Blessings and Woes
Luke presents us with what is sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. The name comes from verse 17, which states that Jesus comes down off the mountain and stands on a level place. There is a great deal of debate as to whether this sermon is the same sermon we find in Matthew’s gospel, which we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount.
We are not going to compare the two sermons and debate whether it is the same sermon as what we find in Matthew. We are best served at recognizing that Luke is addressing a different audience than Matthew; his audience is primarily gentiles. There are no references to the Mosaic Law. And, we may know with confidence that this passage is God’s Word.
The sermon comes after selecting the twelve apostles and healing the multitude. Jesus is directing His sermon to His disciples. This is the first of many teachings that He will give to those who call themselves His followers. The truths that Jesus teaches will apply to us today.
We will look at Luke’s Sermon on the Plain in three sections. The first section consists of blessings and woes (6:20-26). The next section is about love and judgment (6:27-38). The last section is a call to righteousness (6:39-49).
Faith in God
The key to understanding the blessings and the woes is to understand the association Jesus makes to historical prophets. Those in the first group, the blessed poor, are associated with the prophets of God. “Just so you know, don’t feel bad, the people in the past treated the prophets the same way.”
Those who are in the second group, the rich to whom Jesus proclaims woe, are associated with false prophets. “You think you are great, but the false prophets were treated the same way.”
Let’s not misunderstand Jesus. He is not promoting that being poor is good, and being rich is bad. He is speaking metaphorically. Jesus is not saying God’s blessing or woe is measured by our bank account.
The association with the prophets shows that He is speaking about the spiritual condition. There are poor people who curse Jesus. And, there are rich people such as Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimathea who follow Jesus.
Blessed are the Poor
Jesus turns toward His disciples and begins teaching. He begins by speaking about those who are counted upon as being blessed. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The Bible commonly uses the word blessed. To be blessed in a biblical way is to be happy. Jesus echoes what all of Scripture says, which is, the blessed are those who are the children of God.
The blessed are those who trust in God (Ps. 34:8), whose sins are forgiven (Ps. 32:1-2), and their delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law, they meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2). The blessed walk uprightly before God.
In the time of Christ, the way to get rich often involves cheating, immorality, and selfish greed. The rich often lack caring for others. The poor choose God, and not the ways of this world. David says it well in one of his psalms. “Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked” (Psalm 37:16).
Jesus describes the conditions which result from being poor. They are hungry, they weep, and they are hated. Jesus encourages them to hold on for a great change is coming.
Jesus speaks of a common Biblical theme. We see it frequently in Isaiah’s prophecy. God brings about a reversal to our condition. Just as the dry wilderness will become lush gardens laden with fruit, the hungry will find complete satisfaction and will no longer suffer want. Those who weep now will laugh later.
Jesus speaks of a characteristic of the poor that is not a physical condition, but a societal one. Those who count themselves as Christians, belonging to Christ, are hated. Jesus faces opposition. He calls people to repent and be holy. The followers of Jesus do the same. In doing so, Christians are hated because of the Son of Man.
There is a hardship for the disciples who follow Christ. Within 300 years of His resurrection, there are an estimated 7 million Christians. It is estimated that as many as 2 million are killed for their faith.
Jesus is encouraging His present and future disciples. There is a day coming in which the poor will find their reward in heaven. Their perseverance will bring about joy so amazing that they will leap. On that day, they join the company of God’s prophets as they feast at the banquet table of the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Application: Find happiness by looking to God for satisfaction, acceptance, and joy.
Jesus is encouraging His disciples to find happiness in God and not the things of the world. He encourages us to do the same.
We are to find happiness by looking to God for wealth, satisfaction, acceptance, and joy. A simple way to say it is, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
The world offers wealth. But it is wood, hay, and stubble. It will not withstand God’s fire. The wealth of Jesus is precious gems.
There is great wealth in the riches of Christ. Think of all Jesus offers. He is an ointment poured forth; the great Physician; our Anchor in the Storm; Friend; Comforter; Counselor; Balm of Gilead; Consolation of Israel; Refuge; Fortress; our Hiding Place; Guide; Helper.
