We need to keep reminding ourselves these statements are not expressed in a ‘by the way’ manner. It is not as if the Lord was saying, ‘if you happen to be meek you are particularly blessed.” There is a definite pattern and structure in what is being said. They form a logical connection to one another. Each Beatitude suggests the next and leads to the next. They are not spoken haphazardly. The person who is poor in spirit is also the person who mourns, and the same person is also meek.
It is not as if we were at the supermarket and we were walking down the aisle and grab a can of spaghetti but leave the beans. It is not that we grab a packet of meekness but leave the box of mourning and miss the aisle where the poor in spirit is stacked. This is an unfolding picture of the same person. This is the person who belongs to the Kingdom of God.
As we proceed, the Beatitudes become increasingly difficult. They become more searching, more humbling more difficult that n the one before. Perhaps we could say, they become more humiliating than the one before.
Let me illustrate it to you this way. The 1st Beatitude asks us to realize our own weakness and inability. It confronts us with our relationship before a holy & Almighty God. The God who gave us the ten commandments. The God who gives us the Sermon on the Mount & the perfect example of righteousness in the life of Christ. He commands us to be holy as He is holy. Jesus made this a test of our love. He said, “if you love Me, keep My commandments.” He did not leave it at that. He said, “Why do you call Me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I said.”
Anybody who feels that they can, by their own strength accomplish all that, has not started to be a Christian. This is where it begins. It makes us feel we have nothing. We feel undone & helpless. We become “poor in spirit”. This in turn leads to mourning for our spiritual weaknesses & failings.
But now we come to this 3rd Beatitude and we find it is even more testing and searching. Because now we are concerned not so much with our relationship to God, but with our relationship to others. ‘Blessed are the meek.’
Nothing will test the reality of our faith more, than our ability to be humble and meek before others. It is one thing for us to say, ‘I am ready to have God search me and reveal my shortcomings; it is another thing to submit to others & to the criticism of others. It is one thing to submit God’s sovereignty in where He places us in this life & world, but it is quite another thing to submit to and accept where others put us in life.
This is where pride takes on so many disguises. And because pride is one of the strongest expressions of our sinful nature, it is a problem we all struggle with. We are fine, when we can look on and observe others, and judge them as proud & unyielding, but it is quite something else when it comes directly to us. This is where the friendliest & most helpful & caring person can be totally exposed as obnoxiously proud. The friendly look can be replaced with anger & bitterness & resentment. None of us are exempt from the clutches of pride. It is only by the grace & mercy of God that we can be delivered from it. May God help us, and give us ears to hear today, because this is going to be very searching to us.
The Bible says, “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” Meekness is not a quality the world admires. It is regarded as weakness. This puts a Christian in total opposition to the world. In effect, a Christian is an enigma to the world. If you and I are not enigmas and riddles to the world around us, then this tells us a great deal about our profession of the Christian faith.
There is no doubt that Matthew wrote his gospel primarily for the Jews. He places the Beatitudes in the forefront of the gospel for that reason. The Jews enjoyed such unspeakable privileges – above all peoples of this earth, but they did not know how to use it humbly. They had ideas of grandeur; They believed they were the chosen people; the chosen nation; but they thought of it only in terms of materialism & military power. They expected to overthrow the Romans and conquer the world and inherit the earth. And establish Jerusalem as its capital. To them the Messiah was the One who was going to achieve all this for them.
Meekness was not something they valued. In their pride, they not only looked down at anyone who was not a Jew, but they also classed certain of their own people as less than desirable, and of course, women fell in that category. One of the recorded daily prayers of the Pharisees went like this – “I thank God I am not a Gentile or a woman.” Meekness was not their forte. Their pride knew no bounds. So it is not the Jews – it is the meek who will inherit the earth.
So our Lord’s message to the Jews was a rescue package. He got straight to the point. He cut across their status quo. You are going astray. Your way is entirely wrong. Your boast that Abraham is your father is not the way to draw near to God. God can raise up stones to be children of Abraham. Military power is not the way to walk with God. Jesus taught them He was not like that. His kingdom was not like that. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And this went totally against everything the Jews expected.
But let’s not imagine that the Jews are the only ones who had trouble with pride. Meekness was despised by the Romans and the Greeks. Pride dominated the minds of the Romans. They despised meekness. The Romans spoke of four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, temperance and courage — but not mercy or meekness. The Romans despised pity! The Greeks were similar. Aristotle wrote that pity was a troublesome emotion.
Our culture is little different. Our society judges self worth by respect. If we are put down in any way or relegated or ignored or our rights are violated, then it produces all kinds of reactions – we become angry or depressed or resentful & bitter. We have a thing like ‘road rage’. Imagine how violated a person feels when their rights are denied. Or this massive legal industry where people are given to suing one another. Meekness is not in the forefront of our society. Meekness opposes everything that is natural to the sinful human race. Only the meek will inherit the earth.
