We’re spending a few weeks in The Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:3-12. Those blessings form a new worldview, which Jesus called the “Kingdom of Heaven.” This week we focus on Matthew 5:5 — “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Monday, September 23
Read: Matthew 7:24-29
Consider: “Yes, but in the real world…” We’ve all heard that. It’s often the opening phrase of a statement from someone who is struggling with the ethics of The Beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever heard that approach? Have you ever used it? Well, for most of us, if we haven’t actually said those words, we have wondered, “Does that work in the real world?”
When we read Jesus’ teachings on meekness, peace-making, enemy love and turning the other cheek, we can’t help but wonder if they really apply to our world. In day-to-day human interaction, in family relationships, in business and industry, in relationships between communities and nations, it just seems like Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to the real world.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is stunning. It is challenging. It offends us (even if we won’t admit it). If anyone besides Jesus would say those things, we’d dismiss them as naïve or castigate them for being soft on evildoers. Some of Jesus’ words are just hard. Hard to understand. Hard to put in perspective. Hard to live.
But we can’t ignore them. We can’t say that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t apply to the “real world” or we are calling Jesus naïve. We’re saying that he doesn’t understand life.
We don’t want to go there, so often we try to make Jesus’ words more palatable. We believe that meekness is for safe environments only. It can be practiced among decent people. We believe that we can love when that love is returned. When it is not, we fall back on “loving” by the world’s rules and values.
Of course, a common way of dismissing the Sermon on the Mount is to say that it only applies to individual relationships. In other words, it’s no way to run the world. Recently an American religious leader boldly stated that Jesus’ ethical teachings don’t apply to businesses or governments. Of course, Jesus didn’t say that.
So, when we listen to Jesus instruct us as to how we should live, we must come with open eyes and attentive ears. We must humble ourselves enough to admit that we are the ones, not Jesus, who don’t understand the “real world.” The One who created it does. And he understands the world that he wants for you and me and for all his creation.
Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount by saying…
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” (Matthew 7:24, 26)
Pray: “Lord, your teaching on meekness, peace-making, enemy love and turning the other cheek are a rock upon which you want me to build my life. This goes against my engrained way of thinking and judging. It is contrary to everything this world teaches us about security. Help me, Lord, to begin to see your real world in the way you see it.”
Tuesday, September 24
Read: Matthew 5:1-5
Consider: We cannot read the blessings that begin the Sermon on the Mount without noticing how wrong they feel. Or can we? Perhaps they no longer feel strange to us. What if we’ve read, heard and quoted the Beatitudes so many times that we no longer really hear them?
When I say they can feel “wrong” or “strange,” I mean they seem to be at odds with the way we normally think and categorize. In some ways we are very much like the people who first heard these words from Jesus. His teaching seems backwards or upside down to us. We don’t feel blessed when we’re poor. We don’t feel blessed when we mourn. And we would certainly never embrace meekness. In fact, our culture sees meekness as a character flaw. We’re taught to be more assertive. We want to develop characteristics that would never be considered by others to be meek. And yet Jesus pronounces a special blessing on “the meek.”
Perhaps part of the problem is ascertaining what Jesus meant by “the meek.” For many people, meekness is synonymous with weakness. People who assert themselves, who boldly express their opinions, who take what they think they have coming to them, and refuse to take any guff from anyone, are considered, by our culture, to be strong. A person who doesn’t put his or her own rights above all else, is seen to be weak. But that’s because we’re the ones who have it backwards.
Jesus exemplified meekness. But we cannot imagine a stronger person than him. So perhaps meekness has something to do with how we direct our strength—how we choose to use it. This can redefine strength, redefine weakness and redefine meekness.
Perhaps we need to totally reorient our thinking if we are to understand the third blessing.
Pray: Take some time to meditate on the strength and the meekness of Christ. What does it mean to say that Jesus was meek? How was his meekness displayed? How does it run counter to the values of our culture? Then ask the Lord to show you how—this very day—you can live like Jesus.
Wednesday, September 25
Read: Colossians 2:6-15
Consider: Many of the people who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion mocked him.
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him…. In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Matthew 27:39-44)
The people thought they were seeing the epitome of weakness and failure. The one who had been proclaimed to be a king was reduced to this. All they could see was something to spit on, because, at that moment, they could not see reality.
After the fact, the Apostle Paul saw it clearly. And what he saw was quite different. Something else was being exposed. Something else was being defeated.
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Jesus) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)
In the New Testament, “powers” and “authorities” usually refer to the empires, governments and corrupt systems of the day. These demonic powers are ruled by might, intimidation and violence. Jesus ruled by meekness, exposing them and leading to their utter destruction.
So, Christians don’t see strength in the sword. We see strength in the cross. We see power in a manner that is unintelligible to the world. The power of love has brought down empires and saved the world. If we miss the humility, meekness, power and love of Christ, we fall into the trap of depending on the wisdom and “strength” of this world. And if we get this wrong—if we see strength the way the empires of this world see it—we’ll end up embracing the pitiful weapons and tactics of this world.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for making ‘a public spectacle’ of sinful ‘power,’ exposing it for all its weakness. Today I humble myself to live in the true sacrificial power of the cross—the power of the love of Christ. Help me to see like you see and to love like you love.”
