Lesson 1 Summer Quarter
Lesson Text: Matthew 5:1-16
Golden Text: Matthew 5:6
Our lesson this week kicks off the summer quarter of 2023. The title for this quarter of lessons is titled: Christ Proclaims the Kingdom. The first unit of lessons for the month of June is titled: Understanding God’s Kingdom; we will be taking a look at a picture of God’s kingdom. In our lesson this week, we will take a look at who will inhabit the kingdom of God as taught to Jesus in His sermon on the mount.
An Upside-Down Kingdom
I really love the title of our Sunday School lesson this week because I have never nicknamed the kingdom of God as an upside-down kingdom, but it really is an upside-down kingdom. The fact that it is upside-down speaks to the heavenly kingdom being the total opposite to kingdoms that are of the world.
The poor inhabitants
Our lesson opens up with Jesus going up on the mount away from the multitude to teach to the twelve in private (vss.1-2). The beatitudes are Jesus’ first recorded teachings that we find in scripture, though scripture does tell us He had previously been teaching and performing miracles (Matt. 4:17, 23-25), while also gathering together the twelve (Matt. 4:18-22).
The beatitudes open with Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.3).” Before we get into the first inhabitants of the kingdom, I feel we need to talk about the word “blessed”. What does it mean to be blessed? To be blessed means that one is happy. To be very specific about this meaning, being blessed means that one is not happy from worldly (material) things, but happy from God’s providence!
So, the first inhabitants from mankind to be of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, are those that are poor in spirit. To understand this statement clearly, let’s sub in the word “happy” for the word blessed in that verse. So, we now get this statement: happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Let’s be even more clear in that Jesus was not speaking about those who are physically poor or financially poor.. The reason I mention this is because when we think of someone being poor, our mind first goes to finances and then on to one being physically poor. Jesus was speaking spiritually so we should think spiritually with these statements.
So, on that note, we already see that the kingdom of heaven is an upside-down kingdom. By worldly standards, no good kingdom is a broke and poor kingdom. Those who are of great wealth, in the world, are those that are typically seen in the kingdom; the poor and broke are always hidden. Jesus’ first mention of the poor inhabiting the heavenly kingdom should not go unnoticed.
As I just mentioned, wealth and finances – materials – is not the determining factor whether one enters heaven. You see, the soul is the determining factor as to who will inhabit the kingdom. The poor soul, I want you to understand, is the soul that lacks righteousness; the one that recognizes this and turns to the Lord will inhabit the heavenly kingdom.
The broken and lowly inhabitants
Speaking of broke, Jesus then said that those who mourn are blessed (happy) because they will be comforted (v.4). Who are those that mourn? Those who grieve because of all of their afflictions, infirmities, and those that grieve under the heavy weight of the burden of their sins. Those who mourn, spiritually, and turn to the Lord, they find comfort in the world, and in God’s kingdom, they will mourn no more.
This, again, speaks to a great difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of heaven. How so? Because in the world, those who are afflicted rarely have their afflictions eased by another; they often end up suffering under oppression. However, in the kingdom of God, those that grieve are not forgotten, they are comforted.
Jesus then said to the disciples, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (v.5).” Who are the meek? To be meek means that one is able to endure injury (affliction) with patience and without resentment; they are submissive (lowly) rather than violent.
In the world, meekness is essentially frowned up and mocked as being a sign of weakness; you are to fight rather than to be accepting. Now, I can certainly understand the value of fighting for what is right – justice – rather than just laying down and accepting what is wrong.
Spiritually speaking, however, patience is a great virtue. It is when we lack patience that we get ourselves into the biggest messes spiritually. Yet, throughout scripture, we are encouraged to wait on the Lord. Jesus taught in the beatitudes that those who wait on the Lord will inherit the ‘earth’.
On that note, we need to talk about what is meant here by inheriting the earth. Someone will wonder why the others are inheriting the kingdom but the lowly are merely inheriting the earth. In this case, Jesus was not talking about inheriting the world but was still talking about inheriting heaven; the earth meant as the ‘land’ of the kingdom of heaven. To be clear, the Lord was not saying that our world today will be heaven.
As we know, from the book of Revelation, there will be a new heaven (Rev. 21:1). The inhabitants of the new heaven, thus far, are those who were poor in their soul, aggrieved in their soul, and patient in their soul. Jesus has said that those souls put up with much in the world but they are happy because they have been promised an eternal home in God’s kingdom.
