• 9/11 - 20th Anniversary. The Cape Times headline the following day read: ‘The Day the World Changed’. A dramatic, climactic statement. So too Jesus’ first recorded message: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ (cf. Matthew 4:17) In effect, it was a ‘good news’ announcement that the world was about to change forever, that, despite appearances to the contrary, it is not the rulers of this world who ‘call the shots’, but it is the God of Israel.

In the words of Isaiah, the prophet: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”(Isaiah 52:7).

God was about to reveal this reality through the ministry of Jesus.

  • However, it quickly became apparent that what Jesus had in mind and what his first hearers envisaged were two different things. They expected the downfall of the Romans, but instead it meant the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem!
  • As one traces this Kingdom motif in the NT, it is clear that it is an important concept.

The Priority of the Kingdom

  • It was a priority in Jesus’ preaching (cf. Matthew 4:17.), and when he sent out His chosen disciples, he instructed them to preach the same message, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven has come near!’ (cf. Matthew 10:7), a more Jewish way of referring to the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 19:23-24).
  • Matthew devotes an entire chapter to a cluster of Jesus’ parables that begin with the words, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like....’ redefining the nature of this Kingdom for his hearers (cf. Matthew 13:24,31,33,44,45,47,52).
  • After Jesus’ resurrection, prior to His ascension, Luke tells us that 'over a period of forty days Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God’ to His disciples (cf. Acts 1:3). Significantly, the Book of Acts ends with Luke’s observation that the Apostle Paul, under house-arrest in Rome, ‘proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ...!’ (cf. Acts 20:31).
  • Clearly then for both Jesus and the apostles, the Kingdom of God was a priority, a concept that is reflected in the ‘Jesus is Lord’ motif in the NT letters.
  • The Beatitudes, which begin and end with a reference to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (cf. Matthew 5:3,10), give us a glimpse of the nature of this Kingdom. That will be the focus of my message.
  • In the preceding context, Matthew records Jesus doing an impressive array of miracles, no doubt intended to get people’s attention and to add credibility to his teaching:

Matthew 4:23–24 NIV

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

  • The reference to Gentile Syria in this context is important, an indication that the arrival of God’s Kingdom is good news for both Jews and Gentiles!

The People of the Kingdom

  • The Beatitudes describe the people or citizens of God’s Kingdom. The first Beatitude reveals the shocking truth that God’s Kingdom will be inhabited by ‘the poor in spirit’ (cf. Matt.5:3) i.e. those who need no convincing that that they are sinners in need of God’s help!
  • ‘Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven...’: The fact that the ‘poor in spirit’ possess the Kingdom in the present demonstrates that entrance is not based on merit, but mercy. It is a gracious Kingdom, not a meritocracy.
  • We see this truth clearly taught in one of Jesus’ parables recorded in Luke’s Gospel:

Luke 18:9–14 NIV

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

  • This parable would have shocked Jesus’ hearers who despised tax-collectors and venerated the Pharisees as devoted keepers of God’s Law.
  • One writer describes the people of the Kingdom in this way:

Everyone who thinks he or she is good enough to enter heaven is excluded, but Jesus is telling all the sinners whoever they are - addicts and hypocrites and failures and idiots and weaklings - who turn from sin to Him that not only are they welcome to enter, but that they will feel quite at home in God’s Kingdom”. (RO)

  • The Pharisees looked at those very people and said, “You’re the very one’s excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus looked at the same people turning to Him, and He said, “You’re the ones I’m going to build My kingdom with.” (RO)
  • This counter-cultural description of the citizens of the Kingdom is reinforced in the Beatitudes that follow (cf. Matthew 5:4.): They are at one and the same time meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted. (Stott). These qualities are true of all citizens of God’s Kingdom.
  • Herein lies the ‘good news’ of the Kingdom, that personal merit is not an entrance requirement! As such, the doors to God’s Kingdom are thrown wide open!

The Promises of the Kingdom

  • God’s Kingdom also promises unimaginable blessing to its citizens. The word ‘blessed’ is used repeatedly in the Beatitudes to reinforce the point (cf. Matthew 5:3.).
  • Many of the Beatitudes are couched in the so-called ‘Divine Passive’, simply meaning that God is the unstated subject i.e. the One who gives the blessings. For that reason alone they are guaranteed. So, to be ‘blessed’ means to experience God’s favour. We see this truth clearly expressed in the promised blessings of the Beatitudes:

Stott: They will all possess the kingdom of heaven comprising the new heavens and new earth, real estate as far as the eye can see! They will be comforted because sin, suffering and injustice are no more. They will receive mercy from the hand of God, and as part of His family, they will see Him. In a nutshell, their heavenly reward will be great (cf. Matthew 5:3-10).

  • It is hard for us in the present to imagine a world without any mourning or injustice or need, filled with God’s glory, but that is what is promised to all who enter God’s Kingdom. The Apostle John confirms this in his vision of the new heaven and earth in Revelation: “(God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
  • But this is a picture of the future not the present, that is why all the blessings of the Beatitudes, except the first and last (cf. Matthew 5:3, 10), are couched in the future tense. The future tense underscores not only the certainty of these blessings - God’s people ‘will’ experience these multiple blessings - but also alerts Jesus’ hearers to the ‘already, not yet’ nature of this Kingdom, that the fullness of the promised blessings will only be experienced in heaven.
  • According to Matthew 5:10-12, in the present, the saints can expect to be insulted, persecuted and slandered, like the prophets of old. God’s people will experience grief, material need, injustice and strife (Matthew 5:3-9); they are not exempted from these things. Put differently, Jesus doesn’t promise health and wealth in the present Age. That it why Christian marriage vows traditionally include the words ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part...’. Illustration: COVID deaths. Don’t be surprised when you experience hard times as a believer!
  • We should view Jesus’ miracles of healing and exorcisms as glimpses and guarantees of the glorious Kingdom to come, like a breath-taking False Bay sunrise that promises the arrival of a new day when there will be no more evil, sin, suffering and death, when Jesus returns in glory.
  • That’s not to say that the present is devoid of blessing, but it’s only the first fruits of the full harvest, the appetisers of the full menu, so that we have something better to look forward to when Jesus returns in glory.
  • Picture the blessings of the Beatitudes as a beautiful scenic postcard designed to make believers ‘homesick’ for heaven and to give them hope, comfort and strength to persevere in the present with all its challenges because of their certain hope for the future.
  • If the Kingdom was a priority for Jesus, it should be a priority for you! Are you inside or outside God’s Kingdom? You can be seated inside this church and still be outside the Kingdom of Heaven and so without hope of the promised blessings. If outside, there has to be an ‘self-emptying before there can be a (blessed) filling’ (JMB), what Jesus terms repentance, a turning from your sin to Him in faith. As D.L. Moody once remarked: God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves! So take that step today while you have the opportunity. All who do so, Jesus says, are welcome to enter His Kingdom!