Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

Please read and memorise Matthew 6:22-34

Having cautioned against seeking the praise of men and taught the people how to pray, Yeshua had challenged them:For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He continued stirring up in them a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of this world. Our focus, and our longing, needs to be on God and His goodness.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV

λύχνος – lychnos, refers to an oil-fed portable lamp. The Jewish lamp was made of clay (even as we are), shaped to carry oil and with a wick which could be lit to provide a portable source of light that could fill, illuminate, the whole room. While many different types of oil could be burned for a smoke light, the cleanest burning oil is olive oil (representative of the Holy Spirit). As such lamps were used in every Jewish home, they would all know from experience that impure fuel, having anything else mixed in with the pure olive oil, could fill the room with chocking smoke. The other cause of a smoking lamp is having the wick too high. Doing our good deed before men to be praised by them is raising our wick up too high – instead of the pure light of the Holy Spirit we produce a lot of smoke. Make sure that your wick is either trimmed flat or into a point, and that there are no carbon deposits around the top from the last time it was lit, if there are, trim them off. We need to be trimmed for our eye to be good and our vision clear

Our eye needs to be ‘good‘, this version says, a more accurate translation would be “focused“. The NASB translates this ‘if your eye is clear‘, the ASV ‘if therefore thine eye be single‘, the CJB ‘if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous]‘, the AMP ‘if your eye is clear [spiritually perceptive]’, TPT ‘unclouded‘, YLT ‘perfect‘, Phillips ‘If your eye is sound‘, and the OJB ‘if your eye is unblurred‘. The Greek word translated in all these different ways, ἁπλοῦς – haploús, has a literal meaning of “without folds“, and refers to having a pure, single, uncompromised, undivided focus with nothing hidden. The Septuagint uses haploús with the sense of generous – “The generous (Hebrew = berakah = a blessing; Lxx = haploús) man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25) Having all our treasure in heaven, not some in heaven and some on earth; having all our focus on the kingdom of God, not some on His kingdom and some on the kingdoms of men; being concerned only with what God thinks of us and not live for the approval of man or the acquisition of wealth. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of the world. Haploús is the opposite of diplous, which means ‘double’ and can be related to being two-faced or deceitful. A diplous eye tries to focus on worldly possessions (material gain) and on God at the same time which confuses the person (“spiritual double vision”) and they cannot see their way clearly as they walk through life. Our vision must be fixed solely on God. If it is the pure oil of the Holy Spirit that is illuminating our life then all that we do in our body will be full of light (the manifestation of God’s presence) and free from obscuring smoke.

If your eye is bad...Greek πονηρός – ponērós – is derivative of πόνος – pónos – toil, laborious trouble, pain ridden; and σαπρός – saprós – rotten, putrid, corrupted and no lounger fit for use, degeneracy from original virtue, second-rate or worthless. A πονηρός – ponērós -eye is not focused on the things of God so cannot see them clearly, which makes it useless and worthless. It may work hard and strain to see, but its focus is captured by the wrong things so it fails to do that which it was created for. Like someone who is so cross-eyed that they can only see their own nose and not any of the wonders of creation around them.

“…your whole body…” every part of you, your total being, all your actions “…will be full of darknessσκοτεινός – skoteinós – comes from σκότου – skotos – opaque, not letting any light in so left in total darkness. If our focus is on the things of this world and on the troubles and painful difficulties in our life, on the wrongs that have been done to us, on being a victim of other’s attitudes and actions, then we become opaque instead of transparent and our focus stops any light from entering our lives so we remain in pain riddled darkness.

If therefore the light…” φῶςphṓs – light, source of light, radiance; figuratively: manifestation of God’s self-existent life, divine illumination to reveal and impart life. “…that is in you is darkness…”σκότοςskótos – darkness, obscurity, darkened eyesight or blindness; (metaphorically) ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery in hell, the principle of sin with its certain results. “…how great is that darkness!” C H Spurgeon wrote:

A man should live up to his light; but if that light is itself darkness, what a mistake his whole course will be! If our religion leads us to sin, it is worse than irreligion. If our faith is presumption, our zeal selfishness, our prayer formality, our hope a delusion, our experience infatuation, the darkness is so great that even our Lord holds up his hands in astonishment and says — “How great is that darkness!”

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24 NKJV

This verse starts with an emphatic οὐδείς oudeís – no one, none, not even one, nobody, never – it powerfully negates any possibility and rules out by definition. There are no exceptions, no extenuating circumstances that could make this possible. Not a single person can ever, in any way or under any circumstances, serve these two masters. As we gain an understanding of the depth of meaning in the word ‘serve‘ we start to gain insight into why this is. δουλεύωdouleúōis to serve as a slave with all personal ownership rights assigned to the owner, it focuses on the fact that the slave belongs to their master. We belong to God who created us, yet we sold ourselves to sin, but He redeemed us back from slavery to sin through the cross of Christ so that we can be free to once more live as those who belong exclusively to God. κύριος – kýrios – refers to one who is supreme in authority, one who exercises absolute ownership rights, lord, master. We cannot, it is absolutely impossible, to live under the complete authority of God in total obedience to Him, and under the complete authority of anything or anyone else at the same time. Not a single one of us can serve two masters.

“…for either he will hate the oneμισέω miséō – speaks of a comparative hatred, to love someone or something less than someone or something else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favour of another. The comparative meaning of miséō is grounded in moral choice, elevating one value, person or thing over another. “...and love the otherἀγαπάω – agapáō – to prefer, to love, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection, valuing someone or something above all else. God must be the first preference in our lives, and everything else submitted under Him. If food, clothing, housing, transport or money is your top priority then God is not.

“… or else he will be loyal to the oneἀνθέξεταιanthexetai – holding on in a way that is corresponding to that being held. “…and despise the other.καταφρονήσει kataphronēsei – bring down in your estimation, devalue, deeming to be unworthy and hence despised or scorned. The word does not denote a mere feeling of contempt – it is active, and thus includes the actions which demonstrate a putting down, devaluing contempt to the extent of “making absolutely nothing of”.

