The Blessed Ones—Part 2Rev. Philip Miller | January 16, 2022
Selected highlights from this sermon
Words shape the course of history. Two thousand years ago a young Jewish carpenter-turned-Rabbi turned the world upside down with His Sermon on the Mount and He began in the most unexpected way. He announced the blessings of the kingdom of heaven we’re coming upon the least, the last, and the left behind.
As Pastor Miller goes through these beatitudes, he show us three themes running through Matthew 5:3–12: the upside down kingdom; the paradox of blessedness; and the inverted way of life.
Words shape the course of history. Just think of these lines:
“Give me liberty or give me death.”—Patrick Henry
“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”—Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address
“We shall fight on the beaches!”—Sir Winston Churchill
“I have a dream...”—Martin Luther King Jr.
“I am prepared to die.”—Nelson Mandela
Two thousand years ago, a young Jewish carpenter-turned-rabbi turned the world upside down with words, the words of the Sermon on the Mount, and He began with the most unexpected words in a very unexpected way. He announced the blessings of the coming of the kingdom of God that would come upon the least, the last, and the left behind.
Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew 5:3–12 this morning. You’ll find this reading on page 810 in the pew Bible there. And as we read these magnificent and unexpected words of Jesus that turned the world on its head, we have a special feature this morning. We get to hear some of these words in the voice of our founder, D.L. Moody. Some of you may know this, but we actually have a single...as far as I know, this is the only recording of D.L. Moody’s voice. It was recorded on a wax phonograph cylinder in 1898, brand new technology, one year before he went home to be with Jesus.
And so what we’re going to do is, because it’s a partial recording of the Beatitudes, I’m going to begin the reading, and then he will pick it up, and then I will finish. Okay? This is cool!
3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
BEGIN: D.L. Moody recording
4: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
7: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obatin mercy.”
8: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
9: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
10: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
END: D.L. Moody recording
11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” 12: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Isn’t that special? One-hundred and twenty-four years apart, and this is still the Word of the Lord! Amen? Amen! (applause)
As we consider these “blesseds,” these “beatitudes,” to use the old word, of Jesus, let’s give our attention to three themes this morning.
First, we’re going to see The Upside-Down Kingdom. We’re going to see secondly The Paradox of Blessedness, and thirdly, The Inverted Way of Life. The Upside-Down Kingdom, The Paradox of Blessedness, and The Inverted Way of Life.
Let’s bow our heads and let’s give our time to the Lord.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that your Word is timeless and enduring. We thank you that in these words of Jesus, we have a calibration to the world as it really is. The world as you are setting it aright, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God on Earth. We want to live as citizens of heaven today. Teach us we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
First of all, The Upside-Down Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount is the speech that launched Jesus’ ministry. You’ll recall maybe from last time that Jesus announces His ministry in chapter 4, verse 17 when He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” that in Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has come down to Earth, that He is the embodiment of the kingdom. He wields the power of the kingdom, and in Him the kingdom is on offer. It is “at hand” in Jesus Christ. It is right here for the taking. It is “at hand.” Reach out to Jesus, take His hand, and follow Him into the eternal life of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. And unlike the kingdoms of Earth which, so often, exist for the ambitious, and the strong, and the powerful, and the winners, and the affluent, and the elites, the kingdom of heaven is at hand in Jesus. It is open wide to nobodies, the least, the last, the left-behind, people like you and me.
And to prove that point, immediately after Jesus begins His ministry in chapter 4, verses 23 and 24, this is what we read: “And he (Jesus) went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.”
And so these are the people, this unlikely crowd of people, who are gathering to Jesus. Not the Pharisees, not the rulers, not the movers and shakers of society, not the social elites. No. It’s the sick. It’s the afflicted. It’s the pained, and the oppressed, the people that everyone would have assumed were cursed by God. And yet they are blessed in the kingdom of heaven as it comes upon them, with a touch of Jesus’ hand. As they come and follow Him they experience healing and wholeness and the blessings of the kingdom of God. And so don’t you see? The kingdom of heaven is turning the world on its head. The kingdom of heaven is turning the world on its head. In the kingdom of heaven which Jesus is bringing, it is not the rich, the comfortable, the successful, the affluent, or the popular who come out on top. It is not that list that gets to live a blessed life. That is how it works in the kingdom of this world, but in Jesus’ kingdom it’s different. In Jesus’ kingdom, many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
And so the kingdom that is now at hand in Jesus is for the least, the last, and the left-behind. Anyone desperate enough to cast all of their hopes on Jesus are welcome in the kingdom of heaven.
