The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most challenging passages in the Bible. Understood correctly, it will make even the most well-meaning, gracious person despair of their ability to fulfill God’s commands. In this message, Alistair Begg points to the heart transformation that must precede the radical difference from the world that Jesus preached. Only through Christ’s work in our hearts can we learn to love what the world hates and hate what it loves.
Our gracious Father, we pray now that with our Bibles open before us, that the Spirit of God might be our teacher. For this we earnestly plead. What a futility to use up time simply waiting upon the meanderings of a man’s mind. And what an immense thought that through the voice of a mere man, in taking up the Bible, we may hear the voice of God. It’s this which gives us expectation and humbles us greatly as we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
I’d like to begin by asking you a question: Which would you rather be? You can choose one of these two lists of four: either poor, hungry, sad, and hated; or rich, well fed, happy, and popular. So as to give you time to think about it, let me mention them to you again, just in case you can’t make up your mind: poor, hungry, sad, hated; or rich, well fed, happy, and popular. And what if our answer to that question mattered not only for the affairs of time, but if the answer to that question and upon our answer to that question hinged all of the matter of our eternal destiny? I want to show you this morning that it actually does.
Now, in order to do so, we’re going to look at what we’re going to refer to as a “Christian manifesto”—a Christian manifesto. A manifesto is a public declaration or proclamation of policy that is issued by a monarch or by a head of state or by a representative of a company or organization. We understand that. And here in the verses that are before us, from verse 20 through to the end of chapter 6, we have what is essentially a manifesto for Christian living that is issued by Christ, who is our monarch, the head of the church.
Now, it is important for us to acknowledge immediately that we’re coming to material that for many of us is familiar. This and the material that we find in Matthew’s gospel, which runs to some 107 verses as opposed to the 30 that are before us here, is known even by people who have a scant understanding of the Bible. And the very knowledge of it is immediately dangerous, and I want to explain to you why: because the material we’re about to consider is regarded by many as simply a series of external commands which, if obeyed strictly and adhered to rigorously, provide the means of entry into Christian faith and Christian living. In other words, people treat this aspect of the New Testament in much the same way that they are tempted to treat the Ten Commandments in the Old—that is, instead of seeing the Ten Commandments as a means of confronting us with our sin and our need of a Savior, the Ten Commandments are viewed as a ladder up which men and women are endeavoring to climb so that they may then be welcome by God, having done so well out of the “tenfold test.” In the same way, the issues that are before us now in our study and will follow in our studies are issues of external matters in the minds of many and are dreadfully misconstrued.
Perhaps we will each be helped, as I have been helped, by this statement from Martin Luther, who, of course, in his preconverted days as a religious monk knew a great deal about hoping that external observance would put him in a right relationship with God. And this is what he says of the verses we are now about to study: “Christ is saying nothing in this sermon about how we become Christians, but only about the works and fruit that no one can do unless he is a Christian and in a state of grace”—not a mechanism whereby a man becomes a Christian or a woman comes to faith in Christ, but as the very emblems of a life in a state of grace as having been embraced by Christ.
Now, this is very, very important, because there are many individuals who are well-meaning and kindly people, and they are kept from trusting Christ on account of the fact that they are well-meaning and they are kindly . Indeed, I’m speaking to some of you already in this phraseology: you are well-meaning and gracious in your deeds; you have an interest in religious things, or you would not be here; you have given regularly to various causes; and you have been cherishing the idea in the back of your mind that by means of this and some more you are gaining or have already gained entry into God’s eternal kingdom. In other words, instead of trusting in Christ to do something that you cannot do, you are trusting in the things that by your own endeavors you have been able to do—and consequently, you are a very difficult group of people to whom to proclaim the gospel: well-meaning and kindly people, trusting in what well-meaning and kindly people are able to do.
Now, at the other end of the spectrum there is another group that is equally held from trusting Christ, and for the very opposite reason. And this is the group of individuals who believe that the Christian message acts somehow automatically—that either by dint of my family background or my religious heritage or the process through which I’ve come, or having been born in the continental United States, whatever else it may be, we have come to the assumption that the automatic disbursement and benefit of Christianity has somehow just been showered upon us. And as a result of that, we do not trust Christ. One group fails to trust Christ because of all they are trying to do, and the other group fails to trust Christ, believing that there is nothing to do. And therefore we have to eradicate both of those myths.