You cannot serve (douleúō) God and mammon.” μαμωνᾷ – mamōna – an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ‘aman (to trust), the wealth a person trusts in. In the Greek, a literary device called “contrast emphasis” is used with God and mammon to highlight how opposite trusting in God is to trusting in things (money, house, car, food, motorbike, wealth, etc). The two are opposed to one another in seeking to own us.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25 NKJV

For this reason – because God owns us and we have chosen to trust in Him and exalt Him above all else, because we have chosen to put our trust in God rather than mammon – we are not to be worried about what we will be able to eat, drink or wear. Yeshua spoke these words to an oppressed people under Roman occupation and heavily taxed by their oppressors. He spoke these words to people who worked hard to try to earn enough to feed and cloth their families, many of the were day labourers and many knew what it was to go without. To illustrate His point and help them remember it in the everyday moments of their lives, Yeshua drew the people’s attention to God’s creation in the Galilee area on this beautiful summer’s day – the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I say to you: λέγωlégōsummarise into a final opinion, bring to a conclusion, bringing His listeners to the end-point moral lesson of what He had been talking about, laying the matter to rest.

Do not be worried: μεριμνᾶτεmerimnate – drawn in opposite directions, go to pieces as pulled in opposite directions, divided by the force of sinful anxiety, disunified within and robbed of God’s peace (His gift of wholeness). It has been said: “anxiety pulls in different directions making our head go one way… and our feet another!” God’s love makes us whole, being worried divides us and brings us into conflict with ourselves. We overcome being driven by worry and anxiety when overcome by the love of the Lord.

About your life: ψυχῇpsyxē – soul, unique personhood, personality, identity. It corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ nephesh – soul, whole being, unique person. It includes both personality and the living physical body through which this is expressed. After God had formed man from the dirt, from the land, God breathed into man’s nostrils and he became a living נֶפֶשׁ nephesh (Genesis 2:7).

Food and drink is necessary for life, without such we will die – but Yeshua concludes that we are not to worry even about such necessities. We can live in the wonderful peace of God (שׁלום shalom – whole and complete, living in a state of well‑being, tranquillity, prosperity and security).

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Matthew 6:26-32 NASV

Yeshua’s argument for ceasing to worry was not that food and clothing are unimportant, He used these as examples of the necessities of life, but that God can be trusted to provide these for us. Our loving heavenly Father abundantly feeds the birds flying over the see of Galilee and magnificently cloths the grass of the fields in the surrounding hills – God is willing and well able to likewise care for our needs.

ζητεῖτε zēteite – to seek by inquiring, investigating to reach a binding resolution, to search through all the layers to find the true essence of the matter. This word focuses on the moral attitude behind the searching, the personal motivation shaping how one comes to a decision, the premises that guide our search will determine whether we only look for information to confirm our biases or seek accurate (unbiased) information, wherever that may lead us. It is not just about desiring to gain knowledge but the purpose one is wanting to use that knowledge for. Zēteite (seek) is written in the Greek present imperative tense, which means that it commands ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting. We are to seek and keep on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness habitually, continuously and progressively as a lifestyle.

Not only are we to seek and continuously keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, we are to do so πρῶτονprotos – first, foremost. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with an overriding concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or a passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion. Our number one priority is to seek and keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first thing in the morning before you do anything else in the day. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness as first priority throughout the rest of the day and night, let that seeking govern what you do and how you respond to everything else in the day.

This fits with blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled, and is contrasted with the previous verse which talks of the Gentiles eagerly seeking the necessities of life – food, drink and clothing. Our freedom from worrying over such things is not because they cease being necessary for life, but because we know that God is loving and trustworthy, He knows our need of these things and promises here that all (πάνταpanta – each and every one of) these things προστεθήσεταιprostethēsetai – will be put towards, will be increased for, will be added to, us.

Note that Yeshua was not saying here that there is anything wrong with owning material things, just that it is wrong to allow them to own us. In Judaism wealth is viewed as a blessing from God that is bestowed on those who live right, and from the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) there has been a strong culture of wealth creation within Judaism:

Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.  Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Genesis 13:1-2

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him.  The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous;  for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. Genesis 26:12-14

Thus the man (Jacob) became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. Genesis 30:43

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:18

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.
Psalm 112:1-3

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. Proverbs 28:19-20

These were scriptures that everyone up on that mountain had memorised and Yeshua had said that He did no come to do away with any of this which had been written in the Torah, but to fulfil it. He was speaking to people living in difficult situations, suffering from the effects of the sins of their nation, oppressed and largely despised by their Roman overlords. It was a time when many were struggling just to provide the basics for their family and these scriptural promises of blessings and wealth seemed very far off to most. It was a time when many were worried about how they would be able to feed or cloth their family, and yet they had left all that behind to follow Yeshua up this mountain and learn from Him. He was encouraging them that God was indeed able to care for them and provide for their needs as they put Him first.

Lastly, in this declaration against worry, Yeshua addresses our fears for the future, fears of what might happen tomorrow. Do not worry, do not allow yourself be torn apart inside, about what might happen. How much time and emotional energy is wasted worrying about things that never actually come to pass? Such worry reveals only a lack of trust in God. Tomorrow is in God’s hands and God is love, and in His love He is well able to take care of whatever might happen. Ours is just to rest in him, trusting in His goodness and His ability to carry us through all things. Don’t let your thoughts get consumed with worry about what will happen, or what might happen, but instead discipline your mind to focus on God and His goodness, discipline your mind to focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness and on doing all in this moment to honour and glorify Him, to live in this moment as citizens of His eternal kingdom.

