Equipped for a mission-focused
Journey With Jesus

Sermon for January 29, 2023 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking of Life 5010 | The Who Question

If you read Psalm 15, you could easily say that no one would ever fit any of the descriptions when the psalmist collectively asks the question, who is worthy to be in the presence of God? No one is righteous enough. No one can always be kind and blameless. The only one who would fit the description is Jesus! He has always been in God’s presence as God’s very own Son. Through Christ, we learn to be righteous. Through Christ, we learn to be loving and kind. Through Christ, we can stand in God’s presence by the Spirit and experience the complete grace and glory of God our Father.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5010 | The Who Question
Heber Ticas

Psalm 15 seems to be obsessed with a “who” question. Namely, who can be in God’s presence? That’s a big question and the psalmist explores the answer with a series of “who” statements.

Remarkably, the Psalm is able to repeat some form of the word “who” thirteen times in only five verses. That’s a poetic feat for any person in my opinion.

See if you can count all the “who’s” as I read Psalm 15:

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
    Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
    who does what is righteous,
    who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
    who does no wrong to a neighbor,
    and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
    but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
    and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
    who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
    will never be shaken.
Psalm 15:1-5

Were you able to count all the “who’s?” Clearly, the writer of this psalm wants to answer the “who” question. But his answer does not give us any names of who can be in God’s presence. However, he does give us a lot of descriptions of the heart and character of the “who” in question.

When we read this psalm, we may wonder if we fit the “who” descriptions and qualify to be one who can be in God’s presence. If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we do not measure up to the psalmist’s descriptions. Unfortunately, the answer to the question of “who can be in God’s presence” would be, “Not me?”

However, that doesn’t answer the question of who can. We must read beyond this Psalm to find the ultimate answer to the “who” question. The only one who fits all the descriptions perfectly in this Psalm would be the person of Jesus Christ found in the Gospels. Like Psalm 15, the entire Bible is concerned about answering the question of “who?” Even Jesus asked us the same question when he asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

The answer to that question ends up being very good news for us who know we do not qualify to be in God’s presence. Jesus is the one who has always been in God’s presence as God’s very own Son. He has come as the answer to Psalm 15, standing in for us so we can stand in God’s presence by the Spirit, enjoying the Father as the Son does.

I’m glad the psalmist asked the who question. And more so, I’m glad the Father sent Jesus as the answer.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas. Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 15:1-5 • Micah 6:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 • Matthew 5:1-12

This week’s theme is the kingdom of heaven. The call to worship Psalm reflects on what is required to be in the presence of God. The Old Testament reading from Micah speaks of doing God’s will that involves justice, mercy, and humility. The text in Corinthians records Paul’s statement of the cross where God’s foolishness conquers man’s wisdom. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we have Jesus’ teachings on the blessings of the kingdom of heaven.

Rejoice and Be Glad

Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)

Today our epiphany will come, not from a story about Jesus, but by his words spoken to us. You have probably heard these words many times. They are the words known as the Beatitudes that begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Beatitudes come from a Latin word meaning “blessedness.” There are nine Beatitudes, or you can count them as eight seeing that the last two work in tandem. Whether you count them as eight or nine each one begins with the word “Blessed.”

Let’s begin:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them. (Matthew 5:1-2 NRSV)

Before we hear his teaching, let’s take stock of some literary context. Matthew chooses to use the narrative of Jesus’ life to make a comparison to Israel. For example, the story of Jesus being baptized and led into the wilderness for temptation would be recognized by Jewish readers as a connection to Israel being led through the Red Sea (baptism) and then 40 years in the wilderness (40 days in the wilderness for Jesus). This connection is established by the time we get to the Beatitudes where Jesus goes up on a mountainside to teach. This setting then can elicit the story of Moses going up on Mt. Sinai to receive the words of God on stone tablets. But now we have Jesus on the mountain and instead of receiving stone tablets to take down to the people, he brings the people up with him and teaches them from his own mouth. We have God himself teaching the people face to face. What he says to them and us is great news of encouragement.


