The Beatitudes as Gospel: The Manner of Jesus’ Teaching

Dallas Willard Part 4 of 9

This is one of Dallas’s most famous series on the kingdom of God, at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He works historically but eventually works through the Sermon on the Mount and eventually speaks on themes of ministry, discipleship and disciplines.

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Dallas: We are speaking in this series about what Jesus believed and taught and lived. My effort is to try to bring forth before us, in as simple a way as possible, simply what He said and what He meant by it.

I believe that the mission of the church and the opportunity of everyone who lives in a place where they can get access to the church is to learn what Jesus taught, to teach it as He taught it. You may think that’s sort of obvious and that’s what we are already doing. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be simply true in that way. I’m not trying to scold or correct anyone, but rather I want to try to just simply take the positive side and spend our time looking at the words of Jesus and the actions of Jesus. [1:15[1]]

Now, thus far, I’ve tried to do two things. One is I’ve tried to turn you to look at the central, thematic statement of Jesus and of His followers which is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17, NASB) And I’ve tried to make that as clear as possible to what it meant. I have emphasized some aspects of it, which are different from what you may have ordinarily heard, and I have omitted to emphasize some things, which you may be very familiar with.

For example, often when we speak of repentance, we are told—and perhaps it’s all that we are told—that we are supposed to be sorry for our sins and promise to quit. Right? Something like that—we are supposed to be sorry for our sins and promise to quit. Certainly, that’s true. But the point that I have tried to emphasize is that repent is a special word that lays emphasis upon the role of the mind. So, I have paraphrased that word to you as “think it out again.” Think out your strategy for living again in the light of this fact that the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of Heaven is now available, and you have the opportunity to turn and walk right into it. [2:40]

Now, that’s what Jesus announced. It’s crazy. Just walk in? You mean I don’t have to do anything? No, you don’t have to do anything. You just walk, you just accept it, and the tender tentacle of trust in the reality of that Kingdom as it is extended makes contact with the massive infinite power of God and everything moves on from there.

That’s why Jesus taught, “Seek in the first place the rule of God.” That’s what He said. We sing that song, right? [Dallas sings,] “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” You know that song? After I sang it? [Laughter] Then you know it pretty well. But what Jesus was saying is that’s the first thing. Seek to live under the rule of God where the sparrows live. Just come. Just enter. [4:00]

Now, that was so strange that it was looked upon as violence and those who thought they were already in possession of the Kingdom of Heaven because you see, what constantly happens—and has happened over and over—is that people who have been brought in touch with the covenant people of God through the Word, have insensibly tended to co-op the Kingdom and re-direct it so that they would have control of it. And you can’t do that. You can’t do that! [4:43]

The history of Israel is the history of the people who probably had the best shot at doing it—trying to do it and failing. God is King. Christ is King. In relationship to the church, it is Christ who is the head of the church. And the thing that we as people who teach and lead in the church have to constantly ask ourselves—I know that many of you are in that category; you have roles of responsibility—is how do we operationally define the Lordship of Christ in our ministry? And that’s true whether your ministry is a family or whatever it may be. How do I operationally define the Lordship of Christ, because, you see, when we talk about the Lordship of Christ, we are talking about the presence of the Kingdom.

And all sorts of strange things are done with these teachings of Jesus; for example, the one I just referred to in Matthew 11 where we are told that from the time of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven is preached, and violent men try to take it. So you have people who will rise up and say, “Well, lets get our AK-47s and Uzi submachine guns and go take it.” Let’s use violence to take it. They’ve totally overlooked the fact that Jesus is referring to something that was already happening—the woods was not full of people with AK-47s going around taking the Kingdom. [6:34]

There were some people in Israel, usually known or referred to as zealots. They thought Jesus message sounded real good to them and they couldn’t wait until Jesus began to use His power to make guns and bombs, in our terminology, instead of loaves and fishes.

They wanted to make Jesus King so that He could step into the pattern that they had defined. That pattern was always one of human power that followed the disciples with Jesus throughout His life even to the point of His being taken back into Heaven. They were still asking on the day when they walked out to the mount where He would be taken out—they were still asking, “Are you gonna do it now, Lord? Are you going to do it now?”

