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The Citizens of the Kingdom I

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 30, 1997

Matthew 5:1-5

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter five. We continue our study in the Gospel of Matthew, today coming to the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most familiar extended passage in the whole of the Scriptures. The first great discourse recorded for us by Matthew. Matthew records five of Jesus’ discourses, and this is the first of them. And this great sermon has to do with the life of the kingdom. What does it mean to be a Christian in a modern, pluralistic, secularized world? How do you do that? This sermon is waiting here to tell you. What does it mean to have Christian character? What does a Christian look like? Jesus is here to tell us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord gives us a picture of kingdom life, that is, the life of those who are members of His kingdom, His rule has been established in their hearts, and so they are now kingdom citizens, and, in particular, in the Beatitudes, which we will begin studying today, He discusses the character of those who are citizens of the kingdom.

It is important, as we study this passage, that we understand that this is not merely exalted ethical teaching, though, it is that. The Jesus who stands before us to teach us the way of life, and the way of holiness in the Sermon on the Mount, is not merely a great teacher, He is our Savior, He is our Redeemer. And at every point that He instructs us in the way of life, He continues to be the One who died for us, that we might enter in to the way of life. Jesus is not telling us, in the Sermon on the Mount, the way that we can earn ourselves into His favor. We cannot earn ourselves into His kingdom. The kingdom, as you will see in a few moments, is something that we cannot earn. It is something that we will never deserve. In fact, Jesus is going to argue, in a few moments, in very shocking language, that until we understand that we cannot earn it, and that we do not deserve it, we are not citizens of His kingdom. But our Lord stands before us as Savior, and Redeemer and Teacher. He gives us this true teaching for living. It was once said of Jonathan Edwards that his doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine. Well, he must have learned from His Lord, because that is what we find in this great sermon of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The name, Sermon on the Mount, comes to us from Augustine. He was the first one to call this great sermon The Sermon on the Mount. And so for 1600 years, Christians have been referring to this passage by this name. I want to say simply, before we read  the Scriptures, that this sermon is not about ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ It is not about an ideal life in an ideal world. It is not about ‘there and then,’ it is about here and now. It is not about a Christian living an ideal life in an ideal world. It is about a Christian living a kingdom life in a fallen world. And so we attend to the Word of the God. Let’s look to Matthew chapter five, beginning in verse one.

(Matthew 5:1-5)

Our Lord and our God, we need spiritual sight to apprehend these truths. We do not, O Lord, simply desire to outline the teaching. We desire, O Lord, to embrace the glory of this truth. We desire to be built up in it, to be instructed in it, to be encouraged by it, to walk in Your ways and to be a witness to the glory of Christ in our own experience as we apprehend this truth. And so we need the Spirit. By the Spirit apply this truth to our hearts that we might be pleasing unto Thee. We ask it for our good and Your glory all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The passage that we begin studying today is known to you as The Beatitudes. Beatitude just means a blessing, a benediction, and we’ll talk a little bit more, in a few moments about that term, blessing, but I want you to understand  that Jesus’ Beatitudes, these blessings with which he opens up the Sermon on the Mount, ask us two fundamental questions, and give us two fundamental answers to those two fundamental questions.

The Beatitudes, first, force us to ask the question: what does it mean to be blessed? Now, everyone asks that question, whether a person considers himself religious or not. Everyone asks the question, what does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be truly happy? And, we get some interesting answers to that. There are some people who say true blessedness is found in the accumulation of enough wealth that I can be independent of certain cares that wrack other people. Other people find true blessedness in certain possessions, certain prized possessions with which they associate the happinesses of life. Still others find true blessedness in beauty, whether it be handsomeness or attractiveness, so that other people esteem us, and are, perhaps, attracted to us. Others find blessedness in success, vocational success, business success, which causes people to say  "look at the man, look at the woman, they have achieved much in their lives." Others of us find true blessedness in position or status or influence that we are given in the various spheres in which live and work.

The Lord Jesus begins the Beatitudes to disabuse us of the opinion that blessedness can be found in those things. In fact, the Lord Jesus shocks us when He says that the one who is truly blessed is the one who has a right relationship with God. What does it mean to be truly blessed? To have wealth, to have possessions, to have influence, to have power? No. To have a right relationship with God. The one who is in fellowship with God through Christ, that is the one who is blessed. If that person has nothing of material goods, and yet has God through Christ, that person is blessed. If that person has great material goods and has not a relationship with God through Christ, then that person is absolutely poverty stricken, whether they know it or not.

