I have begun teaching the “Sermon on the Mount” to my staff. Last week we covered the overview, who the author of the sermon is, what the social, political, and religious context of the message is, as well as the main idea of the sermon. In chapter 1 of the Gospel of Matthew, we find the miraculous birth of the long awaiting, and foretold Messiah. Matthew explains how Jesus is the long awaited Messiah from the lineage of king David. In chapter 2, we see that the politics of the day were not pro life. People were scared, hurting, and living under a tyrannical government. In chapter 3, John the Baptist comes on the scene preaching repentance and baptism, preparing the way for Christ. There is a religious division among the people. There are all kinds of teachers and teachings about the kingdom of heaven. There is mass confusion and also a longing for a spiritual revival. Many people came to John because he was preaching a practical, powerful message. Jesus also comes to John to be baptized, fulfilling the Law, as He came to do. In chapter 4, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness and defeats the enemy with the Word of God. Then, He begins to preach repentance and the kingdom of heaven while He also calls people to follow Him. Twelve men answer the call and began to follow Him as He begins His public ministry. Word has spread all over Israel about Jesus and huge crowds are seeking after Him to gain something from Him, mostly something physical, like healing or food. This is where Matthew chapter 5 begins, with Jesus teaching both His disciples and the crowds.
After reading Matthew chapters 5-7, you will quickly discover that there are two key words/phrases that permeate the message; righteous (and all of its equivalents) as well as the phrase, the kingdom of heaven. I would like to share the insights that we gained from following these words and phrases throughout the message.
I. The Kingdom of Heaven
According to chapter 5, verse 3, the kingdom of heaven is a reality now. It presently belongs to those who are poor in spirit. For an explanation of poverty in spirit, please see this article. According to Jesus, the kingdom is a reality in which we can live now, not having to wait until we die to find out if we are in or out. Most of the major religions of the world teach that you must do go works to attain the kingdom of heaven and you really do not find out if you are in or out until you die and stand before God. The message of Christianity is different, God comes to you and offers the kingdom now. It is for the poor in spirit, or, in other words, for those who live by the righteousness of God and not their own. The question would then be, “how do I know that I am currently living in the kingdom? What is the proof?”. According to Jesus, in verse 10, those who are in the kingdom will have opposition to their way of life and they will suffer because they are living according to the righteousness of God. As we will see in the next section, the person who lives by the righteousness of God lives a very different lifestyle than the rest of the world around them. The suffering is proof that you are in. In verse 12, Jesus explains that as you suffer for the righteousness of God, you also are storing up rewards for yourself in the kingdom of heaven and that one day you will receive them in full. One of the most shocking revelations for me when studying this message was the fact that Jesus says that there is not equality in the kingdom of heaven. Not everyone will have the same reward in the kingdom. Some will be called least in the kingdom, even though they are in. I have heard many people talk about just wanting to eek in the back door of heaven. That would be enough for them. In this text, there are some who will be least in the kingdom. The question is, “what causes them to be called least?”. Jesus gives the answer. They annul, or change, the smallest of the commandments in the Word of God and they teach other people to do the same. They are making disciples like God wants yet they are not doing it correct. They are doing it their own way and not according to the Word of God. They have the latest and greatest teaching methods, ideas, and philosophies but do not really use the Word of God. Paul makes reference to these people in I Corinthians 3. Then, there are those who will be called great in the kingdom. They do not annul anything in the Word. They receive It just as God gave It. They live by It and teach others to do the same. They make disciples too, but they make them the right way, according to God’s methods as He revealed in His Word.
In chapter 6, those who belong to the kingdom pray that the will of the Lord will be done on the earth as it is in heaven and they live to bring about the will of the Lord on earth as it is in heaven. This is what motivates them to get out of bed every day. If the kingdom belongs to you now, that is what you live for, to accomplish the will of God in your life and extend that will here on earth by teaching others the Word of God (chapter 5) and helping them live it out. As you live for the kingdom here and now, you continue to store up treasures there, treasures that you cannot lose. When the kingdom belongs to you, you do not worry about the necessities of life. You do not simply exist to satisfy your hunger and thirst, where you will sleep and what you will wear. If we are honest, that is what the majority of people in the world live for. When the kingdom belongs to you, you realize that God knows those needs, that they are important, but, the most important is the kingdom and the righteousness that goes along with it. Are you a slave to the righteousness and kingdom of God or to your basic necessities? Which one wins out day by day? Which one do you seek to please by spending the most time satisfying?