We have not understood the power of God, the availability of God, the presence of God in human life in such a way that we can trust it. So, we want to have it deposited in our hands. We want to be told that we can use it because we can trust who? [7:59]

Now, there are many problems that arise. Jesus announced the Kingdom to create the faith, which would bring that little tentacle of trust toward the Kingdom to make the contact with the reality of it and begin to grow in it. He preached that word. He went about teaching what the Kingdom was like. And really, our task is to begin to look at what He taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. What did He say it was like? We are going to primarily focus on The Beatitudes. But let’s lead into it just by looking at some of the things that Jesus said and some of the things that are said in the New Testament about His own ministry. [8:51]

First of all, we notice as we look into the Gospels and in your sheet, I have referred specifically here to chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Luke. We notice the presence of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. Now, of course, He was conceived with the Spirit. There was a constant presence of the Spirit in His life obviously as a young person. You will see signs of that. He grew in Spirit—His amazing knowledge when he was twelve years old in the temple and so on.

So, it isn’t as if the Spirit of God had nothing to do with Jesus in His developing years. Rather, it is that when He came into His own ministry, at His baptism, that the Spirit manifested Himself in Jesus’ life. Let’s just now look at a few of verses here in Luke. [9:47]

At His baptism when He came in or was preparing to come into His own ministry, there was a special manifestation that came upon Him. In that manifestation, He was recognized by John the Baptist. Then John the Baptist announced Him because of the presence of the Holy Ghost on Him.

Let’s look at Luke 3:21 and following: “Now, when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that, Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened.” (KJV) [Mark 1:10, “he saw the heavens opened”] Now, in the Scriptures when we are reading along, we need to stop and say, “What did that mean?” Because we can just skate right along., “Well, yes of course, the Heavens were opened obviously,” and go right on. [Laughter] [10:41]

What do you suppose that meant—“the Heavens were opened?” What was the Gospel? The Gospel was the Kingdom of what? Heaven. “The Heavens were opened” and what happened? “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. (Luke 3:22, KJV)

That was a manifestation now of the rule of Heaven coming upon Jesus. You have to think about what you are going to understand by Spirit. Spirit. You have to have some working understanding of these terms or the message will not come over. I suggest that you probably think of Spirit as disembodied personal power—disembodied personal power. [11:45]

A kingdom is a domain of persons, isn’t it? That’s what a kingdom is. A kingdom is not a piece of land. A kingdom is a group of persons, and in that group of persons, you see arrangements of allegiance and help and order. You have the allegiance or faith in the one who is governing. You have the help and instruction and guidance on the part of the one who is coming back from the one who is governing down to those who have allegiance and faith in them. A kingdom is a domain of persons.

When the Heavens opened, what was done was there was a point, a way of complete contact now, established between Jesus and this domain of persons.

Remember when He was about to be crucified and Peter got excited and started whacking around with a sword. [John 18:10.] It’s a wonder he didn’t hurt himself. [Laughter] Jesus said, “Put it up. Don’t you know that I could just call and I’d have twelve legions of angels.” [Matthew 26:53[2]] Well, where were all those angels all of the time? They were right there. They were right there. See. [13:14]

Now, I said last time that in terms of number or substance, the Kingdom of Heaven mainly consists of angels. It mainly consists of angels. If you look at Nehemiah 9 for just a moment, you get a picture of God and the Heavens. [13:44]

These instructions were given to the priest in verse 5 of Nehemiah 9.

“Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. Thou, even thou, art Lord alone: thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, and all their hosts.” (Nehemiah 9:5–6, KJV) “All their hosts.” Now, if you had time to read the sheet from last time and study the verses, you have studied this. And you have studied passages in the Psalms where Jehovah is known as the Lord of Host. Right? [14:25]

These hosts are angels. “the earth and all things that are in the earth . . . the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.” (Nehemiah 9:6, KJV) And then he goes on to the covenant relationship that God established with His people.