It is this truth that inspired D.L. Moody to put the words on our building, “Ever welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor,” because anyone can come to Jesus and enter into the life of the kingdom of heaven. Amen? Jesus’ kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, and it is turning the world on its head, which leads to now The Paradox of Blessedness, The Paradox of Blessedness.
Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount with a nine-fold list of who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven. And as we saw last time, this list is operating on two levels. There’s a shock and a twist, a shock and a twist. This list is meant to shock us. It’s first meant to shock us. Jesus is intentionally picking a list of people who are least likely in all the world to be considered blessed in life. These are the least, the last, and the left behind, and He’s showing us that in the kingdom of heaven everything is reversed. It’s turned on its head. That’s the shock.
And then there’s a twist because it turns out that this list of unlikely people, these unlikely traits that look so bad on the surface, turn out to be the very things that make us most receptive to the blessings of God in the kingdom of heaven. It’s ironic. It’s a twist. It’s an undoing. We saw last week how it
played out in the first three “blesseds.” And let me just review those really quickly just so we keep them in our minds.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And this is shocking, friends. The spiritually impoverished, the spiritually bankrupt, the spiritually destitute people are turning out to be blessed in the kingdom of heaven. It’s shocking! We’d expect the spiritually asset-rich to be the blessed ones, like the Pharisees. But they’re not the ones receiving the blessings of God. It’s the spiritually poor. Shocking.
And then there’s the twist, that the kingdom of God only comes by grace to those who know they don’t deserve it. And so the irony is the greater our spiritual “assets,” the more we tend to trust in ourselves, and in our own self–righteousness before God, and we block ourselves off from the blessings of grace and mercy that God gives us in the kingdom of heaven. In our self-righteousness we contend to think that God owes us blessings because we’ve been so good. But that’s not how the kingdom of heaven works. It turns out that the spiritually poor, who seem at first to be the very last people God could ever bless, are the people who are most receptive to the blessings of mercy and grace in the kingdom of heaven, for having nothing, they’re ready for mercy and the blessings of God in the kingdom of heaven. Shock and twist!
Then we saw in the second one, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, a shock! Blessed are the weepers, the bereaved, the heartbroken, the devastated; not the optimists and the positive thinkers, but the weeping ones. And of course, there’s a twist because those who mourn discover, in the kingdom of heaven, a God who weeps with them, who bears our sorrows and carries our tears, catches them in the palms of His nail-scarred hands.
And in the kingdom of heaven, those who mourn find comfort in a God who is sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, and who will wipe away every tear from our eyes one day and make everything sad come untrue. And it turns out that mourning is a gateway into the very heart of God. Who would ever have known?
And then we saw the third one. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” It’s shocking: not the go-getters, the confident and the assertive ones, but the humble, the shy, the timid, the quiet, the meek. These are unlikely people, and yet they inherit the kingdom of heaven, and find a Savior who is meek and mild, humble and gentle. And Jesus, the meekest of all people who is now exalted as the Heir of all creation, has tethered His destiny by grace through faith to those who trust in Him, who are now co-heirs in Christ and inherit the earth as well, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. This is amazing, isn’t it?
Now let’s look at the rest, the fourth one. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Again, friends, this is shocking. This is not “Blessed are the full, the fulfilled, the satisfied, the satiated.” No. Blessed are those who are unsatiated, who are hungry and famished and parched. For what? For righteousness.
There’s an outside righteousness and an inside righteousness. These are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness inside. They sense their own unrighteousness in life, their addictions, their brokenness, their habitual sin, and they yearn to be made right. They long to be whole, and they’re starving to be mended. And yet they wait. They are waiting, empty and parched. They know how much they are missing, and they’re waiting for righteousness on the outside, not just inside but outside. Some people are waiting for righteousness on the outside. They’re yearning for right to be done in the world, for justice to be served. They’re longing for the world to be made whole, and good and beautiful, and they’re starving for it. They’re famished for it. They are so dissatisfied with the brokenness of this world, living in injustice wherever they go. And they long for the righteous justice of God that is so elusive in the kingdoms of this world.
These are heartbroken longing people, you see this, yearning to be right inside and have righteousness on the outside, and yet in the kingdom of heaven, all of this dissatisfied yearning will one day be quenched and filled and satisfied, for in Jesus Christ they discover a righteousness by grace through faith, that is substantive and nourishing, that is now theirs in Jesus Christ forever. And they discover the Spirit of God who is alive inside of them, transforming their hearts, cultivating the fruit of righteousness within them. And in Jesus Christ they recognize a kindred righteous Sufferer who knows what it is to face an unjust world and a broken reality, who has suffered at the hands of sinful men, who was parched and empty on the cross.
