The kingdom was the message Jesus came to give the world. Some might be inclined to disagree, and to say that it was the gospel that Jesus brought to the world, but Matthew tells us that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23, ESV; see also 9:35). The gospel of Jesus was defined by the kingdom, belonged to the kingdom, was “of the kingdom.” The good news that Jesus proclaimed was that the kingdom was at hand.
Jesus wove this good news of the kingdom into everything that He taught. Many of His parables were illustrative descriptions of the kingdom (see Matthew 13). He talked about who would and would not enter the kingdom. He promised the coming of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus talked about the kingdom more than He talked about “salvation” and being “saved.” He talked about the kingdom more than the “church.” More intriguing, He talked about the kingdom more than “faith,” more than “hope,” and even more than “love.”
The message did not change when Jesus left this earth. Prior to the Great Commission, He made an incredible prediction: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations…” (Matthew 24:14, ESV). The gospel of the kingdom was not just Jesus’ message, it was the good news that He entrusted to His apostles, the message that they were to take to the whole world. It is the message recorded in the sermons in the book of Acts (e.g., 2:36 where Peter says that Jesus was made “Lord;” see also 8:12; 14:22, etc.). It is the basis of Paul’s exhortations and encouragements throughout his wonderful letters (cf. Romans 14:17; 1Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:24, etc.). It is the background and conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews (cf. 1:8 and 12:28). It is the grounds for James’ practical instructions (cf. James 2:5). It is the motivation Peter supplies to encourage his readers to “declare the excellencies” of God (1Peter 2:9). It is the reason that the intriguing and inspiring Revelation was written (cf. 1:5-6,9; 5:10; 11:15, etc.). The message of the kingdom is the message of Christianity—the message of Christ for the world today.
And the Sermon on the Mount cannot be understood unless it is set in a kingdom framework. We must read the Sermon through kingdom-colored glasses.
A quick survey of history is all that it takes to show that patriotism has always been considered a virtue. Treason is a capital offense. Proper respect must be shown to the ruler or the flag or to other symbols of the nation. “Ask not what your country can do for you…”
The reason patriotism is fostered and encouraged is because patriotism wins wars and builds nations. Convince the people that they ought to sacrifice and fight for their nation and you have the makings of a victorious military campaign or a strong economy. Men and women who have no idea why will give their time, money, and lives for their country. Germans fought because they were German and the British fought because they were British. Patriotism is a strong motivator.
Now, change the word “patriotism” to “loyalty,” and we begin to get a sense of how the Sermon on the Mount relates to the kingdom. Jesus, the King, is asking us to sacrifice, to submit to His rule, and to take part in His spiritual campaign to conquer the world. Jesus says, in the Sermon, “blessed are those who are persecuted…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” “seek first the kingdom of God,” and “the one who does the will of my Father” will enter the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus means is that we must be loyal. We must be loyal because patriotism wins wars—and there is an unseen war raging all around us.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us that patriotism is, indeed, a virtue, but only if the kingdom to which we are loyal is a virtuous kingdom. Many kings, dictators, and presidents have claimed to know how to bring peace and prosperity to their country, or even the world. Many nations have set out in arms in the name of conquering evil. So far, none have succeeded, and all have succumbed to corruption and decay. The only kingdom that is truly virtuous and righteous is God’s. Only He has the good of all mankind at heart. Only He has the wisdom to plan for it. Only He has the power to carry it out. Only our “heavenly Father is perfect.” Knowing this, why would we be patriots of any nation or kingdom but God’s?
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us more. Patriotism is not simply an attitude to be adopted, or an emotion that causes us to stand and remove our hats. The virtue of patriotism is action. Jesus’ brother once wrote the same thing when he said, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17, NIV). Patriots serve. Patriots fight. Patriots are courageous in battle. What the Sermon teaches us about patriotism that is truly amazing is how to be patriotic. “Do not worry,” Jesus says, because you must trust the King. “Let your light shine,” because the world needs to be won. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them,” because you serve to please the King. Line by line, subject by subject, Christ reveals the specific, practical will of God for our lives—and then He demands that we follow it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
But, the Sermon on the Mount is not a monotonous list of rules. It is a recruiting speech. It is a call to action. It is William Wallace inspiring his weary, outnumbered troops to fight for their freedom. It is Jesus sending us into battle for the sake of the kingdom.
Is it demanding, dangerous, and potentially deadly? Absolutely, but every worthwhile cause is—and, the kingdom of heaven is the most worthwhile cause we will ever know.