“Blessed are the poor in spirt…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…”
Christ’s beatitudes in Matthew 5 present a means of obtaining joy and blessedness in this life that is drastically different than what our culture presents as the pathway to success and fulfillment. Yet in the beatitudes we will find great wisdom and practical answers for how Christians are to live in this world and how we are best able to cultivate God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
On this episode I speak with Pastor Chris Castaldo about his latest book, The Upside Down Kingdom: Wisdom for Life from the Beatitudes.
We discuss how these counter-intuitive principles from Jesus truly are the best way to navigate our fallen world, how some believers misunderstand and wrongly reject calls to be meek peacemakers in our contentious culture, what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and how the beatitudes can help us to live well in a world increasingly hostile to the things of God.
Watch the Conversation
Listen to the Conversation
Enjoy this episode?
Be sure to subscribe & Leave a Review!
Chris Castaldo is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and co-author of The Unfinished Reformation. His latest book is The Upside Down Kingdom: Wisdom for Life from the Beatitudes, available from Crossway.
- Pick up a copy of The Upside Down Kingdom
- See Chris Castaldo’s Other Books
- Visit ChrisCastaldo.com
Pick Up a Copy
In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2–12), Jesus urges us to set ourselves apart from the world, living in a counterculture with a new identity rooted in him. The Upside Down Kingdom examines this counterintuitive wisdom and explores its relevance for today. Drawing on insights from the biblical story of redemption, church fathers, Reformation scholars throughout history, and contemporary life, this book equips and encourages readers to get their spiritual bearings in an upside-down world. Author Chris Castaldo ultimately points readers to the kingdom of Christ―not as a set of rules, but as a means of bringing peace and blessing here and now.
Read the Transcript
Clay Kraby: Thank you so much for joining me.
Chris Castaldo: Thanks, Clay. My pleasure.
Clay Kraby: Now, as we start our conversation, could you share just a little bit about yourself, your family, your ministry?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, gladly. I’m from Long Island, New York. Italian family. Imagine something between The Godfather and Everyone Loves Raymond. That was my family system. And at age 23, came to Jesus by God’s grace, went to Bible college at Moody. There I met my wife while doing open air preaching. got married, went to seminary at Gordon Conwell. And then the Lord led us out here to the Chicago area where I have been pastoring for the last 20 years.
Clay Kraby: Wonderful. Now, the new book that we’re going to be talking about, you give it the title Upside Down Kingdom. What do you mean by the title? What motivated you to write this book?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, that’s expressing the counterintuitive nature of Christ’s kingdom over against this world. it grew out of my experience over these last three years, pastoring in COVID time in which everything was turned upside down, and so struggling with what does faithfulness look like in this season? very much brought to the end of myself for pastors, we faced particular challenges. In the morning, we get a phone call from an, angry congregant saying, your blood is on your hands because you’re gathering your people together for worship. And then a few hours later, you receive another call from someone who says, the fact that we have any mitigation policies indicates that we’re not trusting God and bowing our knee to the state. So, like all pastors wrestling with, what does it look like to faithfully preach and disciple in the season brought to the end of myself. And I happen to be reading the Sermon on the Mount and found in the beatitudes particularly the solvent for my discouragement and fear, and, in due course, realize this is a message that we, the church, need today.
