Date: November 18, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 6:17–6:26
By this point in Luke’s Gospel, you might say we’ve come to expect the unexpected. So far, nearly everything about Jesus’s life and ministry has gone against the world’s wisdom. This has been true from the very beginning. Remember the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Though angels announced that a King had arrived in David’s City, where was Jesus actually born? Not in a palace attended by servants, but in stable welcomed by shepherds. It was unexpected.
That theme has continued into Jesus’ ministry. Consider the circumstances Jesus has encountered so far. Though Scripture testifies that Jesus is the Messiah, and though Jesus’ own works confirm his identity, how have the leaders of Israel responded to him? Not with joyful submission, but with hostile opposition. Again, it’s unexpected, at least according to the world’s standards.
But in our passage this morning we find that this unexpected reality applies not only to Jesus, but to his disciples as well. Following Jesus does not match the world’s way of thinking. I hope you heard that theme as we read. The world says today is what matters, so get all the satisfaction you can in the present. But Jesus says true blessing is a gift God gives in fully only later, on the last day. The world says suffering indicates you’re a failure, so do everything you can to be well liked in this life. But Jesus says living for the world’s approval means you’ll face a much greater suffering in the end. Compared to the world’s way of thinking, the road of following Jesus is unexpected, and if we’re not prepared ahead of time, we might very well find our discipleship derailed in the process.
And that means, brothers and sisters, we need to pay careful attention to Jesus’ preaching here in Luke 6. These verses are not mere spiritual platitudes, and neither are these verses simply social commentary from a strict religious teacher. This is the Lord Jesus serving as our Good Shepherd. He’s preparing us ahead of time for what it’s like to follow him in this world.
And if we’re honest, this teaching from Jesus is something we need to hear again and again. Consider how easily our discipleship gets off track because things don’t meet our expectations. How many times have you faced a difficult situation and thought, “Isn’t faith supposed to make my life easier?” Or how many times, in the midst of hardship, have you wondered, “If the Bible says knowing God is a blessing, then why is walking by faith so often marked by trials?” I know I’ve asked those questions many times, and our passage today reminds us that the problem is those situations is not with God. Frankly, the problem is with us. The problem is we’re trying to use the world’s categories to explain life in God’s kingdom. But it doesn’t work that way, and that’s what Jesus is getting at in today’s passage. Discipleship does not follow the wisdom of this world.
And in his kindness, Jesus tells us this ahead of time. That’s why he’s the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t leave us to be caught off guard. He doesn’t ask that we sustain our own faith. No, he prepares us. He tells us the truth about blessing – how it’s found in God and not in stuff. And he calls us to live today in light of that greater blessing to come. All of that to say that this is a passage that calls for close attention, in part because it promises incredible grace from the Lord.
As we look now at the details of the passage, you can see there are three distinct sections. Let me sketch them out briefly. The first section is a summary in vv17-19, and from here, we should note the Presence of the Kingdom. The second section is vv20-23, and here we need to understand the Promise of True Blessing. And then the third section is a warning, vv24-26, and from this we see the Peril of Unbelief. Three truths that prepare us to live as citizen’s God’s kingdom. Let’s begin, then, in v17 with the Presence of the Kingdom.
The Presence of the Kingdom
By and large, the opening verses of our passage are a summary of Jesus’ ministry so far. Despite the opposition, Jesus continues to garner attention. Notice in v17 the extensive crowd that has gathered. There are the apostles, who come down the mountain with Jesus. There is a great crowd of disciples – those who have embraced Jesus’ teaching to some degree and have begun to follow him. And then, Luke says there is a great multitude of people, both Jews and Gentiles it seems, from all over – Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon. These people are interested in Jesus’ teaching, but they haven’t become disciples as of yet. Despite the opposition, v17 tells us Jesus’ ministry continues to grow.
And yet, the most important feature of the summary comes in v18. Notice how Luke describes the crowd as coming “to hear [Jesus] and be healed of their diseases.” Those two actions – hearing and healing – are a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry so far. Most importantly, people have come to hear Jesus, which of course reminds us that Jesus is a preacher of God’s Word. His ministry is marked by what we might call kingdom proclamation. This is Jesus’ essential message – that the kingdom of God is at hand, and therefore, people ought to repent and submit themselves to God. And that truth is now being revealed most clearly in Jesus himself. It’s only a short phrase in v18 – people who came to hear – but that short phrase reminds us that kingdom proclamation was essential to Jesus’ ministry.