Christian faith has no comfort, no consolation, it offers to men and women no power and no purpose, apart from our belief in its truth —apart from our own personal trust in the truth of the gospel. That is why you see Jesus speaking to men and women individually and calling them to faith and trust in himself. When you read and reread, as I hope you will, this sermon that is before us in these some thirty verses, then I think it will become perfectly clear that the sermon establishes the absolute necessity of something dramatic happening in the life of an individual if they’re going to be enabled to embrace this truth and live it out. Because, if we’re honest—and I hope that we are—when we answer the question “What would I like to be?” most of us would rather be rich than poor, well fed than hungry, happy rather than sad, and popular rather than hated. And indeed, some of us—all of us to a certain extent or another—have set up the totality of our existence in order to ensure that we are that, and not the other.
Now, what, I ask you, are we going to do if we’ve got everything upside down? If our value system is so dreadfully skewed? If the things that we are regarding as the issues that make us are really the things that break us?
You see, that is why Jesus, when confronted by the questions of a “very religious man” in John chapter 3, cut to the very heart of the matter after Nicodemus shows up and says to him, “Good master, we know that you are a prophet sent from God or a teacher sent from God, because nobody could possibly do the kind of things you’re doing if God were not with him.” A very gracious introduction, I’m sure you will agree. And Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, you must be born again. In fact, if you’re not born again, Nicodemus, you won’t be able to see the kingdom of God; and Nicodemus, if you’re not born again, you’ll never be able to enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, “You can’t go in there as you are. I know you’re a religious man. I know you’re well-meaning. I know you’re fairly vociferous when it comes to the Ten Commandments, etc. But you are in need of a new birth; you are in need of a transformation from the inside out.”
One of the reasons that the church is so patently ineffective at this point in the twentieth century is not because of an absence of attendance, but it is on account of the fact that many who are meticulous in their adherence to attendance are themselves unchanged. And so the culture looks on and says, “Well, surely with such a great mass of humanity they ought to be doing more than they’re doing.” Well, if what you have is simply a mass of humanity, why would a mass of humanity be able to accomplish very much? What if a significant portion of the mass of humanity is comprised of people who are trying to do everything they need to do in order to be accepted with God and therefore not trusting Christ, and another group of ’em is made up of people who believe that they’re automatically forgiven and they never need to trust Christ, and that trusting Christ is the key to the whole operation, and people don’t trust Christ?
Do you ever think that that might be true of the reported multimillion people who are apparently “born again” in the United States of America? Is showing up and trying hard to be equated with being born again? Is sitting out there thinking that somehow or another I catch it in the air to be equated with being born again? No! The comfort and consolation of the gospel accrues only to those who come in personal faith and trust to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior. In other words, unless by God’s grace we have discovered a new life, then we will not be able to live out this radical new lifestyle.
Now, I say all of that to say this: the sermon before us this morning is not a call to pull up your religious socks. And yet it is regarded in that way and it is preached in that way in countless situations . And indeed, it is one of the most bedeviling aspects of peoples’ attendance at church, because they go to church, and a well-meaning individual speaks to another group of well-meaning individuals and essentially says this: “I know that you’re having a dreadful time, but if you would just pull up your religious socks and try your best and go out and see if you can’t do a little better this week than you did last week, and I’ll see you next week, and I’ll tell you the same thing next week. Pull up your socks and make a go of it. Pull up your socks and make a go of it.” And the poor soul gets out into the car park, gets in their car, and says, “I don’t know how many more Sundays I can be exhorted to pull up my socks! My socks are so far up my legs that there’s nowhere else to pull them. There is nothing else to grab hold of. Why am I the way I am?” Because that is not the message of the gospel!
So don’t read this sermon and say, “Aha! Got it: I’m supposed to do this and this and this and this, and when I do this, it’s all fine.” No. Only in the lives of the disciples of Jesus, who have known the transforming touch of Christ, will and can these principles be displayed.