Clay Kraby: That’s great. Now, when we’re talking about the beatitudes, just get real basic here. What does beatitudes mean? Where are we finding the Beatitudes? In the Bible.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. Matthew, chapter five, and also in Luke, chapter six. Matthew’s account is longer. That’s what the book considers. And, it describes life in the kingdom. So Jesus in Matthew four, begins to preach, saying, repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Speaking of himself, he embodies the kingdom. He is the king. And then in the Beatitudes, which is the opening of his famous Sermon on the Mount, he is identifying these gifts of God that mark an individual who belongs to his kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. And so, when we read the Beatitudes, we are reading about life in the kingdom. it’s what we enjoy and what we are called to embody in this world.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, so we got the blessed are statements that people will be familiar with, and as you mentioned, a few of them. Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. And so you’ve already mentioned you’re talking about it as an upside down kingdom, because it is so counterintuitive. And one of the things you do in the book is explore how the Beatitudes challenge the common idea of the pursuit of happiness. What was it that led you to really take a look at the world around and see how really different God’s means of pursuing joy and blessedness and happiness was from what the world tells us?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. Where I serve in Naperville, it’s very driven, very achievement oriented. I sometimes describe it as the “achieveatron” where you start preparing your child for the Sat at age six. Right. and so park district sports is just a prelude to the major leagues. And so it’s so easy for us as Christians to look at our achievements as the measure of our worth. As the famous, motivational speaker, preacher Norm Vincent Peele used to say, whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve, we might not espouse that same theology, and yet we so often live that way in the affluent suburbs. And so I found myself looking at that phenomena while reading The Beatitudes and realized how radically different is Jesus’ vision, how counter cultural it is. it’s a downward trajectory of humility and brokenness that results in the empowering presence of God and the new life. It’s the kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies before it brings forth fruit. And it was that realization that helped me to see this lesson, that it is countercultural, that life in Christ is upside down.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And there’s so much of the mindset in the west, in the American church and the suburbs, as you mentioned, of, I can just add a little Jesus to my pursuit of material wealth and comfort and just stuff and status and all that type of mindset. But the Bible doesn’t really leave room for that. So much of what we see in The Beatitudes and elsewhere really, is it contradicts what the world sells as a means of pursuing those things.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, crossway has done a magnificent job of portraying this in the COVID art. They have such talented artists there. And you have on the top the kings of this world. And so, yeah, you see the sword, right, advancing, his cause with aggression, even violence. And that’s how it works in this world. It’s a zero sum game. One person wins, another person loses. And that’s different from Jesus there, who has a scar, a nail scar in his hand. He gives himself as a sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away. And so that’s a basic example of how absolutely, different is the kingdom of Christ. the other image that I like there is of the money bag. We want treasure, we want riches. We want to somehow extend our presence. The, Hebrew language has a word for this kavod. It means significance, weightiness, glory, human glory. And the message of Jesus is the glory that your heart desires is not found in anything you do. It is found rather, in the living God. And so in that image, Jesus has an olive branch depicting peace. the Prince of Peace has come for that reason, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, it’s really helpful to come at this study, at this book, with that backdrop in mind, of just seeing how, again, the word counterintuitive, it seems to us, especially in The Beatitudes. And so starting with and walking through some of those, we see that blessed are the poor in spirit. And you have this conversation about what it means to be a poor in spirit, how poverty fits, into that. And we often see those things as being this great disadvantage. But really, Jesus has positioned that as a means of becoming blessed, of, this richness in the context of poor in spirit. Can you elaborate on that? For us.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. I think it’s important to realize that when Jesus speaks of blessing, he’s talking about his abiding presence. That’s the greatest gift of all, to walk with the living God. And, the poverty of spirit fits into that picture. When we realize we’re bankrupt of righteousness, that we don’t bring anything to the table but our sin. But God, in his grace and mercy, meets us there and manifests Himself. It’s very much the story of the prodigal Son, and he embraces us and makes us his own. And it’s in that encounter, then, that we experience the meaning and significance and satisfaction that our hearts desire. So poverty of spirit brings us to that place, over against our self reliance and self sufficiency.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And if you think of it, bringing in that parable of the prodigal son is really helpful, because think of how much more joy there is in the restoration of that relationship, knowing you’re completely undeserving of that love, that affection, and that relationship, itself, and really understanding how devoid we are of merit of obtaining that.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. And I think, Clay, most of us who live in Christ for a period of time read the Bible, understand that’s our story, we look at our conversion and recognize that movement. what I want to suggest, though, is that it’s not simply our conversion, it’s not in the rearview mirror, but our regular experience of God reflects the same pattern. We reach the end of ourselves. We look heavenward, we hear the promise of God, and we experience that goodness each and every day.
