The kingdom of heaven has come to earth in the person of Jesus, and boy is it ever an upside-down kingdom – at least from a worldly perspective. The poor inherit kingdoms, hungry are filled, the meek inherit the land.
The Sermon on the Mount opens with the beatitudes—eight statements beginning with the word blessed. This word affirms a state of blessing that already exists. And it is not blessed in a Spiritual sense – but blessed in the sense of enviable. Each beatitude declares that a group of people usually regarded as afflicted is actually blessed. Those blessed do not have to do anything to attain this blessing. Jesus simply declares that they have already been blessed. They are declarations of God’s grace.
They describe disciples. They are poor, hungry, weeping, men; they are hated and persecuted. Yet this hunger, weeping, and persecution is turned to promise when look at from the eyes of the Kingdom of heaven.
They set the stage for a new image of the worldwhere the heart is pure, where sincerity is not outward but inward, where obedience flows from love – not fear.
They represent the believers very true and practical situation in the world. Paul captures them well when he describes his own life as Christ follower in the world in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Have you felt at times like this? I have to an extent. Not the extent of Paul of course, to a certain extent we identify with these words.
Or in 2 Corinthians 6:8-10, “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” He considers himself to be the last of all. Under the death sentence, homeless, despised, persecuted – and yet has boundless joy. He experiences in reality what the beatitudes are saying – the connectedness of the cross and the resurrection. Suffering and glory. The resurrection shines through in the story of suffering and death. And it brings joy, and a blessedness greater than anyone could have on the worldly paths.
The upside-down kingdom life of a disciple made possible by the master.
The life of Christian discipleship in the life of Christ
Blessed are the poor in Spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
The life of Christian discipleship in the life of Christ
Anyone who reads these beatitudes will quickly realize they present to us a biography of the savior’s life. He had no place to lay his head. In others words he is truly poor. He weeps over his friend Lazarus, he knew what it was to mourn in the face of death. He says, “Come to me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.” In others words I am meek.
I know I said this last week, but it bears repeating especially for those who were not here.
When we read this, we cannot ever separate these words from the man speaking them. To do so would cause us to preach one magnificent moralistic sermon – but not the Gospel, or Christ, or Christianity for that matter. You might like it but it will only help your guilt feelings at not living up to it, or your self-righteousness that you have almost made.
No, this sermon is all about Jesus –
And the more completely the disciple dedicates himself in service to Christ the more concrete and real become these words. The more clearly your live will shine with the light of Christ.
This is real. Earthy. The disciples life is immersed in communion with Christ, or as Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” So this is about every day live in Christ. We must keep that in mind throughout the sermon if we want to understand it correctly. These words bring the cross and the resurrection into our lives. It is experienced in a mysterious joy of one who knows the answer to life’s mystery.
With this in mind let’s look at first two beatitudes today and see if we can identify the savior’s life in your life as we experience his words in our reality.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed describes a person who is singularly favored by God. In the Old Testament there was a time when wealth meant blessing from God, but during the time of the Babylonian exile and under the heavy tax code of the Persians and Romans, historians say that 90% of the Jews would have been considered poor by the time of Jesus.
Therefore, it was no longer possible to maintain that poverty was a sign of a bad life. There were many pious who were in fact poor. As we go through the prophets, especially the later prophets you also see this theme develop. Israel had to recognize that its poverty is exactly what brings it close to God. The poor in their humility are closest to Gods heart.
Interesting enough the gospels start with several people who are were poor materially. Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, Zachariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds of Bethlehem. And although Matthew says the poor in Spirit, Luke simply says blessed are the “poor”. There is something about poverty and oppression that moves the heart of God. So, this is not just about spiritual poverty there is an element of recognizing material poverty. On the one hand purely, material poverty does not bring salvation. On the other hand not recognizing our material poverty were it not for the grace of God is a symbol that we are spiritualty poor. The kingdom of God is about opening your hands to receive that which is not yours, because you realize your own kingdom materially and spiritually is bankrupt.
So it is not just materially poverty that he is talking about otherwise the emperor Julian the Apostate would have been right when he said with irony that he wanted to take all the Christians property, so that they could be poor and enter heaven. But on the other hand, the wealthy too easily dismiss Jesus teaching on poverty and confuse hoarding with good stewardship.
Possession is all about service. And so as one ancient saint said we can “Own goods as if we own nothing.” There is the tension between radical commitment to God and the necessity of life in the world. We must accept with humility the task of our profession and its requirement while directing our whole life to communion with the savior, who for our sakes became poor. Materially poor, so that we might be Spiritually rich. Hs utter material destitution where even his garments are split so that he dies with literally NOTHING – enable him to give us all things – Spiritually and materially. But we only receive them in the recognition of our poverty.
The first step taken in this kingdom is the realization that we are sinners. Spiritually bankrupt. That we have nothing – no family ties, respect in community, occupation, ot so called good works or personal holiness that is valuable enough to commend to God. This sermon understands the disciples also are men who fall short of the glory of God. We are people who have no achievement to bring into Gods presence. We cannot stride into God throne room as if we are partners in business, we do not lay claim to any reward for our deed. These are people who know their poverty is not just outward, but it has a deep inward dimension.