So Jesus, now in His baptism comes to the moment where He enters His ministry of the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t know—you who are ministers—how you think of yourself as ministering. But my understanding is that I am supposed to minister the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what I am supposed to minster. I’m not supposed to minister my smarts, nor my education or my good looks, great though they be [Laughter], or anything else you might want to mention. I am not supposed to minister that. I am supposed to minister what I receive from the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m supposed to give that to you. And when I come here to stand up and talk to you, I am depending upon that Kingdom to provide to you the word of the Kingdom. That’s what was sowed by the sower? The sower sowed the what? The word. The sower sowed the word. What word?—the word of the Kingdom—the word of the Kingdom. [15:51]

Now, I’ll quickly move along here. Luke 4:1–2 states, “Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And there in the wilderness for forty days, he prepared for His temptation by fasting and solitude.” [16:10]

See, the wilderness—I used to think that the wilderness was the place where you went out and you sort of laid around on the rocks among the snakes and the cactuses and all that sort of thing and suffered. But the wilderness is the place where you get strong to meet temptation. It takes a lot of different forms. You remember when Jesus was with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “Watch and pray. Watch and pray that you fall not into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41) They didn’t do it and they fell into temptation. Right? Watching and praying—that’s what Jesus was doing in the wilderness. He was watching and praying. [16:54]

Now, we can preach several sermons on watching. What is your view of watching? You might want to look into that. That’s one of the things that the Scripture tells us to do—watch. How do you watch? You wait upon the Lord. Jesus did that, and when the temptation came, He was ready.

Now then, look at Luke 4:14—“And Jesus returned . . .” How? How did He return? After—“in the power of the Spirit.” What’s the Spirit? The Spirit is the personal presence and reality of God’s rule. [17:34]

Comment: Can you say that again?

Dallas: I said the Spirit is personal presence and reality of God’s rule. That’s all it is. We need to talk about the Spirit because you know, this has been one of those things that we’ve just been torn and scattered over—the Spirit. [17:51]

For example, you have this teaching that there is this one group that’s called Charismatic Christians and then there’s what? The other—non-Charismatics. Right? Now, there is no such thing as a non-Charismatic Christian. That is what some people call oxymorons. [Laughter] It’s an oxymoron because, once you know the meaning of Christian, you know that they can’t be non-charismatic. [18:12]

What has happened is that [the church has] been cut up and divided in certain ways. And historically there have been certain divisions that have paralyzed us.

You have to ask yourself—is there moving in your life, the personal presence and power of God’s rule? In Romans 8, Paul says, “As many as are moved or led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) Now, I’m going to count on what we’ve already said about Abraham and Isaac and other things that are in the sheet that I wish I had time to go over. [18:57]

The Book of Daniel is a wonderful treatise. What happens in the Book of Daniel and in the Book of Nehemiah and the Book of Ezra is people rediscover that God is really there! They get their eyes off the nation of Israel because, where is it now? They get their eyes off of the temple because where is it now? And there is nothing left but God—nothing left but God—and they learn that God is there. For His covenant people, He is there. In Daniel 3:15–16, those “three Hebrew children”—we call them—were challenged, “Bow down to the idol or die.” They said, “We don’t have to stop and think about this, Oh King.” I think the old version says, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.”(Daniel 3:16, KJV) “We don’t have to stop and think about this. Our God can deliver us and if He doesn’t, that’s okay too.”[19:55]

And so they throw them in and you know the story—the old King, he’s looking and says, “Say, we threw in three and there is four in there and one that looks like a Son of Man—like another person in there.” (Daniel 3:25–25) That’s what I call “furnace faith” [Laugher] and furnace faith, furnace faith you see is the faith that God is in the furnace. God is in the furnace.

Jesus returns [from the wilderness] and He is led by the Spirit. He returns from His baptism, and He begins to teach. He goes into His home town church—Luke 4:16—“ . . . and He stood up”—which was their way of saying, “I would like to read the Scripture”—and they brought Him Isaiah the prophet. He rolled it open to Isaiah 61 and He read these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me . . .” (Luke 4:18) That’s what charismata is about. That’s what Christian is about. That’s what Messiah is about. It is about anointing. [21:05]

Now anointing with what? Anointing with the rule of Heaven. That’s what the anointing is. It is with the rule of Heaven. See, if you aren’t careful, you can turn the Spirit into something you can almost buy in a jar at the right church and put it on you, like an ointment—a topical cream or something like that.

