As I inferred a couple sermons ago, my favorite comic book superhero is SUPERMAN. I wore my SUPERMAN tie today to prove it. The reason I pick Superman as my favorite is not his super-strength or his invulnerability or his heat vision—but rather because he can fly! In fact, my favorite dreams are those in which like Superman I have the power of flight—I zoom through the sanctuary—out the doors and up, up, up, and away! Does anyone else ever have a similar dream—Are there any other “dream-flyers” here today?
Well, Superman would tell us that to “soar”—to be a successful superhero—you have to have a secret identity—but it has to be an identity that is OPPOSITE your “superness.” This is important because it protects your loved ones from your arch enemies. I mean, you may be invulnerable—but they’re not so for their safety—you have to disguise yourself as someone that no one would think of as SUPER—hence Clark Kent—that mild-mannered, very un-supermanlike reporter for the Daily Planet. I mean, even though it’s fairly obvious—in spite of the glasses—that he’s got the exact same face as Superman—he’s so meek no one would ever guess Clark’s TRUE identity.
Now—-if you’re wondering why I’m sharing all this from the pulpit—it’s because in my mind this part of the Superman story illustrates a very important principle of the Christian faith—one that we will focus on today as we come to the third installment in our study of The Beatitudes.
You see, in our text for this morning Jesus talks about “Clark Kent-like” meekness. Our Lord says that to soar—to “fly” — to mature—a Christian must be meek.
Now—I want to see how you are doing on your “flight lessons memory work” so I’m going to back up and read from verse 3—right on through today’s text: verse 5. But I’ll leave out some key words and see if you can remember them. Ready? Here goes:
3 – Blessed are the P in S , for theirs is the K of H .
4 – Blessed are those who M , for they will be C .
5 – Blessed are the M , for they will I the E .
Good job! Keep up the good work!
Okay—before we go any further, let’s do a quick review. So far—we have learned that in His Beatitudes Jesus was saying, to soar—to becoming more like Him—we must realize how bankrupt we are as sinners before our Holy God—how absolutely dependent we all are on His amazing grace. This poverty of spirit leads us to beg for and receive God’s forgiveness and the eternal caliber of life that begins the moment we decide to follow Jesus.
Then, a couple weeks ago, we learned that maturing Christians are also people who mourn over the right things. They are people who experience the blessed comfort of God because they lament the inevitable losses of life—they experience sorrow over their own sins; and they cry for the condition of other people, suffering people, people who endure injustice—and most of all for lost people—people who don’t know Jesus.
Well, here in verse 5 we add one more inner characteristic—one more required attitude—to Jesus’ description of a Christian who is soaring toward new heights of spiritual maturity. As I said a moment ago, our Lord says that a GROWING Christ-follower is a MEEK Christ-follower.
He also says Christians who embrace this attitude are blessed because their meekness makes it possible for them to inherit the earth.
Now, this statement would have been a shocking thing for Jesus to say in that day. I’m sure when He uttered these words, He looked down that mountainside at the crowd and saw a lot of turned heads and dropped jaws—because meekness and inheriting the earth just did not seem to go together in the Jewish mindset of that day. It was NOT an attitude they embraced. In fact, it was one they REJECTED. You see, in the 1st century, Jewish people believed that the only way to inherit the land, or more accurately to get back the promised land that God had given them—was to overthrow the Roman government. And, in their way of thinking, that certainly could never become a reality by embracing the virtue of meekness. No—they looked for and hoped for a Messiah would be more of a superman, someone who would swoop down with great power and usher in a kingdom of military might—someone who would chase the Romans all the way back to Italy.
By the way, the writers who came up with Superman—Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster—were both Jews. Many say their understanding of the promised Messiah influenced their development of this popular POWERFUL comic book hero. Well, Jesus, didn’t come flying in like that back in 30 A.D.. At His ascension He flew OUT—but He didn’t fly IN. I mean, He didn’t burst on the scene with that kind of agenda! He didn’t preach a message of political revolution did He!? No.