REFERENCES

1. Spurgeon, C.H. Exposition to the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6. God Rules. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] http://www.godrules.net/library/spurgeon/45spurgeon9.htm.
2. Hurt, Bruce. Matthew 6:22-23 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_622-23.
3. Strong. Strong’s #4655: skotos (pronounced skot’-os). Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G4655/skotos.htm.
4. 4655. skotos. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/greek/4655.htm.
5. “Light” and “Fire”. Christ’s Words – What is Lost in Translation from Greek. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://christswords.com/content/light-and-fire.
6. Henry, Matthew. Matthew 6. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/6.html.
7. Guzik, David. Matthew 6 – The Sermon on the Mount (Continued). Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-6/.
8. Matthew 6:24. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/6-24.htm.
9. The Discovery Bible software.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* In this section of His sermon, Jesus calls attention to what we are focusing on, for this will determine the direction of our whole life. What are the things that people in your area are focused on and what impact is that having on their lives?
* As pastors and ministers we can get focused on many things that seem good or needed but take our attention away from Jesus. What are some of the things that you have noticed can take away from our devotion to Christ and what effects can this have on our ministry?
* Money is needed for doing many things in the church, how can we keep from serving mammon while seeking the provision for all these things?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:22-34?
* How do we keep from worrying in the midst of difficult situations when it looks like we will not have what we need?

The Beatitudes (blessings)

Please read Matthew 4:23 – 5:12

When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them.  But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.”   Luke 4:42-43 CJB

So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:39 CJB

The news spread quickly, and people came from everywhere to hear Yeshua speak, and to be healed by Him.   Soon there was not just Andrew, Šimʻôn, James and Yochanan (John) following Yeshua and listening to His every word, there were multitudes.  Philip, from nearby Bethsaida, and Natan’el, from Cana, were likely quickly among them, eager to keep following the Lamb of God whom Yochanan the Immerser had introduced them to.   We know from Acts 1:21-23 that Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthiah were also among them. 

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.   Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.  Matthew 4:24-25 NASB

Although much of Yeshua’s earliest ministry had been in Jerusalem and Judea for the feasts, it was now predominantly in the norther region, in Galilee.   It appears that the author of the fourth gospel was either unaware of the new developments in Galilee, or unable to leave his responsibilities in Jerusalem at this time to join the multitudes, as this ‘John’ does not provide witness to any of this in his gospel account. On the other hand, Matthew the tax collector appears to have left his booth and followed the crowds to hear what this new teacher had to say – for he gives us a carefully compiled account of the full days’ teaching. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have been shunned in the synagogue, but there was no one policing who came up this mountain to listen to Yeshua. It had a profound impact on this outcast from Jewish religious society.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…  Matthew 5:1-2 NASB

Large crowds in towns and cities attract attention, sometimes the unwanted attention of Roman soldiers. Yeshua led His group away to the safety of a more isolated place. Here, on this unknown mountain, probably just outside Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes, the people could relax and focus on what Yeshua was saying. Just as Moses had given the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people on earth, so now Yeshua was going to explain to the people how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first part of the lesson was a very practical one – get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take time out to commune with Him.

Yeshua sat to teach the people on the mountain, just as He did to teach them in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). “He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire.“(C. H. Spurgeon). Yeshua had chosen the place for this teaching. Once He came to the perfect spot He sat down, and those following Him gathered around to hear what He would say. Yeshua spoke with an uncommon authority, He sat as a king decreeing the laws of His Kingdom, a kingdom so unlike any other they had ever known.

As the crows eagerly watched Him, Yeshua opened His mouth and began teaching them. The topography of the region around the Sea of Galilee allowed His voice to travel well as He opened his mouth to project it out to the crowd. Spurgeon wrote: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” God had spoken to His people through the prophets in times past, now He opened His mouth and spoke to them directly through His Son.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son… Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV

What Yeshua had to say goes straight to how we live every moment of our lives. Judaism had always been as much about how one lived their life as about what one believed – the two were inseparable. Belief manifests itself in attitudes and actions, in a total way of life. Yeshua’s words deconstruct our habits and ways of being and reform them into His likeness – they teach us what it is to be His disciple. Importantly, Yeshua‘s words were meant to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation.

Talmidim (disciples) were to memorise the words of their rabbi, meditate on those words, discuss those words, live out those words, and then teach others those words – that was the task of a disciple. (1)

Memorisation was essential to all first centenary Jewish education. With manuscripts being expensive, and having to be written by hand, most did not have direct access to them, so learning was dependent on being able to memorise large portions of scripture and children were expected to memorise the whole Torah through their first five years of schooling. In nations where many cannot read, or afford their own copy of the written word, and in those where persecution robs people of their written copies of the scriptures, returning to the way Yeshua taught His disciples offers opportunity to truly learn from Him. Yeshua made it easy for his first disciples, and for us, to memorise His words by presenting them in a memorable thematic structure with vivid images and poetic language. So, as we go through Yeshua’s verbal teachings, take the time to memorise what He says, and in your sermons teach your people also to memorise the words of our Saviour, recite them to each other, think on them and discuss them through the week, and share them with others.

The Beatitudes

The first section of Yeshua’s teaching is often called “the Beatitudes“, which means “the Blessings”. The Beatitudes were spoken in two sets of four, with the fourth one in each set focusing on righteousness. The first four Beatitudes speak to how we enter the kingdom of heaven – by acknowledging our lack and pain, acknowledging Jesus’ right to reign over us and longing for His righteousness. The second four speak to how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven – loyal to His covenant with us, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted because our loyalty has shifted from the world to God. There is nothing in here which is an optional extra if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. Some emphasise this with a play on words, the “beatitudes” giving the believer our “be – attitudes” – the “attitudes” we should “be.” We have no part in Jesus, or in His kingdom, if we are not committed to His ways.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
” Matthew 5:3-12

Each statement begins with the word “Blessed“. This comes from the Greek μακάριος, makarios, which describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, makarios becomes the express symbol of a joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.

The first reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is the kingdom of heaven. Yochanan the Immerser had preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) After Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been imprisoned He began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Now He describes the state of those who will become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, those whom God will extend it to: the “poor in spirit“.

The Greek noun πτωξοςptochos – translated “poor” in this beatitude means literally: “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” The one who is ptochos has nothing and no means to care for themselves nor to give to another, they are totally destitute. “Poor in spirit” is repentant – coming to God recognising that we have no righteousness of our own, we are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness.

