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Evan Earwicker: When God Moves In, Matthew 5:1-12

January 22, 2024

Audio Recording

In His famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches a radical and transformative message: the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: When God Moves In, Matthew 5:1-12

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

Today we get into a section of the Book of Matthew where Jesus is going to start delivering some of his most famous remarks. In Matthew, chapter five, it begins what we refer to as the sermon on the Mount, where Jesus went up on a mountain and he begins to teach. And that what he teaches will sound very familiar to us. It is ingrained in the way that we think about religion. It's ingrained in the way we think about ethics and morality. All of western civilization has levels of what Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount built into it.

But today I want us to think about if you were there as Jesus is teaching it, hearing it for the first time, what he taught in the sermon on the Mount was absolutely radical, absolutely upside down. From everything that everyone knew, how the world worked, Jesus was saying things that quite honestly would have sounded crazy.

And I want to read just this first portion of Matthew, chapter five, verse one, as Jesus begins his famous sermon on the Mount in what we call the beatitudes, the prelude to the sermon, verse one. It says, one day, as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and he sat down and his disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them. And this is what he says, God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. I want to pause right there as we begin in this passage today and ask you, what do you think of when you hear the word heaven? What do you think of when you hear the word heaven? I think for many of us, the word heaven has a direct link to the idea of the afterlife. And if you've been to a memorial service, you know that we talk about heaven in those terms, that to, as Paul said, to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ. And what we call that experience of eternity with Jesus, we call it heaven. But what's interesting is if we look in the book of Matthew and the teachings of Jesus, when Jesus talks about this idea of heaven, he is rarely tying it to the idea of eternity or the afterlife. It's very infrequent that Jesus, when he's talking about heaven, he's referencing where you go when you die. Instead, he is talking about something that is very present in the here and now, not the idea of that place where we go to one day when we die, but that thing that is coming to us right where we live.

This idea of heaven, coming to earth was central to the teachings of Jesus. And if you could sum up what Jesus came to say now, he did a lot of things, but when it came to what he was teaching over and over again, you could boil it down to this phrase, heaven is here, here today in front of you.

Not someday, not someday far off, not one day when we get there, not someday when we die, but heaven, the perfection of God, where God is in charge and his way is the way it's here now among us.

And he said, and I'll prove it to you.

And over and over again, he's reaching into this idea of heaven, and he's pulling out miracles, and the sick and the hopeless and the broken come before him. And he reaches into heaven and he brings it to earth and he says, come on, open your eyes. I'm willing that you would be healed.

And he's giving us this preview of when heaven invades earth. And so right off the bat, as we get into the teachings of Jesus today, I want us to set aside our notion of what heaven is as solely this afterlife concept and bring it into the here and now that somehow, some way, what Jesus came to do was to establish that heaven was not satisfied, to stay far off, but was invading earth. This is amazing.

And so what happens when God moves in? What happens when heaven invades earth? What happens when the perfection of God gets close and begins to bleed into the world around us?

It's interesting, last week we looked in chapter four of Matthew, how people as far away as Syria were coming because they had heard that there was a healer in Galilee. And I thought when I heard that, and Ben was preaching on that last week when he said, as far away from Syria. So I looked it up, and it's about a hundred kilometers, which is about a two day, maybe a three day journey unless you're very sick.

And then it could become a weeks long journey.

And so as I was reading that again, I imagined all these people who heard this news that there was a teacher who could heal in Galilee and coming as far away from weeks of a journey away were making their way along the path. And you could imagine along this dirty, dusty trail, all these sick people making their way to Galilee, and the conversations they would have had with other travelers. Where are you going in that condition? And they would have said, we heard that there's a healer down in Galilee and we have to check it out. And so for weeks you have people making their way to find this man, this rabbi, this teacher, Jesus, because the rumor is they can heal disease.

And this is the kind of good news that follows Jesus. And I want to make this very clear that because in our day, sometimes the news about Christianity isn't all good. We have to remember that originally in the gospels, when words spread about Jesus, people came from far and wide to get near him because of the goodness of that news.

And I would stand here today and plead with us that we need to rediscover the goodness in the news about Jesus.

We need to rediscover the goodness of the good news, the gospel of Jesus, that restoration and redemption and healing happens when heaven comes to earth. And this is the news that Jesus came to announce.