Well, what then are these characteristics of genuine Christian discipleship? ’Cause he is speaking to his disciples, as you will see there in verse 20, to which we’re trying to come. (To which some of you are saying, “Try a little harder, please.” But anyway.) What are the followers of Jesus supposed to look like? It’s a good question, isn’t it? What are the followers of Jesus supposed to look like? And the answer, in one word, is “different”—different. Different from whom? Different from those who are not the followers of Jesus. And when you read the history of the people of God, and when you read the history of the church throughout the chronicles of time, you discover that the church has been at its most effective when the people of God have been so radically different from their surrounding pagan neighbors. In fact, in Matthew chapter 6, referring to the babbling of the pagans when it comes to the issue of prayer, Jesus gives us a very helpful directive when he says, “Do not be like them.” “Do not be like them”; in other words, “Be different from them.”
Now, from all of eternity we discover that God has purposed to have a people of his own. And the people who are his own, are his own. They are to be called his holy people. And the word holy essentially means “set apart from, set apart to”: set apart from sin, from the world, from my own propensities, and set apart to he who is in himself holiness.
Now, I can’t take time to work my way through the whole of redemptive history—I’m sure you’ll be relieved at that—but let me just give this to you in a couple of Old Testament illustrations, first in Leviticus chapter 18, and then in Psalm 106.
In Leviticus 18, “The Lord said to Moses”—verse 1—“‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them, “I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws … be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.”’” And then he goes on to provide, in that immediate cultural context, express, explicit practicalities in the outworking of that principle.
Now, what happened? Well, a couple of things happened. One of the things that happened was that the people of God got into externalism, whereby they determined that all God was interested in was that they made sure that they kept all these external rules and regulations. And God was sending his prophets to them again and again and again to say to them, “The issue is not out there; the issue is in here.” He sends the prophet Jeremiah to say, “There’s coming a day when I will send my Spirit and I will write my law upon your hearts. You don’t come to me just with the externals of burned offerings and sacrifices and all those things, as if somehow or another I was delighted by that externalism. No,” he says, “that stuff is only relevant inasmuch as it is an expression of a transformed heart, of a heart that is in tune with me.”
That was the one thing, that they embraced externalism, and the other was that they were absorbed by the surrounding peoples time and time again. For example, in chronicling the history of the people of God in Psalm 106, the psalmist, having spoken about the redemption from Egypt, says of the people of God, “But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test.” Verse 21: “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done the great things in Egypt.” And in verse 35, summarizing their predicament: “But they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.”
Now, do you see what’s happening here throughout history? That is, that God says, “You’re my people; you belong to me, you’re all mine. I want you to live from your heart out in relationship to the principles that I have provided.” The people of God say, “Y’know what? Let’s just do it externally, make sure we’re clean on the outside, then we can do whatever we like behind closed doors.” They began to operate on a double standard. God sends his prophets and says, “You can’t do that. The external is only relevant provided the internal is true.”
The only reason for a man to walk around with a wedding ring on his finger after twenty-four years of marriage is if it is representative of his faithfulness over the twenty-four years. If he’s a liar and a fraud and a cheat, then take the external off and admit what you are. But you’re allowed to wear the ring if it represents the reality of fidelity and integrity and relationship. That’s what gives the external, that’s what gives it reality: it is the internal truth. In the same way, the people of God are wearing all the stuff, dressing up, attending all the right church services, listening to all the correct sermons. And God sends his prophet to them and says, “You know, the only reason that is valid is if it represents a heart in touch with me.” Do you feel the sting of that? I do.
James, by the time we come to the New Testament, is banging the same drum: he says to them, “Don’t you realize, you to whom I’m writing, that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” He says, “You can’t do this double standard. You can’t be playing the game over here and playing the game over there. You can’t be Saturday night over here and Sunday morning in this. You can’t be a mess during the week at your school and then trying to play the game on Sunday. It is incongruous; it’s not impossible, but it is totally incongruous.” Let the words of your mouth and the meditation of your hearts be acceptable in the sight of God.