Thursday, September 26
Read: Psalm 37:1-11
Consider: When we read the words of Jesus, we often find him making references to God’s work in the Old Testament. Sometimes he quoted the prophets and the psalms. In the third beatitude, Jesus quoted a portion of Psalm 37. There we find God’s instruction to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” and to “refrain from anger and turn from wrath” (37:7-8). Then comes the promise that…
“…the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” (37:11)
But, as Jesus always did, he greatly expanded the original meaning. In the Old Testament, when the Hebrews spoke of “the land,” they were talking about the land of promise—Israel, their homeland. And when they spoke about the meek, they were speaking about their sisters and brothers who were oppressed. The promise of the psalmist was that the oppressed would return to their home.
But when Jesus quoted the psalm, he had so much more in mind. He didn’t simply talk about “the land.” He said the meek “will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And the meek were not only the oppressed, but also the ones who would choose to live by the values of Jesus the Christ.
I believe Jesus was pointing to something far beyond the land on which people live. He was not speaking about a piece of ground that we would call our home. He was speaking about the earth that God will renew at Christ’ return. God’s plan is to restore, renew and resurrect his creation. The new kingdom has already come, but someday it will come in its fullness. When that happens, we will see that God did not use those who are powerful by the world’s standards. God used the meek—those who would choose to love like Christ loves.
“At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”
— Starets Zosima in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov
Pray: “Lord, I want to be an agent of your new kingdom. Teach me to understand your power as opposed to the kind of ‘power’ that is worshipped by our culture. And teach me to live in that power as a meek lover of God and his creation.”
Friday, September 27
Read: Revelation 12:10-11
Consider: The Book of Revelation is a wonderful, mysterious and difficult book. The reason that it is so hard to understand, and the reason there are so many misunderstandings of it, is that it is a type of literature that we do not have today. We don’t naturally know how to approach it because it is unlike anything we read anywhere else.
It is a genre known as Jewish Apocalyptic. It is addressed to people who are—or soon will be—undergoing severe persecution. And although it often sounds frightening, it is a message of hope to the persecuted church that God’s plan will prevail over evil.
One thing that is obvious when you read Revelation is that it uses images to convey truth. When John wrote it from Patmos, he didn’t intend for us to take the images literally, but to look for the meaning behind them.
There are two major images in the Book of Revelation—the Beast and the Lamb. The Beast (the Roman Empire) was an image of the evil that stands against God and his people. Through power, violence and death, the Beast intended to dominate the world. Blood would flow from the sword of the Beast.
Yet, the Beast is overcome “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11). The Lamb, of course, is Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb that was sacrificed—slaughtered—for humankind. That sacrifice is the only thing that could overcome the evil that finds its home in our world.
When we consider the way of Christ, it is helpful to look at the images of the sword and the blood as depicted in Revelation. The Beast tried to conquer by the sword. Yet, John repeatedly tells us that the sword of the Lamb is in his mouth, not in his hand. In other words, it is the sword of the “Word of God.” The Lamb wields truth, not the weapons of this world.
The Beast tried to conquer by shedding the blood of the innocent. The Lamb overcame the Beast by the shedding of his own blood. The blood on the robe of the Lamb is his own blood, not the blood of his enemies (Revelation 19:13).
So, when we look at the cross, we see the God who died for his creation. He didn’t kill to save. He died to save.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.
— American Folk Hymn
Saturday, September 28
Read: Philippians 2:1-11
Consider: There are various ways that English translators have tried to convey Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5…
“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…”
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”
“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
But my favorite translation of this verse is…
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”
I believe Paul was talking about more than an attitude or even a mindset (as we commonly use that term). I believe he was calling us to a total transformation of life that empowers us to see God, Christ, ourselves and our world in a new way. We must have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) if we are going to live the servant-life that Jesus did—the life to which he calls us.
He calls us to be like him, the One who…
“…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…made himself nothing…humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)
I can’t even conceive of what that means for me. I only know that I must humble myself and ask the Lord to show me how to be a servant—how to be like him.
This will involve the rejection of my ego needs, such as my need to be recognized or honored by others. (I believe that is part of what Paul meant when he said we must crucify the “old self”—Romans 6:6.) It will mean submitting all my plans to God’s plans for me. It will mean living close enough to Jesus that his Spirit can guide and direct my steps.
And it will be worth it. For just as Paul taught us that the crucified Christ would be exalted (Philippians 2:9-11), Jesus taught us what that would mean for each one of us when he said…
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Pray: “Lord, right now I can’t discern what all is involved in my call to servanthood. But I know that you set the example and will guide my steps. So today I tune my heart—my spiritual eyes and ears—to you. Show me this day how to walk like Jesus. Show me how to serve like Christ. Help me to have ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”