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1. Lifestyles of the Poor and Nameless (Matthew 5:1-5)

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Matthew 5:1-51
January 11, 2004


Why does God let that happen to us?

You’d think that we’d get better treatment from someone who loves us.

And yet at some point in our lives we all experience terrible sorrows.

We all get into situations that we simply cannot stand, cannot handle, and cannot find a way out. We all have heard the little voice deep down inside us that says, “You’re a miserable failure.” Some of you here this morning are probably experiencing those feelings right now.

Why does God allow those unpleasant and even tragic experiences in our lives? That’s one of the questions that really bothers us.

That’s a complicated discussion and probably there is no one ultimately satisfying answer that anyone can give you to that question. I think that on some level, we’ll probably wrestle with that issue for the rest of our lives. But I can offer you a part of the answer this morning. One of the reasons God lets bad things happen in our lives is because it’s the very best thing that could happen to us.

Sounds like a contradiction, I know. But you know what? That’s the way the truth often is. That’s just the kind of paradox that characterizes our leader, Jesus, and his teaching.

The Jesus Curriculum

The Jesus Curriculum

This is the beginning of a new year and it’s a good time to start a new series. So I thought this morning we might begin a new project that will be the backbone of our Sunday morning teaching for probably the next 2-3 years. We’ll stop along the way to explore some other topics as well.

But our main course is going to be a study of the teachings of Jesus.

In a way, that’s what we do every week, because the whole Bible is God’s Word. But specifically, we’re going to examine what Jesus actually taught his followers while he was here on earth 2000 years ago.

I’d like to call it, “The Jesus Curriculum”.

During his ministry, Jesus performed many miracles, healed the sick and spoke in parables to huge crowds of people. But the majority of his time, Jesus spent with his followers, teaching them, training them.

Jesus taught many things on many occasions. But in the pages of the New Testament, we find three major lessons that he gave specifically to those who were following him and wanted to learn from him.

Basically, Jesus taught his followers about:

  • Life in the Kingdom, or, The Kingdom Handbook
  • about The Community of the Spirit
  • and about The Return of the King

Popularly, these three lessons are known as:

  • The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7
  • The Upper Room Discourse, found in John 14-17 and
  • The Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24-25

Today we’re going to begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount.

I’ve called it “The Kingdom Handbook” because essentially, it is a manual for citizens of God’s Kingdom. In other words, an instruction manual for those who want to follow Jesus, the King.

The “Kingdom of God” has a deep and significant meaning in the Bible.

It really begins with the kingdom that God established for Israel in the days of Moses. That kingdom developed into the kingdom of David, Israel’s greatest king. After hundreds of years of unfaithfulness to God, the kingdom finally fell apart. But God promised through the prophets that one day the kingdom would be restored by a future king, the Messiah. When Jesus began his ministry, his message was, “The Kingdom of Heaven is coming soon.” The ultimate arrival of God’s Kingdom is still in the future when Jesus will return and establish his kingdom on earth. As Jesus said at his trial, “My kingdom is not of this world.” But in the meantime, there are some aspects of his kingdom that have already begun. We who follow Jesus are all citizens of God’s invisible kingdom. Jesus is our King and he is sovereign over us.

While we await entrance into the future kingdom, we live on this earth, but we acknowledge that our citizenship really lies in God’s kingdom. Therefore we live our lives according to the principles of God’s kingdom, not according to the principles of this world.

“The Kingdom Manual” tells us how things in God’s Kingdom work and we discover that things work very differently in God’s Kingdom that they do in our world. In fact, sometimes it’s almost exactly the opposite of what we might expect.

G.K. Chesterton describes the Kingdom Handbook this way:

“On the first reading of the Sermon on the Mount you feel that it turns everything upside down, but the second time you read it, you discover that it turns everything right side up. The first time you read it, you feel that it is impossible, but the second time you feel that nothing else is possible.”

The message Jesus taught to his followers is radically different than the conventional wisdom of our world. But it comes from the one who created us and asks us to believe that he knows best how life is supposed to work.

Well, let’s take a look at exactly what Jesus taught his followers and you’ll see what I mean about the paradoxes of the Jesus Curriculum.

[5:1] Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, [2] and he began to teach them, saying:

Notice that there are large crowds of people following Jesus around, but here he specifically sits down to teach his disciples.

What is a disciple?

We often think of the 12 apostles when we hear the word disciple. The apostles were some of the disciples, but apostles and disciples are very different. The word for disciple means literally, a learner. It was used of someone who followed a rabbi (that is, a teacher) to learn from him.

Jesus, like other rabbis of his day, had a group of people who attached themselves to him for training. When Jesus told the fishermen, “Follow me,” he was inviting them to be his learners, his disciples.

