“Finding The Power To Live a New Life: Dicipleship and The Holy Spirit” by THomas A. Tarrants, C.S. Lewis Institute, President Emeritus)

Discipleship And The Holy Spirit

Thomas A. Tarrants, March 4, 2012 (Knowing and Doing, Spring)

In recent issues of Knowing & Doing we have looked at Christ’s call to discipleship and at the cost of discipleship. Understanding and embracing these truths is essential to becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. But knowing what we must do and even committing ourselves to doing it, though necessary, is not sufficient.

We need power to live out our commitment. And if we lack it we will become discouraged, then disillusioned, then settle into a life of spiritual mediocrity. This has happened to many would-be followers of Jesus over the centuries.

Jesus tells us very clearly that the power to live as his disciple comes from the Holy Spirit. With this assertion, no one who takes the Bible seriously, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, would disagree.

But, for a variety of reasons, in many churches today there is a lack of clear, in-depth, practical teaching about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in relation to discipleship. As a result, many people struggle in their spiritual lives, and their discipleship is weak and anemic.

In a brief article it is impossible to give a full account of the work of the Spirit in discipleship (the Christian life). What we can do, however, is look at some important truths about the Spirit that will help us faithfully follow Jesus Christ.

Who or What Is the Holy Spirit?

We live in a culture that is significantly influenced by eastern religion, New Age thinking, and other worldviews, all of which can confuse our understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work. As these nonbiblical systems of thought have gained strength over the past fifty years, there has been a corresponding decline in biblical literacy in the culture and the church.

As a result, many in the church today have very little understanding of the Bible and what it teaches about the Holy Spirit. For example, it is not uncommon to hear professing believers refer to the Holy Spirit as “it.” From this and other anecdotal evidence, it appears that many people think of the Spirit as an impersonal force or power like “the Force” in Star Wars. Because of the vague and erroneous ideas that many have about the Spirit, we need to begin by briefly clarifying who the Holy Spirit is.

Although the Holy Spirit is quite prominent in the New Testament, that is not the case in the Old Testament. He was present and active at creation, was active in inspiring the prophets and anointed and empowered various leaders of Israel, including judges and kings.

However, he is not described as empowering the ordinary Israelite living under the Old Covenant. And his Personhood is very much in the background, with his work often (but not always) described in ways that suggest impersonal divine power or agency. This “low profile” and involvement chiefly with the leadership in Israel is a major difference between the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament and New Testament.

The Holy Spirit begins to come out of the shadows so to speak in the New Testament. He first causes the conception of the Messiah, then later anoints and empowers his ministry (Matt. 1:20–21; Luke 1:34–35, 3:21–22). Then at Pentecost he breaks forth in full intensity, launching, empowering, and guiding the church and its mission.

This inaugurates the Age to Come, sometimes called the Age of the Spirit, which was prophesied in Joel 2:28–32 and was announced by Peter at Pentecost. From this time forward, all of God’s people—masters and servants, male and female, old and young—will receive the Spirit, and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).1

In the fuller light of Jesus and the church, the Holy Spirit’s personhood and his crucial role in the work of the kingdom and discipleship becomes evident. Jesus speaks most fully about the Holy Spirit in John 14–16. In these chapters, we see that far from being an impersonal force, the Spirit is a person, “another counselor” who takes Jesus’ place when he returns to the Father; the Greek word for another means one of the same kind. The Spirit is a divine person just like Jesus but, unlike Jesus, he has not become incarnate, taking on human nature and a physical body.

Yet the Spirit carries on the work of Christ and makes him personally present to us in this world. (Note the way the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ in Romans 8:9–11.) In John, Jesus goes on to say that he teaches, brings to remembrance (14:26), bears witness (15:26), convicts (16:8), guides, hears, speaks, and declares the future (16:13).

