Living in the Kingdom
In the previous chapter, we reviewed the history, the prophecy and the fulfillment of God's promise to establish His Kingdom here on earth. We looked at the various ways that the Kingdom was described and some of its unique features. I finished up by listing the eventual outcome of the Kingdom when Jesus returns. It is no surprise then to know that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Christ was a major topic in Jesus' teaching.
We see an example of this emphasis on the Kingdom in Matthew chapters 5-7 where the Lord's "Sermon" deals primarily with how one is to live and conduct himself as a member of this Kingdom. Let's read Matthew 5:1-2 to begin our study of this section of Matthew and what it teaches us about life in the Kingdom.
Sermon on the Mount
1When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
- Matthew 5:1-2
The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of topics that Jesus addressed at this occasion and partially mentioned by other gospel writers (Luke 6:17). The setting is a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I've been to that particular place when I traveled to Israel several years back and there was a chapel there and you can see the hillside where this took place. It is very unique because that topography doesn't exist in other parts of the lake. This was near the town of Capernaum where both Jesus and Peter lived as adults. Matthew says that after Jesus finished this sermon or this teaching, He came down and after healing several people from the crowd He went into Peter's home and even healed Peter's mother-in-law who was suffering from a high fever (Matthew 8:14-17).
The Sermon on the Mount deals with five major subjects:
- The Beatitudes - 5:1-16
- The Law - 5:17-48
- Relationship with God - 6:1-34
- Relationship with Others - 7:1-12
- The Way of Life - 7:13-29
In this section I'd like to comment on these five.
Beatitudes - 5:1-16
The word Beatitude does not appear in the New Testament as such. It is the word Beatitudo, a Latin translation for the word blessed which means happy, joyful or blessed. There are nine of these and all of them begin and are structured in the same way. They make a promise, they deal with spiritual things and they're a direction for people in the Kingdom. One needs to remember the idea that the Beatitudes and what is written here in the Sermon on the Mount are directed towards people who are in the Kingdom, not people who are outside of it for whom these things make no sense. The teachings about our conduct, attitude and relationships in the Sermon on the Mount don't make sense to people who are not Christians. They can understand what is being taught but the content is impractical to them in context because they are not members of the Kingdom.
The approach that Jesus used in the Beatitudes was a style that the Jewish rabbis had when introducing their lessons with a question or a paradox.
Beatitudes were contradictions that challenged the preconceived notions of life and philosophy. For example:
- The spiritually poor will obtain the riches in heaven
- The mourners would be comforted
- The gentle will gain the earth (not the warrior)
- Those thirsty for righteousness will be satisfied
In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives insight into the spiritual reality that operates in the Kingdom of Heaven. These are spiritual principles by which we, in the Kingdom, live by.
For example, those who bear persecution in the name of Christ, do rejoice. This is not the usual reaction of those who are persecuted, they usually react with fear, anger or a desire for revenge. But in the Kingdom, the spiritual laws work in such a way that those who suffer for Christ actually rejoice in their sufferings.
Disciples in the Kingdom, influenced by these principles, are distinct like salt as a flavor or light to the eye. The distinctiveness of the disciples, characterized by the principles set forth in the Beatitudes, is what makes them stand apart from others and what characterizes the Kingdom as the saltiness of salt or the brightness of light. This distinctiveness ultimately perceived in good lives and good works, is not only indicative of the Kingdom, but also reveals the true nature of God to fallen man. In the Beatitudes, we see man as he is in the regenerated state and not as he was in the state of lawlessness without Christ. This is the practical out working of an individual who is born again in Jesus Christ.
The Law - 5:17-48
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5:20
The key verse in the discourse on the Law is this verse and it reveals that the higher righteousness of the disciples is the quality that distinguishes them and makes them useful in the Kingdom. In Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus makes a series of comparisons putting forth what the people had been taught about the Law by their teachers and then comparing these teachings with the essence or the spirit of the Law given by the One who originally gave the Law to Moses, Jesus Himself (I Corinthians 10:4).
Jesus comments on five areas of teaching in the Law of Moses that they had received from their teachers and he compares each of these with the true essence of what that teaching actually meant according to the One who gave the Law.
21"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
- Matthew 5:21-22
Jesus pegs the crime at the beginning of anger and resentment towards others and that the keeping of the Law meant a conscious effort at reconciliation and not just avoiding the extreme which would be murder.
27"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
- Matthew 5:27-28
They had been taught to manipulate the Law in order to justify their adultery with easy divorce. They thought, "As long as I give my wife a bill of divorce, I've not broken God's Law when I've divorced her." Jesus again situates the true sin as impurity of the heart and the keeping of the Law as an effort to control one's mind and body, not the manipulation of the Law. He's explaining where the true sin was and what keeping the Law here really meant (sexual purity, fidelity).
33"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.' 34But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
- Matthew 5:33-34
The Jews at that time had learned a complex manner of making selective vows which they felt they could break when it was convenient. Jesus reveals that vows are not necessary when one has an honest heart which was what the Law essentially required.
38"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
- Matthew 5:38-39
Their system at the time relied on the Law as a tool for restitution and very often as a cover for revenge. Jesus taught them that the higher principle of the Law was mercy and not simply exacting justice or revenge.
43"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
- Matthew 5:43-44
They would use the Law to build a wall around themselves and keep others out, all done as a way of isolating themselves. Jesus showed them that one purpose of the Law was to reveal God's goodness to men, that to be like God meant to have justice and especially mercy towards strangers and those who were dispossessed.
Relationship with God - 6:1-34
In this passage Jesus teaches them how to have a proper relationship with God in heaven.
- Practice goodness towards God with a view of pleasing Him, not men. - vs. 1-4
- Pray to God in order to communicate with Him and not simply to impress others with your piety. - vs. 5-18
- Trust in God to provide for all of your physical and spiritual needs. - vs 19-34
Jesus encourages his audience to understand the nature of the Kingdom (Beatitudes); the quality of life that they should strive for as salt and light of the earth (which is the essence of the Law); and guides them into practical ways to have a meaningful relationship with God.
Relationship with Others - 7:1-12
The elements of a proper relationship with God are followed by the key idea in having a blessed relationship with people in the Kingdom.
In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
- Matthew 7:12
Upon this principle is based all of the teaching in the Law and the Prophets on how we must treat one another in order to bless ourselves and to please God.
The Way of Life - 7:13-29
Having set forth the parameters of the Kingdom and its inner workings here on earth, Jesus explains the way to enter into a relationship with the Father in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- Enter by the narrow gate of Christ. Later on at His crucifixion, the disciples will understand just how narrow and difficult this gate really is. Jesus is the only gate that one can enter through and faith in Him is the only way to enter in.
- Beware of false prophets who produced neither the teachings nor the fruit of the Kingdom of Christ. That's how you know them, they have neither the fruit nor the teachings. The true prophets have the fruit and the teachings. So we have to judge Christianity or any other religion by its fruit.
- Don't just hear the words of Christ, act upon them in order to enter into the Kingdom. Many are called but few are chosen. Many heard all of what He said that day in the Sermon on the Mount and they were amazed at his teaching, but only a few entered through the narrow gate of faith in Him and received the cross that He called on His disciples to carry.