehend it. Yes, this means we have hope now, but it also means that what we are enduring now has eternal value. Christian, everything we are currently undergoing is an investment in the kingdom and serves a kingdom purpose. We may not always see that purpose clearly, but it is not always ours to see. Instead, we trust our Master when he tells us that this is for our good and for his glory. We trust that he is wise. We trust that he is perfectly good. We trust that he loves us truly and perfectly. And so, to paraphrase the words of missionary Jim Elliot, we are giving up what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose. Or better yet, to use the words of Christ, we are storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven. We are building houses on the rock. We are taking up our crosses to follow him.
Life in the kingdom is hard right now, but God sustains us through our trials by giving us a hope that cannot be disappointed—we have already entered into the kingdom and are already entering into the blessings of that kingdom. And even our trials now are serving God’s purposes. And one day, we will enter into that fullness of the perfection of the kingdom of heaven where we will continue forever in the presence and perfect fellowship of our God and Savior. Hold fast to that hope. Christ is coming again.