And so we exist in a community. And out of all the things we could do, our primary way that we imitate and live out our lives in the way of Jesus is to do exactly what Jesus did, which was to stand and announce heaven has come near. And that might sound scary, but it's actually really good news, because what follows is healing. What follows is blind eyes being opened and disease being healed and cancer being destroyed, and the kingdom of heaven coming, the restoration of all the things that we thought were lost. This is what happens when heaven comes to earth.

So for three years, Jesus walks out his ministry, and we're going to walk through that, through this book of Matthew, dramatically pulling into the here and now, the perfection and the restoration and the work of God.

And in Matthew chapter four or chapter five, he sits down on the mountain and he gathers his disciples around him. And what's interesting is the way that it sets up this scene is that Jesus goes up on the mountain and he sits down and begins to teach who he begins to teach his disciples. And so Jesus is not setting this up as some kind know arena show where he's going to get on the stage and he's going to speak to the multitudes. Instead, what he is showing all the people that would gather is what he would have done most days as a rabbi, which would be to gather his small group of disciples around him to sit in a teaching position and simply share about the kingdom of heaven.

And what happens is the shock of everyone who is around him is that he is not playing to the crowd, he is doing what he always does. But you have these multitudes of people who happen to be there to experience one of the greatest sermons, the greatest oratory presentations in history. Can you imagine if those people only knew how influential and impacting that this moment in the wilderness would have for the rest of history? It would have blown them away. I remember stumbling across a famous person once it was probably, I want to say, high school, early high school. And my brother and I were traveling, and so we were in the Los Angeles airport waiting for a flight, and I remember there was this kind of crowd around the section by the gate. And so we asked, what's going on over there? And they said, well, I guess Carlos Santana is on our flight.

And I said, whoa, who's that?

Found out who. Oh, very famous guitarist. Amazing.

And by the way, Carlos Santana's experience on that flight was very different from mine in row 37 by the bathrooms. Okay. He had a whole different experience on that plane than I did, but there was a sense of, like, I'm close to someone who's important.

I'm in a moment that now matters more than it did before because of Santana.

Times a million is what these people are experiencing as they're gathered around in probably this valley, watching as even at a distance, this rabbi, Jesus, begins to teach, and he opens with those words. God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And so, setting the scene as Jesus is teaching, I want to read the entirety of the beatitudes to us. Okay. And I'm going to read a line, and then I would like it if you could read the line after. So I'm going to say, God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him. And we'll all say together, for theirs is the kingdom, or for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Does that make sense? Okay, so we'll go back and forth. So. Matthew five, verse one. One day, as he saw the crowd's gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them. God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him. For theirs is heaven is theirs. You're better at reading than I am. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. And God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Throughout the sermon on the mount that Jesus is about to launch into, he's going to get really practical.

He's going to give very specific instructions for how to live. And these instructions are not going to be easy to follow, but they're going to be very, very clear.

And so clear, in fact, that they're going to be some of the most quoted lines that Jesus ever says. And as one pastor said, some of the least followed lines that Jesus ever said because they are so challenging to the way that we think and live. But before he gets to the instructions, he gives us these beatitudes, these declarations, and I think these are not so much instructions about how we ought to act or how we ought to be, but instead, a description of how God works.

That baked into these beatitudes are the description of what it's like when God moves into town and who he hangs out with when he gets there, the kinds of people that God is interested in using to usher in the establishment of his kingdom.

And so in this description of how God works, Jesus turns everything they know about who's in charge and who has the power and who has the influence. He turns it all on its head. And in so doing, he turns the world upside down.

Imagine the amazement of the crowds, many who had come simply because they heard he could heal. They heard maybe he could provide a meal miraculously for them. And so they gather in the thousands to hear him teach, and they're waiting for him, right, to get to the healing part.

Like, cool. Cool. Yeah, we want to hear you teach. That's great. But could you make sure you extend the healing part until I can get up to the front? Jesus.

And before he gets to starting to heal the crowds of their diseases and their sickness, he begins to describe the kinds of people that are blessed by God, the kinds of people that are on the in with God.

And can you imagine the amazement of the crowds, many who are broken and poor and without influence and on the bottom rung of society, and they're listening to him talk. And can you imagine the amazement when they realize, wait a second. The kinds of people he's talking about? That's me.

