Sermon on the Plain, part 8

I think if we were all really honest with ourselves, we would all admit that at one time or another, there has been someone we just really loathed. They got under our skin and upset us to no end. Throughout my academic career, I can remember several people who I just could not stand to hardly look at because every time I did, feelings welled up within me that were not good. For one reason or another, they drove me up the wall and I wanted nothing to do with them. You know that feeling don’t you? Sure; we’ve all been there and we rationalize and justify having those feelings. Because of some action or attitude in the past, this person deserves me treating them this way and harboring these feelings. And we go on with life as though nothing is wrong, steering clear of that particular individual.

Jesus knew and still knows we would harbor those kinds of feelings within ourselves. And instead of commanding us to get those actions and attitudes out of our lives, in the Sermon on the Plain he capitalized upon them and used them as an opportunity to teach his disciples about those kinds of people that make us angry. Jesus was one of the greatest opportunists the world has ever seen, utilizing whatever people, places, or things that the situation garnished and taught some of the most impacting lessons God could ever teach man. In Luke 6.27-31, he does this very thing.

Love Who, Jesus?

Having pronounced “woes” upon certain people, he turns his attention back to those who “hear,” namely his disciples. He uses the stongest word for “but” here (Gk. ALLA) to say in essence that one does not want to act this way and receive woe BUT listen to my voice and live this way. Have you ever been punched in the stomach and had the wind knocked out of you? Or maybe in some other way you have had your wind knocked out? This is what these verses should do to a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. They have impact so great that they spiritually knock the wind out of you.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

How much more opposite can Jesus get? This goes totally against the grain of these people’s world. All their life they had heard “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Jesus says this isn’t going to be the way things are anymore. You love your enemy. Remember that person who upset you and made you angry, angry enough for you (me) to make them your (my) enemy. Jesus says love them. More than that, do good to them. More than that, bless them. More than that, pray for them. So you have the four-fold action of a disciple performed on the one person they would never dream of performing this to: love, do good, bless, pray for. Talk about counter-cultural. This goes against everything these first century disciples knew and goes against everything the 21st century Christian sees in life. But it gets stronger…

Do What, Jesus?

If someone came up to you and slapped your face right now, what would you? I can hear the churchy answers now: I wouldn’t hit them; bible says, “turn the other cheek.” Right. And if this person ripped the coat off your back, you’d give him the shirt off your back too right? Or if he took your wallet out of your back pocket and took your Check Card, Credit Card, Gas Card, and every other card you have, you would let him and never ask for it back. This is not what Jesus is calling us to. The reason I can say this is because (1) the style of teaching Jesus is implimenting and (2) he summarizes this teaching in v.31.

When Jesus teaches this divine truth of loving your enemy, what kind of teaching style does he implement? He uses hyperbole (exaggeration), one of the most familiar and impacting teaching styles available. The truth stands out very plainly when Jesus teaches this way: love your enemy though it pains you. Kingdom living does not mean you become a door mat for the world. Rather, kingdom living is about allowing a spirit of love, even for your enemies, to dwell in your being and permeate you life. And though you may suffering injury, you acknowledge that the Lord is the final say for vengence and revenge, not you. The deeper meaning is this: we do not endure bad treatment simply because the Bible says to, but rather we endure it out of a spirit of love. We can do all these things Jesus says, bt if the actions are void of love, we have missed the mark.

All of this is under the “Golden Rule” umbrella:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

And this is the heart of the matter. What is going on within you? You harbor these feelings of spite and malice and though you would never act upon them in a negative, but your attitude of avoidance, you slowly kill your “enemy” and yourself. What would you have your enemy do you to you: evil or good? No one seeks the harm of their body from their enemy be it a slap in the face, a stolen cloak, or theft. Hence, be active in well-doing, especially to your enemies. Jesus will futher illuminate this truth in the following verses.

