Episode 2. The Meek, The Hungry, The Thirsty
I received an email from a woman in the UK the other day who’d been going through some really tough times, not just for a few weeks or months, but for years. And she asked me, “how come me? What’s God doing?” Fair question … and yet when I read Jesus’ Sermon on the mount […]
I received an email from a woman in the UK the other day who’d been going through some really tough times, not just for a few weeks or months, but for years. And she asked me, “how come me? What’s God doing?” Fair question … and yet when I read Jesus’ Sermon on the mount – it hits me that we can discover His blessing in some out of the way places. We can discover His blessing, in the midst of some of the worst circumstances that we are ever going to travel through in life. Isn’t that just like Him?!
Blessed are the Meek
Some would say I’m a bit of a tough old nut. I’ve never really been afraid of a stoush. It’s not that I go looking for a fight, but when push comes to shove, I’m prepared to stand up and fight battles with people if I think they’re worth fighting. And sometimes they are. Now that may sound a little bit odd coming from a guy whose full-time job is telling people about the love of Jesus. Well to tell you the truth, I’m hopefully a somewhat mellower version of what I used to be before I met Jesus.
There’s a reason for that (I’ll come to that a bit later). But for much of my life I would plough straight over the top of people or through them or both, to get to where I was going. So if you were in my road, watch out. My reason I guess, was that in this dog-eat-dog world you had to do that to get to where you wanted to go. Now there are plenty of people who live their lives that way, so imagine my distain and surprise then, back in those days before I knew Jesus personally, when I heard this little quote from something Jesus once said, what I now know to be the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Chapter 5 verse 5:
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth
Well, that confirmed it for me. Religion, which was what I called it back then, is a crutch for the week and the downtrodden. Definitely not for me. “Blessed are the meek …” I mean, seriously!
I love this saying, “No man is a total loss because he can always be used with a bad example”. I fit really well with that. But change for me was when Jesus came into my life. It was really profound. Other people I know, many other people I know, were blessed to always have known Jesus all their lives. Christian parents, grew up in a Christian home, they couldn’t remember a time when they didn’t believe in Jesus. And that’s fantastic.
But it was totally different for me. It was a dramatic encounter with Jesus on Berni’s road to success. The Lord did much to get my attention and a huge part of that was to humble me. I was a man with an ego the size of a small planet. Before God could do anything with me He desperately needed to bring me down from the pedestal that I’d stuck myself on. We all do that to some degree. With me it was a disease. There’s a big difference between a sober assessment of ourselves, “I’m pretty good at this … I’m pretty good at that … but I’m pretty much awful at that thing over there”. That’s okay. Versus being full of yourself, because when you’re full of yourself it makes a huge amount of sense just to roll over the top of people.
Now I’m telling you this stuff because it sets the scene for the struggle I had to come to grips with this rather bazaar blessing that Jesus is talking about here. Let’s have another listen to it:
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Can you see how a bloke with my makeup and my background would struggle with that? But you see there’s another bunch of people who struggle with it as well – the poor, the marginalised, the persecuted – the people who by their very nature are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to personality type. See those people perhaps feel like others are always walking over the top of them and treating them like a doormat. And if any of those describe you, then of course you’re going struggle with this blessing too. And for the same reason that I struggled with it. The great character in the long running series, “Mash” put it really nicely when he one day said, rather angrily, “The meek may inherit the earth but it’s the grumpy who get promoted”. I guess that’s one way of saying it.
The reality is that we don’t expect the meek to get anything because meek people get walked over. It’s the powerful, the strong, the rich – those with privilege and position who end up owning everything, the week get nothing. There was an interesting article in my local newspaper, The Australian, recently talking about the greatest risk to the world economy, in fact world peace, over the coming decade. One of the top two risks identified by the World Economic Forum was severe income disparity between the developed nations and the developing nations. In other words, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Nothing new in that.
