Blessed are the Meek… (part 4 of 9) – Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37:1-17

There are all sorts of messages coming at us all day long attempting to convince us of the true nature of reality – the news media, politicians, sales and advertising, TV, radio, internet of various types – all of it telling us how things really are.  Contentment, happiness, joy, fulfillment, life meaning is all about getting on top, about power and control of people and circumstances, about prestige, about financial success, about popularity and acclaim, even about having all the right answers and claiming God is on your side.  Then we come here.  And we listen to Jesus teach us about the way God sees the world, about his kingdom, about reality that is so radically different from what we hear all day long. I wonder if it will even make any sense to us.  Let’s try. It is important.

A few weeks ago we saw how Jesus’ life paralleled Moses from his birth to the time Moses took God’s law to the people at Mount Sinai.  Now we listen to Jesus on a mountain side revealing the Word of God to a newly constituted Israel.  In Moses’ day it was radical that Israel would be told that there was only one God to whom they owed him all their loyalty and obedience.  That made them totally different than the world around them, a world of polytheism – many gods and divided loyalties in trying to appease the many.  Jesus’ words sounded just as radical to his audience – and they still do.  Who is truly happy?  Who is truly blessed and fulfilled and content?  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Happiness in God’s reality does not finally come to the “owner operators” but to those who know that they own nothing, that everything they are and have is gift from God for them to use.  These are people who experience joy, freedom, and contentment  in the reality of their poverty and their obedient stewardship.  Blessed are those who mourn.  Those who see the pain and suffering of the world, those who see how broken it all is, those who see their own guilt and distortions and alienation are the ones who are blessed.  They refuse to turn away from reality – as committed as Jesus was when he set his face toward Jerusalem.  They know the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ, and they will know the joy of being in community, blessed by God because each contribution to the world is a gift given to and blessed by God.  How different is that from what we are told happiness is?

Attitudes of being poor in spirit and knowing godly sorrow are characteristics of those who are maturing and growing in the kingdom of God.  Theirs is true joy, deep contentment and happiness, and the promise of life eternal because they have found true life meaning in God their Creator and Savior.  What a challenge for spiritual growth this is!  It is living in the fruits of the Spirit.  What an amazing God we have!  This changes the way we see everything else.  It changes our feelings, our relationships, and the way we interpret our lives.  Our world would never understand, at least not until they meet Jesus on that mountainside.  In Jesus’ world the pride of the rabbi teachers was learning, the pride of the Greeks was intellect, and the pride of the Roman’s was power.  Jesus said that only the humble can receive from God, only the humble are teachable and can learn, only the meek can receive forgiveness, only the gentle can walk in grace and live in love.

Jesus said, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  In order to understand this we need to spend a little time understanding the meaning of meek or words that are very close are: humble, gentle, or people with a quiet spirit.  This word has been greatly misunderstood.  In a world that values and admires the aggressively strong, the powerful, the football player pounding his own chest, the obscenely rich, and the super successful, meek has come to mean weak, a doormat, a milk-toast passive person lacking in any sense of self-worth.  That has been further engrained by false pictures of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild – sweet, passive, un-political, un-disturbing.  Too often “meek” has meant telling women who are being abused by their husbands they need just to endure it silently, or people who are being hurt that they should just be nice.  This is NOT what we are talking about!

Meek, humble, gentle – the word has been defined as strength under control.  In Galatians 5:23 “gentleness” is described as a “fruit of the spirit” – a gift of strength from God.  Proverbs 16:32 says that meekness is stronger than a warrior: “Better a patient (same word as meek) man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”  The Apostle Paul uses the term as a way of living worthy of the calling we have from God: (Ephesians 4:1-2) “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis said, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays; he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody…. Probably all you will think about the humble person you meet is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.”  James reminds us that humility or meekness is a choice, a command: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”  Dr. Lloyd Jones wrote that a humble and gentle attitude toward others is determined by a true estimate of ourselves.  We know who we are under God and along side of others as God’s stewards.

In order to dig deeper, I would like to take you into three stories that show what it means to be meek.  In Numbers 12:3 the word “meek” is used for the very first time in the Bible.   It is used about Moses, which is striking since we have talked about the similarities between Moses and Jesus.  Let me read to you the first 3 verses of Numbers 12:

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked.  “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”  And the Lord heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

            We are all aware that one could not call Moses weak or passive.  You recall that he was the one who killed the Egyptian for abusing a Hebrew slave.  When he ran from Egypt, the very first thing when he arrived in Midian, he saw a group of girls being harassed by a bunch of burly shepherds.  He took them all on, rescuing the girls.  Whatever Moses was, he was not weak.  And Moses, as leader of Israel, was not timid.  He went into Pharaoh’s courts to make demands for God.  When Israel worshiped the golden calf while he was receiving the 10 commandments from God, he ground up the calf and made people drink it in their water.