It’s important to note here that this is not a list of commands that must be fulfilled in order to be blessed. To read each Beatitude in that way would make these words from Christ a burden too heavy to carry. Jesus is not giving us nine commands that must be met before his Father will bless us. In fact, we can see a reversal of sorts in Jesus’ teaching on a mountain compared to the story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

With Moses, we see God first telling the people who he is by saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Then God gives them the Ten Commandments. We see in that setting that God’s commandments are grounded in the indicative of who he is for them. In Exodus, we have God giving the one indicative of who he is and what he did for Israel followed by the proper response the people should have – the commandments. In other words, since God is the one who led them out of slavery, a proper response would be to serve this God instead of Pharaoh. The statement of fact has a corresponding response which can be presented as a commandment. The fact you are no longer in slavery carries a command to not live as if you are in slavery.

But, in Matthew’s arrangement of Jesus’ Beatitudes, when Jesus speaks to the people, he does not give them one indicative followed by ten commands. Instead, he begins with nine indicatives, or statements of fact, followed by one command. That command is again the proper response the people should have from knowing who God is and that he is for them. The command is simply, “rejoice and be glad.” So, as we look at each of the Beatitudes, remember that these are statements of reality that tell us something about God and the response is to rejoice and be glad.


Before we get to the first Beatitude, let’s take note of one more literary device. This section of Beatitudes is bracketed by the phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the author’s way of telling us that everything between these two statements is about the kingdom of God. Matthew uses the expression, “kingdom of heaven” instead of the equivalent “kingdom of God” to avoid sensitivities of using the word “God” to his Jewish readers. This, by the way, is Matthew’s central theme for his Gospel account that he established back in Matthew 4:17. So, we proceed knowing that Jesus is teaching us about the reality of the kingdom that he is bringing us into.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 NRSV)

If you have never read the Beatitudes, this statement of blessing may catch you off guard. Wait! What? How does being poor in spirit amount to being blessed? Jesus’ teaching will challenge the way the Kingdom and blessings are typically viewed. Each Beatitude indicates a lacking or longing, such as “poor in spirit,” “mourning,” “meekness,” and “hunger and thirst.” We usually view someone who is blessed as being full, not lacking anything. So, what is Jesus telling us by equating blessings with lacking or being empty?

To answer that, let’s remember that these statements of blessing are the indicatives (indicators, facts) of who the King is and the reality of this new kingdom. This is not a kingdom to be taken by force, but one that is to be received. The King of this kingdom is a gracious and generous king. As we will see, he wants to give abundantly—comfort, satisfaction, mercy, and the entire earth. This is a kingdom that is received by those who are no longer looking for their own fulfillment in their own self-made kingdoms. The Father does not command us to build the kingdom for him and then bring it to him for his approval. His kingdom is a kingdom of grace that can only be received in the gift of his own Son, Jesus Christ.

See if this analogy helps in understanding what Jesus is saying to us. If you were told that the King of the universe wants to give you a gift, how would you approach him? Well, it would depend on who you thought the King was, right? Is he the type of king that needs to be appeased with gifts and praise before he will give you anything? Or is he a generous king who loves his children and wants to give them all that he has. If he is a king who must be appeased, then you wouldn’t want to come empty-handed. However, if he is a king who desires to share all that he has, then you would want to come empty-handed. Meaning, you will want to come to him in a posture to receive. You would want to come longing to receive from him.

Here is another analogy. If this king offers you the best wine that flows in his kingdom, you will not want to come to him with a full cup or even a half full cup. You would want an empty cup that could be filled to the rim.

These analogies break down of course, as there is no comparison to what the Father gives us in his Son, Jesus. But the point is, we can’t receive what he is freely giving while we are grasping for something else. We must come to the point that we long for what the Father is giving more than we long for what we think we can give ourselves. And that is the blessing that accompanies these statements.

Each Beatitude is a posture of longing to receive what the Father generously gives. Our first Beatitude is the blessing that comes from being “poor in spirit.” Those who are poor in spirit realize their spiritual bankruptcy and are in a position to receive the “kingdom of heaven” which is found only in Jesus. When we continually fail our own attempts to establish our own kingdoms, when we quit trying to draw from an empty account of self-righteousness, when we come to the Father “poor in spirit,” we come to be blessed. We come with open hands and open hearts trusting that the Father is a generous Father who gives us his kingdom.

