Turning the World's Values Upside Down
Everywhere we turn we make assumptions. The world is full of assumptions, about things so basic that we rarely if ever bother to think about them.
For example, if you were to stop people on the street and ask them the question:
Is it better to be rich than to be poor?
I imagine most people would answer of course it's better to be rich than poor and they might look at you as though you were a bit odd for even asking the question!
I went to the Amazon web site and looked to see if there were any books that dealt with this matter of being poor or of being rich.
When I typed in my search words "How to get rich" the top seven books listed were these:
How to get rich
Trump: How to get rich
How to get filthy rich in Rising Asia
Think and grow rich
How to make money
Secret of the Millionnaire Mind: Think rich to get rich
How to get fabulously rich
I then tried "How to get poor" and was surprised that the first book mentioned was:
How to get rich
It seems that people aren't interested in being poor they want to be rich. And then I came across a promising article on another website:
Great Ways to Become Poor and Stay Poor – but I was let down by the opening sentence which read: "Nobody plans to become poor". The article then went on to list a number of matters that would hinder a person getting out of his/her poverty.
In our contemporary society further common assumptions might include:
It's better to have what you want now than have to wait
It's better to happy than sad
It's better to be well-thought of than to be despised
This type of assumption has been around for an awful long time – it was the common assumption prevailing in Jesus' day and he was about to seriously challenge it!
Two Sets of Values
All of the needy who had come to Jesus for physical healing or for deliverance from the oppression of unclean spirits had been helped. The long queue of people coming to reach out and touch Jesus, to connect with him, had gone – everyone had been helped. Now it was time for Jesus to reach out to them and to help them with their spiritual needs.
The men and women then were in exactly the same danger as us – the world was trying to squeeze them into its mould just as it does us. The world, that it is godless or anti-god system of thinking and living, was trying to make them all conform. Don't be hung up about the future you've only got one life so live it and live it now, just do it! Don't be different from the others round about you – just look at the numbers walking along that easy and broad road, they're doing alright aren't they? Why do you want to be different? They're as good as you are you know.
Jesus knew that these voices whispered incessantly in the world of his day – the forces of darkness were trying to lull men and women to sleep so that they would never give their never-dying souls a thought. And so Jesus responded by teaching and by preaching the truth he had received from his heavenly father. That teaching is needed every bit as much in our own day as when Jesus first spoke them for those same voices continue to whisper and have been joined by other voices shouting loudly the same message.
Jesus began his sermon that day by setting before his listeners a pair of alternative lifestyle choices and he did so in a way that was totally unexpected, in a way which went against the grain. Jesus deliberately challenged the people's unspoken assumptions that day. He needed to because unless they started to think about what life was really all about they might sleepwalk mindlessly into a lost eternity.
The way he went about it was by speaking about the life that was truly blessed and the life that was under a curse. We call the characteristics of the blessed life 'beatitudes' and we call the characteristics of the cursed life 'woes'.
If the first few minutes of a sermon are important in grabbing the attention of the hearer then Jesus certainly knew how to grab the attention that day! He took commonly held assumptions and turned them on their head!
But what did he mean by it all?
We'll look first at the beatitudes and then more briefly at the woes.
"Blessed are you who are poor…" v.20
Jesus is beginning a formal teaching session. We get that from the way Luke describes how Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples – there is nothing casual here. And while Jesus is looking at his disciples his words are by no means to be restricted only as concerning those who were his followers. He will begin by addressing them, yes, but he will go on to describe another set of people. His sermon will end by challenging all those who heard him to decide for themselves whether they will heed his words and show themselves to be wise or whether they will reject them thus revealing themselves to be foolish.
The first thing we need to make clear is that Jesus is NOT making a categorical statement concerning the blessedness of being poor. Jesus is NOT saying that all poor people are blessed – the book of Proverbs teaches that poverty is not necessarily a blessing at all:
Prov.30:8-9 "Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."
