Happy or Horrified?

Posted: September 4, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 6:20-26, “Happy or Horrified?”

Call it #PreacherProblems.  Coming up with sermon introductions might come easily to some, but not so much to others.  Sometimes humor helps, but only if you can do it well. 

Sermon introductions were not a problem for the Master Preacher, the Lord Jesus.  He gave a doozy of an introduction with the Sermon on the Plain as He gave a list we know as the Beatitudes.  In it, He provides His listeners with a stark contrast of what it is like to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God, or that as citizen of the world.  Someone could either experience happiness or horror, and it might not be in the situations we would normally expect.

In the end, it comes down to goals.  What is it that you seek: the world, or Christ?  For those who seek the world, this life is as good as it’s ever going to get (and that’s not saying much!).  For those who live for Christ, this life is as bad as it’s ever going to get…and that’s truly good news!  For the Christian, we look forward to an eternity with Jesus, and that ought to make us happy indeed!

Luke 6:20–26
20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: …

  • Just the briefest of backgrounds is presented before Jesus begins.  Actually, much of the background was presented in the previous verses, where Jesus is shown teaching and healing multitudes of both Jews and Gentiles.  All of that brings up the question whether or not this is the Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon on the Plain.  Good scholars disagree.  Many believe that Matthew and Luke share this material from a common source (or even that Matthew used Luke as a source for his gospel), and that Matthew rearranged the material to make it fit into one main teaching section.  Others disagree.  Although Luke and Matthew share some common material not found in Mark, it seems more likely that Matthew was written prior to Luke, thus Luke would have used Matthew and supplemented what he read there with his own independent research.  In regards to this particular section, although there is much in common between Matthew & Luke, there are also enough differences to think of these sermons as different teachings.  As mentioned last week, Luke notes that Jesus taught this while on “a level place” (6:17), as opposed to on a mountain (Mt 5:1).  The sermon in Luke is considerably shorter, and there is major variation even among the common sections…the beatitudes being the primary example.  There are a different number of beatitudes – they are in a different order – their individual descriptions are different – there are accompanying woes in Luke not even hinted at in Matthew.  The probable conclusion: these are similar, but separate events.
  • So what?  So Jesus was a teacher.  Scripture, as incredibly valuable as it is, contains just a fraction of the teaching content of our Savior.  But what it does include is representative.  We cannot know everything that Jesus taught, but we can be certain we have a thorough sampling of it.  What He taught, He taught several times to many audiences.  This is the message He wanted them to hear, thus this is the message preserved for us in the Scripture.  The core message of Jesus was about the Kingdom of God: what is it – who is included – how to live it out – how to be sure of entering it, etc.  If we can receive this message of Jesus, we too can participate in His earthly ministry & benefit from His teaching.
  • Wherever one falls on the debate of the Sermon of the Mount vs. the Plain, there is no question as to whom Jesus spoke: “His disciples.”  Although the multitudes were present at the time, no doubt listening as well, they were not necessarily Jesus’ primary audience.  His sermon concerned the kingdom of God & its citizens, so it only makes sense to teach those heading into it.  I.e., the disciples of Jesus.  Keep in mind this was a far greater number than only 12 men.  Jesus named 12 apostles, but these were men that He took from His larger number of disciples (6:13).  Anyone at all who followed Jesus in faith would be considered His disciple, so that’s who Jesus addressed at the time.
    • This means that Jesus was talking to you & me, too!  We are disciples of Jesus just as much as Peter, John, and the many “Mary’s” who followed Him.  To be sure, Jesus was speaking to ancient Jews in the context of the Roman Empire, but that’s just who these specific people were.  That was their culture, so Jesus’ teaching is specific to that time & place.  Otherwise, this sermon is just as much for us as it was for them.  The moral standards in this sermon apply to all New Testament Christians everywhere.  What Jesus said to them, He said to us – so pay attention!
  • The Blessings (vss. 20b-23)

