Leaving the World for the Kingdom
Leaving the World for the Kingdom
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
Leave worldly wealth for a Divine kingdom.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matt 5:3)
When Jesus speaks of this poverty, the question arises: does He mean a literal, physical poverty, or some kind of spiritual humility? It’s noteworthy that Luke records this statement simply as
“Blessed are you who are poor.” (Luke 6:20)
Jesus elsewhere invokes his disciples to a kind of poverty while they follow Him. Even He Himself is homeless and poor! This is not a need from circumstance, but an elective poverty. Jesus and the disciples don’t have to be poor, but they have chosen to so they can focus on trusting in God and His care.
Kingdom citizens value the Kingdom over earthly riches.
This attitude of voluntary destitution starkly contrasts the religious establishment the Jews were familiar with. The “religious folk” had formed elite classes. They used spirituality as a status.
“Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38–40)
Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who are “poor in spirit,” which is so surprising that He must give an explanation. Nearly all the beatitudes in the Old Testament do not contain an explanation but are intuitive and self-explanatory. Jesus adds one here: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Those who are poor in spirit, who have learned to trust in God and to deny themselves for His sake, are not poor indeed, but are rich. Jesus writes to the church in Smyrna and He praises them:
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty—but you are rich.” (Rev 2:9)
Being “poor in spirit” does not mean you must “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” so that “you will have treasure in heaven” — but God expects you to be willing to (Luke 18:22).
A heart that is unwilling to give up everything physically to serve God is a heart that cannot possess the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees were so unwilling to do this that they scoffed at Jesus’s teaching on material things.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:13–15).
The eternal Kingdom is for you, if you renounce the material, the physical, the temporal, and you take up residency in a country you cannot see (Phil 3:20; Heb 11:13–16).
Leave instant gratification for Divine joy.
“Blessed are they that mourn.” (Matt 5:4)
A similar question comes with the second beatitude: is Jesus saying a blessing upon those who are struggling and going through a hard time, or is He suggesting that we engage in some spiritual mourning process?
We must remember the context and thrust of the Beatitudes as a whole. Jesus is just beginning the Sermon on the Mount, and He is identifying who His disciples can be among the crowds seen in verse one. He is explaining in short form what Kingdom citizens are all about.
So then, just as with the first beatitude, He means it in two senses.
Mourning in this life rarely comes from something good.
- We mourn over pain and over loss.
- We mourn terrible decisions we cannot take back or reverse.
- We mourn changes that can never be restored.
- We mourn broken and damaged relationships.
- We mourn because of the world’s sin and its nasty consequences.
Mourning should come from our own sin.
Our hearts must break over our transgressions. David cried out:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
The religious leaders of the first century were not known for mourning over their sin. In Luke 7, when Jesus ate with Simon the Pharisee, a woman came in who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears. Jesus told Simon a parable about two debtors, one of who owed much, and the other little; the point was that those who recognize their debt to God will appreciate the forgiveness more. Simon showed no remorse for his sins—or even acknowledged that he had sin—but the woman was very sorrowful for hers.
These two types of mourning ought to teach us that joy cannot come out of this world or what it has to offer. The world offers temporary pleasures, short-lived highs dotting the landscape of lows. Mourning will come from this life, and ever moreso if we choose to reject its offerings.
Jesus with each beatitude, subtly calls disciples out of the world, out of cultural worship, out of American political Christianity, out of what I want, out of what you want, and into His service.
Humble submission to Jesus requires you to sacrifice everything else, including the instant gratification and temporary pleasures that this life offers.
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” (Heb 11:24–26)
Seek joy and comfort in Jesus, not in boastfulness, not at the bottom of a glass, not in illicit relationships, not in sin, but in the Savior who promises a lasting, eternal comfort.
Leave temporary prosperity for Divine fulfillment.
“Blessed are the meek.” (Matt 5:5)
Meekness is such a difficult concept to understand and apply. Some translations may say “gentle” or “humble.” Meekness means that you choose to control your passions and your rights. It’s a hard concept to describe with a definition, but easier to understand with an example, so I’ll give you two.
The first example of meekness is Moses. You may have heard that “Moses was the meekest man in all the earth.” That comes from Numbers 12:3, after his own brother and sister slander him for marrying an African woman. In that context, Moses lets God intervene and deal with Miriam and Aaron instead of choosing to defend himself or retaliate.
The other key example of meekness is Jesus.
While the Sanhedrin presented their allegations against Jesus to Pilate, Jesus refused to acknowledge or respond to any of their charges.
“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’
And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer.
Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’
And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed.” (Matt 27:11–14)
Perhaps this silence was because His crucifixion was necessary and He was just waiting to let it happen; I think there’s more to it than that. Jesus does the same thing as Moses. He waives His right to justice and fairness by controlling his emotions and instead trusting in God’s vindication.
