The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These eight statements aren’t a new set of rules or expectations. This isn’t like a second ten commandments. These statements, at the beginning of the first teaching Jesus ever gave, are an invitation from Jesus inviting a certain group of people to experience what he calls the kingdom of heaven. And while so often we think that only the good people, the religious people, or people who have it all together are welcomed by God, these statements show us that the exact opposite is true.
Jesus uses these statements to open this invitation to the Kingdom of Heaven to all kinds of unexpected people as he spiritualizes what appear to be negative realities and says go and live like that. What’s amazing about this is that in doing so, Jesus blesses the desire, not the doing. Jesus blesses the longing, not the action. Jesus blesses the absence, not the achievement. Jesus focuses on the journey, not on the destination.
Isn’t that good news? How many of us have spent our lives thinking that we weren’t good enough for God because we weren’t perfect? How many of us avoided faith because we had too many doubts? How many of us struggled to pray because we didn’t think God would listen?
These statements from Jesus tell us that not only does God hear us, but he is with us and for us.
Jesus continued to teach this message for three years as he gathered followers. He gave a picture of a God with wide open arms as he challenged these followers to dream of a different way of living.
And, you know, for a time people believed what Jesus said. Then Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of religious life. I always wondered how these followers of Jesus felt as they arrived there surrounded by the images and sounds of faith. How many of them wondered, like us, if they were good enough, had too many doubts, or struggled to pray in the shadows of the great temple walls. How many of them were thinking that this message of Jesus was maybe too good to be true?
The answer to that question wasn’t too far away. It was the answer everyone feared as Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and brutally murdered on the cross for the picture he was painting of the Kingdom of Heaven: a picture that was too inclusive, too loving, and too radical.
If the Kingdom of Heaven was about suffering becoming joy, war becoming peace, and death becoming life than the Kingdom of Heaven must be a lie because suffering, war, and death seemed to be all that remained now that Jesus was dead.
For three days the followers of Jesus thought maybe God wasn’t the God Jesus taught. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t as close as Jesus claimed it to be. These followers are ready to give up on this picture of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus painted until something changed everything.
24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!
And just like that suffering became joy, war became peace, and death became life as God took the cross that was meant for death and destruction and remade it into a symbol of life. This is what God does: God redeems, restores, renews.
And if God can take a cross that was meant for death and bring life from its destruction what do you think God can do with me and with you?
You are not too imperfect. You are not filled with too many doubts. You are not unheard by God. What the resurrection teaches us is that God doesn’t give up on us even when we are ready to give up. The women who walked to the tomb were ready to mourn the death of Jesus, and they are given the news that he is alive. They aren’t told they don’t have enough faith. They are simply told they are looking for life in the wrong place, it isn’t found here anymore.
One more passage and we will close this thing up. This passage is from Isaiah, a book that was written over 500 years before the death of Jesus. In this book, Isaiah is reflecting on who God is and what God does, and he writes this beautiful passage that show us a God who redeems, restores and renews.
2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The most incredible thing about this passage is that the way that Jesus is described parallels almost every statement that we read here. He described himself as the temple and is later called the name above all names. He said he was the way, the truth, and the life and then invited us to follow him.
And then, do you see what happens at the end of this passage. The people take their swords and beat them into plowshares. They take their spears and turn them into pruning hooks. Lives that were marching toward death are turned around and redeemed, restored, and renewed to bring life. Will you allow God to form, shape, and remake your life?
What I love about all of this is that the early followers of Jesus saw how this all connected. They saw Jesus’s message of the kingdom of heaven, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus and they connected all of it into this thing called baptism.
4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
The early Christians understood that that resurrection doesn’t happen without crucifixion. They saw that you cannot fully appreciate life until you are very aware of death. This is why they speak the way they do about new life. A new life: not a life defined by the way things have always been. This life isn’t bogged down by the old way of doing things but sees a hope and future…a different to live.
They heard God saying to them, “What I did with the cross, I want to do with your life.”
That is the hope we see in the resurrection of Jesus and the invitation that is given to you today. If God can take a cross that was meant for death and bring life from its destruction, God can take your life and radically transform them into something new.
That’s the hope of resurrection.