At the same time, v18 also summarizes the healing Jesus regularly performed. We might call this aspect of Jesus’ ministry kingdom demonstration. Jesus proclaimed the truth, and then he demonstrated that truth through his ministry of healing. This is why Luke, in particular, consistently recounts how Jesus healed the sick and drove out unclean spirits. How do we know the kingdom has come? Because sickness, sin, and the forces of darkness are all powerless compared to Jesus. There can be no doubt. The kingdom of God, Luke is telling us, has broken into this age with the coming of Jesus Christ.
But as the rest of the passage makes clear, following Jesus is about more than coming to him to be healed. It’s about more than having his power meet your needs so you can get on with life as you want it to be. This is key.. V19, Jesus has an incredibly powerful ministry, and yet, what does Jesus quickly begin to do in v20? He begins to teach. Do you see the progression? Powerful miracles, v19, serve the proclamation of God’s word, v20. Jesus is burdened here to ensure that the crowd understands the heart of his ministry. Yes, Jesus has power to heal, but Jesus has not come primarily to make our physical lives better. Jesus has come to bring people into the kingdom of God and then to equip them to live in step with that kingdom.
This is an emphasis the church in our day needs to recover, and perhaps it’s emphasis that some of us need to remember this morning. The gospel of Christ is not a message of Jesus overcoming our deficiencies and thus enabling us to live the life we’ve always wanted. The gospel is the message that we’re all sinners, separated from God and without hope in this world, but that God, being rich in mercy, sent his Son to redeem his people from the power and punishment of sin. That’s the gospel, brothers and sisters, and if we view Jesus simply as a means of having our needs met, then we might not understand the gospel. So before we get to the details of Jesus’ teaching, let’s be sure we’re clear on who Jesus is and what he came to do. His ministry is both hearing and healing. His works confirm his Word. And that means the gospel is not a message of self-help or self-actualization. The gospel is the good news that Jesus alone can save and bring his people into the kingdom of God.
The Promise of True Blessing
Now, this summary of Jesus’ ministry sets the context for his sermon that follows. Jesus has come proclaiming the kingdom of God, and in v20, he begins to prepare his disciples to live for that kingdom. And this is where we see our second truth – Jesus gives us the Promise of True Blessing. Most likely, you’re familiar with vv20-23, which are often called the Beatitudes. They are pronouncements of blessing. But you could also say that Beatitudes are a reminder of what truly constitutes the good life. According to Jesus, the good life is not found in following the world, which prioritizes the immediate and promotes the self. Rather, Jesus says, the good life is a gift of God’s grace that comes to those who belong to God’s kingdom. If you want to be blessed – if you want the good life, you’ve got to see how God’s kingdom is upside down from this world. That’s really what Jesus is getting at here.
Now, before we consider the details of the Beatitudes, we have to answer a foundational question. How exactly should we understand what Jesus teaches here? Do the Beatitudes prescribe the conditions you must meet to enter the kingdom of God? Or, do the Beatitudes present the promise God makes to those whom he brings into his kingdom? I’ll contend the second option is right way to understand Jesus. The Beatitudes are not conditions we must meet, but rather God’s encouragement we’re meant to receive.
Think of the Beatitudes as fuel to strengthen us as we run the race of faith. That race is hard, isn’t it? It’s especially hard when it seems the world’s wisdom is turning out better than God’s wisdom! What do we do in those moments? We remember Jesus’ teaching here in Luke 6. We remember what it means to blessed in God’s kingdom. That’s what the Beatitudes are – not conditions we meet, but little glimpses of reality that are meant to encourage us along the way.
Now, let me show you from the text why I believe this is the right way to read Jesus. Notice, first of all, in v20, that Jesus is speaking to his disciples. That is, Jesus preaches this sermon to those who are following him. Now, the cross and resurrection are still in front of Jesus at this point, so there is still much these disciples have to learn. And yet, even in these early days, Luke calls them disciples. These are the ones who are blessed, according to Jesus – those who submit their life to him and to his teaching.
The second reason has to do with that term Blessed. Very simply, that is a term of grace. The Beatitudes are not a way of twisting God’s arm. It’s not that we choose poverty, and then God blesses in return. Far from it. The Beatitudes are the declaration of God’s grace on those whom he has called to himself in Jesus Christ. Now, to be sure, the Beatitudes do call us to respond, as we’ll see in a moment. We must orient our lives around the truth Jesus preaches. But even then, our response is just that – it’s a response to the grace God has revealed in Jesus Christ.