And I love the idea that everywhere that Jesus goes, he surprises people who realize, maybe for the first time, that they're seen by God and that God is actually interested, not in the most powerful people in society, but he's interested in coming to visit them and to use them for the great mission that he has on the earth to restore and redeem and renew all things.

And I think that's true for us today, right?

That we come in and we wonder, does God see me?

Does my faith even matter, what I have to bring? Does it even scratch the surface of the problems and the issues of the world. And we've got wars overseas and we've got trouble at home. And what could it possibly matter if I love God and serve him? Have you seen how inconsequential my life is? And Jesus sits down and he begins to teach, and he says, blessed are those who know their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom.

And he flips whatever you think is how things ought to work. He flips it on his head and he says, see the weak and the meek and the poor of spirit. See those who mourn. See those who are persecuted. See those who don't have a shot or a voice. Those are the ones God comes to.

And he says, I'm going to bring heaven on earth through you, through us, through you.

He makes it clear in this passage that to follow him and to accept and embrace the kingdom that he is announcing, we have to follow him not only in the way that he acts, but in the kind of authority and power he operates in.

And this kind of authority and power isn't like everybody else's. I remember I was talking to an old friend probably over a year ago now, and he was just being really honest about how he viewed kind of his position in the world and in conversations with people outside of faith and outside of Christianity. And he said something that has really stuck with me. He said, evan, I just think it's really important that you never show weakness and you never admit you're wrong, because that's how they'll get you.

And I listen to that, and I understand the draw to set up in our minds that all of life and all of faith and all of how we operate has a goal of winning. I understand that temptation.

But here in the Beatitudes, what we find is a complete absence of this win at all cost kind of mentality.

What is not in the Beatitudes is. And God blesses those who fight and struggle hard enough and prove that they're stronger than all those around them because they take hold of the kingdom. Baby, no, it's not in there.

Instead, Jesus is painting a different kind of picture. And I don't blame anyone for thinking that winning above everything is the way to get where we're going, because that is the natural assumption and the logical outcome of a position that comes not with humility, but with aggression to the world around us. But the problem is, as tempting as that can be, that is not found in Matthew, chapter five. It is found somewhere else, Matthew, chapter four, where when Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, in Matthew, chapter four, we talked about this last week. Jesus goes out into the wilderness. He's tempted by the devil. And this conversation with the devil goes something like this, hey, bow down to me, Jesus. The devil says, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.

And Jesus is obviously tempted by this, otherwise it wouldn't be the temptation of Jesus. Right? The devil's not stupid. He's not saying things that have no bearing on what Jesus wants or needs or thinks. So what the devil does to Jesus is he's saying, listen, I know you're here to introduce a kingdom. Let me give you a shortcut to do.

Just, just bow to me and listen. You will have all the power and everyone will bow to you. And isn't that the goal, Jesus?

And Jesus says, get behind me, Satan.

For it is written, you shall worship no one but the Lord and serve him only. See, Jesus knew that there is a temptation in him and also for us, that the quickest way to get where we're going is to grab on to power and wield that over our enemies, crush those who disagree, and that somehow that will further the mission of the kingdom. And the truth is that that is the opposite of the mission of the kingdom, which is to use the meek and the peacemakers and those who mourn to usher in a new kind of kingdom.

Thank you.

I feel this so strongly, especially in an election year, that we are not by any means going to stand here and say, okay, this is who you should vote for. And this is the policy that you should agree with me on. That's not this church. Okay, it's not this church. But what we will do over and over again, especially in election years, we will remind you that we have a kingdom, and it doesn't look like the other kingdoms. We have a king. We don't need another. We have a savior. We're not looking for another.

Psalms 23, right. The Lord is my shepherd. That's why I'm not in want. That's why I find contentment. That's why when I look out on the world and fear wants to rise up and I'm afraid of what the future might hold, I can find peace. Why? Because the Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. And so we are walking in a different kind of kingdom. And so when we are tempted to grab hold of power, as the kind of ends justify the means, nothing else matters. But we got to win. When we're tempted by that, we should turn to Matthew, chapter five, to the beatitudes. And remember that the way of Jesus looks different and we have to choose, just like Jesus had to choose. We have to choose because these two visions both will deliver a kingdom, but they cannot coexist because it's a different kingdom.

And we'll talk about this more, I'm assuming online. You guys are just whooping and hollering and shouting and you're so excited we have a king. I'm so grateful that God is sovereign over history.

