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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Preached At:
Title:The Poor Get a Kingdom
Text:Matthew 5:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Matthew 4:12-5:3

Hymn 4:1,2,3,4
Psalm 1:1,2,3
Psalm 84:1,3,6
Psalm 73:1,7,8,9
Psalm 56: 1,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and Sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ

This morning our theme and points are as follows:

The king declares that the poor get his kingdom

1. The King

2. His citizens

3. His kingdom

The so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is one of the best known and yet least understood passages of scripture. We know the beatitudes: those 8 or 9 proverbs that we find at the beginning of this body of teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then follow the radical, difficult sayings about turning the other cheek, giving up ones coat, of love for enemies, about fasting, or worrying, and narrow and wide gates. There is so much here. Passages we know and love. But often, many of these sayings of the Lord are a mystery, an enigma, a riddle. They are not always clear to us. These are the words of the king to his people. But his kingdom is not of this world. His is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God' and we so often are of the world.

The Lord Jesus Christ stands in the middle of the world, the middle of history, and contradicts the ideas, the mentality of the world. He rejects popular opinion. He speaks differently. And so when he claimed to be the fulfillment of prophecy, his own hometown scorned him and cast him out. He was rejected by his own people. By his own family. His own brothers. They could not stand it that this local carpenter claimed to preach and teach with authority from heaven. And he came teaching and preaching of the kingdom of God.

When the leaders of the community, the Pharisees and the scribes, came walking on to the scene, and when the common people stood back, impressed by these wealthy, well-dressed, knowledgeable, influential men, then Jesus said to them: "You are white-washed graves." When he had an opportunity to eat and drink with the rich and famous, the powerful, the important, he rather turned away and sought out the hated tax-collector, the prostitute, the sinner, and spoke to them the words of salvation and of free grace. When he walked into the temple and saw the wealthy wheeler-dealers selling livestock for the sacrifices and exchanging foreign coin for temple currency, he was not impressed. He made a whip out of a piece of rope. He chased everyone out. He said: "You are thieves, robbers! Get out of my Father's house! Get out now!"

The Lord Jesus often spoke and acted in startling ways. He often took an unexpected approach to people and situations. We find the same in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Here too he contradicted common opinion. He rejected popular practice. He contrasted his teaching with that of the theology profs. He criticized the behaviour of the smug and wealthy. He disagreed with the opinions and values of the world. And he taught with authority. When a Jewish Rabbi or teacher read the scripture, he stood. But when he taught he sat down. You can find that as well in Luke 4. The Lord reads from Isaiah and then he sits down to teach.

So also the Lord went up a mountain and sat down to teach. The crowds were there as were his disciples. In the previous chapter, we read how the Lord had performed many miracles. Great crowds followed him. They were coming from all over. They poured in from every direction to experience healing or to witness this great wonder. Matthew watches as they stream in from all over. Judea and Jerusalem in the south. From Galilee in the north. From the Decapolis, a Greek province to the North East. From across the Jordan. From all over they come. They came, drawn to this new teacher in Israel. From all the lands that God had given to his people through Moses and Joshua. From North and South and from across the Jordan. All sorts of people. All Israel. And many people.

It is as if he pulls the crowds along. They are anticipating something. He leads them to a mountain. And here we have allusions to a second Moses. Moses had led the people out of Egypt, with mighty signs and wonders, through the water, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. And here too the Lord Jesus has been called from Egypt (Matt 2:14), been through the water at baptism (Matt 3:16), through the wilderness tempted by the devil (4:1), and now the people from all over the promised land come to him to hear him (4:25), to see his mighty signs and wonders. The Lord Jesus Christ came to some unnamed mountain. The Scribes and teachers of the Law sat in Moses seat. The Lord has his own. He speaks with authority. And his disciples come to him for instruction.

And then Matthew gives full weight to Jesus words. He could hardly express it in more forceful words. Literally we could translate: "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying" It is as if he has sat down, the disciples and the crowd gathered round. Silence fell on the hillside. And before he begins to speak, all is quiet. Important things are going to be said. This is not just any beginning. This is not just any speech. This is not just any sermon. Now, now is the time to listen. This is instruction for all kinds of people. It is not instruction for just a few. "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying"

And nor is this just a take it or leave advice session. No. The Lord Jesus Christ wants to be surrounded by disciples and followers. By all Israel. And every listener must learn how to become a good disciple. But how does this work? How can this happen? Then we hear the Sermon on the Mount. And before we begin to work our way through it, for that is our plan for the next while, before we begin to work through these chapters, we need to understand a few things about them.