Peter says the same thing: “You’re a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to himself.” 1 Peter 2:11–12, he says, “You know what you are? You’re aliens and you’re strangers”—aliens and strangers—“and I urge you to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul and live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may actually see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” In other words, when we spend time amongst our pagan friends, it is not an opportunity for us to be like our pagan friends. We’re like our pagan friends in the sense that we breathe the same air, that we will probably wear similar clothes except in extreme circumstances, that we will drive similar cars and live in similar houses. But once those externals are tackled, when it comes to the core value system of the Christian, although we live amongst the pagans, we do not live like the pagans.
And the reason, the largest reason, for the ineffectiveness of contemporary Christianity is as a result of a failure to take seriously—first of all on my part—the radical difference that Jesus calls for within our Christian pilgrimage . We are at the end of a quarter of a century of congratulating ourselves for being able to go amongst our pagan friends and say, “You know what? We’re just the same as you.” And they’ve come back and said, “You know what? I think you’re absolutely right!” For what right does the Christian businessman who cheats on his income tax have to speak to his buddy in the office about integrity? None. What right does the Christian-professing young person who sleeps with her boyfriend have to say to their friends when they’re out with them on an evening about morality? Absolutely none. What does the embittered, backbiting, rigid, horrible-mouthed woman have to say to her friends about the beauty and power and transforming grace of Jesus, when all they ever get from her when they’re with her is vitriol and criticism and enmity? She has absolutely nothing to say! Why? Because she is the exact same.
And indeed, loved ones, the degree to which that is true calls us to do what Paul says: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are [of] the faith.” You’re gonna get to the end of chapter 6; he says, “What’s the deal?” he says; “You call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you do not do what I tell you. What do you think you’re doing,” says Jesus, “going to all those services, preaching all those sermons, Begg, attending all those conferences, getting your photograph in all those brochures? Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? You’re supposed to be different,” he says. “You’re the same! You laugh at the same jokes! You watch the same films! You embrace the same lifestyle! Where’s the difference?” That’s what God’s asking. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that’s what my pagan neighbors are asking: “Just exactly why is it, Alistair, that I’m supposed to believe your Christ? Just exactly why is it that I am supposed to trust in this profession of Christianity? What are you telling me this for?”
You see, that you “live such good lives among the pagans” that when they see your good deeds they will “glorify God on the day of visitation”—not so that you live like the pagans, and you act like the pagans, and you are a jolly pagan, because all that does is it makes the pagans feel comfortable. And that’s why they like having us around: ’cause we make them comfortable.
It may be something as simple as bowing your head in grace—saying grace and thanking God for your food—makes them distinctly uncomfortable, doesn’t it? “Why are you doing that?” Well, if I’m doing it to make them uncomfortable, I lost the blessing. If I’m doing it to make some point, you know, because I want to attract attention to myself, I might as well go and lock myself in the toilet for two or three minutes. But if I’m actually doing it out of an expression of a heart that says, “Thank you for my food,” then who knows but three months later, one of your business associates who was present but not sitting with you, but at another table, comes over to you and says, “You know what? There’s just one thing I noticed about you: you always bow your head before you eat your meal. Why do you do that? Why do you do that?” And here we go:
“Because God’s so good he provides the food.”
“Oh, you don’t believe that, do you?”
“Yes, I certainly do.”
“Oh, you don’t think God has made himself known, do you?”
“Oh, yes, I do. I believe he’s made himself known.”
“Well, how’s he made himself known?”
“Well, he’s made himself known in the world, and he’s made himself known in a book, and he’s made himself known in Jesus.”
And the fellow says, “Well, maybe we’ll talk about that sometime.” Say, “Maybe we will.” How did it start? ’Cause you were different. What, with a big pointed hat? No, that’s easy. That would be an easy one, right? I go behind here, get pointed hats for everybody, give them all out: “Okay, go out and wear your pointed hats, and everybody will know we’re the Parkside people—you know, with the pointed hats.” That’s easy. I’m not condemning anyone who wears pointed hats or flat hats or straw hats or any kind of hats. But externalism’s easy. And I get afraid lest all I’ve got left is externalism, and nobody would know just from the expression of my heart or my lips or my lifestyle, or my bank balance or my check stubs, or something.
