The Manifesto of Christ's Kingdom

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Series: The Sermon on the Mount

Speaker: Pastor Justin Wheeler

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-6

Manuscript PDF


Of all Jesus’ teaching, none is more readily identified and associated with Him than the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. It appears in the first book of the New Testament and while it is not the first recorded statement of Jesus, it is by far the longest and most comprehensive of His public sermons. It seems clear that Matthew views this message as the foundation upon which Jesus’ life, ministry, and kingdom are to be established.

The sermon is ground-breaking on multiple levels. It is the inauguration speech of the King of the Universe. It is the sermon that broke 400 years of divine silence and at the same time, it introduced the world to the Kingdom of God in a way that it had never known before. This sermon describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the rule of God’s grace.[1] The Old Testament ended with the threat of a curse but this sermon opens the New Testament with the promise of blessings.

And yet, like much of Christ’s teaching, the Sermon on the Mount is not just widely known it is also largely misunderstood. Modern liberal theology will say that it’s not your doctrine (what you believe) that truly matters, but how you live out the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is that they don’t seem to have even read the Sermon on the Mount because no one can be perfect as God is perfect, and yet Jesus tells us in this sermon that we must be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Many modern people are familiar only with certain lines out of the Sermon on the Mount and they quote these lines out of self-interest or an attempt to defend their sin. “Don’t judge me! Jesus says not to judge others.” Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, do unto others…how many times have we heard these quoted or used them ourselves, with no clue or connection to what Jesus was actually talking about in the sermon?

At the same time, there are many who have never heard of the Sermon on the Mount. Virginia Stem Owens was a professor of English and Literature at Texas A &M and one of the assignments she gave to an incoming freshman was to read the Sermon on the Mount and write a response paper. Most of her students were middle-class, conservative, Republicans who held to traditional American values, but she was surprised by what she read in their responses.

The first paper she picked up began,

“In my opinion religion is one big hoax.”

The second read,

“There is an old saying that ‘you shouldn’t believe everything you read’ and it applies in this case.”

One student came right to the point,

 “I did not like the essay ‘Sermon the Mount.’ It was hard to read and made me feel like I had to be perfect and no one is.”

“The things asked in this sermon are absurd. To look at a woman is adultery? That is the most extreme, stupid, un-human statement that I have ever heard.”[2]


Some people love this sermon, some hate it, but ignoring it isn’t an option. This sermon is intended to shake things up. It takes the value system of our sinful world and turns it upside-down. It points an unflinching finger at religious legalists and hypocrites and tells them that they will have no part in the Kingdom of Heaven. But it also makes clear that not one part of the law of God will be overlooked. It tells us the way to eternal life and then tells us that the journey will cost us our very lives.

But in the end, this sermon is an announcement of Good News. A New King for God’s people has come and He is establishing a New Covenant and this is His message.

Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sermon Focus…

I. The Setting for this Sermon

Before Jesus begins to speak here in chapter 5, Matthew has been working to build our anticipation for what He is going to say and the significance of who He is. In chapter 1 we read of Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth and we are reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s words,

Isa 7:14 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.

Next came John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord and pointing to Jesus saying, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and the fire (Matt 3:11).”

At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father spoke from Heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt 3:17).” Even the Devil got involved and declared Jesus to be the Son of God and tried to use that as a way to tempt Him in the wilderness.

If we go all the way back to the genealogy in chapter 1 we read that Jesus is called the Messiah, the Son of David, and the Son of God. He is the promised Ruler from Bethlehem, born of a virgin, and given the title, “God with us.” He is the bearer of the Spirit of God, the second Israel who was tempted in the wilderness but did not fail.

After succeeding in the wilderness Matthew tells us that Jesus went to Capernaum by the sea and began to preach, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He taught in the synagogues and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. He healed the sick and afflicted, He cast out demons and by this time great crowds have begun to gather around Him.

But there is one more thing that sets our anticipation for Jesus’ first sermon and it comes by way of comparison and symbolism. I want you to think in terms of the whole of Redemptive History. There are two key events in the Bible that help us to see the redeeming love of God more clearly than any others: The Exodus from Egypt and the Ministry of Jesus. Matthew wants us to see a parallel between what took place at the time of the Exodus and what is taking place as Jesus steps onto the Mountain.