Nor did He organize an army to throw off the tyranny of Rome. Instead, He challenged the people to embrace the virtues of love, peace, humility, gentleness, and MEEKNESS. And, as I said, this was completely opposite to the way most Jews at the time thought.
Let’s do a quick review of Jewish history to help you understand why. A little over a half century before Jesus was born—back in 63 B.C.—Pompei annexed Palestine, making it part of the Roman Empire. And when he did this, Jewish independence, an independence that had only recently been gained from the Greeks in the Maccabean revolt—this newfound independence was lost. From 63 B.C. on, the land was ruled by Herodian kings, a family of puppet monarchs appointed by the Roman Caesar and by Roman governors and procurators. So, these were sad days for the proud, independent-minded Jewish people. They despised Roman oppression. In fact, they despised it so much many would not even admit they were under it. Remember? When Jesus told the Jewish leaders, “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) They answered, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and we have never yet been enslaved to anyone.” (Vs 33) But in spite of the stubborn refusal of the Jewish leaders to admit it, in 33A.D., the enslaving shadow of Rome was everywhere—you could always hear the sound of marching legions. And because of all this, in Israel gentleness and meekness was as far from the people’s thinking as the east is from the west. Well, when Jesus arrived and began to do His miracles—healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, stopping storms—well, the people got excited. When they saw His incredible superpowers, they thought He was the key to ending Roman oppression. And speaking of powers, you may remember that when Jesus miraculously fed the multitude on the side of the hill with the lunch that was intended to fill the belly of a small boy—when they saw that miracle, they wanted to make Jesus king right then and there and begin a revolution that would give them back their precious land. They thought Jesus’ amazing abilities were the key to re-inheriting their part of the earth.
With all this in mind can you imagine their reaction when Jesus got to this part of His sermon?!
They must have thought, “Wait a minute. This isn’t what I was expecting. What kind of Messiah is this? Isn’t He going to use His powers to kick the pagans out? What kind of crowd is He going to collect with this attitude? Who wants a bunch of sob sisters, a bunch of meek people? They’ll never be able to handle Rome. Besides this is our land! We’ve already inherited it. What we need is someone to run these pagan legions out of here so we can get it back!” I mean, I’m sure the people were somewhat shocked and perplexed by this particular beatitude.
And you know the sad fact is, this particular “flight lesson” is just as perplexing to us. It doesn’t make any more sense in our culture today than it did 2,000 years ago. I mean, in this text once again we come across a beatitude that is completely contrary to the thinking of our modern world. Sure, we don’t have Romans to worry about, but our society does not respect meekness, any more than the Jews did. No, our culture honors strength, power, ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. I mean, if we were to develop our own version of this beatitude it would read “Happy are the aggressors.” We are aggressive in everything we do, from business to sports to women’s lib to politics to our children’s academics.
According to today’s way of thinking the people who exhibit initiative and power and strength are the ones who are going to inherit the earth—not the meek. For most of us MEEK means WEAK and none of us wants to be thought of as weak. Frederich Nietsche once referred to this verse and said, “I regard this as the most fatal and seductive lies that ever existed.” And Nietsche is not alone in his negative opinion of this concept. In today’s world the word “meek” is not usually seen as a compliment. You don’t put this character trait on your resume do you? Because, be honest, what do you think of when you think of meek? We think of some spineless jellyfish of an individual—someone with no conviction. We think, “meek as a mouse” like the lady who said to her husband, “Are you a man or a mouse? Well….squeak up!”