Each of the beatitudes is set off with a declaration: “Blessed (are you)…”  The word “blessed” speaks of an inner happiness – a privileged state.  The ancient Greek poets used the term to refer to a transcendent happiness given by their gods.  The LXX & other Jewish writings used it similarly, to describe inner happiness & blessing.  The whole idea is that this is something good.  This is the good of the good, the best of the best.  If you have experienced this special type of blessedness / happiness, you are fortunate indeed!  That’s the word, but Jesus does something unexpected with it: He uses it with situations that few (if any) would describe as happy times.  Overall, people say they are blessed when they are not poor, hungry, sad, or persecuted.  When we are free of those things, that’s when we consider ourselves blessed.  Not so, according to Jesus.  He turns everything upside-down, in His paradox of the Kingdom.

We need to understand that the ways of God are not the ways of men.  He doesn’t think like we think, and praise the Lord for it!  His thoughts are higher than our thoughts & His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:9).  Again – praise God!  If God thought as we do, none of us would be saved.  If God thought as we do, He would seek vengeance upon us at our very first sin against Him, with no opportunity to repent.  He would withhold every physical blessing from those who do not worship Him.  Things like sunlight and oxygen would be stricken from the world, and all of us would die.  But God is not like us.  He is merciful & gracious.  He gives all men & women everywhere the opportunity to repent & to put his/her faith in Jesus for salvation.  He thinks differently, and our salvation is the proof of it!

So yes, what Jesus presents in the beatitudes (and in this sermon as a whole) is unusual & may not make sense at first.  That’s when we need to stop looking at it from the perspective of earth & start looking at it from the perspective of the Kingdom.  We need spiritual eyes to see these things, and that is what we’ve been given as Jesus’ disciples.

  • Blessing #1: Poverty

“Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.

  • You might notice there are 4 blessings & 4 woes, each of them paralleling one another.  The first 2 blessings/woes are physical descriptions, whereas the second 2 are spiritual/emotional ones.  Obviously there is a spiritual dimension to everything Jesus says here, but we need to be careful not to discount the physical entirely.
  • To be poor is normally fare from the idea of blessing, but not for Jesus.  Those who are physically / financially poor are blessed, according to Jesus.  In Matthew’s account, this is a spiritual condition, as Jesus refers to the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3).  Although that application is true here as well, that’s not what Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Plain.  He refers to the simple poor – people without wealth.  The word in Greek means exactly as we would imagine: poor, destitute, without possessions, etc.  The person who has nothing is happily blessed.  Why?  Because they are part of the kingdom!  Notice the present tense: “for yours is the kingdom of God.”  The kingdom is not something for which they wait; it’s something they are already in.  They may be poor in the world, but they are rich in the kingdom.  They are wealthy in the currency that truly matters, in that they already belong to God as His kingdom citizens.
  • Question: “Is Jesus saying that every poor person has automatic entry into heaven?  Are even homeless atheists saved?”  No.  (1) Remember Jesus’ audience: His disciples.  These were men & women who already believed.  Many of them had left homes, careers, and other finances in order to follow Jesus in the first place.  Jesus is assuring them that though they are earthly-poor, they are heavenly-rich.  (2) Although this becomes clearer in vss. 22-23, each of the beatitudes center on our faith in Jesus.  These things are for His sake – something that is central to the theme of both blessings & woes.  Thus it is not simply being poor that is blessed; it is being poor & living your life for the sake of Christ.
  • Blessing #2: Hunger

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled.

