Matthew 3:2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals in this series can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
The kingdom of heaven. Do you think about it more than you think about worldly things? Okay, maybe that’s an unfair question. After all, we live in this physical earthly kingdom every day. We have to deal with life. We have to respond and react to the here and now. So let me ask you this… do you think about the kingdom of heaven at all? Once in a while? Every day?
At the risk of sounding harsh, it befuddles* me to think that a Christian could go an entire day, and be so absorbed in this world that God’s kingdom doesn’t cross their mind even once. The older I get and the more serious I become about serving Christ, the harder it is to keep my mind on this present world and NOT think about the Kingdom of God constantly. (*you might be a redneck if you know what “befuddles” means… it means puzzled or perplexed; it originally meant “to make stupid with alcohol”!)
Don’t be so heavenly minded, that you’re no earthly good.
I know that cliché is thrown around alot, but personally I think it is NONSENSE! The more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we can do for the Lord. The more Godly minded we are, the more good works we can accomplish on this earth. The more we long for and think about heaven and realize that our true home and family is the kingdom of God, the looser our grip will be on material and fleshly things. I wish we would change that saying to:
Be constantly, increasingly and enthusiastically heaven-minded
so that you can be the maximum earthly good!
Oh, it’s not quite as clever as the original; and it doesn’t roll off your tongue as easy, but it is the truth… while the old saying lulls people into thinking that being too “spiritual” makes you useless during this life. The kingdom of heaven… so far we have discovered:
- The kingdom of God belongs to those who repent. True repentance is a compilation of sorrow, remorse and contrition concerning personal sin followed by a change of heart, purpose, motivation and intention. In short, it is the authentic exchange of my way for God’s way after acknowledging that I have violated God’s way. God is right; I am wrong (where I do not agree with and conform to God).
Moving on through the Gospel of Matthew, we find the next “kingdom of heaven” verse and it declares who the kingdom belongs to:
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NKJV)
The kingdom of heaven belongs to the admittedly helpless.
This is the opening verse of the what is commonly called the “Beatitudes”. Jesus had gone up on a mountain to preach to the multitude from whence we get the phrase “Sermon on the Mount”. It is interesting and significant that Jesus opened up with this statement speaking of the “poor in spirit” and the “kingdom of heaven”.
The Lord started by declaring a “narrow way”, immediately proclaiming the exclusivity of the kingdom. In essence, if you don’t comply with this verse, you don’t need to bother continuing on… everything else won’t apply to you, or be available to you.
Jesus opened with a bottle neck, a “narrow gate”;
you must pass the requirement of “poor in spirit” or
you cannot be a part of the kingdom.
Given that fact, it becomes crucial to understand exactly what “poor in spirit” means. It is generally taught that poor in spirit means to be humble and self sacrificing; that being poor in spirit is just a characteristic of the personality of a Christian. While that is certainly part of it, this falls well short of the true meaning. We could venture into an in-depth Greek word study, but let me give you a word picture instead.
Imagine two guys on the side of the street begging for help. One guy is perfectly healthy and holds a “will work for food” sign. The other guy is a war veteran who lost both legs, an arm, his hearing and most of his eyesight in a war. He holds a “need food and shelter” sign.
The first guy is perfectly capable of helping himself, he’s just looking for the opportunity. If someone comes along and has work, or gives him a handout, he will be able to improve himself, or “rescue” himself if you will, by his own effort.
The second guy is totally helpless and dependent on someone to rescue him without expecting or requiring anything in return. The “rescuer” realizes that his charity will never be repaid by this man, and so any help he provides is in no way merited by the war veteran. The war veteran is utterly dependent on an outsider to decide to rescue him. He is powerless to help himself because of his injuries.
To be “poor in spirit” is to realize that spiritually we are like the helpless war veteran. EVERY person needs to be rescued in reality; but only the “poor in spirit” realize and respond appropriately. The “poor in spirit” realize they are lost; realize that they are utterly incapable of helping themselves; and realize that only if someone else comes along to “save” them, can they have hope. Those who are not poor in spirit are still spiritually helpless, they just refuse to admit it or consider it.
Jesus turns the spiritual funnel upside down.
The world would have us to believe that the path to heaven is like a funnel, with the large opening pointing up. It’s easy to enter the funnel and it eventually leads everyone to the same end. Jesus flips the funnel over, tip up, and tells us that first we must meet an exclusive, definitive and intolerant requirement in order to enter the kingdom. The tip of the funnel is one person wide, and you have to go through that tiny, narrow opening (the narrow gate, Jesus)… and then the rest of the kingdom opens up to you. As usual, God’s way is exactly the opposite of what man devises.
Of course being poor in spirit stems directly from the command of Jesus and John the Baptist to “repent!”. See the design and logic in the Scripture? Everything in the Bible is supernaturally engineered and purposeful. Repentance is the foundation and seed of being poor in spirit.
To summarize, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit who have answered the call of repentance realizing they are hopelessly lost, in need of rescue and utterly helpless to help themselves.
The kingdom belongs to the persecuted.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NKJV)
Jesus takes care of His own. When we suffer for Him, He rewards us eternally. Trading one penny for a million dollars is inconsequential compared to what the Lord gives us when we suffer persecution for His name. Evidently, very few people truly believe that today (compared to how many obviously do not believe it).
Notice though that this is not self-originating or self-serving persecution (in other words, its not suffering we bring on ourselves by our own personal decisions). The kingdom belongs to those who suffer for “righteousness sake”. This is completely selfless and Christ-glorifying suffering. It’s suffering solely because you identify with and serve the Risen King.
Persecution is an identifying characteristic
of those who are truly in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Do you go out looking for persecution? No, and believe me, you don’t have to. If you have responded to the Lord’s call to “repent!” and have reached a point where you have admitted your helplessness and need to be rescued (poor in spirit), you will stand out in this world. If you live an ongoing life of repentance (which involves turning from away from sin), persecution will come-a-lookin’ for you.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to an exclusive group of people: those who repent, those who are poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Given that criteria, are you part of the kingdom?
Holy God, Help us to realize that we are truly helpless and can in no way rescue ourselves. Help us to enter the narrow way through Jesus Christ and rejoice when we can suffer for His sake. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever been persecuted for Jesus sake? Are you different enough from the world that you stand out as “different”? Can a truly “poor in spirit” person not be noticeably different from those who aren’t? Can a truly repentant person be unnoticeable against the backdrop of this wicked world?
Application: I have often said to others, and apply personally to myself, the realization that if you never suffer persecution, ridicule or hatred for the sake of Jesus Christ, you should seriously examine the authenticity of your repentance and salvation; at best your should evaluate your level of commitment and compliance to God’s holiness. If the world hates Christ, they will hate those who look and act like Him. (John 15.18) I wish that weren’t the case, but it is an inescapable conclusion of Scripture.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today? What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?