Blueprint for a New World
big idea: Jesus invites us into a new world - by embodying it here and now
Like I mentioned earlier in today’s gathering, we’re on a journey as a church to figure out how it is we’re going to respond to the growth that God has given us as a family - growth which is making our current home here, much as we love it, feel more and more of a squeeze. One thing I’ve had to do repeatedly as we work away on this is to think about how we could deliver the sort of spaces we need inside a whole array of different buildings we’ve dared to consider as potential options which really weren’t built for this.
I’ve tried a bunch of times to sketch out how we might make different kinds of spaces work for us but I’m no architect so my scribblings are pretty incomprehensible to anyone else. Thankfully there are people who actually know how to do this sort of thing, who can imagine and create ideas for a space and then capture and communicate them to others through drawings, plans, blueprints. Keep that idea of a blueprint in your mind this morning as we come to look at the bible together. The idea that we can capture the outline of something which doesn’t yet exist, that we can describe and communicate something which isn’t real yet - but could be.
We’re working our way through Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew’s biography of Jesus, and the next three chapters are the first of five extended sets of teaching in this book. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we should approach this first block of teaching. Normally we like to work through things bit by bit, taking our time to think about and wrestle with what God is saying to us through one short section of the Bible at a time, exploring what we are to learn from each of Jesus’ actions, his stories, his commands one by one.
But sometimes when you’re doing that, you can lose track of the bigger picture, of how things fit together. You can miss connections, miss the broader sweep of where he’s going. You can miss the forest for the trees, as they say. So sometimes it’s important to zoom out, to get a sense for the lay of the land, the general contours of things, before diving too far into the details. That’s what we’re going to do this morning - so, a little unusual for us.
I was thinking about reading the whole thing together this morning but it’s just over 2500 words so about 15 minutes - that won’t quite fit. It’s absolutely worth doing that in one go, though, hearing Jesus’ teaching here as a connected whole - perhaps some of you saw my post in our Facebook group and had the chance to, though.
Instead of reading the whole thing, we’re just going to “top and tail” it this morning. So come with me to Matthew chapter 5 and let’s read how Jesus begins. We’re on page 968 in these blue bibles and David is going to read for us this morning. Matthew chapter 5 - look for the big 5. Page 968. Over to David.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Thanks David - don’t go away - we’re going to read a bit more in a moment.
Now this introduction - Jesus telling his disciples they are to be salt and light in a dark world, that this is the fulfilment of the ancient Law of Moses and everything God said through his prophet - is followed by two chapters of Jesus teaching his disciples how to live: be peacemakers; be pure; be merciful; love like God; Give, pray and fast for God’s applause; Serve God for heavenly treasures; trust him for earthly provision; do to others what you would have them do to you - that’s the sum of the Law and Prophets. This is the narrow road that leads to life.
Jesus closes with a famous parable wrapping up this chunk of teaching: Flip the page to chapter 7 and verse 24. Back to David. Picking up at Matthew 7:24:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Thanks David. Don’t worry if that felt like a 50,000 foot flyover - we’re going to work through this bit by bit. But first I want to consider it as a whole. What we have got here? What is Jesus trying to say, to do?
Reading through it a bunch of times, looking for the bigger sweep, I’ve found it’s like Jesus is unrolling a blueprint for us - a blueprint for the new Kingdom he is bringing to life, “a blueprint for the kingdom of transformed hearts”, the Kingdom of Heaven.
My first instinct when I read through this was to try and apply it to myself, to think about how I measure up - how poorly I measure up! How little I am putting this into practice. Definitely a good instinct, by the way, to apply to ourselves first.
But before we go there, I want us to turn that around and think instead about what it’d be like to live in a Kingdom where people behaved this way, where people put these words of Jesus into practice.
See, I think the blueprint Jesus lays out for us here is somewhere we’d all love to live:
Imagine a world with no conflict, no hatred: a world filled with determined peacemakers everywhere you turn. Think back through your week for just a moment - where did you run into conflict personally this week? In the playground? In the office? On social media?
Imagine a world with none of that. Can you even imagine. A world where we’re not surrounded by people who’ve turned being offended into an art form. Where we’re not terrified of how people might respond if they knew what we really thought. Where you don’t worry moment by moment where the next verbal assault will come from.
And then step outside of your direct experience and think about the hatred, the conflict you’ve seen in the world around. The bitter attacks on Kate Forbes for daring to have traditional Christian views. Employees and employers at loggerheads over pay across our nation, dead set against each other. The angry tone of almost every debate on anything anywhere. The bitter divides in so many communities - views, class, religion, race. The many armed conflicts across our world.
