Emmanuel CRC
Blessed are those who are persecuted
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  • Pre-Scripture Reading Introduction

    This morning I want to take a few minutes to give some context to the beatitudes that will be helpful to us in understanding all the beatitudes, but which are particularly important for the beatitude we will focus on this morning: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. First let’s consider the question . . .

    What does “blessed” mean?

    The word beatitude comes from the Latin word “beatus” which means blessed or happy. The Greek word translated “blessed” in each of the beatitudes is “Makarios” which means blessed or happy. However, we know Matthew grounds his Gospel in the Hebrew Scriptures and he is using Greek words and expressions to convey Hebrew meanings.
    When we look at the Hebrew concepts for blessed there are two word-groups. The word group related to the Hebrew word “berak” and the word group related to the Hebrew word “ashrei.” These words have different but overlapping meanings, but English translations use “blessed” to express both concepts. When one English word translates two distinct Hebrew words, we can lose or confuse significant differences in meaning clearly conveyed in the original languages.
    Berak means the experience of blessing as the result of God’s active favor. When scholars apply this meaning to the Beatitudes, they emphasize that these are the kinds of people who experience God’s active favor. Which is true. In fact, it is so true that “feeling blessed” is not a necessary characteristic of God’s blessing. Because they are living in relationship with God blessing flows to them. Negative feelings, the absence of feelings or adverse conditions cannot take away the blessedness of these persons.[1]
    On the other hand, the actual Greek word translated “blessed” in the beatitudes is “makarios” which is used in the Greek Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word “ashrei.” Ashrei conveys the idea of blessing as human flourishing. When scholars apply this understanding of blessing to the Beatitudes, they stress that these are the kinds of persons that experience the fullness of human life as God intended it to be. Given the direct linguistic connection, one can assert that this is the primary meaning for blessing as expressed in the Beatitudes. However, it is not an either-or proposition. Both of these meanings are true, and they overlap because one can only experience the fullness of human flourishing if one is the object of God’s active favor.
    Therefore, combining these two concepts, I propose this way of understanding the word “blessed” in the context of the beatitudes.
    Blessing is experiencing the fullness of human flourishing, which flows from the active favor of God.[2]
    To wrap up this introduction, I want to briefly answer the question

    What kind of Literature are the Beatitudes?

    The beatitudes are poetic in form – specifically Hebrew poetic form expressed in Greek. In addition to their poetic form, the beatitudes are “apocalyptic” literature. That might come as a shock. Because we think of “apocalyptic” literature as being “end of time” visions such as those contained in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. Remember that the word “apocalypse” means “a revelation – a revealing of something.” The beatitudes are apocalyptic in two senses.
    The first apocalyptic sense of the beatitudes is that in the beatitudes Jesus reveals to us what normal human flourishing looks like within the rule and reign of God.
    The second apocalyptic sense of the beatitudes is that although their blessings are available to us in the here and now, their ultimate fulfillment is in “The Day of the Lord” when Christ returns and God reconciles all things to himself in the new heaven and new earth.[3]
    With this background, let us hear the Word of the Lord as our Lord Jesus Christ speaks it to us in the Beatitudes.
    Scripture Reading Matthew 5:1-12
    Matthew 5:1–12 NIV
    Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    The Problem of meekness

    “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
    I do not know if you see it this way, but I think this beatitude is one of the most confusing for those of us submerged in the USA culture. Who are the meek? “The meek” when we run it through our cultural brains sound so much like “the weak.” Equating “meek” with “weak” causes in the best-case confusion and at worst revulsion. “Blessed are the weak” that idea runs rough trod over our American mindset to such a degree that, if we are honest, we find it disturbing.
    No American in our right cultural mind wants to be weak. Even worse, the thought of others thinking of us as “weak” is almost unbearable. What do we do when people let slip signs of weakness in our presence? Most often, we naturally find the words to remind them, “Hey, you’ve got to be strong.” In our culture strong is good; weak is not good.
    Most sermons on this beatitude that I have heard in the United States spend a considerable amount of time explaining that meekness is not weakness. This is most often accomplished by pointing to Jesus standing up to the religious authorities who opposed him and especially referencing Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple with whips as proof positive that Jesus was not weak. Therefore, we are off the hook! Meek men don’t chase people with whips – Whew, thank God!
    The sermon then goes on to explain that a better understanding of the meaning of meek would be gentle. Unfortunately, in the American mind, “gentle” is a minor upgrade from “meek.” After all, Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish American war did not lead the charge of the “gentle riders” – no it could never be – because Americans are “rough riders” that’s who we are.
    One cultural indicator of how we view ourselves in relation to perceived meekness or weakness is the names we choose for our sports teams. We have the Bears, the Tigers, the Panthers and list goes on and on. These are names that communicate strength and intimidation. Nobody names their team “The Nice Guys” or the “Hand holders.” I did find one team which must be the exception that proves the rule. They are the New Orleans Baby Cakes which play in the Pacific Coast Baseball League.
    Well, you get the point gentle is not much better than weak in the American mindset. Knowing this the typical sermon moves on to explain that humility is the key behavior associated with meekness. Humility is acceptable to the American mind because we do at least pay lip service to humility as being a good thing. In practice, however, considering our national dialog across the ideological spectrum – humility seems to be in short supply.
    What if our worst fears are true? What if the best way to understand meekness is that meekness runs right through weakness? That is exactly what I am proposing this morning. Despite our fears, understanding meekness as weakness opens the way for us to express meekness as gentleness and humility.
    I hope to trace the line of meekness through weakness in two ways. First, as a logical flow of the beatitudes and second in the way Jesus fulfils the Old Testament vision of the Messiah-King.
    Once we understand meekness, then we can take up its positive outcome, which is the blessing of inheriting the earth. First let’s consider . . .