In chapter 7, we discover that not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” actually belongs to the kingdom. They serve, they call Him Lord, and they attend worship yet when they stand before Him, His response is “I do not know you and I never knew you”. Those who belong to the kingdom do not practice lawlessness, or in other words, sin. They do not live a lifestyle as one who is a slave to sin. They are in the kingdom and have overcome their slavery to sin through the power of Christ. Those who are in the kingdom now, practice the will of God. These are radical teachings and when Jesus finished His message, the people literally fell over because of what He taught. He rocked their world and turned it upside down. Remember, Jesus first began to preach repentance (a change of mind, a worldview shift, that leads to a change of actions). He begins explaining repentance in the sermon. He just shared things about the kingdom that would cause a change of mind, a worldview shift if believed and accepted. Has something like that ever happened to you? Have you ever had a radical change in the way that you viewed the kingdom of heaven, based on the Words of Jesus Christ (not some alternative view of things)? What does your faith teach about the kingdom, is it something that you can own now or is it something that you have to wait to find out after death if you are in or out? How does God’s righteousness fit in with your view of the kingdom of heaven? Let’s see what Jesus teaches.
It is not enough just to want to be righteous (right with God according to His standards). You have to hunger and thirst for it just like you hunger and thirst for food and water. It is a constant desire. It is what wakes you up in the morning and it is what you live for during the day. When you hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, God will satisfy you. When you live for this righteousness, you will suffer persecution from the people around you, people who think that you take this God stuff too seriously. God is not just a part of your life, something else that you add to your life. God becomes your life. He is the center of all that you do. He is the reason why you do what you do. In verse 20, according to Jesus, there are two different types of righteousness. One kind is the righteousness of man (scribes and Pharisees) and it will not get you in the kingdom. It is self-righteousness. The other kind of righteousness is the righteousness of God, which surpasses the righteousness of man and opens the door to the kingdom of heaven. In fact, this is the theme of the “Sermon on the Mount”, the righteousness of God that opens up the kingdom heaven to you. Both groups have righteousness, both groups are religious, both do good deeds but only one gets in the kingdom. This should be a sobering point for all of us. There are many people in “church” who claim to be righteous (and are correct in there assertion), who serve, and do good works yet they do not belong to the kingdom because they have the righteousness of man and not the righteousness of God. What about you my friend, which righteousness do you have? How can you tell the difference? The answer is in chapter 6.
Jesus teaches us in chapter 6 that the difference between the righteousness of man and of God is the motivation, the why you do what you do. People who have the righteousness of man want to practice that righteousness before men. They do what they do so that they can be seen by others and receive praise. The people who have the righteousness of God do what they do for the Lord and His kingdom. They do not seek approval here because they know that their reward is in the kingdom of heaven. Both pray, both fast, and both give yet their motives are very different. One group lives to store up treasures and receive rewards here on earth from men while the other lives to store up treasures in heaven so that they can be rewarded by the Lord. One group lives in fear and worry of what will happen tomorrow while the other group lives to accomplish the will of the Lord today and does not worry about tomorrow because they know who is in control of tomorrow. Again, Jesus is teaching and what He teaches causes a change of mind, a paradigm shift, or in other words, a worldview change. This is the definition of repentance. The way you view life and the world is radically altered forever. Your motivation for doing what you do is radically changed.
How does Jesus’ message strike you so far? Is it a difficult one? Do you agree with Him? Hang in there, He has so much more to teach us about righteousness, repentance, and the kingdom of heaven. Do you live for the kingdom now? What needs to change? Are you willing to accept Christ’s message as it is? Would you be willing to be totally transformed by the Lord? May He help us understand and live out His message day by day.