Like this woman, most of us don’t admire the quality of meekness. For example, think about your work situation. What is your boss trying to get you to become? Is meekness one of those characteristics? If you’re in sales and marketing, is meekness high on the list of preferred character traits in those sales seminars you attend? Is that how you close deals and become more successful? Do you climb the corporate ladder on the rungs of meekness? I don’t think so. If you are an athlete, does meekness help you win points with the coach? Probably not. I remember when I played football in high school, one of my friends said, “Mark, if you want to play, always volunteer when the coach says he needs someone.” So, I did and it worked. The coach would say, “I need someone on the field!” And I’d say, “I’m your man coach!” And he’d put me in, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know the plays. He valued my aggressiveness and initiative!
No—our culture does not value meekness. The conventional wisdom of our world has taught us that if you want to be someone important, if you want to go somewhere, if you want to inherit your share of the earth, then be aggressive—be a winner, be confident, but don’t be meek! Don’t be humble! Don’t let people push you around!
This week I came across an excerpt from an article in the New York Times where the writer observes that “humility is not what it used to be.” It goes on to say that meekness or humility may be the exact opposite of what it used to mean. Here’s an excerpt: “Lately it’s pro forma—possibly even mandatory—for politicians, athletes, celebrities, and other public figures to be vocally and vigorously humbled by every honor awarded, prize won—job offered, record broken, pound lost, shout-out received, ‘like’ copped and thumb upped. Diving at random into the internet and social media finds this new humility everywhere. A soap-opera actress on tour is humbled by the outpouring of love from fans. Comedians are humbled by big laughs, yoga practitioners are humbled by achieving difficult poses—athletes are humbled by good days on the field, Christmas volunteers are humbled by their own generosity and holiday spirit. And yet none of these people sound very ‘humbled’ at all. On the contrary: They all seem exceedingly proud of themselves—hashtagging their humility to advertise their own status, success, sprightliness, generosity, moral superiority, and luck. When did humility get so cocky and vainglorious?”
Do you see what I mean? Meekness and humility are not valued anymore today than they were the day Jesus delivered this message. And—since this statement is so contrary to our way of thinking, we need to take a very close look at it if we are going to understand the truth Jesus was conveying here. That’s what I want us to do—as we look at two things Jesus was NOT saying in Matthew 5:5.
(1) First, when our Lord talked about MEEKNESS, He was not referring to WEAKNESS.
To show you what I mean we need to do some more Greek study. And all the people said, “YAY!” The word we translate as “meek” is “praus.” Add that to the little Greek vocabulary we are compiling in our study of the Beatitudes! After today you’ll know four Greek words and they all start with a “p” sound: “penees, ptokas, pentheo, and praus.” “Praus” was a word that communicated the idea of power under control.
In fact, this word was also used to describe an animal that was domesticated—like a great wild stallion that had been trained to obey words of command or answer to the reins. The animal was still just as powerful as it was before it was trained, but that power was now exerted at the right time and in the right amount. It was power under control.
Proverbs 25:28 refers to this aspect of meekness and says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” In other words, without meekness, you’ve got power but no control over it. Un-meek people are like an un-walled, vulnerable city. On the other hand Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who rules his spirit is better than he who captures a city…” a way of saying that meek people—self-controlled people—are very strong people. So, meekness is not a synonym for weakness. To be meek doesn’t mean spineless and cowardly. To be meek doesn’t mean to be timid. To be meek doesn’t mean to be a geek! No, meekness refers to power—but power under control.
In his commentary on this text Barclay sums this up by saying a meek Christian is someone, “…who has every instinct under control…every impulse…every passion…every ounce of strength has been harnessed.” In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was saying blessed is the man who is not self-controlled but rather God-controlled. Our Lord was saying that when it comes to Christian discipleship, a meek person is someone who moment by moment, yields his power, his life, his will, to the will of God. And we can see that Jesus practiced what He preached because He is the perfect example of power under control.
Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion, did a great job of illustrating this fact. Do you remember how cruelly that movie showed Jesus was beaten? Remember the image of the nails being driven through His hands and feet? Well, in the movie Jesus did not respond in kind. As the Bible says, instead of fighting back, instead of cursing the cruel guards, Jesus forgave them over and over again. No one took His life from Him. He laid it down of His own accord. Did this mean Jesus was weak? No. He was God in the flesh. He was and still is omnipotent. He could have defended Himself with just a thought but He didn’t do that. In fact, the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was arrested and beaten Jesus rebuked Peter for resorting to swordplay to defend His Lord and said, “Peter, I can call on My Father at any time, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels!” (Matthew 26:53) In other words, “Peter, I don’t need your swordplay.” Now, remember, it took only one angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in response to King Hezekiah’s prayer in 2nd Kings 19:35. And, Jesus had at His disposal 72,000 of these powerful beings! Jesus was meek but He was not weak. His power was controlled by His yielding to the will of God.
So, Jesus was not talking about weakness here in verse 5. No, true meekness has to do with the strength of inward discipline not outer weakness.
(2) A second thing Jesus was NOT saying is this. When He said the meek would inherit the earth, He was not referring to REAL ESTATE.
I hate to disappoint you but Jesus wasn’t saying if we are meek, if we yield our will to His control, we’ll be rich because then we’ll inherit this earth. Our Lord wasn’t saying, “Be meek believer, because if you do I’ll reward you with oil wells or real estate holdings in downtown Manhattan.”
This reminds me of the story I once read that told of a man who was sitting on a curb crying. When asked what was wrong, he said, “I just found out that Rockefeller, the richest man in the world, died.” The person then asked, “Why are you crying? You’re not a relative of his are you?” And the weeping man said, “No—and that’s why I’m crying.”
Well, Jesus wasn’t referring to this kind of earthly inheritance. Now, of course the Bible tells us that as Christians we are co-heirs with Christ, which means we are heirs to everything He has. One day we’ll possess mansions in Heaven specially prepared by Him for us. But I don’t think this is what Jesus was referring to in this sermon. No, I think He was saying that when we are Biblically meek—when we yield every moment to God no matter what comes in life—-well then, armed with that attitude, in that moment of self-control, we control the situation. Think of it. The world is ours when we learn to trust God completely, saying with the Psalmist, “In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11) Let me put it this way. The world belongs to the person who has control of his emotions. This kind of meek individual controls, rules, the situation, no matter how tough the situation may be, because he’s not controlled or ruled by it. I mean, if you are a truly meek person, you are no longer a victim.
I love the following true story that is told about George Washington Carver. One day he was standing on the street in Tuskegee, Alabama, and a prim and proper white woman walked up to him. She assumed that since he was black he must be a poor, down on his luck sharecropper or something. Not knowing he was world famous for his inventions and scientific experiments, she asked if he would paint the picket fence around her home. Dr. Carver said, “Sure, I’d be happy to.” A few hours later, a friend of the woman walked by and saw George Washington Carver painting her fence. She went inside and said to the woman, “Oh my! Do you know who is painting your fence?” The woman said, “No, I don’t.” The other woman said, “That’s the famous scientist George Washington Carver, the man who has done so much to help the south with all his inventions!” The woman immediately ran outside, nearly overcome by embarrassment and shame, and said, “Dr. Carver, I’m so sorry! I thought you were a poor man looking for an odd job! Please forgive me!” George Washington Carver smiled and said, “That’s okay, I didn’t have much to do today, I’m very happy to paint your fence!” Now, Dr Carver could have been a victim of prejudice that day. He could have responded in bitterness to his ill-treatment—but due to his Christlike meekness, this godly man wasn’t. No, he controlled—he “ruled” that situation—he flew above prejudice—because he embraced this attitude. He knew God was in control.