We cannot understand the parts without understanding the whole. We cannot understand the part on turning the other cheek without understanding where it fits in the whole. We cannot understand the part about forgiveness without understanding the whole. And we must understand this about the whole. The Sermon on the Mount is meant for all Christian people. For each one of us. It is a perfect picture of the life in the kingdom of God. That kingdom that is essentially in each one of Jesus disciples. Those who follow him. The kingdom, the reign of the king, is primarily that which is within us. It is that which governs the heart and controls the heart and mind and outlook of life. In Jesus the kingdom of God had come. It is in our midst. For the kingdom of God is his rule over our lives. It is not some place. It is God's sovereignty over you. By his Spirit and Word he rules over his people.

You cannot say of the Sermon on the Mount, live like this and you will be a Christian. Rather, it is like this, because by God's grace you are a Christian, live like this. This is how Christians are meant to live. This is how we ought to live. Because of God's grace. Because of his rule. Because of his Word. The Sermon on the Mount is not just a set of rules or laws to follow. It is a description of a way of life. It describes what Jesus Christ wants his people to be like, as his Spirit and Word work renewal and restoration. The Sermon on the Mount describes a man, a woman, a disciple of the Lord Jesus who is being renewed and transformed by grace. The Sermon on the Mount is not some ethical or moral code, some new law to obey. No, it is the description of those who live under the gracious kingship of Christ. Who are blessed in his covenant. Who know the Lord Jesus. Who are his disciples and who follow him closely, not at a distance like Peter who denied his Lord.

And then we begin to understand better why then should we try to live this way Why we should study this sermon. The Lord Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, died so that you could. He died that we might live this way. The Apostle Paul writes in Titus 2: He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. He died that we might be eager to live the Sermon on the Mount.

We must also understand that these words of the Lord Jesus show me the absolute need for regeneration. For new birth. And then the opening verses of this sermon of Jesus' crush me to the ground. They confront me with the absolute need to be born again. They expose my utter helplessness. These words, this teaching of the Lord, exposes my need, gives me hope, grants me grace.

Another reason to study this Sermon on the Mount is that those who learn it, and love it, and then live it, are truly blessed. Face this sermon of Jesus. Let its demands confront you. Let its implications confound you. Let its simplicity surround you. Let us all do that, as God's new Israel. As his new people. Take these words of Jesus seriously. They are life or death to us. But we need to move on yet this morning. For what kind of things does this sermon of Jesus cover.

Blessed. We need to turn our attention to the first word. The word: Blessed. Blessed are Each of the beatitudes opens with this word: Blessed. So it is essential for us to know what this word means. We will return to it each time we take up one of the beatitudes. Blessed. Often, in many commentaries, in Study Bible notes, in translations this word is said to mean, "Happy". Happy are the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, the persecuted etc. But happiness is an internal subjective thing. It describes how we feel. Our own emotion. But to be blessed, is to receive something from God. It means to receive approval from God. To receive grace from God. This is covenantal language. The blessing of the covenant come to God's people. And God's people, by his grace and Holy Spirit are meek, poor, gentle, they are peacemakers, and often persecuted. So the Sermon on the Mount begins with what we know as the beatitudes. The blessings  that is what beatitude means, "blessing." The people of God thus described are blessed people: blessed citizens. A people to whom the Lord says, "Good and faithful servants, enter into my rest."

The world says: "Blessed are the go-getters. Blessed are those who grab every opportunity that comes their way. They'll get somewhere in life." The Lord says: "No. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The world says: "You've got to be a little ruthless. You've got to look out for yourself. Who cares about the next guy? Step on him if you must. Who cares whose hands you trample as you climb the ladder of success. Just look out for yourself. Look out for number one." The Lord says: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are those who look out for others." The world says: "Happy are the party animals. If you know how to have a good time in life, to make the most of it, to party non-stop, you'll be happy." Jesus says: "Blessed are the pure - the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

The Lord Jesus teaches us something different from the world's wisdom and common sense. We see this contrast already right in the opening words of his sermon. Here the Lord says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

But whoever heard of that - poor people getting a kingdom? How can it be that poor people are blessed. And notice that the Lord does not say, "The poor will be blessed later." He does not say, "The poor in spirit will be happy later." He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, now!" Why? "Because the theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Imagine that!