He says, “I [admonish] you, as aliens and strangers…” Some of you have traveled overseas; you know what it’s like to be an alien. You have to stand in a different line at the passport control. You’re used to having fifteen lines for you going through; you get over there, you can’t find hardly a line to go through. You say, “My, my, they know how to make people welcome over here!” Isn’t that what you say? Be honest, now, isn’t that what you say? “We’re not used to being treated like this.” Hey, guess what? You’re an alien!
Now, I can speak with confidence on this, ’cause I’m an alien, too. And I live in a house with three aliens and one non-alien. And I know that many of you on July Fourth were asking the question, when we did “O beautiful, for spacious skies,” and when we did the Pledge of Allegiance, “Did he say the Pledge?” ’Cause remember, the flag was over here, so I turned around so you couldn’t see me? Why didn’t I want you to see me? ’Cause I didn’t want to disappoint you or offend you, but I didn’t say the Pledge, I haven’t said the Pledge, and I’m not planning on saying the Pledge. Why? Because I don’t like America? I love America. Because I don’t think it’s a great place? I think it’s probably the single greatest country on the face of God’s earth. But ultimately I don’t belong here. My passport is stamped with another symbol, and I submit to a monarch, not to a republic. I’m an alien. I don’t go around with a thing on my head announcing it. I don’t want to make a big fuss about it on any occasion, even now, and I only use it as an illustration—hopefully without recrimination, so you won’t come and torch my house—but I just mention it to make the point: that it would be easy to do an externalism, wear a special jacket, says “Alien present,” or whatever it was. That’s easy. But it’ll come out in subtle ways, and not-so-subtle ways. It’ll come out September 24, 25, 26. What happens then? The Ryder Cup. Who’s in the Ryder Cup? America. And who? Europe. Who’re you rooting for? ’Kay, you’ve got the point.
Now, God’s people, as we’ve said all along, are in danger of two extremes: one, being absorbed by the culture, thereby having people to talk to and nothing to say; or being isolated from the culture, having something to say and no one to talk to . The challenge is for us to be able to identify with the world in its need, but not in its sin, and there surely can be no more hurtful comment for the Christian than the words, “But you are no different from anybody else,” at least as it comes to the issues of money, ambition, friendship, integrity, and overall lifestyle.
Now, loved ones, I confess to you that this has been about as hard a passage of Scripture to get into as any that I’ve faced in a long time. And the reason I find it so hard is because it is so incredibly personally challenging. And I feel myself, in all honesty, to be standing, as it were, on the edge of an ocean in which I’ve managed to dip my toes, but I’ve never even been close to getting past my ankles. I find myself saying, “O God, there’s a dimension of spiritual geography here into which I need to enter in a whole new way, and perhaps others will feel the same, and perhaps Parkside Church has something that it needs to wrestle with here also.” Because to the extent, I submit to you, that as God’s people we are prepared to take seriously these standards and these values and to display them as we live our lives, then and then only will we offer to the world an alternative society; we will offer to the world what Stott refers to as the “Christian counter-culture.”
And the only thing that we have really been offering in twenty-five years is an attempt to overturn the political structures for the well-being of some right-wing cause. And any honest person has to admit it flat out didn’t work, and every indication is it’s not about to work, and we ought not to be surprised, because it was never the mandate of Christ; it is not in the Christian manifesto. He says, “I want you to be happy about different things from what other people are happy about. I want you to get sad about stuff that other people routinely don’t get sad about. I want you to have as your ambition something that the world regards as tawdry and ineffectual. I want you to be holy.”
Now, the fact is that happiness, or the absence of happiness, depends in its final analysis on the response of men and women to Jesus and his words right here. Now, I confess that I’ve spent far too long in introducing this. I know that; I did it in the first hour, and there was an inevitability about it. Let me just go as fast as I can through these opening verses, telescopically rather than microscopically.
Verses 17 to 19, there are three groups, you will note: the apostles, the disciples, and the larger crowd. We’re not members of the apostles, for they were an unrepeatable group at the foundation of the church. Therefore, as we read this and seek to identify ourselves in the context, we can ask ourselves the question, “Am I in the group of disciples or am I in the crowd?” That’s a very important question.
