- The gospels do not all record the same stories concerning Jesus. There are some stories that are unique to particular gospels. I would like to spend some time this year looking at some of the unique stories of Jesus, stories that we often do not spend time studying because these stories do not occur in multiple places.
- Our first lesson comes from the sermon on the plain. We typically spend a lot of time in Matthew 5-7 where we read about the Sermon on the Mount. Luke records for us another instance of Jesus teaching in Luke 6:17-26 that has been called the sermon on the plain. The reason for this title for Jesus’ teaching is found in Luke 6:17, “After coming down with them, He stood on a level place with a large crowd of His disciples….” The King James Version translates “level place” as “plain” hence the name. The sermon on the plain contains some challenging teachings. One of these difficult teachings is quickly seen in verse 20, “Blessed are you who are poor because the kingdom of God is yours.”
- There have been two ways that the sermon on the plain has been treated. Most of the time Luke’s gospel is ignored and the Sermon on the Mount is focused upon. The other way that many have treated this text is to explain Luke’s gospel by Matthew’s gospel. That is, when Luke said “Blessed are the poor” what he really meant was “blessed are the poor in spirit” as Matthew records. Now, some think that Luke and Matthew are recording the same sermon. Others think that these are two separate occasions. Whichever view we take, we cannot say that Matthew recorded Jesus’ words accurately and Luke did not. Luke still records Jesus’ teaching. Furthermore, we must remember that the recipients of Luke’s gospel would not have likely had Matthew’s gospel. No writer is the scriptures penned words with the expectation that the recipients would have to read another apostolic letter to figure out what he wrote. Each book is self-sufficient and can be understood without the help of other scriptures.
Blessed Are the Poor
- When we read this statement made by Jesus, we typically want to run to Matthew 5, where we read “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Then we come back to Luke and suggest that Jesus is not speaking of possessions, but having a humble heart. But Luke did not record that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke records that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor because the kingdom of God is yours.” I want you to imagine that you are there in the first century in the hills of Galilee, following Jesus and his disciples. At a level place, Jesus turns and preaches, “Blessed are the poor, because the kingdom of God is yours.” Material possessions are the natural meaning of Jesus’ words. We cannot at all think that the massive crowds who were following Jesus thought that Jesus was speaking about being humble and meek. Jesus is talking about physical possessions. Blessed are the poor. We should see this since Jesus contrasts these blessings with woes in verses 24-26. Jesus said in verse 24, “But woe to you who are rich, because you have received your comfort.” When Jesus spoke of the rich, is he talking about the rich in spirit or those who are rich in possessions? Obviously, Jesus is talking about those who are rich in possessions. Jesus must also mean, therefore, that the poor are those who are physically and materially poor.
- I want us to consider the radical nature of this teaching. Jesus is early in his ministry and he begins this lesson to the disciples and the large crowds following him that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are poor and because of this they will have great joy. This teaching is counter-intuitive, especially in first century Israel. Read the words of the apostles about sinners. Read the friends of Job in the Old Testament. Jewish thought was that those who were rich in possessions showed righteousness. Those who were poor were sinners or were not very near to God. Remember the words of the apostles in John 9 concerning the blind man: “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” To be poor and distraught meant that you were not in God’s favor. Jesus preaches a radical message. “Blessed are the poor, because the kingdom of God is yours.”
- So now we must ask the question: why would the poor inherit the kingdom of God and not the rich? Is Jesus simply saying that every person who is poor gets to be with God, but not one rich person? The scriptures never teach this. We know of many wealthy individuals that were disciples of Jesus, such as Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and even Matthew whose former profession was tax collecting. Again, we must ask, what is it about the poor that would cause them to inherit the kingdom of God but not the rich?
- The answer is found in Jesus’ words. Look again at verse 24, “But woe to you who are rich, because you have received your comfort.” The rich have already received their comfort. The reason that the poor will inherit the kingdom of God is because they see their need for Jesus. The distraught, the suffering, the weak, and the poor all see their need. Their lives are not comfortable and they are looking for something more. The rich, however, do not concern themselves with the kingdom of God because they are comfortable now. Things seem good to them now and they do not see any need for Jesus in their lives. The rich already have and therefore do not see their need for Jesus. We need to notice that this beatitude as well as the other beatitudes Luke records begins by stating a physical problem and giving a spiritual resolution. The poor (physical problem) will inherit the kingdom of God (spiritual resolution). By contrast, in the woes Jesus states a physical resolution and gives a spiritual problem. The rich (physical resolution) will not inherit the kingdom of God because they feel comfort now (spiritual problem).
