Prize What the World Pities (On the Way to the Cross - Part 5)
September 22, 2013 Preacher: Micah Mercer
Scripture: Luke 6:17–26
In this first part of Jesus' sermon on the plain, he taught that the values of his kingdom are in complete opposition to the values of our culture. In fact, his disciples are to prize what the world pities and pity what the world prizes. The natural outcome of this counter-cultural living is that many people will hate followers of Jesus. In the midst of this, Jesus commands us to rejoice.
What is important to you? Just for a moment I want you to think about a few things that are important to you. Being happy, comfortable, having a good reputation, getting promoted, being successful, etc? These are good things, but what if I told you that Jesus has instructed us to pity the powerful, successful, happy, comfortable, and well-known people in this world? That instead, as his disciples, we are blessed when we are poor, hungry, grieving, and excluded.
That is exactly what Jesus said when he taught a large crowd of disciples and other people in our passage today. Jesus took the accepted standards of what it means to be blessed and pitiable and turned them upside down. His central point being that the values of the world are not the values of Jesus or his people. In fact, we should prize what world pities and hold in suspicion what the world values.
We have been following Jesus' ministry through the Gospel of Luke in the context of his journey toward the central event of his ministry: the cross. So far, we have learned that Jesus is the new head of a new humanity who has overcome the temptations of Satan for us. That Jesus must be received by faith apart from anything we can do, that he is the source of cleansing and has authority to forgive sin and authority of the law of God.
This week we find Jesus in the middle of a climactic scene of mass healing and then striking teaching.
17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22 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! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
"blessed" = happy, fortunate, favored
"woe" here is the Greek 'ouai' which is not a curse or a proclamation of un-blessing, but an exclamation of grief. IOW: Alas for them. Those poor people. In the woes of this passage, Jesus was not cursing the rich, but exclaiming how terrible it is to be them
Take the verses in parallel, that is each ‘blessed are’ statement with its corresponding ‘woe to’ statement. In these blessing and woe statements, Jesus outlined five values of the Kingdom of God that are in direct opposition to values of the world.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
POINT: The world pities the poor but Jesus said to pity those who are only rich in this world.
One of the highest values of society throughout the world is to acquire as much wealth as possible. Our education and employment systems revolve around it. Books are published on how to amass wealth and biographies of the rich top the best seller lists. Being wealthy is even considered morally good in many cultures. Even the most successful scams are those that tempt us with the prospect of easy money.
Why do we strive so much after wealth? Because in wealth we see security, we see success, we see prosperity, and we see pleasure and comfort not available to those without it. To an extent, what we see is real. Especially here in the UAE, the distinction is obvious. For the well-to-do there are faster lines, exclusive areas of the Corniche, better hospitals, bigger houses, fresher food, nicer cars, designer clothes, etc.
Yet, Jesus said the poor are blessed and the rich are pitiable. It is important for us to understand the context of this statement. Jesus was speaking to a great crowd of his disciples when he said blessed are the poor. As such, we can assume that he was speaking to his disciples who were poor.
Worldly wealth can be a blessing, but not when it is held up as a value in itself. Those who value worldly wealth are to be pitied because, as Jesus said, "You have received your consolation." In other words, riches in this world are the only riches you will ever have. You can’t buy your way in to the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact wealth and status now have absolutely no bearing on wealth and status in the Kingdom to come.
Part of the American world-view is that anyone can be successful if they work hard to achieve their goals. I think that is true in the sense that you certainly will not succeed if you don't try. However, there is a fact that is overlooked by this way of thinking. The world is a closed system with limited resources. The truth is that not everyone will succeed. In fact, most people will spend their lives striving after material wealth and never get it. In the end, someone else will get what they worked for and they will die without wealth either in this world or the world to come. I would say that those who strive for what they value and never obtain it are to be pitied most of all.
The world pities the poor, but we as disciples of Jesus are to pity those whom the world calls rich. [illus. 'Africa for Norway' - 'Radi-Aid'] When the world pities disciples of Jesus who appear poor to them, their pity is misplaced.
Disciples of Jesus who seem poor to the world have the Kingdom of Heaven now, and are looking forward to the consummation of the Kingdom when Jesus returns. Now, though we may not be rich in a way that the world understands, we are rich with the presence of God and in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. On top of this we look forward to eternal glory in the presence of God. The world pities who they think are poor, but Jesus said to pity those who are only rich in this world.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
POINT: The world pities the hungry but Jesus said to pity those who are only full now.