Clay Kraby: Absolutely. So we see other things that Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes, and we see, this idea of mourning. So how is it that the practice of lament and mourning, how do these fit into the modern Christian experience? And why is it important for us to recognize and embrace those emotions rather than simply, basically live your life trying to desperately avoid instances where you might need to lament or to mourn?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. Remember that Lego movie from years ago? Everything is awesome. That was the theme song. we evangelicals sometimes live that way. We avoid mourning, grief, lament, just as you said. We try to distract ourselves. We binge, watch Netflix, whatever it takes. And Jesus’ statement about mourning reminds us that we live in a broken world. We will experience pain and suffering. And there are some people who have, experiences that are intractable. The loss of a child. Ah, a diagnosis that doesn’t seem to have any hope. in those cases, where do you go? That’s when we lift our eyes above the horizon and we hear this promise, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. And, it’s important for us as Christians to understand this is a normal part of life. I think it’s easy for me to see mourning, suffering, grief as an intrusion of what God really wants. But in fact, it’s in the crucible where our eyes are open to the presence of God in ways that I would likely not see him on the mountaintop. And so I think it’s a call for us to see that truth. This is life in the city of man. It’s filled with crosses, but those crosses are purposeful and they are the means by which God draws us to Himself.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, so much of life really does seem to be this mix of trying to avoid pain and discomfort, and then when it inevitably comes, because it will, sadly, there’s often, a denial of those things. And I think even in a Christian context, sometimes, there’s an unfair expectation that when someone suffers a major loss, be that of a job or a loved one, whatever that might be, that they’re expected to just kind of keep on smiling and tough it through and push on. And that, that is, an example of great faith and trust. But we don’t see that in Scripture. We see often this act of lament and mourning. You look at the Psalms and it’s filled with it.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, it’s no secret that, Dietrich Bonhoeffer relied on the Sermon on the Mount, beatitudes in particular, when he established his seminary at Finkenwalde for the Confessing Church. And it was this truth that guided his teaching. The whole notion of life together. This is your point, Clay. We need one another. There’s no way we can walk through the valleys of life all alone. That’s why God has given us the church, the body of Christ, which surrounds us in that moment that laments with us, empathetically and reminds us of the promises of God.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, another one that you touch on in the book, following along with Jesus’ beatitudes is this concept of meekness. And I think if anything, they’re all counterintuitive. But you think especially in our loud, aggressive, power-hungry world, you think of things like on social media where it’s about building this status and having this big microphone. meekness is really not valued, and I think it’s greatly misunderstood as well. What is meekness? I mean, people hear that blessed are the meek and they’re going to inherit the earth and all those things, and they think that means the Christian is to just be a doormat and get walked all over and never make any sort of stand for right and truth. But they should just kind of be pushed aside and let themselves get pushed around. And people see that. I think the American in us just really rebels against that. What does meekness mean and how does it actually really, impact the way we live the Christian life?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, Philippians Two is an important passage for answering that question. What does it look like? Paul says, have this attitude in yourself that was also in Christ Jesus, although he existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God. Something to be taken advantage of, exploited. It’s that spirit of gentleness, of humility. and yeah, you’re exactly right. If ever there’s a moment in history when we need this quality, it is now a time when we are canceling one another and outraged, and we pull the pin on the rhetorical hand grenade and we throw it over the fence. it’s this adversarial approach, which is utterly disastrous missionally. There’s no way we’re going to emit the fragrance of Christ, the, aroma of Christ’s beauty, like that. And that’s where meekness comes in. the story I share in the book is of Jackie Robinson. I had the privilege of pastoring. One of Jackie’s, teammates, Lee Fund, was the pitcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers back then. And, I served him at a church in Wheaton. And Lee said, never in my life did I see, you know, he had pitchers throwing fastballs at his head, he had fans yelling all manner of obscenities at him. And one day he asked Jackie, how is it you do this? And the answer Jackie gave was, I belong to Christ. Jesus died for me, and this is how I follow him. and it was that vision of gentleness that inspired him. And, in a sense, that’s the untold story of Jackie Robinson. How beautiful is that? I wish people would say that of me and the people I serve when life is all said and done.