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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART THREE

PRESENTED 02-16-08

 

       Today we will continue to teach from the Sermon on the Mount.  Two weeks ago we looked at the first of the beatitudes which says "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."   We saw that to be poor in spirit is to be of a contrite and humble heart before God, recognizing it is only by the grace of God that we can be in the kingdom.  To be poor in spirit is to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God. 

       Last week we discussed the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” We found that mourning flows from being poor in spirit. It is the natural outcome of recognizing our total reliance on God and our need to respond to that condition by becoming grieved at our sins and repenting of sin so we can order our lives in accordance with Gods will.  To discover our spiritual poverty is to automatically be grieved at anything that would interfere with having reconciliation with God. Being poor in spirit leads to mourning and grieving over sin from which repentance flows which in turn leads to the comfort of knowing our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ

       Once we arrive at being poor in spirit and grieving sin it will lead us to experience the third of the beatitudes.  Matthew 5:5:"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."  Let’s begin our discussion by defining the terms in this beatitude.  The Greek for meek means mildness of disposition and gentleness of spirit. The Greek translated earth is the word gee and appears 252 times in the NT.  Its basic meaning is arable land and the ground as a standing place.  It is variously translated as earth, land or ground in the NT depending on what translators thought was most appropriate to the context. The Greek word translated inherit means to be an heir, receive an allotted portion and to become partaker of something. 

       As I explained in the introductory sermon in this series, the principles espoused in the Sermon on the Mount were not some new way of thinking.  Most of what Christ said can be found in OT passages and this beatitude is no exception. 

        Psalm 37:11: But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.  

        As I explained last week, the Sermon on the Mount has application for all of mankind throughout the millennia. This is why we are very carefully going through it.  But it also must be looked at in its first century context.  Jesus Christ was addressing His contemporaries who were living in a particular historical time frame with particular dynamics characterizing that time frame.  Israel was expecting the promised Messiah to appear.  Israel was expecting Messiah to be a military leader in the mold of David who would conquer the Roman enemy and restore the land to Israel.  But what are the people hearing from Christ?  “The meek will inherit the land.”   In the Septuagint, the third century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 37:11 reads “The meek will inherit the earth.” It is apparent Christ and/or Matthew had the Septuagint translation in mind when making this statement.  Many OT quotes in the NT are taken from this Greek translation of the OT. 

        Psalm: 37:8-9: Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

       In essence, David was saying if you want to inherit the land, it will not be through military action but through refraining from anger and wrath and placing your hope in the Eternal God.  In first century Israel the people were looking for Christ to come riding on a white horse in powerful demonstration of power and authority.  But how did Christ come?

       Matthew 21:1-5:  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, tell him 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 the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

        The Greek translated gentle in this passage is the same word Christ used to say “the meek will inherit the earth.”   Jesus came as a very meek individual, not as a conquering hero.  Jesus came to rescue man from spiritual sin not government oppression. Ancient Israel had been promised land which they were able to possess through military activity.  As commentators point out, Christ is not promising a return to physical land here but is speaking of the spiritual Kingdom He came to establish which involves the condition of the heart.  Matthew records in chapter 11:29: "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." Here Christ uses the same word, here translated "gentle," that is translated as "meek" in the beatitude under consideration.  He says learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. Christ said “learn from me” and then goes on to show how He is of a gentle nature.  In the beatitude Jesus instructs that we be of a gentle spirit. 

       Meekness is a virtue which moderates the passion of anger and calms the desire for revenge.  It restrains one from wanting to inflict injury for injury. It enables one to remain tranquil in the face of wrongs done him. Apostle Paul stressed the need of this virtue in his letter to the Thessalonians:

       1 Thessalonians 5:15: Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.    

       When you read through Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian Christians, you fine a group of people under great persecution from the Jewish community who was out to destroy the Christian community. 

       Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1: 4:  For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.  

       Yet despite the intimidation, threats, and hostility these Christians were experiencing, Paul instructs them not to pay back wrong for wrong. To be kind to each other and everyone else.

       Now some may point out that Jesus wasn’t gentle when He came unto the temple grounds with a whip and turned over the tables of the money exchangers.  Others  may ask how was Jesus gentle when He laid into the religious leaders of His day and called them a brood of snakes and white washed tombs on the outside but filthy on the inside referring to the state of their heart.

       Let me clarify what meekness is not.  Meekness does not mean wishy, washy.  It does not mean you avoid all confrontation, adversarial interaction or challenge to what you believe or what you promote.  Jesus was challenged constantly by the religious leaders of His day and He didn’t miss a beat in responding to their challenge.  It is the manner in which we respond and interact with others that determines whether we are meek or not.

       I write a monthly article on some nutritional subject for a publication called Wisconsin Christian News.  I’ve been doing this for almost two years now and I have also periodically over this period of time submitted articles dealing with various theological issues.  Recently a church pastor from a church up in Northern Wisconsin took exception to something I wrote and presented his opposing view in a personal letter to me.  Well I didn’t mind that at all as a look forward to and welcome responses to my articles as it allows for additional dialogue.  The problem was that instead of simply dealing with the subject at hand, he went out of his way in the letter trying to impress me with his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, his seminary training and his overall erudition as a trained minister of Jesus Christ.  The implication was that because of his great learning he alone had the right to be right on the issue we were discussing and I had to be wrong.

