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TEXT: Luke 6:17-26
SUBJECT: Luke #19: Blessings and Woes
Today, with God's blessing, we return to our study of Luke's Gospel. And to the second major sermon of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first great sermon was preached some months before in the synagogue of Capernaum. There, after reading a few verses in Isaiah, He handed the Book back to the attendant and said, "Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing".
In other words, He claimed to be the Messiah. That's where theology and preaching have to start-with the identity of Jesus Christ. This explains the failure of Liberalism. It wants the ethics of the Bible without its doctrine. It urges us to follow Christ without telling us Who Christ is.
Luke doesn't make that mistake. He knows that discipleship is hard and unpopular. Thus, he has to give us a good reason to stick with it. And what better reason is there than the one he gives? The Man we're following is God!
The Catechism got it just right.
"What do the Scriptures principally teach?" "The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man".
Note the order: doctrine first, then practice. Knowing Christ as God and Man, Lord and Savior is the foundation for serving Him. To change the figure: Faith in Christ is the tree; holiness of life is the fruit. Daniel says,
"The people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits".
This is hinted at in the first part of our text, vv.17-19. The Lord had just chosen twelve men to be His Apostles. As they make their way down the mountain, they come to a flat place, and the mob rushes to Lord for healing and other favors.
The people came from far and wide-from Judea and Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon-and from all places in-between. They came-Luke tells us-mainly for teaching. They got that later, but first the Lord healed their diseases and cast out demons. He didn't do it for one or two of them, but He "Healed them all".
No one went home disappointed that day. All who came to Christ found His grace and power sufficient for all their needs. When you come to Christ, you'll find the same!
One purpose of the miracles was to help people in need. The Lord cared for people; their sorrows were made His own and often He relieved them. But that was secondary. The main purpose of His miracles was to reveal Himself to men. By His mighty and merciful works, our Lord wanted everyone to see Him as Emmanuel or God with us!
More often than not, His hints were not taken. Even Philip-one of His best friends-said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will suffice us".
How does the Lord answer him?
"Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Believe Me that I am in the Father and The Father is in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves!"
The acts of power and grace, then, are chiefly done to show us who Christ is.
That's important here because the Teaching that follows is so unlikely that it takes nothing less than the wisdom and authority of God to convince us it's true.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERMON
The Sermon preached that day has a lot in common with the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5,6, and 7. But if you read them side-by-side, you'll see they're not quite the same. Luke leaves out quite a lot that Matthew puts in and he puts in a few things that Matthew leaves out. The place and time also differ somewhat.
Older scholars thought they were two different sermons. Most modern commentators see them as one sermon, with different parts emphasized or ignored. Personally, I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. But one thing I do care about it this: that each one be read on its own terms.
In other words, we've got to find out what Luke says in Luke before reading Matthew into it. Had the Lord wanted us to have one Gospel instead of four, He would have given us one. And, if He'd wanted them blended together, He would have put them in the blender. Gospel harmonies are very helpful; I read Jack Cheney's The Life of Christ in Stereo every year. I highly recommend it. But the Bible wasn't written that way. And we have to receive the Bible as it was given.
The Sermon Luke wrote down for us is made up of two main parts: (1) a list of blessings and woes and then, (2) a short list of do's and don'ts.
The first part underscores the privileges of discipleship; the second part explains the ethics of discipleship. How blessed we are to be disciples of Christ! And how obliged we are to make that discipleship into something more than words.
We start with the blessings; there are four of them,
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed, your reward is great in heaven. For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets".
How do we understand the blessings?
Liberals read them as a call for social action. They say God is for the poor, hungry, weeping, and hated masses and against the rich and middle-classes. Thus, we ought to confiscate extra property and give it to people who don't have any.
Conservatives recoil from this view and offer an alternative to it. They say "poor" really means poor in spirit or humble; that "hungry" really means a desire for holiness, that "weeping" stands for bemoaning your sins and so on.
Who's right? It seems to me that neither view is correct.
The verses do not demand social action. In fact, they don't demand anything. Jesus Christ is not issuing commands here, but offering comfort to the poor, hungry, weeping, and hated people who belong to Him.
