This month we begin a new preaching series at New Covenant Church, “The Upside Down Kingdom,” an examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Our uniquely penetrating text digs beneath the surface, exposing what Christ says we really need to value and practice. The Sermon on the Mount is like a plowshare for the soul, turning over the soil of our heart to uproot the weeds and prepare the ground for the seeds that will germinate and blossom.
We begin with a sermon on the Beatitudes. You may recall that we considered each of them in turn a couple of years ago. That study eventually led to a book (published by Crossway) that officially releases on July 18th, The Upside Down Kingdom: Wisdom for Life from the Beatitudes. In this Sunday’s message, we’ll consider all the Beatitudes together, highlighting several of the central kingdom lessons of Jesus’ sermon. Here is a taste of those lessons.
The Beatitudes Illustrate the Heart of God
The word “blessed” (Greek, makarios) punctuates the Beatitudes like a drum: Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. But what does it mean to be “blessed”? Some suggest that “fortunate” best conveys the idea, for it describes a valuable gift that cannot be earned. Others have translated makarios as “happy,” because it satisfies the soul with inexpressible joy. But no single English word captures its beauty, depth, and nuance.
However helpful a definition may be, it must yield to the full-orbed, biblical conception of blessedness offered to us in the Beatitudes, and the loving God who so freely blesses. In this fallen world, it’s the wealthy, the charming, and the strong who are exalted. But Jesus shows us that God’s heart—full of steadfast love and faithfulness—extends to the weak, the vulnerable, and the awkward. “Blessed,” therefore, is the tangible gift of God’s loving embrace, an identity in Christ that experiences life as it ought to be—“as in heaven.” It’s the way of Christ’s kingdom, an unexpected turn that explodes like fireworks throughout his teaching.
The Beatitudes Define Our Deepest Needs and Calling in Christ
The Beatitudes dig beneath the surface, exposing what we really need. To satisfy our hunger for wealth, Jesus offers poverty. He commends meekness over hostility. Instead of personal pleasure and glory, he proposes patience and a commitment to justice. Instead of lust and greed, he offers purity of heart. For the soul riddled with anxiety and fear, he suggests peace. Rather than vanity and pride, he bestows security and inner strength.
The Beatitudes thus expose the lies in which we have put our trust and present the way of righteousness. In these sayings, Jesus is not, as many suppose, offering a religious ladder to be climbed, at the top of which one finds a smiling Deity who rewards our religious effort. Nor is it an ideal moral system reserved for an elite group of chosen disciples. Nor is he laying out a penitential program whereby one receives divine blessing by assuming the posture of a doormat. Rather, Jesus is describing the man or woman who belongs to his Father’s kingdom and therefore lives according to God’s heart.
The Beatitudes Are Full of Unexpected Turns
When Jesus described his kingdom, he consistently emphasized its humble trajectory. His followers, despite their many weaknesses and flaws, are “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”—servants who enrich others and offer illumination. They express sincere prayers to their heavenly Father so that his will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” When facing conflict, they first seek to remove the log from their own eye before trying to remove the speck from their brother’s eye.
All of this highlights the surprising, countercultural impulse of the kingdom. It is like a farmer who sows seed, some of which fall among rocks, some of which is choked out by weeds, some of which is eaten by birds. Or it’s like a mustard seed—so modest and small that it goes unnoticed by humans and birds alike. But, in time, it sprouts into a bush so large that birds can nest in its branches. Or it is like a merchant who specializes in expensive jewels. One day he finds a pearl of such value that he liquidates his entire estate to buy it. That’s the nature of God’s kingdom, simultaneously humble and of surpassing value. Inconspicuous, but it grows exponentially beyond our wildest expectations.
As you can tell, I am excited and grateful to begin our new series, “The Upside Down Kingdom”! I believe the Sermon on the Mount has the power to turn our lives and our hearts right side up and move us confidently toward God’s kingdom. It is a joyful journey, one I look forward to taking with you. See you Sunday!
Chris Castaldo, PhD, is lead pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville and author of the forthcoming book, The Upside Down Kingdom, from Crossway.