We need to come to the realization of our own spiritual bankruptcy and tum in total dependence to God if we are to come into His kingdom. The Pharisees were basing their approach to God on their good works and strict Torah obedience, but Yeshua was declaring that was not the way to come to God. We are not good enough in ourselves, nor nearly good enough, nor somewhat good enough, we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...” Romans 7:18a.  “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)

For the high and exalted One, He who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy says this, “I dwell on the high and holy place, but also with the contrite and humble in spirit. In order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin].” Isaiah 57:15 AMP

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 NIV

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one..”… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:10, 23-24 NIV

The acknowledged owners of nothing shall be the recipients of everything.

Blessed are the poor in spirit – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are the repentant who recognise their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The next reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is comfort. The Greek verb translated comfort, παρακαλέω parakaléō, comes from para, meaning “from close beside”, and kaléō, meaning “to call”. To be comforted is to be called near, to have God come to our side, as He describes in Isaiah 57:15 which we read above. It is not just an emotional comfort that Yeshua is offering us here, although that is an essential part of His offer. Parakaléō also has legal overtones – He is offering to be our advocate before the throne of God, as well as One coming close beside with emotional comfort.

My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik (Righteous One), who pleads our cause with the Father. Also, He is the kapparah (atonement) for our sins… 1 John 2:1-2a CJB

Mourning is the pre-requisite for this life-giving comfort. The Greek verb πτωξος pentheo, means deep grief or intense sorrow, openly manifested by weeping audibly. This speaks of the most intense human emotional pain and suffering. It can be anguish over the personal losses we experience in life, or anguish felt within the spirit of man for the state of his own soul held captive in sin and death, or for the state of a lost sinful world. Those who mourn experience a closeness with Yeshua, the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), as they partake in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Intense pain is intense pain, and Yeshua makes no distinction here as to the cause of our deep grief and intense sorrow. All who mourn, all who suffer from deep grief and intense sorrow, all who choose not to hide from that pain or deflect it onto others, all who are willing to experience the agonies of truly loving in this world, all who mourn will be comforted.

The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me, because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favour of Adonai and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” Isaiah 61:1-2 CJB

Blessed are those who mourn – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who do not try to hide from their pain but agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow – for God Himself shall draw near and they shall be comforted.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 KJV

Next Yeshua offers the state of blessedness of inheriting the earth. The Greek noun, γῆ gê, refers to the physical earth, to land, country, soil. Many indigenous people groups understand such a blessing, for they are closely tied to their land, even as the Jews were closely tied to their land.

It appeared as though the Romans, with their brute force, were inheriting the earth – conquering one people’s land after another. Their whole lives these people had witnessed Rome fulfilling Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast:

After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. Daniel 7:7a CJB

But Yeshua assures the people that this is not the end of the story. Despite the fact that all of history shouts that it is the brutes, the devious schemers, the warlords, who inherit the earth, yet still all of Daniel’s vision shall come to pass:

“As I watched, thrones were set in place; and the Ancient One took his seat. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head was like pure wool. His throne was fiery flames, with wheels of burning fire. A stream of fire flowed from his presence; thousands and thousands ministered to him, millions and millions stood before him. Then the court was convened, and the books were opened. … …
“I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence.  To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:9-14 CJB

The promise of messiah was not for the Zealots engaged in gorilla warfare to try to re-take their land, convinced that their acts of bravery and brutality would entice the anointed one to join them and supernaturally defeat the Roman armies and remove all gentiles in a great slaughter. It was not physical violence that would restore the land to Israel or bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Yeshua’s words were not new to Judaism, King David had written:

Don’t be upset by evildoers or envious of those who do wrong, for soon they will wither like grass and fade like the green in the fields. Trust in Adonai, and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.  Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to Adonai; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till he comes. Don’t be upset by those whose way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset — it leads to evil.
For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Adonai will inherit the land. Soon the wicked will be no more; you will look for his place, and he won’t be there. But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Psalm 37:1-11 CJB

So, what is it to be meek? The Greek πραΰς, praǜs, is usually translated as ‘meek’ or ‘gentle’. It contains the idea of having power under authority, strength under control. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us without disputing or resisting, it involves relying on God, rather than our own strength, to defend us against injustice. The meek quietly accept criticism without retaliation or defensiveness. It is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Most importantly, meekness is acknowledging Christ’s lordship over us, and placing our lives in His hands to do with as He pleases.

In another context, the Greek word praǜs was used to describe a well trained horse that would respond fully, and only, to it’s rider’s command, a horse that was unmoved by everything else happening around it. A praǜs (meek) horse was one that did not demand its own way, one that went wherever the rider wanted to go at the speed the rider wanted to travel, one that you could trust to walk behind, one that did not shy or buck at sudden movements or loud noises, or even at threats like a snake or battle, because it was so yielded to its rider that its only response in every situation was obedience to the will of the rider. The strength of this powerful animal was totally under the control of the slightest whisper of the rider, or movement of their finger. Only such a horse can be trusted in battle.

Blessed are the meek – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to those who totally yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives – for they shall inherit the land.

To be ‘filled‘, some versions translate this as ‘satisfied‘, is to have all that you were longing for. It can also be translated ‘to be made fat’. Righteousness shall not evade those who hunger and thirst for it. We are not called to be content with partial righteousness, or with a little righteousness. A hungry man will not be satisfied with just one grain of rice, nor even with a handful. He will eat, and eat, and eat until he cannot fit any more food in, only then will he be full. If he has eaten in the morning, he will be hungry again before the day is through, and once more eat and eat until there is no more space left in his stomach. The offer here is to be so full of righteousness that there is no room for anything else in our lives. Such fullness is not a once only event, but a continual process of hungering and being filled, hungering and being filled. The moment we cease to hunger and thirst for righteousness we shall cease to be filled, and the resulting emptiness will attract all sorts of other things into our lives.