Imagine a world with none of that - all absolutely gone. Can you even imagine that? That is the world, the Kingdom, Jesus’ blueprint describes. That is what it would be like to live there.
Imagine a world with no corruption or evil: a world where you’re surrounded by the pure, you don’t have to question others’ motives or doubt their sincerity. Where customer service representatives want to serve customers. Where you don’t have to worry about whether justice will be done, whether those who need support will get it, whether words you say will be twisted and used against you, whether those in power will use their powers for the common good.
Just imagine a world like that! Where you can trust those around you again. Where you’ll be safe. Where you could walk home from anywhere anytime. Where anyone and everyone would help you when you’re in need. That is the world, the Kingdom, Jesus’ blueprint describes.
Imagine a world with no selfishness or exclusion: a world where everyone is surrounded by generosity, love and care; a world where no-one is forgotten or overlooked, abandoned or alone.
Imagine a world where no one just performs for the crowd, to chase their applause - but instead everyone lives for God, pursues Him and His ways. Imagine a world where your life, your work is actually meaningful - where it matters, where it’ll have results which last forever, not just be quickly washed away by the sands of time. Where you are utterly confident you are secure forever and your needs will be met throughout your life. A world where you’re not judged all the time by others - but instead everyone around you genuinely wants to help you be the best you you can be.
This is the world, the Kingdom, that Jesus’ blueprint describes. You want to live there? I want to live there! In a world like that. A community like that. With people like that. That’s the blueprint. That’s the design, the plan. That’s something worth pursuing, something that should get all of us excited. This is Jesus’ “blueprint for the kingdom of transformed hearts.”
Here’s the big question I want us to think about today as we begin our journey through this Sermon on the Mount: why does Jesus show us this? What is it that Jesus is trying to do? What’s his objective in teaching this?
Why does he lay this out this blueprint particularly to his disciples, the ones he has called to follow him? (Did you notice that at the very start of our reading? Matthew 5:1 “his disciples came to him and he began to teach them.”)
And then, what does it mean for us, here, today? How are we to approach this whole thing? I think there are four big options so we’re going to work through them one at a time. Ready?
First option: this is totally impractical idealism, simply a utopian dream from a deluded visionary. Fun to imagine - but utterly pointless because it’s impossible. Like suggesting we generate power for the whole earth with a huge new solar array in the desert - nice idea; interesting thought experiment - but alas utterly unrealistic. Or suggesting humans could just share instead of selfishly hoarding; the community owns everything and everyone gets what they need - then we’d all have plenty of food and land and goods and no-one would be in need. Proper communism.
Or, if you’ve seen the video coincidance, that if we’d just dance a particular dance together, that’d fix everything. In fact, this video is so good, we’re going to have a watch a moment. Brace yourself: https://youtu.be/2JSDTucF_K4?t=113
Is this all we’re getting from Jesus here? A fanciful dream from an impractical optimist which could never possibly happen? Something so obviously ridiculous we should just write it off? Obviously, Christians don’t think of Jesus like that - but that is absolutely how lots of people would think about this: “turn the other cheek? that’s a stupid idea”. “a world without greed? impossible.”
That’s not the road we’ll be going down - so what are the other options? Well, some people think Jesus isn’t just dreaming, just imagining here - but he’s actually describing a better world that we could simply choose. Tolstoy, famous author, has his autobiographical character coming to understand the Sermon on the Mount as:
not beautiful abstract thoughts, presenting for the most part exaggerated and impossible demands, but simple, clear, practical commandments, which if obeyed (and this was quite feasible) would establish a completely new order of human society
A design, a set of instructions, which we could realise. Something that could actually happen if we’d just listen and change.
Here’s the problem I have with that idea - and the problem the bible has with it too: us. Human nature. Yeah it’d be nice if we could all just get along - but do you actually live on planet earth? Our world is just not like that. People are just not like that. And the truth is, it isn’t just a few bad apples that are the problem - it’s all of us.
Does anyone seriously believe if we could take out a few problem people with a drone strike or securely lock up just a few nasty pieces of work, that suddenly things would start to click into place and this better world could just pop into being? That the rest of the global population is just sunshine and daisies waiting to come out?
How many people do you think we’d have to take out or lock up before we could live this good life with no hate, with total purity, just wall-to-wall goodness? 1% of the world? 10%? 50% of us? Look, I know my own heart. I’m part of the problem here - not the solution. The bible teaches that every single one of us is broken, that our hearts in their core are corrupt. You think you are the exception to that rule? I think in your most honest moment you must know that’s not true.