  • Hand-in-hand with poverty is hunger.  Generally speaking, those without much money don’t have much food, either.  And again, Luke’s description is that of physical hunger, rather than a hunger & thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).  No doubt, those who have a true hunger for the righteousness of God find satisfaction in Jesus & His gospel – but as we look at the text in front of us, we need to be true to its own context.  Here, Jesus did not only address spiritual matters, but physical ones.  The Lord is well aware of people who physically suffer on His behalf, and He promises to care for them.  Those who “hunger now” – who currently have a lack of food because of their faith in Christ, they can be assured that will not always be the case.  There is coming a day in which they “shall be filled.”  They will be able to eat & drink to their satisfaction in the kingdom.
  • Lest this sound like a small comfort, consider what it would have been like to be a 1st century Christian.  Many times, they were thought to be heretics or trouble makers.  It may have been difficult for some to find income.  Even today in countries in which Christians are a minority, many believers barely survive, sometimes going hungry from day-to-day.  Their association with Jesus keeps others from hiring them, or they are left with the lowest-paying positions.  They now go hungry, but that won’t always be the case.  Jesus knows His own, and He will provide for them.  Especially in the millennial kingdom, they will have food to the full.
    • We belong to the Lord – do we trust Him as our caring Master?  Do we believe that He will provide for us?  Do we look forward to the fulfillment of the kingdom in the way He spoke of it?  It’s not about being rich & ‘getting our blessing’ now; it’s about trusting our Lord & knowing He is the ultimate blessing we receive..
  • Blessing #3: Weeping

…Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh.

  • It seems more than a bit ironic for Jesus to proclaim our true fortunate happiness during our times of weeping, yet that is exactly what He does.  When we weep, cry, lament, and wail, this is our time of blessing.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed blessing to “those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Mt 5:4).  Here, Jesus goes a different direction – almost to emotional extremes.  Those who bewail in sobs shall “laugh” later.  Times of weeping do not remain for the Christian.  They do come, but they do not last.  And one day, they will cease altogether.  That is one of the glorious promises of heaven! (Rev 21:4)  That seems to be Jesus’ point here.  Those who weep as believers won’t always weep.  One day we will laugh!
  • There may be another aspect of this specific to the disciples & apostles who were with Jesus at the time.  There was coming a day very soon in the future in which they would sob like never before.  They would weep great mournful tears when Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the grave.  Yet three days later they would have reason to laugh!  The resurrection gives everyone who believes in Christ great reason to laugh.  Not just in celebration of His victory over His grave, but of His victory over every grave!  We will all rise from the dead (apart from rapture) and no doubt there will be gales of joyous laughter as we physically regather in the presence of Jesus!
  • Blessing #4: Persecution