Jesus is speaking to his disciples who are following him having been made aware of their spiritual poverty and that awareness has brought them to Jesus. These men were poor in the world's eyes – especially at that moment in time: some had left their nets, their fishing business behind in order to follow the wandering itinerant. Another had given up his desk in the tax collector's booth. Later in the gospel we'll hear the disciples' own take on when it had meant for them to fbecome dosciples and followers of Jesus:
Luke.18:28 (NKJV) "Then Peter said, "See, we have left all and followed You."
It was a costly business to follow Jesus and it remains so in our day. But there are enormous rewards and much in the way of compensation. The riches of this world can have such a hold upon men and women – and it is not just the wealthy who can be kept in its grip but also those who strive with every fibre of their being to be rich who are in trouble.
The rich young ruler had every opportunity of following Jesus but he chose not to because he was too tied to his wealth. Jesus looked on him and loved him yet let him go. How many who possess the wealth of this world have found themselves in a similar situation? Yes, it is possible for a rich person to be saved – possible but far from easy:
Mt.19:24 "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
And if this is true of the rich it is equally true of those who set their sights on the same. As the apostle Paul would later write "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."(1Tim.6:10)
The Christian church just doesn't seem to be made up with the kind of people that the world likes to admire:
1Cor.1:26-29 "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God."
Yes, Jesus disciples, especially the recently appointed 12, were perhaps poor in the eyes of the world but they had become his disciples and as such they were guaranteed a place in the Kingdom of God, they were granted citizenship their because of their Lord ad Saviour!
"Blessed are you who are hungry…" v.21
What Jesus has in mind is not hunger for bread to eat but rather he is speaking about spiritual hunger, spiritual desire. When on another occasion the crowds turned to him he accused some of them of only coming because they wanted to be fed with bread – they would be satisfied with so little when he wanted to give so much more!
Rom.14:12 "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
These disciples who were crowding around Jesus that day had come because they were hungry, hungry for spiritual reality. Subjectively, they were lacking in inner peace, objectively they were lacking peace and fellowship with God because they were short on righteousness. Nothing else could fill that void that they had and they had come in their hunger to the One who could meet their needs and meet them he would.
There are promises in the Bible to encourage us if we are conscious of being unsatisfied by what the world has to offer and need a spiritual solution to our problems:
Is.55:1 "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
I guess you all know what it is like on a warm afternoon after you have finished eating a copious lunch – you feel sleepy and before you know it you've gone, dead to the world!
How awful to be so satisfied with the things of this world that you drop off to sleep as it were, dead to the realities of the spiritual world.
v.21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied."
And that with a satisfaction that will never do you or anyone else any harm.
"Blessed are you who weep now…" v.21
It sounds wrong on the surface doesn't it? What can be good about weeping? But surely when confronted with certain situations (many situations?) then weeping is the more appropriate response.
You're made aware of your own failings and shortcomings – your sin – before God, a just and a holy God whom you have offended by by spitting in his loving face. How can we be glib and laugh and joke?
And was that your reaction when you've heard of the sins of others? All those cases of child sexual abuse – you didn't laugh did you? And when we learn of how our nation does so much that is wrong – the millions of innocent lives, for example, murdered in the womb of their mother – we don't want to smile and sing happily. If we do then there is something so very seriously wrong about us!
But such weeping is not to lead to a paralyzing inactivity but in our sorrow we are to come to the Man of Sorrows, the One who can help us because he had come to take away the sins of this sin-sick world.
And in coming to him we find that there is hope and there is comfort and we shall indeed cry out with laughter as our sin is lifted and we are delivered from that which burdened us down – but it won't be a frivilous laughter, it won't be an inappropriate laughter, it won't be a shameful laughter but a clean, a wholesome a holy laughter giving glory to God.
v.21 "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh."