We can see this same posture to receive from the Father in each of the remaining Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NRSV)

Those who mourn know they are powerless to bring back that which has been lost. They are comforted by Christ whose redemptive reign will come to fullness in his kingdom. Mourning has a preparatory effect. For example, the season of mourning for those who lose a loved one prepares them to enter the next stage of life. Mourning the loss that comes to us because of sin and the brokenness of our world prepares us to receive the new creation the Father gives. We can mourn in hope knowing that we will be comforted by the reign of God.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5 NRSV)

Psalm 37 serves as the background for this Beatitude:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.  For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity. (Psalm 37:8-11 NRSV)

This psalm depicts the faithful who lose their land to wicked wealthy elites. The psalm is encouragement that the wicked ultimately will lose their power and the faithful will have their land restored. In Matthew’s context, Christians lived under the tyranny of the Roman government that gained control of the promised land. The meek in Matthew’s use are those who trust and wait for the Lord to deal with wickedness while living in the expectation of the Lord’s restoration. By Jesus saying they will inherit the earth, he is saying that nothing lost will remain lost forever. Meekness is a posture of receiving all that the Lord restores and redeems in his resurrected life.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6 NRSV)

Hunger and thirst bring us to the table of the Lord. This hunger and thirst for righteousness comes to those who have turned from feasting on self-righteousness, parading around as full and satisfied with their own pronouncements of piety and goodness. There is a cosmic wedding banquet that awaits those who seek to be filled with the Lord’s righteousness which is served by grace. Feasting on self-acquired “righteousness” only leaves us bloated and miserable. Being “filled” with the Lord’s righteousness is a fullness that brings satisfaction and joy.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NRSV)

Mercy is an act of hope in a relationship. When we refuse to show mercy, we have given up on a relationship where we have been offended or hurt. We do not have any hope of change or transformation in the other person, so we hold to our rights and demand payment for their sins against us. In short, we do not extend mercy. But it is a blessing to be merciful because that is the posture of releasing the other person and us to the Lord who is merciful to us. We are blessed when we can let go of our demands on others who have hurt us and live in the hope of Jesus’ restorative work in all our relationships. Ultimately, this blessing comes when we see ourselves, along with everyone else, as equal at the foot of the cross; all are in need of mercy that is freely given in Christ. From this posture, we can receive mercy for ourselves enabling us to be merciful to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8 NRSV)

Jewish thought holds the heart as the central point of one’s thoughts, emotions, and will. To be pure in heart is to have no division between the three. Pure in heart is to have integrity. Our entire being would be consistent throughout with no internal conflict. The blessing of this purity is seeing God. In other words, God is connected to everything in our lives. Whatever comes our way, we can see God working in it for his good purposes toward us. Even when encountered by the things we don’t understand, or circumstances that create crisis, we can see God intimately involved in all of it. In this way, all of our thoughts, emotions, and will finds its purity, its wholeness, in relation to God and his work in us. We do not have to be torn between how we relate and respond to others or circumstances around us. There is immense blessing in seeing God in the middle of all our interactions and circumstances, setting us free from trying to manipulate and maneuver all that comes to us to serve ourselves. To see God as central in it all gives our lives focus and freedom. We never have to be torn apart in reaction to anything that appears to threaten us. When we see God in it, there is no cause for fear, regardless of what comes our way.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NRSV)

To be a peacemaker is to first have a longing for peace and then to work towards it. This is very hard work, as you might imagine. And the Jewish understanding of peace was rich and deep. Peace wasn’t just a cease-fire, but it was a harmony in all relationships that were committed to the good of the other, individually and between nations. This is what the Father is up to. He is bringing his peace, or shalom as the Jews called it. This is why he sent his Son. So, the blessing of being a peacemaker is being a child of God, one who participates in what he sees his heavenly Father doing in all their relationships. From their true identity, peacemakers don’t settle for cease-fires or just seek to avoid conflict. Rather, they work towards the good purposes of the Father who seeks to establish a peace that entails active reconciliation that removes all hate and bitterness. Conflict is not avoided, it is replaced. This takes hard work, but there is blessing in it as we know we are about our Father’s business, which will ultimately succeed in the end.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10 NRSV)

