Luke XXIV: Luke 6:20-26
Setting aside some of the intriguing questions about whether this is the same sermon as the Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5-6, we can at least acknowledge that it is a very similar one. Nevertheless, Luke has very clearly presented this sermon as delivered to the “disciples” in the midst of a very large crowd. Given the immediate context of the selection of the twelve apostles, this is presented as a sermon on leadership and discipleship. What does it mean to follow Jesus and lead others to do the same?
Believing the Blessings
In this introduction to His sermon, Jesus covers four of the most significant topics in human life in a quick succession of four blessings and four warnings: money, food, feelings, and friends (Lk. 6:2-22), and the “woes” are inversions of the blessings (Lk. 6:23-26). The center of the introduction is the fourth beatitude about rejoicing when you are hated and excluded and reviled (Lk. 6:22-23). Given the way both sets end, describing how faithful disciples should respond “when” certain things come to pass (Lk. 6:22-23, 26), the rest of the blessings and warnings should be understood in the same way. When believers find themselves poor, hungry, sad, and excluded for the sake of Jesus, they are to receive those moments as blessings. God is to be trusted in those moments. And when believers find themselves rich, full, slaphappy, and well liked by all, they should be very wary. But we should ask why Jesus says this.
Reassurance of Blessing
Part of the reason is reassurance. Many of the disciples have left jobs and family to follow Jesus, and they have already begun to be poor and hungry (Lk. 5:11). If it hasn’t set in yet, they will soon struggle with feelings of sadness or loss. And given how Jesus is already being scrutinized and plotted against (e.g. Lk. 6:11), surely it won’t be long before his followers will be treated the same. These themes have already been rather prominent in Luke: Jesus mentioned the hungry widow of Zaraphath in his sermon in Nazareth and how Elijah was sent to her (Lk. 4:25-26), and likewise, Naaman the Syrian leper was cleansed by Elisha (Lk. 4:27). In fact, Jesus read from Isaiah and said he was sent “to proclaim good news to the poor” (Lk. 4:18). Given all the prominent political and religious leaders, John the Baptist was certainly “poor” (Lk. 3:1-2). To be “poor” (and hungry, sorrowing, excluded) is fundamentally to be powerless. The proverbs say that wealth is a fortress, but the poverty of the poor is their ruin (Prov. 10:15). Great wealth frequently functions as a defense against the consequences of sin as well as a defense against the blessing of being completely dependent on God. But the powerlessness that is a blessing goes back to stories of Mary and Elizabeth. When God showed up to begin to undo the power of sin and death, He began with an old woman who was powerless to conceive children, and then promised a young virgin that she would bear a Mighty Son, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).
Blessed Is the Fruit of Your Womb
In fact this powerful working of God is where the “beatitudes” of Luke really began. It was at that moment when Mary entered Elizabeth’s house and the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk. 1:42). And there, a young, single mom, pregnant out of wedlock – a poor, hungry, and potentially overwhelmed young woman breaks out into a song of praise and rejoicing “My soul magnifies the Lord! And spirit has found in joy in God my Savior… (Lk. 1:46-47). And the song is all about God the Mighty One doing great things for the lowly, for the powerless, for the hungry (Lk. 1:48-55). Zacharias will continue the “blessing” when his tongue is loosed (Lk. 1:64) and will break out into his own song of blessing (Lk. 1:67-68ff). Simeon will take the infant Jesus up in his arms and proclaim a blessing on God and Mary and Joseph (Lk. 2:28, 34). There are two Greek words that are frequently translated as “bless/blessed” in English, which roughly correspond to two Hebrew words. We see the overlap in meaning in Luke 11:27-28, where a woman says, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed!” And Jesus answers: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” In other words, the picture that is emerging and that Jesus is proclaiming to His disciples is that the blessing of God is arriving in Him, and in Him God is sharing that blessing with anyone who believes.
Blessed in Him
When we hear the beatitudes, the first thing we should think of is Jesus. He is the blessed one. He is the one who humbled Himself and became poor for our sakes. He went hungry for us, He is the man of sorrows and acquainted with real grief, and He is the one who was excluded, reviled and rejected for us. In other words, the point is not that we need to figure out if we’re poor enough or hungry enough or sad enough. The point isn’t that we need to feel guilty if we have money in the bank or food in our cupboards. The point is that if you are united to Christ, in Him you are called to embrace poverty, hunger, and sorrow already. In Him, you are called to be excluded, rejected, and slandered because He already was. The question is not whether but when. Jesus is the one who humbled Himself to the powerlessness and poverty of the cross. He humbled Himself to enter our hunger, our sorrows, our exclusion and rejection. But He did it all for the joy that was set before Him, and God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus is the blessed man who refused to walk in the counsel of the wicked but who delighted in the law of the Lord; He is our tree planted by streams of water whose leaf does not whither (Ps. 1:1-3). How blessed, how happy is the one who trusts in Him.
Conclusions & Applications
It’s easy to be surprised, perhaps especially in America, when being a Christian seems to run greater and greater risks. It’s easy to blame extremists who give us a bad name. But here, Jesus assures us that following Him will include various forms of powerlessness. There’s no other way. So when they come while we are doing good, we are to rejoice and be glad, because then we know we are following Him. We are blessed when we are impoverished, hungry, powerless, slandered, and excluded because that is where Jesus promises to meet us and bless us.