"Blessed are you when people hate you… " v.22
You can get into trouble with other people for all kinds of reasons. You can be hated because of your accent, the colour of your skin or for the football team you support. You can be hated because you are nasty to other people and deserve it.
But Jesus isn't saying that everyone who is hated occupies the blessed position he is talking about. Jesus now speaks about those who are hated because of their allegiance to him.
So often this is no mere possibility but an inevitability in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. For the apostles to whom Jesus was speaking it was certainly true and they seem to have taken to heart his words because they rejoiced in their sufferings:
Acts 5:41 "Then they (Peter and the apostles) left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name."
They were Jesus' followers and were recognised as such: they spoke about him, they urged others to trust him, they were becoming increasingly like him, it was evident to others that these men had been with Jesus!
That all speaks volumes as to the reality of their faith, to the reality of their relationship with the Saviour. There was evidence if you like to convict them of being Jesus' men – is there any similar evidence in our lives?
In the history of Gid's people time after time it was the Godly servants who suffered at the hands of others while the false got off scot free. Perhaps it has something to do with being the salt of the world – and salt on a wound stings and is uncomfortable; perhaps it is like being light that shines into the darkness causing pain to eyes which like the shadows.
One thing is certain there is a great reward stored up in heaven for those who demonstrate that they belong to God through faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Your reputation on earth might be important to you now, it may even last on for a few years after your death, but in a few years time everyone who ever knew you will either have forgotten you or themselves passed away and what then? But heavens reward will go on and on – and it's a matter for rejoicing!
vv.22-23 "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."
The Woes vv.24-26
Having looked in some detail at the blessings that Jesus pronounced we do not need to spend so much time on the woes because they are basically the opposite of the blessings.
If all you live for is the wealth of this world then you will find that the wealth of this world will be the only consolation you ever receive. Live for mammon and you will have what mammon has to offer – but you won't have God for you cannot serve God and mammon. (v.24)
Live your life now in order to satisfy all your natural appetites in the here and now and you will be so stuffed full of these earthly treasures that you've no time or energy or enthusiasm to even think about laying up treasure in heaven. Live for this world – be satisifed if you can with this world because in the next you will have nothing and then you'll be hungry with a never-ending aching void of nothingness. (v.25)
Fill your life with the lightness and the frivolity of our pleasure seeking society and refuse to consider anything from a more serious angle. Treat everything as a joke and refuse to dwell on any thoughts about how you will meet with a Holy God – or treat it as some do another big joke – but beware condemned sinners do no laugh before the judgment throne of Almighty God! There they mourn and not laugh and their mourning will go on and on. Jesus speaks of such sinners being cast into outer darkness where there is only weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth. (v.25)
Finally polish up you reputation among men here but don't give a second thought as to how God himself will assess you. How foolish it must be when a man or a woman is all taken up with chasing the approval of fickle men and women desperate to please a fellow creature while remaining indifferent and unconcerned as to what judgment will be passed by the Creator. Men have so often given their assessment and got it all terribly wrong – do you wreally want to be numbered by God amongst the wicked,
These are the woes that Jesus pronounced in parallel to the blessings. We are not to understand the woes as though Jesus was somehow saying in a polite English manner "How dreadfully sad! Or What a pity!" These woes are the declaration of a serious curse and the matter could hardly be more serious.
The Time is Not Yet Too Late
Jesus had healed and cured those with sicknesses before he began to preach. He healed their bodies and their minds before he addressed the needs of their never-dying souls. In addressing those needs his intent was still to do good to them. He wanted them to connect with him for these greater blessings and to avoid these worse curses. We don't know how many did that day respond to him but we do know that down through the running centuries men and women boys and girls have been responding to him and have been finding him to be a Wonderful Saviour.
Have you found him to be such? Put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Do so counting the cost and looking carefully at the balance sheet. There is eternal heavenly glory at stake to be measured against temporary earthly pleasures. Any fool can take you to those earthly things but only Jesus can save your soul for heaven.