You think about it. Africa is one of the richest continents on the planet when it comes to natural resources and yet home to countless millions of poor, oppressed, threatened people. So how can it possibly be that the meek are going to inherit the earth? I guess the first thing in coming to try and understand what Jesus is saying here about the meek, is that “meek” doesn’t equal “weak”. The original Greek word used here literally means “mildness of disposition and gentleness of spirit”. The most powerful explanation, this came to me in a sermon of a pastor at the first church I attended after I gave my life to Jesus – Pastor Phil. He told us meekness is actually strength under control.
See, meekness has nothing to say about how much power we have or don’t have, but it has everything about what we do with the power we do have. The most powerful person who every walked this earth was of course Jesus. Go read about Him. He wielded amazing power; the power of life and death over people; the very Son of God in our midst. But how did He use His power? John Chapter 10 verse 17:
For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again. I’ve received this command from my Father.
Where Jesus saw injustice, where He saw religious hypocrisy and oppression, He was like a lion – He tore it apart. And yet this same Jesus used His power, not to create an organisation or to gain power in the contemporary political context, but instead He used His power to die for you and me. It is for this reason that Jesus says of Himself:
Come to me all you who are weary and heavily laden for I will give you rest. But take my yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus was powerful and meek – the Lion and the Lamb. The meek are those who use what power they have, not for their own benefit but for the benefit of others. The meek are those who humble themselves under the mighty hand of God and do His will. Sometimes they must wield great power, other times they must sit silence and suffer loss and abuse. The meek are those who with all their heart want to see God’s will done and not theirs. They are those to whom their own comfort, their own success, their own agenda, their own wellbeing are all placed well below the will of God.
God’s always opposed the proud, but He gives grace to the humble – to the meek, which is why Jesus can say:
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
God has such a different perspective to you and to me, doesn’t He?
Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst
There are plenty of times over the course of my 50 something years that I’ve come to the conclusion that life’s not just fair. No doubt you’ve been in that place too. One of those times, for some reason really sticks in my mind, when I was about 10 years old we had a soccer game at school one afternoon. It wasn’t a competition, just one afternoon the teacher took us down to the park, set up some goals, split the class into two teams to give us a bit of exercise and some fun. Now the teacher’s name was Mr Moore. I remember him well because he was one of my favourite teachers and naturally he refereed the game that afternoon.
We were playing happily enough until he blew the whistle and made a decision that went against my team and I absolutely knew that it was wrong. I was so angry. I threw a fit, man, I let him have it. Remember, I’m 10 years old. Right? He was firm, he stuck to his guns and he said that if I didn’t want to accept the decision I could sit the game out. And that is exactly what I chose to do. I went off in a huff and sat under the willow tree and grumped all afternoon.
Funny how I remember, it’s as though it was yesterday. And still, as I talk about it I can feel that sense of anger and indignation rising up within me because he was just plain wrong. Now, hopefully I’ve grown up a bit since then, but isn’t it funny how that sense of right and wrong is within us. Not always perhaps, but certainly when the wrong affects us, when the decision goes against us.
You see sometimes life just isn’t fair and when we’re on the receiving end of that unfairness we so want the right decision, the fair decision to be made. But what about when the shoe’s on the other foot? What about when we’re the ones dishing out the right and wrong to others? It’s funny, but it seems that we’re prepared to apply a different set of rules to right and wrong when we’re on the dishing out end rather than the receiving end. We’re prepared to cut ourselves a bit more slack, give ourselves a bit more latitude in making the right and wrong choices, and we’re often prepared to accept a greater middle ground – more shades of grey between right and wrong instead of the black and white attitude we have when we’re on the receiving end.
One of my former business partners, a qualified psychologist, referred to it as “situational ethics”. Our ethics, our definition of right and wrong, often depends on the circumstance we’re in, who’s on the receiving end and who’s on the dishing out end.