    The Meaning of meekness

    Over the last two Sundays we have seen that the qualities of being poor in spirit and of mourning are not qualities that we are required to achieve in order to have the blessings that Jesus promises. Instead, being poor in spirit and mourning are natural states of being in a broken world. Likewise, contrary to what we might think, meekness is not an exceptional quality we must reach, but meekness is a state-of-being-in-a-broken-world.
    Being poor in spirit means that we have nothing of spiritual value to bring to God to merit his blessings. Without looking for trouble, evil hammers us from within ourselves and through the actions of others and the society in which we live. We know that in ourselves we cannot overcome our spiritual poverty; neither can we overcome the powers of evil. Intuitively, we understand that we are in a hopeless situation that we have no power to overcome.
    In this sense everybody in the world is a meek person. We are weak, powerless, and utterly humiliated by our spiritual poverty before a holy and righteous God, humbled by our vulnerability in the face of the unrelenting evil that comes our way and by our own desire to submit to and embrace evil rather than to move toward God and submit ourselves to him. It is not an interpretive stretch to say that . . .
    Meekness is acknowledging our weakness against the crushing forces of our natural spiritual poverty and the evil that naturally causes us to mourn.
    Let’s look at how the Old Testament speaks of a weak Messiah-King and how Jesus applies that understanding to himself in relation to meekness.
    In Zechariah 9:9-10 we read,
    Zechariah 9:9–10 NIV
    Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    Notice that this Messiah-King shows three defining qualities:
    · The King is righteous. Which means he is morally upright and just in his behavior.
    · The King is victorious. Which means in his morality and justice He experiences triumph.
    · The King is lowly.
    The Hebrew word “ani” translated as “lowly” means without property, poor, wretched[4] [5] (deeply afflicted, dejected, distressed in body and mind, and needy).[6] In anybody’s world a person who believes himself to be a king yet who is without property, who is poor, who is deeply afflicted, dejected, distressed in body and mind, and needy – is not royalty they are mentally ill. This person, we would say, is too weak in their entire being to be a king.
    Isaiah described the weak Messiah King when he wrote,
    Isaiah 53:2–3 NIV
    He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
    In the New Testament, “ani” translates to Greek as “praus” which translates English as gentle and as meek.[7]
    Hebrew “ani” = Greek “praus”
    This is important to remember for later. But for right now, let’s look at how strong the Messiah-King is in his weakness. The King . . .
    · Takes away His people’s ability to make war. He disarms them.
    · Proclaims peace to the nations
    · Extends his rule to the ends of the earth
    Matthew records how Jesus fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy in connection with Jesus entry into Jerusalem the week in which evil men will take Jesus and crucify him. Matthew wrote,
    Matthew 21:1–5 NIV
    As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
    See your king comes to you, weak with no property, poor, wretched and needy, and riding on a donkey.
    Tim Keller has this to say about Jesus the weak Messiah-King.
    God works through weakness not strength, through poverty not wealth, through suffering and difficulty this is the pattern of God’s salvation, but beyond the pattern is a person. Jesus is the ultimate climax and embodiment of God’s pattern of salvation. Jesus comes as a poor man. He comes as a weak and powerless man. He is beaten, excluded, tortured, and put to death. He is a king – the anointed king that goes to a cross and not a throne. In this Jesus is saying salvation is by grace. If Jesus had come in strength, and said be strong like me, then that would be a strong God coming to save the strong. But if you have a weak God coming to die on the cross in your place to take the punishment for your sins. Then salvation goes not to those who think they are strong, but to those who know they are weak.[8]
    Then Jesus says about himself,
    Matthew 11:29 NIV
    Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    Knowing that Matthew uses the Greek “praus” to express the sense of the Hebrew word “ani”, we can legitimately paraphrase this verse like this: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am poor, weak, full of suffering . . . in my weakness you will find strength – rest for your souls.
    This is the call, this is the offer to every person who is weak, powerless, and utterly humiliated by their spiritual poverty and vulnerability to evil – which is everyone of us. Will we come to Jesus who became weak so that we can be strong, who became despised and rejected so that we could be accepted by the Father, who died in our place so we can live eternally? Will we come?
    Jesus turns to us and says, “Blessed are the meek, the weak ones, the spiritual zeros, those who have nothing to offer, those afflicted, suffering, and lonely, those who struggle with sin in their lives and those who mourn because of the evil in the world – they will inherit the earth!
    Oh, we need to come to Jesus for the salvation of our souls! And we need to continually come to him in our poverty, vulnerability, and weakness as we work out our salvation day after day. Will we come? If we will come to Jesus, then we will experience . . .