So, what is righteousness? The original Greek word δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosýnē, comes from dike, which translates as “a judicial verdict”. You will remember that the Greek word translated comfort, parakaléō, also has legal overtones which places Yeshua as our legal advocate before the Father who judges all. The literal translation of dikaiosýnē is “judicial approval”. God is the judge of all, so righteousness is that which has divine approval. It is that which God, as judge over the universe, approves of.

Isaiah calls to the people:

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no silver come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3a

Yeshua calls us to hunger and thirst for both personal righteousness and community righteousness. Personally, we enter into God’s divine approval when we welcome Jesus Christ as our saviour and lord. We are to hunger and thirst for the approval of God which can only come through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. We are also to hunger and thirst for our thoughts, words and actions to be pleasing to God, to be that which He approves of. Since God isn’t about to change and start approving of sin or the works of the flesh, we hunger and thirst for our lives to be brought into line with His will, to walk by the Spirit.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25

Righteousness produces love and concern for others and their wellbeing. It is not greedy, self seeking or corrupt. We need only look around to see that our world is grieving and groaning, longing to be made right. So many are suffering through injustice, poverty, immorality and the greed of others. It is not God’s righteousness for people to go hungry, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to suffer sickness and disease, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to be oppressed by the Devil, that is not what He approves of. Yeshua invites us to hunger and thirst, to connect to our deep longings and needs, to grieve and groan with our world, and to call on God to bring justice, peace and wholeness to our world. When we’re surrounded by so much suffering and injustice, it can be easy to become numb or indifferent to the pain around us. But God calls us to long for righteousness so much that we keep crying out to Him for it like a child cries for food or drink when they have none, and we keep living out righteousness in holiness, showing love and kindness to our neighbours.

If we do not desire God’s righteousness, we do not desire Him. If we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, both in our own actions and in this world, we do not know Him. There is no fellowship with God apart from righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who long, as a desperate necessity, for that which God approves of – for they shall be filled.

Now that we have seen what is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and be granted citizenship there, we come to the four beatitudes which describe our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. These next attributes are not ones that the natural man is capable of, hence our need for the emptying and longing of the first four beatitudes that bring us to the cross, dependent on receiving God’s righteousness through His grace towards us who are incapable of meriting such. It is only on the basis of God filling us with righteousness, as He promises in the fourth beatitude, that we are able to live the following beatitudes – merciful, pure peacemakers rejoicing even in persecution.

The Cambridge dictionary defines mercy as: kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish. While this definition describes an element of mercy, it lacks a crucial component of Biblical mercy, the Greek ἔλεος éleos, being translated from the Hebrew חַסְדֹּֽו׃ , chas·dov, which involves loyalty to God’s covenant with us (The Discovery bible). Biblical mercy is ‘covenant-loyaltymercy‘ or ‘covenant-love-mercy‘, it is an attitude and actions that are founded on God’s covenant with us and are consistent with that covenant. It is the loving loyalty which actively affirms all that is in keeping with God’s covenant, and equally opposes all that is contrary to it. Thus, it is inextricably linked to faith. It is an act of mercy to bring God’s righteousness to a situation.

Psalm 136 is the great mercy psalm as it traces God’s actions in covenant with Israel. Some of those actions might not sound merciful to western ears, like killing the firstborn of Egypt, or drowning their army in the sea, but they were all merciful by God’s standards because they were all in fulfilment of His covenant.

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: and brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: … … And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever: even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: and hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:10-26 KJV

God’s mercy is His covenant with us. That covenant is through Christ Jesus and His blood atoning for our sins. Again we see the graciousness and severity of God’s mercy, for it doesn’t evade His judgment on sin but rather executes that judgment on His Son in our place. God said of the Jewish people:

For I desired mercy (loyalty to My covenant), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Hosea 6:6-7 KJV

So, how does loyalty to God’s covenant fit with “kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish?” God’s covenant is a covenant of sacrificial love. When God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant they made with Him in Exodus 24, He showed unmerited kindness towards them whom He had the right and power to punish, by sending His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. God’s mercy established a new covenant.

He had promised this back in Jeremiah 31:

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” … … “Behold, the days come”, saith the Lord, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them”, saith the Lord: “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days”, saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them”, saith the Lord: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:3,31-34 KJV

Yeshua confirmed that He had come to establish a new covenant with us, this is the mercy we obtain from Him:

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 NIV

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV

This covenant was for those who deserve God’s punishment, those who were sinners and enemies of God:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Romans 5:8-10 NIV

It is a merciful covenant, but not an unconditional one. We need to remain loyal to our covenant with God:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 NIV

Blessed are the merciful, ἐλεήμονες eleēmones, those who act consistently with the revelation of God’s covenant. A believer is being merciful when we forgive another because Christ has forgiven us, regardless of whether the other has done anything to deserve forgiveness or not. Mercy is responding to God’s covenant rather than to the other’s actions or attitudes. When we remain loyal to God’s covenant in all our dealings with others then we receive all the benefits of that covenant, we receive mercy.

Blessed are the merciful – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who lovingly live in absolute loyalty to God’s covenant – for they shall receive the mercy of all the benefits of God’s covenant.

The longing to see God, to perceive His presence, to behold His glory, is at the heart of all spiritual practice. Abraham had such an experience with God and Moses did not want to move unless God’s presence would go with them:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Genesis 17:1 NIV

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … …
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
Exodus 33:13-18 NIV

David beautifully depicted the intensity of that longing:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2 NIV

Isaiah saw the Lord and immediately recognised his need to be purified:

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. …
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6:1,5-7 NIV

The Sadducees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through the temple sacrifices. The Pharisees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through strict obedience to all the laws and customs they had built as a fence around the Torah, including all their ceremonial washings and bodily immersions. Yeshua’s audience were well aquatinted with all the ceremonial washings and immersions required by the Pharisees before entering the synagogue or temple to ‘see’ God through the sacrifices, worship or Torah reading. Yeshua here reminds the people that God’s focus is not on how they wash their hands or immerse their bodies, but on the condition of their hearts.