The conservative take is better than this, but it also carries its own its own assumptions to the text. Maybe the poverty and hunger spoken of here are spiritual conditions, but the verses don't say that! We can hold that up as an option or a probability, even, but we cannot say, it says so.
How then, do we understand the Beatitudes? By asking two obvious questions: (1) Who are they addressed to? And (2) Why are they there?
The first question is easy to answer (and goes a long way toward refuting Liberalism), v.20, "Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples."
Not every poor, hungry, weeping, or hated man is blessed, but only the suffering people who belong to Christ.
Why did the Lord say these things? It wasn't to rally the poor to socialism or even to soften the hearts of the rich toward their needy neighbors. No, He said these things to comfort His disciples in their poverty, hunger, sorrow, and exclusion.
Read in this way, the Beatitudes put balm on the suffering soul. They say that even the poorest disciple of Christ is immensely rich because he has the Kingdom of God; that, for us, hunger and mourning are short-lived. It won't be long till we're stuffed at God's Table and laughing our heads off for joy! And, as for the mockery and exclusion and persecution that we suffer in this life, they only mean we belong to the Lord-just as weeping Jeremiah did and threatened Elijah and those dear men who "Went about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, tormented, afflicted".
The Beatitudes, then, don't call us to social action or even command us to be humble and so on. What they do is comfort us in our troubles by reminding us that we've already received the grace of God, and it won't be long till we get His glory.
The blessings are followed by corresponding woes,
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets".
The woes are not meant for the disciples, but for the ungodly who have also gathered to listen in or maybe criticize the Lord Jesus.
They simply mean that people, who crave the blessings of this world alone, may well have them--but they'll have nothing else!
People who live for money will have it only till they die. People who live for the pleasures of eating will starve forever. People, who find all their happiness in this life, will soon be crying their eyes out. And people, who long for acceptance here, will one day be rejected.
That's the story.
The meaning is plain: It is a great privilege to be a disciple of Jesus Christ!
The people we tend to envy-the successful, the talented, the popular-aren't worthy of it. Without Christ, what do all their possessions and accomplishments and acclaim add up to?
Nothing! In fact, less than nothing. Because these are the very things that keep them away from Christ and from the lasting happiness He offers in the Gospel.
Instead of envying others, we ought to be content with what we have because-if we have Christ-we have everything. That's the argument against covetousness,
"Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, I will not leave you nor forsake you".
But what about successful people who are also Christians? Can we justly envy them? It's not that I would trade my salary for the riches of a man going to hell, but why not exchange it for the money of a man going to heaven? What about that?
That's an easy one: There are no degrees of infinity. In other words, $1,000,000 a year plus the infinite blessings of Christ is no more than the infinite blessings of Christ plus minimum wage! Believers differ greatly in income, talents, education, and so on, but what we all have in Christ is infinite and, therefore, equal.
The Beatitudes tell us what every Christian has: "the kingdom of heaven and joy" and what He will have before long: "fullness, and laughter". Peter and Paul said the same thing in different words,
"According to His Divine power which has given us all things which pertain to life and godliness." "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly places in Christ".
When you see someone who good-looking and smart and charming and successful, you're tempted to say, "He's got it all". No he doesn't. You do. Because you have Christ. And Christ is all.
This brings us to the challenge. It may sound funny, but I'm perfectly serious. Go home today and think long and hard about your biggest problem or most glaring deficiency. If possible, look at it with your eyes.
If you worry about your looks, go to the mirror and say, "Man, I'm ugly. But I have Christ!" Or, go to the bathroom scales and say, "Whoa, I'm fat. But I have Christ". Or look in the medicine cabinet and say, "I must be pretty sick. But I have Christ". Or open your bankbook and say, "I can't pay the bills. But I have Christ". Or look at your kids and say, "They're really bad. But I have Christ".
Saying these things won't make you handsome or trim or rich or healthy or even make your family right. But they will put your problems in perspective. And remind you that "This light affliction, which is for a moment is working in us an eternal weight of glory".
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