And like Jesus, these who hunger and thirst in the kingdom of heaven now find that they can entrust themselves to the One who judges justly, that they can rest their case at the feet of Jesus to trust in the satisfaction that will come when righteousness rules the earth through Him. And there’s the twist, that these righteousness-starved people, their starving becomes a homing beacon to the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Again, shocking: the merciful. Not those who drive a hard bargain, the tough, the tenacious, those who punch back and get even. No. Blessed are the merciful, the easily taken advantage of, those who relinquish their claims to restitution, who decide not to press charges, who smooth things over if they can. These are the world’s shock absorbers, the easily trodden upon, those who are quick to forgive and give second chances. And yet, in the kingdom of heaven, they discover God who is rich in mercy, who is abounding in steadfast love and loyalty, a God who gives Himself away again and again, and is lavish with His forgiveness and eager in His grace. And the merciful who are so often trampled on and run over in this life end up being close to the heart of a merciful God. It’s amazing.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are the pure in heart, not the wild, the sexy, the partyers. No, the innocent, the naïve, the modest, the inexperienced, the prudes, the ones who never get invited to the parties because they don’t know how to party, the ones who are slighted and poked fun at because they don’t go with the crowd. And yet in the kingdom of heaven they are invited into the ultimate inner circle, aren’t they? They shall see the face of God. The smile of God will eclipse all the frowns of mankind, and the pure in heart will feel right at home in the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The peacemakers. Not the winners, the victors, the conquerors, but those who have the power to come out on top, but instead choose to extend an olive branch, to forgive offences, who deescalate and absorb, who choose to let it go.
Making peace always requires a price be paid. And these folks, the peacemakers, bear the cost of bringing healing and peace into the world. They bear it in themselves. But in the kingdom of heaven, those who bear the cost of making peace, find a family resemblance with a Father who bears the cost of making peace with humanity. Do you realize God had every right to triumph over us and just squash us where we were? He had no obligation to come and rescue us, and yet He took it upon Himself, at great personal cost, to make peace with us. He bears the price, and those who bear the price of making peace, who are so often abused and taken advantage of in life find in the kingdom of heaven, they are preciously enfolded into the tight-knit, peace-filled family of God. They are sons and daughters of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These are people who are persecuted for doing what’s right, but they don’t go with the flow and toe the company line, or wink at wrongdoing. No, they stand out and they stand up for what’s right, and so often are turned on, attacked, and vilified by others. And yet, in the kingdom of heaven, they find a God who will stand with them in the fire. They discover a Jesus who knows what it means to suffer for doing what is right. And they find that suffering for doing what is right actually presses them deeper into the heart of God, who will never leave them and never forsake them. And in the kingdom of heaven, the presence of God is nearest to those who need it the most. And when forsaken by everyone else, they find a friend in God who sticks closer than a brother. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”
And finally, the longest one: “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.”
It's a strange list. Blessed are the reviled, the persecuted, the slandered, the shamed. Not the cultural majority, the popular folks, those who are acclaimed by society. No, these are folks who have thrown their lot in with Jesus and are immediately labeled as “one of those people.” They are rejected, and shunned, and hated, and cancelled, and yet in the kingdom of heaven they learn to rejoice whenever they face trials of many kinds because these light and momentary afflictions are working for them an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And facing the rejection of men, they discover the reward of the approval of God. And like the prophets of old, they learn to live for the pleasure of heaven rather than the opinions of Earth. And God stands with them in the fire. Great is their reward indeed.
Now, this is quite a list, isn’t it? The spiritually bankrupt, the bereft, the unassertive, those who long for things to be made right, those who lay down their rights for others, those who keep themselves innocent in life, those who absorb the wrongs of others, those who pay the price for doing what’s right, those who are hunted down and hated for following Jesus.
You read this list. None of this sounds appealing. None of this sounds like your ten-year plan, does it? None of this sounds like it’s, you know, it’s “up and to the right.” None of this sounds like the American dream. No, this is a list of tragedies, of crises, of not mountains but valleys. This is not what we think we want. No, we want comedy. We want success. We want victory. We want mountaintops. But what if Jesus is actually right? What if the place we’re actually most ready to meet God is in the valley? What if the kingdom of heaven is most readily found when the kingdoms of our Earth come crashing down? What if blessedness is getting more of God in life’s valleys? What if that’s where real blessedness lies, that you are getting more of God in life’s valleys? What if the blessedness in the kingdom of God, in the presence of who He is, is found most readily not on mountaintops but in valleys? What if God is nearest, not when things are going well, but when things are falling apart? What if it’s not when we feel strong but when we feel weak that we are most open to the presence and power of God?
