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The Kingdom Citizen's Blessedness

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 20, 1997

Matthew 5:11-12

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5. We continue our study in the Beatitudes. The last three weeks, we have looked at the character of the Christian as it is described in the Beatitudes. Today, I want to look at the blessings that are listed in the Beatitudes. We have seen eight blessings pronounced. Seven of them pronounced upon character qualities of the Christian. One of them pronounced on circumstances in which Christians find themselves. Blessed are the persecuted. And so we have concentrated on the qualities that reside in the person who is the Christian, who is the citizen of the kingdom. But Jesus’ purpose in giving these blessings is no so much to draw our attention to those qualities, as to draw our attention on the blessings themselves. And so we don’t want to controvert His teaching. We will spend the whole day today looking at these great blessings that Christ enunciates in Matthew 5. We will begin in verse 1. Let’s hear the inspired and inherent word of the living God.

"And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him again in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for these blessings. Help us now with seeing eyes, with spiritual illumination to understand the truth of Your Word. This is Your very revelation. Your revelation of Yourself and of Your will. It is that whether we understand it or not. But we would rather understand it O God, for that we need the work of the Spirit opening our eyes and applying this truth to our own eyes. May we be mindful. May our hearts apprehend the truth for us herein recorded. May we be changed by it, and may our witness be more sure to others because of it. And above all, may Christ be glorified in our knowing the truth. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As we have looked through the Beatitudes, we have seen eight characteristics that are blessed. Seven character qualities, including poorness in spirit, spiritual humility, meekness, thirsting after righteousness. Those sorts of character qualities that Christ says the Spirit works in us when we become kingdom citizens. We have also seen a blessing pronounced on those who are persecuted, those who find themselves in circumstances that are against them because of the Gospel. Jesus pronounces blessings in these cases.

You remember we said the Beatitudes answer fundamental questions. The first question that the Beatitude answers is what does it mean to be blessed? The second question is who are the ones who are blessed? So as we have looked at the character qualities of those who are blessed, we have been concentrating on that second question. We have been looking at the kind of people that the Lord Jesus says are blessed. And we have said all along that He gives us surprising answers. The world would not count the people blessed that Jesus counts blessed. And so we have looked at the character qualities, of those who are citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

But the Beatitudes are not a list of things that Jesus is primarily telling us that we need to do. We have said that before. The Beatitudes are what Jesus says we are when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. The Beatitudes tell us what we are by the grace of Christ; by grace, Christ is making us into people with these types of qualities and these people who are blessed even in circumstances when they are persecuted.

And so, today, we want to go back and look at that first question that the Beatitudes answers is and that is what does it mean to be blessed? And we want to do that by looking at the blessings themselves. Jesus knows that one of the lies of Satan to try and trip you up in the Christian life is to convince you that Christ has nothing to offer you in this life. This is just a veil of tears and we hope for pie in the sky by and by. No blessings now, all the blessings then, and so Satan wants to tell you, see, there is nothing for you now. Why should you really hope for anything then? And Christ in the Beatitudes wants you to know that now He has blessings for you. Now, the 'shalls' of the Beatitudes are not future shalls. They are present shalls. I shall bless you, the Lord Jesus is saying. How is the Christians blessed? What does it mean to be blessed? The blessings of the Beatitudes tell us. Though there are eight Beatitudes, there are only seven blessings. You will note that the blessing in the first Beatitude and in the eighth Beatitude is the same. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. That reminds us that there is an over-arching blessing and that the blessings of the second through the seventh Beatitudes are aspects of that grand blessing which is ours having or possessing the kingdom of heaven.

So there are seven great blessings and the fact that Jesus begins with the over-arching blessing and ends with the over-arching blessing reminds us that all the blessings come together. It is not that some Christians get some of these blessings, but others don’t. All Christians partake of these blessings. Hear now as we consider the Lord’s words to you, as to the blessings that He has pronounced upon your heads, for they are yours if you are His. Now we may not get through all of these today. There are a lot of blessings recorded in the Beatitudes. But that is okay. It will whet your appetites, I hope.

I. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
   
The first blessing we see set forth is the grand blessing of verse 3, but you also see it in verses 10 and 12. And it is the blessing that "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." It is the blessing that Christians are already in and under the kingdom of heaven. It is the blessing that we have our belonging in the kingdom. That is the first and great and over-arching blessing. We see in verse 3 Jesus pronounced that the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven. We see in verse 10 that He adds that those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And we see in verse 12, rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great.