So if this isn’t Jesus setting out the rules for a better world, a world we could just choose if we’d listen, what is it? Well, our third option, another way of seeing what Jesus is doing here is to see him setting out the impossibly high standards God has in his Kingdom.
Is Jesus saying here: “Think you just need to tick some boxes, to behave some particular ways? Think you just have to not be the worst kid on the block? That God will have you because you’re not as bad as those guys over there? Think again - this is God’s design: you have to jump this high. Here’s the standard God demands: absolute purity. Total love. Utter devotion. You have to jump higher than anyone ever. ”
Why would Jesus do something like that to his disciples? Set out for them an impossible blueprint, an unreachable standard? Here’s one suggestion I read:
[Jesus] meant to bring us to the realization that there is no way anyone can keep [God’s] lofty standards. It is meant to make everyone equally guilty. It is meant to drive us to Jesus.
This way of looking at Jesus’ whole sermon understands each part, each command, each challenge, to be something we’d respond to with like this: “yep, that’s right, that’s good, that’s how it should be.” “And no, I’m not doing that, in fact, I know I can’t do that. I could never achieve that.” “So I need Jesus”.
Understood this way, Jesus’ big point with the whole chat, with this long list of impossible demands, is to have his disciples - and us - recognise how broken we are and just how much we need his grace in every single area of our lives. It’s like a mirror showing us how warped we are. This blueprint is key because it shows how far out of line we are in absolutely every dimension, every part. How we’ll never measure up until heaven.
Here’s the wrinkle, the problem with that: Jesus sounds for all the world like he means for us to actually do this stuff. Not just, after hearing each command, to shrug our shoulders and say “yep, got me again. That’s right. I don’t measure up. I need grace. I need Jesus.”
Look at how he starts this whole thing:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus’ disciples are meant to have good deeds which others see, leaving them glorifying our Father in heaven. What sort of light would shine from his disciples if all that came of Jesus’ teaching was them wringing their hands about all the good deeds they have failed to do? What would there be for anyone around them to see beyond their tears?
Or look at what he says about the Law: Mt 5:19
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Anyone who practices - literally does - these things. These commands are things we are actually meant to do, not just to find impossible.
Look at how he closes out his whole chat with the whole build your house on the rock thing: Mt 7:24
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
How could Jesus’ main point with all this teaching be “you can’t do this” when he finishes by telling us we must not just hear his words but actually put them into practice - more literally, to do them.
This can’t just be a set of impossible demands, just meant to send us to Jesus for grace again and again where we could and can never measure up. This must be a blueprint for how Jesus actually wants - and expects - even demands that his people live.
But how could that possibly work? Earlier we talked about the truth that each one of us is broken, that every heart is corrupt. How does this add up?
Here’s how: this is Jesus’ blueprint for His Kingdom - his Kingdom of transformed hearts. This is God’s good plan for how we should actually live as his transformed people. This is Jesus inviting us to be God’s future Kingdom breaking into our world - here and now.
Remember we started with thinking about how wonderful it would be to live in a world like the one Jesus describes through this sermon? Well, Jesus’ plan for his first disciples, and Jesus’ plan for us, is that we, the church, his people, begin to be that wonderful world, his coming Kingdom. That we begin to make that a real thing, a tangible presence, in the middle of this broken and twisted world.
Remember John the baptist’s urgent message? “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. Mt 3:1-2
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Remember what Jesus began by announcing? “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” Mt 4:17
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Well, Jesus’ disciples are to become that kingdom of heaven coming near. That’s his call to us.
This teaching is Jesus’ blueprint for His Kingdom of transformed hearts. The initially impossible demands of Jesus’ teaching become increasingly possible through his gradual, but fundamental, transformation of our hearts. His Kingdom comes from inside - our transformed hearts changed by His Spirit at work within us. But his kingdom is to expand out from that into our lives, our world. It’s something to be seen, something to be done - something to be practised.
Remember John comes baptising with water for repentance, for cleansing and turning away from the wrong. But John told us Jesus, coming after him, would not just be baptising with water, but with the Spirit - not just cleansing but transforming. Making each of us, making us together, a whole church, a whole people, increasingly like Jesus himself. That’s the game-changer. That’s why this isn’t just a utopian dream. That’s why this isn’t just an impossible standard.
This is Jesus’ blueprint for His Kingdom of transformed hearts.
Stick with us over the next few months as we explore it together. We’re going to see Jesus’ plan for his Kingdom is so beautiful we all want to live there. We’re going to see that’s a plan which is beyond our twisted human nature and the best we make without him is a wretched caricature. And we’re going to see it’s a plan he is actually bringing to into being for real here and now by changing us from the inside out.