People who embody meekness are often told, “Don’t you know that you’ll never get ahead in life like that? You must be willing to get your hands dirty!”
Jesus promises those who are instead willing to keep their hands pure—to those who are meek—that they shall inherit the earth. We can have a special kind of confidence knowing that we are heirs of God, and that the whole earth is His possession (Rom 8:16–17; Exod 19:5).
If you’re willing to give up the success and prosperity the world offers, God offers you so much more.
In verse three, the kingdom is said to be present; “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Yet the other beatitudes are all worded as being future: “they shall be comforted; they shall be filled; they shall see God; they shall inherit the earth.” This suggests that the kingdom and the blessings it offers are both present in the church, and yet to be fulfilled in eternity.
A favorite quote of mine is from the Athenian lawmaker Solon, who declared,
“Wealth I would have, but wealth by wrong procure I would not; justice, even if slow, is sure!”
The world’s prosperity and riches may come at the expense of your soul. Kingdom citizens who instead focus on the Lord’s riches have no need for moral compromise but can maintain their meekness and humility.
Seek a greater treasure in heaven (Matt 6:21).
Leave self-righteousness for Divine approval.
“Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matt 5:6)
This is one of the easiest beatitudes to understand, but we must still keep it in context to fully appreciate it.
Jesus is still providing a counter-perspective on righteousness and religion to what the audience is familiar with. By saying “they which hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Jesus subtly implies that there are some (many) who do not — including those perceived as religious. There is some tie-in here with the second beatitude “they that mourn.”
Just as the Pharisees often failed to see their spiritual insufficiencies, they also saw their own righteousness as sufficient. The clearest example is in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.'” (Luke 18:9–14)
The self-righteous attitude claims to find value in works beyond their true worth. The desire and longing for true righteousness seeks not to establish itself but allows God to be the one who provides.
Jesus promises that the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness shall be filled, but not before he hungers. The seeking must come before the finding.
Our righteousness is not our own, it is an attribution God grants us based on our faith.
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil 3:7–9)
As long as we trust in ourselves to provide, we will never find what we seek. We cannot provide ourselves with riches, with success, with fulfillment, or with righteousness. Only God can provide those blessings! He only does so when we renounce them once and for all. He blesses those who trust totally in Him and His goodness to provide.
Turn your back on the world and embrace the Divine Kingdom. Submit to Christ and give Him everything.
Leave selfish snobbery for Divine honor.
“Blessed are the merciful.” (Matt 5:7)
Returning to the contrast with the religious ideals and values of his day, Jesus tells the disciples that He expects for them to be merciful.
Mercy is a trait that we value. We know that we want mercy, so we know we have to offer it too.
But in Jesus’s day, mercy was not something considered honorable. Being merciful was considered a weakness. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will have to give instruction about offering mercy instead of seeking justice:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt 5:38–42)
We also see the anti-mercy attitude in Luke 10, when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus tells that story, He describes a priest and a Levite who refuse to help the Samaritan.
Why is mercy so dangerous? Why are people afraid of it? Mercy requires you help people who are in low situations. Mercy involves you being around sinners. Mercy means other Christians will judge you for the people around you.
You cannot be a truly merciful person if you care about appearances. Jesus was frequently criticized for hanging out with prostitutes, sinners, and tax collectors, even though He was working to help them. He knew that what He was doing was right, but it cost Him the social dignity the religious elite cared so much about.
Elitism has no place in the Kingdom of God.
We must be willing to endure humiliation and shame for the sake of mercy. That is the example of the Savior and the source of the mercy which we receive ourselves. Jesus endured the humiliation of the scourging and the cross for our sake.
“Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)
“Despising the shame” means the shame of the cross didn’t affect Jesus at all—it couldn’t phase Him.
The mercy which Jesus offers us exalts us. His suffering not only led to forgiveness, but future blessings. The earthly, worldly dignity that we sometimes fight so hard to preserve is totally surpassed by the “glory that is to be revealed in us”! This is how the merciful shall obtain mercy.
Stop caring about what people might think and start helping people; get yourself to wherever the sinners are and help them.
Leave external showmanship for Divine fellowship.
“Blessed are the pure in heart.” (Matt 5:8)
Not just outward behavior, but pure in heart.
Another criticism the Pharisees and scribes brought to Jesus was that He and His disciples failed to wash before they ate their meals (Mark 7:1–8). They saw this ritual washing as being of utmost importance, despite its absence from the extensive laws of ceremonial cleanliness in the Law of Moses. Jesus rebuked them for their improper focus:
“And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.'” (Mark 7:6–8)
They were so concerned with the outward expressions of obedience, that they didn’t notice when their hearts no longer followed. Jesus calls them dirty cups and painted tombs because of how corrupt they had become (Matt 23:25–28).
Purity is important to God, but not external purity.
