God’s Kingdom, God’s Way

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

One thing that is undeniable by any student of God’s Word is that God’s ways are different than our ways. Ryan testified to that this morning. Sometimes things we want, things we desire, things that are in our own hearts and minds are not what God wants for us. God’s ways are different than our ways. It is not enough just to say that. There is more to it than just that. What I mean is, our very nature, our sinful nature, the one we were born with, came into this world with, and even struggle with now as believers, is so very different than what God wants for us and what He is challenging us to be. 

Do you ever read something in the Bible and say, “I get that, I see where God is going with that, I understand what I’m reading to be God’s way,” but oh the struggle to comply with it, to walk in it! We can read the Bible and understand, but the application can really be challenging. Challenging not just in the practical living it out, but even in our hearts as far as even wanting to live it out. Why is that? Well, Christ did not come to say, “Just go your way and do a little more of the same.” He didn’t come with that message for any of us. No, instead it is, “Turn around from where you have been going and head in a totally different direction.” God didn’t save us to just tweak our behavior a bit, but to radically change us. Some people think salvation is about making minor changes in one’s life. “Just be a little nicer, that is what Christianity is,” or, “Just don’t sin in a big way.” But that is not at all the message of Jesus, because Jesus said, “You must be born again!” That is a statement of radical change. 

Remember in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica? They were doing what they would normally do when they entered a city, reasoning with the people in the synagogue. It was their custom to do that. Some believed as they explained who Jesus was, why He came, and how it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. They were sharing the truths of the gospel when the gospel message was brand new. Some believed – many, in fact – but the religious Jews were jealous. They were jealous because some believed, and that meant they would no longer be believed. They weren’t too excited about this message. So, being fearful that they would lose their position and state within the community, all they had, all their followers, what did they do? What was their reaction? They went around town recruiting trouble makers, formed a mob, and went after Paul and Silas. But they couldn’t find them, so they grabbed the next best person, Jason, who had hosted Paul and Silas. They grabbed him along with some others, dragged them out and took them to the city authorities, and here is what they said…

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus. (Acts 17:6)

What were Paul and Silas accused of? “Turning the world upside down.” Their message, the true gospel message, was so very contrary to the norm of the day, it was so severely interrupting their comfortable way of thinking, that it was described as turning the world upside down.

What they were preaching was not a message that encouraged the status quo, “Just be a little better.” They were not preaching a message that appealed to sinners, or to their sinful natural tendencies. Their message did not follow the world’s ways. They were not saying, “You all are okay the way you are, no need for a change of heart or mind.” No, they brought a radical message that was contrary to the direction of the masses. They brought God’s way to them, and that way demanded change.

Isn’t this God’s way? He creates man with a sinful nature and then He changes them, starting in the heart and then moving out to deeds, to action. We get to see His power at work in this process.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The gospel message is one of change!

It is interesting to me that many people are in search of just the right religion. Maybe you are on that journey right now, looking for just the right religion, or maybe you have been on that journey in the past. Many may go on a quest, a journey, seeking after the perfect religion or philosophy to live by. And often times for individuals the definition of the right religion is one that basically falls in line with the direction they already want to go! This is why so many religions are appealing. Humanism is appealing because it is like, “Just do what you feel like doing naturally!” That is easy. It becomes more of a search for confirmation that one’s own ideals or desires are superior to all others. It makes me feel good about myself finding a religion that agrees with me. And many are successful in finding that one, or in managing to create one that suits their wants and desires. Who sets out to find a religion and says, “Which can I choose that will demand the most change in me?”

With God, the God of the Bible, we learn we are not like Him. Our natural tendencies and many of our desires are not what He wants for us. He wants something else, He wants us to change.

As we begin looking at the first part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5, the Beatitudes in particular, what we will find is they are very counterintuitive to our natural way of thinking. I don’t think anybody in search of religion will look at the Beatitudes and say, “That already lines up with my way.” They are part of a radical message, a message that challenges the human condition. This radical message begins here in the inaugural address of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and continues through His time on earth and through the Epistle writings, and continues on today.