This blessing is the general blessing of the Beatitudes, and all the other Beatitudes are specific elaborations of this blessing, specific aspects of the blessing that we get as part of the first Beatitude. Jesus is saying that the children of the living God, that those who are part of the kingdom of God, that those who have embraced Him by faith, have received the great blessing that the people of God, under the Old Covenant, from the time of Abraham and Moses and David had been looking forward to.

You remember that from the time of Abraham and then even more so in the time of Moses, then especially in the time of David, when the reign of God was manifested in Israel in the reign of David, the people of God had been looking forward to a time when God would establish His rule on earth. Not only in that little county on the shore of the Mediterranean, but throughout the world, the people of God were looking for the nations to live under the rule of God. The Lord Jesus is saying, Christian, here is My first blessing to you: That which the people of God had been looking for, for over two thousand years, is now a reality in your hearts. The kingdom of God is in your heart. The rule of God, the protection of God, the power of God in all its magnitude is at work in you. That which the people of God have longed for, has now been realized through Me and through My work. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You have your place of belonging in the kingdom and the kingdom is actively at work in your own lives.

Isn’t it ironic that the Lord Jesus says that it is precisely those people who have announced by their poorness of spirit, that they have no right to claim any blessing of God’s kingdom, and the minute that they say that "I have no right to the blessings of God," the Lord God says, "the kingdom is yours." It is precisely the people who say, "I only deserve damnation, I only deserve condemnation" who find that God says, "the kingdom is yours.’ It is precisely those who say before God that they deserve nothing, yet God gives everything. It is the poor in spirit, it is you, my beloved friends, Christians brothers and sisters in Christ, upon whom Jesus pronounces His blessing, "The kingdom of heaven is yours." What the Old Testament saints looked for, for ages, belongs to you. It is not just something in the future. Oh yes, it is that. God’s rule will be manifested in a way beyond which it has been manifested now, but you have a taste of eternity now in your hearts. God has made His rule to be manifest.

How does this manifest itself in our lives? It enables a Christian who walks in this world with all its troubles and difficulties, yet to breathe that rarefied air of glory in this life. Isaac Walton wrote a book on fishing in the seventeenth century, that was his great claim to fame, it was a book called the Complete Angler. Many of you fishermen will want to go out and buy it. He wrote on the flyleaf of the dust jacket of his collection of Richard Sibbs' writings these words, "Of this blessed man, let this just praise be given. Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven." That was of Sibbs. But my friends, Jesus, in this Beatitude says, "That is true of all of the citizens of My kingdom. I have planted heaven in your hearts. I have put my flag of conquest in your hearts. Your hearts are mine, and I along with that conquest bring with you the blessing of living in the midst of this life with all its trials, yet with a taste of the blessedness of being under the power and the protection and the rule of God."

Do you know the glory of that blessedness? The kingdom citizen in every circumstance has that blessing. That is why when Douglas Macmillan’s dear mother was dying of cancer, wracked with pain and unable to sleep, that her poor unbelieving son was utterly miserable, and yet she, believer that she was, kept from sleep from 1, to 2, to 3 in the morning was able to sing songs of praise to God at night and why she was completely at peace and ready to go home to be with her Lord. Because heaven had been implanted in her heart, and heaven had not at that time been implanted in the heart of her son. He was miserable though healthy. She had the kingdom of heaven in her heart and so was content though her body was decaying before her very eyes. Christians are already in and under the kingdom and this is the grand blessing that God gives to His people. That is why Christians out-die Pagans because heaven has been implanted in our hearts. A dear elder, who has had occasion to see many, many people die, came to me and after the first service and he said, "I can tell you, that Pagans do not die well." There is a reason for that and it has nothing to do with our inherent worth, our superiority to other breeds. It has to do with heaven, with the grace implanted in our hearts and it is pronounced in this Beatitude.

II. Christians have the blessing of being comforted by God.
   
The rest of the Beatitudes are an elaboration on that great Beatitude. And we see the second one in verse 4. Christians, Jesus says, have the blessing of being comforted by God Himself. Christians receive divine strength and vitality in the midst of their trials and temptations from God. Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. We have already said that is not simply mourning because of bereavement, that is not mourning over the loss of a loved one, who is dear to us. That is a repentant sinner mourning over his or her sin, and finding solace and being made happy because of the strengthening and the comforting of God. That is the blessing which Jesus is talking about there, and it has an Old Testament background. You may want to turn with me to Isaiah chapter 61. There Isaiah, speaking to the exiled children of Israel, prophetically says this in Isaiah 61, beginning in verse 1: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."

You see in this word of the suffering servant a portent of our Lord Himself, Who says, I give you this blessing, I will comfort those who mourn. The children of Israel in exile knew the misery of sin, and the Lord God is telling them, by Isaiah the prophet, that God is going to bring relief to our suffering because of the misery of sin. But not only will He relieve and encourage those of us who suffer under the misery of sin, He says, He will comfort those who mourn for their own real sins, their actual sins. Those who mourn over sin.