Our perception of God is dimmed and distorted by any impurities that we harbour in our heart. To be pure, καθαροὶ katharos, in heart is to be without mixture, free from contaminants, separated from all the lusts of the flesh, all false concepts of God and all hurts and wounds that distort our perceptions. David prayed:

...give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart… Psalm 86:11-12a

Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 AMP

Such purity of heart is not something that we come to God with. It is not something that we can bring about through our own efforts. We come to Him poor in spirit, hurting and mourning, willing to yield completely to Him and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, purifies and fills us. That is His covenant with us, His mercy towards us, that we loyally honour out of gratitude for all that He has done for us by guarding our hearts.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage]
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure.
Proverbs 4:23-26

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NIV

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV

Blessed are the pure in heart – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those whose heart is free from all contamination – for they shall see and truly know God.

The previous blessing spoke of our vision of God, our capacity to perceive His presence, His goodness, in our lives. This one speaks of our relationship to God. The Greek word κληθήσονται, klēthēsontai, translates as to be called, invited, chosen. This blessing, this joyous fulfilment as God extends Himself to us, is a calling into the most exalted place. Not just called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but called to be members of the royal family, nay even more than that, called to be sons and heirs of God.

The Greek word υἱός, hyiós, is literally translated as a son (by birth or adoption). Figuratively it is used to denote anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. Hyiós, both emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father and highlights the legal right to the Father’s inheritance. We are called to share the same nature as the Father. Back in the garden we were created in God’s image. This image was distorted by sin but is now restored through Christ. Our great privilege now is to resemble our Father.

Paul expands on the theme of our sonship:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NKJV

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”   Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 NASB

The Greek word translated as “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιός, eirēnopoiós, and it denotes a person who bravely declares God’s terms to make someone whole. That is, a person who shares the gospel with others. A “peacekeeper” might try to avoid controversy or saying anything unpopular, but a “peacemaker” confronts sin and offers God’s terms for reconciliation, which brings His gift of wholeness. Paul wrote on this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NASB

Blessed are the peacemakers – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who boldly declare the gospel, begging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God – for they shall be called sons of God, resembling the Father and being heirs.

We have returned to where we began with these blessings – the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua sandwiched all the other blessings between two assurances of the kingdom of heaven. We gain a bit more insight into the kingdom of heaven in the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NIV

The kingdom of heaven consists of people from every tribe and language and nation. This is where Yeshua had come into conflict with the good people of his hometown, Nazareth – they were convinced that God’s blessings were exclusively for the Jews and so became violent when Yeshua gave examples from the Hebrew scriptures showing that God also extends His blessings and calling to those of other nations. Revelation had not yet been written, but Yeshua’s audience had Isaiah and Daniel’s prophesies, and on this basis they had been hoping for a messiah and a kingdom. This is what they could learn from the prophets about the kingdom of heaven:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:2-4 NIV

In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory. Isaiah 24:21-23 NIV

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 NIV

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” Isaiah 28:16-17a

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.  Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour.
Isaiah 60:17-21 NIV

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 65: 17-25 NIV

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22-23

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7:27 NIV

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 NIV

As we follow through Yeshua’s ministry we will explore the many parables He told to help the people understand more of what the kingdom of heaven is like. For now they knew enough to know it was their heart’s desire to be part of this kingdom. In this blessing we see clearly how all the blessings surpass the things of this world. Blessings is not health, wealth, prestige, power or physical life, for any or all of these may be taken from us through persecution, yet still we are blessed, joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to us.

It is worth noting that the blessing is not for any and every persecution, but only for that which ignited by being filled with righteousness as in the fourth blessing. There is no blessing in being persecuted for being an idiot, for doing wrong, for lying, for being proud and arrogant, or for being bitter, critical or hateful. Where as all who mourn, agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow, are comforted, only those whose persecution arises out of their walk with Jesus receive the blessing. Only those who are living the other seven beatitudes can live this one. Only those who are living Christ (verse 11), are blessed with great reward when they are persecuted, .

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

Persecution can take many forms. Three different words are used in verse 11 to describe what we might suffer for righteousness sake. The first is ὀνειδίσωσιν, oneidízō, which is to disgrace, reproach, mock, curse, insult, shame, cast blame – viewing someone as culpably guilty and therefore deserving punishment. The second is διώξωσιν, diṓkō, which is to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch. The third is ψευδόμενοι, pseúdomai, which is to lie, falsify, and wilfully misrepresent in accusing of all kinds of πονηρὸν, ponērós, that is evil which causes pain and agony. Just because a follower of Jesus is doing good does not mean that they will be honoured for that good, often the reverse is true, as it was true of our Saviour. Isaiah had written:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 NIV

Many times people will try to hide from their own sin and shame by calling evil good and good evil. Such is the opposite of being poor in spirit. Persecution aims to silence the peacemakers and cause the righteousness to suffer. It seeks to bring disgrace and shame to the righteous, casting them as being unfit for ministry, or for life. It lies. Yeshua assures us that it does not matter if others call our good evil, because the reward for the righteous is not on this earth but is great in heaven (the infinite dimensions in which God dwells).

Blessed are those who are persecuted – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who suffer disgrace, reproach, mockery, curses, insults, shame, false blame, declared guilty, are hunted down, misrepresented and accused of evil for righteousness sake – for theirs is the everlasting kingdom of heaven.

Summary

Christ leads us to the kingdom of heaven through repentance (poor in spirit), acknowledging our pain (mourning), yielding completely to God (meek) and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He answers that hunger and thirst by filling us with righteousness, the old has passed away behold all things have become new. Out of the fullness of righteousness that we receive in Him we respond with loyalty to His covenant of mercy (merciful), our filled hearts have no room for the things of this world (pure heart), we boldly declare the gospel that people may be reconciled to God (peacemakers) and suffer persecution for our shift in loyalty from this world system to God. In all this God blesses us with the kingdom of heaven, His comfort, the earth (our land), righteousness, mercy (all the benefits of His covenant with us), seeing God and adopting us as His children. How wonderous is all that Jesus offers us through His teaching on blessings.