This picture is further developed in Acts, where we read that the Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3–11), speaks (10:19; 11:12; 13:2; 21:11), and confers (“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” [Acts 15:28]), and forbids (Acts 16:6). And in Paul’s epistles we read, “the Spirit intercedes for us’ (Rom. 8:26), wills/decides (1 Cor. 12:11), can be experienced in fellowship (2 Cor. 13:14), can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), speaks (1 Tim. 4:1), and can be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19). In each instance, these are the actions of a personal being, not an impersonal force.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is a divine person. And this divine person is the third person of the Trinity, as is evident in a number of other places in the Scriptures, including the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19, “baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and Paul’s benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). By including the Holy Spirit with God the Father and Jesus the Son, the authors are making it very clear that the Spirit is also God.

Discovering that the Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal force but a divine person dwelling within them has revolutionized the lives of many believers. If your understanding of the Spirit has been a bit vague, ask God to give you clarity and study the passages above.

What Is the Work of the Holy Spirit?

When we survey the New Testament, we see that Jesus Christ secured our redemption; the Holy Spirit applies that redemption in our lives. Having accomplished all that the Father had given him to do, Jesus returned to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father from whence he will one day come back to judge mankind and establish his eternal kingdom.

However, he did not leave his people as orphans. Shortly after his ascension, on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus and the Father sent forth the Holy Spirit to establish the church and to carry on all that Jesus had initiated on earth. The Spirit now carries forward the work of Christ by glorifying him and applying all the benefits of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension in the lives of his people and extending his kingdom throughout the earth.

In terms of discipleship, the Holy Spirit, as his name implies, works to make people holy. He brings God’s people to salvation in Christ and then conforms them to his likeness (Rom. 8:29) and sends them out into the world in ministry. This covers the full spectrum of our life in this world.

Some examples of the Spirit’s work include empowering people to preach the gospel message (Acts 1:8; 4:31; 1 Cor. 2:1–5; 1 Thess. 1:4–5); convicting the lost of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11); bringing spiritual regeneration or new birth to those who trust Christ (John 3:5–6); incorporating them into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); adopting believers into the family of God and assuring them of sonship (Rom. 8:15–16); dwelling within believers (John 14:16–17; Rom. 8:9ff; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; Eph. 5:18; Col. 1:27); giving them a deep knowledge of Christ and his love (Eph. 3:19); illuminating the truth of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:6–13; Eph. 1:16–20); empowering believers to put to death the works of the body/flesh (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16); producing the character of Jesus (fruit of the Spirit) in believers’ lives (Gal. 5:22–23); imparting gifts for ministry (1 Cor. 12:11); guiding in ministry (Acts 13:1–3; 16:6–10), and more.

As we can see, from the time we are first drawn to Christ until the day we are actively engaged in ministry and beyond, the Holy Spirit is at work in us making it happen. In which of these ways are you experiencing the Spirit’s work in your life?

What Is the Holy Spirit’s Work in Discipleship?

As we have seen, the Spirit is involved in every aspect of discipleship from start to finish. John the Baptist proclaimed that the Messiah would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). This appears in each of the Gospels as one of the distinctive features of the Messiah’s work. In John’s gospel, we get the fullest picture: Jesus is described as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29) and “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (1:33).

The former we see on the cross, the latter on the Day of Pentecost. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This was fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Spirit created from a prayer group of 120 people, a community of empowered disciples that quickly grew to more than three thousand. Their corporate life was so attractive in joy and generosity and so electrifying in signs and wonders that it drew in many more nonbelievers to Christ (Acts 2:42–47).

Through the Spirit’s presence and power, the church grew by leaps and bounds, even in the face of intense persecution. The effects of this mighty movement of the Spirit are seen throughout the book of Acts, as more and more people are swept into the kingdom of God as it spreads through the Roman Empire.

The Spirit created a community of disciples, filling and refilling both the apostles and ordinary believers as circumstances required, empowering them to live boldly and faithfully and to speak God’s word powerfully, expanding the church.

And note: these early believers were disciples of Jesus in the same sense of that word in Luke’s gospel, as evidenced in Luke’s use of the word disciple twenty-eight times in the book of Acts to describe ordinary believers. (Later, when the gospel reached Antioch, the disciples were given the nickname “Christian” [Acts 11:26]—a name that today often no longer means disciple.) Thus the basic New Testament paradigm of the church is a community of Spirit-filled disciples, engaged in advancing the kingdom of God. This is what many congregations need to recover today.