In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron attacked Moses’ person for marrying a black woman from another nation.  They also attacked his calling from God.  They attacked his person for what they saw was a failure in judgment, and they attacked his calling as chief prophet for Israel.  Instead of reading that Moses defended himself, we read that he was very meek.  He was confident and trusting that what God had told him about himself was true.  He just waited for the Lord to defend him, which in this case happened very quickly.  Moses was more than ready to defend God when the people worshiped and idol, but let God defend him when he was attacked.  Moses was more than ready to say, “It is not all about me.”  I will trust God’s promises.

How often don’t we need to learn to trust God again – to give up defending ourselves, to give up worrying about the future and whether he will in fact care for us?   How often do we again need to give up our pride and the need for everyone to like us, and allow God to lead and guide us?  Moses was called the most humble man on the earth because he allowed God to defend him.  He did not get all defensive and aggressive because they spoke badly of him.   Interestingly, the scene reversed and Moses ends of up defending Miriam to God.

Jesus quoted Psalm 37 in this beatitude.  Israel’s enemies abound, and they are an accusation.  Surely if Israel were God’s people as they claimed their enemies would be destroyed.  Surely life would be easy if God is for us.  There must be something wrong with them.  David reassures them in this Psalm:

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(verses 7-11 define meekness)
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.  But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.

The opposite of meek or humble is arrogance, anger, control of others by power or manipulation.  Again, we see that meekness is ultimately letting go of our right to be angry and all about our not defending ourselves, making it all about us, while we trust the Lord.  It is God who will give us contentment, happiness, peace, and a place of security.  Just as Canaan was the promised land of milk and honey – the promised place of security and home – so God will make us inherit our place of security and contentment and joy.  Have you known strong, quiet, humble people who seem interested first in others and seem content in their own place and skin?  I have.  They are people you want to call “friend.”  Contrast that with controlling, manipulative people who are always looking for more, needing something more to feel OK about themselves.

Jesus understood this trust in God.  If you look closely at the story of the gospels you see the temptation that began Jesus’ ministry played out over and over.  If he just took things in his own hands – filled the people with bread, worshiped Satan, or did some really public miracles, then he could avoid God’s way of redemption – the way of suffering and atoning death and resurrection.  All he had to do was defend himself and do his own thing and make it all about him.  Of course, that would abort salvation and abort God’s plan of transformation.  Shortly after the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 11:28 & 29 he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek (or gentle – same word) and humble in heart. And you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What does Jesus meekness or humility look like?  He who drove the money changers from the temple, took on the religious leaders, healed diseases and raised the dead was neither weak nor timid.  Yet in Matthew 26 when the high priests pressed him with false accusations, and finally said, “Are you not going to answer, Jesus? What is this testimony that these men are brining against you?” the text tells us in verse 63 that “Jesus remained silent.”  He did not defend himself.  How did Isaiah predict it?

“He was oppressed and afflicted, and yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,  so he did not open his mouth.”

            In Matthew 27:11-14 Jesus stood before Pilate.  Again, a host of liars stood up and attacked his person, accusing him of being a liar.  And what did Jesus do?  With an incomprehensible strength, confidence and dependence on God to defend him, he just stood there like Moses, refusing to defend himself.  Now it was about God’s plan – he gave himself in meekness with “your will be done.”  Pilate was amazed at his silence and his strength.  This is meekness.  Jesus is meekness.  He did not retaliate or defend himself.  Because he believed in God and what God said about him, he simply waited.  He waited for God to defend him with truth.  As Dr. Lloyd Jones wrote: “He knew who he was and had a true estimate of himself.”

People who are maturing in God’s kingdom discover meekness, gentleness, humility.   The proud, the defensive, the owner-operators, the powerful, the successful in their own eyes, the uncommitted to anyone beyond themselves have a lot to say.  Sadly sometimes we have mistaken that kind of power for leadership in the church –people who have a lot to say in defense of their own rights and wisdom.  I have been in church meetings where in the middle of all kinds of proud talk a meek and humble person silenced the room with a simple question about what it means to trust in God now.

In our walk as kingdom people we will encounter opposition.  The enemies may be people who slander us, like Mirian and Aaron did Moses.  Or they may be circumstances or lost opportunities or poverty or physical illness or old age or even death.  Finally the meek, the gentle, the humble see reality – having given up proud self-defense and justification – and trust God to defend them and give them a safe and secure place – their own version of Canaan.  They are content in their own skin – God’s gift of place.  They have a true estimate of themselves.  Their strength and controlled.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.  Today, we look at ourselves.  Jesus is calling us to the community of God’s kingdom.  Like you I know some angry, bitter, resentful, Christians who are full of self-justification, full of being superior, full of being proud and right in all their judgments of others.  Today Jesus is telling us that the mature in God’s kingdom are a part of a new community.  Their attitudes are characterized by being poor in spirit, ready to mourn the pain of the world and their own guilt, and the meek who refuse to even defend themselves, but focus on loving like God does.  Today we look at ourselves.  Blessed are the meek, the gentle, the humble for they will inherit the promised land, the earth, the kingdom of God.  They will receive a place of peace as God’s gift.  Again we are challenged to grow in spiritual maturity in God’s kingdom.  Let’s commit to that together.  What is God’s plan for us now?