Well, I think this is what Jesus was talking about that day. In His sermon our Lord was saying people with self-control—praus people—are blessed. As Wuest puts it in his translation, they are “spiritually prosperous!” They are soaring toward Christlikeness. And, as I alluded to earlier, we get this self-control by giving our moments, no matter how difficult they may be, to God. This is where we get the power to respond the way Dr. Carver responded. Genuine happiness in life comes from allowing God to control our days. You see, God’s indwelling Spirit does not make us weak or cowardly. As 2nd Timothy 1:7 says, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” I believe that when God’s people walk in meekness, when we embrace the attitudes of humility and gentleness, when we surrender the desire to defend our reputation—when we crucify our pride and stop losing sleep over what others think of us, when we give up the pursuit of our own interests, and become a servant of others, we find great peace—freedom, and rest! When we embrace this attitude in life, we do indeed “inherit the earth.”
Let me ask you. Is anyone mistreating you? A boss? A co-worker? A neighbor? Is life rough for you right now? Is life mistreating you? Does it burden you in some way? Well you don’t have to continue to be a victim. Accept Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 where 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 and humble in heart, an you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In other words, trust God for that situation. Give it to Him. Ask Him for the power to forgive people, even if they don’t ask for your forgiveness. In meekness, ask God to enable you to endure whatever difficulty is plaguing you. If you do, you’ll rule that situation instead of being ruled by it!
Okay do you understand meekness better? Do you see what Jesus was saying? Beatitudinal meekness is basically giving control of our lives to God. This decision comes from our understanding that we are all sinners—“ptokas” without God’s grace—and also from the awareness that because of His omniscience it is foolish to think we know more than He does.
So, a meek person is basically a surrendered person, someone who admits they need God’s wise guidance. Okay, I guess the question at this point is how are we doing when it comes to this attribute? I mean, how meek of a person are you? How “praus” are you? In his commentary on this passage Chris Bennet suggests a few questions to help us determine whether or not we have embraced this essential Christian attitude. Here’s the first.
(1) What is your attitude toward God’s written Word?
Would you say that you are a Christian that lives according to the teachings of this handbook for life that God has given us? James 1:21 says, “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly—meekly—accept the Word planted in you.” Well, how are you doing when it comes to that? How do you respond to God’s Word when it shines the searchlight on your heart and exposes something that isn’t right? Do you make excuses? Do you say, “Well Lord, no one is perfect?” In other words, do you go into denial? Or do you receive that Word of God and try—by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring your life into conformity with its teaching in order that God might be glorified?
Understand, I’m not asking if you READ the Word of God, or if you STUDY the word of God, but rather, do you meekly SUBMIT your life to the Word of God! The prophet Amos reminds us that God has said His Word is a “plumb line” for our lives. Well, are you meekly using it in that way or are you proudly making decisions according to the standards of this fallen world of ours—standards that seem to fall farther each day?
(2) This leads to a second question we can use to determine how meek we are and it is this. Do you strive to be a truly Spirit-led person?
When God’s still small voice tells you to do something, how do you respond? Do you say, “Sorry Lord, I’m too busy right now! Maybe some other time!” James says here that we’re to receive God’s Word with meekness, that is, to submit to it. Do you do that? Do you yield control of your life to God’s Spirit or do you proudly run your life according to your own desires? Do you follow the instruction of Proverbs 3:5-6? “In all your ways do you acknowledge God?” Do you meekly seek God’s Spirit’s leading in every decision or do you proudly, foolishly, “lean on your own very limited understanding?” Let’s get a little more practical with the last two diagnostic questions.
(3) What is your attitude toward people who disagree with you or criticize you?
Is your knee-jerk reaction, “Okay, put up your verbal dukes?” Do you not only love to argue but have to be “right” every time? Do you have to win every debate? If your answer is “yes”—then you need to understand that truly meek people don’t have any sense of glory in themselves. A meek person isn’t hyper sensitive to critical comments. He doesn’t live his life on the defensive. He doesn’t lay awake at night and worry about what other people think of him. His or her one desire is to please God. So, when people malign them their knee-jerk reaction isn’t to fight back. They don’t seek revenge or think in terms of retaliation when they’ve been wronged. Instead, they embrace a spirit of gentleness, patience, and long suffering.