So the Lord begins His blessings by reminding us of what true blessedness is: right relationship to God and enjoyment of Him, that is true happiness and blessedness. No matter how wretched the world thinks Christ’s disciples are, He says: ‘you are blessed if you are in fellowship with Me and with my Father.’ 

The second question the Beatitudes ask, and answers, is: "Who is the one who is blessed?"  We all ask these two questions, not only ‘what does it meant to be blessed?’  But, ‘who is it exactly who is blessed?’ As we’ve just suggested, many answer, "Well, those who are wealthy, they are blessed. Those who are carefree, optimistic, lighthearted, they are blessed. Those who are self-confident, those who are successful, they are the ones who are blessed."  And, again, the Lord Jesus comes to us with a shocking response: ‘No!  Those are not the ones who are blessed. The ones who are blessed are those who are humble, and penitent, who grieve over sin, and are meek and gentle. Those are the ones who are blessed. My friends, these words are just as radical, in fact, I would argue they are more radical, they are more radical in our world than they are in the day in which Christ spoke them. For these standards of blessing are diametrical opposites to what the world holds up to us day by day: self-importance, self-aggrandizement, self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction, these are the things which make blessedness we are told today. And Christ comes to us and He says: "No, true blessedness begins with a loss of self, self-denial.

And so we see the Beatitudes before us. As we look at them for just a moment, let me ask you to do some self-examination. Ask yourself: "On what is your heart set? What is vital for your life? What is vital for your character?" If you could list eight qualities, when no one was looking, eight qualities of character that you would have worked in your heart, what would they be? Would they be the Beatitudes set before you by Christ? What eight things do you most want to see developed in your life? And let me ask another question: "Have you known what it is to be blessed? To be truly blessed? To be truly happy? To be truly satisfied? Have you known that?"  Christ opens for us the way of blessedness for us in these Beatitudes, and I would like for you to look at three things that he shows us today in these first three Beatitudes that we study in Matthew five, verses three through five.

I. Christians are humble, and are called to a life of humility
   
The first truth is this: Christians are humble and are called to a life of humility. I want you to know, as you study the Beatitudes, there are three components in every beatitude. First of all there is the general ascription of blessed. Before each beatitude, the Lord pronounces a blessing, a benediction, on a particular group. Secondly, in each beatitude, there is a description of the character quality of the blessed person. These are not character qualities that are found in some Christians and not others, these are qualities that are found in all who are citizens of the kingdom. Thirdly, in addition to the general blessing and the description of the character qualities, there is a specific blessing. In other words, the Lord tells us at the end of each beatitude, what the specific blessing is that belongs to the one who has the particular character quality. These three components are found in each of the Beatitudes.

And the first one is this: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Blessed are the poor in spirit, Christians are humble. Christ is describing those who are part of His kingdom, and the character quality that He says which first characterizes His people is poverty of spirit, spiritual humility, a sense of our sin, a sense of our needs, a sense of our helplessness. In the Old Testament, to be poor was to be helpless, it was to be weak, it was to be dispossessed, it was to be unable to defend oneself and unable to save oneself. And God reminds His people over and over in the Old Testament, that He cares about those who are in that position. And the Lord Jesus is saying: "Who is the man, who is the woman? It is the man, it is the woman who recognizes that he or she is dispossessed, defenseless, helpless, and unable to save himself. That is the person who is blessed." It is the most shocking thing that you can possibly imagine. You can see Jesus standing before the multitude and saying these things. They are expecting to hear ‘Well, surely the one who is blessed is esteemed for their spirituality amongst the community, surely the one who is blessed is the one who God has given great material blessings and great influence in the society.’  And He says, ‘No, the one who in My kingdom finds blessing, is the one who is poor in spirit, the one who knows that he or she cannot save himself.’

When God leads us to see that this is our real spiritual condition, then poverty of spirit is born in our hearts. Our Lord, of course, is the great example of humility, but I want to turn your thoughts to another example. One of my heroes from the Scripture is found in Matthew chapter fifteen. You may want to turn there as we recall the story. In Matthew chapter 15, beginning in verse 21, we hear the story of a Canaanite woman, and she is one of the most remarkable women that you will find on the pages of the gospel. And I want you to understand that as shocking as the dialogue is between her and between our Lord, it was a providential encounter designed by God the Father, and by God the Son, so that God could reveal the work which He had done in the heart of this woman, and display to the disciples the proper posture of faith which every believer ought to have. Don’t misunderstand what Jesus is doing. He is not being crude and abusive to this woman in His language with Her. He is setting up a scenario in which He can show the work of grace that He has done in her heart, and call His own disciples to emulate the faith that this woman shows. This woman comes to the Lord Jesus with a cruelly demon-possessed daughter, and she says to Him: "Lord, I know that You have been healing many here and there. Heal my daughter."  And the Lord Jesus responds to her by saying:  "Woman, I have been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not to a Canaanite like you." 