We’re chatting today about God’s blessing, what it really means to be blessed by God. And as I said earlier, one of the toughest things for us to accept is this apparent disconnect between our ideas of success and God’s idea of blessing. We want to imagine that success, according to our definition, is exactly the same thing as blessing according to God’s definition. And when that simple and powerful formula doesn’t lay itself out in our lives the way we think it should – when we imagine that blessing means good health and prosperity and we find ourselves battling say, a major illness or struggling in our finances – then it’s a double whammy. Because not only do we have to deal with the stuff we’re dealing with, but we end up battling our disappointment and our disillusionment with God.
And that’s what we’re talking about in this series, so that we can really understand what God means by blessing. Because when we understand that then we enter into His blessing no matter what our circumstances are. Up, down, good, bad – God’s blessing doesn’t depend on our circumstances.
My childhood tantrum back on that soccer park is kind of a great little parable of our childish understanding of God’s idea of blessing. There was Mr Moore, one of my favourite teachers of all time, in my childish mind I expected that in order for him to live up to who he was in my life, in order for him to demonstrate that he was worthy of being my favourite teacher, when I pointed out the error of his umpiring ways as I saw them, he should have automatically blessed me by capitulating and agreeing with me.
We can see how childish that is. Can’t we? And yet so often our expectations of God and His blessings are no different to that 10 year old kid back there kicking the ball in the park. We want to throw a tantrum when right and wrong, good and bad, as we see them, don’t fall our way. I missed out on the fun of that afternoon through my tantrum and I know many a Christ-follower who is missing out, at least in part, on the fun and the vibrancy of life through the same immature decisions in their relationship with God. How can we blessed? Really? Here’s one way. Matthew Chapter 5 verse 6:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Now righteousness is a funny word. Not one we use in conversation much today. In part it means what we’ve been talking about: right and wrong, that sense of justice, that’s part of it but not all of it. In part it means integrity and virtue, purity of life. But that’s still not all of it. The other great part of what this word means as it’s used here by Jesus is about who we are; about whether we’re in a condition that’s acceptable to =God; it means having a right standing with God. Let’s take someone accused of a crime: if they’re convicted they’re now on the wrong side of the law, but once they’ve served their sentence they’re back on the right side of the law again. That’s what righteousness means, to be on the right side of the law.
And we notice here that as Jesus talks about righteousness He makes no distinction to the situation. He doesn’t specify if I’m a kid on the soccer park, having to swallow some tuff decision or whether I’m the umpire dishing out that decision. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who literally want it so much that they’re suffering, that’s the sense of the words ‘to hunger and to thirst’ here. Those who are suffering for and longing for righteousness right now are blessed right now because they will be filled. They will be satisfied.
Those who hunger and thirst for justice to be done, those who hunger and thirst for a right standing with God whatever it will cost them, those who hunger and thirst not only to be righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ, not only to have a right standing before God because they believe in Jesus, but to do righteousness, to live out righteousness, to sacrifice their lives to be like Jesus, as much as they will have to suffer along the way to live that out, they are blessed because they’ll be filled. Their longing will be satisfied, that’s what Jesus is saying.
So the next time we’re grumbling and complaining about injustice – and I know that there are some people listening today who are suffering such great injustices in their lives – the next time we’re feel as though somehow God’s deserted us, we can, by faith lay hold of this blessing. Because by faith we can know that we will be filled:
Faith is the assurance of things we hope for and the deep conviction of things we actually can’t see yet. (Hebrews 11:1)
Do you see how disappointment and disillusionment are by products of a lack of faith in the promises of God? Do you see how childish and narrow we’ve become when we’re on the receiving end of injustice or we’re dishing out something which really we shouldn’t be dishing out? Over and over in the New Testament we read about rejoicing in our suffering. “Consider it nothing but pure joy when you suffer”, writes James in his letter. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice”, writes Paul to his friends in Philippi from his dark cell on death row.