The Spirit isn’t that kind of thing. The Spirit is a person. The Spirit is a person. And now remember these words from John 4:24—“God is Spirit. And He seeks for those who will worship Him in spirit.” And if you worship in spirit, you will worship in truth because you don’t hide in spirit. . . . “He seeketh [those who will] worship Him in Spirit and truth.” Conversely, if you don’t worship in Spirit, you are going to worship in your own strength and ability. That means you are going to be in control and guess what? There is going to be very little truth in it. [22:21]

Now, look at what Jesus was anointed to do: “preach the gospel to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) Guess what it was? You are gonna to make a million! [Laughter] It wasn’t that, was it? The Gospel of the poor is, you don’t need a million. [Laughter] Hmmm? “He sent me to heal those with broken hearts and to preach deliverance to those who are in bondage, recovering of sight for those who are blind, and to set at liberty those that are wounded and bruised, and to preach that now the Lord is accepting people—to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18–19)

You know these places, you drive down the street, and it says, “Workers wanted.” They are announcing that they are accepting applicants. And that’s when Jesus came in. His message to announce was “the Lord is now taking people in.” He is now taking people in. This is the time or as that great verse in Mark says, “The time is fulfilled.” (Mark 1:15) The time is fulfilled. We are not waiting on anything. We are not waiting to be funded by the government. We are not waiting for a new patent to develop. Now it’s time. Now, it’s time, and that’s what Jesus came to announce. That’s what He came to teach and of course, the announcement is there to begin to pull people out. But then immediately, the teaching has to begin. [24:28]

We need this morning now to spend the rest of our time just talking about what Jesus taught and how He taught it. I have to say that unless you understand how Jesus taught, you will never understand what He taught. A great deal of our problem comes from a wrong model of Jesus’ teaching—the model which ties in with legalism, our own projects of managing righteousness, and so on.

Jesus did not teach with what we might call engineering generalizations. If you go to an engineering school, and you are learning how to build bridges or bombs or something of that sort, you want generalizations about how it is. You want them to be laid right [in front of] you, so that when you come out you know it. You want that teacher to just start at the beginning and go to the end. So you will sit there like a bucket and just receive it. [25:27]

I heard a linguist at USC talking the other day—a fascinating thing. He said the only place in the world where human beings want their teachers to do that to them is western Europe and the United States. In every other culture, the worst thing you can do is to treat another human being in that way, where you are just going to set them down, and you are going to tell them exactly the way it is. You don’t want any questions and you don’t want any contribution on their part. It really is true that in most cultures, if you are going to communicate. What you will not do is look people in the eye and say, “Here’s the way it is.” I think actually, it is deeply offensive to people to treat them in that way. Probably the place we learn it is in schools where we take exams. We want the teacher to tell us the way it is, so that if we don’t get it right, we can go back and blame them, because we are in a judgment system about whose got it right. [26:42]

And so, we are used to a model of teaching, which just lays it up. Now, Jesus does not teach that way. There are very few things in Jesus’ teaching that are of that sort. When you get down to His question about what are the two great commandments or what is the greatest commandment about love to God and love to neighbor, that fits the pattern if you wish an engineering generalization. But it will not help you without some information that calls you forth and allows you to make a union with that principle of love, understanding what it means in terms of your particular life.

Jesus taught in such a way as to help us come to that place. He taught in such a way that we would have the responsibility of opening ourselves and seeking the truth and looking for more and hunting for truth. By the time we got it, we might be able to stand it. [Laughter] [27:48]

A primary problem with the engineering type mentality—by the way, I am not coming down on engineers; it’s a perfectly decent sort of trade [Laughter] and we do need to know how to make buildings that will stand up and bombs that will go off and things of that sort—is the nature of the truth and how it’s communicated. That is important for us to understand here. Jesus comes to us in such a way that we are allowed to grow into the truth of the Kingdom.

When you first hear the truth of the Kingdom, it’s just like Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower. You have four groups of people. He splits them up, and only one group is really ready to go on into it.

Now, you know, many people get hung up on the parable because they are the ones who wound up in the first group, for example. To start with, they just heard [the word of the Kingdom] and Satan called it away, and they didn’t think about it anymore. They think, “Oh, that’s me for life.” No, no, no! Jesus was not saying that whatever you do at one time when the sowing is being done, you do it every time. He’s just saying when the sower goes out to sow; there are different kinds of reactions to the Word depending on the condition of the heart. He didn’t say the heart never changes. [29:09]

But [the sower] sows the Word and people respond in all kinds of ways, including the one I mentioned awhile ago. You know, let’s go get our Uzi submachine guns and take over, in the name of Jesus. God needs a little help here and let’s give it to Him as strongly as we can. You get all kinds of reaction. So, we need a teaching which will take us where we are and lead us out.