How Do We Experience This Life in the Spirit?

Life in the Holy Spirit begins when the Spirit regenerates us and gives new birth. Prior to that we were dead in sin; afterward we are alive to God and Jesus Christ. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, we can say, “one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).

This conversion may be sudden, as with Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–17), or gradual, like Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), who came to faith through the nurture of his mother and grandmother. It may be dramatic, like Cornelius and his friends and relatives (Acts 10:34–48), or quiet and gentle, like Lydia (Acts 16:14). However, one thing will be true in all cases: the man or woman has come alive to God.

From new birth forward and throughout our life on earth, we are meant to live daily in the fullness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the key to authentic Christian life—to discipleship—and without his empowerment, teaching, and guidance it is impossible to live faithfully. Is such a life available to us today? Yes, just as much as it was to the first believers. Indeed, Scripture enjoins us to seek it.

How do we live such a life? An important starting point is to “believe everything the Scriptures teach about the Holy Spirit, and expect all that the Scriptures promise from the Holy Spirit.” Summarizing all of that information in a brief article is impossible, but in what follows we will look at several important insights about living in the Spirit that can help significantly. I trust this will inspire each of us to do a careful Bible study about the Holy Spirit on our own or in a group.

Seek to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

Early in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul remembers how, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). Then a couple of chapters later, he says that he is asking God,  “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16–19).

This remarkable prayer for a deeper experience of the Spirit and the love of Christ certainly shows that we cannot rest on one experience of the Spirit at conversion. This prayer should be a top concern for every disciple of Jesus, not only for oneself but for others in the church.

Paul has yet more to say to the Ephesians, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). The Greek verb for be filled is present tense, plural, passive voice, and imperative mood. In this text, the present imperative is a command to continuous action.

Thus, Paul is commanding (imperative mood) the entire congregation (plural) to “allow yourself (passive voice) to be continuously (present tense) filled with the Holy Spirit.” What does this mean in daily life? It has often been pointed out that when a glass is filled with water there is room for nothing else; the water is in full possession of the glass. It is the same with us and the Spirit; to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to give him full possession of our lives.

In the verses that follow, Paul describes in practical terms how being “filled with the Spirit” is worked out in relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters.

This verse, too, highlights the fact that we cannot rest on one experience of the Spirit at conversion but need to be filled with the Spirit again and again. Why is once not enough? “Because,” as someone said, “we leak badly.” That is, we yield to sin, which interrupts our fellowship with the Spirit until we confess, repent, and seek to be filled afresh.

Walk in the Spirit

In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16). Here walk is also a present imperative verb, indicating continuous action. The word walk is a figurative term in the New Testament for one’s personal conduct, the way one lives his or her life.

Like the Ephesians, the Galatians had received the Holy Spirit at conversion (3:3). Paul is here exhorting them to continue living in the Spirit’s power and resist the temptation to live under the law and in the flesh.

How this works in daily experience is clarified when he speaks of serving one another through love, which occurs as they are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). Here again we have a passive voice in led, meaning they are to allow themselves to be led, directed by the Spirit. They are to yield, surrendering themselves to the Spirit’s moral guidance.

If they do so, they will neither “gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16) nor live “under the law” (5:18). And the result will be that the Spirit will be able to manifest his indwelling presence in their lives in the form of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22). This is a good description of the character of Jesus, into whose likeness the Spirit is seeking to shape all believers.

But this isn’t just a matter of personal holiness. Each of these characteristics has an interpersonal dimension. Thus, as these disciples walk by the Spirit, their congregational life as a whole will reflect Christ to the watching world.

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit

Paul describes the attitudinal and behavioral implications of the new life in the Spirit in several places, including Ephesians 4. In the immediate context of sins of the tongue, he warns the believers in Ephesus: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (v. 30). This is a very serious warning, evidenced by Paul’s use of the formal description “the Holy Spirit of God.” Perhaps he was also thinking of Jesus’ words, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37).

