Counter-Intuitive Kingdom Consolations (Matthew 5:1-12)
Counter-Intuitive Kingdom Consolations
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
September 16th, 2018
I. Parable of the Cistern
Picture this: picture an ancient village suffering under years of drought. The skies are always clear, the sun is always hot, and the ground is always dry. And of course, that means the fields are barren...empty fields that should be filled with crops.
The villagers are divided on what to do. Some believe they should all leave. Others believe they should steal water from villages in the mountains, or divert the canals of a neighboring kingdom. Some are only concerned about being in control of what little water they do have.
But there are a handful of people in that village who are doing something different. They are digging a cistern, a large underground chamber that can hold rain water. Some are doing the digging, some have loaned their tools, some are bringing food for the workers, and some, who cannot help in these ways, are just there to encourage.
But as you can imagine, in a place of such persistent drought, these 'cistern diggers' are regularly mocked, slandered, bullied, and sometimes ostracized. They are regularly told they are wasting their time and energy. And they are routinely pressured by the other factions in the village to give up and come over to their side. Can you imagine how these people must feel? We might wonder what keeps them motivated.
But one day a young man ran over the nearby hills, shouting as he approached. Even while he was far off, the villagers could make out one word: “Rain...rain!” And sure enough, in a matter of hours, dark storm clouds appeared on the horizon.
Turn if you would to Matthew chapter 5.
II. The Passage: "For Theirs is the Kingdom" (5:1-12)
Listen to what we read in the opening 12 verses of Matthew 5...
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught 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 meek, 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 are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. >>
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So to hear what God has for us this morning, we need to ask some questions of this passage. For example, we need to ask...
1. Questions About the Content
This passage is extremely well known because of the “blessed are” statements we find in verses 3-12. Traditionally, these statements are known as the “Beatitudes”. That name comes from the Latin translation of that first word, “blessed”. These sayings or blessings follow an '8+1' format, that is, verses 3-10 are similar in that that they all follow a “Blessed are the...” fill in the blank format. But verse 11, as you may have noticed, begins with “Blessed are you...”.
But if we're asking questions about the content of these verses, the main question must be, “What exactly is Jesus saying here?” Are these sayings, as some have interpreted them, Christian ideals? That is, are these different 'descriptives' actually prescriptive? I don't believe they are, at least not in the way some have thought about these sayings.
Instead of having a list of beatitudes that are all given as attitudes-to-be-like, I think we have more of a mixed bag in this passage. And the blessings are given, not first to encourage change, but to announce change, a radical change.
What might help us in understanding these sayings is answering the question, who is Jesus addressing here? Look again at the opening verses:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying...
So when it comes to Jesus' audience here, it seems like Jesus is addressing two groups. The inner circle, those closest to Jesus, would be his disciples. But I believe He also has the crowd in mind. I think those audiences are evident in the shift in verse 11. In verse 11, I believe Jesus is focused on his disciples, those who might be persecuted on “account” of their relationship with Jesus.
If that assessment is accurate, then that means verses 3-10 are directed to Jesus' broader audience. Remember, it was when Jesus (v. 1) saw the “crowds” that he decided to get to higher ground to teach. And in the end (7:28), we do read the “crowds were astonished”.
But again, what exactly is Jesus saying to the crowd about being “blessed”? To grasp the meaning behind this message, we need to move on to another set of questions. In addition to asking questions about the content of 5:1-12, we also need to ask...
2. Questions About the Context
As we talked about last time, these beatitudes mark the beginning of the longest continuous discourse of Jesus in the NT. But this message is actually the first of five in Matthew's Gospel.
But what led up to this 'mountain message'. What does the preceding context in Matthew's Gospel reveal? When we ask that question and read through chapters 1-4, we discover a critical emphasis. Let me share some verses with you, and see if you can discern the common thread...
Matthew 1:1-“Jesus Christ, the Son of David...”. He is (v. 7) a descendant of “Solomon”. In 1:17 he is called “the Christ”. The same title is repeated in 2:4. In 1:23 he is called “Immanuel”, a name from Isaiah 7 connected with the royal house of Ahaz (who is listed in 1:9). And then in chapter 2, verse 2, the magi announce that they are searching for “the king of the Jews”, who is described in the OT quote in verse 6 as “a ruler”.
Thinking again of the prophet Isaiah, we find John in 3:1-3 , John, the Lord's foretold forerunner, announcing “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. And then when Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert, interestingly, he is ultimately tempted (4:8) with “all the kingdoms of the world”. Several verses later, we are connected once again with Isaiah. In verses 15 and 16, Matthew quotes the opening verses of Isaiah chapter 9. If we were to keep reading in Isaiah 9, only a few verses later we hear these familiar words (Isaiah 9:6, 7)...
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with right-eousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
And look at what we find in the next verse of Matthew 4, verse 17. Jesus is picking up the proclamation John was issuing in chapter 3...”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Verse 23 simply summarizes that message when we read that Jesus was “proclaiming the gospel [the good news] of the kingdom”.
I believe the emphasis in the opening chapters of Matthew is unmistakable: Because God's King has come, God's kingdom is now at hand in a wonderful, new way. (2x) That was Jesus' main message. It was always his main message. And the radical reality to which that message points, is the radical reality that fuels the blessings of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12. Did you notice how “the kingdom of heaven” frames or bookends verses 3-10? See that phrase at the end of both of those verses?