I want to just tell you that that is why Jesus teaches the way He does. Now, you can decide for yourself if you are, for example, a teacher in your own right, whether or not you ought to adopt His method with your students or with your children or with your mate or whatever. But Jesus had something very clear in mind ,and He tells us in Matthew 13:10–17 why He teaches in parables. And now, just understand that [teaching by parables] is referring to the general way of teaching that Jesus had; rather than this sort of telling you the way it is, and now you can accept it and go build your bridge. [30:13]

He tells us in Matthew 13 because they asked him, “Why don’t you just tell us the way it is?” (verse 10) “Why do you speak in parables?” And He said, “Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given.” (verse 11) Then He goes on to explain that, “For whosoever hath, more shall be given.” (Matthew 13:12) So why was it given to them to know? Because they already had something. What do you do with the ones who don’t have anything? Do you just do nothing? Did Jesus ignore them? No, He didn’t, did He? He taught them. How did He teach them? He taught them in parables. He taught them in paradoxes. He taught them in ways which would allow them to have something that they could keep working on without getting into a confrontational struggle. [31:12]

One of the things that will happen if you come right up to people and tell them how it is, they will stiffen up inside, and they will say, “Well, let’s get into a struggle here about who’s right now, okay?” But suppose you tell them a story? You tell them a story about a prodigal son. You tell them a story about a man who had two sons and he said to them both, “Go work in the vineyard and one said, “Sure, Dad,” and took off for the pool hall. And the other one said, “No way!” And he took off to the pool hall, too, but halfway down the road, he turned around and said, “Nah, you know, I’d better do this!” Right?

So then Jesus said to the people there, “Which one did the will of the Father?” How can you argue with that? What do you say? No, it ain’t so! You don’t say that. You think about it, don’t you? [32:09]

Now suppose, he had said instead, “Listen, you Jewish people in the nation of Israel. You know what you’ve done. You said to God, ‘I’m going and you went to the pool hall,’” because that’s the way they were, weren’t they? I mean, their mouths talked a lot about God but their heart went to the pool hall. [Hmmmm?] [32:30]

He told them a story. You see, Jesus taught in parables and paradoxes so that people would be given something to chew on—something, which they couldn’t exactly spit out because their hearts were hard as He says in this passage. Now read on, their hearts were hard, and a hard heart, you cannot break. God has so ordained that He Himself will not break a hard heart by a frontal attack. He will not do it. [33:06]

That’s why it is easier, for example, for you to pray for many things than it is to pray for someone who is in rebellion, because God has placed in the hands of every individual soul the key to their own heart. It only unlocks from inside. And if you want to get the door open, you have to get something over in there that will help them unlock it, and that’s why Jesus taught the way He did.

He taught the way He did because people—He knew many people did not want to understand and as He says here in Matthew 13:15 (KJV), “this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing” That is fat. They had fat hearts. [34:01]

By the way, circumcision among the Jews stood primarily for a tender heart. It was a symbol of tenderness in its very nature as circumcision, but it referred to a tender heart.

“This people’s heart has waxed gross,” fat; “their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed” Note: they have closed [their eyes] and the reason they closed them is they did not want to change. That’s what the rest of the verse says. They didn’t want to change. So Jesus teaches now in such . . . why didn’t they want to change? Many of them were scared to death. Basically, that’s the condition of people. I mean, if you look at human beings generally, you will see apart from Christ, they are dominated by the two motives of fear and pride—fear and pride—and maybe in some cases, fear outruns pride; and others, pride outruns fear. [34:58]

Basically, it’s fear and pride, and fear and pride, of course, make you not want to change. Fear, because you fear if you change, it will be worse; and pride, because who wants to admit they were wrong?

And so Jesus teaches now in a special way, and you must understand that when you approach His teaching. He teaches in such a way that He can leave something in the heart—it’s kind of like tiny time capsules that just sit there and they go off when you are not looking—timely. And they slip up on you when your guard is down. Perhaps, at some point, you are ready then to hear the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. [35:56]

Now, one of the things that Jesus uses constantly is the prevailing general assumptions.When He teaches, if you will look, you will normally find a prevailing general assumption that He is contradicting.