Understanding some background of Jesus’ day will help us to better see the radical nature of His message and how it will require the intervention of God’s life into one’s life for anyone to conform to His ways. Remember, the Bible is not about a manual for life that we all just need to conform to. That’s not what the Bible is all about, because we can’t conform on our own. We don’t read it and say, “Yeah, I can do that!” No, it is a book that helps us see that we can’t conform to it on our own, we cannot in our own strength tweak life here or there to be what God wants us to be. It is a book that shows us clearly that if we are going to conform to Jesus’ teaching in any measure, then it will take supernatural strength from God applied to our lives. The Bible gets us to a place of saying, “I cannot do this, I cannot be this way, I need a Savior, I need an agent of change, the very spirit of God in me if I’m going to be this at all.” The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes should shout to us that we need a Savior. 

Many Jews were ready for a fight with the Romans. This was the condition of many Jews when Jesus comes on the scene. They felt they had been pushed around long enough and they were ready to fight. You have probably felt that way before. “One more time, one more slanderous word, or one more put down and I’m going to let him have it!” That is where the Jews were with the Romans. They were ready to fight, and all they needed was a leader. They needed a strong leader who would serve as their king. They needed a Messiah, and the good thing in their minds was they had been promised one. They were hoping the Messiah would come soon so they could go after the Romans and be free from their rule. They were looking for, watching for their Messiah, their coming King! And when He shows up, they are more than ready to join with Him to take over the world, to rule with Him over their enemies.

An example of their state of being primed to have this king is what we see in John 6. Jesus had just fed the 5,000, miraculously fed all these people from five barley loaves and two fish. The people were overwhelmed with amazement, encouraged by the power of Jesus, and their natural reaction to this is found beginning in verse 14…

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15)

They thought they had found their king, and they were ready to take their king and install Him in His kingship so they could begin this earthly rule they so desired.

Later on, what did Jesus say about His kingdom? Speaking to Pilate…

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

Many were anticipating a king as they had known kings to be in the past – rulers on earth. An overthrow as they had understood overthrows of kingdoms in the past. They had in their minds what would take place, what it would look like to have a Savior, and even what their part in that would be. Power, rule, authority, all in an earthly sense, all as they had understood these things to be. And thinking this way, you can imagine the difficulty they may have had as Jesus began this sermon dealing with attitudes that His followers are to have. It’s not what they were expecting. They are ready for battle, to fight, to defeat the enemy, to overtake the current world order, to be the aggressor, and ultimately the victor over Rome, and instead of that, Jesus begins to characterize what His followers are to be: humble, compassionate, meek, longing for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and a people who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These things would not be what they were expecting. 

God was not cooperating with their plan. In fact, what God had in mind was not what many expected at all. When Jesus began teaching on His Kingdom, this amazingly different picture began to emerge. A kingdom was being described by Jesus, but not an ordinary kingdom, not one that would fit into their understanding.

And here is another thing. What will greatness look like in Jesus’ Kingdom? What is our idea of greatness as humans in this world, what do we think about greatness? When we survey our friends and neighbors, our community, how do we look at greatness? What is greatness? A powerful politician, a wealthy entrepreneur, a polished CEO, a intellectual professor, a technical expert, someone who is most skilled in their art, someone who understands the times and events of the world, an author, someone who others look up to? What defines greatness? The person with the biggest house, the nicest clothes, the fastest car, the greatest number of friends? 

I mean, if we are talking about the kingdom of God, what will define those who stand out, who are most pleasing to the King? What kind of people is He interested in developing? What does He expect and want from the subjects of His kingdom? Well once again, His desire, the King’s desire in this kingdom is much different than our expectations might be. Jesus is turning the world upside down, and maybe our thoughts as well. 

