Blessed Are the Meek

Matthew 5:5

Last week we talked about how you can look at each of the beatitudes individually, but how important it is to understand them as a group, building upon each other – that they are leading us on a journey – a journey to happiness.  And while Jesus loves us just as we are, he loves us too much to leave us there.  He calls us up higher, he calls us to perfection.

Happiness and perfection – how elusive they are.  Some people would say they are just pipe dreams – wishful thinking – unattainable and unreachable.  Yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, they are precisely what Jesus promises – in fact, what Jesus demands for our lives.  He promises that we can be happy – he demands that we be perfect.

We try to soften what Jesus says in Mt. 5:48, translating his words as “mature,” or “complete.”  I think Jesus really said what he meant to say – “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  He puts that demand on us to be perfect. 

Well, let’s throw the towel in now and give up – experience confirms that behavioral perfection is impossible, humanly speaking.  But I do believe that we must have a perfection of the will – that our will gets swallowed up in the will of God.  While we might never attain perfection in the way we act – it becomes our greatest desire to be perfect – and every action is filtered through that desire.

This morning we explore the third beatitude.

The first of the beatitudes we noticed, was the threshold into the kingdom:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  It is the key to everything else that Jesus says.  And the principle upon which Jesus begins every other teaching?  It is that we must be broken.  Only as we realize our own spiritual poverty, our total dependence upon God, that anything else that Jesus teaches will have any meaning for our lives.

The second of the beatitudes which Jesus teaches is perhaps the most paradoxical of all of them – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

And we concluded that Jesus is saying, happy is the man who has a deep sense of sorrow that springs from the realization of the awfulness of his sin.  It is those who consciences are tender, who are aware of the tremendous price that God paid in sending his son to die for their sin and their hearts are broken because of that.

They are the ones who, as Paul said, “have a sorrow that brings repentance and leads to salvation, and leaves no regret.”  It is really those who take sin seriously and who grieve over that sin as one would grieve over the death of a loved one.  Such is that sorrow that leads to repentance.

This morning we want to look at the third of the beatitudes in Mt. 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 

It seems probable that Jesus is quoting from Ps. 37:11, “the meek will inherit the earth.”  In fact, that phrase occurs at least five times in the OT.  Some translations say, “possess the land.”

It is likely during David’s time, what this brought to people’s minds was a literal possession of the land of Canaan – that they should own, possess and enjoy the promised land that had been given them by God.

It is likely also, that to those Jews who sat at Jesus’ feet on that mountainside listening to these words, that they understood that they also would once again own the land in which they lived.  At the time in which Jesus spoke, there was a Roman occupation of the land, and in a very real sense, the land was no longer their land.  And when Jesus said they would inherit the land, the first thought was probably that once again this land would be theirs.

We quickly come to learn in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus labors to bring people from a strictly physical, legalistic view of life to a spiritual, holistic way of understanding God’s rule in a person’s life.  This holds true of this promise as well.

It’s really doubtful that what Jesus is talking about is a physical reclaiming of the land of Israel, when we see the spiritual intent of the first two of the beatitudes.  And especially, when we see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and a general scattering of the Jews among the nations, that Jesus was promising them a literal possession of the land.

We notice in each of the beatitudes that the promises are fulfilled twofold.  In each of them - a present realization of the promise as well as a future.

In the first, the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Now, the manifestation of the kingdom of God that we see and experience in the present time is the church.  The church is the realm where God rules.  Those who are poor in spirit already enjoy a part in the kingdom of heaven.  But its full realization is still in the future.  We won’t know the fullness of God’s reign, where his rule is absolute until the second coming of Jesus.  Then, “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

So also, in the second of the beatitudes, where we learned that those who mourn shall be comforted.  Certainly, there is the peace from God that passes all understanding.  And yet, we realize that the final comforting, the final peace, is something that is still in the future.

As we come to this third beatitude, we see, as there is a present fulfillment of the promise of inheriting the earth, there will come a future realization as well.

I love the song, “This Is My Father’s World.”  I love its thought best when I am able to be outdoors.  To look about me and see the beauty of the earth.  To be able, at night, to look up into the expanse of the universe and to realize that, in a very real way, they belong to me as an heir of the Father.

Have you ever made the final mortgage payment on a house?  To have in your hand the clear deed - no debt to anyone?  Some of us may never have that experience, but each one of us, even if we are penniless, share in the ownership of every square inch of this earth.  We can enjoy the things that our God has created in a way that no other human can enjoy.

It’s interesting that those who pursue happiness head-on are the ones who find it most seldom.  Those who strive to be happy are often the most miserable people.  This is likewise true of possessions.  Those who try to possess things are the ones who seem to possess them the least.  Almost invariably, they are so worried about losing them, that they can’t really enjoy them.

In 2 Cor. 6, Paul describes the situation that he is in, the hardships he has endured.  He begins in vss. 4-5,8-10:  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…. through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 

I hope this has the kind of impact on you that it has on me.  It is interesting to notice there in vs. 10 that the three things that Paul mentions are the message that Jesus presents in the first three beatitudes: “sorrowful yet rejoicing, poor yet rich, having nothing yet possessing everything.”