The hungry, but fed inhabitant
The next inhabitants in the heavenly kingdom, are those that are hungry and thirsty for righteousness (v.6). In our world, the hungry and thirsty end up scouring in all sorts of places just to put something into their bellies; they become beggars begging for scraps. This thought puts me in mind of the rich man and the beggar that was named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-27).
Jesus’ sharing of this story, which I don’t believe was a parable but were two real people, is a clear representation of how the kingdom of our world works. In the parable, the rich man had everything while the beggar had nothing; the beggar literally sat outside the rich man’s gates begging for the crumbs off his table to eat. The rich man could have given to the beggar but he never did; the beggar was left in poor health.
When they both died, the beggar went on to Abraham’s bosom while the beggar went to the place of torments in Hades. Why? Because the beggar hungered not just for food but for righteousness as well; he sought for the Lord. While he may have never been cared for in this earthly kingdom, the Lord took Him out of this world and cared for Him eternally. If you are hungry for righteousness – if you truly seek for it – the Lord will feed you now and for the rest of eternity in His heavenly kingdom.
The merciful, the pure, and peaceful inhabitants
Jesus then said that the kingdom of heaven will be inhabited by those who are -merciful, pure in heart, and are peacemakers (vss.7-9). When we hear about the merciful, the pure in heart, and peacemakers, we typically think of good people, right? So, with that in mind, we need to make something very clear about the thought, “the good go to heaven”.
In my most recent sermons – The Harvest of God – I touched on the notion that good that is of the world is drastically different than good that is of God. You see, the good of God is holy and righteous whereas good that is of the world is simply that – of the world. In the lesson we had a couple weeks ago – The True Vine – Jesus clearly stated that if you are attached to Him, the true vine, then you become a withered branch that does not bear fruit that is holy and righteous (John 15:6).
I can understand that this thought will be quite confusing because there are many good people in the world that do good but are absent of faith in the Lord. While the good that they do is good, it is actually being done in vain when it comes to inheriting everlasting life. Paul said it best when he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8).”
This thought can be very troubling for many folks because it puts to rest the notion that all good people go to heaven. For one to truly know mercy and show mercy, they must come to accept God in their hearts. For one to truly be pure, it is not them abstaining from things of the world but faith in the shed blood of Jesus washing them of their sins. In order for one to know peace, they must know the Lord’s peace and share it with those around them.
In doing these things, those of faith, will be called the sons of God. This is a thought Jesus later touched in when taught the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. As I preached a couple weeks ago, Jesus said that those who the good seed took root in and grew in, would be called sons of the kingdom – the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:38).
The persecuted inhabitant
In our world, the persecuted are rarely vindicated and are often relentlessly stereotyped and oppressed. Honestly, such a thought speaks very poorly of the kingdom of the world because we should seek justice for one another, rather than allow the continued injustice and persecution of the innocent (Is. 59:4).
Many of us are persecuted today because of our faith. I had a discussion with a believer quite a few years ago about the concept of being persecuted because of having faith in God. This young man believed he was being persecuted by others because he kept inserting himself and his face when people were clearly rejecting him and his testimony of the Lord.
I explained to him, firstly, he was not being persecuted by those people; he was inserting himself in a place where he was already rejected. As believers, Christ taught us that when we and our testimony of Him is rejected, we should shake the dust off our feet and go elsewhere (Matt. 10:14).
Secondly, I explained to him that it is not simply the flesh and blood that we wrestle against. We are often concerned about those around us hating us because of our faith, but our true enemy is of the spirit. As Paul said, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Our prosecutor is the devil and he comes at us with his army. We are persecuted all day long by an enemy who does not want to see us flourish nor does he want the Lord to be happy. So, as Paul said, we must put on the whole armor of God so that we can withstand Satan and his persecution of us (Eph. 6:11).
To all of us, because we are all persecuted by the devil, Jesus has said that ours is the kingdom of heaven and we are blessed (v.10). Our lesson closes out on the note that we should all rejoice when we are persecuted by Satan and those around us because our reward is in heaven and not on earth. You see, all of those who have believed in Christ will not perish but will have everlasting life; we will inhabit an upside-down kingdom, the kingdom of God.