So the teaching in Matthew 5-7, then, is not directed to the world. It is directed to us, to those who would follow Jesus and be trained by him.

When Jesus sat down, he assumed the typical position of a rabbi who was training his disciples.

Kingdom Character

His message about the kingdom begins with the characteristics of the kingdom’s citizens. What kind of people belong to God’s kingdom? The answer might surprise you.

Title: Lifestyles of the Poor and Nameless

One might expect the citizens of God’s kingdom to be the best and the brightest, the most noble, the most worthy, the most beautiful, the strongest and the bravest. But instead we find that God’s kingdom belongs to the poor and the nameless. It belongs to those who in this world are outcasts.

As Jesus describes the surprising characteristics of the citizens of God’s kingdom, he begins with the word “Blessed.” The first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as “the beatitudes.” They speak of those who are blessed. The word “blessed” means “fortunate” but without the idea of chance; someone who is envied for his condition; someone who should be congratulated. It doesn’t mean “happy” in the sense of a feeling of happiness, but rather it describes a state that should make someone ultimately satisfied, fulfilled and joyful.

The surprising part is not that citizens of God’s kingdom are blessed. The surprising part is the characteristics for which they should be congratulated.

1. Spiritually Bankrupt

[3] "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The word poor is the word for a beggar, but it refers here not to those who lack material wealth, but to those who lack spiritual wealth. Blessed are those who are spiritually destitute, the spiritual paupers, the spiritually bankrupt. Blessed are those who don’t have any spiritual resources whatsoever—no great acts of kindness to commend them, no deep insight into truth, no moral backbone to keep them on the straight and narrow. Blessed are the spiritual washouts for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Ok, see what I mean? Not at all what you’d expect. Very upside down from our perspective. But that’s what Jesus says.

How fortunate it is to be a spiritual nobody. Why? Because the spiritual nobody is the one who is completely convinced that there is nothing he can do to have a relationship with God. There is nothing he has to offer. He is totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy. He recognizes that he needs God because he’s bankrupt on his own.

In Luke 18:10-14 Jesus tells a story about "Two men [who] went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. [11] The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:

'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

The Pharisee was a spiritual somebody. He had his resources and he was counting on them to impress God.

[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.'

The tax collector was spiritually bankrupt. He had nothing to offer. All he could do was plead for God’s mercy. And Jesus says,

[14] "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The point of the story is not that we should be humble about how good we are. It’s that we all need to recognize that we’ve got nothing in us that we can use to impress God. All of us fall short of the requirements. All of us need God’s grace. If you’re a pretty good person, then sometimes it’s hard to see that, to recognize how much you need God.

But if you’re a spiritual beggar, if you’re spiritually bankrupt, then Congratulations! You’re so fortunate that your need for God is so obvious that you can’t miss it. You’re so blessed that you know just how desperate your situation is, because some people will never understand.

You know, this is one of the disadvantages of growing up in a Christian home with godly parents. This is one of the disadvantages of being a basically good guy. I’m not advocating that we dive into sin headfirst so that we’ll all know how vile we are. Sin is a poison that destroys life.

But those who have known the destruction of sin are fortunate because it’s often easier for them to understand how much they need God than it is for a basically good person to understand how much they need God.

The good news is that we all need God and we all can discover that.

St. Paul grew up in a godly home and he had some pretty great spiritual resources, yet he discovered how little they meant compared to his great need:

Philippians 3:4-8 I myself have reasons for such confidence. … [5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;

[6] as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. [7] But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

[8] … I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

The spiritual resources that we put in the plus column can become an obstacle that keeps us from understanding that we are God’s only because of grace and not because of what we have done. Before we can enter God’s kingdom, we need to recognize our spiritual resources for what they are—rubbish! List your spiritual assets. They are rubbish.

If, on the other hand, you are one of those who basically has no spiritual brownie points at all, then congratulations! You’re just the kind of person that belongs in the kingdom of heaven. No wonder Jesus attracted such a collection of prostitutes and sinners. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

2. Deeply Dismayed

The second characteristic is in verse 4:

[4] Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Happy are those who are sad. What an oxymoron!

Are you troubled? Are you suffering? Are you terribly hurt and disappointed? Are you discouraged or crushed or despairing? Congratulations! The comfort of God’s kingdom belongs to you.

Mourning hardly seems like occasion for congratulations. When things don’t go well for us, we want to complain as if this verse said, “Blessed are those who moan.” But Jesus says, sorrow is an occasion for joy, for celebration. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be sad. It means you should also rejoice if you’re sad. Because if you’re mourning, then you get it, you understand just how broken and ugly this world is. You’ve experienced the trauma and tragedy that comes from a fallen world; the mess that comes from man run amok; the wages that come from sin. You’ve experienced the sting of death, the corruption of disease, the pain of broken relationships.