I'm so grateful that my hope is not based in elections or the powers that be. I'm so grateful that I don't look to the most powerful people in the world to wonder if God is going to get done what God wants to do, that he has ways and the ability to do it different. He's been doing it ever since Jesus preached this sermon. And he's still doing it. He's still doing it. I love what nt Wright said about the beatitudes in light of the current conflicts happening in the world. This was just about a month ago. He said when God does what he wants to do, he sends in the meek and the pure in heart and the broken hearted and the mourners and the hungry for justice people and the peacemakers. And by the time the world's power brokers have woken up and realized what's going on, the meek and the mourners and the broken hearted and the hungry for justice people have built hospitals and schools, and they're looking after the poor and they're establishing communities of hope. And the world is being changed.

This is our calling as communities of Jesus is to work for the peace of the world around us, is to surround the brokenhearted and the mourners and to identify with those who are hungry for righteousness and justice in the world.

And so we are given this job as receivers of this message and receivers of the kingdom that Jesus came to announce, to recognize where we are poor in spirit, where our hearts are broken and understand, catch this. It's not in spite of those things in your life that the kingdom comes and that Jesus comes near to people. It's not in spite of that brokenheartedness or that mourning or that sense of needing more of him. It's not in spite of those things, but it's through them that God moves into your neighborhood.

I say this probably several times a year, but grace needs something to fill.

And if you're full already, grace won't have much work to do in your life. But when you find yourself emptiest and the low parts of your soul carry this void. You are a prime candidate for the grace of God, to flow and find you and to fill you.

And I know there's brokenness in our world. I know there's brokenness in our lives. And I know that there are moments of struggle. But if we could only see the way that God sees, we would find that every void becomes an opportunity for grace.

And grace is the mark of his kingdom.

So we have an invitation.

And I think Jesus was not vague about the cost to follow him. And even next week, we're going to get into some more of the teaching in the sermon on the mount, and you'll find out very quickly that Jesus ain't playing, that there is a cost to following him.

But before we get there today, we want to take a moment as a church, wherever you're watching from, to simply recognize that God does not work in spite of our weaknesses and our meekness. But it's through it that he's going to do what he wants to do in the world around us.

And where we cannot relate to what Jesus is talking about, where we cannot relate to being mourners or to being persecuted, or to being those who are hungry for righteousness and justice, we must move our hearts, our hands, and our resources to be joined with those who do.

Before we get to communion, I wanted to share one final story about the meek of the earth and their effect. In 1917, in a little town called Kokomo, Indiana, five nuns boarded a Pennsylvania railroad to head west on Christmas morning. It's a very dramatic day for nuns to get on a train, isn't it?

They headed out west, and when they finally got out here on the west coast, they were stationed and assigned to a small field hospital in a little logging town that's here called Bend.

And these five nuns had a task ahead of them. It was to care for all the injuries that were happening at the mills here in town. And the injuries were many.

And so they had a manager there at their hospital, and the manager came to them and said, our contract is with the mills. And so it's really key that we focus all our resources on only treating the mill workers, because that's who is financing this whole operation.

And these five sisters took over, and this is their response. They said, no, we take care of everyone, or we take care of no one.

You can imagine how that conversation probably went.

And so with a great sense of determination, these five sisters began to treat not only the mill workers that they were paid by to treat, but everyone in this little tiny town of Ben, and by 1920, they had founded an expanded hospital. And this is what the Ben bulletin said in 1918, actually. It says, since their arrival, they have moved into the hospital and now are completing arrangements for the accommodation of twice the number of patients formerly cared for. Instead of providing patients principally for mill employees, the sisters will take in patients from the city at large. Remodeling of the interior of the building has provided space for 28 beds instead of the original 14. Quite an expansion. Right. And for any of you who work at St. Charles today, you can look back on those days and think, man, from such small beginnings, so many were cared for, and it shaped the city that we now stand in. And I read that story, and I thought, it's a beautiful thing when we consider the ways that simple yeses to the work of God in ways that don't look like power, that don't look like influence, that don't look like strength, but look like a willingness to operate in obedience and mercy. The effect that that has over generations is amazing.

That article concluded with this statement. It says the expansion came just in time for the great flu epidemic of 1918. And you never know the way that God will use what seems like weakness to bring about mercy and healing and restoration in the world around us. Yeah.