Most of us will know that Jesus begins his time of ministry by announcing that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. He has come to assume command of project earth.
But he does not merely come to manage our messiness or fix our problems but to create a whole new situation in which his Father’s will is done on earth as in heaven.
This, of course, amounts to a declaration of war. It’s interesting to see what happens when Jesus is born. Certain visiting wise men come to honour the new king, and the local man in charge, King Herod, is not about to be upstaged. He kills hundreds of children in an attempt to head-off any competition for control.
Things haven’t changed much. In many countries, including our own, Jesus is downplayed and his people maligned as harmful. If God is for real, and if Jesus has come to reveal him, the world recognises a rival, meaning that those who believe in him should be cancelled.
So, the question of how you get on if you believe in Jesus and live for his kingdom or rule, is very important. And here’s how Jesus begins to explain the situation we find ourselves in.
Jesus announces what we now refer to as ‘the beatitudes’—describing the kind of people who are going to be called blessed (Matthew 5:2-10). We may have heard them often but it is important to understand them well. God’s kingdom is not what the world recognises as running things properly.
The word usually translated ‘blessed’ actually means, ‘to be congratulated’. In other words, what would I have to do, or control, or have coming to me, for Jesus to say to me, ‘Congratulations. You must be a very happy person’?
Jesus answers this question.
First, the people who have chosen well and have a good future are those who are ‘poor in spirit’. Jesus is not saying it’s good to be depressed. Rather, he commends someone who knows that everything they really need and value in their life is going to have to come from someone else. That’s how poor they are.
There’s a story in the Old Testament about the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. She sees his wealth. She hears his wisdom. And we are told that there is ‘no more spirit in her’ (1 Kings 10:5). Alongside of him, her wealth and wisdom are nothing.
Jesus does this to all of us. For a while, we think we can run our lives, change some things around us, keep ourselves happy and anticipate a good life. This soon runs thin.
Then, we see Jesus. He is not living for himself but for his Father—God. He doesn’t restlessly accuse us. He understands that our bluster is shallow and that we are really empty. And, he gives himself to us, and we know we are the centre of his attention. We begin to see that he’s the rich one and we are those in need.
He begins to show what the world looks like when we believe God is looking after it. He heals many who are sick. He delivers some who have fallen into the hands of evil spirits. He knows what he’s doing. Even better, he knows what God is doing. He’s believable. He’s real.
That’s when we become ‘poor in spirit’. If our life is going to amount to anything, it is going to have to start and finish with what he can do for us. He’s dwarfed us in the way he lives and speaks. But he doesn’t make dwarfs of us. He promises we will inherit God’s kingdom. We’ll be God’s special people—and he will be in charge of everything.
That’s why we are to be congratulated now. The reward is coming. But the congratulation is for now. We’ve chosen well.
The next congratulated people are those who are mourning.
We look at the world and know it’s not going the way it should. And we know we’re part of the problem. We know things won’t be fixed with a government grant or a lucky break. We don’t want to kill our sadness with fun. We prefer something real. Jesus says we will be comforted.
Perhaps he has in mind what he says a few chapters after this one. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and weighed down. I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11). There’s a lot of sadness about us being who we are and Jesus will have to deal with the real causes of the problem in us if he is going to bring us any relief.
The people who are mourning are not just perpetually sad. They are the realists who want some real answers.
It will be good to look at the rest of these beatitudes next time. But I hope, already, that you are seeing that, by sending Jesus to us, God is taking charge and putting things right. And he shows us how to be part of this kingdom, how to be on ‘the right side of history’, and so, to be congratulated.
Jesus is speaking to us, right to where we are, and promising a real and wonderful future. And it’s beginning now.