Luke 6:22-26 “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Luke lists for Theophilus (the friend whom he has in mind in writing his gospel) just four of the beatitudes of Jesus, less than half the number of beatitudes that Matthew records in the fuller version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5,6 and 7). Such beatitudes as Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the merciful and Blessed are the peace-makers, are absent from this shorter version of the sermon which was preached at a certain level place by our Lord. What Jesus does on this occasion is to concentrate on the four most basic beatitudes; he is laying out this quartet of building blocks on which every blessed life has to be erected. Everyone claims to be searching for the blessed life but when they refuse to go to God their maker and Judge for his definition of what true blessedness is they’re all destined to a fruitless search. What Jesus describes here is the only true and lasting blessedness anyone can find under the heavens – or ever will find.
What effort men put into this, what pilgrimages they take, what a variety of gurus they go to, what meetings they attend, what sacrifices they make! Rejecting God’s way of blessedness means a life of enormous effort. Don’t you see it in the restlessness of our age, the fads, the travel, the away games, wandering about from pub to pub or club to club, the sampling of drinks and drugs, the downers and the uppers, and then the invariable anti-climax, the inevitable disappointment and frustration of it all? Is this all there is? With advancing years they bury their lives in non-stop entertainment, the perpetual flicker of the TV, just to help pass the time. So a lifetime vanishes away and blessedness is for ever lost. Don’t lose it! Please don’t lose it! What will it profit you to gain everything and lose your life? I am here to tell you where blessedness is to be found. Prick up your ears and pay attention. Your destiny depends on it. Your usefulness, the quality of your life, and the life of those who most intimately know you, all hangs on your learning what blessedness is and taking it on board. In other words I want you to understand what the Lord Jesus is saying, and then to make it your own. You can learn the nature of the blessed life as God the Son explains it to you, and you can live and enjoy it. That’s how I want you to respond to these words of Jesus. He tells us where to find blessedness, and he alone.
Then you will notice something else Jesus does to underline the importance of his words. He sets out the consequence of anyone rejecting these blessed building blocks. He actually tells us that every alternative is woeful. He doesn’t say, “We all have to make our own way through life; everyone has to choose what seems right for him; what’s OK for one person may not be OK for another; we must all be tolerant of the different roads to self-discovery. And I’m just sharing with you some of my ideas.” There is nothing at all like that in Jesus’ approach. In fact he says that it will be “Woe to you,” if you lose out on this! Here is the Son of God, the one sent into the world by its Creator, and he speaks universal truth with authority to every single person bearing God’s image. “This is what blessedness consists of. I don’t want you to live frustrated lives, ever searching and never coming to the knowledge of true happiness. You only get one shot at life. Get it right! Listen to me! “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” Then one by one he sets them out.
1. WHAT IS TRUE BLESSEDNESS?
i] “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (v.20). He is describing a favoured person who has come to see that he has no hope of buying pardon for his sin and purchasing an entry ticket into heaven by anything at all that he’s able to do. All his best deeds have been tarnished by pride, self and failure. So he has come to set his eyes on the Lamb of God, the holy, harmless, undefiled Jesus Christ. What a perfect righteous life he has lived. What a mighty atonement he’s made by giving his life on Calvary. “God accept me for Jesus’ sake! I am poor and needy but Jesus is rich! Please forgive my sins and make me your son in the name of Jesus only!” That is the blessed man, the one who realises that he is poor. So when you’re feeling you ain’t much; you’re not much of a Christian; you’ve done so little for God, then blessed are you who are poor.
Then Jesus underlines that with a piteous woe; “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (v.24). Here is an anti-beatitude; it’s a solemn word; “what judgment, what woe lies before you if you miss this blessedness.” The solemnity of being rich without God is what Jesus is emphasizing, but this is also a word of compassion, “Alas for you! I could break my heart over you. You have rejected the way of blessedness and so your life both before and after the grave is going to be one of woe. What a terrible future lies before you!” Isn’t that true for so many of you? You have done well in the world materially. You have prospered in your job and have reached the top of the tree. As a personality you are as confident and well-integrated as any top businessman such as Alan Sugar. You intimidate me with my gospel message; I don’t know how to speak to you. You seem to lack nothing whatsoever – except Jesus Christ the Son of God, but he is the one who says, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” You’ve got it. That’s all there is. You’ve had all the satisfaction that life has to offer you. There is nothing more to get in this sad world. You’ve already received your comfort. When the last illness takes over, and death steadily draws nearer, then there is no more comfort for you than what you’ve already had in your relationships and all your stuff. You haven’t fulfilled man’s chief end of glorifying and enjoying God. You have not known and loved and served the God you’re going to meet. Woe to you who are rich.
