Standards of the Kingdom

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STANDARDS OF THE KINGDOM

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside
and sat dawn. His disciples came to him, and he began
to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you,
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you
because of me.
“You are the salt of the earth
You are the light of the world.”
Jesus (Matthew 5:1-14)

If you are familiar with the New Testament, you will
immediately recognize this list as declarations from what is
usually called “The Sermon on the Mount.” This sermon is
recorded in 106 verses in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7. The
only other extended account of Jesus’ teaching found in
Matthew is in chapters 23-25. These later chapters contain
Jesus’ evaluation of the religious world of that time. They
also record for us His response to the disciples’ question,
“When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your
coming and of the end of the age?”(Matthew 24:3).

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by
announcing, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Early in His preaching, Jesus affirmed John’s message:
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the
kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17). If Jesus made
that kind of announcement at the beginning of His preaching,
we would expect Him to tell us how membership in this
Kingdom is attained. In this sermon, chapters 5 – 7, Jesus
does just that. He says here are the rules or the requirements
for one belonging to my Kingdom.

Why Have Rules for the Kingdom?
Are rules or standards for the Kingdom necessary? To
develop our understanding, let’s use your home or apartment
as an analogy. Can you think of any rules that affect
everyone in your home? Here are some you might apply:
Make sure the doors are locked when you
leave.

Turn off (or on) the lights.
Keep your feet off the furniture.
Keep the volume on the radio (or T.V.) down.
Be sure to put the garbage out on Tuesday.
And you can list many more.
Every home has it’s own “house rules.” It is not compliance
with the rules that gets you into the house. It is
because of your relationship to the owner that you get in.
Because of that relationship, we gladly submit to the rules
the owner has detailed. The benefit is for us as determined by
the owner of the home.

God is no different! He has invited us to enter into His
eternal home, to be a part of His everlasting Kingdom. He
has offered us relationship with the Creator of the universe.
Just as we live by “rules” in earthly homes, so Jesus is here
announcing the rules for God’s eternal home. Remember, the
rules He identified are for our benefit, not His. It’s how His
Kingdom works so that we can be a part of it.

To get their attention about the rules of the Kingdom,
Jesus put forward some apparent contradictions:
The Poor have the kingdom of heaven
Mourners will be comforted
The Meek will inherit the earth
The hungry will be filled.

To many people at that time, these were contradictions.
By using parallel opposites as a literary device, Jesus contrasted
opposing world systems. Throughout this passage,
Jesus compared what was being taught and promoted by the
religious leaders of His time with the truth about His
Kingdom. One represented “this world;” He represented “the
other world.” As in the parable of the shrewd manager, he
was unveiling another world reality to a world that had
corrupted the King’s rules. He was exposing how the
religious system of His day had substituted its own rules for
God’s standards.

In many cases, religious leaders had changed or reversed
the Kingdom rules to fit the thinking of that time from their
viewpoint. That is, these rulers elevated the passing standards
and values of their time to an undeserving level of
permanence. Despite the fact that a culture’s values and
standards may disappear like the morning dew in the sunlight
of eternity, the religious leaders conferred a status on their
own standards that did not exist.

Jesus’ teaching was consistent on what is permanent and
what isn’t. Much of that teaching is found in Matthew 23 –
25. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will
never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). John, the beloved
disciple, wrote on this subject extensively. “For everything
in the world . . . comes not from the Father but from the
world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who
does the will of God lives forever.” (I John 2:16, 17). John
had heard this theme often from Jesus’ lips. He had learned
the difference between reality as seen from our world and
what is real from heaven’s perspective.

The Passing Age
If we elevate today’s values to permanent status, everything
gets judged by what is important now. Tomorrow,
things may change because of differing forces and
conditions. The chief priests and teachers of the law were in
control of the religious apparatus of that time. They were the
experts. They determined what rules and values would be
correct for their “age.” They became the measure of their
own standards. They could “adjust” the rules to fit the needs
of their time. After all, isn’t truth decided by what works, and
by what we believe today, and by what we want today?
That’s the way the religious leaders of that time determined
their rules and standards.

