This morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below. You can find the audio here. You might find this message especially helpful when you don’t feel like leaping for joy. Next Sunday we will look at Luke 7:18-35 and the following Sunday it will be Luke 9:28-36. It would be helpful to read from this passage through that last one for context.
A pastor once told me, “There is someone in your congregation this week who has had their worst week ever.” Now if that is you today then I would imagine that you are hardly in the mood to leap for joy. Of course, if it is your worst week ever because you are experiencing severe pain in your knees, for example, then you might not be able to literally leap for joy. But who feels like leaping for joy while your physical body hurts anyway? Indeed, if it is your worst week ever because you lost a job, or worse—because you lost a loved one, then you might be physically able to leap for joy but mentally and emotionally unable to do it. However, Jesus wants you to see that there is a time when you should leap for joy when it hurts. Jesus wants you to see that there is a time to rejoice when you are poor, hungry, grieving, and hated. To be sure not everyone who is poor, hungry, grieving and hated should be rejoicing. For example, someone might be hated because they have committed a horrible crime. They may be so twisted that they are happy about it, but they shouldn’t be. They will not get away with it. But there are situations where you might find yourself poor, hungry, grieving and hated, and you should leap for joy. There may even be reasons that you should be rejoicing even though it is your worst week ever and you don’t feel like it. Luke tells us:
- What Jesus said in these beatitudes is radical to many religious people because religious people often think that those who are blessed in the eyes of God are those who are wealthy, have an abundance of food, are happy and laughing, and are respected.
- One of the objections to the gospel that the apostles often heard from their own religious Jewish people was the belief that if Christians are right about Jesus then they shouldn’t be suffering. These religious people believed that if you kept the Torah of Moses then you will be blessed and if you disobeyed the Torah of Moses then you will be cursed. Think of passages like Deuteronomy 27 and 28 where you read things like, “Cursed by anyone who dishonors his father or his mother” (Deut 27:16) or “And if you faithfully obey the voice of YHWH your God, being careful to do all His commandments that I command you today, YHWH your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of YHWH your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out [it is a merism for all the time]” (Deut 28:1-6) and the opposite of all these things if you will not obey the voice of YHWH your God or be careful to do all His commandments and His statutes (cf. Deut 28:15-19). Thus to many of their fellow religious Jewish people living at the time of the apostles, the suffering of the Christians that they were persecuting was evidence that these Christians were cursed by God. (I don’t have time to go into all of the ways that this interpretation is wrong, but I think that is helpful background to understand how shocking Jesus might sound to many Jewish people at the time and unfortunately things haven’t really changed.)
- Religious people today also often think that those who are blessed in the eyes of God are those who are happy, healthy, and wealthy and that those who are suffering must be suffering because of some secret sin. This is the false religion that you heard me preach about in the series on a faith that matters. Believing in Jesus is having a faith that matters when all is well and not just when you are sick or you lose your job, it is having a faith that matters more than your happiness, it is having a faith that matters more than your life, and it is having a faith that matters to the world because it makes a difference in the world. But too often Americans who call themselves Christians or who grew up in Christian households and consider themselves believers have a faith in a god who is only useful when they have a problem that needs fixing, a faith that encourages them to be nice and to believe that good people go to heaven, and a faith that aims for a life of comfort, ease, and success. (Like many Jewish people at the time of the apostles, such religious people would find the words of Jesus to be very radical because He is turning everything they believe upside down. These religious people are leaping for joy too soon.)
- Instead, Jesus prophetically pronounced a blessing on those who now are poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of Him.