Take Abraham for example. MLJ “the greatest gentleman of the OT”. He is a portrait of meekness. Remember his behavior with respect to Lot, his nephew. He allows the young man to take first choice and he takes what’s left.
Moses is actually described as the most meek man on the face of the earth. He was always reluctant to assert himself. The same is true of David in his relations with King Saul. David knew he had been anointed as king, but he patiently suffered the unjust treatment of Saul.
You see the same example in Jeremiah. He was given an unpopular message. The Jews wanted to hear of victory & success, but Jeremiah had to tell them the truth. It was not what he wanted, but he was faithful, and he suffered terrible abuse. He was meek. I am only scratching the surface.
When we come to the NT, you see it again in the portrait of Stephen, the first martyr – at his death he prayed –“Lord lay not this sin against them.” Read the letters of Paul and see how he was subjected to disparaging accusations, not just from the Jews, but also from the churches he planted.
We must not forget the women of the Bible. Peter refers to Sarah, as an amazing example of a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” Then you have Hannah & Abigail.
And then we have the supreme example of them all. Our Lord Jesus said, “Come unto Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” And that is seen in the whole of His life. In His reactions to others, especially in the way He suffered persecution & scorn. His life is summed up in Phi.2 – He did not regard His equality with God as a prerogative at which to clutch or something to hold on to al all costs. No, He decided to live as a Man, and He did. He humbled Himself, became as a servant and even went to the death of the cross. That is meekness; that is lowliness; true humility; that is the quality which He Himself is teaching at this point.
I am sure you will agree with me – it will be a life long struggle. No one will achieve this perfectly. But there are a few simple truths we can keep in mind. The Bible says, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” There are certain truths we need to keep in the forefront of our thinking – otherwise meekness will never be part of our make up. I need to stress, these are truths that only make sense to a believer. This only makes sense to the one who is ‘poor in spirit’.
This does not mean for a moment that we are robots under the control of God. But neither has God left us to ourselves. Every detail of our lives is under His control. “The hairs of your head are all numbered.” There is no part of our life which does not come under the sovereign control of God. “Your Heavenly Father knows what you have need of.”
God designed our stomachs, and also what satisfies our stomachs. “God’s works of providence are…!” He governs the whole of life. If we are ill, God is not simply there to make us well, He controlled what made us ill in the first place. When James Boice stood before his congregation having been informed he had liver cancer, he said. “God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped in.
This is where the rubber hits the road in the life of faith. The unconverted person thinks everything depends on himself. For them, meekness is not an option. That is like giving up in their view. But then you have others who hold to some sort of half religion. In their mind, God is only there to get them out of difficulty.
We must believe God made all things for a purpose. Including the difficulties. He controls all things for a purpose. Otherwise, verses like Eph.1:11 make no sense – “He works all things to the counsel of His own will.” If I believe God designed my stomach and also designed what it needs to fill it, it is a logical step of faith to apply this to the whole of life.
I believe God designed me and made me, and also designed what is necessary to satisfy me. This was how David saw things. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The question comes down to this. Do we believe in a world governed by chance and bad luck, or do we believe everything has a purpose?
Let me put it as simple as I can. Can I trust my life, to the One who gave me my life. Even more than that. Can I trust the Saviour who gave His life for me, in order to purchase my life for Himself. This is where meekness starts. We must be persuaded of this.
This is what we forget when we find ourselves under the control of others. When their decisions effect our lives, we find it hard to be meek. Pilate said to Jesus – “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
We forget this. They have control over what effects our lives, but they are under the control of God. They who tax us & rule us & demote us & judge us are all under the control of God.
God used Assyria to punish His people Israel. He actually calls the Assyrians “my rod”. Isa.10:5 refers to Assyria as the “rod of the Lord’s anger.” When they had served their purpose, God discarded the rod, but Israel remained under His care.
The tyrants of this world are the tools of God’s Providence. Paul says, “All things are for your sakes.”
Isa 51:12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, …who are but grass.” If their criticism & judgment of us is true, we ought to benefit – they can’t condemn us, but they can help us. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” If their judgment is unfair, pray for them. God is displeased with their judgment. Pray for them, as Job did for his friends.
Paul was judged & criticized and remembered the frailty of those who judged him. “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you …In fact, I do not even judge myself. I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; He who judges me is the Lord.” He viewed it all in this eternal perspective. And how blessed we are, when we can do so too.
And who can measure the blessing – they shall inherit the earth. In a sense this is already true, because the meek person has learned to see the Kingdom & rule of God by faith, in everything that happens. In another sense we are still looking forward to it. In fact, all creation is longing for the day when God’s children come forth in their glory. Amen.