The Heartbeat of a Citizen
By Brett Clemmer
For the last several months, one of the predominant emotions that I see people feeling all around me is anger. There has been immense loss related to the pandemic. There has been social and civil unrest. And when you add in the political rancor, it magnifies it all. People are angry and frustrated at how things are going in our world today.
In Chapter 4 of Matthew, we see Jesus is living in a similar time. The nation of Israel was under foreign rule, and the people were angry at the Roman occupation. Injustice was central to the system. They paid very high taxes that went to Rome. They were subject to labor, even insofar as carrying a Roman soldier’s equipment great distances for him. (About which Jesus famously said, “If they ask you to do it for one mile, you do it for two miles.”)
Jesus not only lived in a time of oppression, but of sickness as well. They didn’t have the medical care or ability to cure disease that we have. It was a difficult time to fall sick, just as it has been this year for many.
When speaking to people who were angry, oppressed, and often sick, Jesus’ powerful words conveyed truths that still resonate for us as believers today.
The World Is Not Alright
The world today is not alright and the world in Jesus’ time was not alright. Matthew 4:23 says:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
People were flocking to him for healing from all sorts of afflictions. The world was not alright. But as He was healing, He was also “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.”
What did the people think when they heard “kingdom”? First, a kingdom has a king, and in their case, the Roman Empire was the kingdom and Caesar was the king. And so they desperately longed for a change in the kingdom. They were looking for Jesus to be the Messiah that delivered them politically—that removed the power of Rome and installed a man of God as their king.
Into this time, into this difficulty, Jesus walks and heals people, proclaiming a different kind of kingdom—a spiritual one. He wasn’t as concerned with the kingdom of that momentary time, because this world is not alright. He was most concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom of God—a kingdom of eternity.
In Romans, Paul says the creation is groaning, waiting for the return of Christ. We’re seeing those groans even today. Wouldn’t we love for the power of God to come to bear on this virus that’s affecting the world and on all disease and affliction? On all injustice and oppression?
God has the power to do that, but instead He uses difficulties to draw us closer to Him and to His Kingdom.
Jesus Reveals the Kingdom of Heaven
While Jesus reveals what the Kingdom of Heaven is like through the use of parables, He also does this in what’s commonly known as the “Beatitudes”—a list of attitudes given in Matthew 5:3-12:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The attitudes Jesus lists are not mutually exclusive. You’re not either meek or mourning or hungering and thirsting for righteousness. All of these are the heart attitudes of a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are people all around us who are mourning—mourning the loss of loved ones, of health, of income, of community. There are people who are mourning the impact of racism and addiction and other sin on their friends or on themselves. But the promise is that God will bring comfort in the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are people around us who are willing to be meek—who are listening, who are willing to even take an unjust accusation on themselves for His sake, who are surrendering to God their supposed rights and desire for control when they experience difficulties.
There are people out there right now who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness—for right action, right behavior, and right motives.
There are people around us who are extravagantly merciful. I think of all the medical professionals and first responders who are putting themselves at risk to help others this year, showing mercy to them, and the people who are donating their time and resources to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.
There are people who are pure in heart—willing to look at their own brokenness and sin, and confess and repent of it. They are committed to the ongoing journey of that—a journey that leads to them “seeing God.”
Despite the atmosphere of anger, there are a lot of people out there trying to be peacemakers right now—people who are trying to comfort those who are enraged or hurt, and be the light of the gospel in those people’s lives.
These attitudes of mourning, meekness, hungering for righteousness, showing mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking are book-ended by two qualities that share the same promise: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The qualities are 1) being poor in spirit, and 2) being persecuted for righteousness.
To be poor in spirit does not mean we walk around thinking, I’m terrible. I’m horrible. Being poor in spirit is being humble. It’s recognizing that in the face of a Holy God, we can’t measure up—that it’s only Jesus’ sacrifice that makes righteousness possible for us. When you walk in that understanding, you rely on the grace of God. The end result of that reliance, Jesus says, is that yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The other reality about these promises is found in the simple phrase, “shall be.” The promise is for the present and the future. The Kingdom of Heaven is here now, but it’s not perfect. It’s in this imperfection that we find ourselves. As believers trusting in promises, we’re in God’s kingdom now, but the perfect kingdom is going to come to fruition in the future when Jesus comes back.