Now it seems cruel at first, doesn’t it? A woman with a broken heart, and she comes to the One whom she knows can save her daughter, and she says ‘Lord, heal her.’  And He says: ‘I’m not sent to you Canaanites, I’m sent first to the children of Israel, who are lost in their own sins.’  The woman persists to the point that the disciples begin to be a bit uncomfortable with her bantering. And she continues to ask, and the Lord says to her, and He uses a slang phrase that was actually a derogatory phrase in his day. He says to her, "It is not appropriate for me to give the meat that was intended for the children to dogs."  Now that name ‘dog’ was something that the Jewish people of our Lord’s Day called Gentiles. And this dear woman does not flinch. In her Christ-wrought humility she says, ‘You’re right Lord, I deserve nothing from you, but even dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table.’  We just sang, "Made like Him, with Him we rise."  This woman had been like Him. She says, ‘Lord, I have no claim on You. I deserve hell, but I ask You anyway, save my daughter.’  And He did. And then He turned to His disciples and He said to them something about that woman that He never said of His disciples: ‘this woman’s faith is great.’  She had learned the lesson of poverty of spirit, and she went to our Lord in all her humility, and she said: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Your cross I cling.’  

Do you have that kind of poverty of spirit? Isn’t it amazing, that it is right when we pronounce that we are bereft of any claim upon God, that the blessing of the kingdom comes? Do you notice the word of the blessing "blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?"  The minute this woman says, ‘Lord Jesus, I have no claim on Your kingdom,’ He says, ‘The kingdom is yours, My daughter.’  The minute we admit that we have no right to the blessings of God, we find ourselves bathed in the mercies of the Almighty. The minute we acknowledge that we do not deserve the kingdom, we are told the kingdom belongs to you. Poverty of spirit.

Friends, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about us. And so I would like you to ask yourself for a few moments, in the privacy of your own heart and mind, "Does this poverty of spirit reside within me?"  Remember, remember that it doesn’t matter what you are in the presence of other people, even your own family. What we are in the presence of God, that we are. No less, no more. Do you know this poverty of spirit? Or do you find yourself angry with God because of the circumstances He has brought in your life, perhaps, resenting Him and feeling  "Lord, I deserve better. Lord, I do not deserve this."  Or do you find yourself like that Canaanite woman saying  "Lord, you are right, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table."  I tell you, that if you have that poverty of spirit, then you today can testify of the extravagant grace that Christ lavishes on those who are poor in spirit.

II. Christians are grieved over their sin, and are called to a life of repentance
   
The second thing we learn today is that Christians are grieved over their sin. And, they are called to a life of repentance. In verse four we read, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."  This character quality which evokes blessing, we are told here, is mourning. "Blessed are those who mourn."  Jesus is not speaking about bereavement over death. He is speaking about people who are grief-stricken over sin, people who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy. The grief Jesus describes here is mourning over our own sinfulness.

The sight of God causes a sinner with sight to mourn his sin. And the sight of God causes the sinner who has mourned his sin to be comforted. Isn’t it ironic that the same sight of the same God produces grief over sin and comfort in that grief, because this grief is a work of grace. It is that work of grace that produces the godly sorrow which leads to repentance, which leads to restoration of relationship with the heavenly Father. "They shall be comforted," Jesus says. They shall be comforted who grieve this grief. These people will experience the comfort of God, His pardon, His deliverance, His strengthening, His reassurance. It belongs to them as they mourn for their sin. Again, isn’t it amazing that just when a person knows that uncontrollable grief, which results from the knowledge of their loss of fellowship with God, it is precisely then that their fellowship is restored. It is precisely then, that they are comforted by God Himself, and told, ‘You have fellowship with Me.’  Do you know that serious joy? Have you experienced the secret satisfaction of gracious mourning, or are you still living in denial, are you still trying to protect yourself? All of us, I’m afraid, know what it is to be in a relationship, and to have committed sin, and to not want to admit that sin to the one whom we have committed it against, because we know the pain of the admission. The Lord Jesus is saying, ‘If you live there, if that is where you want to live, protecting yourself from accountability for sin, you will never know the comforting of God. But the moment you admit the sinfulness of your sin, then you know the comfort of God.’ "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." 

