It must have been strange and even shocking for the crowds to hear the words of Jesus’ sermon. See if your life experiences agree with these declarations. The poor in spirit are blessed. Those who mourn are blessed. The gentle are blessed. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. The merciful are blessed. The pure in heart are blessed. The peacemakers are blessed. Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed. Those who are insulted and persecuted are blessed. Does this match your experiences? These are the most counterintuitive, upside down ways to look at life. We really need to think about what Jesus is saying. Jesus is overthrowing everything we know about our culture and our way of life. None of the conditions that Jesus says gets you ahead in this world. From what we see, the people who are blessed are those who are strong, who are proud, who do not care about righteousness, who are merciless, who are harsh, imposing, and demanding, who are impervious to problems, and who cause strife and make war.
This sermon that Jesus proclaims is a hard sermon. There is nothing easy about what Jesus says to those who want to follow him and enjoy the blessings of God. One of the reasons that this sermon is hard is because what Jesus says is not what we see. It is counterintuitive. It does not make sense that those who are blessed by God are those who are insulted or merciful. It does not make sense that those who are blessed are those who are seeking righteousness. These are traits that no society admires. But Jesus says that God’s blessings come to the most unlikely audience. God’s blessings come to the poor in spirit, mourners, meek, righteousness seekers, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and insulted.
So there is a truth that must immediately strike us as we hear Jesus’ sermon. Disciples of Jesus are called to be completely different from the culture of our day as well as completely different from the religious norm. Much of what Jesus will teach in Matthew 5 and 6 are a rebuttal against the religious norm. The goal is not to be like the religious world. Nor is the goal to be like the secular world and its culture. The standard Jesus lays down is completely different from anything our world teaches, endorses, or embraces. His kingdom does not embrace our kingdom. I am asking each of us this morning to listen to these characteristics that Jesus declares about those who belong to him and ask yourself if this is true for you.
The Upside Down Kingdom
I think it is important for us to explore the countercultural nature of God’s kingdom. I believe what we will find is that we have accepted the values, teachings, and priorities of our culture more than we realize. Sometimes we will even try to impose our culture’s thinking on the kingdom of God. Let’s look at what Jesus says and how countercultural and counterintuitive his words are.
Jesus begins by saying that those who are blessed by God and belong to his kingdom are poor in spirit. Being poor in spirit means that we recognize our complete spiritual helplessness. The poor in spirit realize that they cannot rely on themselves. It means accepting our complete poverty before God. This is the opposite of our cultural norms. Our world admires self-reliance and total independence. We are told that we do not need anyone and that everything we need is in us. We are told that we are good enough, smart enough, and are able to be completely self-sufficient. But Jesus says to us that we are not. We are not good enough. Our intellect will not advance us in the kingdom. We are not completely self-sufficient. In fact, depending on ourselves will ruin us. Our culture tells us to think much of ourselves and make much of ourselves. You need to be seen and valued for who you are! Jesus says not to make much of yourself, not to draw attention to yourself, and not to rest on yourself because your sinfulness has made you spiritually bankrupt so that there is nothing to praise. Think about how being poor in spirit and accepting our spiritual helplessness are so contrary to self-esteem and self-praise.
Jesus then says that those who are blessed by God are those who mourn. Our culture tells us to be proud of who you are and proud of your actions. You are being you and you should be proud of it. Our world tells us that your actions are always right. But Jesus says that you should not be proud of who you and your actions. Rather, you should be mourning what you have done. You should be mourning your spiritual poverty. You should be devastated by your sinfulness. You have hurt people. You have broken relationships. You have done things that you should regret and not be proud about doing.
Further, those who are blessed are the meek. Our culture praises self-assertion and selfish ambition. Our culture cries out, “Look at me!” Pay attention to me! Validate me! See me! Acknowledge me! Like me! Like my content! Think about the meekness of Jesus. Jesus actually had something to pay attention to. Yet he did not go around saying, “Look at me!” Jesus frequently avoided the crowds and went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father. The kingdom of God does not have people in it who assert themselves.
Fourth, those who are blessed by God are those who are thirsting and hungering for God’s righteousness. Our culture says to seek your righteousness. You go get your justice. You define what is right. You go live your life by your truth. You seek what you think is right. But Jesus defines that those who are his disciples are not people who seek to make themselves right. We seek God’s right ways. We do not excuse our failings, mistakes, and sins as the right way to live. We will live by God’s definition of what right living looks like.