In light of these truths, what do you feel when you read this list of attitudes? Are they the attitudes of your heart during this tumultuous time? If not, what do the attitudes of your heart reveal about what or whom you are putting your confidence in?
It’s challenging! When I examine my own heart in light of this list, I ask myself: “Am I relying on being a citizen of this momentary kingdom—of the country that I live in—or am I relying on being a citizen of Heaven?”
THE BIG IDEA: The attitudes of my heart reveal the citizenship of my soul.
This place is not our home. This place is a temporary place until we can live fully in the Kingdom of Heaven—fully in God’s presence with Jesus.
So what do we do in the meantime? What are we supposed to do as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven?
Salt and Light
The answer lies in the next few verses, Matthew 5:13-16:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
When Jesus calls us to be salt, it’s important to consider the effect of salt. It brings flavor wherever it’s added. When you think about the interactions that you have had recently—whether it’s the way you treat your family, interact with coworkers or neighbors, or conduct yourself online, are you bringing the salt of the gospel into those conversations and encounters? Are you bringing the flavor of Jesus—of God’s grace and mercy and love and kindness?
Because the metaphor continues that if we lose that flavor—if we have a relationship into which we are not bringing the salt of the gospel—it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. If, instead of the flavor of the gospel, you’re adding self-righteousness or the anger of the world, it’s “no longer good for anything.” Remembering your ultimate citizenship will help you bring a flavor that brings glory to God.
Light is the other metaphor Jesus uses: “You are the light of the world.” What does light do? It dispels darkness. The metaphor of light is often used to show purity and goodness. You don’t want to hide goodness; you want to proclaim it! You don’t want to be a little flickering candle on a side table, or hidden under a basket. You want to be on a stand, illuminating whatever room you’re in. Where this is darkness, are you bringing the light of the gospel or are you bringing the anger of a temporary kingdom?
The world is not alright, but the world is also not our home. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And the attitudes of our hearts show the citizenship of our souls. By being salt and light in a hurting world, we can proclaim the gospel of the kingdom just as Jesus did in the first century.The world is not alright, but the world is also not our home.Click To Tweet
How Do We Change Our Attitudes?
How does heart change happen if you aren’t feeling feeling particularly peaceful or meek or poor in spirit or merciful? How do you get there?
I want to share one idea that has been helpful to me and other men I know. While intensive Bible study and reading are beneficial, it can also be powerful to practice simply abiding with the Father as you meditate on one verse.
Go to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. There are the book-end Beatitudes and the six others in between—seven all together. Take the next seven days and meditate on these verses, just one verse per day (two on the book-end day). Try this:
- Each day, read one verse and write it down.
- Focus on the heart attitude and the promised reward.
- Pray to the Father, “Lord, will you reveal this to me? Will you show me how to do this in my life? Will you change my heart to mourn well, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be a peacemaker? Will you show me the times, situations, and relationships where I’m not like that so that I can repent and turn toward the way of the Kingdom of Heaven?”
- Keep on praying, with pen in hand, and journal the thoughts the Father brings to mind.
- Sit in the verse and prayer as long as it takes, until you feel the Lord release you.
Then, come back and let us know how it went! You can leave a comment below or send us a private message through our Facebook page.
A Pledge of Allegiance
We are surrounded by difficulty and living in a tumultuous moment. Let’s make God our King. Let’s strive to live in His Kingdom first, representing this incredible gift of citizenship by being salt and light to everyone we encounter. May we lift each other up, encourage each other, overlook offenses, and bear each other’s burdens. In doing so, we are blessed, Jesus says, and ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.The attitudes of our hearts reveal the citizenship of our souls.Click To Tweet
Adapted from a June 2020 message from the Man in the Mirror Bible Study series, Walking With God In a Pandemic.