The world says: "Blessed are the rich, the intelligent, the influential; they get the kingdoms, the power and the glory." But God doesn't work the way the world does. Jesus says: "The poor - the poor in spirit - the kingdom of heaven belongs to them." In the kingdom of heaven, paupers become princely people. Beggars become kings and queens. Whoever heard of that? But the wisdom of God is wiser than men. Even the foolishness of God is wiser than men's wisdom. For God grants good gifts to whom he will.

This is the message that he Lord brought as he preached in the synagogues. His program was to preach liberty to captives, sight to the blind He came to announce the acceptable year of the Lord: the year of Jubilee. He came to preach, to preach good news to the poor. The Lord Jesus said in Luke 4, quoting from Isaiah, that he had come to preach good news to the poor. He came to evangelize the poor. We have the same here today. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit that is.

God is the one who blesses. It is he who grants good things and goodness. And that blessing comes in the message that the Lord Jesus brings. It comes with the good news that he is preaching. And what is he preaching? Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand! Turn your life around! The kingdom of God is coming!

So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? When the Lord spoke of a poverty in spirit, he was not speaking first of all of material poverty. He was not speaking about not having any food, clothing, or a roof over your head. Poverty in itself does not open up the way into the kingdom of heaven. Nowhere does the Bible say that it is more spiritual to be poor than to be wealthy. Nowhere does it say that God loves you more if you have less material possessions. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the poor are closer to the kingdom of heaven than the rich simply because they are poor. Yes, the Bible does warn the rich and wealthy repeatedly not to place their trust in their earthly possessions which are all going to be destroyed on the last day. We can learn that from some of the parables of the Lord Jesus. We can learn that from the Psalms. But scripture does not teach that there is a spiritual advantage to being poor. Poverty does not guarantee spirituality. Neither does poverty guarantee salvation. Many have denounced property and material possessions thinking that then they were more deserving of God's blessings. But this is not the case. There is nothing we can do to earn God's blessings. For blessing from God is undeserved. God does not look around and say, "Oh, there those poor people there, I will bless them with blessings, just because they have so little." This is what the modern liberation theology teaches. God is on the side of the poor and oppressed. It is true that God hates oppression. He hates inequity in the dealings of men. He desires mercy and kindness and humility. But being poor or oppressed or persecuted does not in itself open the way to heaven. Those things do not guarantee blessing or happiness.

It is only the blood of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice on the cross, that gains us admission into the kingdom of heaven. It is only when we embrace Christ in true faith that we find ourselves inside the kingdom. Jesus Christ said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who tremble when they stand before God. They say with Isaiah, "I am undone." The poor in spirit are those who realize that their hands are empty when they come to God. That they have nothing to offer God. People who are poor in spirit are the humble, the downcast, those truly sorry for their sins.

A person who is poor in spirit may be a very confident person. He might be a very self-assured business man. There is nothing wrong with that. He might be a skilled craftsman who applies his talents and abilities with confidence. That's good. Someone who is poor in spirit may be a wife, a mother who confidently and with quiet pride prepares a wonderful meal for her family or is a hostess at a gathering of friends. She may be a teacher or a nurse who is sure about her training and her talents and does the job with full awareness of her abilities and with great satisfaction. People who are poor in spirit may be fine musicians, great athletes, and know that they are. They might be excellent university students. And who do what they're good at with vigor and joy. But they also might be the quiet, the unassuming, the shy and awkward. The poor in spirit may not have a prominent place in the church or community. They might be withdrawn and quiet in the crowd. They may feel they have few gifts and talents with which to work.

But all of these people: the talented, gifted, competent, capable, skillful, qualified, able, proficient, confident and self-assured; the shy, awkward, unassuming, quiet" if they are poor in spirit, they tremble when they stand before God. When they come into the presence of God, they look at their hands, and they see that they are empty. When they come before God, they realize that they are poor, that they are destitute beggars. Whether we are rich or poor, talented or not, self-assured or lacking self-confidence, we are all poor beggars in the presence of God.