Friend, when you and I suffer an injustice, an unrighteousness, whether it comes from someone else or it comes from ourselves, it hurts. We can throw a tantrum and miss out on the rest of the game or we can go to God and thank Him for the incredible blessing we have right now in the faith knowledge in the absolutely assurance in the deep conviction in that which we know is coming but we can’t see yet.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
God is Real
One of the things you will hear me banging on about if you regularly join me here on Christianityworks is the fact that God’s real. That there’s a reality about what He has to say. I remember when I was in the Information Technology business is used to attend quite a few IT conferences around the world, and often the speakers, it was like they were sanitising things when they spoke. They’d talk about this great project or that one, they’d tell us how successful it was and how it had achieved it’s objectives and how wonderful their products or services were. And I used to sit there and the more experience I got under my belt, the more I started thinking, “Either I’m an idiot who gets things wrong all the time, and that’s a distinct possibility or they’re dishing up a version of IT projects that just isn’t true.”
I’ve never been involved in a single large IT project that didn’t have some problems, that didn’t have conflict between the end users and developers, that didn’t run over budget or over time, because when they first estimated it, they were afraid to tell management what it was actually it was going to cost and how long it was actually going to take.
There was a gritty reality that these slick conference presenters were skimming over. And they were doing a disservice to us and a disservice to themselves. And to be truthful, that’s the temptation that I’m often confronted with in doing what I do on this program. Because, you know what, I’d love to tell you that God always wants to bless you and that it’ll be a bed of roses and it will always be wonderful and honky dory when you give your life to Jesus, or when you get to know Him better, or when you get to the next stage in your discipleship training course, or when …
But life’s not like that, is it? In a week or two’s time I’m going to be sharing with you some insights from a man who’s ministry’s involving conflict resolution because conflict is almost a daily fact of life. The point that I’m making here is this. Here we are, about half way through this series that I’ve called, “God’s Abundant Blessing”. I’m not sure what you expected when you heard this series title, but the one thing we are not going to get is some sickly sweet, sanitised version of what blessing is in this world.
The best summary of God’s blessing, the intent of God’s blessing in a nutshell, in a single verse is John Chapter 16 verse 33, where Jesus says, “Look guys, in this world you’re going to have tribulations, pressures that are going to squeeze the life out of you, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”
See, God’s blessing comes in the middle of tribulations. Take this executive summary and apply it to this list of unlikely blessings in the Sermon on the Mount, and you know what, that Sermon on the Mount starts to make a bit of sense, because Jesus is a realist. He’s speaking, not into a perfect loving, all sweetness and light kind of world; He’s speaking into a lost world full of conflict and of pain and disappointments as well as joys and achievements and fulfilments, because we only want the last half of that equation. But life’s not like that and Jesus knows that, and that’s why He tells us about blessing in the gritty realities of life. That’s why He says:
Blessed is 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 sake for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
He’s for real. He understands what its like down here. And the richness of His blessing, the exquisite beauty and wonder of the blessings of God are that they come not amidst the sham of what promises, not based on the lie of only half the truth about life, but God’s blessing come when we realise there’s a different way – a Jesus way. A way of taking a total poverty of spirit and going back to God with that and asking Him to fill us because without Him we just know we’re empty. A way of embracing meekness is a powerful way of living our lives for Jesus.
Can I encourage you today? Your Jesus is for real. Your Jesus has blessing untold for you that don’t conform to the world’s measure of success. But you see the blessings of Jesus reach deeper, far deeper into who you are – into your heart, into your spirit – and they deliver a peace and power and a provision of plenty in a way that nothing in this world can. See, that’s your Jesus. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re going through that precisely there is your Jesus.
So if you are mourning at the moment, if you’re mourning a loss, mourning grief, the blessing of God is there for you because Jesus means to comfort you. If you’ve realised the deep poverty of your spirit and you don’t know which way to turn and you’re embarrassed and ashamed to go to God – the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to you, because God is looking for someone just like you to bless. If you’re being persecuted for Christ’s sake, if you’re struggling with persecution the blessing of God is upon you because Jesus is there with you in that place. See, Jesus is a realist and He blesses in the ups of life and He blesses us in the downs of life.