And here in these verses, 20 to 26, Jesus describes a value system that is at variance with that of the non-Christian world. We live in a contemporary setting that cries for us to assert ourselves, stand up for ourselves, be proud of ourselves, elevate ourselves, serve ourselves, and avenge ourselves. We’re at the end of a quarter of a century of man-centered focus, in education, in the social realm, and so on. It’s undeniable. Nobody denies it; people believe that it’s right. It’s right for us, now, to be aggressive and self-assertive. The lady leaves her husband, the husband leaves his wife, for no other reason than he’s fed up with it, frankly, and he’s really done enough looking after her and providing for her and providing for his kids, and it’s time now for him to “assert himself.” No, there’s no one else involved; no, there’s nothing else he wants to be concerned with; he just wants to have some of his own time, with some of his own money, to do some of his own thing. We hear it every week we live our lives. In other words, it’s the embracing of total selfishness.
Now, that shouldn’t be too hard to counter—unless, of course, we’re discovering that Christian men and women are saying the exact same thing when they come in for counseling with their pastors. And you know what? They are. So how are we gonna make a difference in the world? ’Cause if that’s what the pagans do, and that’s what the Christians do, how do the Christians shine any light into that? They are consumed by the same darkness. You say, “Well, I’m so sorry, because I’m divorced, and I’m here this morning, and that’s dreadful that you picked on me.” I’m not picking on you; I’m just illustrating it. And God is able to overturn our stupidities, and he’s able to “restore even the years that the locusts have eaten,” and there are things that are behind in our lives that we need to leave there and not rummage around in the dustbin of unforgiven sin. But the fact remains that as we continue to go forward, unless there is a radical turnaround in relationship to these things, the circumstances will be far worse in another quarter of a century than they are right now this morning. And that’s why God has given pastors and teachers, so that we teach the Bible, call the people to repentance, call them to faith, call them to obedience in the Bible. So that’s what I do.
Well, Luke. Verses 20 to 23. Makarios is the word; it means “blessed.” The Latin word gives us “beatitude.” The English word is “happy,” or whatever you like. And Jesus gives us in these things the exaltation of what the world despises and the rejection of what the world admires. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he says. What is Jesus doing? Suggesting somehow or another that deprivation—human deprivation—is the key to salvation? This is, of course, one of the ways in which this is used: “The people who are poor ought to be really glad, because if they’re poor, they’re in. So if you’re poor, you’re in. ‘Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Oh, there’s a poor soul; he’s in the kingdom of heaven.” Is that what Jesus is teaching? No! What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that specifically those who in their poverty become aware of the poverty that is true spiritually are those who become the beneficiaries of the kingdom of God.
Now, it’s very important to point out that outward poverty may well be a means of spiritual blessing, because it leads a man or a woman to discover their utter dependence upon God, not only for physical and material things, but also for spiritual blessings. And so poverty yields a far greater response to the gospel than affluence.
You say, “Where did you get that from?” Simply by observation. You take the “rich young ruler,” as he’s referred to: he’s a seeker, comes running up to Jesus, throws himself down on his knees, says to him, “Good Master, what [must] I do to inherit eternal life?” and within a couple of minutes, the guy’s walking down the road like this. People see him coming down the road and say, “Isn’t that the fellow that was running up there a minute ago with a big beaming smile on his face? He said he was going to see Jesus and see about eternal life. What happened?” And the disciples are standing, going, “Jesus, what are you doing? This is one of the best prospects we’ve had in ages! The guy comes running up, kneels down, nice and respectful, well-dressed, good-looking guy. We could use him, Jesus! And look at the poor soul! What’re you doing that for?” What does Jesus say? “I tell you the truth, it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And then he uses a striking picture; he says, “In fact, if you want to know how hard it is, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Now gentlemen, if you ever get those jolly things, you know, on the airline or in the hotel room or whatever, the sewing kit, and the button comes off, and you start on it—I don’t know how you are, but I’m telling you, to get that thing through the thing is an art. I don’t know if it’s a feminine thing—I don’t want to be sexist—but they have radar to get that thing through there. But I cannot get that through there. So you think you’re gonna to get a camel through it?
