Rather, he is declaring —
* The Kingdom promised by the prophets is about to appear.
* The Kingdom will be for those people that society overlooks, even despises — the poor in spirit, the anawim, and the persecuted. The last shall be first.
* God will bless the subjects of the Kingdom in ways that the world cannot defeat and that will more than compensate for today’s sufferings.
* The Kingdom is coming, indeed, is already breaking into the present, but won’t be fully realized under the End of the Age.
* God expects his Kingdom to bring peace (shalōm) to the world, meaning peace with God and peace among the subjects of the Kingdom — not merely the absence of conflict but the presence of right relationships. Agapē will replace the tensions and hatred that fill the world now.
The Kingdom is the church but the church radically re-envisioned. A kingdom requires a king, subjects, borders, and laws. Jesus begins defining these very things in the SOTM, although he has not yet identified himself as the Messiah (King of the Kingdom).
Jesus’ vision of the gospel of the Kingdom of God is much bigger than “get baptized so you won’t go to hell.” Rather, he sees the Kingdom as God’s solution for a broken, fallen world filled with sin, war, and hatred.
The cure isn’t going to church, but a church that lives the SOTM. When the disciples live together as the SOTM instructs, the church becomes a beacon of light in a dark world, drawing people by their love. When we live as images of God, that is, when we imitate Jesus in his sacrifice, service, submission, and even his suffering, the church becomes the church, that is, what the church was meant to be: the Kingdom — and the gates of Hades will not stand in its way.
But when we limit church to a get-out-of-hell club, looking down our noses at a world desperate for the poor in spirit, not only does the church not grow, there’s no reason for it to do so. We have little to offer.
This quote from Mark Love should make the point —
But if we understand the gospel the way Jesus did (and I would argue, also the way Paul did), as the announcement of the nearness of the Kingdom of God, then all the issues and roles change. Now the issue is God’s good rule over all of life. The issue is shalom and the world’s lack of it. And I doubt we’d have a hard time convincing others that our world lacks wholeness or well-being. And I doubt we’d get much resistance with most people that a different way of ordering our world is sorely needed. The issue now is whether or not we believe the way of Jesus is the way of shalom.
What happens to personal guilt and the need for forgiveness? Forgiveness is a necessary part of the Kingdom of God. God’s shalom can’t get off the ground if we’re overcome by the powers of sin and death, if our own guilt and shame overwhelm us and make us neurotic, unstable, and untrustworthy. What happens to the importance of the death of Jesus? It’s significance becomes greater. It is not only a sign of our forgiveness, but also a model for a different way of life under a different set of powers, notably the power of trusting, self-giving love.
So, most of the old stuff is there, but its been reframed by the larger theme of the Kingdom of God. Now, the message is inviting others to belong to God’s in-breaking reign with all the benefits that brings. So now, not only is your friend more than a prospect, but your friendship might actually be a sign of the Kingdom of God. It can actually be a part of the good news you proclaim.
Another way to study the SOTM is to ask as to each section, what question is Jesus answering?
As to the Beatitudes, the question seems to be “Whom does God bless?” but I think there’s a better answer, that is, question. I think Jesus is really answering: “When is it?” or “What time is it?”
By declaring the poor in spirit, etc. blessed by God, Jesus is saying, “The Kingdom is about to dawn!” This is the time when God will establish his Kingdom — and to those who knew their prophecies, when the Messiah would come and when the Spirit would be outpoured.
This is the time when God would place his Messiah on the throne and begin to bring the world under his rule.
Therefore, this is the time to repent — just as John the Baptist had been preaching. If the Kingdom is coming, you want to be part of it because God only promised to include a remnant of Israel in it. Not everyone gets to be a part of the Kingdom.
And if the time is “dawn of the Kingdom,” then the next question has to be “Who are we?” or “Are we part of the Kingdom?” And Jesus responds, you disciples of mine are among the poor in spirit, those that mourn, etc., and therefore you’ll be part of the Kingdom. After all, it wasn’t the rich and powerful from Jerusalem who gathered at the mountain to hear Jesus. It was those who knew that it was better to leave behind their jobs and other responsibilities and hear what Jesus had to say.
The next question is, “Who will we be?” or “Repent to become what?” And the first answer is “salt and light.”
What time is it? Who are we? Who will we be? Not a bad outline for sermon.