When we face God, our self-confidence dissolves. In the presence of the holy God, we feel nothing but a sense of utter poverty of spirit. We recognize that we are in deep trouble. Why? Because of our sins and sinfulness. We realize that we have no excuses to make. We cannot save ourselves. We just look to God for salvation. But at the same time we recognize that we have no lawful claim to salvation. We realize that God owes us nothing. The word "poor" which the Lord Jesus used here refers to the poorest of the poor. A completely destitute beggar. That's what we are. We must realize that. We must admit that we are spiritually bankrupt. We must become conscious of our sin, our misery, our lack of any natural redeeming qualities. We have nothing of ourselves to offer to God. We can only stand before God, lift up our empty hands and say: "Lord, have mercy; Lord, save us." "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!" How many of us have this attitude? This deep sense of their poverty before God? Of our guilt and our need for grace? Do we do that? Do you do that? Or do you look at so and so and say, "What a sinner he is, I am glad I'm no so bad." To you I say, "Read the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18."

The Lord Jesus came as a teacher. He sat down and taught his disciples and the crowds. They too, were being called to be disciples. The blessedness of the kingdom, the happiness of the kingdom is for those who come to the Lord, aware of their poverty and plead on his promise of blessing.

Such an attitude pleases God. In Isaiah 57:15 we read how the prophet tells us what the Lord God says. "For this is what the high and lofty One says- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." And then we resist. By nature we want to reject the idea that we must admit absolute poverty. But we must not resist. Rather, think about the poverty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was poor in spirit. Humble and meek. But his poverty was a self-imposed poverty. When he appeared in the likeness of men, he had to empty himself of his glory and riches. He became poor for us. Our poverty is natural. We are born with it. Mankind has been impoverished since he fell into sin. But our Lord took poverty upon himself. He willingly embraced it. He embraced poverty, humility, and total dependence upon someone else. He was the eternal Son of God, God himself. But he did not clutch at the glory of being God. He gave it up. He came to earth in the form of a man. He became a man, one of us. And all the while that he was upon the earth, he depended upon God his Father. In John 5:19 Jesus said: "Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." He was utterly dependent upon the Father. That's why he spent hours in prayer - because of his self-imposed poverty. Because he had emptied himself. Why did he empty himself? Why did he become poor and dependent? For the salvation of man. As Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 8:9: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Those who believe in Jesus Christ are rich. He makes his people a princess, a prince, all because he became a pauper. He did it all. He emptied himself, he gave himself up, to the point where he died on the cross. In humility. In weakness. In poverty. He went to the cross with empty hands. And those hands were nailed to the cross. Look to Jesus Christ. You too will receive the kingdom of heaven. We look only the cross of Christ.

Nothing in my hand I bring.

Simply to Thy cross I cling.

And then with those hands that had been nailed to the cross he now blesses his church and his people. And he says to those who come with broken contrite hearts, "Yours is the kingdom" You will inherit the kingdom. This is what we can read in Colossians 1. There Paul writes that we are to thank the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints. We are not qualified in our selves. It is not what we bring. It is what the father gives. And what has he done? He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Beloved Son. Transferred us to the kingdom! Even now already. Those who are poor in spirit, those who are truly sorry for sins, they are already inheritors with the saints, transferred into the kingdom of his Son.

This is for the poor in spirit. The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord's Day 33 tells us that repentance, true repentance, that repentance to which the Lord Jesus calls his people consists of this. To grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin. AND - note carefully - and more and more to hate sin and flee from it." But there is more.... It is also a heartfelt joy in God through Christ. AND - note carefully - it is a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works. That is the measure of the poor in spirit. True sorrow for sins - but joy for what we have in Christ. It is a resolve to hate sin and run away from it and a resolve and a love for living according to God's commandments. That is what it means to be poor in spirit.

Examine yourself, are you poor in spirit? Do you have this attitude? The attitude of the man of Psalm 1? The man who does not walk with the wicked, nor stand with sinners, nor sit with scoffers, but who delights to do the will of God? Strive for that. Realize that you are no position to bring anything at all to God that he should pay you back.

In Rev 3:15 we can read the words of the Lord Jesus. He says to the church at Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

Earlier the Lord said to the church at Symrna - "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)..." Persecution was coming for that church but the Lord encouraged them and said, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

This is what he counseled that lukewarm church also... Buy from me, he said, "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see", He who conquers, Christ will grant to sit with him on his throne, as he himself conquered and sat upon his Father's throne. This is the kingdom of God. This is what Christ has obtained for his people. He did so with his precious blood. By his death and resurrection. This is what he obtained for you and me. Not that we should be rich in ourselves. With our own deeds, our own life. But that we should be rich in him. And he will grant to his own the crown of life in his kingdom. For there is the kingdom. 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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