I hope that as a Christian you have come to realize how really blessed you are.  We are the people who possess the earth.  We enjoy its richest blessings, in abundance that no one else can really realize because this is our Father’s world.

These are the promises that belong to those who are meek.   We need to ask, then, who is the man or the woman who is meek?

It’s unfortunate, the connotations that the word “meek” has acquired.  If you walked up to the average man and told him he was meek, he’d be insulted.  It would be like calling him a sissy.  It carries the connotations of weakness and timidity.  When we talk of someone as being meek we are usually meaning he is spineless, spiritless, powerless.

It’s unfortunate that the word has taken on those connotations because when Jesus uses the word here in Mt. 5:5, he intends none of them.  Nowhere in our Master’s teaching does he teach that the Christian is weak – in fact, just the opposite.  What does Jesus mean when he says, “Blessed are the meek?”

Let’s begin our definition of meek by looking first in the OT.  In Numb. 12:3, “Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.”  Now that’s interesting.  Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth, but who of us would say that Moses could ever be described as weak and spineless?  What a man he was.  What strength and courage he had.  Can you imagine what strength it took for this man who represented a bunch of slaves to stand before Pharaoh, perhaps the most powerful man on earth at that time, and to tell him, “Let my people go – or else?”  I’ve often thought about the strength and power of leadership it must have taken for this man Moses to lead the largest movement of people in the history of the world for 40 years through the wilderness.  Moses was the meekest man on earth, but not weak and spineless.

When he came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the wickedness of the people he became so enraged that he threw down the tables, crushing them.  But then, moments later, he stood between the anger of the Lord and the people and persuaded God Almighty to repent of his anger and not destroy the people.  Whatever else we might say about the word, “meek,” it certainly does not imply one who is a weak and flabby type of character.

What then, does Jesus mean when he uses the word “meek”?  The word that Jesus uses really doesn’t have a single English word equivalent that is adequate.  We do find some other ancient lit. that helps us define the word.

It helps that Aristotle, a philosopher and writer some 300 years before Christ gave a classic definition to the Greek  word “praus,” the word Jesus uses here.  Aristotle always defined morality as the mean between two extremes.  And he defines praus as the mean between excessive anger on the one hand and excessive angerless-ness on the other.  It is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time.

We especially see this quality demonstrated in the life of Jesus, who was the epitome of meekness.  Yet, who would say that Jesus was weak?

Dorothy Sayers is quoted as saying, “The people who hanged Jesus never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe.  It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium.  We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.  Those who knew him, however… objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

Jesus was meek – he was a man of great power, yet he did not unleash it in every direction, but held himself in control.  He was a man who got angry, but at the right time, in the right way, for right reasons.  But never angry at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or with the wrong manifestation of that anger.

This is best illustrated in that moment in the Temple when Jesus walks into the Temple, and sees the house of God turned into a place of theft, greed, sin.  His anger over the desecration of God’s Temple causes him to lash out and drive the money changers from the Temple. Imagine a weak man accomplishing that kind of feat?

On the other hand, we see Jesus hanging on the cross, having been beaten and humiliated and crucified to die.  The Bible tells us he could have brought himself down from that cross and with ten thousand angels wreaked vengeance upon every living creature.  But he didn’t.  He was in such control that he knew when anger would suit the moment and when it would not.  And that is perhaps the most powerful aspect of this word “meek” –the meek man has the ability to retaliate, but chooses not to.

Meekness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  In Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5, he says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  That word translated, “gentleness” is the very word used by Jesus in Mt. 5:5 – “meek.”  Meekness is not natural, but supernatural – it is only from God.  Jesus will say later in the Sermon on the Mount, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  The natural impulse is to smack him one right back.  Jesus says meekness suffers that abuse and insult even though you have the power to strike back.

One of the definitions involves a term used to describe a horse that once had been wild, but now has been broken and harnessed.  That strength is still there, but now the strength is under control.  When wild, the horse was of no use, but now, under control, he is the most useful of animals.  No less strength, but useful to its master.  Isn’t that a description of us.  When we are on our own, we run wild, useless to God, but when we yield and submit ourselves, we become useful to our master. 

There is such a fine, but definitive line that we need to learn.  Jesus, in meekness, was able to stand before the religious leaders of his day and say, “You hypocrites and whitewashed tombs,” for their treatment of God’s Word and His people.  Meekness is not an easygoing indifference to truth and right.  Never compromise your principles in order to keep peace.

But we must also understand that it is the same quality of meekness that Paul appeals to in Romans 14, when he tells them not to use their freedom if it should cause a brother to stumble and sin.  He said, “Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

So many times, we are guilty of under-reaction, but other times, of over-reaction.  Too many times we let sin go unchallenged, let injustice stand, remain silent when we ought to speak up.  Other times we speak up when we shouldn’t, we react at wrong times in wrong ways, and we fail to react at the right times in the right ways. 

Meekness, then, is spiritual strength of the highest magnitude.  Knowing your own freedom and strength, but submitting them to God’s will.  It comes when we seek to see things through God’s eyes rather than our own.

The promise to the meek is that they will inherit the earth, and that they will have taken another step down the road to happiness.

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