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:
“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.
Where are you from? That’s a common question of polite conversation. It seems safe and unthreatening. But citizenship can be tricky business. There’s way more involved than the passport you hold or the accent your parents have. What does it mean, after all, to be “from” somewhere? In the chaos and calamity that grab the headlines these days, the idea of home country doesn’t seem much like home. The world is watching an aggressive attempt to erase a nation. What becomes of Ukrainian citizenship if there is no Ukraine?
And citizenship also carries the notion of representation. Meet someone at a lovely French café, proudly stumble out the words in your best French accent, “Yea, I’m from Texas.,” and you are instantly representing not only yourself, but your eighth-grade French teacher, the Lone Star state and the USA. In an important sense, every citizen of every land is an ambassador of that land. What someone thinks of America may be largely based on what someone thinks of you.
Jesus preaches about citizenship in His first and longest recorded sermon. In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ lays out in striking clarity and stunning anti-cultural detail what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. It’s worth remembering at least three important details.
First, citizenship is a conferred right. You may live in Liverpool, have an accent like John Lennon and eat cucumber sandwiches. But until England says you’re a citizen of England, you aren’t. So it is with God’s Kingdom. When you are Christ’s, He has conferred upon you all the rights and privileges of His Kingdom. That status comes from outside of you, based on nothing inside of you.
But citizenship is also something you grow into. The passport and the papers change your status, but time and purpose change your behavior. You’ve known or heard of folks who’ve moved here from somewhere there, been granted citizenship but never actually become Americans. They’ve never been to Walmart or eaten at Chik-Fil-A. Their speech, friends, food, and fun all stayed the same. During the early part of the 20th century, that’s how Lower Manhattan wound up with Little Italy and San Francisco got China Town.
Lastly, to grow into the characteristics of the Kingdom of heaven means growing out of the characteristics of the kingdom of the world. To be poor in spirit, to be able to embrace mourning and meekness, to be rid of anger, and to fight against lust means you will be fitting in less and less. You will have the growing sense of being a stranger in a strange land, of being a citizen of a different home.
The Apostle Paul writes of this transformative change in citizenship in almost every letter, nowhere more clearly than in his note to the church in Ephesus.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10
The Lord Jesus sat on a hillside and told His disciples some things that were almost unfathomable to them, and to us. So much of what they had learned from their culture and their leaders would be turned on its head. Over the next 36 months or so, they would watch their Lord pour out love for His enemies, kindness to sinners, and food for the hungry. They would hear Him rebuke religiosity and demand truthfulness. He would fit in less and less. Then they would see Him executed as a criminal precisely because He was not primarily a citizen of this world.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My Kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to Him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
After He had said this, He went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:33-40
The citizens of the Kingdom of heaven represent their King. And on that hillside the King Himself promised that His people would be both reviled and rewarded. Exactly what He also received. So rejoice and be glad you citizens 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. Matthew 5:11-12