Do you know why so few people come to Christ at Parkside? Too rich. Too satisfied. Too well-heeled. Too self-assured. So unwilling to admit to poverty. So quick to explain what we’ve achieved and how we’ve done it. And so longing for somebody to say, “On the strength of all that you’ve achieved and all that you’ve done, why don’t you step over here and come into the kingdom?” Well, we could say, “Why don’t you step over here and come into this, and step over here and come into that,” but there is only one who can say, “And step over here and come into the kingdom,” and he actually calls us to bow down and come into the kingdom. Says Calvin, “He only who is reduced to nothing in himself and relies on the mercy of God is the one who is poor,” and the Christian believer should be the last person in the world to be guilty of snobbery. The last person.
Does that challenge you like it challenges me? Of all the people in the world that are snobs, Christians should never be snobs . Muslims should be allowed to be snobs before Christians, because Muslims are earning their way there. They’re tipping the scales, you see. They’re doing good to outweigh the bad; therefore, they’ve got something to say, you know: “I think I did more good than bad.” But the Christian knows you can’t tip the scales. All you can do is bow down and acknowledge your poverty of spirit.
The same thing reveals itself in hunger. Jesus isn’t suggesting that destitution is the key to blessing, nor is he suggesting that starvation is the key to blessing. That would be easy, wouldn’t it? You just go home, sell everything, or give it all away. Take all the food out of your pantry and out of your freezer and out of your fridge, go out in the street, and give it all away. Go up on 91, or wherever it is you live, in Maple Heights, just give it all away. Strip down to the bare essentials, and go hide behind a tree somewhere, and buy a hair shirt if you need a shirt, and a bed of nails if you want somewhere to sleep, and be destitute, and starve, and enter the kingdom. How stupid is that? That’s monasticism. See, because pride is not removed by the removal of stuff. And spiritual fullness is not dealt with by the getting rid of material things, because the issue is an issue of my heart.
The same thing with sadness: “Do you want to be happy now and sad then, or sad now and happy then? That’s it,” he says. And the same is the issue in popularity: Do you want to be popular now and have somebody say, “Depart from me, I never knew you?” or do you want to unpopular now and have Jesus say, “Welcome to my kingdom”?
Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be popular? Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be well fed? Or you want to be sad? Do you want to mourn? Do you want to be hungry, and have people say all manner of things about you?
Now, don’t give the teacher the answer he’s looking for. I want to be rich, happy, well-spoken-of, and I want to have an account at restaurants where I can go and I only have to sign my name, and they park my car for me—unless, of course, Christ works a revolution within my heart and puts eternity so in my gaze that things that make me think I’m something now pale into insignificance in prospect of the day when I stand before him.
“Well,” you say, “that’s more than enough.” I think I agree.
Who is our monarch? Who issues the manifesto? He who is the Servant King. He is King, but he is Servant. We are embraced by Christ, but we are to serve others. It’s in this immense paradox that we live our lives. And if you come back this evening, then we’ll pick it up from here: “More wonderful encouraging words from Alistair Begg from the pulpit of Parkside Church. What a blessing! Tonight our subject will be ‘How to be Hated and Despised and Really Love It.’” It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s as ridiculous as Jesus says right in here.
Let’s pause in prayer:
O Lord our God, turn our lives the right way up. Forgive us the embracing of values which make us absolutely no different from our pagan neighbors and friends. Forgive us for being able also to point at others and see their glaring inconsistencies while at the same time being unable to face ourselves in the mirror of your Word. It’s not surprising that Jesus very quickly comes to the admonition in his sermon, “Judge not, so that you won’t be judged.” So Father, start the work with me. Transform us by your grace. Make us not only the subjects of the Servant King, but make us like him, for his name’s sake. Amen.
 Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 21 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1958), 291. (Paraphrased).
 John 3:2 (paraphrased).
 John 3:3, 5 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 6:8 (NIV 1984).
 Leviticus 18:1–5 (NIV 1984).
 Jeremiah 31:33 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 106:13–14 (NIV 1984).
 James 4:4 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 19:14 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 2:9 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:46 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 2:12 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 2:11 (NIV 1984).
 Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful” (1895).
 See John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IN: InterVarsity Press, 1978).
 Joel 2:25 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:20 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 18:18 (KJV).
 Luke 18:24 (paraphrased).
 Luke 18:25 (paraphrased).
 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 261.
 Matthew 7:23 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:37 (paraphrased).