My task as a preacher seems often absolutely futile. I have to make people who feel they’ve achieved everything in life and consider themselves to be enviable men and women take a 180 degree turn in their whole attitude to themselves and life and God. They’ve achieved so much through an intelligence that God himself has given them, and by good health, and taking the opportunities that arose, and energy – all these have been God’s gifts – and they’ve done well in the world, in some tiny sphere of material well being. They’ve traveled, they live in a magnificent house and they drive fine cars. They have gained the world like Princess Diana did, but they’ve lost their souls, and it’s a bad choice. This leads on to the next beatitude . . .
ii] “Blessed are you who hunger now for you will be satisfied” (v.21). You have failed to find satisfaction in all the world but you turn with deepening hunger and thirst to the living God, for the beauty of holiness which never fades, for the robe of righteousness which never grows old, for the smile of God on your life. You search for a church with Christ at the centre, where people gather together in his name. You listen to the Word of God being preached to hear what the Lord wants you to do. You are hungry for truth and fellowship with God and wisdom and deepening love for the Lord and his people. You are hungry for all of that and are increasingly satisfied with it.
Then again there is Jesus’ woe to those who have rejected that; “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry” (v.25). You don’t feel any emptiness; you’ve no spiritual hunger – woe to you! Sin and the flesh taste sweet to you – woe to you! None is so empty of grace as he who dreams he’s full. You’ll complain about rising prices of food and electricity and gas. You’ll complain about your aches and pains and the failures of the National Health Service to drop everything and give you its immediate attention. You will quickly grumble about the lateness of a meal, but what of the righteousness of God which is in Christ? Why aren’t you hungry for that? The kingdom of heaven is like a King who holds a banquet to celebrate the wedding of his son and you’ve had an invitation card. What a feast; dishes of soup, hot tender slices of beef, mountains of green peas with a knob of butter slowly melting on the top, fresh beans, Yorkshire puddings, large silver jugs of steaming hot gravy, roast potatoes, tender carrots – it is all there. All things are ready! Please come to the wedding feast of the King’s son. But you refuse. You won’t come and eat. You turn away. Over there is a fast food outlet, and you would rather have a bag of greasy chips covered in curry sauce; you’ll take that. “I am well fed now,” you say. You tell the King what he can do with his Son and his wedding and his feast. Woe to you! You prefer husks to the food that comes from heaven. You are like a child who would rather play in the street than eat such food. You have no palate for heavenly things – woe to you! This leads on to the next beatitude, the third building block of blessedness . . .
iii] “Blessed are you will weep now, for you will laugh” (v.21). When Jesus blesses those who weep now, he is referring to his followers who cannot and will not shrug their shoulders at their own sin, not any longer, not at the way they’ve hurt others, especially those who depend on them the most. They have a new concern about how their behaviour has affected others, and especially how it impacts the Holy Spirit, and our loving Father in heaven and our sympathetic Saviour. They sing these words, that they “hate the sin that made Thee mourn and drove Thee from my breast.” They take their conduct seriously; they grieve over their sin and they look for the immeasurable mercy of the God of love. Blessed are you who will weep now. But to underline this point, once again Jesus brings in the compensating woe, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep,” (v.25). Those who laugh now are like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, people who say to themselves, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (Luke 12:19, 20). There are just two choices, Jesus says, that you repent now in sadness for your sins and then enjoy blessedness hereafter, or you mock at religion and the law of God now and for ever after you’ll know weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The alternatives are as stark as that. Then Jesus mentions the final building block of blessedness.
2. BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN MEN HATE YOU.
Here are Jesus’ words in the longest of the beatitudes; “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (v.22&23). Why are you being hated? You understand that it is not because of any offensive and crude behavior on your part. People who persist in gross, unmannerly conduct are eventually going to suffer for it. If you don’t use deodorant, don’t claim persecution because no one wants to sit next to you in school or at lectures. If you are rude to your employees or disrespectful of your boss, don’t be surprised at finding yourself ostracized. That’s not the kind of hatred Jesus has in mind. He’s not referring to people who suffer because they are lazy so-and-so’s who arrive late, leave early, don’t work hard, criticize others, bend the rules, and in general don’t do a good job. In that case, it doesn’t matter whether you are a Christian or not. If you behave like that you will be hated because other people have to do what you’re failing to do. You’re thinking that you’re being persecuted because you’re standing for the faith, while the truth is that you’re being persecuted because of your thoughtless personality. That could be what’s happening. You’re thinking that you’re being persecuted for the cause of God, but you’re an ignorant person, you’re rude, you’re obnoxious.
Let me emphasise this, that this beatitude is not promising a blessing on those who break the law or become strident in their pursuit of the things they believe in. You can’t claim persecution if you are arrested for breaking the windows in an abortion clinic or daubing the walls with swastikas. This hatred that Jesus mentions doesn’t apply to trouble you’ve brought on yourself. It does, however, apply to those cases where you run into opposition because of your stand for Jesus Christ. The key to understand this principle lies in the phrase, “because of the Son of Man” (v.22). The trouble you are in has been caused only because you affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of Man – that glorious being mentioned first in the book of Daniel, coming from the heavens with great power and glory. “Jesus is the Son of God and Son of man, the only Saviour. You have to believe on him and follow his words,” and because you say this you are in trouble. Caesar doesn’t like this rival lord. The Jews don’t like this identification of Jesus with the Son of Man and so there are the threats and the visits of the army and the police and the break up of meetings.
Then there is the word present in Matthew’s rendering of the beatitude, ‘righteousness.’ Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Take the first part of that word – ‘right.’ The word ‘right’ actually means ‘straight.’ When your life is straight by God’s standards, it is a righteous life. When you are the kind of husband or daughter that the Bible describes you are righteous in how you live. Blessed are those whose lives are straight. We live in a crooked world filled with people whose lives have been made crooked because of sin. What happens when you place a straight stick next to a pile of crooked sticks? The straightness of the straight stick magnifies and exposes the crookedness of the crooked stick. The newborn lamb stand alongside the ewe and the mother sheep looks very dirty.
I have told you the incident in the life of a man who said good-bye to his friends at church to join the army. He did his three months’ basic training in ‘boot camp’and finally came home on a visit. At church his friends asked him how it had been. What was it like being a Christian in the army? “Fine,” he said. “Fine?” they asked him. “We thought it would be tough being a Christian in the marines.” “Oh, I haven’t told them I’m a Christian,” he said. Then it will be a lot easier being a Christian; there’ll be much less hatred if you’re a secret disciple of Jesus because you’re afraid of men. But if you nail your colours up from day one, if you kneel down at the end of the day in that dormitory and pray, then you can expect a good natured boot to be thrown in your direction and some provocation. My point is that it’s difficult to be indifferent to a wide-awake Christian. You can hate him or you ask him questions, but you can’t ignore him. Happy, alive Christians will inevitably confront others with the reality of God. You can’t be neutral when such a Christian is talking to you. Such Christians will be crowned or they’ll be crucified, because they are either mighty right or mighty wrong. Most of the time the world will choose to hate them.
3. ARE YOU REJOICING WHILE BEING HATED?
Jesus identifies in verse 22 three particular forms that the hatred will take:
i] Exclusion. You don’t belong. You can never be a part of the in-group. You don’t get invited to the status events. It can be tough for a 14-year old Christian boy or girl being excluded from places and groups he or she would love to be a part of.
ii] Insults. The word means ‘to cast into the teeth,’ as in ‘hurling an insult.’ It means that Christians can expect to be made the butt of some jokes and cynicism. They’ll dub you ‘holy Joe’ and a ‘wee free’ and a ‘fundamentalist.’ They ask us how may are attending our congregation, and we feel almost ashamed to tell them how few we are. They ask us, “Is so-and-so still attending your church?” and we have to say, “No. That family has left us,” and it is painful. There is the insult of the smug silence.
iii] Rejection. That is very similar to exclusion isn’t it? Here it probably has to do with problems in a family if you become a Christian. If you come from a Jewish or a Muslim home and confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God then you will probably be rejected by the family. You may be persecuted. You may have to flee for your life and take a new identity. The family may hold a funeral service and mourn for you as one who has died and they will treat you as no longer living for the rest of your days.