In today’s church, many people do not appear to be aware of the seriousness of sins of the tongue or the connection between sinful words and our fellowship with the Spirit. We must always remember that the Holy Spirit is holy and therefore easily offended and grieved by sin. Our unholy words and attitudes cause him to withdraw and distance himself from us. And when he does so, we will have not only a diminished sense of his presence but also a reduction of his power.

This makes us more vulnerable to other, greater sins and temptations. As James 3:6 says, “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the whole course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

What specific sins does Paul have in mind when he says do not grieve the Spirit? From the context, it is clear that any form of unwholesome or corrupting talk is in view. Gossip, slander, cursing, dirty jokes, lies, critical comments about others are some obvious examples.

Such evil speaking offends God, can corrupt others, and can lead them into the sin of spreading an evil report. And not least, it can trigger a ripple effect that does great damage to those who are the object of our sinful comments.

If we would walk in the Spirit and not grieve him, if we would enjoy close fellowship with him and have his power to overcome sin and grow in Christlikeness, we must bridle our tongue. If we cannot speak well of another, we should remain quiet. And whenever we do speak, we must be careful to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

In other words, our speech is never to be sinful but always to be gracious and uplifting to those with whom we speak, as befits people of grace and love. If we will discipline our tongues, James 3:2 tells us that we will be able to bridle our whole body. This is a major key to walking in the Spirit. Many of us have sinned with our tongues. It is one of the most common of the “respectable sins” believers regularly commit. But confession and repentance opens the door to restored fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Grieving the Holy Spirit and impairing our fellowship with him obviously is not limited to the misuse of the tongue. There is a wide range of other sins that have the same effect.

Do Not Quench the Spirit

Quenching the Holy Spirit is quite different from grieving him. In his closing instructions to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:19–22). The gift of prophetic utterance was among those the Spirit had distributed to believers after Pentecost and was highly commended by Paul (1 Cor. 14:29–33, 39). Those who exercised this gift received messages from God to share with individuals or the congregation (Acts 11:27–29; 21:10–12; 15:31; 21:8–9).

This was not prophecy on the level of that given by the Old Testament prophets (and thus inspired Scripture or doctrine) but was focused on circumstances of personal or church life, as in Acts and 1 Corinthians 14. It is very likely that this is what Paul is addressing in Thessalonica. Today, many in the church around the world believe this gift is still in operation. Others disagree and believe that it was phased out after the canon of Scripture was finalized. However, one’s position on this question does not change the relevance and application of Paul’s exhortation.

The larger point of this passage is that we should not despise any communication which might be from God. Rather, we should test and discern whether it actually is from God. It is our responsibility to discern the teaching of that word to ensure it is correct. We are to be like the Bereans, whom Luke commended: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Any message, sermon, lecture, or prophetic utterance must be tested by its agreement with what the Spirit has already said in Scripture, for he is the Spirit of Truth, who inspired the writing of the Scriptures and cannot contradict himself. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. What agrees with Scripture we are to hold fast, embrace, and obey. What does not, we must reject. As we carefully study the Scripture and obey it as God’s direction for our lives, we will grow and mature in Christlikeness.

The life of discipleship is possible only through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, the Christian life, does not work on any other basis. Only as we daily allow him to fill us by consciously yielding ourselves to his presence and direction can we walk as Jesus walked, do the work he has called us to do, and experience transformation into his likeness.

This article has only touched briefly on a few important aspects of the Holy Spirit and his work. There is much more to learn. If you want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, a thorough study of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit is essential.

1.  Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

Thomas A. Tarrants

Author, President Emeritus, CSLI & CSLI City Director for Washington D.C.

Thomas A. Tarrants, Author, is President Emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute. After serving twelve years as president and nine years as vice President, he retired from his position as Vice President for Ministry and Director, Washington Area Fellows Program, with CSLI in June 2019. Tom holds a Masters of Divinity Degree, as well as a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Spirituality. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church Alliance and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Going forward, Tom will be spending his time writing, mentoring, consulting and traveling. His life story is told in  Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love,  published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. 

COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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“Humility; Crucifying pride – Glorifying God”, Pastor Tom Holliday (Gospel Unity, The Lordship of Jesus Christ)

“Humility; Crucifying Pride – Glorifying God” Quotes from Tom Holliday, Pastor

I sat in a middle seat, somewhat far from the pulpit feeling nested by the congregation.  As the sermon began my pen was poised just in case Pastor Tom Holliday (of Alexandria Presbyterian Church) said something that I needed to note. Usually, I like to just listen and allow the Holy Spirit to reach my heart. On this day there was much that I wanted to share with you all. The sermon was deeply stirring. It touched upon Humility, Pride and God’s Glory.

The bold message was about the need for the death of pride. Perhaps this is difficult to hear. This is a message that many are timid to teach. I loved it, we need to soak in it not just now but for every time, every generation. 

In the past weeks, one of the overarching themes has been Unity. I have noticed how many times our lack of unity can be traced to pride. It was remarkable to listen to scripture, Philippians 2:1-11 and how Pastor Tom Holliday gleaned the wisdom. Here are some of the quotes (please excuse if they are not perfect, I was writing while listening):

The Sermon was titled “Finding Unity in The Gospel”

“The challenge is really that if you are Christian, you need to crucify your pride.”

“We will not grow if we will do not suffer. We will not grow if we don’t see our own pride.”

“Get your act together. Get your eye on the ball. Get it off of one another. Lift it off of the sharp edges that wound others. Can we try not to be so pointy? Not to offend and not to be so easily offended. Not fragile.” (Referring to the Philippian church and common problems in today’s churches, all churches)

“Whose Love? Christ’s. All have the same love of Christ in them. Do you know that God has no favorites? He loves the person next to you just as much. ‘In full accord’ means thinking and feeling as one soul. That is how the body of Christ thinks and feels.”

“The Body of Christ vs us. The Body of Christ did not live and die for empty glory. Don’t live and die for empty glory.” (what is empty glory? Pride)

“In Problems of Pride, Augustine considered Pride the root of every sin.”

“Humility is the answer.”

“Some people will try to walk all over a humble person. Shame on that.” (James 2:1-18 “Count it all loss”)

“Jesus left a perfect environment to come to this mess. We know how hard it can be. Sometimes there is no unity in our families, in our communities. We, who are empty of Glory go around seeking to grab Glory anywhere we can. We are fragile. we want to steal. Put the spotlight on Jesus and we will not become Glory Grabbers. Boast in the name of Jesus who humbled himself on the Cross.”

“When you look at how He obeyed, you submit and bow your heart a little bit in a messy relationship, in a messy world. You pray Lord, forgive me, show us Christ who was obedient to the point of death.”

“Help us to know the death of pride, of desire and of will.”

“If you are desiring to be followers of Jesus- will people in your life become uncomfortable with you living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ?”

Phillippians 2:9-11 -Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

“We, who are empty of Glory, go around seeking to grab glory anywhere we can. We are fragile. We want to steal. Put the spotlight on Jesus and we will not become Glory Grabbers. Boast in the Name of Jesus who humbled Himself on the Cross.”

All of the quotes above are from Pastor Tom Holliday

All of the sermons are archived on the website; this one available on 2.25.20 at Alexandria Presbyterian Church Sermon Archives

I am so glad that today, I was able to listen and to scribble some notes all at the same time. It was all such a joy. The death of pride is not an easy journey, but it is in that same glorious mess that Jesus walks with so closely with each of us. We see Him before us and confessing that He is Lord is the way to a joy unspeakable, one that nothing else in this life can compare to.


“The Beatitudes and The Gospel of The Kingdom” by John Piper (God’s Heart, Transformation, Power of God)


The Beatitudes and the Gospel of the Kingdom

Sermon from DR. JOHN Piper theologioan / wikipedia

Scripture: Matthew 5:1–12 The Sermon on the Mount 5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Sermon…”We begin today an eight-week series on the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3–12. We will devote almost a week to each one. But our focus today has to be on the group as a whole in the wider context of Jesus’s ministry. We have to answer the questions, what are these beatitudes? Do they spell out conditions we must meet in order to inherit eternal life? Do they celebrate the power of God in the life of the disciples? Could it be both? How do we know?