Sermon on the Plain, part 7

In all the Bible, I don’t think there is very much that is worse than a false prophet. In fact, I am pretty sure the Lord abhors it for the tongue of a false prophet is a lying tongue. It is especially disturbing to think that a man, whom God abhors, is spoken well of by all. However, this thing happened in ancient Israel, it was happening during the time of Jesus, after Jesus and all the way to today. It does not take much to find a man who claims to have a message from God, but when checked with Scripture, is evident it is not. And men speak well of such a man. Notice the words of Jesus:

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Israel loved the false prophets so much and spoke well of them because the false prophet carried a good message. While the true prophets (Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.) were prophecy gloom and doom, death and destruction, the false prophets were saying that none of this was going to happen, in fact, carry on as though it is business as usual. Jeremiah had a direct message from God and a powerful illustration to go with it: he had to wear a yoke around his neck, pointing to the yoke Israel would wear in captivity. Hananiah the false prophet got the clever idea to prophecy in the name of Jehovah, God Almighty, that the yoke would be broken. (see Jer 28.1ff). He even went so far as to take the yoke off of Jeremiah and break it. And the crowd praised Hananiah and spoke well of him…except God. Because of what Hananiah had done, God would not bring a wooden yoke upon Israel – he was bringing a yoke of iron (Jer 28.14).

This is just one example of the kinds of things false prophets do: they rally the people together, preach a message not from God of prosperity, and ultimately lead the people into a situation worse than that which they were in. Their path leads only to death and destruction (see Jer 28.17). This is why Jesus’ words are so important. One commentator remarked that “a true prophet is too uncomfortable to be popular.” The true prophet (i.e. spokesman for God) is one whose message is not always pleasant and good to hear but it is what the people need to hear. John the Baptists message was direct and to the point, second only in directness and poignancy to Jesus. And he ended up with his head cut off and Jesus’ own people crucified him. Nevertheless, if the true prophet fails to proclaim the word of the Lord, woe to him.

Christians carry a message that is not always pleasant. Because God and Jesus deal in the realm of absolutes, man has a hard time accepting the facts. It is absolutely true that Jesus is the way, the only way to the Father; no one goes to the Father but through Jesus. This is ungetaroundable. But the false prophet will say, “Yes, jesus said that, but he did not really mean that. Surely there are other ways to the Father.” And the crowd will cheer, unaware that this false prophet has just signed all their death warrants. It may not be kosher or PC, but Jesus is the only way to the Father any way you cut it. And as God’s representatives on earth, carrying with us the message of the King, we must proclaim this truth lest Jesus’ woe fall upon our ears on the day of judgment.

Sermon on the Plain, part 6

I suppose now, in verses 24-26 of Luke 6, would be the part where, if set to music, the music would be very heavy and ominous. The strings are laboriously pulling their bows across their instruments and the bass drum is rumbling heavily. With each “woe” Jesus pronounces, the percussion clashes – cymbals and brass come together with great force. And the audience is held captive to the words of Jesus…

“Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.”

Jesus utilizes the physical realities to demonstrate a spiritual truth: it is usually the rich who are well fed. And based upon their self-indulgence, they develop an attitude of superority and self-sufficiency. They need nothing from anyone. However, their self-sufficiency will turn to desperation in the kingdom. They are physically fed, yes, but are impoverished spiritually. One commentator writes, “Jesus is referring to the ultimate reality. In the kingdom of God it is these people who are the paupers. One day they will see this for themselves.” The warning from Jesus is clear: take inventory in this life to ensure you are invested in the spiritual things. But Jesus continues…

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Hence, the Christian is to live a stoic life with no joy, right? Wrong. Jesus is instructing through hyperbole. In fact, his entire ministry was against the killjoys of his days and the legalism that stifled joy. Moreover, Jesus said his very purpose in coming was that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Rather, Jesus is pronouncing woe upon those who are the pleasure seekers. But more than that, the final realization of this superficiality is really weeping and mouring. Pleasure is their god and they lead a superficial life. Another commentator calls this “the carefree expression of contentment with the success of the present.” Indeed, the Christians hope and joy is not in the present reality – our hope and joy is founded in the eternal which can never fade.

Our lives are temporary and fleeting. The half-brother of Jesus would call it a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes. Jesus, with the pronouncements of woes upon the superficial and the self-reliant, is saying invest in heaven. Rely not on the earth and the things in. Do not be mastered by the flesh and the things of this world but rather find bliss in the kingdom (rule and reign) of God in your life.