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And the world needs more of that. And sadly, the Christian world needs more of that. And I know Twitter is not a real place, and it’s not necessarily a good microcosm of society. But so many of Christian Twitter accounts, particularly some large ones, you would think that throughout the New Testament, all Jesus did was chase out the money changers and flip the tables. And that seems to be where they’ve developed their whole personality, their persona, and their ministry. Unfortunately, how can people rightly balance and take a cue from what we see in Christ of our default should be meek and mild? And when we stand for God’s truth, yes, we stand firmly, we stand unflinchingly, but we do so graciously and lovingly.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. I think it comes down to understanding the way we appropriate and apply the power of God. On the day of Pentecost, the spirit was poured out. Power came down from on high. Okay, how do we mediate that to the world? Well, the church has answered that question in a lot of different ways over the years. One prominent way is represented by Constantine, where he proceeded, with force, and he established the Christian faith. A great deal of good came from that, intentionality. But there is, of course, a downside when you have the sword at the leading edge. And, we may not be carrying actual swords today, but I’m afraid our approach very often resembles that. Of Constantine. Of old. And I think the Beatitudes reminds us it’s just the opposite. That instead of imposing ourselves in a domineering way, getting others to bow the knee to our will, it is rather giving ourselves, like Jesus as a servant, with meekness, that we are able to, experience the power of God in this world. It’s counterintuitive and it doesn’t make sense. And yet, boy, oh, boy, is it true. When we relate to others that way, there’s something supernatural happening that you and I don’t understand. And what that thing is, is the presence of the kingdom of God.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And I think when Christians decide that, oh, that’s not going to work anymore, you, have to be bold, you have to be a bully, you have to be aggressive, you have to shout. it’s really displaying a, ah, lack of trust in what God has declared, what is best, and I think shows, a little bit of ignorance of what Christians have done throughout history and what it is that has really made a major impact in cultures from the beginning of the Christian Church.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. And we need to speak the truth. We need to, promote righteousness. We need to defend the vulnerable. Absolutely. That’s another part of our calling. The question is how? And, as we speak the truth, we do so in love, we do so with gentleness, we do so in a way that showcases the character of Christ.
Clay Kraby: Absolutely. We see Jesus’ words that blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? And how can this vivid language really help us better understand our faith?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, we’re all hungering for something. and if you want to understand what that is, what is my appetite then? it’s very simple. Look at where you spend your time, where do you invest your resources? What do you think about in the idle moments when you’re going to sleep, when you’re waking up in the morning? And our culture says, well, it has to be about yourself in some way, your own experience of pleasure. God has a much greater plan than that. A plan that transcends ourself and reaches into eternity. And so hungering and thirsting for righteousness is a way of saying we have a desire for God that is greater than our desire for ourselves. and when we have that desire, he promises, we will be satisfied. there’s a long debate about the meaning of righteousness. some of our traditions emphasize righteousness before God in theological language. It’s our doctrine of justification, how we become children of God. in the reform tradition of which I’m part, that’s the focus. Well, it starts there, but it can’t end there. It’s also righteousness in us, the renovation of the soul, what you might call sanctification. but then there’s a third movement, and that is righteousness extending through the church into the world. A social righteousness or social justice in a biblically, chaste way. those two words are interchangeable, justice or righteousness. And of course, the prophets of old have a great deal to say about this, protecting the vulnerable, the widow, the child. And so we need the whole sweep. We need to hunger and thirst, firstly, for a relationship with God that is vibrant. Secondly, we need to increasingly hate sin and love holiness, righteousness in us. And then we want to see that movement extend into the world in very practical ways. I think that’s the vision Jesus is describing.
Clay Kraby: In that beatitude, Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful. How does the practice of mercy reflect just the very nature of who God is? And why is it essential for Christians to really embody this quality?
Chris Castaldo: I think of Jesus beside the tomb of Know. Jesus wept. We pause and think about that. Poets and painters have reflected on that. We’ve never been able to capture the wonder of it all, that God, who creates all things, who possesses all power, is weeping. And I think one of the lessons there is the heart of God, heart of mercy, or the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Imagine Jesus walking into this room and the mourners are beating their breast and they’re crying. And he looks upon that daughter with compassion, with mercy. I was once at the hospital where a child was removed from life support and put into her mother’s arms, and the mother held her as she died. And the wailing and the weeping, Jesus enters into those situations with a heart that overflows with mercy and compassion. And that’s the heart we are called to have. So it requires us to look beyond our own needs, to see the needs of others, and to reflect on what would it look like for Jesus to extend comfort and life to this situation. behind that statement, Blessed are the merciful, I think, is this calling, that Jesus leads us into.
