05-31-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
THRIVE! “Hitting Bottom”
Text: Matt 5:1-12. Focus: Matt 5:5. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
This passage is a kind of “manifesto” for—a new way of life. Remember, we talked about how Jesus came with good news of a new kingdom—the kingdom of heaven. He called people to repent—to change their ways (4:17). His miracles (4:23) demonstrated the spiritual authority of the new kingdom.
In chapter 5, Jesus describes this new kingdom—it’s different from any kingdom they’ve ever known before. It’s not like their religious leaders. It’s not like the Roman government. This kingdom follows different rules. It looks at life differently. It’s radically different from human institutions. It’s a whole new culture.
Jesus begins with a list of “blessings”—the “beatitudes”—but they are much more than blessings.
They’re almost like a spiritual “Bill of Rights.” They describe the citizens of this new kingdom—not just their rights and privileges and blessings, but also their characteristics and attitudes.
Four questions. When I read verse 5, four questions come to my mind.
- What does it mean to be “blessed”?
- What does it mean to be “meek”?
- What does it mean to “inherit the earth”?
- Why does any of this matter? (Are these old, ancient sayings still relevant today?)
- What does it mean to be “blessed”? You’ll remember that we already talked about this over the last few weeks.
Some Bible call it “happy,” but it’s really much more than that.
- It’s being “happy” when there’s no earthly reason to be happy.
- It’s a deep sense of “well-being”—one that goes far beyond a comfortable feeling or a happy emotion. It’s what enabled Horatio Spafford to write It Is Well With My Soul even while he was mourning the deaths of his four children.
- These “blessings” indicate a spiritual reality that transcends feelings. They override physical circumstances. They trump your troubles. In other words, in a situation when everyone else would feel discouraged or upset, there are spiritual realities (blessings) that hold you steady in the midst of it all.
Paul (Phil 4:11b-13): …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
If you are part of the kingdom of heaven, then you are blessed—no matter what others might see, no matter what others might say, no matter what situation or circumstance you might be in.
So if being “blessed” means spiritual well-being…
- What does it mean to be “meek”?
Let’s try to answer that by thinking about examples of meekness.
Last week Jeff recalled how he mourned over the Green Bay Packers loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game. But let’s go beyond mourning and talk about being meek.
Who is more meek? Green Bay Packer fans? [Picture]
Or Minnesota Viking fans? [Pictures]
The dictionary offers two ways to define “meek”: one is a positive trait, the other negative.
Meek (dictionary): POSITIVE: humbly patient and mild, not inclined to anger or resentment. NEGATIVE: overly submissive or compliant; tame; easily imposed on—too submissive; spineless; spiritless.
The original language of the NT uses a word (praus) with several uses: meek, gentle, kind, forgiving… So other Bible versions will say things such as:
- God blesses those who are humble… (NLT)
- gentle ones (DNLT); gentle (NASB)
- mild men (Wycliffe)
- …the mild, patient, long-suffering) (AMP)
- Those who have no pride in their hearts (NLV)
- those who quietly trust him and do not try to get their own way (WE)
In our adult class last Wednesday, several offered some very intriguing views on what “meek” might mean: unsung heroes, those content to live in the shadows (that is, in the background), secret ministers. One described meekness as “power under perfect control.”
The word in the original (praus) was used by the Greeks to describe a special kind horse: a meek horse was what they called a war horse, conditioned and trained to obey instantly, no matter how great the noise and confusion of the battle. The best horse to have in battle was powerful and strong, but it was a meek horse completely submitted to his master and would not panic or rear up and run,. The meek horse could do what ordinary horses could not; it could go into the thick of the fight—because it had complete trust in its master.
Meek does not mean weak. The meek may have tremendous power and skill, but all that is harnessed and brought under control for a greater good. So the meek will not try to seize power for their own ends.
I think the meek person may act “unmeek” when circumstances require bold action! “Meek” does not mean weak. It does not mean ineffective. A meek person may be gentle and humble—but also strong and courageous. The meek may actually defend the weak and the oppressed and champion justice.
The world was shocked 26 years ago when the Chinese government quashed a democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square, shooting or rolling tanks over 2- to 3,000 protesters, killing them. In the aftermath a video emerged of one lone protester in Tiananmen Square who stood his ground, taring down a tank—actually, a whole column of tanks…
Meek does not mean weak. It does not mean wishy-washy, spineless, whimpering. The meek have a spirit of gentleness AND self-control… (both fruit of the Spirit).
As a result, the meek in God’s kingdom have a unique kind of influence precisely because they have rejected the power systems of the world. They understand (and live) Jesus’ ways: Be great by being a servant. Don’t lord it over others. (See Mark 10:42-44)
People have difficulty grasping the implications of this verse. It’s hard to understand being meek and blessed and inheriting the earth.
There are plenty of cartoons about the meek inheriting the earth, about lawyers contesting the inheritance, etc. Garrison Keillor had this spin on it Minnesota. The world’s perspective just doesn’t get it. One of my favorites (from 25 years ago): “When we, the meek, inherit the earth, you and your kind are going to regret it.”
