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.