REFERENCES

1. Pennington, Jonathan. 3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Sermon on the Mount . The Gospel Coalition. [Online] 16th November 2017. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-things-didnt-know-sermon-mount/.
2. Spurgeon, C. H. The Beatitudes. Spurgeon Gems. [Online] 29th July 1909. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs3155.pdf.
3. Smith, Chuck. Study Guide for Sermon on the Mount. Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/StudyGuides_Mount/Mount.cfm.
4. Wicker, Jim. Preaching Through the Sermon on the Mount. Preaching Source. [Online] Summer 2004. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/preaching-through-the-sermon-on-the-mount/.
5. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Vol. 35 Fall 1992. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/.
6. Piper, John. The Majesty of the Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount. Derising God. [Online] 1st August 2014. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-majesty-of-the-teacher-in-the-sermon-on-the-mount.
7. Matthew 5:1-2 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] 10th April 2020. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_51-3#5:1.
8. Ritenbaugh, John W. What the Bible says about Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/969/Sermon-on-Mount.htm.
9. —. The Beatitudes, Part One: The Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/195/The-Beatitudes-Sermon-on-Mount.htm.
10. Archer, Dr. Gary Hill & Dr. Gleason. HELPS Word-studies devotional lexicon. Discovery Bible.
11. Guzik, David. MATTHEW 5 – THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Enduring Word . [Online] 2018. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-5/.
12. John F. Walvoord. The Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible.org. [Online] 1st January 2008. [Cited: 20th April 2020.] https://bible.org/article/kingdom-heaven.
13. Allen, Judy. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Unlocking the Bible. [Online] 10th May 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://unlockingthebible.org/2017/05/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/.
14. Piper, John. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness . Desiring God. [Online] 16th February 1986. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
15. Kreminski, Karina. Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Common Grace. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.commongrace.org.au/beatitudes_hunger_and_thirst_for_righteousness.
16. Kinsolving, Carey. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Creators. [Online] 17th June 2013. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.creators.com/read/kids-talk-about-god/06/13/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
17. Doriani, Daniel. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Tabletalk. [Online] June 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/06/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/.
18. mercy. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mercy.
19. New Covenant. Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/new-covenant.
20. Travers, Joshua. Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: 27th April 2020] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/christian-conversion/the-sermon-on-the-mount/beatitudes/blessed-persecuted-righteousness-sake/

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How have your people responded to memorising Jesus’ words?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you from their week of meditating on the words of Jesus that they memorised and talking with each other about what He said?
* What has been the response to members of your congregation sharing Jesus’ words with others?
* How did Jesus present the gospel of the kingdom in the Beatitudes?
* What additional insights have you gained about the gospel through studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:4-12

INTRO: How Do We Faithfully Serve in Christ’s Mission?

The original apostolic reformation began as a reformation within Judaism, heralded by a Jewish prophet, Yohannan (John), who in preparing for this reformation preached repentance and baptised crowds of Israelites in the Jordan River. This reformation was lived and taught by a Jewish rabbi (teacher) whom we call the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 1:3), Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah).  

Judaism had always focused on relationships:
1) the relationship between Yahweh and mankind (Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name for God, used 6,828 times in the Old Testament, usually written as LORD in English Bibles)
2) the relationship between people;
3) the relationship between Yahweh and the Jewish people;
3) the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. 

Both the prophet and the rabbi declared that these relationships had gone astray and that the religious establishment of their time were as much part of the problem as part of the solution.   Religious traditions had developed that were often not reflective of the kingdom of God.  Their thinking and their ways had been seduced off track by the ways of the world.     The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ interpretation and practice of the law had deviated from Yahweh’s intent of a loving relationship between Himself and people, and between human beings.  “The kingdom of heaven operates very differently to how you’re living and running things here” was the heart of the message of reformation.  It was a popular message among the masses but deeply unpopular with those in power.  It cost both the prophet and the rabbi their lives, as they not only taught but also lived this message of God’s love.  The rabbi, however, was more than just a rabbi, more even than just the anointed one (Messiah) – He was the Son of God.  Resurrection power took this reformation through Jewish society and out to the peoples of the nations.

Travelling the world over the last fourteen years, serving with the body of Christ in different nations, has propelled me into the research that led to this blog.  I have heard from many, of the desperate need for more pastoral training in their nations where the gospel is being embraced by increasing numbers of people.  I have seen the blessings, and the unintended negative consequences, of western missionary endeavours and generous giving.  I have witnessed the impact of culture and cultural supremacy on the spread of the gospel and the health of the church.  I have been challenged by requests for “apostolic covering”.

In all this the overriding concern is:
‘how do we faithfully serve in Christ’s mission on earth’.

The Need for Sustainable and Reproducible Training of Church Leaders

While the church is declining in Europe, in other parts of the world we are experiencing unprecedented growth that necessitates a like growth in discipling by trained leaders.

  • In his plenary at the June 2014 Lausanne Consultation on Theological Education, Thomas Schirrmacher presented the view of the World Evangelical Alliance and its Theological Commission that about 50,000 people (that do not come from a Christian background and do not have any basic Bible knowledge) are baptized each day in evangelical churches worldwide. 
  • If a pastoral leader can provide discipling for a group of 50 believers initially, then 1,000 new pastors/church leaders/elders are needed every day.
  • More than 2.2 million pastoral leaders (and as many as 3.4 million by some estimates) presently serve, while only 5% are trained for pastoral ministry according to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity. They have noted that roughly 70% of the world’s pastors are in independent congregations and such often have little theological training, even in the West. 
  • The Global Alliance of Church Multiplication raised a serious concern in October 2013 that while they envisioned the planting of 5 million churches by 2020, they surmised a disturbing fail-rate of up to 70% within the first year. 
  • Dr. Ramesh Richard has urged: “I commend pastoral training as a necessary complement to, and the highest priority for, implementing all ministry initiatives globally and locally… It helps correct creedal and cultural misperceptions of Christianity when local believers permeate their social spheres.” 