Jesus is the Bread of life, and when we partake of Him, we never hunger. He is the living water who eternally quenches our thirst. Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field. He is a precious wealth that this world cannot fathom. And He is ours.
Jesus satisfies our soul. He gives the peace that passes all understanding. He fills us to the uttermost with His grace and mercy. Knowledge of Him satisfies our deepest curiosity. He gives our lives purpose and meaning. He loves us with a faithful, immeasurable love, which He demonstrates with the shedding of His blood.
Jesus accepts us for who we are. He doesn’t care about our inadequacies. He will not make fun of our mistakes. He doesn’t talk behind our back. He receives us with arms held open wide. He forgives us for trespassing against Him, and for all those times, we drag His name through the mud. Our acceptance is not in this world, but that the Son of Man loves us and gave His life for us.
There are many who do not understand that we value Jesus as a treasure. We live in a society that hates Jesus. Around the world, more than 260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution, just for following Jesus. That’s 1 in 8 believers worldwide.
We experience the hate when we share the gospel. Jesus is telling us, no matter what, keep sharing the gospel. Be faithful. The world will insult us and call us evil. Hold on. Things will change. The kingdom of God is full of people who love Jesus, and for them, there is great reward.
Blessed are the poor! We may be poor in the world’s eyes. But we are rich in the eyes of God.
The prophet Habakkuk sums it up well. He writes
Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
In times of trouble, we are blessed.
Woe to the Rich
Jesus warns His disciples about becoming rich in this world. The rich receive nothing but woe.
Woe is an expression of great grief. It is often an expression of condemnation in the Bible.
When Isaiah sees God on His throne, he is overcome and declares, “Woe is me.” Jesus pronounces woe upon scribes and Pharisees and cities that reject His gospel.
Jesus says the rich in this world will receive woe. They have comfort in full, but their reversal will be that of poverty. They are well-fed, but they are destined for hunger. They laugh now, but they will in due course mourn and weep.
The rich of this world are praised by people of the world. Throughout history, the rich are acclaimed. So are the false prophets. They are treated well. But, in the kingdom which Jesus is Lord, they are not well received, but they are instead cast into the outer darkness.
Application: Be warned. Do not trust in the riches of this world.
Jesus is warning His disciples not to fall for the trappings of this world. Do not trust in the riches of this world. The world promises wealth and prosperity. It teaches that satisfaction is found in everything but God.
The Bible warns us. We can gain the world but lose our soul.
COVID-19 highlights how the things of this world are easily taken away. I trust you are thinking deeply about what is going on in this world.
What we are witnessing is that the wealth of this world may be lost in a day. People who trust in the things of this world are experiencing a rude awakening.
People who seek satisfaction in maintaining good health and exercising can find their health is taken away. Those who search to be happy with filling their belly and eating may find the storage shelves are empty. Scholars looking to fulfill their dreams with education have no universities and schools. The pleasure of the dream vacation is gone because airlines and cruise lines are grounded.
Our desire to be accepted by other people is deep-seated. We look for acceptance with our job performance, a diploma on the wall, sports trophies, and sometimes with our children’s achievements.
We can have a successful career, and in one day, our job is taken away. Our life savings and 401k’s diminish in a week. A little virus can turn the world upside-down and shake everything out of our pockets, and then what do we have left?
If we don’t have Jesus, woe is what we have left.
Unbelievers are in a panic. All they have is this world. Everything they have is slipping away. Society is crumbling. People are losing their savings, dreams, and lives. In the process, they have no hope, no comfort, and no peace.
If we have Christ, and when we look to the riches and blessings of heaven, we can lose everything in this world, but still have everything we need.
Do you look around at what is going on today and feel like life is slipping away? Is your heart sick? Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
Perhaps God is showing us how much we are trusting in this world.
We don’t know how much we trust in this world until the things of this world are taken away.
How would we pray to God if tomorrow the grocery stores were taken away? Give us this day our daily bread is a different prayer when there are no stores and no flour. Why should our prayer with no store be any different in a world with stores?
Put faith in God for His blessings, and don’t put faith in this world.
What we are experiencing today is Christianity 101.
All things as loss
The Apostle Paul understands this truth. He sought the things of this world with great zeal. But, once he has Christ, he realizes his folly. He writes,
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and not put our satisfaction in the things of this world.