Look at Luke 14. Here are two stories and both of them beautifully illustrate the principle of Jesus’ teaching by reference to prevailing assumptions. He’s at this Pharisee’s house and they are having dinner. It’s a good occasion. You have a lot of company there and He notices that people are jockeying for the good seats: jockeying for the good seats—pride. They want to be at the good seats. [37:05]

And so, He says, ”When you are bidden to a wedding or a feast, don’t sit down in the highest seat, less the more honorable man than you be bidden; and he comes in and says, ‘you get up and give this man your seat.’ ” (Luke 14:8–9) What shame! What humiliation! What mortification! “When you are bidden, go sit in the lowest room. And then when the fellow that invited you comes in, he will say, ‘Where is so and so? What are you doing back there? You come right up here and sit by me!’ ” (Luke 14:10) And then, I love the old version, “then thou shalt have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with you.” (KJV) They will say, “Wow! That’s an important person.” [38:18]

Now, can you believe that Jesus was seriously concerned about people thinking you were important? Has He given you here a recipe for shining in social situations? [Laughter] You have to appreciate Jesus’ humor, and He certainly had plenty of it. And this is one of those occasions where you see; actually, it is a humorous situation. Have you ever seen people jockeying for seats? I hear they do that here in Hollywood. [Laughter] Very interesting to watch a person come in and size up the room and decide where the best seats are. [39:06]

Jesus’s responded to that and He said, “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11, KJV) So, here you have now an engineering generalization about how to be exalted. Right? [39:24]

Next one: “Then to him who invited him, he said, ‘when you make a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends, nor your brethren, nor your kinsman, nor your rich neighbors, less they also bid you, invite you again and recompense be made. But when you make a feast, call the poor, and the maimed, the lame and the blind and you shall be blessed for they cannot recompense you, for you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.’ ” [Luke 14:12–14] This is where it clearly states that you are not to have your relatives for a meal. [Laughter] I mean, look at it—isn’t that right? It clearly says that. Some of you, I can tell, have been looking for this verse. [Laughter] For a long while, you’ve been looking for this verse. “Thank goodness! I knew it was in here somewhere!”

Now you see, He is responding to the “I’ll have you and you’ll have me” mentality. He is responding to the idea that if I am going to do something for you, there’s got to be something in it for me. Right? That’s the generalization that forms the background of the teaching. Right? He is responding to the silly scene where people are struggling for social position and somewhat humorously. He says, “Well, you know, this is the way you ought to do. You go out in the kitchen and sit at the card table.” And the guy comes in and says, “Where is Joe? “Oh, he’s sitting out in the kitchen on the card table. He’s being humble.” [Laughter] Get him out of here! Jesus is not giving you a law. He’s teaching about the terrible, mistaken practices of living in social situations in terms of a social pecking order. It’s a terrible habit—a terrible, terrible habit and He’s saying, “Don’t do that.” [41:29]

Now, He’s not telling you not to have your mother-in-law or your brother or your sister or anybody else over for dinner. He’s just saying, ”For goodness sake, sometime, feed somebody that can’t do anything for you. Sometimes do that!”

In general, it’s very important for you to understand this at least as far as my teaching is concerned. It may be wrong. You know, I have been wrong once or twice but when Jesus teaches, He is not giving you laws. He’s telling you what it’s like to live under the rule of God. And what it’s like to live under the rule of God is difficult to convey. It always catches up with the legalizing engineering tendency that human beings have: “I want to define my righteousness. If Jesus said this, I am gonna do it.” Right? [42:26]

Jesus said that if you asked me to carry your burden one mile, I’m supposed to take it two. You say you just wanted the mile? I’ve got to take it two. [Laughter] I’ve got to take it two.

I hope you remember this, because Jesus’ teaching about life in the Kingdom is the absolutely indispensable means for our coming to be able to live day after day, moment by moment, comfortably in the care of the Kingdom and in obedience and service to the Kingdom. It’s the only way. We have to understand His teaching, but they’ve been shut off from us by turning them into legalisms. People do not understand how He teaches, and really what happens is, then, that leaves them free to pick and choose on what they want. [43:25]

For example, you’ll find churches that say if you are divorced, you can’t do such and such; but if you swear, well, don’t do it in front of the preacher. But the same passage that says don’t swear has things to say about divorce. Shall we then remedy it by being legalistic about all of them? No!