Because of that, you have a much better chance of recognizing that this world is not the way it is supposed to be and we are just not equipped to live like this. It really stinks! You have a much better chance of recognizing that we were really meant to live in a world without sin, and so you have a much better chance of seeking reality in God’s kingdom. How fortunate! Congratulations! You’re just the kind of person that belongs in the kingdom of heaven.

When things go well for us, it’s easy to get comfortable living on this planet. But ultimately we don’t belong here. This planet isn’t our home; it’s just a layover! And if things are comfortable for you here, you might be inclined to fool yourself into settling down for a long stay. But if your life is full of pain and sorrow, then congratulations! You are the kind of person who can’t wait to get out of this place and start our real lives in the kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

3. Completely Inadequate

A third characteristic is found in verse 5:

[5] Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

In the Bible, Moses is described as the meekest of all men. The word “meek” sounds to us like a weakling, but we see Moses act with great courage and authority. But his meekness is found in his sense of inadequacy. When God asked him to do a job, Moses said, “I can’t do it. I’m not your man. I don’t have what it takes. I’m completely inadequate.” And Moses was right. However, by God’s power, by God’s ability, and by God’s leading, Moses acted and led with great courage and ability.

I think at heart most everybody is either an “I can do it” kind of person or an “I don’t have what it takes” kind of person. You probably know already which kind of person you are.

The “I can do it” people are resourceful and self-confident. They’re optimistic. They take charge and seem to instinctively know what to do.

The “I don’t have what it takes” people are more hesitant and halting. They have little confidence in themselves or in others. They expect they will fail. They’re often paralyzed by inaction. They feel completely inadequate. If that’s the kind of person you are, then congratulations! You are just the kind of person that belongs in God’s kingdom.

If you’re the kind of person who has a lot of resourcefulness and self-confidence, then it’s easy to try to do it yourself, to count on your own strength or your own smarts. But if you feel completely inadequate, congratulations. You are much more likely to turn to God and rely on his resources. You are much more likely to understand just how much you need his guidance and his strength and his wisdom. “Can do” people have a much harder time learning to trust God in their everyday lives. But people who are completely inadequate are forced to look outside themselves for resources. How fortunate you are! If you could visit a first-century church, what kind of people would you mostly likely find?

Paul writes to the Corinthians,

1 Corinthians 1:26-30 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

[27] But God chose the foolish things of the world … God chose the weak things of the world …[28] He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--…

[29] so that no one may boast before him. [30] It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.

All of us need to depend on God, but that truth is easier for some of us to recognize than others. Those who are foolish and weak and lowly and despised are those who more easily recognize that they need to depend upon God everyday. And so those are the kind of people that populate the kingdom of God. That’s the same idea Jesus had in mind when he said,

Matthew 18:3 “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

A child is completely dependent on his parents and he knows it. In fact, a normal child just assumes that his parents will take care of him. That’s the kind of attitude we need to have toward God. We can’t do it. We don’t have what it takes. We are completely inadequate. But God can do it and he wants us to depend upon him.

[5] Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I’m not a very meek person. I’m more of a “can do” kind of guy.

However, there was one meek moment in my life I can remember: when I was approached about becoming a pastor at this church. I remember saying, “I’m not the guy you’re looking for.” I was persuaded to come anyway. But there have since been many times when I feel completely inadequate for this job. And that’s good, because I am completely inadequate for this job. I hope I never forget that. And I’d like to say thank you to all of you who periodically remind me that I’m completely inadequate to be your pastor. That may sound like sarcasm, but I really believe that even if criticism is unfair or untrue, it can still remind us of the truth that we do not have what it takes. Nor are we meant to. We’re meant to be uncomfortably in over our heads, because that’s when we will be forced to rely on God’s resources and not on our own. Do you feel completely inadequate for what God has you doing? Congratulations!


Congratulations to

the Spiritually Bankrupt
the Deeply Dismayed
and the Completely Inadequate

Why does God allow unpleasant experiences in our lives?

Why does God let us experience terrible sorrows?

Why does he put us into situations that we simply cannot stand, cannot handle, and cannot escape?

Why must we hear that little voice inside us that says, “You’re a miserable failure”?

Because those are the kinds of experiences that expose the thread-bareness of our self-sufficiency. They help us find the end of our own resources and thus they force us to find strength and comfort beyond ourselves.

They drive us to God, which is the only place where we can find true and lasting strength, comfort, and fulfillment.

So the next time something happens to you that brings you great pain, the next time someone reminds you how completely inadequate you are, the next time failure exposes your own spiritual bankruptcy…

Congratulate yourself. The kingdom of heaven is yours.

1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the The Kingdom Character series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on January 11, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life

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