I think there are two aspects of both hunger and fullness that Jesus spoke about. First is being physically hungry or physically full. The second is being hungry for God’s presence and help, or full in the sense that the need for God’s presence is not known.
Being physically full, in terms of having enough food, is a great blessing especially when you consider that so many in the world do not have enough. Along with being poor comes being hungry. There are even many followers of Christ throughout the world who go without sufficient means to provide for themselves. Many are actually denied work, food, and medical care because of their affiliation with Jesus. The world pities them, but Jesus said to pity the full.
To be honest, this part of the sermon is difficult for me to preach because I have to admit that I have never experienced real hunger. The truth is though, among Jesus real disciples I am in the minority, and I suspect that most of us here this evening are in that category. We are disciples of Jesus who have been blessed not to experience physical hunger.
We can however all relate to a second type of hunger: Hunger for God's help and presence. Every disciple of Jesus, whatever our economic situation, hunger for God and rely on His help.
In Christian circles we often talk about how we were never really satisfied until we began to experience satisfaction in God. But how many of us, if we think back to the time before we knew God, were even aware that there was anything more than what we had apart from God? We had to realize our spiritual hunger, to understand that all the things we tried to fill ourselves with were in the end unsatisfying.
The sad paradox that Jesus said was so woeful is the fact that many people never realize their spiritual hunger. The thing about being full, whether that is full of food or full in terms of being satisfied with life, is that this temporary satisfaction can blind you to your need for satisfaction in Jesus.
[illust. Helium is fun, but no replacement for Oxygen. Helium displaces oxygen such that you can suffocate to death without even noticing.]
In the same way, those who think they have no need of God’s presence won’t experience hunger for Him. So many people live in the world today without Jesus and think they are full because they have food, comfort, wealth, power, popularity, family, religion, etc. They are unaware that these things only offer temporary satisfaction. They are unaware of their need for God and the tragedy is that many of them will not realize this until it is too late. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Jesus said that the hungry would be satisfied. I believe that he was primarily talking about our spiritual hunger. We made full by relying on and being fully satisfied by God's help and presence in our lives now. Once again the pity of the world is misplaced. In fact, we prize this hunger because it is hunger for God. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Whatever we face, whether trouble or good, poverty or plenty, sickness or health, God is with us. He is our satisfaction, our strength, our help, and our hope whether we are hungry or full. Satisfaction in the Lord will only increase as we move on into eternity where we will be forever full in His presence.
v. 21b, 25b
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
POINT: The world pities those who grieve but Jesus said to pity those who will only laugh now.
Important to ask the question, what would cause disciples of Jesus to grieve? Like hunger, I think there are two ways we can look at this. First is to make the connection to Christians who are being oppressed around the world. In many place, Christians are detained without reason, publicly humiliated, harmed, and denied justice. Some of these brothers and sisters are very nearby to where we are now. In these situations, their plight seems pitiable. However, Jesus said they are blessed because a time will come when they will laugh with joy.
The second way to look at this which perhaps connects more with our situations, is the fact that all disciples of Jesus mourn our own sinfulness. We are being transformed by His Spirit into the Christ-like people he wants us to be, but none of us are there yet. Every time the Spirit of God raises some aspect of our life where we are disobeying Him, that we have not yet brought under submission to Him, there is a process we experience. We mourn our sinfulness, we repent in the power of His Spirit, and then we laugh in victory over that sin. Even better is that the day will come when we are vindicated before God because of the sacrifice of Jesus, then our joy in his righteousness will be unending.
People in the world pity Christians because of what they see as our unhealthy self-suppression. Those poor Christians try to suppress their natural desires. You see, society in general is in a constant process of redefining sin. The problem is that this redefinition only becomes more permissive. Many things that are flagrantly evil are have been reclassified as natural acceptable, intolerant to challenge, and even encouraged.
Of the things that the world still considers sinful, most have had personal responsibility removed from them. The current philosophy is that most of our problems and sin are caused by genetics, bad experiences, or failed education, but are certainly not our fault. Instead of being self-controlled, the world encourages chasing after desires and even feeling entitled to them.