It is then that our Lord issues a command, the only command in the beatitudes; “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (v.23). When Jesus blesses those who are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected because of the Son of Man then he compares their treatment to what the godly prophets once endured, men like Elijah and Jeremiah. The reason for their ill treatment is that they’ve all stood for God’s truth and righteousness at different times in history, and sinners, especially religious hypocrites, hate that. Jesus’ disciples, who are so mistreated, should rejoice and leap for joy because they have great reward in heaven. Think of it! Just a brief life, one that goes by like a weaver’s shuttle, and then . . . not outer darkness or non-existence, but heaven in all its joy and peace and glory, a new heavens and a new earth, and God vindicating his people at the day of judgment, a wonderful reward for all the pain. You had been burned at the stake. You had been torn apart by wild animals to excite a vast screaming audience. You had been stabbed many times and your throat being cut was captured on video and your murder was shown around the world – just like those three Christians working for the Bible Society in Turkey last year, but now what a change, “great is your reward in heaven” (v.23). “Well done good and faithful servant.” The angels express their joy; the church of the first born in heaven delights in your company. You are safe in the arms of Jesus for ever and ever.
Then Jesus speaks his word of woe again, to ensure that the message really sticks; “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (v.26). They threw Jeremiah into a dark cistern full of mud, but they applauded the false prophets. “How wonderful they are.” They were sure the messages of deliverance and victory from those men were true. Those prophets told the people exactly what they wanted to hear, and they drew the crowds, and their offering plates were full. “You are going to get married; you are going to have children; you are going to recover from this illness; the famine is going to end; Jerusalem is not going to be besieged; our armies are going to be triumphant; our boys are going to come back safe and sound from the battle with wagons full of plunder.’ What wonderful prophets! The best in the world! All men spoke well of them, but the trouble was that all that was lies. It’s never hard to gain a following and multiply the size of a congregation. You subtly flatter people so that they don’t know why they feel good about themselves when they hear you preach; you’re telling them how great they are. It’s not hard to gain the reputation of being a man of the Holy Spirit. You quietly hint at experiences of the Spirit you’ve had, with that faraway look in your eyes, gazing off into space; you quietly tell them you can’t begin to reveal to them what God has told you. You assure them that the feelings that music and silence bring to them are actually the Holy Ghost, and proof that he’s working away in their lives. They’ll flock to hear you! They’ll buy your books and play the CDs of your sermons. You’ll become an international speaker, and venues all over the world will buzz at the news that you are going to visit them soon. You’ll be famous and successful on earth; all men speak well of you, but you’ll be rejected in heaven.
4. IS YOUR LIFE ONE OF BLESSING OR WOE?
One reason Jesus paints with these broad strokes of black and white, with no grey tones, is to draw a clear line and make us examine ourselves. Which side are we on? Immediately some will want to glance at these four building blocks and then ask the Lord, “How about someone who isn’t poor or rich? I’m just kind of middle class. How about someone who isn’t hungry, but I’m not a glutton? I’m not going around weeping, but neither am I a comedian. People aren’t throwing rotten eggs at me, but neither am I Mr. Popularity. Isn’t there room for someone like me . . . in the middle?”
If I am understanding this Sermon on the Plain correctly Jesus is telling us, “No way. There is no third way. You’re either decidedly for me or you’re decidedly against me. There’s actually no middle ground anywhere.” He forces us to get off the fence and decide: are we living for this life and for its temporary pleasures or are we living for Jesus and his eternal kingdom? The kingdom that Jesus speaks of is both a present reality and a future promise. To the poor who have followed him, Jesus says (v.20), “Yours is the kingdom of God.” They presently possess it. In this sense, the kingdom means living decidedly under the lordship of Jesus, obeying his commands, living with the aim of pleasing him. But, the kingdom is also a future promise, in that Jesus plainly taught that he’d return one day in power and glory and the eternal state would begin. “Great is your reward in heaven.”
So, if you want to know this blessedness then you must see that there is one of two ways of living. You can live for the stuff of the world, all its pleasures which are destined to perish. Or, you can submit yourself to Jesus Christ and live for his present kingdom and his coming kingdom. Every follower of Jesus, not just the super-dedicated but the mere believer, is heading for heaven. We’ll soon meet at Jesus’ feet. There’s no third way; there’s no middle ground, there’s no ‘sort-of Christian’ with one foot in the world and one in Jesus’ kingdom. You must get off the fence and declare yourself to be on Jesus’ side.