But like Jesus’ authority, the Kingdom rules are not from
this world. They are from eternity. They are permanent. They
were true when Jesus announced them and they are true
today. These principles are eternal and Jesus left no doubt
about it. “As for the person who hears my words but does not
keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge
the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who
rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word
which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not
speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me
commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his
command leads to eternal life.” (John 12:47-50). Jesus
connected His teaching to God the Father, Whom all agreed
was eternal.

Thus, when Jesus spoke, it was the absolute truth. In contrast,
the religious leaders were part of a system that presented
a never-ending series of relative rules that are only
applicable to a particular time or place. Those rules may or
may not apply to any other period. To them, what was
important was that it represented the thinking from their day.
This kind of reasoning is where anything past or future has
no ultimate value or control over what is decisive for today.
We see a good example of this thought process when the
Sanhedrin petitioned the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to
crucify Jesus. Pilate at one point offered to release Jesus.
However, they had made up their minds to see Jesus killed.
Rather than Jesus, they requested that Barabbas, a known,
convicted felon be released so they could execute an innocent
man. Here is how it went. “With this he (Pilate) went
out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge
against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you
one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to
release the “the king of the Jews” ?’
“They shouted back, ‘No, not him! Give us Barabbas!’
Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.” (John
19:38-40). The truth was that Jesus was innocent. On that
day, however, wrong became right, innocence became guilt
and justice was turned on its head. Everything changed to
suit the needs and wishes of the religious leaders at that
moment.

In His sermon on that mountain, Jesus contradicted the
false “truth” about the Kingdom of heaven that the rulers of
that time had promoted. He upset the dogma of the day. And
He uncovered the hidden agenda of those who created the
rules of that time. He warned His listeners on following them
or obeying their rules (Matthew 6:2-8).

Let’s relate what happened that day to what we previously
said about truth. We agreed that some truths are universal
and do not change over time. One example was mathematical
truth, such as 2 + 2 = 4. That is not a temporary
equation that somebody imposed on the world. It is universal
truth that applies to everyone, everywhere, at all times. The
Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said, was not just something concerning
today—it is about eternity.

If Jesus were just another itinerant Jewish Rabbi, His
teaching on that mountainside would not have secured even a
small footnote on the pages of history. Without question,
what He said was not the conventional wisdom of His time.
So how did the religious rulers respond to Jesus’ teaching?
What Jesus said in His sermon was so different from the
prevailing opinion that at first, they ignored it. It was certain,
they surmised, “with those kinds of rules, this guy is going
nowhere. Not to worry!” We notice, however, their attitude
changed when large crowds began to follow Jesus everywhere
He went.

Nonetheless, with many others on that mountain, Jesus’
words struck home. Like a flash of light on a dark night, it
illuminated the hearts and minds of eager listeners. They
could not believe their ears. Never had they heard anything
like this from the teachers of the law. The record tells us that
His listeners “were amazed at His teaching, because He
taught as one who had authority.” (Matthew 7:28). The
certainty of Jesus’ words sounded a responsive chord in their
hearts.

The Radical Contrast
Compared to the teaching of that time, Jesus’ words were
indeed radical. “You have heard that it was said to people
long ago, ‘Do not murder’ . . . But I tell you that anyone who
is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
“You have heard that it was said ‘Do not commit
adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his
heart.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must
give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone
who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness,
causes her to become an adulteress.” (Matthew 5:21, 22, 27,
28, 31-34, etc.). Those are hard words.

To better understand just how extreme His teaching
appeared, let’s take another statement from the sermon. “For
I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the
Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not
enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). Boom!
Jesus could not have said anything more contrary to the
thinking of the day than that. It contradicted the obvious and
what everyone knew to be truth. The Pharisees and Scribes
were the “holy men” of that time; surely they would be first
in line in the Kingdom of God.