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the promise with which the beatitudes begin and end. And all the blessings in between are kingdom blessings. And the beatitudes themselves could be said to be kingdom norms. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he is proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is acting concretely in the world and in history. This is the good news of the kingdom of Heaven breaking into stage of world history. This is something that is not just good news that is promised here, but a change of the world for better.
The word “good news” was first used as a saving message from the emperor. But what the Roman emperors, who pretended to be God, claim, really occurs in this person. A message that is not just talk, but reality. Jesus is God, and therefore when he speaks the reality is present in those who follow. It is not just informative speech but performative, not just imparting information but action.
If Jesus is God, his words must become or be reality.. It is not just a informative speech it is an event. Things are happening. Because when God speaks we are changed and moved toward the recognition of this kingdom in our life.
And the good kingdom of God is wrapped up in Jesus. The kingdom is a person. Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him, God himself is present among men. This is the hour and moment in which God is acting in history as its Lord, as the living God. And he himself is the treasure. All that is the kingdom can be found in the king, and the king makes the kingdom what it is. So, when he says, “you will inherit the kingdom of heaven,” in the end the inheritance is himself. And with him all things. As Paul says, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not along with him graciously give us all things.”
But it is not only in him that the kingdom of heaven is coming near but it is also through him that arrives. He says “if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demon, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Here it is not simply in his presence that the Kingdom is located, but in his action accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
So blessed are the poor in Sprit for there is the kingdom of heaven. Now lets look at the second beatitude.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” The second beatitude flows from the first. If you realize your own poverty, there will be a mourning – and if there is true mourning there will be comfort. I say true mourning because there is a mourning that is good and one that is not. Mourning over sin, over the brokenness in yourself, the church and injustice in the world. Not a morning of lost hope, A mourning that moves to action.
There is a mourning that has lost hope, and has become mistrustful of love and of truth, believing that there is no longer space to hope for love and truth in a world filled with hate and the lies of darkness. This mourning is a type of bitterness that eats away and destroys a person from within. It is not this mourning of which Jesus speaks.
He speaks of a mourning that comes from a shattering experience with the truth, which lead man to undergo conversion and resist evil. This mourning heals, because it teaches one to love and hope again. Judas might be an example of the first kind of mourning – he hung himself. Peter of the second. His mourning led to restoration.
The Godly remnatnt of Jesus day weeps because of the humiliation of Israel, but they understand it comes from personal and corporate sin. As the Psalmists says in 119:136, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes for you law is not obeyed.” Jesus is saying it is impossible to confess spiritual bankruptcy with a cold heart. It breaks our heart, and we weep. We see this weeping taking different forms in scripture and it can cover a global as well as personal view of sin and our participation in it. There is also the weeping of indifference to the Gospel.
In a sense mourning over the sin is to counter the dominion of evil through the passive resistance of suffering. Through mourning you set the bound of evil. To the point which you mourn over evil and sin is the point where its power stops, and restoration can begin. Only then do you truly enter into that kingdom space of healing and restoration.
We see our savior weeping in the face of evil, oppression, and death. Think of him standing over Jerusalem when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Or at the graveside of Lazarus where he weeps in the face of darkness. Or when he prayed in that garden. Let this cup pass. That mourning would result in everlasting comfort and healing.
Dear church we must mourn over the sin individually in the community and in the world. This mourning is refusing to conform with evil and choosing to suffer under it instead. It is a way of resisting behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because, “everyone does it.” The mourning is the sign of as soft heart and a sensitive conscience. Those who do not mourn have hard hearts and numbed consciences and will never enter the kingdom. The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance - this kind of mourning. It wants the conscience numbed, not softened. And the promise is the hope of comfort.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Comfort. Comfort my people. That is His response. The cross is the foundation of the resurrection as mourning is the foundation of comfort. Only those who mourn will be comforted. No one else. And ultimately that comfort takes place here as we live in the hope and truth of the resurrection in the middle of the day to day reality of a world that does not match the reality of what we believe. This leads us to mourning – even while we are comforted by the reality of Christ in him.
There is comfort to this mourning, because the God of all comfort responds to these tears. It is Afterall a prayerful mourning where past and present suffering are lifted into the light of Gods presence and given the meaning of reconciliation by his goodness.
But ultimately the sufferer who struggles against sin is not truly comforted, his tears not fully wiped away, until he and the other poor in Spirit are no longer threatened by the murderous evil intentions of Sin, the devil and world. Our comfort cannot be completed before the mourning takes place.
Those who claim to experience all the kingdoms joys without tears mistake the nature of the kingdom. In the world if the hymn by Charles Wesley, “He speakings and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive; the mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Come to me all you who are poor. Are you feeling that poverty today? Are you broken? Are you finding that you have nothing to offer? Come to him, come to Jesus – for to you belongs the kingdom. And weep and mourn with him – not in hopelessness – but because you know that we were meant to live for some much more. Mourn those tears of transformation. For though weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning. There in his arms is everlasting comfort and peace. Dear child of God – the king of the kingdom of heaven is speaking and encouraging you today that your sense of poverty and your tears are good. Indeed necessary. Yes this is the opposite of what the kingdom of the world will say. They accept the rich, they want fame, they want power. That is not what we seek in this upside-down kingdom. For we know suffering is the road to glory, tears is the river of blessedness.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.