Clay Kraby: So we’re called to be merciful. We’re also called to be peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers. Can you elaborate on, really this section of your book? What is it that you focus on with peacemaking? And how does peacemaking and living the Christian life, bearing our crosses, all those things, how do those go together? What is the connection in how we engage the world as peacemakers?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, I’m afraid, Clay, that in today’s world, we are taught that you have to go for the jugular of the person with whom you disagree. Right. And you said earlier, Twitter, and we think about all kinds of social media, but we lack the vision of God wants peace in this world. He starts by creating peace with himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection has removed the barrier and has revealed the favor of God. but it doesn’t end there. There’s also horizontal peace. The wall of separation between jew and Gentile no longer stands. We are one in Christ. People from every tribe, tongue, and nation. And so Christians of all people need to look out upon the horizon, see those who are different. They look different. Different ethnicity, different race, different ideas about society. And dare I say, even politics. And consider what would it look like if I somehow extended the peace of Christ to that person? If the church had that vision, I dare say we would enter this next election year very different from the way we are approaching it now.
Clay Kraby: Right. And unfortunately, when you say things like that, there’s people that have difficulty understanding what that means from a biblical view. That doesn’t mean we compromise truth. That doesn’t mean we endorse evil. It doesn’t mean lots of things. People see a call for peacemaking and having the heart of a peacemaker and they immediately put their defenses up as if it’s a call to capitulate to the world. And that’s not what we see in scripture, is it?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, we’re not calling for sloppy agape, if you will. we have to be serious about what we believe. Thus saith the Lord, this is righteousness. we have to protect life. And yet it also at the same time has John 1:14, Jesus came full of grace and truth together. It’s not one or the other. There’s no room for driving a wedge. And so, yeah, just as you said, let’s be honest. Let’s be courageous in our prophetic, proclamation, but let’s not be angry and irritable and adversarial about it. Let’s be Christian.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. You cover something interesting in the book that is the Epsilon I don’t know if I’m remembering my Greek well enough, the Epsilon vector. Can you explain what that concept is? And really how does it relate to this idea of being a peacemaker?
Chris Castaldo: It’s a term that sounds hopelessly esoteric. the Oops lawn vector. And imagine, if you will, a you or a horseshoe. And, theologians use this concept to express the contours of our life in Christ. So just as Jesus descended in Humility again, Philippians two and eventuated in the cross at Calvary, he was on the third day raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. It’s that movement that marks our lives. We, sinners who come to repentance and faith and then the resurrection love of God lifts us to the heights of heaven in Christ. but as I said before, it’s not just a one and done. each and every day, we, in some sense follow that pattern. And the reason this is important is because I think, Clay, sometimes we have this notion of the Christian life that I’m supposed to get better every day, every way. It’s just a single upward trajectory. And that’s just not how it works. We’re going to have highs and lows. We’re sinners. And there’s a great deal of disillusionment and shame that Christians carry because we fall into the same habits. And the upsilon vector reminds us that that’s life in this world, we’re going to stumble and fall, we’re going to make foolish decisions. And that’s not to excuse sin, but it is to say we can go to God with that. When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. That’s the upsilon vector. And so we reach that place of pain, of shame. And, it’s not an end. It is, rather a moment when we look heavenward, we receive forgiveness and renewal.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. So often, unfortunately, the Christian life can sometimes inaccurately be presented, as you said, know, you start your Christian life, and it’s just, an upward plane of becoming more and more like Jesus. But it doesn’t take long in the Christian life to realize that’s not the case. And there are a lot of ups and downs, as you said.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. And as a pastor, I see it constantly. People who look at God as folding his arms, tapping his toe, waiting for us to get our act together, and they see Him as aloof and disinterested. And nothing could be further from the truth. there is, rather the invitation of Christ. Come unto me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden. in other words, God loves us not as we’re supposed to be, in perfect righteousness. He loves us here and now as we are as sinners.