The setting for this Sermon on the Mount should fill our hearts with anticipation as we get set to hear what the Messiah and new Moses will say about the Kingdom of God and our own redemption from bondage to sin.

II. How do we read the Sermon?

How are we to understand and interpret what we read in Jesus message? To whom does it apply? What is its real purpose?

Craig Keener is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and he states that there are 36 different interpretations for this sermon. There is a Catholic view, a Lutheran view, a Social gospel view, a dispensational view, an Anabaptist view and much more. I don’t plan to go through them all but it is vitally important that we understand how we are supposed to read this sermon.

Is Jesus presenting a new law, like the law of Moses, that we are in some way supposed to follow in order that we can earn entry into the Kingdom of Heaven? Is this sermon outlining how we can live in order to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth by our own efforts? No, and No, that is not the way to read this sermon.

One interpretation says that the Sermon on the Mount has nothing whatsoever to do with modern Christians. They say that Jesus was offering the Jews of His day an opportunity to take part in the Kingdom but since they refused to acknowledge Him as their king, He went to the cross instead. In other words, the church was something of an afterthought, a plan B. Once again, No!

Let me be clear when I say that this sermon and everything in it is critically important for us today. It is a sermon meant for all Christians and it is a message that the unbelieving world needs to hear as well. This is the inaugural address of the King of kings and what He is showing us is a picture of what life is like in His Kingdom. So in order to understand this sermon, we must have some understanding of His Kingdom.

“The Jews (of that day) had a false, materialistic conception of the Kingdom. They thought the Messiah was one who was coming to give them political freedom. They thought of the kingdom in an external sense, a mechanical, military, materialistic sense…But the great purpose of this Sermon is to give an exposition of the kingdom as something which is essentially spiritual. The kingdom (at this time) is primarily something ‘within you.’ It is that which governs and controls the heart, mind, and outlook.

In other words, we are not told in the Sermon on the Mount, “Live like this and you will become Christian’; rather we are told, ‘Because you are Christian live like this.” This is how Christians ought to live; this is how Christians are meant to live (Martyn Lloyd Jones).”[3]

In John 18 as He stood before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Kingdom of Christ is first and foremost internal not external, it is spiritual and moral, not physical and political. His words are aimed at our hearts, because who we are in our hearts will determine what we do in life.

The gospel of Jesus and this sermon are not about external conformity to a pattern of religion. In fact, much of what He says throughout His ministry is aimed at correcting the teaching of the Pharisees which majored in external obedience as a way to earn spiritual favor with God. Jesus wants nothing to do with that. He doesn’t want blind obedience; He wants our lives of faith to be fueled by a love for God that flows from hearts so drenched in God’s grace that they are dripping wet.

The kind of righteous life that Jesus outlines for us in this sermon is first a matter of the heart. But that poses another problem, what if our hearts are the problem? What if our hearts are filled with pride, anger, and idolatry? What if we read this sermon, apply it to our hearts and find that we aren’t fit for the kingdom? That, I think, is where Jesus wants us to start because it means there is only one solution…we must be born again.

We cannot achieve the character of this Kingdom apart from God’s regenerating and saving grace. As He preaches this sermon, Jesus wants us to sense our deep need for God to give us a new heart. He wants us to yearn for God to write His law on our hearts by the Spirit. He wants us to come face to face with our own spiritual poverty and then He wants to build us back upon the foundation of His love and grace.

III. The Blessings of the Sermon

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The first thing that I want us to notice is the word blessed. It is the Greek term μακαριοσ and it means fortunate, blissful or happy. Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is counterintuitive. This is upside-down; a complete reversal of our natural way of thinking.

What does this mean? This term blessed/happy was used by the Greeks to talk about a type of transcendent happiness that went beyond care, labor, and death. This term relates to inner happiness that is not subject to earthly suffering and worry. When this term is used in the NT it refers to the distinctly Christian joy that comes from having a share in the salvation of the Kingdom of God. It is not shaken by the fears and pains of this world. It is a deep-seated happiness in God that turns our natural evaluation of life upside down.[4]

This is Hebrews 10:34 kind of happiness…

34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

But what does it mean to be poor in spirit? The phrase poor in spirit means to be completely destitute to recognize one’s own poverty of the soul. Even in our own day, we use this term to refer to someone who leads the life of a beggar. This is someone who has no property, no money, no power, no status; someone who is completely dependent on others for support. This person is empty, with nothing to offer and they know it. But the type of poverty that Jesus is after deals with one’s soul.