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

  • This blessing is longer than the rest, and the subject matter is most unusual.  None of the other beatitudes described situations that an earthly perspective would call “blessed,” but certainly not persecution.  As believers, we regularly pray for those who experience it, and our fervent hope is that we will not experience it ourselves.  Indeed, it is not something to wish for, but we can consider it a blessing when it comes.
  • But first, what does it look like?  Jesus gives four descriptions.
    • When men hate you.”  Notice He says “when” and not “if.”  This is specific in the Greek.  Jesus assumes men will hate His followers…and they do.  Some cultures experience this to a greater extent than others, but the principle is true worldwide.  Those who hate Jesus hate His followers.  Those who rebel against God hate those who have received Him and seek to please Him.  Persecution is something promised by Jesus & Paul to every New Testament believer (Jn 15:18-19, 2 Tim 3:12) – it is simply a reality we need to expect.
    • When they exclude you.”  How might a Christian be excluded for the sake of Christ?  In the ancient culture of the Jews (and nearly all of the initial church was Jewish), they might be excluded from the synagogue, cast out of the local community.  Something similar happens today when family members are disowned, or friends are disavowed once faith in Christ is discovered.
    • Revile you.”  The idea here is mockery, as the NASB brings out be translating this as “insult.”  Christians are regularly denounced, mocked, and treated with general disdain & reproach.  No further evidence is required than to simply watch the news or movies out of Hollywood.  Evangelical Christians are commonly depicted as ignorant bigots, and we are abundantly mocked & reviled by our own culture.
    • Cast out your name as evil.”  Has your name ever become a curse word? (Jesus’ has!)  When people scowl upon hearing mention of you, that’s the idea here.  When they attribute to you the worst possible motives because of your faith in Christ, that is them casting out your name as evil.
  • The key to all of this is the qualifier added by Jesus: “for the Son of Man’s sake.”  In regards specifically to persecution, there is no proclamation of blessing to someone who is hated and reviled for being a jerk.  A person who is rude or hateful might rightly expect that treatment.  The blessing for him/her would be if the hateful treatment did not come, for it is deserved!  That’s not who Jesus was speaking to  He was speaking to His disciples – to those who believed – and He was speaking about the treatment they would receive because they believed.  It was those people who could expect blessing.  Not because of what they did or did not do, but because of their faith in Christ.  When their suffering came as a direct result of their association with Jesus, that’s when they could consider themselves truly blessed.
  • Question: “Is persecution the only beatitude where this qualifier applies?” No.  (At least, not in my personal opinion.)  Notice the perfect balance & symmetry between the blessings & woes…all except for this one section.  Even this section seems parenthetical in that it comes before the statement of how the Jewish fathers treated the Jewish prophets (which is echoed in the woes).  There is a Jewish literary structure called a “chiasm” which arranges text in such a way that the reader’s attention is purposefully brought to the middle, making it (literally) the central most important thought of the passage.  Strictly speaking, the structure here is not that of a chiasm (otherwise, the woes would have to be listed in reverse order), but there is no doubt that our attention is drawn to the center.  It is as if Luke (and thus Jesus) is highlighting this as the central thought – the key quality behind the entire teaching.  And it is.  The general poor aren’t blessed; it is those who believe in Jesus.  Likewise with the hungry & the weeping.  Those traits don’t save them, gain them entrance into the Kingdom of God, or guarantee them any future reversal.  It is only their faith in Jesus that does that.  When it is for Jesus’ sake, everything changes.  Jesus makes all of the difference.
  • What is the promise to those who suffer persecution, hatred, and much more for the sake of Christ (the Son of Man)?  Reward!  Heavenly reward in the Kingdom of God – so much so that those who currently suffer ought to now “rejoice…and leap for joy.”  Instead of having  a pity party, they ought to throw for themselves a real party.  If that’s you, you’ve got great reason to be glad: you’re going to be with Jesus in heaven!  Keeping that fact in mind helps keep everything else in perspective.  Are you poor in the present?  You’ve got a current relationship with Jesus!  Have you lost out on present day opportunities because of your faith?  You’re going to be with Jesus for all eternity!  You & I might suffer now – we might even suffer severely (Jesus never downplays it as anything less), but our eternal outlook is far better.  We have tremendous reward in heaven because we will be with Jesus.  Will the reward be gold, silver, or precious stones?  The Bible describes crowns & other things, but all of that pales in comparison with Christ Himself.  He is our great reward!
    • It needs to be emphasized that heaven is only assured for those who have believed upon Christ.  If you haven’t, your only guarantee is not seeing heaven.  Heaven is restricted from those who do not believe – but the invitation to believe is unrestrictedly given to the entire world!  You can be assured of seeing Jesus in heaven if you place your faith & trust in Him today.
  • Of course vs. 23 doesn’t end with reward, but a remembrance.  Jesus recalls how the ancient Jewish forefathers treated the prophets of God.  This is one indication that Jesus’ qualifying statement of faith in Him is parenthetical, because here, it is as if Jesus picks up right where He left off regarding blessed persecution.  The point He makes is that the things Jesus’ disciples will experience was not unusual.  The majority of God’s true prophets faced the same thing.  The Hebrews grumbled against Moses – kings tried to arrest Elijah – kings did arrest Jeremiah, etc.  Those who truly followed God in faith were always hated by the world.  The hatred of the world might even be viewed as confirmation of our faith.
  • The Woes (vss. 24-26)

There were four beatitudes – four statements of blessing for those who suffer in the present world for Jesus’ sake.  Things may be bad, but the good news for Christians is that this world is as bad as it’s ever going to get.  The kingdom of heaven will be far better.  Yet the flip side is true, too.  For those who do not believe in Jesus, they have no promise of heaven, thus this world is as good as it’s ever going to get.  This is the point Jesus makes as He launches into the woes.

