In 2012, when my wife and I moved to Walkerton, Indiana, so that I could pastor a church, we bought a 125-year-old house. While we were excited to have a house, we were more excited to turn it into the Barker Home: a place of joy for our family and a place of safety for the congregation.
Now, though, I find myself walking around our house just thinking about its individual elements: “We really need to insulate these walls.” “How much is that going to cost to fix?” “How many mice actually live in our basement?”
As I focus on the individual elements (especially the problems!) I lose sight of the big picture that we had when we bought our house—to make it a place of blessing, even as we’ve received it as a great blessing from our loving God.
It occurs to me that this is sometimes how we look at the Bible. We focus on all the little (and especially difficult) bits—What does this verse mean? Is that verse still applicable today?— that we miss how God intended them to create a whole picture. This is definitely what has happened to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10. The individual verses are famous:
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
But they are rarely read as wonderful parts of a much more wonderful whole.
Together, in a new monthly series on the Beatitudes, we will see how these individual verses are to be seen in relationship to their whole: the Kingdom of Christ.
Indeed, Matthew’s whole gospel centers around Christ’s kingdom. The genealogy in chapter one proves that Christ is the son of David and therefore the rightful king of God’s people—a king whom Herod fears, and whose kingdom is so great that Satan tries to steal it.
Even Jesus’ preaching is summarized in terms of the kingdom, “From that time [of John the Baptist’s arrest] Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’”
Just following this, and immediately before he preaches the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gathers disciples and attracts crowds. You might say that he brings in citizen-subjects of his kingdom and attracts those who are considering citizenship.
The context for the Sermon on the Mount, then, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
That also means that this sermon was intended for the citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out in The Cost of Discipleship, the opening verses—“Seeing the crowds, he [Jesus] went upon on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and taught them”—tell us that Christ aims this message directly at the disciples; the disciples are the “them” who are being taught.
The Beatitudes, which begin the Sermon on the Mount, are therefore blessings from the king upon his subjects. But because he is a gracious king, Jesus allows the crowds to listen in as an invitation for all to consider citizenship in this kingdom.
And the way Jesus describes his kingdom and its citizens?: blessed.
The Kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of blessedness.
Indeed, if scholars are correct that the Beatitudes are a summary of life in Christ’s kingdom, then the Beatitudes aren’t just the first word, but are in many ways the whole word for your life in the kingdom: blessed.
So as we embark on our journey through the Beatitudes, we will explore the blessedness of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. If you are a citizen of this kingdom, then come learn what blessings are yours by faith in Jesus.
If you are not a citizen yet, but wonder what Christianity is all about—like the crowds that listened to Jesus at that time—then please follow along also so that you can learn what blessings Jesus has for those who are citizen-subjects of heaven.
And they are blessings—the only blessings that can bring comfort to the mourning, give inheritance to the meek, and turn a 125-year-old house into a Christian home.
Matt Barker is a pastor of Grace Reformed in Walkerton, Indiana. He married up to a wonderful wife who gives happiness and wisdom, and has a wonderful daughter who encourages fun and vigilante prayer.