The poor in spirit are those who have come to see and feel the brokenness in their heart and the bankruptcy in their soul. When it comes to righteousness, true righteousness, they are no better than a beggar on the street. Even if they had a little money in their pocket it wouldn’t come close to paying off the debt they owe to God, they are truly poor in spirit.

No one wants to find themselves in this place. Our natural inclination is to assume that we have much to offer and that our spiritual life, though not perfect, is far from a state of poverty. The Pharisees that gathered around to hear Jesus’ message would have scoffed at this opening statement. This is not what the religious people in the crowd wanted to hear, but this is the point of entry into the Kingdom of God. This is how we are made to feel when the gospel hits our ears for the first time.

The gospel does two things in us; it tears us down and then it builds us back up. The gospel shows that our hearts are so desperately wicked that there is no hope that we can overcome our past sin much less do enough to earn eternal life. The gospel holds up the law of God demanding that we keep it perfectly, and then k that we have no chance. We are utterly incapable of pleasing God on our own. The gospel puts us on our knees before God and that is exactly where Christ wants us to start because only those who have come to understand their poverty of spirit before God are fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

To be poor in spirit means an absence of spiritual pride, an absence of self-assurance and self-reliance. It is this tremendous awareness that we are nothing in the presence of God (Lloyd-Jones).[5]

To be poor in spirit is to be like the prophet Isaiah who saw the Lord high and lifted up, but he fell to knees and cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost…I am unclean and everyone around me is unclean as well.”

To be poor in spirit is to be like the apostle Paul who could quote a spiritual resume that would shame everyone in this room, but when he stood before Christ he came to realize that all of his religious past was worthless. Paul said, “I count it all to be loss…like nothing but rubbish (dung) in the eyes of God.”

To be poor in spirit is to be like the Tax Collector in Luke 18 who would not even look up to heaven but instead beat his chest saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

When Jesus says, “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…” He is making it clear that the kingdom is fit only for those who feel that their only hope of salvation lies outside of themselves because on their own they are nothing more than a beggar.

No wonder those young men and women at Texas A & M didn’t like this sermon. To be poor in spirit is foreign to the unbelieving world. The spirit of this world says that if you want to get somewhere you have to believe in yourself, you have to rely on yourself, you have to take pride in yourself. The spirit of our culture says that there is nothing wrong with you or your heart. It wants you to believe that there is nothing wrong with your choices, that there is nothing wrong with your spirit. In fact, the arrogance of our culture would say that if God is not willing to accept what you have to offer then you shouldn’t want anything to do with Him.


But Jesus wants us to know that His Kingdom belongs to those who are poor in spirit. There is no one in the Kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit. It is the fundamental posture of its citizens and it is the entry point into the Christian life.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of this before, but I don’t think that Jesus just chose these w at random. There is a very specific and purposeful order to these attitudes, a logical spiritual sequence that helps us to see how the Spirit of God draws us to salvation.

He begins by showing us our need. Our journey to salvation by grace alone begins with understanding that if not for God’s grace we have no hope of being saved. We cannot be filled with God’s grace until we are first emptied of our own self-righteousness. We will not receive the riches of the Kingdom until we are able to see just how poor and needy we are.

But, it is also important for us to understand that as believers we don’t lose that sense of being poor in spirit. We still battle spiritual pride along the way and like Paul we say,

Gal 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

The song of the poor in spirit is this,

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;

Foul I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior or I die.

How do you see yourself? How do you view yourself in the presence of God? Are you poor in spirit? Have you come to see your own spiritual emptiness apart from Christ? Have you come to see that you are a spiritual beggar before God? If so, then listen to the words of Jesus once more.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.


[1] John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Pg. 18)


[3] Martyn Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Pg. 16-17)

[4] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on the word makarios.

[5] MLJ, pg. 50.




Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.