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And sometimes, as a result of us being sinners, we get ourselves into difficulties and trials, and sometimes we encounter suffering, and trials, really, through not because of our falleness, but because we live in a fallen world. And yet we’re called to rejoice. How is this call to rejoice amid persecution and pain? How does that reshape our understanding of suffering and joy in the Christian life?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake is the 8th Beatitude. How do you do that? To your point, how do you rejoice? I was in Italy last month, and doing research for a book on the Italian Reformation. So I went down to Naples, where they experienced gospel renewal in the 1530s. And then I went up to the Piedmont area, the Northwest, where the Waldensians lived. And you may remember that name from your church history classes. That’s a 13th century renewal movement which eventually joined the Reformation in the 16th. But they were bitterly persecuted. they would have to meet in caves and read the Bible by candlelight. And countless Waldensians were martyred. So we went into one of those caves, and, we sang some hymns, we heard the stories in that particular place, there were Waldensians martyred for their faith in Jesus, simply because they insisted on reading the Bible in the vernacular. And one of the things the historian said was, when they would be persecuted, they would sometimes sing the beatitudes. It’s remarkable. And so, to your point about joy, and I think that the answer to your question, the reason we can do that is because they knew Jesus had won the victory. They knew where they were going, that the sufferings of this world could not compare with the glory that would one day be revealed in the return of Christ. That’s the perspective we need, I think, even in this moment of history, in order to persevere in faith.
Clay Kraby: And speaking of this moment in history, we look at the trajectory that our world on, our culture is on. Do you believe that the church I mean, particularly we’re talking about the Western world, the American church think we need to learn how to embrace persecution and even martyrdom as concepts that we’re not just reading about in the history book, but as real likelihoods in our own lifetimes.
Chris Castaldo: There are, of course, many Christians who live that way now in different parts of the world. That is their reality. And speaking as a historian, every century has had its share of such persecution. And, I’m no prophet, but, it does appear that Christians are increasingly less popular in the public square. That there is a conflict, between the claims of Christ and the values of this world. But, of course, it’s been that way from the very beginning. Jesus said, if they persecute me, they’ll persecute you. So I think we need to be ready. Clay, I think you’re right. And it’s not in a way that is overly nervous and anxious, but it is in a sober minded, honest way that says, again, the kingdom of Christ is fundamentally out of step with the world around me. And I should not, be surprised when marginalization or maybe even persecution comes.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And it is helpful to have an awareness of church history, and a lot of people, sadly, don’t. But the experience of the church in America has been an anomaly. it is not the norm to be broadly, tolerated, at minimum, accepted, even celebrated for as long as it has been, and upheld as virtuous. The reality typically has been. When there’s a bad crop, it’s Christians to the lions, as they experienced in Rome. And I think we’re starting to see that anomaly fade away. however slowly it may go, no one can really say, but it’s starting to fade away. And we’re seeing more and more of that into our own culture. And I think, adding some church history and you mentioned the Waldensians, and there’s many others we could look at to understand how Christians faithfully lived out these beatitudes and the other commands of Christ in the midst of really trying circumstances would be both a challenge and an encouragement to people.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah. How compelling it is when God’s people stand firm and confess Christ amid that kind of suffering. Another place I visited in Italy was the Castle Santangelo, which is near the Vatican. And it was there. A particular reformer named, Pietro Carnesecchi was held simply for reading the Bible and preaching the gospel. And, you know, there’s a little room. I saw this place just at the entrance of the castle where they take you before you’re martyred, and they give you a last opportunity to change your mind, to recant, to say, yes, I believe, the Pope is right. And what I’ve been preaching is Carnesecchi was taken there. And, I was reading the records of what transpired, and apparently he not only refused to recant, that is, he stood firm in the gospel as taught by the Bible, but he witnessed to the inquisitor. He tried to persuade the guy, look, you need to give your life to Christ. And eventually he said, my only hope is Jesus, and what can I do but confess him? And that was the last thing he said before he was beheaded and burned at the stake. There’s something about that witness that not only defies comprehension, but shines into the darkness and beckons the hearts of lost people. And so let’s see persecution not only as a, trial, let’s see it as an opportunity to pierce the darkness with the light of Jesus.