       This gentlemen’s approach to defending his position on an issue was just the opposite of being meek. Even when Jesus lamb blasted the religious leaders of His day he still respected there authority in the religious community of Israel and told the people to respect what they say but not to do what they do.

       Matthew 23:1-3: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.       

        Their problem is that they failed to be gentle with the people over whom they had authority.  They took advantage of their positions of authority and broke the very laws they were teaching the people to obey. This has been a problem in Christianity and all religious and political systems throughout history.  Leadership teaching and preaching one thing and themselves doing something else has always been a problem.

       Being meek does not mean we stand by idly while others behave contrary to righteousness. When opportunity arises we have an obligation to stand up for the truth and be heard. But it is the manner in which we are heard that will speak volumes as to whether we are meek. 

       1 Peter 3:15-17:  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

       How are we to give an answer?  With gentleness and respect.  By being gentle and respectful we don’t give occasion to others to speak against us.  And if they do speak against us it will often be recognized as false accusation because we have maintained a civil attitude in our encounter.  Recently former president Clinton was on the campaign trail campaigning for Hillary and making disparaging remarks about Barak Obama.  Well Obama didn’t bite back much and the result was that voters perceived falsehood in Bill Clinton’s remarks and it apparently cost Hillary some votes in some of the primaries and could even cost her the nomination.     

       Moses was a great and powerful leader.  You could not be a wimp and accomplish what Moses accomplished.  He appeared before Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be let go.  When they were let go he supervised and facilitated their exodus from Egypt.  He showed his leadership and his authority when he came down from the mountain and smashed the two tablets of stone and made the people drink the pulverized golden calf that he mixed in with their water.

       Yet Moses must have been very gentle as a leader.  He must have been firm but fair.  He must have had a genuine concern for the welfare of the people and not out to promote himself in any way.  Meekness is all about avoiding self promotion and enhancing the welfare of others.  That Moses had this quality is evident from what we read in Numbers 12.

       Numbers 12: 3: Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth (KJV).

       Moses is seen as very meek.  Yet this man was a leader among leaders.  He had to make many decisions and judge among the people.  To say he was the meekest man on earth at the time says a lot about his character and the way he must have handled people.  He must have carried their burdens.  Bearing the burdens of others is what meekness is all about.

       Galatians 6:1-2:  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (KJV).  

       The law of Christ is the law of love.  The law of love is all about how we relate to one another.  How we relate to one another is all about our disposition.  Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount instructs as to disposition.  If you look up disposition in a dictionary it will tell you that disposition has to do with temperament, character and outlook.  Being of a meek and gentle spirit is a dynamic of disposition that God wants us to express in our behavior.

       We cannot be meek, however, unless and until we are first recognize our total dependence on God (the first beatitude of being poor in spirit), and our need to recognizeand repent of sin (the second beatitude of mourning). We first have to come to view ourselves in terms of poverty of spirit and mourning.  It is these to dynamics of disposition that lead us to an absence of pride.  An absence of pride is what being meek is all about.  A meek person does not glory in himself.  A meek person comes to realize there is nothing in himself of which he can boast.

       When we come to the point of not glorying in ourselves it is then we are able to have genuine concern for others and truly treat others as better than ourselves.  It is then we can look at the faults of others and realize we are no better and thereby help restore someone else who is experiencing a trial or caught up in sinful behavior. This is what Paul is talking about when he speaks of restoring some one who is been caught up in a fault.  It has to be done in a spirit of meekness.  It is not to be done in a spirit of pride where one treats the other person in a condescending manner. 

       We humans tend to want to think of ourselves as better than others.  This is especially true when someone else is caught in a fault.  We look at the person caught in a fault and conclude in our mind that we could never do such a thing.  We proudly go about our business in the satisfaction that we are better than that other person who committed a sin

       Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

       In scripture we have the classic story of Christ dealing with the women taken in adultery.

       John 8:3-11:  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.   But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" . "No one, sir," she said.   "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

       Here is the essence of why Christ came as the promised messiah.  This event epitomizes the gospel message.  Jesus Christ came not to condemn but to forgive. He came to give us a fresh start.  He did not condemn the women but condemned the sin.  He in essence said I forgive you and now embark on a new life.  Go now and leave your life of sin. The gospel is all about forgiveness and kingdom living.   Kingdom living is all about forgiveness and leaving a life of sin.  Kingdom living is all about reconciliation.  It is reconciliation with both God and man. 

       Christ came to introduce a new system.  This account of the women taken in adultery is a virtual exposition of the covenantal change that Christ came to facilitate.  Under the old covenant you were condemned and punished on the spot for sin.  Under the new covenant there is forgiveness and opportunity to live a new life. 

       It all starts, however with the message of the Beatitudes. It begins with being poor in spirit, in recognizing our absolute dependence on God.  It continues with being grieved over sin.  It follows with becoming meek which is to become humble and gentle before God and man. 

       Next time we will address the forth beatitude which is, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

SERMON FOUR