Forget the whole legalistic enterprise. I mean, we ought to be comfortable with that. We preach salvation by grace. What does salvation by grace mean? Walk right in! Walk right in to the Kingdom of Heaven! Claim it wherever you are, and you will find out that sin is not something that’s real good if you could just get away with it. [Laughter] You’ll find out that sin is stupid—that it’s like drinking slop. [44:26]

But it’s so engrained in us. You see, Satan works on us so constantly. He started out with Eve. “Well, now Eve you know that fruit! Oh, boy, if you could just eat that. I don’t think God would really be upset with you if you did. I mean really, God is too big to care about something like that, isn’t He? And, you’d be so much better off. Right?” See, that’s the picture. That’s why people are unwilling to burn the bridge.

I’ll tell you one sentence, which you are unlikely to hear around any Christian gathering. Someone standing up and saying, “I’m not gonna sin anymore.” Now, where do I go from there? What am I going to say next?

Well, I want to leave you with that one because you’ve got to think about that too, haven’t you? So, if I said I was not going to sin anymore, who would I be to say such a thing as that? Who do I think I am? Well, that’s the question all right. No doubt about that. [Laughter] On the other hand, what if you say, “I’m going to keep on sinning.” [Laughter] Right? Now, you find me a third place between those two and I’ll sit down there. You find me a third place. See, I’m gonna leave that with you to think about now. Right? [46:01]

See, we got all this perfectionism stuff that starts welling up in us, and I think the truth is the church collectively has chosen, “we would rather be antinomian than perfectionists.” Probably a lot of easier. Hmmm? You won’t hear people say, “I’m going to quit, because I just like to keep that back door over there in case I need it. I want to be able to lie if I really need to lie, so I’m not gonna swear off lying.” That’s radical. I’m not going to swear off lying. I might get in a real tight administrative situation or with my students in class or something you know, you can think of so many situations—I might need to lie, see. It’s that little thing that “I might need this” that keeps us thinking how nice it would be. But it isn’t nice; and it’s only by understanding the teachings of Jesus that we can understand it. [47:07]

Now, when Jesus came on the scene, the first thing He did in His teaching was to try to help people get their priorities right in understanding, not in choosing, but in understanding about who is well off. Who is well off? And that’s what the Beatitudes are about!

The Beatitudes are about who is well off and who is not well off and what He does in the Beatitudes is take the principle of inversion, which I am going to leave you to study—it’s number III on the outline. He takes the Scriptural principle of inversion between man’s Kingdom and God’s Kingdom and He applies it. People will do their very best to make the Beatitudes into something pretty and they are, but not for the reason people think they are. They try to make these conditions look somehow especially blessed but they are not, except in the Kingdom of Heaven. [48:11]

So, when you read The Beatitudes now, you must keep in mind Jesus’ way of teaching and I want to turn you now to Matthew 5 and just read them to you. Keep in mind Jesus’ way of teaching and it’s helpful also to read the Lucan version but we will not have time to look at today, but you may want to compare them in your study now.

And Jesus was standing in the midst of this needy crowd of people—that is described in verses 23 through 25—and looks at the multitude, By the way, look at the structure of this text through chapters 5, 6, and 7. Jesus is not speaking to His little group of twelve. He is speaking to the multitude, the crowd; they are the ones who heard Him. They are the ones who responded at the end of Matthew 7. And in the effort to, for goodness sakes, make some fleshly sense out of the Beatitudes, all kinds of things have been done, but here’s what He said—verse 2— [49:33]

“He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit” . . . blessed are the poor in spirit . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:2-3, KJV] Are they blessed because they are poor in spirit? No. They are blessed because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Right?

“Blessed are they that mourn” (Matthew 5:4, KJV) because mourning is a wonderful thing. [Laughter] No, because in the Kingdom of Heaven, there is comfort. God is available.

“Blessed are the meek . . .” We’ve beautified that word. You need to read shy and if you understand what shyness is, you’ll get the point of what it’s saying. “. . . for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5, KJV) The Kingdom of Heaven will give to the shy what they cannot get by self-assertion.