- Jesus isn’t pronouncing a prophetic blessing on everyone who is poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded and reviled and spurned for any reason; Jesus is pronouncing a prophetic blessing on His disciples who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of Him. This blessing takes the common prophetic form of 3+1, where the +1 line—the fourth line—is the line that packs the greatest punch. And prophets usually followed up a 3+1 pattern with a second 3+1, which Jesus did with the woes to the rich, full, laughing, and the +1: “to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” The key to understanding these seven verses is the two +1 lines and the transition verse between the two 3+1s, which is verse 23 that we will come to in a few minutes. But for now, let me say that you will understand who the poor, hungry, and weeping are from +1 line (which itself has four parts): “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (by which Jesus is referring to Himself) (Luke 6:22). In other words, Jesus knows that many of His people would be poor, hungry, crying, hated and excluded and reviled and spurned because of their faith in Him. Indeed, in the early church many would be put out of their synagogues and some would be persecuted even unto death. That’s why they were poor, hungry, weeping, and hated and excluded and reviled and spurned. Whenever we read about people who are called “the poor” in the Gospel of Luke they are always the pious poor – they are the righteous believers who have little in material and other wealth despite their hard work. And as you would expect, if you are poor then you may go hungry. Of course, if you were poor and you didn’t become a Christian then the synagogue might feed you. But they weren’t about to give food to the people they had made poor. The point I’m making is that the poor are the hungry and the hungry are the weeping and the weeping are those who are hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of their faith in Jesus. And upon them, Jesus pronounced a prophetic blessing. Yes, Jesus is saying something that is radical because of the way that many at the time and today think. But Jesus isn’t saying something that is new. The ancient Hebrew prophets were never very popular. In fact, one of the surest signs in the Old Testament that a prophet was false was that they were well-liked by the people. This was the case because true prophets told the truth about sin and the will of God. And that’s what Jesus was doing here too. (Indeed, often the prophets spoke of God’s coming judgment when things seemed pretty good and they spoke of God’s coming blessing when things seemed hopeless. Likewise,…)
- Jesus spoke of a great reversal of fortunes when He pronounced these prophetic blessings on the poor and then the prophetic curses on the rich. He tells of a Day when those who are poor will become rich; those who are rich will become poor. He dreamed of a Day when those who are hungry will become full; those who are full will go hungry. He envisioned a Day when those who are crying will be laughing; those who are laughing will be crying. He prophesied a Day when those who are hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of Him like all the prophets of God will receive a great reward in heaven; those who are loved and included and spoken well of and their name is praised will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. This is why there will be a great reversal of fortunes for these two sets of people at the end – those who are Christians will inherit the kingdom of heaven and those who are oppressing them will be left with nothing. This is the good news. (It is both why those who are persecuting the church of Jesus Christ are leaping too soon and why those who follow Jesus Christ can leap for joy when it hurts. Indeed, we find the application that Jesus wants us to take away from this passage there in the center of it (v.23) for he alternates on either side of it with the poor answered by the rich, the hungry by the full, the weeping by the laughing, and the +1 of the blessing by the +1 of the curse and we are left with that transition verse in the middle that explains what we are to do today. And, as if that wasn’t enough to get you to see that verse 23 is the key to applying this passage there is the word “behold” – a grammatical marker to say, “look here.”)
- If we are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated, excluded and reviled and spurned on account of our faith in Jesus Christ, it is cause to rejoice when it happens and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven for so their fathers did to the prophets.
- This is one of those applications that you won’t apply without hearing the reason for doing it because, let’s be honest, no one wants to rejoice when these kinds of things happen and leap for joy. But you will want to rejoice and leap for joy when they do because your reward is great in heaven. Some wish to downplay heaven and hell believing that teaching about these two destinations serves as an excuse for people to do nothing in the present. But Jesus taught about our present reward in heaven that we will receive in the future as a motivation for present action on earth – in this case, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy” (6:23). This future reversal of fortunes is the grounds for present rejoicing and leaping for joy despite our circumstances: whether we become poor, hungry, crying, or hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of faith in Him.
- While thankfully in the United States today we don’t have anywhere close to the same level of suffering on account of our faith in Jesus as the early church did or as Christians in other parts of the world today do, we still have many days when we can apply this passage by rejoicing and leaping for joy. Such situations might include an employer cutting your pay or laying you off of work because you wouldn’t do something that was unethical or because you insisted on taking off Sundays. Such situations might include being kicked out of a club because you were outspoken about your faith in Jesus or because of your unpopular Christian perspective on certain issues. Such situations might be more subtle than even these examples because the real enemies are Satan and death itself. Satan may very well have something to do with you becoming poor and hungry. And death, our last enemy, often causes us to weep. We may not personally know people who have died because they were persecuted for their faith in Jesus, but we do know that death is our enemy and gives us cause to grieve. The passage clearly teaches that if our weeping is the result of a loved one dying due to persecution for our faith then it is a day to rejoice. But surely in the midst of our weeping for others who die, we can also rejoice and leap for joy when it hurts because those who die in the Lord have a great reward in heaven and one day we will see the greatest reversal of fortunes ever – the final resurrection. Indeed, whatever the reason we are poor, hungry, crying, and hated and excluded and reviled and spurned today, there will be a great reversal of fortunes for all who believe in Jesus. On that day, Jesus’ disciples will see the kingdom of God with our eyes, we will eat and be satisfied, our tears will be wiped away and we will laugh, and we will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Thanks be to God. Amen!