Jesus says it’s hard for a rich man to come into the kingdom of heaven. Not impossible, hard. Why would that be? Could it be that all of our affluence, all of our giftedness, all of our blessings, all of our assets, all of our wealth, all of our privilege actually serves to blind us and shut us off to the kingdom of heaven more than anything else? What if it’s in our poverty, and our emptiness, and our nothingness that we are most ready for mercy and grace, and the presence and power of the kingdom of heaven? What if you can have nothing, and in the kingdom of God, everything? What if you can gain the whole world and lose everything by missing out on the kingdom of heaven?
See, what Jesus is doing is He’s inviting us into an inverted way of life, an inverted way of life. If you’re feeling disoriented by Jesus’ teaching here, that’s good. That’s good! He’s messing with you. This is what He’s trying to do. That’s exactly His game plan. He’s breaking the categories. He’s rocking our world. He’s making us rethink everything. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Repent. Change your whole way of thinking, your whole way of living, your whole way of orienting to reality. The upside-down kingdom is here! And everything has to change. I’m inviting you into an inverted way of life, an inverted way to live. Won’t you come into it, this upside-down kingdom of heaven?
I want to leave you with three take-away questions to just help us process. Remember, this is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the dissonance that He’s going to unpack and move us through in the coming weeks.
Three questions to help us ponder and reflect:
The first one: What if the moments we often interpret as cursedness are in fact an invitation into blessedness? What if the moments we often interpret as cursedness are in fact an invitation to blessedness?
Friends, everything on this list seems so lousy, so painful, so hard, so bad. And yet Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is found there, because God is there.” And what if, instead of trying to spend so much of our energy avoiding negative realities at all costs, we learn to see the hard things of life as an invitation to have more of God? What if, in sorrow and weakness and mourning and loss and poverty and emptiness and starvation and hunger, God is most available and near? What if there is blessedness hiding in the shadows?
Second question: What if the greatest blessedness we could ever ask for is simply to have a greater portion of God? What if the greatest blessedness we could ever ask for is simply to have a greater portion of God, so that everything we lose on this list, if we get more of God, it’s actually a good deal? It’s a win! It’s a blessing. What if in losing, as the kingdoms of this Earth crumble and fall, as our kingdoms crumble and fall, what if God meets us in the wreckage, and that’s where He’s been all along? The blessedness is actually at the bottom, and the upside-down kingdom is there? What if there’s mercy and grace and goodness and the presence of God in glory when life falls apart?
Last question: What if the way up is down? What if the way up is down? What if everything, what if the world is upside down?
I read a story a few years ago of a pilot, an Air Force pilot, a captain. She was flying upside down but didn’t know it, and pulled up and crashed because she was upside down the whole time and had no idea. What if that’s how this world is, and Jesus is trying to turn it right side up so that you can fly, and live, and have life in the kingdom of heaven? What if the way up is down and the way down is up?
Repent, change your whole mind, your whole way of living for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Friends, will you let the words of Jesus shape the course of your history? Will you let Him turn your life right side up, the upside-down way of the kingdom of heaven?
Would you pray with me?
Father, these words mess with us so much. Everything in our lives is oriented around building a kingdom, making much of ourselves, of our lives, becoming successful and affluent, and upward, upward, upward mobility, but if it takes us further from you, that is not a win.
Father, maybe we are most attuned to reality when we ache, when we hunger, when we yearn and are sad and broken. Help us. Then we are ready for rescue. We so want to be the heroes of our own lives, but maybe that’s not our story. Maybe we’re the damsel in distress, helpless, hopeless, imprisoned with the curse of death upon our lives. And you’re the hero. You’re the one who rides up on the white horse and slays the dragon and climbs the tower and kisses us from our death sleep, and walks us off into the sunset. All we do is swoon.
If you have come for us, if you have done everything for us, if what matters is not our assets but your assets, not our happiness but your joy, not our life but your life, if you are the hero, then all we must do is collapse in your arms and let you rescue us.
The way up is down. Help us to fall into your arms forever and discover the life we always wanted in the kingdom of heaven.
We pray this in Jesus’ name for His sake, Amen.