Sermon on the Plain, part 5

Jesus finishes his blessings and proceeds to pronounce woe upon certain groups. For those of you unaware of what woe is, it is similar to someone saying “how dreadful.” It is something that is horrific, a state of hardship or distress. And so when surely when his audience heard these words of Jesus in Luke 6.24:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort”

no doubt they did a double-take. “Jesus, are you serious? Those who are rich are the ones who have it rough?” That’s right, because they have already received their comfort. Whereas the one who is utterly dependant upon God because they acknowledge they are in need. The rich are predisposed to have the view that they are not in need. There is nothing they need. Hence, they are in comfort. In fact, most rich people are tormented because of their wealth. Therefore, the woe is well said: it is a horrific thing to be rich and is a state of hardship. As one commentator wrote about this verse: “When all that anyone has is worldly weath he is poor indeed.”

Perhaps Jesus’ audience consisted of rich people, however, this statement was not to his disciples present for they were poor. It was not uncommon for John the Baptists application points to come from those present and certainly Jesus would have done the same (and did the same on some occassions).

How does this reach us today? Well, certainly there is nothing wrong with being wealthy: Scripture says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all wealthy men. Rather, when wealth becomes your focus, your love, it is time to refocus and reevaluate. Our dependance is not on stuff or things, but rests solely upon Jesus Christ and his sacrifice.

Sermon on the Plain, part 4

Well, it has been a long time but I am finally standing on what I consider fairly solid ground. After a whirlwind weekend in Peoria, AZ and a short catch-up week last week, I am finally able to continue my commentary on the book of Luke. By the way, Kim and I begin working with the West Olive Church of Christ June 1st. I will be the associate minister there.

Conclusion of Luke’s Beatitudes

We now reach the most contradictory of all the statements of Jesus in this Sermon on the Plain thus far:

“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.”

Jesus, we ask, how can this be a blessing. And the answer is quite simple when you think about it. All of these things, hatred, rejection, exclusion, insult, are all things that happened to Jesus, the Son of Man. Therefore, to have these things sone to us is to be included and share in the same things that Jesus suffered. That is the blessing: we are able to united and identify with the Master when we are persecuted for being like him.

But not only are you indentifying with the Lord, but also we share in the same experience as the prophets of old:

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

Think about it: in the same way Elijah, Zechariah, all the prophets who endured in the face of stiff persecution, we too participate in the same things they did. We can rejoice knowing that we relive the experience of the prophets. Ultimately, though, we can rest assured of a reward in heaven for suffering persecution. We rejoice and leap for joy over the fact that God will reward faithfulness in the face of persecution.

What a fundamentally different message Jesus shared with the crowds that day and what an obscene form of blessing this appears to the unconverted. Nevertheless, this is Jesus’ blessing. If you want to know what it means to be like Jesus, then you endure the things he detailed in these beatitudes in Luke. This is the bliss experienced by the Christian: though outwardly we may waste away, inward we are being renewed daily.

Sermon on the Plain, part 3

I’m probably not like everyone else; or at least I would hope I am not. When I get hungry, my body starts to shut down. I get upset and quiet and about the only thing that alleviate this is to feed me. If you want it to go, you have to feed the machine. And so when I read Luke 6.21, there is a part of me that cringes:

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled.”

I don’t like being hungry and the people around me don’t like it when I’m hungry. So where is the blessing in that? Or what about the rest of the verse:

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Jesus has once again shown us the topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God. Luke leaves out a part that Matthew has about “thirsting for rigtheousness,” but the idea is implied, at least about righteousness. Luke, though, as is characteristic of his gospel, emphasizes the real need. Matthew’s account has no real parallel to the weeping, although the argument can be made that “mourning” is the parallel. So there is the technical stuff.

