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Blessings for the Kingdom, based on Matthew 5:1-12 by Joe Ellis, Nov. 1, 2020

There are certain sections of Scripture that you know are important because they get their own title — like the 'Upper Room Discourse’. And you know a Scripture passage is really important if its title is in Latin. I know of only two sections of Scripture that get Latin titles, Mary’s song at the beginning of Luke is called the Magnificat, and the passage we just read is called the Beatitudes — that’s latin for blessing. The Beatitudes, having a latin title and all, must be pretty important. For that reason I’ve always felt a little guilty when I hear The Beatitudes and think, “I don’t get it.” I’m probably alone in this, but I’ve just wondered why Jesus picks out these particular attributes as being blessed. Its more difficult because I don’t want a lot of the things Jesus mentions. I don’t want to be persecuted. I’ve often wondered what Jesus is on about in this section. Is he just saying, “here is a list of random things I think are good”? This passage is obviously important, with its Latin name, but is it important because it has a Latin name? Or did it get a Latin name because its important. That was my goal in researching this sermon — to try and make sense of the Beatitudes not line-by-line, but as a whole. And try and make sense of why it has such an important place in Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. So... here’s my crack at answering those questions: The Sermon on the Mount is a Manifesto. A manifesto is "a declaration of policy and aims, especially one that political candidate gives before an 1

election. Its your platform. The Sermon on the Mount is a Manifesto, the political platform of Jesus. By the time Jesus delivers his “Sermon on the Mount,” he’s begun to appear as a new political figure entering the middle- eastern stage. They’re idea of a political figure is a bit different than ours. People were looking at Jesus and wondering what he’s about. The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ attempt to answer their questions. He delivers His manifesto. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ attempt to let the people know what his party is on about. Think about our elections. When a political party campaigns the people listening have certain questions they expect their political leader to answer. We’re familiar with our own sets of questions — questions like: what are you going to do about healthcare? What are your thoughts on immigration? What are your views on the economy? What are your plans to stimulate the economy. The people gathering around Jesus had their own set of questions, and their questions were shaped by their convictions of what needed to happen to make Israel great again. MIGA. You see, they saw the fact that they were under Roman rule was proof that God was punishing them for their sins. They had a name for the type of punishment — they were in Exile. But they also knew that some day their exile would be put to an end, and God’s chosen one, the Messiah, would come and lead them to freedom. Their main question was if Jesus was the Messiah promised in Scripture. With that came a lot of other questions: They were wondering if Jesus would going to lead them out of Exile. They were wondering if Jesus would be the warrior who would raise up an 2

army and pummel the Romans. They were wondering if Jesus was the leader who would reclaim their inheritance — the land. They were wondering if Jesus would lead them into freedom, the ultimate sign that their punishment is over, justice has been served, and they’ve been restored to right relationship with God. Those were the types of things the people likely wondered as they followed Jesus up the mountain. Those were the type of questions that Jesus began to anger as he delivers his manifesto. I want you to notice how each one of the Beatitudes or blessings of Jesus is a start at answering the questions that would have been on people’s minds. (Slide) First, though, you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t say Israel in the passage — he’s talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. The people at the time didn’t draw a super hard line between Israel and the Kingdom of Heaven. For most Jews it the same time. For someone to talk about how God would restore his Kingdom was the same things as talking about God making good on His promises to Israel. Jesus bookends his beatitudes with talking about the Kingdom fo heaven. The people listening ears certainly would have perked up, wondering if this was finally the time God would restore glory to Israel? Keep listening, Jesus will give you the answer. (slide) Jesus next says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Why does Jesus go from talking about the Kingdom of Heaven to talking about those mourning being comforted. How are the Kingdom and Comfort connected? Remember that the word ‘comfort’ is one of the key words to Isaiah 40, where the Lord says: “comfort, O comfort my people... Speak 3

tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40 is a word spoken from God to His people in exile. It’s a word promising comfort to a people mourning the fact that they are in Exile as punishment for their sins. Comfort is a word of hope to a people in mourning. Comfort is a word of hope that God will lead them out of exile and back into the glory of the Kingdom of God. That’s why Jesus goes from talking about the Kingdom of heaven to talking about Comfort. Jesus takes up the promise in Isaiah and is saying something like: “open your eyes, the moment is at hand.” “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This comfort is what the faithful had been waiting for for centuries. This comfort is near. (Slide) The next blessing goes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Now it might be getting more obvious how this blessing connects to the word of comfort. Having the land restored was what the Word of Comfort was about. That’s the comfort everyone was waiting for "that they would once again inherit the land.” But the problem was that the land was being occupied by godless pagans. That moves us along to the next blessing: “blessed are they who hunger and thirst for God’s justice. For they will be filled.” These people had the land ripped away from them, and had a deep, burning for justice. For generations the people of Israel looked on helplessly — smouldering as enemies occupied their land. Smoking with anger as they felt abused and humiliated at the hands of Rome. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, they will be filled.” Can you imagine how those lines 4