God demands purity of heart. Pure lifestyle, pure actions, pure words, pure thoughts are only of value if they come from a pure heart. Conversely, a pure attitude and heart will grow and produce pure fruits. The fruit of the spirit does not grow synthetically but comes about as the result of faith and purity of spirit.
God doesn’t need for us to prove anything to Him. Our holy and righteous lifestyle isn’t about making a scene for an audience, but is an extension of the renewal of the inner man (2 Cor 4:16–18).
We will only see God if we have this perfect purity.
This is another statement of “now, but also later.” We can see God now, knowing Him, if our motives and hearts are pure. Eternally, we can see God and come to live with His as He truly is!
If we worship or do good to be seen by men, God will not see us, nor we Him. God reveals Himself only to those who are worthy, who are pure in their hearts.
Leave self-assertion for a Divine family.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matt 5:9)
The Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, doctors of the law, and chief priests all get lumped together in our minds sometimes. They didn’t all just get along or agree. In fact, seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees together in the Gospels at all is shocking. They didn’t really agree on anything. Although they all were brothers, nationally and spiritually, they fought with one another on an extremely frequent basis. The idea of unity or peace meant absolutely nothing to them.
When Jesus here speaks of “the peacemakers,” He means (as He has with many of these statements) two things.
Jesus intends for us to be peaceable individuals.
He expects us to not instigate disagreement or quarrels. While the religious leaders thought it made them more religious to find points of disagreement with each other, Jesus means for the citizens of His Kingdom to get along.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.
‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:14–21)
This kind of peacefulness requires a lot of that meekness we looked at earlier! Peace will never come about if we respond to aggression in kind; peace only comes through peaceful behavior.
Jesus speaks of peacemakers, not just peaceful people.
We must produce peace in others as well. Peaceful behavior does not need to mean passivity. The process of making peace is difficult, not easy.
Paul calls Christ’s actions in reconciling us to God “peacemaking”:
“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” (Col 1:19–22)
Christ made peace between us and God, but it cost Him.
He also made peace among men:
“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” (Eph 2:14–15)
This is the kind of peacemaking that Jesus is talking about. There is not a single element of the Beatitudes or any other Divine command which Christ has not Himself fulfilled maximally.
The attitudes that fight against peace are the attitudes of self-assertion, pride, and selfishness. Always placing our own will and needs above others can never produce peace. When we instead bear the cross with Jesus and refuse to allow or create division that is not demanded by God’s holiness, we too can create peace.
Paul is another great example of practically making peace.
- In Philippians, he works peace between Euodia and Syntyche.
- In Philemon, he works peace between Philemon and Onesimus.
- In 2 Corinthians, he works peace between the congregation and a penitent member.
Peace is a spiritual issue, not a political one.
When we become peaceful people, and even moreso peacemakers, people will see that we are acting like our Father. We will be called sons of God—the ultimate peacemaker!
When we seek peace, we show that we understand the Family of God. Who should be at peace more than brothers and sisters? The Kingdom of Heaven is a family who strive not against each other, but with each other to make peace.
Leave earthly comfort for a Divine eternity.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” (Matt 5:10–12)
The final benediction of the Beatitudes is a clear return to the theme of the Sermon: Kingdom righteousness.
Righteousness is not a product of our own making, but God’s perception of our faith as a reward. We grow in righteousness when we completely give up the world and submit to Christ as King. Jesus keeps telling His disciples that He expects them to be righteous, even surpassing those who they thought were most righteous (Matt 5:20).
Now Jesus clarifies that righteousness itself comes with a cost: persecution. Real righteousness will not be accompanied by praise and recognition, by status and wealth, but by shame. The world will never appreciate or value righteousness but will despise it.
Righteousness will cost you.
Persecution will not look like the same thing for you as it did for them or for Jesus. Persecution likely does not mean death or torture for you. But it may mean that you are cursed, reviled, mocked, or betrayed.
The reason for persecution is that your righteousness condemns the world (1 John 3:13).
- If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people’s love for free sex.
- If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
- If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
- If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
- If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
- If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
- If you are serious, you will make the flippant look foolish instead of clever.
- If you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.
You cannot be a Christian and expect to life a life of comfort. God will bless you and take care of you, and the problems may never phase you, but the pleasure of serving Christ is completely different from the pleasures of the world. Righteousness means giving up and renouncing completely everything this world offers: material goods, pleasures, success, dignity, status, pride, and comfort.
Righteousness will reward you too.
The rewards of righteousness are incomprehensibly wonderful. Jesus does not tell us to rejoice in vain, but as someone who knows. Sometimes we tell each other to look up, find the silver lining, or just keep praying, and it isn’t very helpful—because we have no idea what the outcome will be. Jesus knows, and He promises it’s worth it all.
Give up everything in this life and you will have everything in the next. Come to Christ and He will take you with joy!