Let’s begin today with our lens open more widely than just the Beatitudes. Then we will narrow it down to the Beatitudes themselves.

The Structure of Matthew

Notice Matthew 4:23. It is a summary statement of Jesus’s earthly ministry, “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.” One way to restate that verse would be to say that Jesus made it his ministry to preach the coming of the kingdom, teach the way of the kingdom, and demonstrate the purpose and power of the kingdom by healing the sick. Preaching, teaching, and healing.

Now turn to Matthew 9:35. Almost verbatim we find the same summary, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

Then, when we look to see what is sandwiched between these two summary descriptions of Jesus’s ministry, what we see are two major sections: chapters 5–7 are a collection of Jesus’s teaching called the Sermon on the Mount; and chapters 8–9 are a collection of stories mainly about his healing ministry. So, what it appears we have is a five-chapter unit designed by Matthew to present us first with some typical teaching of the Lord concerning the way of the kingdom, and second with some typical healings and miracles to demonstrate the power of the kingdom.

The value of seeing this is that it warns us against treating any little piece of this section in isolation. Matthew is the writer here, and he is putting his material together in a particular way. He is the inspired apostle, and we should care about how he chose to put things together. That is the way he gets across his meaning.

The Jesus Who Teaches and Heals

For example, one thing we can say right off the bat is that you can’t have the Jesus of the Sermon of the Mount without the Jesus who cleansed the leper, and healed the centurion’s servant, and stilled the storm, and cast out demons. The writer who gives us the one, gives us the other, and it is arbitrary to do what some modern folk try to do; namely, say that they admire the ethical teacher of the Sermon on the Mount but they don’t want to get involved with the spooky supernatural Person who stills storms and casts out demons.

Or, for some, the opposite temptation may overcome them. They may have a charismatic fascination with the miracles of Jesus, but when it comes to reckoning with the One who said, “Don’t call your brother a fool, don’t lust, don’t get divorced, don’t swear, don’t return evil for evil, love your enemy” — well, they like the miracle worker who heals their diseases, but this radical intruder into their personal lifestyle, they are not so interested in him.

Matthew’s point is that the Lord who teaches like this in the Sermon on the Mount is the same Lord who calls us to follow him through life and depend upon his power. His personal work and power are inseparable from his teaching. In fact, we will see right away that this is clear even in the Beatitudes.

The Crowds and the Disciples

So, let’s go to Matthew 5:12.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying . . .”
The audience is probably two concentric circles: the inner circle of the disciples, and the outer circle of the “crowds.” It says in verse 1 that he taught his disciples. But look at the end of the sermon in Matthew 7:28–29,

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. So, it is clear that the crowds were listening, and that Jesus wanted them to listen even though the sermon is primarily addressed to professing disciples. Let me mention here that this is the way our Sunday services at Bethlehem are conceived.

Primarily, the word is prepared to feed and strengthen and inspire the worship and life of God’s people. But we pray that more and more there will be the curious, the onlookers, the skeptical, the searchers, the doubters who come to Bethlehem the way the crowds gathered in behind the disciples on the mount.

We believe that the Spirit-anointed, authoritative preaching of the word of God has a peculiar power to awaken unbelievers to the truth and beauty of Christ — even when it is addressed primarily to disciples. So, I would urge you to feel free to invite anyone and everyone to our Sunday services at Bethlehem. It is precisely the things our Lord has to say to us that can awaken desire in others to come to Christ.

The Sermon Begins

So, the sermon begins with the disciples gathered at the feet of Jesus and with the crowds listening in.

How will the Lord begin? He begins by pronouncing a certain kind of person fortunate. We call these pronouncements “beatitudes,” from the Latin word for happiness or blessedness. Let’s see how the whole group is put together.