III. Christians are considerate, and are called to a life of kindness – looking out for the interest of others
   
The third and final thing that we learn in this passage, we see in verse five. Christians are meek. They are considerate. They are called to a life of kindness, of interest, of looking out for the interests of others. In verse five we read, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."  Notice, again, this character quality which evokes the blessing of God is meekness, or gentleness, submissiveness under the hand of providence. Meekness is notoriously difficult to define. It is related to poorness in spirit. But if poorness in spirit is our relationship to God because of what we know we are, and of because of who we know He is, then meekness is our relationship to man, to fellow human beings, because we know who God is, and because we know who we are. When we come to know God, we come to know our sinfulness. And when we come to know our sinfulness, we cast ourselves on the mercy of the Lord. That is the gospel, that the one who is broken hearted, and that one alone, finds the grace and comfort of God. As we find that grace and comfort with God, true humility is worked in us. Poverty of spirit in relation to Him.

As that same grace is worked in us, meekness is also an effect. We begin to relate considerately and meekly towards one another. Meekness is the humble strength of the man who has learned to submit to his difficulty. Meekness results when a man enters into the presence of God and knows that he ought to be judged, and yet he has found the grace of God instead. And so, he shows forgiveness to others, because he has been forgiven. Do you remember that great word, when we are told that the woman who bathed our Lord’s feet in tears, "She loved much because she had been forgiven much."  And the formal Pharisee who had been forgiven little, that is, that he thought that he needed no forgiveness. He loved little. Meekness is the result of God’s grace in our hearts, where we have seen what we deserve, and we know that we have not gotten what we deserve, we have gotten better than we deserve, and therefore, we show that same kind of consideration to others. For those who have been forgiven much, they forgive much.

Meekness is exemplified in the life of our Lord, and in the life of His servant Moses. Do you remember Moses, a man of great education and learning, a man of considerable personal force, and attraction, and we know in the beginning of his career he often used that personality and force in wrong ways. The Lord sent him into the wilderness for forty years to train him in meekness. And when he came back, he never again used his own personality and force to build up his own reputation or to pursue his own agenda. We are told in Numbers 12 that, "he was the meekest man on earth." Always the exercise of his character was on behalf of the cause of God, and he let God defend him. "A lion in God’s cause," Matthew Henry once said, "must be a lamb in his own."  Meekness is the abdication of our rights. It is the person who is ready to say,  "I will not stand on my rights, I will not demand to have my way. I will be concerned about the interests of others, and about the cause of God, and I will let God care for me." 

What is the blessing in this case? "They shall inherit the earth," we are told. The meek, the meek shall inherit the earth? Yes, you see in these words the promise that those who are meek, those who have the grace of meekness worked in them will possess the Abrahamic promise worked in them. As God had promised Abraham that he was the heir of the world, so those who are meek, they will find that God gives them the world. Isn’t interesting, that in all of the Beatitudes, the sacred law of indirection is in force. Seek your own agenda, seek your own success, seek your own happiness, and you never find it. But seek first the kingdom and you find blessings that you cannot imagine. "Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added unto you."

Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer beautifully catches for us what it is to have the spirit of meekness when he asks us to pray, "Lord, grant unto to us not so much to be consoled as to console, grant unto us not so much to be understood as to understand, grant unto us not so much to be loved but to love."  This type of meekness, my friends, is not the stuff for weaklings. You are called to meekness.  Perhaps, you as a wife are called to display Christian meekness in a marital relationship, in a parental relationship to a husband or to children who have absolutely no appreciation for your sacrifices. Perhaps you are called to be a wife in a miserable relationship, and for the sake of Christ, you abdicate your rights as a witness for Him. Perhaps you are a man called to work in the business world, where you are taken advantage of because you walk the way of Christ. Perhaps your standards cause you to be abused or mocked, and perhaps they cause you to actually suffer loss financially, and perhaps you see the wicked around you prospering. And yet, because Christ has worked meekness in you, you abdicate your own rights, and you look out for the interests of others. Oh, my friends, these graces are graces that only God could implant. We can’t do these things on our own. And I want you to understand today, that Christ is not giving you a list of things to do. The Lord is saying, ‘This is what my children are like. They are poor in spirit, and in that poverty I give them the kingdom of heaven. They mourn over sin, and in that mourning they are comforted. They are meek. And in that meekness I give them the world.’  It’s the law of indirection, my friend. If you will seek Him, all these things will be added unto you. May the Lord bless His word. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we bless You for the resurrection of Christ. Jesus lives, so shall we. Help us never ever to cease to want to praise Him. We ask our prayers in Jesus’ name.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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