This may be a hard blessing to see. How does being persecuted amount to being blessed. That seems like the opposite of being blessed. But remember, Jesus is talking about his kingdom. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. In fact, we can expect the kingdoms of this world to continue to oppose and try to destroy Jesus’ kingdom wherever it is breaking in. So, just as Jesus was persecuted, so will his followers be. This means that when we are persecuted for Jesus’ kingdom of righteousness, it is a sign that we do indeed belong to the “kingdom of heaven.” Instead of seeing our persecutions as signs of failure or abandonment, we can rightly interpret them as signs of belonging to the only kingdom that will stand forever.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11 NRSV)

Now Jesus will turn his address directly to his disciples as indicated by the switch from third person to second person. “Blessed are you…” As believers, Jesus is now addressing you as his disciples. He is still talking about the blessing of persecution, but he wants to target his words more pointedly to his followers. He knows we will need to hear this pronouncement of blessing again and again in our lives. As the Body of Christ on this earth, we will encounter resistance to following him.

So, these Beatitudes end with Jesus stressing twice that entering this kingdom will come with persecution. Since the Kingdom is not fully realized in this world of darkness, there will be resistance to it. As we experience persecution for participating with Jesus, we can count it as blessing as it shows us that we are indeed receiving and entering that kingdom. As a zombie only attacks the living, so persecution for the Kingdom tells us we have truly entered life.

Before we close out the Beatitudes, it is important to remember who is teaching us. It is Jesus himself. This is not a teaching from a local rabbi or a regular Jewish leader. This is the Son of God who came to us to establish his kingdom. And he has done just that. His kingdom is already established and will one day be fully realized. As we look at the Beatitudes, we ultimately see that it is Jesus who is the blessed one. He came to us poor in spirit, in all meekness and mercy. Though he was God, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7, he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself.” Jesus’ whole life was lived in the Spirit. He lived a life of receiving, not grasping. He only did what he saw his Father do. This is the only kingdom that God offers. All other kingdoms are being torn down. As we participate in Jesus’ Beatitudes, we too receive the blessings of this kingdom that is.

Now that Jesus has laid out all these indicatives – these statement of facts on the blessings we have in him – he concludes by giving us one command: rejoice and be glad!

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12 NRSV)

When Jesus was talking about persecution, he emphasized a type of persecution that comes from what people say with their words. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Now he goes on to say that we can look to the past where the prophets were treated the same, and we can look to the future where we find our reward. Our present circumstances are not understood by the persecuting words of those who are presently not receiving the Kingdom. But it is Jesus, the Word of God who has the final word on our being. As Jesus speaks to us from the mountain with the encouraging words that we are blessed in him, may we respond with the only command Jesus gives as our response to this amazingly good news. “Rejoice and be glad!” And why wouldn’t we, seeing how blessed we indeed are.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • The video claimed that the entire Bible is concerned with the “who” question. How does this frame how we read the Bible?
  • How does reading Psalm 15 affect you as you read about the description of one who “qualifies” to be in God’s presence?
  • How does Psalm 15 affect you when you know Jesus is the answer to its “who” question?

From the Sermon

  • Have you ever read the Beatitudes as a list of commands? What difference does it make to see them as indicatives (statements of facts), regarding being blessed rather than commands to meet in order to be blessed?
  • The sermon referred to the Beatitudes as a posture of longing to receive what the Father gives. What does this mean for you?
  • Which Beatitude spoke to you the most from the sermon?
  • According to the sermon, discuss how being persecuted for the Kingdom is a blessing.
  • Jesus gives us one command to “Rejoice and be glad.” Reflecting on the sermon, share anything from Jesus’ words that enable you to rejoice and be glad about today.

Leave a Reply

© Copyright 2024 Grace Communion International

GCI Equipper Privacy Policy