Just as Moses once stood on Mt. Sinai, Jesus stands on a mountain, delivering a message that describes kingdom living. Moses’ mountain, shrouded by the cloud of God’s presence, shook with thunder as he passed along God’s law–a prescriptive way to live as righteously as possible so that God would remain with them. Jesus’ mountain, however, blooms with beauty, inviting all to come near because He is Emmanuel–come to earth as the Kingdom in flesh.
As different as Jesus’ delivery and message are from Moses’ Ten Commandments of old, the ways of God still stand in complete contrast to the world in which God’s people reside. In Moses’ day, God set out to teach His people how to live only for Him–the one true God–in the middle of cultures that worshiped numerous gods with horrific practices. At the time Jesus speaks this sermon, the very laws implemented to help the Jews live rightly with God have become the oppressors, keeping people bound to legalism rather than God’s heart.
So, as we sit with Jesus to receive His message anew, we listen with softened hearts to take-in the Word He has for us, anticipating His lessons will contrast with the world and the way we’ve lived in it. We begin by looking at the Sermon on the Mount’s opening lines, a list of eight blessings known as the Beatitudes. Desiring to live for the kingdom now, we ready ourselves to hear descriptions of what it looks like to be heirs of God’s kingdom.
The First Four
First and foremost, kingdom dwellers live in a state of spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3). When we spend much time with the Lord, we become aware of our sin, our shortcomings, our state of lack. But it’s in that very posture of humble neediness for God that Jesus says we are blessed. Not because we’ve done anything good or right but because our surrendered awareness has enabled us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Kingdom living now requires us to live conscious of our constant need for God.
Jesus continues His speech, looking upon the people gathered around Him, and has much compassion on them–for He knows their grief (v.4). Because He’s lived as a human and knows their pain, He desires to comfort them. To live in the already Kingdom of God is to know this healing love and that we are never alone in our pain and loss.
We feel the ebb and flow of Jesus’ message because just as we’re feeling great about the perks of living in His kingdom, we hear Him say that people in His kingdom are blessed most when they are meek (v.5). Our minds immediately go to the guy in the movie who’s always beaten up and humiliated. But the better rendering of the Greek word here incorporates two ideas–that of gentleness and strength.* And the best example of a person who embodies this trait is the One teaching us that there’s blessing in meekness. The One who stands His ground with grace. The One who fights for the marginalized and invites His enemies to His table. The One lives out the perfect mix of godly power without harshness.* This is meekness–and it’s what He desires for us as we live in the world as His heirs.
Jesus effectively pulls the physical into the spiritual, helping us understand the kind of soul-craving He desires for us. We know hunger pains, so He tells us to crave righteousness in the same way (v.6). Longing to live full of integrity and correctness of thinking and feeling and acting* is to gain a spiritually filled life. When we deeply hunger for righteousness, we are desiring more and more of Jesus. After all, He is our Way to living rightly.
However, Jesus’ promise in this blessing is not that when we get it all right, we’ll experience His presence. No, He says that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will get filled. So, if you have hunger pains these days, don’t give up. Keep seeking Him. And discover a filling that is like nothing on earth. If you don’t feel very hungry, I encourage you to start asking.
Lord, help us hunger for more of You!
The Final Four
Kingdom living now means being so filled with God that, as we live and move and breathe, we extend mercy to others–especially when they don’t deserve it (v.7). Part of the reason the Church observes liturgical seasons like Lent is because they give us space to intentionally look to Jesus–the One who willingly suffered and died to show us mercy. He who knew no sin bore our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, we don’t deserve it, and as we awaken to that truth, our poverty of spirit embraces the mercy we’ve been given, filling us so that we have mercy to offer others. And when we do, we look a lot like Jesus.
It can’t be a coincidence that Jesus follows up His teaching on mercy with a call to be ‘pure in heart’–probably because He knows our hearts so well (v.8). He knows how easily we paste on a smile and show some kindness or ‘mercy’ but for all the wrong reasons. He knows our tendency to ‘do good’ with impure motives. Like the time I ‘helped’ a friend only because I needed hers.
As much as we want to love purely, give without selfish motives, or help with the best of intentions, it seems impossible. And we’re right. It is, and that’s the point. The only way to live from an uncontaminated heart is with the Holy Spirit. He convicts, cleanses, and empowers us to live out of the purest of hearts. And, friends, each time we live like this, we see God.
As heirs to this Kingdom of God, it benefits us to see ourselves not only as His citizens but His children. These days we don’t have to look far to witness conflict and tension–in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and cities. As God’s children, we have a responsibility to be His conduit of peace everywhere we are–in person, in our cars, and online (v.9).
The kicker, much like mercy, is that to be a peacemaker, we must first be a peace-possessor.* The peace of God that transcends all understanding, all circumstances, all pain and confusion and fear can be ours (Philippians 4:7). When we enter His presence through the reading of His Word, through worship and prayer, we receive His peace. Then. We can step into the world as peacemakers because we have His peace to give.
Sometimes we need that peace most when we find ourselves persecuted for our faith (v.10). It’s hard for most Americans to relate to the kind of persecution believers endure when they live somewhere that outlaws Christianity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be feeling the ‘pain’ of living for God’s kingdom now. When we offer to pray with someone, share a truth from Scripture, or choose not to engage in the unholy, we open ourselves up to ridicule and social exile.
I’ve had to come to terms with my own fear of persecution on social media. I’ve seen how mean the opposition can be–even those who call themselves Christian–and have had to acknowledge my own fear of man. When really the only one to ‘fear’ and revere is the King I serve. Having verses like Galatians 1:10 at the ready helps me lay down my fear and pick up the proverbial pen as one who belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven. It doesn’t mean I won’t be persecuted, but it does mean I can endure it because I am a daughter of the King–His peace and mercy will reign.
Jesus is clear–kingdom living comes with expectations. We’re meant to live differently than those who are not yet part of the kingdom. However, the picture Jesus paints is not one of oppressive ‘gotta-do’s’ in order to earn God’s grace. Rather, He’s offering a vision of what it’s like to live spiritually awake so that these eight Beatitudes become our ‘wanna-be’s.’* In other words, as we embrace our kingdom identity, relying on the Spirit’s power to engage in holy living, we change. We transform into people who grab hold of our inheritance–Christ Himself (Psalm 16:5)–and live fully sourced and led by Him. Because we want to. And as we do, we are assured of blessing.
- I’d love to hear how reading and studying the Beatitudes is changing you. Commenting encourages the rest of us!
- Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Fast the one thing that you tend to desire more than God – phone, cookies, Dr. Pepper, television, etc. And each time the urge arises to reach for that thing, turn the eyes of your heart to God – say a prayer, read a Scripture, sing with a worship song, journal your thoughts and feelings. Make God the thing you desire most!
- One practice I’ve found especially helpful as I intentionally try to live for God’s Kingdom is listening to (and singing along with) songs packed full of God’s truths. So, I offer to you the Spotify Playlist for this specific Lenten journey of Kingdom Living Now. You don’t need an account to listen!
- This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.
Featured Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash
*I just want to acknowledge that James Bryan Smith (in Good and Beautiful Life) and Angela Thomas (in Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering) highly influenced my ideas of the Beatitudes–I’m so grateful! I always appreciate Strong’s Concordance for help on all things Greek and Hebrew. And, many thanks to my friend, Rev. Jay Smith, for the awesome comparison of Moses and Jesus on mountains!