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For Whom Is The Kingdom of Heaven?

These past twelve months were rife with political unrest, sickness, job loss, and other forms of uncertainty. Many Americans witnessed their favorite political candidates lose. Others spent much of the past year on social media to stay in touch with breaking news—or, more recently, trading platforms to stay updated on the price of GameStop and Dogecoin.

As I write this guest article for Young Patriot Rising, I would like to invite you to join me in a discussion about the gospel of Jesus Christ—the eternal message which brings not only meaningful peace in the midst of a changing world, but lasting peace with an unchanging God.


Blessed are the poor in spirit


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). In Luke’s account, Jesus adds a warning: “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). What is spiritual poverty, and what is spiritual wealth?


Throughout the New Testament, Jesus accepts those who recognize their own need for Him, and He rejects those who trust in their own righteousness. When Matthew makes Jesus a feast in his house, they are joined by the Pharisees and the tax collectors. The Pharisees are bothered at Jesus’ willingness to associate with tax collectors: “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30). Jesus responds, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).


The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector as recorded in Luke’s Gospel provides even more clarity. Luke says that the parable was directed by Jesus toward “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Two men go to pray in the temple—a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee’s words are full of pride: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11b-12). The Pharisee is trusting in his own religious performance: he works hard and is outwardly moral. 


Jesus says in Matthew, such people are “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). He told the Pharisees, “you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). The Pharisees saw themselves as spiritually rich, but had no real righteousness to offer God.


In stark contrast, the tax collector “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven” (Luke 18:13) and begged God for mercy while beating his breast: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13b). Jesus says “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” (Luke 18:14). 


To be right before God, we must recognize our moral poverty. As Jonathan Edwards said, “you contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” As with the tax collector, God promises to throw open the doors of the kingdom for all who come to Him for mercy. 


Jesus turns away those who attempt to store up righteousness for themselves and place their trust upon it. He compares their self-righteousness to physical wealth, which fools people into trusting in themselves instead of God. Jesus is seen accepting any sinner—no matter how vile—who will turn from sin and trust in Him. 


The tax collectors in both accounts bring nothing to the table. They come empty-handed. They come not to receive a reward, but to receive mercy. The Pharisees come to be justified with good works, and they receive neither reward nor mercy. 


Blessed are those who mourn


Jesus also says in the Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The spiritually poor person—who recognizes his moral bankruptcy before God—also mourns


In speaking to the Corinthians about their spiritual state, Paul says that they had experienced a “godly grief” that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The Corinthians had come to grieve their own sin, and they had responded in repentance. David expresses this godly grief repeatedly in the psalms. He says in Psalm 51, which was written after he sleeps with Bathsheba and murders her husband Uriah: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:1-2). 


People who know God continuously mourn their sin, because they have been made to see sin in the way that God sees it: as vile and disgusting, as destructive to self and others, and most of all, as treasonous against a holy God. Such a mourning and hatred for sin leads to repentance—a change of direction away from sin and toward God. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which most literally refers to a change of mind.


Jesus promises comfort for those who mourn their sin. As David continues in Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12). David knows that after he is delivered from blood guiltiness, his “tongue will sing aloud of [God’s] righteousness” (Psalm 51:14). Far from casting David away from His presence when he sinned, God forgave him and welcomed him with open arms. This same reality applies to all who belong to God.


The believer can also rejoice in the hope that one day, he will be entirely free from the influence and presence of sin. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). 


God’s work in a believer does not cease with justification—which refers to a declaration of righteousness on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can rejoice because our salvation ends with glorification—the entire removal of our sin nature, so that we can worship God freely. God will finish His work of conforming us perfectly to the image of His Son. Paul affirms this truth in his letter to the Philippians: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).


The book of Revelation says that 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, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We will no longer live in this strange reality of hating our sin and yet continuously stumbling into it. Every cell of our resurrected bodies will at last be able to give God the praise He deserves, in the fulfillment of God’s greatest commandment to His people: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). 


Those who come to Christ must come with nothing at all


We have seen that, among other realities, the one who is ready to receive Christ has been made to recognize his own spiritual poverty. The spiritually poor person knows that he is unable to earn salvation through his own righteous deeds. We have also seen that the one who is ready to receive Christ mourns over sin. The mourner disdains his own sin and wants to be washed clean, which results in a posture of repentance—a change of direction away from sin and toward God in faith.


Can you see your own spiritual poverty? Are you coming to God empty-handed for mercy? Are you putting your trust in Christ’s righteousness alone? If so, rejoice! You are spiritually poor, and you have been granted entrance into the kingdom of heaven—not because you deserve it, but because God is merciful.


Do you mourn over your sin? Do you see your sin as God sees it? Does your hatred for sin lead to true repentance? If so, rejoice! Your mourning will end in comfort, as God has promised. 


If these characteristics are yours and are increasing, nothing—neither politics, nor COVID-19, nor the Democrats, nor the Republicans, nor the stock market—can remove you from the promises of God, purchased for you graciously by His Son, Jesus Christ. 


“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

    nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him.”

— 1 Corinthians 2:9

Biography


Ben Zeisloft is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he studies Business Economics and Public Policy. He is the editor-in-chief of the UPenn Statesman, an independent newspaper devoted to free speech, as well an editor of the Penn Epistle, a student-led Christian magazine. Ben is a senior correspondent for Campus Reform. His work can also be found in The Daily Wire and Spectator USA.

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