A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Epiphany 4 – The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

The Sermon of the Beatitudes by James Tissot (1886-1896)

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
Epiphany 4
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus goes up the mountain, sits down, and begins to teach. He fulfills the pattern we see in Moses who goes up a mountain and brings down teaching from YHWH. When Moses goes up the mountain, there are “thunders and lightnings, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound.” The people trembled in fear. Jesus goes up the mountain, sits down, and begins to teach.

When Jesus opens His mouth, the disciples hear the Word made Flesh: true God from true God. No thunder. No lightning. No thick cloud. No loud trumpet sound. Yet the Word of God speaks. The Word through whom and in whom all things were created, speaks. God draws near to man in Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God has draw near.

As we listen to the Sermon on the Mount, we hear what it is like to live in the kingdom of God. We hear what the kingdom of God’s love sounds like and looks like. When I saw we would be hearing the Beatitudes today, I returned to Dallas Willard. He wrote much on the Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes, and living holy lives.

First, let us hear Willard’s description of the life of God. It has echoes of G. K. Chesterton and Eastern Orthodoxy. Willard writes, “We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.”[1]

When you think of God the Father do not think of an aging ogre ready to strike you down when you fail. He is the Creator. He knows and lives within a love and joy that is greater than we can fathom. When Jesus comes, the very kingdom of God draws near to man. This holy life of God is an abundant life. To live holy is not to deny life but to enter a greater fullness of life. It is to live the very life of joy and love and peace that we were created to live.

G. K. Chesterton puts it this way, “for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”[2] Jesus comes with the word of hope, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He is calling us to become child-like, to become the glorious people we were created to become. He is leading us into the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

I like how Fr. Les put it last week, “It is not so much that I repent as it is the case that I am repented.” The grace of God takes hold and draws us near to this abundant life of the Father.

As Jesus opens the “Sermon on the Mount,” He begins with nine beatitudes. These sound nothing like the “Ten Commandments.” These do not sound like any list of spiritual traits. They don’t sound like the call to kingdom living that Jesus will focus upon through much of the sermon.

Let’s start by thinking about the word “Blessed.” This is the word English translators use because there is not a good English word that goes here. For the ancient Greeks, the word “Makarios” spoke of the state of the gods. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes, “these were immortal and hence free from the sadness of our mortal life, which always ends in death, the worst of evils for most people of pagan antiquity.”[3] The Greek gods lived above the condition of humanity, so “makarios” came to mean “’the privileged’ who enjoy riches, a good education, and so on, things denied the great majority of mankind.”[4]

Jesus uses this very word and applies it to people who hunger, who mourn, who suffer. In other words, the Beatitudes elevates those who look nothing like the privileged. We’ll consider this group of people more in a moment. First, let me return to the word “Blessed.” Andre Chouraqui offers a Hebrew equivalent of the word Blessed: ashre. He offers this explanation of ashre: “the thrill of the wayfarer who is about to reach his goal, in other words, the joy of the pilgrim who never halts in his movement toward the sanctuary of the heavenly homeland where God his Father awaits him.”[5]

Think about that. “The thrill of a wayfarer about to reach his goal.” This makes me think of driving to my grandma’s house when I was little. We drove down here from New Jersey. Initially, this was before I-40, so we drove Highway 11W, which was a long drive. As we began to see familiar yards with gourds hanging up as birdhouses, we knew we were getting close to grandmas. A certain giddiness filled the air after the long journey. All of us should know that feeling of excitement and joy as we come close to the end of the long trip. This is the bigger sense of what Jesus means by blessed.

Jesus speaks of a particular kind of joy and excitement that has to do with moving toward a goal, a desire, toward the kingdom of God. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who fast and pray.” In fact, he doesn’t speak about things we do. He speaks about something like states of mind, attitudes, or conditions of life.

Let’s consider our first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [6] Eugene Peterson offers this translation in the Message, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”[7] Dallas Willard offers this translation, “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’—when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them.”[8]

The kingdom of Heaven has come near in Jesus Christ. He tells his listeners; it is near even you. Are you weak and feel far from the kingdom? Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is near to you. God has not forsaken you. Turn to Jesus and let Him lead you in the very life of God.

Let your poverty of soul and spirit become the very source of hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God. This is the condition of coming to realize our desperate need for mercy. Lord have mercy upon me a sinner.

Jesus turns to those in mourning. Even mourning can be a journey to God. Pain and death and loss can drive the broken heart to the throne of God. Jesus promises to console the one who mourns. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes, “God does not console us by abolishing our solitude but by entering it and sharing it. A promise of this kind of consolation is the pledge of a summons to a Presence that can radically transform mourning from within. The consolation meant by Christ is that of the Father who throws open his arms to his children, who have long labored in the hope of coming into their full inheritance, and he exclaims: ‘Waiting is over! Enter into the joy of my presence, which will henceforth never leave you!”[9]

Do you know the great pain of loss? Repent. That is, turn to Jesus and rest in His consolation. Since the fire, Kelly and I have found ourselves turning to Jesus again and again as we continue to feel the gravity of loss. He is near the weight of your loss. Turn to Him and rest in His faithful consolation.

As Jesus continues the Beatitudes, He addresses the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

He speaks of those who long for justice. I know many young people who speak out for justice and some who have marched for justice. Sometimes they have turned away from the church, and yet their longing for justice is ultimately rooted in God’s justice. As I read the Beatitudes, I realize the kingdom of God is near to those young people, and I pray that even as they cry out for justice, they might behold the Just One who will set the world to rights.

I see how the Beatitudes can speak to each of us wherever we are at, reminding us that the kingdom of God is at hand. We are being called to turn and look to Jesus amid our longing, our mourning, our mercy, our suffering, and so on. I also see how the Beatitudes speak to those far from the kingdom. The kingdom is at hand.

I also see how we can look at the sinner, the protestor, the spiritual zero, and others as being right at the edge of the kingdom, not through their righteousness, but through their neediness. We can pray that God in His grace will open their eyes and hearts to His love and that they might turn and behold Jesus, who will lead them in the very life of God.

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Lord have mercy.

[1] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (p. 72). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[2] Chesterton, G.. Orthodoxy (Illustrated) (St. Dismas Catholic Classics Book 4) (p. 43). Publisher. Kindle Edition.

[3] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996–2012), 184.

[4] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996–2012), 184.

[5] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996–2012), 185.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:3.

[7] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Mt 5:3.

[8] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (pp. 114-115). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[9] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996–2012), 191.


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