[illust – Dad’s 50th birthday party: The joke was that we were mourning when we should have been celebrating.] The problem with the world is that they are celebrating when they should be mourning. They don’t see the truth that there is a God, that he set the standard for right and wrong, and that he will judge according to what each person has done. Unless they repent and trust in Jesus. Sin is celebrated now, but this celebrating will turn to weeping when people face the righteous judgment of God. Jesus said they are to be pitied.
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.
Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
POINT: The world pities the outcast, but Jesus said to pity those who are only esteemed by the world.
In verse 26, all people speaking well of you is directly connected to the way false prophets were treated. We can find an example of this in Jeremiah 27:14-15
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, You shall not serve the king of Babylon, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, declares the LORD, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.
The false prophets spoken of here told the people of Israel what they wanted to hear. There words sounded good and encouraging, but they were not the words of God. Their false prophecies were divorced from the reality of God’s coming judgment upon them. On the other hand, Jeremiah spoke the true words of God and was hated for it. Tradition says that the result of his offensive prophecy was that he was executed by being sawed in half.
The truth about people is that they only like to be told what they want to hear, whether it is true or not. As a result, they surround themselves with philosophies that feel good, but that leave them unable to deal with reality. Just like the central message of most Disney movies.
illust. “Believe in yourself” – It sounds nice, it’s motivational, it’s positive, and it’s just what people want to hear. But is this nice message sync with what God says about us? According to God, all are sinful and fall short of His glory. There are none righteous, not even one. Could we be any more offensive if we said this out loud? People don’t want to hear this.
In the main point, I said that the world pities the outcaste. That is only true when the outcaste did not offend the one who pities him. When people are offended, even by the truth, they don’t pity, they hate, exclude and revile the offender. As such we feel an imperative to be inoffensive. The result is that we are tempted to keep our true beliefs to ourselves in order to be included and spoken well of.
Jesus did not speak to the outcastes in general, but those who are hated, excluded, and defamed on His account. This is an uncomfortable thought for us, especially those of us from cultures that place a high value on the group. The truth is that as disciples of Jesus we will face exclusion. In fact, it is a mark of being his disciple that not everyone will like us. I would even argue that the only way to go through life as a Christian without offending anyone is to hide what you believe.
Jesus said to pity those who are accepted by all, who are included, who are spoken well of, because acclaim in this world is all they will have. However, it is a blessing to be hated and excluded on his account because we look forward to a great reward in His kingdom.
In our passage today, Jesus taught a different paradigm of values that are in perfect opposition to the values of our world. Our world values wealth, comfort, temporary pleasures, and inclusion even at the cost of principles. These things are all pitiable as values, especially in light of the fact that none of them will last into eternity. All who insist on finding them only in this world will see their riches become useless, their fullness turn to hunger, their laughter turn to weeping, and their reputation come under the judgment of God.
We must not mistake gaining all that the world values for blessedness. Wealth and comfort have a way of taking away the motivation to seek real blessing. We see things in this world that look so good, but we need to keep focused on what Jesus taught: If you set your heart and bend all your energy to gain all that the world values, you might get it, but that is all you will ever get. That is not a blessed condition but a woeful one.
The very things that the world pities in Jesus’ Disciples of Jesus are the things we value as marks of following him. Whether rich or poor, we rely on God. Whether hungry or fed, we find satisfaction in Him. We mourn our sin, but we find victory in Jesus. We face exclusion on account of Jesus, but we rejoice because our reward in heaven is great. You see, our expectation of fulfillment is not in the now, not in this temporary world, but in the new world to come where we will be with our Lord forever.
Let’s step back a bit for a moment and look at how Jesus’ teaching is connected to his journey toward the cross. The values Jesus taught were countercultural in his day too. He did not seek riches or fame, but rather to save all those who were lost in sin. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus was persecuted for his good news. In fact, His teaching and his claim to be God in the flesh was so offensive that the religious authorities of his day came up with false charges against him and had him crucified.
This was no accident, but exactly what Jesus expected. He went willingly to the cross for the joy he saw on the other side. In essence, he went ahead and did himself what he expects of us. To proclaim the good news and to live according to the values of his kingdom no matter the cost in this world, because of the blessed joy we see ahead. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.