Unshakeable Kingdom (By Lynne McCarthy)
Text: Matthew 5 and 6 (Psalm 83)
Observe Jesus looks at the crowd at the base of the hill, continues walking up, sits down to teach. Kingdom teaching declares its nature to His disciples who recognize Him as Messiah, but ‘the crowd’ is ever present, curious about what He has to say but uncommitted. And He says many controversial things.
The Beatitudes: how to live, how to see, what to be, upending the expectations of both hearers and disciples. The spiritually bankrupt, the sorrowful, the hungry for right, the persecuted, the wallflowers, the peaceful, the pure – blessed? Oh, blessed indeed in His Kingdom when hearts are directed to Him.
Metaphors: salt and light. Such simple images speak to the disciples about the impact they will have on the world by their pervasive good, and their testimony of Kingdom light.
The Law: Jesus declares the Law is fulfilled in Him, and as such remains, but points to a new sacrificial system – His own life. The commandments cannot be misinterpreted or softened, as He slings a barb to the ‘righteous’ scribes and Pharisees.
Attitudes I: Anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, enemies – all receive Jesus’ new perspective on these sins and behaviours. “You have heard that it was said…” The old system becomes the new, true Law: “but I say to you…” Looking out for others in exercising God’s love becomes the norm.
Attitudes 2: Giving, praying, fasting, hoarding, mundane anxieties – these, too, are reversed in Jesus. “Do not…” introduces another “but…” as He urges His followers to love others and singleheartedly trust in Him.
Interpret Jesus’ Sermon comprises a number of His teachings, possibly given at different times. He often references the Hebrew Bible, especially Psalms, with veiled comments against the scribes’ and Pharisees’ ‘look-at-me’ religion – the praying, giving, fasting, observing onerous details of the Law. Publicly, anyway. Not so, says Jesus. His followers are quiet, out of the spotlight, moving from mere performing to true worship and sacrifice, from duty to love.
Change of heart underlies this deep and wonderful instruction, an outcome only made possible by humbly bending to His grace. The Holy Spirit, not our ideas or speculations, guides our living out His will.
Apply Perhaps the Beatitudes suffer from overfamiliarity, so we need the Spirit to invigorate Jesus’ strong teaching on being His followers, what to practice and avoid, how to go deep into the meaning of the words. As we read and reread these chapters, ponder and practice, we see how difficult it is to ‘be perfect as Your Father is perfect.’ (5:48). Thanks to our Jesus and His mercy, we don’t struggle to acquire perfection by gritting our teeth and trying harder. Lifting our hearts to Him daily, asking for His grace, we take wobbly, hesitant baby steps towards His waiting arms, right into the middle of His Kingdom.
(When I write these blogs I wonder at my nerve. This one has been the hardest so far, distilling His perfect teaching into imperfect paragraphs, from my imperfect understanding – and doing!)
Ask Lord, will You help me to look and look until I see what You teach me in these chapters? In my imagination, am I one of the disciples, one of the crowd, a scribe or Pharisee, or those on the periphery with no sense of becoming His?
Pray Lord, let me be not just a hearer of Your Word, but a doer by Your grace and by the Holy Spirit moving in my mind, heart, will and life. You have made me Your child and brought me into Your unshakeable Kingdom. Let me always be Your obedient follower, Your child, loving others by loving You, my King and Lord.
Song Ps 83 O God do not be silent Wendell Kimbrough
Ps 83 Psalms Project
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.