Clay Kraby: Just amazing example you gave is an example of hope in the midst of any and all circumstances. And really, a main premise of your book is that the Beatitudes are a place in which we can get this hope in all circumstances. How is it that the Beatitudes can do this for us?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, the Beatitudes takes us to the basics. It takes us to the heartbeat of God. If you want to know what God’s priorities are, you can do no better than to look at the Beatitudes. I’ve said clay. In the 16th century, the Lord used the letters of Paul, particularly Romans and Galatians, to bring the gospel renewal that was needed in that moment in the face of clericalism and legalism. I think the Beatitudes are the portion of scripture that we need today that the Lord is speaking through. How is he doing it to remind us of who we are in Christ, and to remind us of our calling in this world. It’s like the dredging of a river. If you ever seen a river dredge, I saw a program on this once. They send these units down to the bottom to scrape the bottom of the river. It’s a real violent thing. I thought, Boy, if this river had emotions or feelings, it would be crying right now. but you see, that’s necessary in order for life to flourish. And that’s how the Beatitudes work in our heart. It reveals all the illicit attachments, all the idols, so that we can see God more clearly, and as a result, experience his life by the Spirit.
Clay Kraby: Can you offer just a succinct summary of the Beatitudes and the wisdom in the Beatitudes, and explain how it is that they offer just a transformative vision for living in today’s world.
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, they present Jesus. That’s what they do. The Beatitudes describe, you might say, virtues. They’re gifts of God. I’ve said in the book, it’s an invitation to walk with God in very practical ways, to be a peacemaker, to hunger and thirst for the things that matter. All of that is true, but the greatest gift of all is the way the Beatitudes present the person of Jesus. if we want to have the heartbeat of Christ, we need to get our mind around the beatitudes. And when we do, we will understand what the world calls success is just a parody. It’s a parody of which Jesus is the reality. So read the Beatitudes for yourself. Memorize them, read them to your children. as I mentioned earlier, Bonhoeffer, he established his seminary, in this portion of Scripture because he realized the onslaught of Nazism was so great, their use of media was so tempting, there was no way they could overcome without going as deep as they could in faith. And the Beatitudes took them there. we’re in that same moment, we have media coming at us left, right and center. So let’s appropriate this truth so that we know who we are and we know what we’re called to.
Clay Kraby: HM, that’s great. As an author, what is it that you hope readers are going to gain from reading The Upside Down Kingdom?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, two things. One, I mentioned earlier, we have expectations of the Christian life that are, I think, misguided. And I think the Beatitudes remind us that our measure of worth is not by what we achieve, it’s by the one to whom we belong. and so it moves us into a deeper relationship with God. We need that. And then secondly, our calling in this world, we are to shine forth hope. Matthew four, jesus is, preaching, he’s sharing the good news with others, repent. The kingdom is at hand. And then just after the Beatitudes, the first thing Jesus says is, you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. This is supposed to go public. And so may we, in this moment, understand our calling to embody and proclaim this truth so that friends and neighbors and coworkers would recognize that Jesus is alive and, be moved out of the shadows of alienation into the light of his presence.
Clay Kraby: Well, this has been really helpful conversation about the Beatitudes. Where can folks go to learn more about you and your ministry, your other books, and pick up a copy of The Upside Down Kingdom?
Chris Castaldo: Yeah, my website is simply ChrisCastaldo.com, and so you can learn more about the book I blog there, so there are a number of different articles on these topics as well, and you can purchase the book wherever books are sold, I’m told, starting, with Amazon and going into all the different booksellers.
Clay Kraby: Excellent. I’ll be sure to link to those in the show notes for this episode. Folks can find those and resources. Other things that we mentioned during this conversation at Kingdom, we have been talking about the Upside Down Kingdom: Wisdom for Life from the Beatitudes. Been talking with Chris Castaldo. Thank you so much for joining us.
Chris Castaldo: Thanks Clay, it’s been a pleasure.