In his book, Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them , John Ortberg says that we’re a lot like porcupines, that prickly animal that has over 30,000 quills attached to their bodies. Each quill can be driven deeply into the flesh of an enemy. Now, as a general rule, porcupines have two methods of handling relationships, withdrawal and attack. They either head for the hills or lock or load. And, Ortberg says that each of us carry our own little arsenal of “quills.” Our “barbs” have names like “rejection,” “condemnation,” “judgment,” “resentment,” “arrogance,” “selfishness,” “envy,” and “contempt.” Well, a meek person will not only avoid flinging these kinds of “quills” at others—when barbs like this from others come his way, he will absorb them without lashing back.
Well, do you respond this way? Listen—no one is perfect, except God alone. Your spouse will disappoint you. Your kids will fail you. Your friends will let you down. Your church will drop the ball at times. Your pastor won’t meet your expectations. The time will come when you will have a legitimate gripe. You will be right and they will be wrong. This time—this point is the crossroads of meekness. Which path will you take? Will you launch some quills of condemnation? Will you give the cold shoulder? Or will you grant grace and gentleness? One final diagnostic question—
(4) What is your attitude toward other sinners—people who repeatedly stumble and fall into sin?
Do you secretly delight in their moral failure? Does it make you think you’re a little better by comparison? Do you revel in their embarrassment and shame? Do you get excited over the sins of others and proudly say, “I told you so! I could see it coming! Only a fool would have done that. I wouldn’t have been that dumb.” I mean, do you have a secret sense of satisfaction when other people blow it?
When the fraternity at Penn State got in trouble this week for basically poisoning a pledge and leaving him unconscious on the floor for 12 hours before calling 911—did you feel an inner, “YES! Finally! Those rich frat boys are getting what they deserve!”
When all the gays were killed by that terrorist in the night club in Orlando a couple years back—did you think, “Well, if they would have obeyed God this wouldn’t have happened.”
I mean do you ever rejoice over the sin of others? PROUD people do—but not MEEK people.
Gordon MacDonald shares the following story about visiting a small group of men and women affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous. MacDonald said that he visited the group because he has friends who are recovering alcoholics and he wanted to see for himself what they were talking about. Here’s what he found:
“One morning Kathy—I guessed her age at 35—joined us for the first time. One look at her face caused me to conclude that she must have been Hollywood-beautiful at 21. Now her face was swollen, her eyes red, her teeth rotting. Her hair looked unwashed, uncombed for who knows how long. ‘I’ve been in five states in the past month,’ she said. ‘I’ve slept under bridges on several nights. Been arrested. Raped. Robbed (now weeping). I don’t know what to do. I — don’t — want — to—be—homeless—any more. But (sob) I can’t stop drinking (sob). I can’t stop (sob). I can’t.’ Next to Kathy was a rather large woman, Marilyn, sober for more than a dozen years. She reached with both arms toward Kathy and pulled her close, so close that Kathy’s face was pressed to Marilyn’s ample breast. I was close enough to hear Marilyn speak quietly into Kathy’s ear, ‘Honey, you’re going to be OK. You’re with us now. We can deal with this together. All you have to do is keep coming. Hear me? Keep on coming.” And then Marilyn kissed the top of Kathy’s head. I was awestruck. The simple words, the affection, the tenderness. How Jesus-like. I couldn’t avoid a troubling question that morning. Could this have happened in the places where I have worshiped? Would there have been a space in the program for Kathy to tell her story? Would there have been a Marilyn to respond in this way?”
Here’s how I would answer that question. If the church was full of SOARING Christians—believers who embraced MEEKNESS—Yes, Kathy could tell her story. Kathy would get the help she needed. Because GROWING Christians obey the Bible—verses like Galatians 6:1 where it says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently—meekly. And, watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”