And you know what it is to mourn over sin. Those who mourn over sin know the sense of guilt that pervades your mind, the sense of shame that pervades your heart when you realize your sin. There is that tremendous sense of regret. "What have I done to this person? What have I done these persons? What have I done to my God?" And there is a sense of the deserved separation that we ought to have from our God because of that sin, and Jesus is saying to precisely those who mourn like that, "I will give comfort. As they mourn for their sin, I come to comfort them."

And Jesus gave the great illustration of this in His story of the tax collector and Pharisee. There was a Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. And he, perchance, noticed a tax collector. A turncoat. A betrayer of his people. A man of Israel, who yet was living off of the income of his own people, working for the alien, the strange Roman government who was occupying the land. Sponging off of the needy people of God. And the Pharisee saw that man. And so He lifted up his eyes to heaven, and he said, "O Lord I thank you that I am not like this man." He had no sense of guilt or shame. And then Jesus says that tax collector, that publican would not even lift his eyes to heaven, said, "O God, have mercy on me, a sinner." And then everyone who heard Jesus tell this story would have thought that He had bungled the ending because He said that it was that tax collector who went away justified, not the Pharisee. And Jesus said, "No. When you have realized what your sin deserves, and you have mourned over it, then and then only do I come with My comfort and with My blessing." And so He says, all those who have known what it is to mourn for sin, all those will know My comfort.

III. Christians are heirs to the world.
   
And then He gives His third blessing in verse 5. He tells us that Christians are heirs to the world, restored dominion over the redeemed world will belong to Christians. Jesus is not speaking allegorically here. He is not spiritualizing when He says, blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth, He is telling us something marvelous. He is telling us that one day the redeemed world will again be put under our stewardship.

And even now, even now, we are experiencing the restoration of the dominion that God intended for us. The meek, they shall inherit the earth. Those who have abdicated their rights. You remember we said the meek person is the person who has stood in the presence of God and has said, "Lord, I realize that I deserve to be condemned. The only thing that I have a right to is hell." And the moment that person abdicates their rights before God, we are told that God gives them everything.

The meek, the one who has abdicated his rights, has the world given to him to be a steward for God. Adam, in the Garden, had asserted a right that was not his. He had been made by God to be steward of creation, to have dominion over the created world under him. And yet he asserted a right that was not his, and he lost everything. The meek, Jesus say, those who have abdicated their rights have that stewardship over the creation restored. The world is yours. Not simply the land of Canaan, but the world belongs to the meek. Sinclair Ferguson has said, "Pride always loses what it seeks to gain. But meekness gains that which it was abdicated the right to seek. The meek shall inherit the earth."

The great example of this in the Old Testament is David. David had been anointed and appointed by God to be the lawful ruler in Israel, and yet there was still a claim and there was Saul, and there were his forces and there was his court. Did David lift a hand against Saul, so that David might become king? No. Did David fight against Saul’s army and his court so that he might become king? When David’s men attempted to make a treaty, a league with Abner, the great general of Saul, did that great treaty lead to David being made Israel’s king? No. We read in II Samuel that David realized that the Lord had given Israel into his arms. He did not stand on his on rights as anointed king. But waited until the Lord gave Israel into his arms. And so the meek inherit the world.

IV. Christians are fulfilled.
   
We see yet another blessing in verse 6. Christians are fulfilled. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Here Jesus tells us that one of the blessings that He gives us is a complete contentment and satisfaction in life. Those who recognize that they lack holiness, those who recognize that holiness is inextricably tied into happiness and satisfaction and contentment in this life. And so they long for holiness, they long for righteousness, they long for godliness, they long to be like God. Jesus says to those who long for it, you will be fulfilled, you will satisfied, you will be completed in godliness. Those who have desired to be like God, morally, shall be made so. And they shall find contentment in it. And this is primarily experienced through restored relationship and right relationships. Restored relationship with God, so that we no longer cringe and fear before Him, but we embrace Him as our father. Right relationships with one another as godliness is manifested in them, but it is something that every true believer longs for, and Jesus says, I will give you that satisfaction as you long after it.

