As part of our monthly series on the Beatitudes, pastor Matthew Barker shares how the individual verses in Matthew 5:1–10 are to be seen in relationship to their whole: the Kingdom of Christ.
I was awake one night because my heart was acting strange. It wasn’t beating—it was more quaking, vibrating so rapidly my ribs danced.
If I had been in the hospital, the doctors might have said I was hyperventilating. But I thought it was much, much worse. My mind raced: Is this what it’s like to die? Should I wake up my wife?
Eventually (it was surely only a minute or two), I realized I was having a panic attack. I tried to calm my mind and think happy thoughts and go back to sleep. That failed. I realized that what I needed was real aid: I needed Jesus. So I prayed. Gradually, slowly, I returned to something resembling normal sleep.
When I woke the next morning, though, I felt like a failure as a pastor. I had preached sermons on Philippians 4:6—”Do not be anxious for anything”—but here I was, so anxious that my body was physically aggravated.
There is no person on earth who is a stranger to fear, whether in the form of panic attacks like I had or simple anxiety or even terror.
And when we fall prey to fear, we Christians often think, I’ve failed my Lord Jesus!, which, of course, causes us to fear more. Because, as John says, fear has to do with punishment. Fear is what we feel when we believe our God is going to break out in vengeance upon us.
But I think fear is also at bottom a fear of loss: loss of reputation, security, pleasure, or even life.
Even our fear of punishment is fear that we will lose our relationship with the Lord. The good news of the Beatitudes is this: Our God knows that we are afraid and, in his amazing and infinite mercy, he gives us a blessing to meet it.
He addresses this in the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Poor in spirit” is a phrase that comes from the Old Testament where being “poor in spirit” or “faint in spirit” means lacking courage. (You know, being afraid.)
So, in Isaiah 61:3, the Messiah promises to give his beaten-down people “the garment of praise instead of faint spirit.” God’s people were afraid to praise to him because they were captives and prisoners and very much in danger.
But the Messiah was going to come and en-courage them: He was going to give them the grace of courage to praise him in the midst of enemies. Passages like this could be multiplied many times over, because throughout Scripture God’s people experience fear.
Note, though, that what passages such as Isaiah 61:3 reminds us of is that our God knows that we fear.
Moreover, our God even knows what that fear is like because Jesus became incarnate and experienced it—those drops of blood at Gethsemane weren’t tears of joy! And to his people who are afraid, fearing the loss of all they have, our God promises this blessing to you: the kingdom of heaven is yours.
The idea here is that the eternal kingdom of Jesus belongs to you at this moment (notice its in the present tense).
- Your home with the Triune God and his people in eternal bliss and happiness is yours, now.
- Your home amongst his people in the church now is yours.
- The peace of God himself which passes all understanding is yours.
Notice something else: The kingdom belongs to God’s people while they are afraid! Our God knows that we fear punishment and loss. He knows that we will face punishment and loss. So to encourage us, he promises us that the kingdom of heaven is ours now.
So when panic strikes, pray to Jesus and remember that the eternal kingdom of heaven is yours right now—at this moment—through faith in Jesus.
And don’t be afraid that you’ve failed the Lord if you experience fear after he delivers you from it. After all, our Lord pronounced a blessing upon his fearful people through Jesus, at the Sermon on the Mount, to assure you that no flutter of the heart will ever separate you from the love of God that is yours in Christ Jesus.
Previous posts in this series:
Introduction to the Beatitudes: The King’s Once and Future Blessings
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.