Monday, November 06, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 5:5, for All Saints' Day, "Blessed are the Meek"

·         Some months ago—mentioned “doorway and exit” to the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are the “doorway” to understanding Jesus’ teaching in the sermon.  
·         9 Beatitudes. Simple structure: Blessed are_____, and how they will be blessed. 1st & 8th form bookends: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Only repeated blessing, and only present tense—theirs is. All other blessings are future tense—they shall… What does this mean? Kingdom of heaven delivers both present and future blessings. “Now but not yet” of Jesus’ blessings. Final note: first 8 are “they” (3rd person), but the 9th switches to “blessed are you”. Who are these blessed ones? They are you, the church: believers in Jesus.
·         The Beatitudes, give us Christ-colored glasses, not rose-colored glasses; to see our own life in light of Jesus Christ and who He is, and what He has done for us. Today, focus on Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Like all the beatitudes, there is a description of who are blessed by God—in this case the meek—and what blessing God promises—they shall inherit the earth. First of all, what does it mean to be meek? Secondly, how was Christ meek, and finally, how are we to be meek?
·         Quick word search finds passages that show what meekness is. Translated variously as “lowly, afflicted, poor, humble, or gentle.” As Pastor Fricke has put it well before: “meekness is not weakness.” Some may hear “Blessed are the meek” and think it means being timid, or not being assertive. But the scripture doesn’t praise these; telling us instead in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-control”. So meekness is not fearfulness or cowardliness. Assertiveness can be a good or a bad thing. It can be bad if it’s pushy and self-promoting. It can be good if it is humble and wise leadership without self-promotion. Numbers 12:3 describes Moses this way. He was very meek, more than any other on earth. The context was about the jealousy of his brother and sister grumbling over God speaking to Moses—but Moses did not defend himself against the accusation, but God did. Moses was no self-promoter, but lead well.
·         As a Bible dictionary sums it up, Moses kept his strength of leadership, while accepting personal insults and injury “without resentment or recrimination.” Resentment and vindictiveness might be selfishly satisfying, but they do nothing to strengthen our leadership. How much more so for Jesus, who graciously endured suffering and death on the cross, all for doing good, and did not sin by opening His mouth in cursing or anger in return. He bore it all patiently and committed Himself to God’s justice. (1 Peter 3:18-25). This is the very picture of meekness for us. To be Christ-like in meekness is not to be weak, but to be strong in self-control, not to lash back against those who hurt, hate, or lie against us. It is to bear with injury, and not to repay evil with evil, but to trust God to bring the final outcome to justice, as Jesus did. The command that Jesus held, even from the cross, awed even His enemies and the Romans.  And His meekness is seen, not just in His restraint, but positively in the gentleness and love with which He forgave His enemies.
·         Of course, that a Christian bears with insult or injury doesn’t mean they can never use lawful and just means to defend themselves against evildoers. St. Paul famously appealed to his Roman citizenship, and ultimately to Caesar, on more than one occasion, to right an injustice. Even Jesus told Pilate that his authority was subservient to a greater authority.
·         How do we respond when someone injures us with an insult or slander? Do we bear it in a Christ-like manner, or do we rage and thirst for retaliation? Proverbs 12:16 says, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” Or Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” So meekness has restraint, or self-control, which is actually a form of strength, not weakness. The devil loves to bend it till it breaks, and sorely test that meekness. While it’s never as bad for us as for Christ, it still takes great self-control to be gentle or meek under great stress or pressure. Not just biting our tongue, but to respond with grace and gentleness.
·         So while meekness sometimes reads as “humble” or “gentle”, a quality to cultivate and practice; there are also many places, especially in the OT where the word reads as “lowly, afflicted, or poor.” In those passages, it’s the status or condition of a person who is objectively suffering or needs deliverance. Meek or afflicted, is often, but not always, parallel to being poor. Psalm 9:18 18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor (meek) shall not perish forever. Psalm 22:26 26 The afflicted (meek) shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! Psalm 147:6 The Lord lifts up the humble (meek); he casts the wicked to the ground.
·         Understanding the meek as those who suffer or need deliverance, brings, “Blessed are the meek” very close to the first beatitude, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” In fact, both echo a key passage in Isaiah 61:1-7, which Jesus quotes of Himself: vs. 1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound”. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, the downtrodden and suffering. Meek, poor in spirit, or lowly—who long for God’s deliverance—they are blessed! Isaiah 61:7 also says these who receive Jesus’ kingdom blessings will inherit a double portion of the land, and be filled with everlasting joy. It leads us to the blessing for the meek: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
·         Psalm 37 says almost the same thing: that “the meek shall inherit the land”—but listen also to the surrounding verses. It’s another picture of self-control. Here it’s against the anger and frustration of seeing wicked or evil men seemingly triumphing over the good, or getting away with evil. Psalm 37:8–11  Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. 9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. 10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.  It emphasizes waiting on the Lord, and that the meek who inherit the land will have abundant peace. The hearts of those who suffer, who are objectively poor, afflicted, and lowly, long for that abundant peace. God says to be patient and wait for it, and it will be ours!
·         Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. It’s a future promise, but it’s also a very physical one. Did you notice that? Some (without knowing the Bible) think that heaven is an airy, thin, insubstantial place, where ghostly spirits wisp around through the clouds. But “they shall inherit the earth.First, and briefly, remember that “inherit” is a grace word, not an “I earned it” word. Inherit speaks of God’s generous gifting to us. But what does it mean to inherit the earth? In the prophet Isaiah, God says: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17). This verse describes the future of the new creation, where there will be no more futility or sin or conflict. It’s quoted twice in the New Testament, once at the end of Revelation, describing when God completes that future renewal of creation. The second quote, is 2 Peter 3:13, that after Jesus returns and this old creation is judged and destroyed, “According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”
·         So blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth describes God’s promise of grace—that in the new heavens and new earth, the meek, the righteous, will possess the earth. The land will be yours. The Jewish people had a deep and profound connection to and longing for the physical land of Israel. It can probably be compared in some ways to the longing among many Hawaiian people for the land. I don’t know that the longing for land is a universal human desire; but I do think we all can identify with desiring a physical haven, a place where we can dwell in peace, without interference or enemies. People long to live without the futility of labor, or the greed and violence of wicked men, or all the things that frustrate the meek and the righteous. It takes us back to that Psalm, 37:11, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” This becomes Jesus’ promise to us—there is a day coming, when the injustices and wickedness of this life will be over, and the land will be ours, in abundant peace. What an inheritance!
·         And all of it is owed to the Savior Jesus, who describes Himself as meek and lowly in heart: Matthew 11:28–30 (KJV)  “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Follow our meek and lowly Savior, who was afflicted for us, who suffered and died for us, that we should find rest for our souls, delight ourselves in His abundant peace, and inherit the new earth where righteousness dwells. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
·         Let us pray: “Meek and lowly Jesus, we confess to you our sinful boasting and self-promotion, our anger and retaliation when others wound us, and other sins against you and our neighbor. Take the heavy yoke of our sin, which you have born to your cross, and forgive us our sins. Grant us your meekness and teach us self-restraint, that we may flourish on this earth, and one day inherit the new heavens and new earth that you have prepared as the home for those who are righteous by faith in you. In your Most Holy Name, Amen.”