So let’s recap:
- Blessed [a spiritual reality; you may not feel blessed if you’re meek; others may not consider you blessed; but Jesus says you are blessed—present tense!]
- are the meek [this is a character trait, not a physical condition—it is more about what is in your heart: your attitude, your inner character],
- for they will [this is a promise: future tense; it indicates something is coming]
- inherit the earth.
So this brings us to the question:
- What does it mean to inherit the earth?
Both Fred and Jeff the last couple of weeks have talked about the OT principles in the Beatitudes. It’s the same for verse 5. Psalm 37:11 says: “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.”
“The land” referred to the “Promised Land”—a familiar theme to the Jews. The defining event of their history was when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God brought them from slavery, poverty, and humility to give them hope and a promise.
Throughout their history, whenever they became proud and self-sufficient—depending on themselves rather than God—the “land” was taken away from them: enemies invaded and occupied the land; the people were oppressed—and sometimes even taken away into exile.
But whenever they humbled themselves (repenting and turning again to God), then the “land” was restored to them. Trusting in God gave them his protection—so they gained a sense of peace, security, and safety—and they received his provision, an inheritance.
So the promise meant more than “the earth” or “the land.” It was more than real estate or territory or mineral rights. It ultimately was about a full, abundant life. It was about God’s blessing.
The Promised Land became a symbol for all the good plans God has for us—both now and in eternity. So to “inherit the earth,” in its fullest sense, is about a spiritual inheritance.
Jesus used a physical reality—the Promised Land—to provide a concrete example of a spiritual reality—possessing the fullness of God’s abundance. Another time, Jesus said: For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)
Jesus said this promise is for us today—citizens of the kingdom of God. This kingdom will be possessed by the meek—by those who humble themselves before God. This kingdom is not controlled by powerful despots, ruthless tyrants, or manipulative schemers.
- Why does this matter? Does meekness get you anywhere these days? What difference will you see in your life if you become meek?
Remember, Jesus strengthened the truths of the OT to a whole new level. As Jesus described this new kingdom, he said: I’m not removing these foundational truths; I’m fulfilling them.
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law; he came to fulfill it (5:17)—that is, to expand and enlarge and intensify it. He continued his sermon saying, You’ve got to do better than just following a bunch of religious rules like the Pharisees. And he went further, You’ve heard it was said, but I say to you…
- So what if you don’t commit murder? Are you an angry person?
- So what if you don’t commit adultery? Do you have lust in your heart?
- So what if you love your neighbor? Do you love your enemy?
So when Jesus talked about being meek, he was raising it to a whole new level. In the OT, the meek received the Promised Land. In the NT, the meek received an abundant life and hope for eternity.
The Promised Land—a land “flowing with milk and honey”—was a concept, an image that spoke of abundance and blessing. But it was meant to picture spiritual blessings:
- An abundant, full life.
- A dynamic, spiritual change.
- A life transformation (which was far more than moral or ethical teaching).
Jesus didn’t abolish the Law, he raised the bar. But he didn’t just teach a higher standard, he lived a higher standard. And he made it possible for us to live better!
Jesus died in our place and fulfilled the requirements of the Law, so we could live more like him. He gives us grace and life and power greater than what the Law could offer. He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God through him. (2 Cor 5:21)
So Jesus wants us to be like him—meek but not weak; power under control; submitted to God so we can do more for God. What we do must spring from who we are. Four things that matter:
- We can DO more because we ARE more.
The Sermon on the Mount is not just about doing things differently, it’s about being different. It’s not those who merely act meek, it’s those who actually are meek who inherit the earth.
So how can we become meek? What if our nature is to yell and throw our weight around? What if our nature is to grab and guard and hoard? What if our nature is not meek? How do we become meek?
Jesus doesn’t answer the “how” question in the Sermon on the Mount. He only provides a picture of what can be—not instructions on how to do it. He simply describes the character of a person who has encountered God’s power and transforming grace.
The answer to the “how” question comes later in other passages of the Bible that describe how the spiritual life works.
- We are changed from the inside out.
It’s only when our character is transformed on the inside that we can begin to live a life of righteousness on the outside.
When we submit to God and are humble before him, when we trust him to guide us through the battle, when we rely on his power rather than our own, then we are meek and will inherit his blessings—then we can live life to the full.
Jesus promised to release his power and abundance in our lives when we come to him! If you abide in me—in the vine, he said, you will bear much fruit. (John 15:5)
If you give your life for my sake, you will find real living. (Luke 9:24) If you take up your cross and follow me… (Luke 9:23)
It’s part of the journey we are on: We are being transformed into his image from one level of glory to another. (2 Cor 3:18)
- As we are changed, we can walk by the power of the Spirit.
Meekness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. [The fruit of the Spirit is] …gentleness and self-control… (Gal 5:23)
The more you give yourself to the Lord, the more you’ll will find yourself at ease with being more gentle—having power, but keeping it under control.
Cultivate a spirit of meekness by giving control over to the Spirit.
- When we are changed, we can be light and salt to the world (5:13-16).