The Kingdom Manifesto (Part 1)
In an increasingly politicized age, we have become used to political slogans designed to encapsulate the heart of a candidate’s message--everything from “Change We Can Believe In” (2008) to “Make America Great Again” (2016). In the high politicization of American culture, there is a danger that the church begins to operate by similar standards and slogans. We have seen trends from the “seeker-sensitive” to “missional” churches, from the Convergence Movement to Christian Family movement.
The obvious problem with these movements is that they focus, not only upon one aspect of Christian practice or theology (though not all of them do even that!); but, that, all too often, they focus upon an external form in order to bring about internal change. Yet, when our Lord came proclaiming the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), he did not proclaim movements or trends, far less external forms to mark out members of his kingdom. Far from it; if there is a manifesto of kingdom life, it is found in graces wrought in individuals by the Holy Spirit. This manifesto--a Christian manifesto, a Kingdom manifesto--is called the Beatitudes.
Nothing could be further from the political or religious “sloganeering” or “movement-based” Christianity than the Beatitudes. Of all the subjects our Lord led with in the opening of his ministry, Christian and Kingdom graces where the highlight. That ought to tell us something about the nature of our faith, the nature of Christ’s Kingdom and the kind of mentality that should be at the forefront of our minds.
First, we witness that Christianity and the Kingdom of Christ is for people with broken and poor spirits. This is the lead grace / trait that Christ wishes to communicate to his disciples and the church. Contrary to the celebrity-driven culture of the world and increasingly of the church, those great in the kingdom are characterized by poverty of spirit. What does our Lord mean when he speaks in this way?
Our Lord does not here speak sociologically or monetarily; rather, he speaks theologically. He is speaking of a spiritual reality in the heart of men and women. Often the physical poverty or illness of gospel characters is used to illustrate a spiritual reality: as it is physically--i.e. broken, needy, without resource or ability to help self--so are we spiritually. Each of us is natively broken, needy, without resource or ability to extricate ourselves from the pollution, consequence and curse of sin. To be poor in spirit is to have been weighed in the spiritual balance and been found wanting. It is to be painfully aware of our own sin, our own unworthiness before a holy and terrible God.
Yet the poverty of spirit, of which Christ speaks, is not simply a negative idea: for kingdom citizens poverty of spirit is a grace-wrought blessing. Let Scripture speak for itself in Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”. The tax collector knew who and what he was before God – a sin-wracked rebel worthy of condemnation, yet he still prayed for mercy!
Therein is the key to the kingdom of Christ! When the Spirit works in the heart of person to draw them unto the Father through Christ, he does not work pride, self-sufficiency, thoughtlessness and self-righteousness. No he works a poverty of spirit which while it knows its own inherent, deep unworthiness also knows the grace and mercy of God. The sinner saved by grace can simultaneously weep tears of sorrow and joy: sorrow over gross sin and neglect of God’s glory and joy in being forgiven. Such are kingdom people. Such are Christian. Such go down to their houses justified!
We must take great care that we do not lose sight of Christ’s manifesto for Kingdom life, and particularly where it starts. If we do lose sight of it, we will replace and supplant Kingdom, Spirit-wrought graces with worldly ideas of greatness. It is not the great of the world that are exalted, but the spiritually lowly. Do not despise the poor in spirit in the church. Do not think they are of little use because they do not trumpet their own so-called graces, abilities knowledge. Perhaps God might surprise us if we gave more opportunities to those who wait for others to put them forward for service, after all, “a man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.” (Prov. 18:16)
Moreover, what great blessing awaits to such as belongs the kingdom of heaven. For the world and even for the religious formalist, the warning of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, should ring in our ears “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2). But for the one in whom the Spirit has wrought the grace of poverty of spirit, in whom the Spirit has revealed inherent holiness of God, in whom the Spirit has worked a conviction of sin and to whom the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been shed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If we are to stand under a banner, have a slogan or motto under which we may stand, let it at least in some way incorporate the idea “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”