Jesus provides our righteousness by faith. To all who come to Him in faith, Jesus promises life everlasting and that we have His joy.
Today is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the first day of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. It is called Palm Sunday because when Jesus journeys along the road entering Jerusalem, crowds of people welcome Him by laying down palm branches and coats on the ground as a way to honor Him.
Usually, we look at Palm Sunday through the eyes of the people who are there around 2000 years ago. Let’s imagine we are there on that Sunday, knowing what we know today. We are silent witnesses. We can’t speak, but we are there watching like it is a live-action theater.
People are traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover this coming Thursday evening. It is a bright spring day in Jerusalem. Everyone is celebratory.
We hear people talking about the first Passover. They talk about the Jews putting the blood of the spotless lamb on the doorposts. They remember God’s miraculous work to save the nation from Egyptian slavery. They talk about the journey to the Promised Land.
We think about being set free also. We don’t think about freedom from Egypt, but we think about being set free from slavery to sin. We remember the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb, and His blood that is spread on the doorposts of our heart.
We see the walls and the gates of Jerusalem. The disciples love going to Jerusalem. The Jews write songs about the city. Jerusalem is the most important place in the Promised Land.
We look at Jerusalem, and we think of the future. We dream about the New Jerusalem. We see the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time as a shadow of the future city. We look forward to entering the celestial City of God, the New Jerusalem, as the place where we will live forever in peace and comfort.
There are more people than we may count. All who are able to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The population of Jerusalem increases five-fold, from 30,000 to as many as 150,000. Much of the crowd is surrounding Jesus.
The crowd is getting bigger and bigger. The crowd following Jesus was already big In Jericho, 17 miles east of Jerusalem. It got bigger in Bethany after Jesus calls Lazarus out from the grave (John 11:39).
We hear a buzz in the crowd as everyone is talking about Jesus. He’s had three years to create a stir with all His teaching and miracles. We hear people asking about Jesus. They ask one another, “What do you think; do you think He will come to the feast?”
People desiring to kill Jesus
The last time Jesus was in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders try to kill Jesus because He claims to be God, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:39).
After Jesus raises Lazarus, some people go to the Pharisees and tell them the things Jesus has done. The men who want to kill Jesus a few months ago, find out He is back in town and raising people from the dead.
We overhear a conversation. One man speaks to another and says that the chief priest and the Pharisees gave orders that if anyone knows where Jesus is, they are to report it so that they can seize Him.
Who is who
As we gaze at the crowd of people. We are trying to sort out who is who. Who are the ones following Jesus because of His miracles? Who are the spies for the Pharisees? Who trusts Jesus as Savior and Lord?
The stage is set, and now we see Jesus
All of a sudden, the crowd starts cheering. We are standing on the roadside, about a quarter of a mile from the city gate, and we see Jesus. People are laying down the palm branches and coats on the road.
As we look at Jesus, the riches of this world grow faint and dim. Our hearts sing. We are blessed!
Our King is riding solemnly on a donkey to lay down His life. He is riding into Jerusalem to battle for our soul.
Some people in the crowd have the lambs that they will kill on Passover. We see Jesus and know He is the Lamb of God. He is the Passover sacrifice. He is coming to save us from sin.
We see Jesus as our bridegroom. He rides into Jerusalem to demonstrate His love. He rides into Jerusalem to bleed and die on our behalf.
Imagine standing there, watching Him go by. As we picture Jesus, we remember His words. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Jesus is riding to Jerusalem to give us His kingdom.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” Jesus is on His way to give us complete satisfaction.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Jesus is the Man of sorrows who weeps so we may have eternal joy.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, leap for joy, for great is our reward in heaven.” People may hate us because of Jesus, but His love fills our cup to overflowing.
Even though nobody can see or hear us, we wave our palms and shout for joy.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.
We may be poor in this world, but we are rich because our Savior rides to Jerusalem on a donkey.
 https://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/anceint_christian_martyrdom.htm (accessed 4/1/2020)
 https://www.opendoorsusa.org/2020-world-watch-list-report/ (accessed 4/1/2020)