Fifth, those who are blessed by God are those who show mercy. Our culture is all about winning. Do not show mercy. Be right! Win! Do not show mercy in your marriage. You were right, so elevate yourself and show no mercy. Show no mercy on the job. Show no mercy in your family. Do not show mercy when you have the power. The reason we have a merciless society is because we have people who do not see that they need mercy themselves. So the message is to be relentless. Never let up. Throw anyone in front of you under the bus. Care about no one but yourself. Push people down and do not pick anyone up who has been knocked down. You walk on them too. But Jesus says that the only people in his kingdom are those who show others mercy. Mercy forgives. Mercy shows compassion. Mercy helps others.
Sixth, the people God blesses are those who are pure in heart. This is a picture of removing any duplicitous, insincere, or hypocritical heart. We are people who are not fake or putting on a show. This is interesting in our culture because our world wants to call out everyone who is fake while they also live their fake lives. But God’s people have an inward purity, an inward sincerity, and exhibit a single-mindedness. Hypocrisy and deceit are hated by the pure in heart.
Seventh, those who are blessed by God make peace. God’s people do not cause tension and strife. Rather, they are people who look to make reconciliation with others. God’s people cross the divide in the relationship so that there can be a restored relationship. Our culture tells us that if we have been wronged, then we are right to punish, right to avoid, right to abuse, and right to hurt the other person. But those who follow Jesus are not interested in exacerbating the relationship problem but solving the problem.
Finally, those who are blessed by God are those who endure insults and persecution for doing right. Even this is quite countercultural. Our world is about doing everything we can to avoid insults and suffering. But consider that Jesus is clearly describing that his kingdom and the kingdoms of the world collide. We would not expect to endure insults and persecution if the values of God’s kingdom matched the values of the world. The whole point is that Jesus knows that what he is teaching is countercultural and will bring out the resistance of the world. In fact, even our response is to be counterintuitive. Look at verse 12. “Rejoice and be glad.” Everything Jesus just said reverses are human thinking. So why would anyone listen to what Jesus says? Why would we want to live against the grain and go against the culture?
Motivation For Upside Down Living
Just listen to what Jesus says to those who will live the countercultural, upside down life. Those who live this kind of life will be comforted, inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, be called children of God, inherit the kingdom of heaven, and see God. Your reward is great in heaven. This way of living is the only way to happiness. This way of living is the only way to true life, true joy, and true satisfaction. It is hard to live the upside down life when we forget the reason why we should. I have been mentioning many times lately about how I have friends who have been on my heart who were unwilling to live the blessed life because life got very hard for them. Life did not go according to plan and the darkness of life closed in on them. Rather than running to God, they left God. I wonder if they forgot what Jesus was promising. I wonder if we forget what Jesus is promising to us.
I would like for you to look at these promises for blessing and pick on that is meaning for to you. Maybe you are in a season of life where one of the blessings really resonates with you. Maybe you are in need of comfort right now. Maybe you are in need of feeling satisfied. Maybe you just cannot wait to see God. Maybe you need to think about a great reward in heaven. But I want you to put this on your heart so that you will live the upside down, counterculture life so that you can enjoy the blessed life. In short, Jesus is saying that living such a life is worth it. There is great blessing coming to you if you will live this life. At this moment, Jesus looks like Moses going up on a mountain and declaring God’s covenant to his people. These blessings are covenantally promised to you. But Jesus is not looking for crowds. He is looking for disciples.
The Call To Blessed Living
So how are you living? What Jesus is clearly doing is asking for us to examine ourselves. How do we think about ourselves? Do we see our spiritual poverty? Are we poor in spirit? Are we mourning over our spiritual condition? Are we seeking God’s right ways or are we still trying to establish our ways as right? Do we show people mercy and compassion? Do we have purity of heart? Do we try to make peace with one another? Are we willing to lose our comforts, be insulted and persecuted for the sake of righteousness? Do we make life about promoting ourselves or promoting God?
Jesus is calling for us to live where we belong. If we are citizens of God’s kingdom, then we need to live a life that is countercultural and upside down to the way the world thinks. Do not go with the flow of this world and its ways. Go against the flow for this is the way of Jesus and his kingdom. When we try to make the world’s way and God’s ways match, know that we have it wrong. You live as citizens of another kingdom and its laws and culture are not the same at all. This is why when Jesus went through Galilee he was preaching to repent. Our ways are not God’s ways and this culture is not God’s culture. You are living the blessed life when you are poor in spirit, mourn, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, insulted and persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Your reward in heaven is great if you will live such a life.