What is a woe?  Linguistically speaking, the word is what’s called an onomatopoeia: a word that sounds like the thing it describes.  It sounds in Greek almost exactly the same as it does in English: ουαι.  You can almost hear the groaning that accompanies deep suffering.  It speaks of disaster, horror, or even a state of pain.  It is the last thing anyone would want to experience – the total opposite of happy blessing.  Jesus announced four blessings – now He gave four opposite woes.

  • Woe #1: Wealth

24 “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation.

  • If it is blessed to be poor, it is a woe to be rich.  Don’t get the wrong idea – riches themselves are not the problem.  There were many wealthy people who loved God & are counted among the Old Testament saints.  Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David – all were extremely rich.  Surely Jesus was not pronouncing woes upon them.  Remember the central qualifier: “for the Son of Man’s sake.”  The key issue is the person’s faith in Jesus.  What did they believe?  If a rich person has faith in Christ, he/she is still part of the kingdom.  If not…then that’s the problem.
  • What Jesus describes here is the wicked rich – the faith-less rich.  That person has much abundance today, but nothing in eternity.  What he/she has now is all he/she will ever have.  As Jesus says, “You have received your consolation.”  They have already received their comfort – their reward.  Later in Luke, Jesus will tell the story of the rich man & Lazarus (Lk 16), which illustrates this very principle.  In his life, the unnamed rich man had all the comfort he would ever receive, for in the afterlife he suffered tremendous torment.  It was the beggar Lazarus who enjoyed the comforts of Paradise.  The rich man had nothing.
    • Gut check: where is your wealth?  Where is your treasure?  If your sole focus is on the stuff of the earth, then that is what you will receive.  Yet there is vastly more than this world…don’t be shortsighted!  Don’t miss out on Jesus just because of temporary earthly comforts.  What good is it to gain the whole world & lose your soul?
  • Woe #2: Satisfaction

25 Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger.

  • As with the first two blessings, the second two woes are closely related.  Those who are filled to the full now – who never experience a day of hunger (much less a week or a month) – Jesus promises them a future of hunger.  They won’t always be full – they won’t always be satiated.  One day they will know what it is like to truly be in need, yet not be able to have that need satisfied.
  • Again, there is a literal fulfillment of this in regards to the kingdom & eternity.  Jesus repeatedly described hell as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The once-rich man who ignored Lazarus when to hades, and was so thirsty that he longed for even a single drop of water on his tongue.  The hunger and thirst of those in hell is unfathomable.  That said, that isn’t necessarily the only application.  People can lose their satisfaction in this life, too.  Sure, they are satiated for a time on the sinful pleasures of the world, but they’ve always got to go back for more.  One sexual partner no longer satisfies – wine (or beer, or object of choice) is no longer enough – whatever the thrill is, it needs to be continually increased.  Instead of finding satisfaction in Christ, people turn to the world, but eventually & inevitably, the world leaves them hungry.
  • Woe #3: Laughter

Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.