    The Blessing of meekness

    Jesus promises the entire earth to everyone who will bring their meekness, their weakness to him. What does it mean to inherit the earth? First, notice that it is an inheritance. We don’t buy an inheritance. We don’t earn an inheritance. An inheritance is not based on our deserving it. An inheritance is an act of grace. An inheritance is a gift. Most often, an inheritance occurs within the family. The Apostle Paul teaches us if we come to Jesus, we are children of God. Paul wrote,
    Romans 8:16–17 NIV
    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
    In Ephesians Paul writes that the Father has,
    Ephesians 1:9–10 NIV
    he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
    God is actively working out his purpose to bring everything in heaven and on earth under Christ. The rule and reign of God is fully operational throughout the whole earth in the here and now. Because we are part of the family, we are already taking part in our inheritance. As God’s children, Father, Son, and Holy Spirt live in us. Where we go God is there. We are in small and big ways the answer to the Lord’s Prayer “may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As disciples of Jesus that is our job description – we are in the business of seeing God’s will done on earth as it is done in heaven. How is God’s will done in heaven? In heaven God’s will is carried out fully, completely, and without hesitation. Just so you know I’m not making this up let me give you some Scriptural support for the idea that this is our job description. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples, he told them,
    Luke 10:8–11 NIV
    “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
    You see when we show up, the Kingdom of God shows up. Whether we are accepted or rejected the message is the same, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
    That’s what God calls us meek and weak people to do to see that His will is done fully, completely, and without hesitation – when we come to him he fills our meekness and weakness with his power and love to get the job done. In this sense we have inherited the earth!
    But there is another sense in which there is more to come. There is a new heaven and a new earth coming in which our inheritance will be complete.[9] Paul tells us,
    Romans 8:18–23 NIV
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
    When Adam and Eve sinned, it was an act so evil, so horrid that God cursed the earth. In a sense, God had to conform his perfect earth to the sinfulness of humankind. But in the Day of the Lord, it will be just the opposite. Creation groans waiting in eager expectation to see the children of God in our glory. How does that happen? Christ vanquishes the curse of the fall. Christ conquers death and redeems our bodies. Christ restores us to the full glory that was ours before the Fall. In that moment all the sons and daughters of God from all nations, every ethnic group from throughout all of time will have personally recognizable physical bodies that will radiate with unimaginable glory. That is the moment that all of creation is groaning for. After the Sons and Daughters of God are completely restored with glory, then creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay –[don’t miss this] – and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God!.[10]
    In the sin of Adam, the earth reflects the curse of death. When the new heaven and earth comes, the earth will reflect the glory of the children of God. It is that earth – the earth that reflects the glory of the children of God which will be our eternal inheritance.
    2 Peter 3:13 NIV
    But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
    Revelation 21:4 NIV
    ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth!
    [1] Wilkins, M. J. (2004). Matthew (p. 204). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
    [2] The discussion is based primarily on Pennington, Jonathan T. NT251 The Sermon on the Mount (Videos). Logos Mobile Education. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.
    [3] Horton, M. (2011). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (p. 542). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
    [4] Strong, J. (2009). עָנִיʿânîy. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 2, p. 90). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
    [5]Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 10, pp. 575–580). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
    [6]Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Wretched. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wretched
    [7] πραΰς, πραεῖα, πραΰ Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart.
    [8] Adapted from Tim Kellar, Hanna’s Prayer. June 1, 2020. Tim Keller Sermons Podcast by Gospel in Life. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/hannahs-prayer/id352660924?i=1000481737401
    [9] For support concerning “already but not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God see Horton, M. (2011). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (p. 544). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
    [10] See John Piper, June 16, 2008. The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-triumph-of-the-gospel-in-the-new-heavens-and-the-new-earth--2
      • Matthew 5:1–12NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Proverbs 6:16–19NIV2011

      • Deuteronomy 6:5NIV2011

      • Leviticus 19:18NIV2011

      • 2 Corinthians 5:19–20NIV2011

      • Luke 10:8–12NIV2011

      • Hebrews 12:1–3NIV2011

      • Matthew 5:10–12NIV2011

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