Isn’t this reference to heaven very central to this whole section? How can there be blessedness if we are going to be annihilated soon and just cease to exist? Life is not a short journey into nothingness. Think of that horror – I will be nothing. I won’t be asleep. I will be zero. It will all be over; that was it. We are going to be snuffed out like candles. How can people talk of blessedness if they believe that’s what lies ahead of them? For them there’s no blessedness but dread. Listen to what the Lord Jesus said; you hear it read at funerals but it can be covered over by the sentiment of that time. Listen to it now . . . this is God the Son speaking; “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2&3). Those are not my words. They are the words of Jesus, that at death he is going to take us to be with him, exactly where he is we too will be.
Jesus’ teaching here presupposes and demands this eternal perspective. Do you have it, or do you just live for now? Without that hope of heaven, his words about blessedness are nonsense. Why be poor, hungry, sorrowful, and hated in this life if that’s all there is? Grab what you can where you can however you can. Critics of Christianity will often scoff, “You believe in pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die.” The proper response is, “Absolutely! And you’re a fool not to know there’s a heaven to gain!” The Bible is abundantly clear that the hope of the believer is to be with the Lord in eternity. Our hope is not getting everything in this short life on earth. That man alone is blessed, who is blessed for eternity.
Today it’s the last who are the first. Those who worship the world, the flesh and the devil are today first in the papers, first in the money, first in the media, first in the admiration of the young, first in fashion and fame, first in possessions and applause. They seem to have everything. Photos of their weddings are in Hello magazine, not our wedding. We’re missing out! They are the last, but in this world they are the first. One of the psalmists looked on the easy life of the wicked and concluded they were blessed and not he, that it had been in vain for him to turn from sin to put his trust in God, and so it seems just like that at times to us. We are overwhelmed as to just how much we are last and not first because the first in God’s love are last in recognition and rewards in this present evil world, but soon the last will be first in blessing, and first in the divine greeting, first in inheritance, first in joy and love. But those men and women who are first here will be the last there. There’s going to be some startling reversals in eternity. What got the psalmist back into focus? “I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely you set them in slippery places; you cast them down to destruction” (Ps. 73:16-18). This life is all the heaven the unbeliever has, and it is all the hell the saint ever sees. The blessed follower of Jesus is poor and hungry and sorrowful and hated, but he trusts in Jesus Christ completely for sustenance, joy, approval, and salvation. We live to hear from the Lord some day, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
5. ARE YOU BUILDING YOUR LIFE ON THESE BUILDING BLOCKS?
I’d ask you individually what I ask you as a congregation, “Do you want the blessedness of God resting on your life?” “Of course,” we all instinctively want to answer, “Yes, of course I do!” But before you answer so quickly, stop and think about it. How you answer that question is going to make a huge difference in how you live.
Let me remind you again of the visiting minister, David Patterson holding a week of evangelism in a Scottish church, and talking to unbeliever Douglas Macmillan, the farmer and shepherd and Highlands Games wrestler. They had long conversations together and finally one evening that momentous week David said to Douglas, “Here on this hand I put all you can gain from the world, all its prizes and rewards, all its money and its fame, all its pleasures and excitements. Here on the other hand I put Jesus Christ and his glory. Which one are you going to take?” There was a very long silence, and then Douglas said, “I’ll take him.” That was the beginning of that long, fruitful, blessed life of serving God as a preacher of his grace. You cannot have them both. You cannot have the blessedness and also the woe. You have to choose. You have to come to a decision.
The person living for God’s blessing must deliberately reject the world’s values to live under the lordship of Jesus as King. Let me ask you this: are you meeting some resistance because of your attachment to Jesus Christ, not for the flaws of your character, but for Christ’s character in you? For if you are, and if you are fulfilling these four Beatitudes, the Lord Jesus is saying to you today: ‘Great is your reward in heaven!’.
J.D. Rockefeller died, and every paper in the United States of America was speculating how much he was worth. For one reporter it got too much for him, and he organised an appointment with one of Rockefeller’s aids. He came to him and when he got into the room with this man he thought he was going to get his answer. He said to him, “How much did Rockefeller leave?” The man looked at him and said: “He left everything.”
The message of these four beatitudes is this: what are you building your life on? Are you building on things down here, or are you living for eternity?
15th June 2008 GEOFF THOMAS