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Matthew 5:1-12 contains 9 Beatitudes. How do the 1st (v. 3) and 8th (v. 10) form “bookends” to the set? When the 9th switches to the 2nd person: “YOU”; how does this affect the hearer?
2.      How are the beatitudes like “Christ-colored” glasses for the Christian life?
3.      Read Matthew 5:5. What is “meekness?” What is not meant by meekness? 2 Timothy 1:7. How does Moses set a positive example of meekness? Numbers 12:1-9. How is Jesus the ultimate example of meekness? 1 Peter 3:18-25. What do the meek bear with?
4.      How is restraint or self-control an aspect of meekness? Prov. 12:16; 15:1. Why is this so hard? What is the improved outcome by doing it though?
5.      Read Psalm 9:18; 22:26; and 147:6. Here the word for “meek” carries the meaning of “lowly, afflicted, or poor.” How does being objectively lowly or meek in our need of help, also fit with the beatitude? Read Isaiah 61:1-7, and look for as many parallels as you can find to Matthew 5:1-12.
6.      Read Psalm 37:8-11. How does this passage also describe the self-control or restraint that accompanies meekness? What are the meek distressed by? What are they promised? Cf. Matthew 5:5.
7.      How are the future blessings of the kingdom of heaven physical? Read Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1.
8.      How does the word “inherit” speak of grace, and point us back again to God’s generosity and undeserved love in Christ? Galatians 3:29-4:1, 7.

9.      Finally, how does Jesus describe Himself as “meek” in Matthew 11:28-30 (see King James’ Version—other translations often use ‘gentle’, but the Greek word is the same from Matthew 5:5). What does He promise to those who follow Him and take up His yoke? How does this come full circle with Matthew 5:5 and Psalm 37:11? 

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