Forming Faith Blog

Following into the Kingdom (Matthew 5)

Jesus begins his first big teaching in Matthew with a series of “blesseds,” a glimpse at God’s priorities in the kingdom of heaven.

One person following another up a hiking trail.
Teaching Time

As we continue our tour through the Gospel of Matthew, we come to Jesus’ first teaching time, often called discourses. Of the five discourses in Matthew, this is the most famous: the Sermon on the Mount. In the Narrative Lectionary, we spend three weeks in the Sermon, and these make up our thematic unit: Learning to Follow.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Much of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) revolves around the kingdom of God (called the kingdom of heaven here in Matthew). The kingdom is one of my favorite topics in Scripture; it is something for which my soul yearns. God’s kingdom is not a geographic location or a government hierarchy. Instead, it refers to a reality where God’s ways are followed completely. It is a reality in which Love reigns supreme: the cycle of God’s love for us, our love for others, and our love for God. It is a reality that is described by the word shalom.

While I do believe that we see glimpses of God’s kingdom in people’s acts of love, peace, and justice, it is more than just a set of behaviors or priorities. It is in some ways a higher dimension (as we might say in science fiction). Within our actions, and specifically the acts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, this dimension breaks through into our dimension and changes us.

The Beatitudes: God’s Priorities

The key descriptors of the kingdom of heaven are God’s priorities, and these are what Jesus teaches and demonstrates in his ministry.

The “blesseds” that Jesus starts the Sermon of the Mount with is not a to-do list. It is a message of comfort to a community that is suffering because they are following Jesus, trying to live by God’s priorities. In following God’s ways, they use their strength with humility and gentleness (meek), they strive after justice (righteousness), they act with grace and healing (merciful), they follow God with a singleness of purpose (pure of heart), and they work to bring about God’s shalom (peacemakers).

But living God’s way in our world has consequences. Those who do will experience poverty, loss, and persecution. This suffering, Jesus tells us, is only temporary; God’s love is forever.

Salt and Light, Law and Prophets

Much can be said about Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:13-16 (Salt and Light) and 17-20 (Law and Prophets). But I think one important thing here is: actions matter. How we act, what we do, is significant. This is not an argument for “works righteousness” (except for the confusing absolutist statement in v. 20). Following Jesus is not—I’d argue—about living forever. It’s not about being deserving of God’s love and forgiveness, earning a right relationship. Following Jesus is about living into God’s kingdom, energized by God’s unconditional love, and lifted up again (and again) by God’s grace.

Faith Formation Connection

How can you teach this to your participants?

  • First, I would suggest stoking their imaginations about what the kingdom of heaven is like (the description of which will probably change based on your theological tradition).
  • Second, connect that description of the kingdom with the Beatitudes. How do we live out the kingdom here and now?
  • Third, emphasize Jesus’ call to action and the importance he places on what we do and how we live. This is not about how this benefits us, it’s about how it benefits the world around us, giving glory to God.

May God’s kingdom be revealed to you this Epiphany season!


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Learning to Follow” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL) curriculum. This activity can be used intergenerationally or with most age groups individually.

2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources (AND 2023-2024 Resources)

January is almost over, but it’s not too late to order your Winter lessons! You can still order Winter (and Spring) lessons of our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources, or one of our Learning Together units. You can download the lessons as soon as your payment is processed. Also, watch this blog, our e-newsletter, and our Facebook page for an announcement of our new products for 2023-2024!

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