  • Can someone truly have a woe while they are laughing?  If they don’t know Jesus as Lord & Savior, yes.  One of the false gods of our age is entertainment, yet that god cannot grant eternal life.  Few people in hell think of their favorite earthly comedies and pleasures – and if they do, surely it is with disdain.  All they experience in the present is weeping.  Today, all kinds of people laugh at God in mockery – they won’t be laughing at the judgment seat.
  • Notice that with these latest two woes, there is a promise of suffering.  For those who believe in Christ, we have a promise of peace, joy, love, and provision.  For those who do not, their promise is the opposite.  Their guaranteed future is one of horrible, gut-wrenching suffering.
    • Objection: “Come on, preacher!  Enough with the turn or burn message.  No one wants to hear it!”  No kidding.  No one likes preaching it, either.  But it’s the truth.  This is what Jesus said about it.  He is the one promising comfort to those who have faith & warning others not to turn away.  You may not want to hear a preacher say it, but at least listen to Jesus.  He invites you to respond to Him in faith – He wants you to believe & be saved.  So do it!
  • Woe #4: Reputation

26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.

  • What’s the problem when men of the world speak well of Christians?  It means that they probably cannot see Christ within us.  Obviously some will see – not everyone in the world speaks evil of Christ & Christians.  In fact, we hope that they see Jesus in us & are impressed by Him.  Jesus consistently taught that we are to live in such a way that people will see our good works & glorify God (Mt 5:16), or that our love for one another would be a testimony to our faith in Christ (Jn 13:34-35).  That said, the usual experience is for the world to reject Christians, and the only people they receive are like themselves.  Thus if the world speaks well of a person, most likely that person is of the world & not of Christ.
  • That’s the problem with the false prophets.  They weren’t of God; they were of the world.  They said the things that they believed others wanted to hear.  Thus the kings loved them & spoke well of them.  Why listen to a Jeremiah prophesy destruction, when you could listen to a Hananiah prophesy victory? (Jer 28)  If you were a king (especially a wicked king), which message would you prefer?  To Jesus’ point, if men received you well, it probably meant that they were rejecting God’s word.  Thus a good reception was confirmation of a false gospel.
    • Crowds are no guarantee of a Christian message.  Some of the largest congregations in the world are led by false teachers.  If non-Christians find no problem with your message, what does that say about the message you proclaim?  The person of Christ is a stone of stumbling & rock of offense.  If people don’t stumble at the work of Jesus in your life & words, it might mean that Jesus isn’t visible there.

As the Sermon on the Plain begins, Jesus gives is a powerful introduction: the choice between blessing and woe.  Are you happy or horrified?  Kingdom citizens who suffer now can still consider themselves happy, for they are already guaranteed an eternity with Jesus.  People of the world who are comforted now will one day find those comforts removed.  This world will either be as bad as it gets, or as good as it gets, and it is our faith in Jesus that makes all of the difference.

Which is it for you?  What is it that you long for?  Physical comforts, abundance, entertainment, and a good reputation all seem like the custom-made formula for the American dream.  Yet it is missing a key element: faith in Christ.  Without Jesus, all of those things fail.  Every single piece of materialistic item is doomed to eventual rot or destruction.  If those things are what you seek, those things will be what you receive…and at some point you will inevitably be disappointed.  It will fail, and you will be left with nothing but suffering. 

But for those who have faith in Christ, we receive much more!  The present suffering of this world is as bad as it will ever get for a born-again believer.  Are you racked with bills, or struggle to get by?  You have a heavenly King who knows you, loves you, and has an eternal future set aside for you.  Are you riddled with grief, or assailed with hatred?  You have a Master who cares for you, and promises you something far better.  When your life is lived for Christ’s sake, you can be sure Christ will never forsake you.  Keep your eyes upon Him & His promises.  He is your great reward – nothing more valuable could ever be offered.

As a Christian, you may be struggling with something today.  You may be going through a terrible trial that could easily be included in the list of beatitudes.  Consider yourself blessed!  Most of all, ask Jesus to give you the joy you need to be blessed in this trial.  Go to Him in prayer, and cast those problems at His feet, trusting Him to give you the grace you need to endure.

For others, you’ve seen that you look to the world for satisfaction, but that the world falls short.  Look instead to Christ.  See Him as the God that He is – see yourself in need of the grace that He offers – then cast yourself upon Him for His mercy & forgiveness.

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