would have begun to quench their thirst. This moves us along to the next blessing, for the whole reason why they are in this humiliating position is because of their sins, their idolatry. Remember? Exile was punishment for their sins. Exile from the land was a metaphor for estrangement from God. That was the real punishment, and Jesus offers hope this punishment was soon to be over — Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Jesus says that God will have mercy, as God promised in Isaiah 57: “I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry.” Jesus promises that God will show mercy. This mercy is not only in return from exile, but they will receive the wonderful, merciful gift of seeing God as he promises in verse 8. That after all is a true return from exile. Jesus then says a similar thing in the next line: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” The name son of God was deeply personal and deeply intimate to the nation of Israel. Remember the story of the Exodus, when the Lord was fighting to bring Israel from slavery out of Egypt? It was then that he told the world his beautiful relationship to Israel, saying, “Israel is my firstborn son.” In verse 9, Jesus speaks of the restoration of this beautiful, wonderful relationship — they will be restored. They will be once again known as children of God, which is the true end of exile from God — a restoration of sonship. And finally, Jesus closes this section again promising and giving hope that the Kingdom of Heaven will be restored. In these blessings Jesus is giving unspeakable comfort, wonderful hope to the most deepest desires of Israel — He is saying, “the time is now.” The time is now that God is to restore His kingdom. 5

And the people were ready. They were willing to fight. They were willing to lay down their lives. They were willing to do whatever it took to serve God’s Kingdom. The national anger of Israel was like a pressure cooker, the Zealots of the nation were primed, ready, itching to reclaim the glory. So when they heard Jesus proclaiming that the time was now, they must have been more than ready for a call to arms. The only problem was that Jesus’ policies for bringing about the Kingdom were completely backwards. (Slide) Look at how Jesus calls for Israel to be Israel in the beatitudes. Israel longs for the Kingdom of God to be present, powerful and manifest. But it’s not the elite, the politically powerful, or military strongmen that shall bring this about. The kingdom of God is given to the poor in spirit, to those without power. Israel longs for the comfort Isaiah promises. Jesus calls them not to rage, but to mourn. They are to mourn the current state of the world and continue longing for its restoration. Israel seeks to reclaim their inheritance of the land — yet they won’t reclaim their inheritance through a clenched fists or a drawn sword — they’ll find their inheritance through meekness, through gentleness, through humility. On Palm Sunday we see what this looks like when the prophet Zechariah points to Jesus saying: “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” Israel hungers and thirsts deeply for for God’s justice. Yet this justice is not executed with anger, wrath and vengence. This justice comes through humility and gentleness — it is full of mercy. In offering mercy, Israel herself will receive mercy. Israel longs for a vision of God, but this is not given to those who impose an external standard of 6

purity (the righteousness of the pharisees). Rather God will reveal Himself not to those who look pure on the outside, but those pure on the inside. Israel longs to be identified as the God’s Son, yet the children of God must be like their Father — a seeker of peace. They will beat their swords into ploughshares. And of course this will mean they will be persecuted — this means that when people revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds evil against you falsely on my account — your will be the kingdom of heaven. This is the trie way to be Israel. You can almost hear the brains breaking down of all those gathered around Jesus. Jesus speaks to their deepest longings for Israel, yet Jesus calls them to pursue those promises in the exact opposite way they thought they’d come about. That’s the economics of the Kingdom. That’s His manifesto. That’s who He calls us to be. Like the people listening to Jesus, we all long to see this world look more like the Kingdom of God. We might not say it like that, but we want relationships to be restored, bodies to be healed, people to be respected. The creation to be cared for. Jobs to be abundant. Part of what happens in elections is that we vote for whomever we think will bring our communities more in line with the Kingdom of God. Yet how easy it is to fight for the Kingdom in exactly the wrong ways. How easy it is to fight for what we think will make our world like God’s Kingdom in the total opposite way that Jesus calls us to live. He calls us to be poor in spirit. He calls us to mourn when things are not as they should be. He calls us to hunger and thirst for justice. 7

He calls us to be gentle, humble and merciful. He calls us to be peacemakers — even in the face of persecution, slander, insult and injury. Peacemakers. What does it mean to be a peacemaker? What does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to hunger for justice? He begins to unpack all that throughout the Sermon on the Mount. This is the manifesto of Jesus Christ. It is difficult. It is a manifesto so against the grain of how we believe things actually get done. But this is the manifesto of our Lord and King, and this is who He calls us to be. This way of being requires us to place our full, unwavering trust in God. Think of the areas of life where you feel threatened. Think of where hunger for justice. Think of where you clench your fist. How is Jesus calling you in those moments to pursue the Kingdom of heaven? If you want an example, listen to how our Lord Jesus embodied these ways of blessing for the life of the world: At his last supper, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me. ”For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.


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