For those reasons, brothers and sisters, we should understand the Beatitudes not as conditions we meet, but as encouragement from God to be received by faith. This is part of God’s means to keep us running the race.
Now, we’re ready for some details. There are four blessings in the Beatitudes, but these four blessings are really describing one way to live. And that means it’s helpful to consider the Beatitudes all together. What do these pronouncements teach us about the blessed life, according to Jesus? I would say there are three aspects that sum up the Lord’s teaching, and they build on each other.
First of all, the Beatitudes remind us that true blessing is found in dependence on God. Look again at the text, and notice how each blessing is spoken to someone in great need. Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted. Now, the primary focus here is not a physical or material position. If you recall Matthew’s account, you’ll remember that Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger for righteousness. And that gets more to the heart of the teaching. Jesus is speaking here of a state of dependence that drives a person to rely almost solely on God.
Think about those who are blessed. What do they picture? The poor is the one who cannot buy his way out of trouble, one who has chosen, by faith, not to pursue provision according to the world’s wisdom. The one who hungers knows there is something he needs for life, yet it is something he cannot provide for himself. The one who weeps knows that the world is not right, and he longs for God’s righteousness to be revealed and then to reconcile all things in justice. And the one who is persecuted has decided, by faith, that allegiance to Christ is worth whatever cost this world demands, even the loss of reputation, livelihood, and material provision. This is key, brothers and sisters. Notice in v22 that the persecution comes because of our connection to Jesus. Do you see it there – on account of the Son of Man, Jesus says. That’s who Jesus has in mind – the one who follows Christ, even to the point of being reviled.
Do you hear the emphasis? The Lord Jesus is urging us to see something more fundamental than social status or material provision. He is calling us to see that true blessing belongs to those who depend – body, soul, and spirit – on God and God alone.
That sets up the second aspect to Jesus’ teaching. Those who depend on God alone must remember that God sees and will one day act. Look again at the text, and notice the implication that is easy to overlook. In each situation of need, God sees. He is aware. According to Jesus, God’s people are not alone, for God himself sees them in their need.
But God does more than see. Jesus says that God acts for their sake. This is the blessing that overturns worldly circumstances. Notice how it plays out. The poor receive the kingdom of God, that is, they are encouraged that their citizenship is already among God’s people and that their physical status cannot rob them of God’s redeeming love. The hungry will be satisfied, Jesus says, which means they will receive nourishment to sustain their faith and hope in Christ. The weeping will laugh, which means they will find joy one day in the righteous vindication God will give to his people. And the persecuted are blessed to know that they stand in line with the faithful prophets of God stretching back to the OT. They are among those who have hoped in God from the beginning. The point I’m trying to make here is that in each situation, God acts to overcome the hardship his people face in this world. That’s the blessing Jesus pronounces.
Think for a moment about a down payment. If you’re buying a car or a house, you put money down, right? And that money helps secure your full purchase. Here in the Beatitudes, Jesus says that the hardships of faith are the down payment of future blessing. As we endure poverty of spirit, we are blessed with the knowledge that the kingdom of God belongs to those who believe. As we hunger for righteousness, we are blessed to know that one day our hunger will be satisfied with God forever. As we weep with sorrow over a broken world, we are blessed with the promise that there is a day coming when all things will be made new and right in Jesus Christ. In other words, the hardships of faith are not meaningless, Jesus says. They’re actually purposeful – designed by God like down payments for the greater blessing to come.
Brothers and sisters, that is some powerful encouragement. This is a blessing that the world can never match. But more than that, this is a blessing the world cannot take away. And so, armed with this blessing, do you know what we keep doing, brothers and sisters? We keep running the race by faith. We keep depending on God alone. We keep hungering for righteousness. We continue to weep in faith that the new creation is coming. And perhaps most important of all, we keep bearing the ridicule of Christ and him crucified. We do all of that because here in Luke 6, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd telling us we are blessed by the heavenly Father, that he sees and that one day he will act.
And that sets up the last aspect of Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes that I want us to see. The promise of the last day produces joy for us today. Throughout the Beatitudes, there is a tension between the already and the not yet. Or, to say it another way, we live as Christians in between two days – the today of the present, and the last day of Christ’s return. And the blessing God promises his people comes in the midst of that tension. Let me show you what I mean.
Notice in the first beatitude, v20, that Jesus speaks in the present tense. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” That’s a present tense blessing. Those who depend on God receive the blessing of God’s kingdom in the present. Remember, God’s kingdom is his redemptive rule and reign, so to have God’s kingdom is to know God’s redemption. The world cannot ultimately do me in because I belong even now to the kingdom of God. It’s an already, present tense blessing.