So instead of calling these “beatitudes”, I think we should call them “counter-intuitive kingdom consolations”. I know that name doesn't really roll off the tongue. But it is an accurate description of these blessings. Like those cistern-diggers we talked about at the beginning of the message, there were many of Jesus' disciples and there were many people in the crowd who were longing for change, but suffering because of the spirit of the age.
What was the spirit of the age? It was exemplified in the mentality of Jews like the zealots, who sought to reclaim God's kingdom using violence. It was exemplified in the mentality of the Jewish tax-collectors, who decided collaboration with the Romans was better than conflict. It was exemplified in the mentality of the Jewish leaders, whether Pharisee or Sadducee, who believed their kind of law-keeping would eventually reclaim God's blessing. It was exemplified in the mentality of Jews who gave up on God and his law, who instead followed the ways of the nations, unconcerned about being labeled “sinners”.
But there were some who had resisted these options. There were some who held out hope. There were some who longed for the change only God could bring. Or at least they tried to hold out hope...they tried to keep hungering. Understandably, they must have wrestled with feeling defeated and desperate. Like those cistern-diggers, they were probably ridiculed and rebuffed. They were probably maligned and marginalized. That is, until Jesus opened his mouth. Just imagine him looking to the faces around him, into the eyes of those who had come to ready to receive “good news”, but also the skeptical...
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [What? Surely Jesus caught someone's attention with that statement.]  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted [now the scoffers are beginning to scoff].  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [now the scoffers are really beginning to scoff...”the meek?”]  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. [yes, the righteousness only God can give] “Blessed are the merciful [“merciful?” someone thinks to himself...I came to hear about the kingdom of David...”merciful”?...Blessed are the merciful], for they shall receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [a young woman in the crowd smiles...a young man is encouraged]  “Blessed are the peacemakers [someone is rolling their eyes and shaking their head], for they shall be called sons of God.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do you understands what Jesus is saying? Here are consolations because the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God is at hand. Kingdom consolations, but counter-intuitive. This is what many longed to hear, but no one expected to hear.
Remember what I said earlier? These blessings are given, not first to encourage change, but to announce change, a radical change. Here was the young man coming over the hill shouting about rain. But Jesus was not announcing “rain” (r-a-i-n), he was announcing “reign” (r-e-i-g-n), the reign of God that is breaking into our world in a brand new way. Who is the blessed man or woman according to Jesus? The man or woman who is ready to receive the downpour of the King's goodness.
III. Radical Overthrow Before Radical Obedience
So what does all of this mean for those of us living today, those who were not on that mountain two thousand years ago? Well, I think what it does, wonderfully, is set up a pattern we should cling to in all things and at all times. What pattern is that? It's that God gives good news before He calls us to the good path of perfection.
Moving from the beginning of this chapter to the end of this chapter, it's important we hear the statement of Jesus again, the statement we talked about last week, the statement around which this series is built, the statement recorded in 5:48...
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Now let me reassure you, the people who first heard those words were as bothered by them as we are today. Perfect? Who can be perfect? If that's what God expects of me, then I might as well give up now.
Of course, as we talked about last time, God would not be God if he did not expect perfection. As a perfectly righteous being, as the source of perfect righteousness, expecting anything less than perfect righteousness would be compromise on God's part.
But remember what Jesus is doing here. Remember the pattern. He's announcing good news before issuing a call to the good path of perfection. But that begs the question: what's the good news? In light of verses 3-12, I think we could say that Jesus is offering reassurance in light of radical regime change. Who's the dictator to be toppled? Who's the leader to be pushed out of office? You. Me.
You see, a radical overthrow has to precede radical obedience. Thankfully, the coming of God's kingdom begins with grace. God is the only true king. We are simply pretenders. We try to rule our own lives, but in the end, only cause pain and incur guilt. But God is offering forgiveness and hope. That's why both John and Jesus called for repentance. If anyone would turn away from that mentality of self-rule, with genuine remorse, God's reign would bring reassurance. And that's precisely what Jesus is announcing here.
Think about the second half of each saying. Think about the picture those phrases paint in terms of how God will fill the needy heart...”the kingdom of heaven”...”comfort”...”inheriting the earth”... righteous satisfaction...”mercy”...”seeing God”...as “sons of God”... and even when you are ridiculed and rebuffed, maligned and marginalized, Jesus reassures us...(v. 12) “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven...”.
Are those realities rewards we somehow earn? No. They are the King's gifts. As talked about last time, they are the very things Jesus makes possible. The beginning of Matthew's Gospel should point us to the end of Matthew's Gospel. The life to which Jesus calls us in this 'mountain message' is only possible thru the death which Jesus experienced for us on the cross. Grace gives us righteousness as both a position before God, and a power from God, a power to live righteously; power that transforms us, from the inside out.
These are the King's gifts, and every open heart and empty hand may receive them. Do you need that reassurance this morning? Closer to the end of this message, Jesus would offer similar reassurance to those longing for change. Look at 7:7-11...
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
The good news of the kingdom always precedes life in the kingdom. Or to put it another way, the gospel of grace always precedes the grace-empowered life. Before we do anything for Jesus, we must look first to what Jesus did for us.
May God help us keep that order straight as we study this 'mountain message', and my He help us keep it straight each day, as we walk in the blessedness He alone makes possible.