Eight Beatitudes, One Unit

There are eight beatitudes worded in the same way. Verse 11 could be viewed as a ninth one, but it is really an expansion of verse 10 and is worded differently from the others. It says, “Blessed are you when others revile you.” None of the others say, “Blessed are you.” It is probably an expansion of verse 10, which says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” The reviling in verse 11 is a specific instance of the persecution in verse 10.

You can see that the eight beatitudes of verses 3–10 are a unit when you look at the first and the eighth. Notice the promise of the first beatitude in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And notice the promise of the eighth beatitude in verse 10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Both of them have the identical promise, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

But the other six beatitudes sandwiched between these two are all different. Verse 4: “For they shall be comforted.” Verse 5: “For they shall inherit the earth.” Verse 6: “For they shall be satisfied.” Verse 7: “For they shall receive mercy.” Verse 8: “For they shall see God.” Verse 9: “For they shall be called sons of God.”

Future Promises Sandwiched by Present Assurance

Notice that all of these are promises for the future. “They shall be comforted. . .. They shall inherit the earth. . .. They shall be satisfied” and so on.

But the promise of the first and last beatitude in verses 3 and 10 seems to relate to the present: the disciples are assured that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, what is the meaning of this pattern? I think there are at least two implications.

The Blessings of the Kingdom

First, by sandwiching six promises in between two assurances that such people have the kingdom of heaven, I think Jesus means to tell us that these six promises are blessings of the kingdom.

In other words, these six things are what you can count on when you are a part of God’s kingdom. This is what the kingdom brings: comfort, earth ownership, satisfied righteousness, mercy, a vision of God, and the awesome title, son of God. You don’t have to pick and choose among these promises. They all belong to the kingdom.

That is the first implication I see in the fact that Jesus begins with the assurance, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and ends with the assurance, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” with six promises sandwiched in between.

A Present Yet Future Kingdom

The other implication of this pattern comes from the fact that the first and last assurances are present tense, and the six in the middle are future. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” in verses 3 and 10 — but, “They shall be comforted. . . . They shall inherit the earth” and so on in verses 4–9.

I think this is Jesus’s way of saying that, in some sense, the kingdom of heaven is present with the disciples now (“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), but that the full blessings of the kingdom will have to wait for the age to come (“They shall inherit the earth”).

Another way to put it is that Jesus has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth in his own kingly power and fellowship, and we can enjoy foretastes of it here and now; but the full experience of the life of the kingdom will have to wait for the age to come.

You can see exactly what this means right here in the Beatitudes.

Being Comforted

Take several examples. Verse 4 says that those who mourn will one day be comforted. As Revelation 21:4 says, “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”

But look at verses 11–12, “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.” In other words, even though the final reward of comfort is kept for us in heaven, we can now rejoice even in the midst of suffering. And is not this joy a foretaste of the promised comfort? There is no joy without some element of comfort.

Obtaining Mercy

Or consider verse 7. It promises, “They shall receive mercy.” But in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23–35, the king says to the wicked servant, “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

(Matthew 18:33). In other words, Jesus teaches that we do not merely wait for the age to come to receive mercy. It has come in Jesus. We taste it here and now in forgiveness of sins and innumerable blessings of this life.

Being Called Sons of God

Or consider verse 9. It promises, “They shall be called sons of God.” As Romans 8:23 says, “We . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” So, the full benefits of being sons of God await the resurrection.

But look at Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” God is already our Father! We are already sons! That is, we have a foretaste of sonship now.

The point of these three examples is that the kingdom of heaven is both present and future. We have foretastes of the reign of God now, but we will experience vastly more in the future. I think this is why verses 3 and 10 assure us that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but verses 4–9 promise that the kingdom blessings are still in the future. It is both.

One of the Most Important Lessons

And this is one of the most important things you can learn about the Christian faith. Without this insight, the Sermon on the Mount simply cannot be understood. For example, what will you make of Matthew 5:7 without this insight that the kingdom blessings of God’s mercy are both present and future?