On another occasion, Jesus asserted that entering into the
Kingdom of Heaven is hard for a rich person. His disciples,
who had been with Him for a considerable length of time,
exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).
According to the thinking of that time, financial wealth was
the undisputed sign of God’s favor. It indicated they were
safely “in.” Looked at from their point of view, we can see
that Jesus was out of step, out of line, and on His way to
certain historical obscurity. With talk that that He would soon
lose any acclaim He might have had. He was even straining
His credibility with His closest followers. Many would soon
abandon Him.

What, then, was Jesus trying to accomplish with these
“rules?” Why didn’t He just try to get along within the
context of the day? Were these standards intended to be the
Constitution of His Kingdom? If people followed these rules,
did that qualify them for Kingdom membership? If not, what
was their purpose? How did Jesus answer questions like
these?

It’s obvious that as time went on, His teaching did not go
down well with the religious leaders. Could He not work out
an accommodation with them? No, that was not His mission.
He later confirmed He came to reveal eternal truth, not to fit
in with the trends of the day. “Yet because I tell the truth, you
do not believe me! . . . If I am telling the truth, why don’t you
believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says.
The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to
God.” (John 8:45-47). “I came into the world to bear
witness to the truth.” (John 18:37). The truth, Jesus said,
does not accommodate error. Sadly, you have gotten off track
from God’s plan. As painful at it is, I’ve been sent from God
Himself to show you how to get back on track.

Just days before the religious rulers betrayed and brought
Him to Pontius Pilate for trial, Jesus pronounced a scathing
denunciation on these same rulers. These were the very ones,
He explained, who “sit in Moses’ seat.” (Matthew 23:2).
That is, they had the appropriate authority, position, tradition
and history to be the teachers of the people. It was their
claim that they were the rightful defenders and interpreters of
Moses’ Law. But of them, Jesus said, “Everything they do is
done for men to see.” (Matthew 23:5). Yes, there was an
enormous gap between what Moses was and taught and what
the leaders of that time were teaching and doing in his name.

Moses as Leader
To provide a setting for Jesus’ accusation against the
religious leaders of that time, let’s look for a moment into the
character of Moses. He had been specially called by God to
deliver the people of Israel from slavery. “The Lord said, ‘I
have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have
heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I
am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to
rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians . . . ’ ”
Then God and Moses talked about God’s plan. “So now,
go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of
Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go
to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God
said, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:7-12). Moses goes.
After leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt, he went up on
Mt. Sinai to receive the Law (the Ten Commandments) from
God. Upon returning to the encampment of the Israelites, he
found they had not waited for him to return with God’s commands.
They had fashioned an idol of gold and began to proclaim
it as the “god” who had rescued them from slavery.

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming
down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and
said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this
fellow Moses, who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know
what has happened to him.’

“He (Aaron) took what (gold) they handed him and made
it into an idol in the shape of a calf . . . Then they said,
‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of
Egypt.’ ” (Exodus 31:18; 32:1-5).

Israel’s idolatry angered both Moses and God. Moses,
however, saw his position not only as a leader of these
people, but also as a member. So in their place, he confessed
their sin and pled with God for mercy. If that were not
possible, Moses asked God to “place the blame on me and
blot out my name from remembrance.” (Exodus 32:30-32). If
God could not forgive the people in their own right, he
offered himself as a substitute for punishment.

God’s response is memorialized in the Psalms: “So
(God) said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his
chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath
from destroying them.” (Psalm 106:23). That was Moses’
“style” of leadership. As Jesus examined those who now “sat
in Moses’ seat,” He saw a great disparity. He did not find
leaders willing to give of themselves to save others. They
were in it for themselves.

In a sevenfold indictment, Jesus detailed what He found
as He observed the religious leaders of His time. He began
each of the seven accusations with the phrase, “Woe to you,
teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! (blind
guides)” (Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). In each
instance, Jesus identified the leaders, the rulers of that day as
having distorted God’s message. How did Jesus respond to
what He saw?