“Blessed are they that are starved for justice.” (Matthew 5:6) They want justice. They want rightness to be done “for they shall be filled” in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:6) They will get their just dues in the Kingdom of Heaven. They will know justice. They will know righteousness. [51:00]

“Blessed are those who never find anything quite right.” These are “the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8) because they are going to see something that’s just right. Guess who? God. The pure in heart are people—we call them perfectionists sometimes. They are people for whom nothing is right. There is always a certain percentage of the population that are like that and if you have to live with one, [Laughter] or perhaps you are one, someone has to live with you as one—I hope you are going to think now about these Beatitudes in this way. Read the Lucan versions as well. [51:52]

That first one doesn’t say, “Blessed are they who think they are poor.” It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say blessed are the humble-minded. You know, if the Greek wants to say that, it can say that. It doesn’t say that. It says, “Blessed are those who have poverty in spiritual things. They are the spiritually bankrupt, the spiritually deprived.”

I’ve brought you a picture of one such person right here. [He shows a picture.] That’s who Jesus is talking about. That’s one of the people that He is taking about. Look at him well. This little fellow is blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven. [52:38]

Let me tell you who else was this way—Jesus Himself was poor in Spirit. He didn’t have “no” education. They said, “How knoweth this man letters having never learned?” (John 7:15, KJV) They said, “Look and see for no prophet arises out of Galilee.” (John 7:52) “Could anything good come out of Nazareth,” they said. (John 1:46, RSV) They said, “Didn’t we well say that you’re a demon possessed half breed?” They said, “Where did you get your authority? What school did you go to? Who was your rabbi?” They never said to Him, “Do you have authority?” because the authority was manifest, because He was ministering from the Kingdom of Heaven. But they said, “Where’d you get it? Where’d you get it?”

Let me tell you some other people that fit this description—every apostle that He appointed. Every apostle that He appointed fit this description. [53:50]

Now, I hope I’ve got you thinking. I don’t have to be right about this—I may be wrong—but I hope I’ve got you thinking about what it’s like in the Kingdom of Heaven, because I’ll tell you, in the Kingdom of Heaven, the key word is “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30, KJV) The first in man’s way of recognizing, well-being and well good, they wind up—“some of them’s gonna wind up last.” And the last in man’s world being well doing, may wind up first. [54:27]

Here’s old Dives—well, a wonderful feast today—and Jesus says “he fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19) and there was Lazarus. Which was which. Dives was first. Lazarus was last, right? It says Lazarus died and what happened? You remember? The angels . . . where were those angels? They were right there. The angels took him to Abraham’s bosom. (Luke 16:22) And the rich man died and was in hell—we are not even told how he got there. He didn’t even have an angel escort; just dropped him like a rock. [Laughter]

Now, don’t be too worried about hell. We need to talk about that more than we do. For my thinking, just understand that hell is the best that God can do for some people [Laughter] The best God can do for some people. I mean there is a lot of stuff. Let’s don’t get worried about the furniture. Let’s just remember “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” [55:41]

Now, your big challenge between now and next week—when I will try to bail you out a little bit—is stay out of legalism with that. Don’t say all poor people go to Heaven and all rich people go to hell. Don’t say all happy people go to hell and all mournful people go to Heaven. I’ll try to help you some with that next week, but this week try to write a set of beatitudes for your life today, for the people around you—try to write. This is the issue [where you know] whether or not you can preach the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.

You say, “Blessed”—start with the funny ones—“blessed are the bald.” There used to be an ad that ran in the LA Times showing a poor, dejected man coming home with a lunch bucket—how do you tell your wife that bald men get fired first? [Laughter] Somebody paid money to have that ad run. Blessed are the fat. Start at that end and come down. Blessed are those who have just learned they have cancer because cancer is a wonderful thing. It will keep you humble. No! That’s not the reason. Blessed are those who’ve had to take bankruptcy financially. Blessed are businesses that have gone broke, whose careers are failing. Blessed are those who have AIDS. [57:14]

“Lord, be with us and teach us, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”


[1] Numbers in brackets indicate the time index of the recorded lecture.

[2] Note: Many of Dallas Willard’s Scripture quotations were made from memory, so a majority of them were paraphrased (although some varied only slightly from the King James Version of the Bible). Except for this first one, these are not marked. Those from specific Bible versions are noted.

Listen to all parts in this A Series on What Jesus Believed and Taught—And Lived series