It says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Does this mean that God withholds his mercy until the future day of reckoning and waits to see if we will be merciful enough to earn his mercy? That is what it looks like it says.

But if you know the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; 24:14), that is, if you know the good news that the kingdom has already come and is now at work like a dragnet gathering in a people for the kingdom (13:47–50) — if you know that the power of the kingdom is already present as well as future, then you will know that our becoming merciful is (right now!) a work of God’s kingly mercy.

That is the point of Matthew 18:33. The king said, “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” God’s prior mercy enables us to be merciful. The powerful mercy of the kingdom has already come in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is not just waiting like a Judge at the end of the age to see whether or not we will be able to earn his mercy then by showing mercy now.

God is not merely waiting; he is casting the net of mercy into the sea of the world and dragging people to life and hope and joy and mercy (Matthew 13:47–50). “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” Jesus said (John 6:44). “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65).

The Mercy of the Kingdom Already in the World

The mercy of the kingdom is in the world drawing people to Christ. The mercy of the kingdom is in the world opening people’s eyes to Christ. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter when Peter confessed him to be the Messiah? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). God is not waiting to see if Peter will recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He opened his eyes. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Simon! God has!

You did not choose him first; he chose you (John 15:16). You did not come to him first; he drew you (John 6:44). You did not recognize Christ first; God opened your eyes (Matthew 16:17). And all this is mercy, mercy, mercy! “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16).

Try to grasp this and make it part of your very being. Many passages of Scripture teach that God will show mercy on us in the future if we live a certain way now. Many other passages of Scripture teach that God has already shown us mercy, enabling us to live in a certain way now. These are not inconsistent. This is the very fabric of biblical life.

We are born anew by the mercy of God. We are sanctified by the mercy of God. And when we get to the judgment seat of God, he will say, “You are still a sinner. But I see in your life the distinguishing fruit of my Son’s mercy. Your mercy on others is the evidence of his mercy in you. And for his sake, I now show you mercy again. Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Seeing the Beatitudes for What They Are

Unless you see the Beatitudes as part of this biblical fabric, you will not be able to understand them for what they are. They are an announcement of how fortunate people are who already possess, as it were, the power of the kingdom. You might say, “Blessed! Blessed! And fortunate are you who have the kingdom power at work within you, for you will inherit the kingdom with all its infinite pleasures forever and ever.” The Beatitudes are announcements that people like this are very blessed — very fortunate.

But that is not all. The Beatitudes also contain an implicit invitation to become this kind of person. The disciples sit at Jesus’s feet and hear his words as congratulations. “Oh, how fortunate you are, my dear brothers! Oh, how fortunate you are to be chosen of God, to have your eyes opened, to be drawn to the Savior, to be poor and mourning and meek and hungry and merciful and pure and peaceable! Rejoice! Rejoice and give thanks, my beloved disciples, that you are this kind of person, for it is not your own doing! It is the reign of God in your life.” So, the disciples hear the Beatitudes as words of celebration about the work of God in their lives.

But what about the crowds standing behind the disciples? How do they hear these words of congratulations? How should they hear them, if they are not poor in spirit, if they are not mourning or meek or hungry for righteousness or merciful or pure or peaceable? What do these words mean for them? They are certainly not congratulations. You can’t congratulate a guest on his wedding garment if he doesn’t have it on (Matthew 22:11–14).

What then? If you see people being welcomed to a feast with a certain garment on, don’t the words of welcome stir you up to go get a garment like that? And if you see people being promised the blessings of eternal life because they are poor in spirit and mourning and meek and hungry for righteousness and merciful and pure and peaceable, don’t those words of promise beckon you to become that kind of person? Indeed, don’t they beget in you the seeds of those very flowers? Perhaps not. But for some, they do. And if they don’t in you, oh, how you should pray that God would not leave you in such a hard and impenitent condition.

So, the Beatitudes are words of celebration for disciples — people who have been awakened by the present power of the age to come. And they are words of invitation for the crowds — the people who come to worship out of tradition or curiosity or skepticism. And for some, they are words of transformation — by the power and mercy of God.