We see all around the world the devastating consequences of a lack of effective discipling of church leaders – ministers whose sins and false teachings make a mockery of the gospel and a shipwreck of their lives, their ministries, and the lives of their followers; and a church that all too often just stands by and lets it happen. On the other extreme we have the heresy hunters who create confusion, discouragement and division by denouncing everyone and everything that is different to themselves, appearing to consider their own opinions to be the fulness of all the truth of God.

From October 2011 through to June 2013, a Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted to gather data and perspectives on all forms of theological education from every Christian tradition in every part of the world. (1) Four of their main findings were:

  • There are not enough theological schools in the regions of the world where Christianity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia).
  • Theological education is financially unstable in many parts of the world.
  • Cross-cultural communication and practical skills related to ministry are the subjects respondents would most like to see added or strengthened in theological education.
  • Issues of theological education are seen as having strategic significance and are “most important” for the future of Christianity around the world.

Thus, the conclusion that the greatest need of the global church is training that is biblical, practical, sustainable and reproducible within each people group. In other words, training that is like how Jesus taught and equipped His disciples.

The Need for Understanding Cultural Context

Jesus established the church within a cultural context – that of first century Jewish society under Roman occupation. As He did so Yeshua kept contrasting the culture of the Kingdom of God with both that of the Jewish religious leaders and that of Roman society. We read throughout the gospels how difficult the disciples found it to shift their thinking and acting from the ways of this world to the ways of the kingdom. Only after the cross and the baptism in the Holy Spirit at Shavuot (Pentecost) did the apostles demonstrate a grasp of how radically different Yeshua’s ways were as they began to really live and minister as He had. 

The longer you swim in a culture the more invisible it becomes ~ until all you can see if your own reflection

Just like the first disciples we can easily allow the ways of this world and the culture we grow up in to shape how we view the body of Christ and our place in Him. The dominant Western mindset and ways of training and accrediting are very different to that of Yeshua and the first apostles. We can miss much of what Yeshua was saying and doing when we fail to understand the culture in which he was operating and the beliefs and practices that he was addressing.

The following blogs are built on the faithful labours of others before me who have likewise sort to uncover the meaning that Jesus and the gospel writers attached to His words and deeds. Jewish names are often used in the forthcoming text as a repeated reminder that we are looking at the lives of 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Westerners. There is a cultural context and language in the scriptures that is very different to our own. Jesus was a Jew – Yeshua – and lived among Jews, most of whom had Jewish names, primarily spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic (depending on which historian you believe – they are closely related languages and very different to the Greek that we usually associate with this period and the writing of the New Testament), and whose lives were governed by their community’s understanding of Torah.

Searching the Scriptures

Like the Jewish religious leaders of Yeshua’s day our concepts of what God wants for His people can be governed more by our own religious traditions than by God’s word. It is easier to receive teachings and practices handed down by others than to diligently search the scriptures for ourselves. Questions like “do you provide apostolic covering?” and the need for sustainable, reproducible training of church leaders in all the different people groups of our world sent me back to the scriptures to seek God’s answers for how He set up the church and how He wants us to function as the body of Christ. How did Jesus train His disciples? What were His methods? What was the scope and sequence of His curriculum for them? How was the New Testament church governed and did that change with the different cultures that it was established in? What were the ministries, offices and functions established by the Holy Spirit in the early church? How did they relate to one another? What I found as I wrote out page after page of scriptures on every aspect of church ministry and governance was that much of what I’d been taught and believed, with the classic ‘proof scriptures’, is not supported by the weight of evidence of the whole counsel of God. There is, however, one aspect of what I had been taught that is not only supported, but re-enforced, magnified and emphasised continually throughout all of the New Testament – there is no place in the body of Christ or the kingdom of God for lording it over others, each and every one of us is called and anointed to serve. We are a Servant Church, commissioned to demonstrate the love of Christ, for such is the reign of His kingdom.

Come with me on a journey through scripture and history to see
how the stage was set for the Son of God to be born to a Jewish mother &
how Yeshua began the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the early church.

—————————————–

  1. The Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted as a joint research project by the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago; the Ecumenical Theological Education Programme (ETE), World Council of Churches, Geneva; and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston. https://www.globethics.net/web/gtl/research/global-survey.

Growth of Christianity in China – set to become the nation with the most Christians
Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule predicts that China, which had over 58 million Protestants in 2010 according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, will have around 160 million by 2025. This would mean China will likely be ahead even of the United States, which had about 159 million Protestants in 2010. Yang went on to say that China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would be over 247 million by 2030 and thus become the largest Christian congregation in the world.
https://www.christianpost.com/news/china-to-have-worlds-largest-christian-population-by-2025-religion-expert-says.html

The following tables were developed from information in the book Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism, Edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant & Richard Flory, Oxford University Press 2013

Global Population Growths from 1910 to that predicted for 2025.  
Comparing that of the total population, number of Christians and number of "Christian Renewalists" from 1910 to 2010, ad then to predicted 2025 numbers.
Annual Global Population Growth Percentages for the 100 years from 1910 to 2010, and then the predicted trend up to 2025.  Renewal movements grew at 4.6 x the rate of the general population to 2010, but have slowed to 2.4 x since 2010.
Renewalists have grown from 0.2% of global Christians in 1910 to 25.8% in 2010, and predicted to reach 30.4% in 2025.

We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books, and established patterns of Church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world…. It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures.
Fundamentalism and the Word of God, by J.I. Packer. [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958.] pp. 69-70

In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:

* What nation do you live in?
* Is the gospel spreading in your nation?
* How healthy is the church in your nation?
* What is the biggest need of the church in your nation?
* Do those who claim to be Christians live like Jesus or are things like greed, selfishness, pride, sexual immorality and corruption common?
* Is everyone in the church loving their neighbour and sharing the gospel with others?
* Do your pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles, prophets, priests, reverends and bishops know the Bible, live like Jesus and preach sound doctrine?
* Do the people in your congregations know the Bible and live like Jesus?
* Do you have enough Bibles for everyone who wants to read one?
* Is your church caring for the poor?
* Do those in your church with more money help those in your church with less?
* What is the biggest hinderance to the spread of the gospel in your nation?