When Jesus told the fishermen to come follow him, he meant it literally. Matthew writes that after he calls his first disciples, he takes them all throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues. Jesus was on the move.
While traveling around, Jesus’ reputation begins to spread all over Syria. Large numbers of people are beginning to follow him. He leads them from Galilee to the ten major Greek cities off the eastern shore of this massive lake. People are coming all the way from Jerusalem and all over Judea, even from the region across the Jordan River.
People come to him who are hurting. Oppressed by the evils of this world with nowhere else to go they need something—someone—beyond anything they’d ever known or even imagined possible. The world has never been in any shortage of people in despair, people who have no hope, because this world gives nothing for them to hope in. Have you ever been in a place where you just had no hope? Have you ever been hurting so badly that there was no conceivable way out?
From one place to another, Jesus heals the people of diseases, those in pain, paralyzed, possessed by demons. He confronts it all—the whole situation—head on and doesn’t shy away from it—the same boldness we saw as he faced Satan himself in the wilderness.
Jesus puts words to his actions
After all that he’s done in this massive region, after his fame has spread and his miraculous works are known, Jesus decides to put words to his actions. Looking at the crowds as they follow him, he goes up onto a mountain and sits down, and his disciples surround him. He begins to teach them about all he’s been doing. He tells them, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And then he continues by telling them what that means. He says,
“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.”
At the very end, Jesus goes even further. He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake—ending the same way he began—theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
He’s describing to them all that he’s been doing—what’s been happening—the meaning of his healing illnesses and casting out demons. The poor in spirit are now receiving a blessing beyond measure. He came for those mourning life in this world, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who long for peace, those who would do anything for righteousness in this broken world.
Jesus brings the Kingdom
As the section of text before this states, Jesus comes as a bright light amid the very same void—the darkness that those hurting in this world face, and he brings with him something so profound it would turn the world on its head. As Jesus comes and encounters those who are in desperate need of God’s presence, he walks among them and brings to them—offers to them—the Kingdom of Heaven itself. That’s what he’s preaching to the people. In his healing, in his restoring, in his casting out demons—ridding this world of evil—Jesus is bringing about a whole new level of existence that nobody had ever thought possible. It’s an existence that—prior to Jesus—only a small handful of people had ever seen.
Jesus reveals it to them, makes it known to them, embodies it in his own life, and transfers that life to them—transfers the power of the Kingdom. Those who’ve encountered Jesus—no matter status or perception—are blessed. They are the beginning of the transformation that he brings. This is a proleptic act—one that he will bring to completion on the day of his return and restoration—but it’s already begun!
Jesus brings the Kingdom to us
After he tells them about the blessing that they’ve witnessed in their own towns, Jesus then addresses his disciples directly around him saying, “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.”
Jesus came to turn the world upside down, and the world still stands contrary to him, resisting his presence—we see it in his own cross. As the world persecuted Jesus, it will come after anyone who declares his name. Still, Jesus makes a promise. He says that even when you’re persecuted because of him, his presence is still a blessing. After all they had seen up to this point—Jesus doing amazing things in the lives of those who are hurting—Jesus’ own disciples stand as witnesses, and in their witness they too are blessed no matter what happens. It’s better to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven and rejected by the world than stand with the world and reject the Kingdom.
The resurrection of Jesus shows that the Kingdom of Heaven has the final word—that the light that Jesus brings is more powerful than the darkness. Even in persecution, the Kingdom of Heaven is an unstoppable force. As he lives and reigns as king over all of creation itself, Jesus brings his Kingdom to each of us that we might bear witness to what he’s done. He brings it into our own dark, sinful lives and overcomes us with his light, his love, his forgiveness. His graciousness is beyond anything that we ever could have imagined possible. Let us receive it with joy, bear witness, and proclaim him.