My friends, it is so different from the satisfaction that the world offers. The world tells you that satisfaction is not found in holiness. The world in fact, tells you that satisfaction is found in what the Puritans call temporal in having more what we have. That is where you find satisfaction. More money, more power, more prestige, more social respect, more wife, more wives, more of all of these temporal things. That is where satisfaction is found. In fact, they even have a bumper sticker where they proclaim their theology, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ Don’t let them fool you. They really believe that. That is not just tongue and cheek. And the Lord Jesus is saying, the satisfaction will never be found there. They will not find satisfaction there. The law of diminishing returns will always weigh in. And the law of unintended consequences will always weigh in. And they will never find satisfaction. But those who long for the kingdom and its righteousness, they will know satisfaction here. That is a promise from the Lord Jesus to you. Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and you will be satisfied. It is only then when we seek first the kingdom and its righteousness that all these things are added to you. That is a blessing to you from Christ.

And that is why Polycarp could stand before a Roman proconsul at the age of 84, and the proconsul could say, "Polycarp if you will just deny Christ, I will not burn you at the stake. All you have to do is deny Him," and the choice is not difficult for Polycarp. Well, that is a no brainier. I do not deny Christ, for He has never denied me. "For eighty and four years I have served Him, and He has never once done me wrong, how could I deny Him, I would go to the stake for Him, for He has satisfied me and you have nothing to offer, even the extension of life that will satisfy me." For only He can satisfy. That is what the Christian is blessed with.

V. The Christian is blessed with mercy.
   
The Christian is blessed with mercy, the Lord Jesus says in verse 7. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is when God helps us to our feet when we have fallen, when He defends and when He protects us. When we are weak. It is perfectly illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan, who aids that abused man, that man who cannot help himself, the man who is left for dead in the ditch. He is aided by the Good Samaritan and so the Lord shows us mercy in aiding us in our sin in our misery.

VI. Those who are blessed shall see God.
   
And then in verse 8, Jesus says, yet another blessing is that we shall see God. We shall have a vision of God. We will have a true knowledge of the Lord. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. You remember we said last week that the pure in heart were those who were singularly focused on God. He was their one great desire. Their great desire was to be in union and communion and fellowship with Him, and so Jesus says, those who desire that, they will get their wish. They will see God. Will they see God visibly? No. That is not the point.

The point is that they will enter into fellowship with Him. They will know what it is to have true saving knowledge of God. In Psalm 24, we learned that the requirement of those who would ascend unto the hill of the Lord is that they would have clean hands and a pure heart. They are pure of heart, and so they ascend unto the hill of the Lord to fellowship with Him in worship. Jesus is saying, those citizens of My kingdom, who desire more than anything else to fellowship, to commune with the living God, they shall have that communion. They shall have it. They shall have it eternally. It will be more fulfilling than anything that they have every experienced. And they will be called the sons of God, because they are. Adopted children of God. All those things they shall have. These blessings are all theirs. And those blessings are now. You ask any Christian in this room who has gone through trial and tribulation in this life, if they will trade those blessings for ease of life? They will reject your offer, because they know what it is to have seen God.

It was one of the great privileges of my life to watch a fourteen-year-old high school student in my youth group in St. Louis as her father died of cancer. The Lord taught me much about Himself through that faithful young woman. Her father was one of the best elders in our church and he contracted a particularly horrible form of cancer. It was one that debilitated him to the point that he lost his mind as well as his physical faculties. He did not know who his family was by the end. And for fourteen long months, Kathy saw her father deteriorate before her eyes. We were studying Job, in the high school group at the time. I have not understood Job until Kathy taught me about it. But I remember that day at the funeral in the receiving line, before we went to the worship service itself, when one of Kathy’s unbelieving neighbors came through the receiving line, offering her words of consultation: Oh Kathy, I know that you don’t know why this has happened, and I know that you know that God didn’t want this to happen to your father, but please take comfort. And Kathy, before the dear woman could get another word of encouragement out of her mouth, said, "Are you crazy? Are you crazy? My father is in glory with Christ, his Savior, and the angels, praising God in the ceaseless round of praise. He had been debilitated in a state of horrendous pain and degradation, and now God has taken him to glory. Oh, yes, God did intend this for my father. The prayers of Christ have taken him home to be with Him, and my only regret is that I am not with Him now." The woman in stunned silence moved on down the line quickly. Kathy knew that her father had seen God. Kathy knew that the kingdom of heaven had been implanted in his heart, and she knew that he would never be ultimately fulfilled until he was in that place of glory. But my friends, he knew that glory in the now before he knew it in the then. That is the blessing for every one of you who are in Christ.

Now you may be saying, I see none of those character qualities in me, and if you are saying that, my friends, I am saying, you come and you embrace Christ, and you will know not only those qualities of life, but you will know these blessings of which I speak.

But friend, if you are a discouraged Christian today, perhaps you have not been meditating on the blessings that your Christ bought with His life on a tree. These are His blessings for you. O taste and see that the Lord is good. May the Lord bless His word. Let’s pray.

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