Posts Tagged ‘beatitudes’

We are starting a new series today and I’m really excited. We are going to go through what is called ‘the sermon on the plain.’ We all know about the sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7, right? Well this one is much shorter; a kind of miniature sermon on the mount. It is found in Luke 6.

It’s called the ‘sermon on the plain’ because it says in Luke 6:17 that, just before Jesus delivered this teaching, he “came down . . . and stood on a level place” – or as the King James version says, he “stood in the plain . . ..”

In this sermon, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, for it says, in Luke 6:20, “he looked up at his disciples and said . . .” – and then he gave his sermon. This is not just the twelve. There is also the “great crowd of his disciples” as verse 17 says. All of these disciples are the “you” that is addressed throughout the sermon. This shows us that his teaching here is not for the super-spiritual. It is meant for every follower of Jesus – including you and me.

Although this sermon doesn’t cover every area of discipleship, it does lay out nicely some of Jesus’ core concerns that he wants us to focus on.

First we look at –

An overview of the blessings and woes

– in verses 20-26. There are four blessings and four woes in our verses. Up first are the blessings, or beatitudes.

Announcement Who is blessed The blessing
Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

We will look more at the identity of the recipients in a moment, but for now I will just say that, however you want to interpret the beatitudes in Matthew, here in Luke the content of this teaching is fairly easy to understand. We are dealing with literal poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection. There is no indication that any of this is figurative.

To be blessed means that you are favored by God. And this favored status shows up in what is given: possession of the kingdom, being satisfied, laughing, and having a great reward in heaven.

Now notice the first and fourth beatitudes focus on present blessings, with present tense verbs. The second and third beatitudes focus on future blessings, with future tense verbs. So some of the blessing come now, and some later when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

Now we look at the four woes.

Announcement Who is cursed The curse
But woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Notice that these woes exactly parallel the blessings: poor/rich; hungry/full; weep/laugh; and revile you/speak well of you.

In this case, once again, we are dealing with literal riches, food, laughter and social acceptance.

“Woe” is a way of pronouncing God’s curse or judgment on someone. The judgments are: no hope of the kingdom, hunger, weeping, and although the fourth is left unsaid, the opposite of reward is condemnation.

The first woe speaks to something already present. The second and third woes look to the future with future tense verbs. So just as with the blessings, some of the judgment occurs now, and some later, at the final judgment.

When we put all this together we see clearly that the coming of the kingdom brings about –

The great reversal

Jesus talks about this in a number of places, I will just give you one example, that is close to what we have in our verses. Luke 14:11 says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The exalted one and the humble one trade places. Let’s look at this in our verses.

  • In the world those who are rich are on top, and those who are poor are on the bottom. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world there are those who are well fed and they have all they want, and then there are those who are hungry. But in the kingdom these places will be reversed.
  • In the world those who laugh have an easy life, and then those who weep are without what they need. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world those who are accepted and well spoken of have a good life, and then there are those who are rejected and spoken evil of, who suffer. But in the kingdom things will be the opposite.

Jesus is clear, the coming of the kingdom turns everything upside down.

Now let’s get more specific and ask –

Who are the recipients of these blessings and woes??

It’s certainly of interest to me and I’m guessing for you as well. Our first clue is something we already saw – 1. Jesus is speaking these words to his disciples. This means that he is not talking about the poor in general. He is saying, “You, my disciples, who hear me, who are poor . . ..”

So the reversal we just looked at applies to disciples:

  • Disciples who are poor, hungry, weeping and rejected are exalted with the coming of the kingdom.
  • And disciples who are rich, well fed, laughing and socially accepted are brought low and judged.

2. The suffering here has to do with faithfulness to Jesus. What I am saying is that the poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection all come – to use the phrase from the last beatitude – “on account of the Son of Man” – Luke 6:22.

So Jesus is not talking about or advocating here voluntary poverty, or voluntary hunger, or voluntary weeping for that matter. It has to do with how people treat you because of your commitment to Jesus.

Jesus is working here with the common theme of the faithful prophet who suffers, and as well, the unfaithful prophet who has it good in life. And he is laying out the marks of faithful and unfaithful prophets as this is found in the Old Testament.

This comes out at the end of the blessings and at the end of the woes. v. 23 says, “for so their fathers did to the prophets.” v. 26 says, “for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” So Jesus is making a connection between us as his disciples and the prophets of old.

True prophets speak God’s word regardless of the consequences. Thus they are rejected and persecuted. Because of this they are made poor, hungry, and they weep. They are oppressed for their faithfulness.

False prophets, however, say what pleases their audience. Thus they are well spoken of by all. Because of this they have wealth, food and they laugh. They are accepted by those in power and receive the good things of this life.

Jesus is saying, just like it has always been, so it is with his disciples.

So those who are blessed are disciples who have suffered loss for their commitment to Jesus. Those who are cursed are disciples who have compromised to gain the things of this world.

Let’s dig deeper here and make –

Some clarifications

– which I think are important for us to see.

1. You don’t have to be in a continual state of suffering to be blessed. After all, Jesus was well spoken of for a time. This didn’t make him a false prophet. He is referring to the long haul. If you are consistently  faithful to God, these kinds of things will mark your life.

2. You don’t have to have everything that’s on the list in order to be blessed. For any suffering is a mark of faithfulness and brings God’s blessing. To be hated and defamed is enough. We are not penalized simply because those who hate us, in our context, don’t have the power at present to make us poor or hungry. (Although in our society some still get rich and live the high life because they tell people what they want to hear.) But if they do gain this power we must endure it.

3. It’s often ‘the people of God,’ so called, who will do these things to you. It was the people of Israel who oppressed the prophets of old and also Jesus. They didn’t like what they heard – and thought they knew better.

Jesus’ words as encouragement

One of the reasons Jesus gives this teaching is to encourage those who are suffering for him. Think about those who are going through terrible loss all throughout the world for their faith – and the discourage-ment and weariness that this can bring.

Jesus is saying, don’t give up. It won’t always be this way. And he is saying, there will be a day of reckoning for those who do this to his disciples. And he is saying, it will be worth it. The rewards of the kingdom more than outweigh what is lost in this life.

Jesus’ words as challenge

But another reason he gives this teaching is to challenge each one of us. We have to ask ourselves:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Now granted, we don’t live in a society that really persecutes. There are limits to what can be done, as I said before. But you can be ridiculed, slandered, made an outcast or worse – like lose a job because of your faith.

The question for us in our setting is, when there are negative results that come to us because of our commitment to Jesus – Are we faithful, despite the consequences?

This is the test of whether we are among the company of the true prophets or the false prophets.

William Higgins

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