Blessed are you who hunger now
- The next beatitude is similar in nature. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, because you will be filled.” Jesus states a physical problem that existed with the people who were following him. But rather than proclaim that the crowds would receive physical fulfillment of that hunger, Jesus declares that they will be filled. Again, we cannot accept that Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger because of the contrast made in verse 25. “Woe to you who are full now, because you will be hungry.” Jesus cannot be saying that the spiritually satisfied will go hungry. Once again, Jesus is teaching something radical to the ears of those following him. Those who are well off and not hungry physical are going to go hungry spiritual. The reason is the same as in the last beatitude. The rich do not have a hunger for something more but are satisfied by the things of this world. Because they are satisfied with the things of this world, they will not seek the spiritual things. Therefore, Jesus declares that the rich will go hungry when it comes to things that truly matter. Here again we have seen the same formula: Those that are full now (physical resolution) will go hungry (spiritual problem). Those who are hungry now (physical problem) will be filled (spiritual resolution).
Blessed are you who weep now
- The third beatitude recorded by Luke continues in the same vain. “Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh.” Jesus does not say that all of his disciples will always have good times. Jesus is not teaching that your problems will go away if you simply follow after him. But Jesus is making a contrast to the future. If you weep now, you will laugh in the future. This is the same contrast in verse 25: “Woe to you who are laughing now, because you will mourn and weep.” We continue to see that each of Jesus’ sayings is not teaching a completely new concept but building upon this one single lesson that those who are well off now are not well off with God. Those who are hurting now are not hurting in their relationship with God. We also see the same formula in this beatitude as the last two beatitudes. Those who are weeping and sorrowful now (physical problem) will laugh (spiritual resolution). Those who are laughing now (physical resolution) will be mourning and weeping (spiritual problem).
Blessed are you when people hate you
- The final beatitude that Luke records is this: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven, because this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.” Once again, Jesus describes a physical problem, that is, people hate you, insult you, exclude you, and slander you because of God. But also notice again the spiritual resolution: “your reward in heaven is great.” Never does Jesus teach that their problems will be solved on earth. It is clear that Jesus is offering the people something greater. Because of their current problems and lack of wealth, they will be willing to listen to God’s message. However, this is not true for those whose lives are comfortable and easy. Notice Jesus’ woe in verse 26: “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, because this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets.” Here again we have a physical resolution (people speak well of you) and the spiritual problem (they did this to the false prophets and by knowledge of the Old Testament were condemned). This would have also been a radical teaching. Jesus is saying that it is not good that the religious leaders of the day speak well of you. Jesus reminds the crowds that they spoke well of the false prophets throughout history and to remember that they persecuted the true prophets of God.
- Worldliness interferes with our spiritual seeking. One of the key messages that we must take away from the sermon on the plain is that worldliness interferes with our spiritual seeking. The comforting things of this world dull our ability to recognize that we need the things of God. Riches in this life dilute our desire to seek after the spiritual things that truly matter. This is a concept that is commonly missed. Too often we try to defend riches or declare the sinfulness of riches. Having money is not the problem. Having possessions is not the sin. The problem is that money and possessions cause us to trust in those things rather than God. Money and possessions cause us to stop diligently seeking God because we are comfortable and happy. This is the main point of the sermon. The happier we seek to be in this life, the more likely we will not seek spiritual satisfaction. This leads us into our second application.
- Worldliness fools us into thinking we have satisfaction now. This is one of the key themes in the descriptions Jesus gives in the beatitudes. The temporary pleasures from the physical things of this world cause us to place more of our attention on the things of this world. Worldliness makes us think that we can find joy and comfort now, but we always only find an illusion. The joy and the comfort are temporary and we continue to seek after satisfaction. Sometimes we may think we have found it all. Some people think that it does not get any better than living for the weekend. Others find true living in not having to do anything. Yet others find living in always having to do something. So we think we have satisfaction. But the satisfaction does not last. Rather than realizing that the things of this world do not provide lasting joy, we think we need to have or purchase something else and then we will find it. Which leads us into our final application.
- Worldliness will cause us to miss out on true joy, true satisfaction, true happiness, and heaven with all its rewards. Our pursuit of the physical things simply makes us miss out on the things that truly matter. Too many important family functions have been missed in seeking the physical things. I was sad to see the latest commercial with a father who is out of town, missing his child’s big play. But the mother holding up this new phone so the father could hear and see his son play. The point of the commercial is truly this: work is the most important thing so have this phone so we can see the next important thing. So we miss out on our son’s graduation and our daughter’s plays. We miss family time. We miss time with God. We sacrifice God and our family for worldliness far too frequently, thinking that we will have satisfaction by doing so. Yet we are trading true joy for temporary joy. We trade away heaven and its rewards for a car now, which will break in five to seven years. We live up to Paul’s words far too often: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:25).
- Jesus is flat out telling that our need for riches, our need for comfort, our need for happiness, and our need for the approval from others will cause us to miss true joy in life, true satisfaction from living, and heaven with all of its countless rewards. Do not buy the lie of worldliness. Serve the living God today.