Sunday, February 2, 2020
When you were a kid, did you ever create or become a part of an exclusive club? Only you and your best friends could be in the club, and everyone else was an outsider. You got to make the rules, the club name, the secret handshake. And you got to decide who you let into the club and who you kept out. It gave you a feeling of real power.
When I was around nine years old, my brother and I started a secret club. We made these elaborate plans for the club, and every day we told our other two brothers they couldn’t join.
Finally, my younger brother broke down and begged us to join our secret club. And then he said the magic words, “I’ll do anything to join!” I was waiting to hear those words. So, I walked him to top of the stairs and said, if you think you’re brave enough to join our secret club, you have to jump down these stairs. Then we’ll know you have the courage to be one of us. You can guess what happened. He jumped and broke his ankle. We learned three lessons that day: those in “the club” are often reluctant to let others in. If they do let you join, most times it’ll be painful. And most importantly we found out our younger brother was fearless.
That’s a tough learning experience for a kid. We all want to be part of a club, don’t we? There’s no worse feeling than being on the outside looking in. We live in a world of exclusive clubs.
There’s a club in a foreign country that’s so exclusive that it takes up to 15 years to become a member. A current member must die or resign before they’ll let anyone new join. It’s called the most exclusive private club in the English-speaking world. Its membership is made up strictly of royalty, billionaires and celebrities.
There are some clubs out there that just won’t accept us as members. There are some doors we can’t pass through because we don’t have the right connections, or money, or status.
In Jesus’ day, many people thought of the kingdom of God was like that. Only certain people could “pay the price” of admission. Only certain people had the right connections to get in. For example, your family heritage could open the door to the kingdom of God. If you were born a child of Abraham, a member of the nation of Israel, then the doors were open for you. You were one of God’s chosen.
Another way to open the doors to God’s kingdom, or so it was thought, was to keep the laws of Moses. The laws passed down through Moses were established to help the nation of Israel honor God and live as a holy people. But over the centuries, those basic laws grew into a collection of 613 rigid rules for righteous living. These intricate rules were for such normal tasks as eating, working, playing and for worship, etc. 613 of them. But who could possibly keep all these rules? Even a Pharisee named Paul confessing himself to being righteous said he couldn’t. If keeping those 613 laws is what it takes to be part of the kingdom of God, Paul said, then nobody qualifies. It’s a club with no members, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).
Certainly, such an exclusive club wasn’t the kind of club that Jesus intended. He wanted a club in which everyone could belong. And here’s where it becomes the most extraordinary club ever conceived. Matthew 5 Jesus lists the qualifications for this club. He called members of this club “blessed.” Let’s see if we qualify.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you, because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I know what some of your thinking: who’d want to belong to a club like that? Poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, maybe we could live with being merciful and a few of us could qualify as pure in heart. So, what kind of club would this be?
It’s the most extraordinary club ever conceived, for it turns the rules of every other club upside down. Let me suggest some things Jesus may have been saying to us about this club we call the kingdom of God.
First: if you don’t have anything to offer to God, the kingdom of heaven is open for you. Think about that for a moment. If you have nothing to offer God.
There are some people who think that God’s lucky to have us on His side. If you think you can buy your way into heaven with your good works or with your family connections, or even with your religious piety, forget it. You’re only flattering yourself.
So, let me get this straight, a person like us could do all the foolish, immoral things we’ve done all our lives, and five minutes before we die, we can repent and trust Jesus and be saved just like that? We don’t have to live a really good life to go to heaven. It’s that simple; it’s that easy. We can believe that!
Whoa! Here’s what’s scary about that. A lot of us secretly think that we have to do something. That grace is too easy, that there’s got to be more to it, than giving our hearts to Jesus. I'm telling you that we can bring our sins and failures and heartbreak and mess to Jesus, and He’ll welcome us into the kingdom of heaven just as we are? Yes, that’s exactly what God’s grace is all about.
Jesus came in weakness and humility to save, not the proud, but those who admit that they, too, are weak, and small. I'm hoping that we finally understand. We don’t have to bring anything to Jesus but ourselves, and He accepts us simply because we believe in Him.
There are two words for “poor” in the New Testament. Penes refers to a day laborer, the guy who makes just enough each day to stay alive. The other word for “poor” in the New Testament is ptochos. Ptochos literally means “to crouch or cower as one helpless.” It refers to the beggar, the guy who can’t survive unless someone takes pity on him and feeds him. When Jesus starts this teaching with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He uses the word ptochos, the beggar with nothing.
When you realize that you have nothing to offer God, when you can’t figure out the answers to life on your own and you want to know if God exists or if there’s any meaning in this universe, when you give up your own pride and throw yourself on the mercy of a loving God, that’s when you’re poor in spirit. Then, why would Jesus say you’re “Blessed”? I’ll tell you when, when you know that God is real, it’ll give meaning to your life. That’s why I can say with confidence that if you don’t have anything to offer to God, the kingdom of heaven is open for you.
Here’s the second thing Jesus is saying that this extraordinary club is for the blessed: if this world has nothing to offer you, the kingdom of heaven is also open for you. Jesus literally tells us to exchange our individual identities and ideas for His, and you’ll see the kind of joy you’d expect from someone who just won the lottery.
Look at Jesus’ words again, “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
What do all those people have in common? They’ve discovered that the pleasures and comforts of this world are empty. They no longer count on the world’s promises of happiness or definition of success. These aren’t the people who have the most followers on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. They’re blessed. They discover that God is comfort for the broken-hearted and strength for the meek and food for those who hunger for righteousness and inspiration for the peacemakers.
Finally, Jesus is saying to us: If you’re willing to follow a Savior who loves you with an overwhelming love, the kingdom of heaven is open for you. Sometimes I think we aren’t truly aware of Christ’s great love for us. If we were, we’d be more eager to tell others about this kingdom.
Here’s an interesting fact: Did you know that the Queen of England hires someone to break in her shoes, so she doesn’t have to suffer in stiff, new shoes? It’s true. The Queen is constantly attending royal gatherings and state dinners and charity events. She’s on her feet a lot. She can’t let uncomfortable shoes slow her down, so someone else walks in her shoes for a few days to soften them up and make sure they’re comfortable for her. And I heard that it’s a Welshman.
That’s interesting, don’t you think? The Queen of England needs someone to walk in her shoes for a few days. But here’s the Good News: Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, didn’t need someone to walk in His shoes. In fact, He did just the opposite. He walked in our shoes to show us how much God loves us. He gave up His divine power and authority and became all these things, poor in spirit, meek, mournful, hungering and thirsting, a peacemaker, to show us just how far God would go to welcome us into His kingdom.
Jesus invites us into an extra-ordinary fellowship. He’s already paid the price of admission, once, and in full, and for all. If you don’t have anything to offer to God except your heart, the kingdom of heaven is open for you. Also, if this world has nothing to offer you, the kingdom of heaven is also open for you. The kingdom of heaven is open for you. Don’t let your past or your failures or your pride stand in the way of God’s gracious gift. There’s a place for you in the kingdom of heaven.