As Jesus sits down, early in His ministry, very early at the beginning of His public ministry, there would have been a wide variety of preconceived notions of what Jesus would say. People would have ideas about exactly how this new kingdom would be ushered in. Jesus was already viewed as a hero of sorts, they knew He was different, like no other. But what they, what we will discover is our own ideas of how things ought to be, or how we view our world in our flesh, in our sin, will not do when it comes to God’s will and God’s ways. That is because Jesus came to make changes. Changes that would begin in the heart and spread from there to actions that would be uniquely Christian.

God’s ways are not our natural, inborn ways. I just want to drive home that point. I do because we seem to be surprised at times when we discover that in practical ways. Let me give you some examples of how our natural thinking, our tendencies may be in concert with the world, they are not according to what God values in His people. 

When Jesus talks about greatness, greatness in people, of whom does He speak? John the Baptist. Hardly a character that would be held up as great today, or even back then for most. Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Who was this guy, the greatest one born of women? He had no home, lived in the wilderness, he had no possessions – was not rich, he didn’t have regular clothes even. He was not part of some politically elite group, was not part of any group really; he was an outcast, a loner. This man would be irrelevant in our world, and yet what did Jesus say? That he was the greatest born of women! John had characteristics that God valued, whether man did or not. He had a trust in God that the Lord desired, not what people of this world might value. God does not evaluate as we do in this world. John was great, he was great in Christ Jesus’ eyes.

Here is another example. When God speaks of a woman being beautiful or precious in His sight, how does He do that? 1 Peter 3:4 – “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” That is different than the world! In the world beauty is measured by external appearance. In God’s economy it is determined by the inner person, living in obedience to Him, or in this case a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit. See how that is counter to what we hear in this world.

Or how about righteousness? Nicodemus had reached the pinnacle of religious character. He was the teacher of the Jews. He had risen above all others. In the eyes of man he was perfect. Among his contemporaries and his students he was greatly commended. He had reached the top, and yet what does Jesus say to this man, this high achiever, Nicodemus? “Nicodemus, you must be born again!” It’s like, “Man, you need to start over! You don’t have it right as far as the Kingdom of God goes. Maybe in your own kingdom you have achieved and succeeded, but in God’s Kingdom you’ve got it all wrong.”

God’s ways are not man’s ways. God’s ways call for change. God’s ways call for living in a way that is contrary to our inborn ways.

What about the matter of strength? What does a strong person look like? How do we define strength? One who can hold their own in a debate, in a fight, in a moment of pressure or stress? What is strength in this world? One who will not back down, one who has financial power? Yes, probably all of the above. But what is God’s view of strength for man? “When you are weak, then you are strong!” Power, Christ said, is made perfect in weakness. Paul responds, “Okay, let me then be weak!” Or literally, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Here is the point – God’s ways, God’s economy in His kingdom, what God values, looks very different than that of our world, and what we are used to as members of this world. His ways are not our ways, I mean as a people, as a society, as a culture. What He says, what He instructs us to be and do, what He changes us into will be different, and it should stand in contrast to what we see around us as normal in the world. We should never be surprised by that.

And so when Jesus in Matthew 5, when He sees the crowds, and He goes up to the mountain, and His disciples come, gathering around Him, when He begins to open His mouth and teach them, what He would say would really, really challenge their normal ways of thinking. He was going to turn their world upside down.

And for us, as we really begin to consider what Jesus has said in these verses, and go a step further and embrace them, and understand them as what God wants for us, I hope that our world may also be turned upside down too. I mean that in a good way of course, in the best of ways. Really that our world, our hearts, our minds will be turned, turned to be more in line with God’s perfect will for us.

I would encourage you to expect to be challenged in this study! Because we are not going to talk about nor encourage the status quo of life. But we will instead talk about what Christ can change us into for His glory.

And so next week, Lord willing, we will begin with the first beatitude that Jesus speaks of in verse 3. Are you ready for that? I hope you are, and I hope that God’s Spirit will teach us and lead us to a more radical place of Christian life together!

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)