Now what does it all mean. What does Jesus expect his disciples to understand and walk away with after the instruction is over? More importantly, what does this tell us about God? Jesus’ disciples no doubt knew what it was like to be hungry and without food. Also, they may have been familiar with weeping inasmuch as they were away from their families for so long. Certainly Jesus was familiar with both of these things: he fasted forty days and wept over his friend Lazarus. But Jesus is sure to emphasize the fact that this is present reality. We hunger and weep now. However, Jesus has not called his disciples to a life such as they have that does not reward them greatly. Though now they hunger and weep, there is future blessing to the disciple of Jesus. There is a filling or satisfaction that is yet future. Matthew’s gospel emphasizes that the filling can take place in this life (concerning righteousness) and perhaps Jesus is addressing that in Luke’s gospel as well: though at the present you are hungry, God will provide what you need and will fill you up. Though now you weep, God will not only wipe away all tears, he will provide you with laughter. Perhaps these things also apply to something yet future for a disciple that can only be experienced in eternity: God will remove the hunger and satisfy completely and though the disciple is surrounded by evil and suffering that causes weeping, God too will remove that and bring complete joy. I would lean toward all of this being correct – both in this life and in the life to come, God satisfies and brings us joy.

Sermon on the Plain, part 2

For some time, I have been looking forward to this study over the Sermon on the Plain. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I knew when I get here things were going to bog down and we were going to spend some time just looking at all Jesus has to say here. But today is the day we begin diving into the text and Jesus’ words.

We should not rush to the words right away, though, and miss the introductory remark of Luke. Luke says Jesus looked “at his disciples.” This is important. Jesus is not giving a bunch of generic sentences and pronouncing blessings to different socioeconomic classes – Jesus is speaking to his disciples. This is the context in which the Sermon on the Plain is couched.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Blessed is you Greek word Makarioi which one commentator says “‘refers to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the Kingdom of God.'” It is the equivalent of saying to a person “way to go” or “congratulations.” It was a term usually used in reference to the gods and therefore, common man would never be referred to as “blessed.” Yet Jesus comes on the scene and says that this term applies to those who have a particular quality and are citizens of the kingdom. What a profound and glorious statement.

I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy being poor. Am I poor now? Well, I am certainly not rich. Perhaps some of you grew up poor and know the struggles there are in being poverty striken. Perhaps some of you are poor now and have trouble making ends meet. And we can agonize over these things and say things like: “If only I had more money…” We see TV shows or movies about poor people becoming rich and we think what a great thing that is. But notice what Jesus says in Luke 6.20…

Jesus offers congratulations to the poor. Indeed, this a “mockery of the world’s values” as Leon Morris has said. The world says that the rich are the blessed ones because they have money. They are the demigods of our society and are therefore the makarioi. Wrong! Jesus says it is the poor. Why? Because there is a disposition that goes along with those who are impoverished. Jesus said that his message was for those who could not help themselves (4.18ff). Jesus’ purpose was to preach to the poor. They are the ones worthy of the bliss of the gods because they are the ones who encounter the God. Utter depravity leads to ultimate dependence upon the unique deliverer. Those who have riches need nothing. The man who has nothing needs anything. Someone has said, “When you give a man who has everything Jesus, you have given him nothing. When you give a man who has nothing Jesus, you have given him everything.”

To his disciples, those who have left everythinng to follow him, Jesus says you are blessed (present). The reason they are blessed is because they have the kingdom. The kingdom is in their possession and though they are poor they are in need of nothing for they have what really matters. Try as the world, it can never take that away from them.

Here is the application: the self-reliant disciple has no part in the kingdom. The disciple (or any person for the matter) who needs nothing from God is a fool. God expects total reliance upon him from his disciples. This total reliance spans many categories: not only salvation, but also day-to-day living, money, relationships, marriage. In all of these things, we must fully rely upon God as the one who sustains us. As disciples, we live our lives with the subtle understanding that as a kingdom individual I am blessed because I am poor. We sing a song about how we are “poor, wayfaring stangers” on this earth. If this is true, let’s live like it.

Understand that I (or Jesus) am advocating self-imposed poverty. God has richly blessed all of us to live in a wealthy country with many material blessings for us to enjoy. I believe Jesus is attacking the heart of the matter (pun intended) when he talks about the poor. He is talking about an attitude. The poorest person in the world can be just as lost as the richest person if both harden their hearts and refuse the gospel. No Jesus is saying have the attitude that you are poor, you are humbled by your poverty and acknowledge that only by relying on God can you be blessed.