But then notice that the other beatitudes are future tense. V21 – you shall be satisfied, you shall laugh. The point here is that the fullness of God’s blessing is yet to come. We’re still waiting for the hunger of our souls to be satisfied, though we believe it will come. We’re still weeping in hopes of vindication, though we’re sure justice is coming. Do you see the future tense there? We’re already blessed, and yet we’re waiting on the fullness of that blessing.
Now, here’s the key point. What happens when the already and the not yet of God’s blessing come together in the life of a believer? What happens when the last day begins to shape our today? What happens? The answer, brothers and sisters, is joy. V23 – “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.” That is the takeaway, the pay off, you might say, of the Beatitudes. The promise of the last day is so powerful in produces joy in God’s people today. Even as we hunger for God, we rejoice, knowing that satisfaction is soon to arrive. Even as we weep, we rejoice, knowing that God himself will wipe away every tear on the last day. And even as we suffer for Christ’s sake, we rejoice, knowing that persecution for the truth is our heritage in the faith, like our forefathers of old, and that heritage ends in glory. It’s joy, brothers and sisters! Not the sappy sentiment of better circumstances. Not the flimsy pleasure of material stuff. Not the fleeting mist of the world’s acceptance. Those things feel happy in the moment, but they don’t last. No, the joy the Beatitudes produce is sturdy. It endures. It has roots that outlast the storm and bear fruit in every new season.
Oh, brothers and sisters, I pray your heart is gripped this morning with this nearly indescribable reality. The blessing God holds out to his people is far beyond anything this world can give. Yes, the road of discipleship is filled with unexpected realities that try our faith. Yes, there is poverty of spirit and hunger of soul that saps our strength. Yes, there are tears along the way. But there is joy that sustains as well! There is joy that comes from knowing the blessing God gives those who trust him. Don’t live for this world. Don’t invest your today in things that cannot save or satisfy on the last day. Don’t fall for the deceptive scheme that power and wealth and comfort are the most important pursuits in this life. Don’t listen to the world’s wisdom! Embrace the blessing of God’s kingdom and receive the joy Christ holds on to those who believe.
The Peril of Unbelief
And just to drive this home, I want us to see, very briefly, the third truth of the passage. It’s the other side of the Beatitudes – something that Matthew doesn’t include, but Luke does. Here we find Jesus pressing upon his listeners the gravity of his teaching. Vv24-26 – the Peril of Unbelief. These verses are not hard to interpret. They are the flip side of the Beatitudes. Instead of blessing, Jesus pronounces a series of woes. A woe is a lament, a sorrowful expression of what is to come, and in that sense, a woe is a warning. Jesus pleads with people to understand that unbelief is disastrous.
And just as the blessings picture those who depend on God, the woes describe a person who depends only on himself. The rich are not simply those who possess wealth, but those who trust in it. Jesus says that is a poor way to live, regardless of what you bank account says. Those who trust in wealth will find no comfort on the last day. The one who is full is a person who pursues the world’s satisfaction, a person who lives for the world’s provision. Tragically, such a person finds on the last day that there is a hunger of soul that only God can meet. The person who laughs now is someone with no sense of eternity, no recognition that there is a God to whom we give an account. Such a person fritters away his todays only to realize on the last day that he has wasted his life. And finally, the people-pleaser of v26 spends his life on his reputation, even at the expense of righteousness and truth. But in the end, he will find that being a friend of the world means you are an enemy of God, just like the false prophets in Israel. These woes warn us not to rely on ourselves or on the world’s way of life. Things may seem free and easy in the here and now, but in the end, that way leads to destruction.
And this is a very serious point we need to consider. To be a friend of the world, Scripture says in James 4, is to be at odds with God. That’s the truth Jesus is pressing home on those who will listen. We can either live for the present and pursue what the world calls good. Or, by grace through faith, we can live for the last day and pursue what God calls good.
But here’s the key, brothers and sisters. The values of those two respective kingdoms don’t overlap. The kingdom of this world looks appealing now, but later in leads to disaster. The kingdom of God, however, is costly now, but in the end, it leads to blessing.
And so, this is the question Luke 6 leaves us with. Will we live for Jesus and his kingdom, trusting by faith that there is blessing and life everlasting in him? Or will we live for the world and its kingdom, believing that today’s pleasures are worth eternity? May God grant us grace to repent where we have strayed, brothers and sisters, and may he give to each of us the faith we need to live today for that last day when the Lord Jesus returns. Amen.