The Lord's Day Morning
September 6, 2009
“Poor, Hungry, Weeping, Hated, Rejected…and Blessed!”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 6. We continue now our study in the Gospel of Luke that we began a number of months ago. We left off in Luke 6:1-11, a passage in which the Lord Jesus is teaching us about the Lord's Day, and today we pick up in a passage in Luke 6:12, in which Jesus is gathering His larger circle of disciples, and from them, choosing the twelve who are going to be His inner circle, the disciples into whose lives He is going to pour Himself most closely and the circumstances surrounding that. And the second half of the passage that we're going to read today, all the way down to verse 23, is the beginning of Luke's record of what we call the Sermon on the Mount.
Now Matthew spends three chapters recording for us the Sermon on the Mount. Luke's version is a little bit shorter; then he’ll disperse some of the other material elsewhere in his gospel. But the bit that we're going to read today and meditate upon today is directly connected, I think, to the calling of the disciples. Let me explain how.
When Jesus calls His disciples together and then selects the twelve that are going to be the Apostles, and then gathers to preach this Sermon on the Mount, not only with the larger circle of disciples and the smaller circle of disciples and the smaller circle of Apostles and the huge multitudes that are there, His aim is to explain to them what He is calling them to — what kind of life He is calling them to. It's an act of full disclosure. He is concerned that they will understand what true happiness consists in, that they will understand how to hang onto that true happiness no matter what the circumstances of life may be, how the kind of true happiness differs from what the world thinks of true happiness, and to prepare them for the battle that they’re about to go into in life. It's an act of full disclosure and it's an act of preparation. He's not painting them a rosy picture of what being a disciple of His is going to be like, but at the same time as He warns them fully and clearly and bluntly, He's telling them that He wants them to be able, always, to rejoice.
Now if you’re going to do that in this fallen world, and you’re going to do it not taking the route of living in denial, pretending like the bad things just aren't there, you've got to have a theology that supports rejoicing in the midst of great sorrow. And that is precisely what Jesus is supplying in the very first part of the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples.
Now very frankly, as I look through this passage today, there are about four sermons at least in this passage. I mean, there's a sermon in one word in verse 12. Take a look at it: “He continued in prayer (there's your one word) to God all night.” Now there's a sermon right there. Here's Jesus getting ready to choose His disciples and what does He do? He stays up all night praying. Now John tells us that Jesus knows what is in the hearts of all people, and yet He spent all night praying before He chose His disciples. There's a sermon right there. If Jesus needs to pray all night before He chose His disciples, how much more do we need to pray over the smallest decisions? But that's not what today's sermon is going to be about.
There's another sermon in the word right there in verse 13. Here's the word: “He chose from them twelve.” Right there; there's a sermon in that one word because in choosing twelve disciples from the greater number of disciples what is Jesus saying? He's saying that, “I am building the new people of God and I'm going to take them into the Promised Land just like Moses led the twelve tribes of Israel into the Promised Land, so also I'm building the new people of God, not only from the remnant of Israel, but from Gentiles, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation — men and women, boys and girls — all of them trusting in Jesus Christ. I'm going to lead them into the Promised Land.” And that's, by the way, emphasized by Luke if you look down in verse 17 because Luke tells you that – who made up this crowd who's listening to Him? “People from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon.” Now, go home and look at a map this afternoon. Maybe even flip and look at a map in the back of your Bibles. Judea and Jerusalem, you know where that is, but Tyre and Sidon – Tyre is up in the area where Asher, the tribe Asher, used to have its land, right on the coast of the Mediterranean. Sidon is even further up and way out of the area that ever constituted Israel. So this is Luke's way of saying that people from Dan to Beersheba, people from all over Israel and even outside of it, were here to hear Jesus preach this sermon. It's a picture, isn't it, of the Great Commission itself, and the Gospel going to the very ends of the earth and all peoples responding to it.
Well, I could preach a sermon on verse 13 or even the word “twelve.” Or look at the last word of that verse, there's another sermon, “apostles.” He chose from the disciples, those whom He called to follow Him, apostles, those He was going to send to go out. Of course these twelve apostles are unique. There's never ever been anybody else like them in the history of Christianity. There job was to lay the foundation, but the New Testament uses that word for others who weren't part of the twelve Apostles who were vested with Jesus’ own authority. It's a word used of anyone sent out to do the work of the Great Commission, and in that sense, all of us are given a new mission in life when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, every last one of us are given a new mission in life — not just the elders, not just the preachers, not just the deacons, not just the leaders of the women in the church — every last Christian who comes to faith in Christ is given a new mission in life and we could spend a whole day just looking at the significance of that word, “apostles”, for us in the living of the Christian life.
But what I want you to see is especially in verses 20-23 where Jesus tells these disciples that He has called and these Apostles that He has chosen and the larger group of disciples that are gathered there, He tells them about the nature of true happiness. And He tells them about the nature of true happiness in the midst of the most unimaginable suffering because Jesus is a good and a wise and a kind King, and He is the master discipler, and He doesn't want His people to be caught off guard about what they’re about to be up against. He wants them to be prepared for the fight. He wants them to be built for the battle. He wants them to be able to rejoice in sorrow. He wants them to be able to value the things that last, and so He has to say what He says here in verses 20-23 especially.
So, let's pray before we hear God's Word.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your Word. We know that You mean it for our edification, for our instruction, so that we will know how to live life as You intend us to live it — rejoicing though sorrowful, hoping though surrounded on every side by vicious enemies, trusting despite all the evidence to the contrary, treasuring You and not the baubles of this world. So teach us this from Your Word. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God:
“In these days He went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples and chose from them twelve, whom He named Apostles: Simon, whom He named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
And He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch Him, for power came out from Him and healed them all.
And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 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! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The measure of blessedness — the way you measure true happiness is different for believers and worldlings. What you consider to be true, deep happiness, is very frankly just different for believers and worldlings. The source of true happiness is different for believers and worldlings. The place that we look to get and find true happiness is different for believers and worldlings.
It is fascinating to me, that at the very outset of Jesus’ ministry, Luke tells us that at the very time that He called His disciples to Him and chose from them twelve disciples to be His Apostles, and then began to teach them in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke emphasizes that Jesus taught these disciples — the larger outer circle and the closer inner circle — He taught them about the meaning of true blessedness. And by blessedness, let's face it, blessing is a theological term that we throw around all the time, and half the time we have not the slightest idea of what we've got in mind when we use it. To experience blessing is to experience the favor of God, so to be blessed is to be truly, deeply, everlastingly favored by God to know deep, true, real happiness because of the blessing of God. And Jesus wants His disciples to experience that kind of blessedness, that kind of true, deep, real, lasting happiness. He wants, expects, and His whole ministry is pointed toward them having that blessing.
Isn't it interesting — here He is at the beginning of the ministry — remember what He's going to say in the upper room in John? “I came so that your joy might be complete. What I tell you, I have told you, so that even if the world is falling down around your ears, you can have joy.” So from the beginning to the end of His ministry He is deeply concerned that His people, His disciples, His followers, would know true happiness, true joy, deep satisfaction. But it is vital for them to understand that the kind of happiness that He is talking about is utterly different from the kind of happiness that the world is talking about, that it comes from a place that is different than the world thinks happiness comes from and that the kind of happiness that He wants for them does not mean that He is not about to thrown them into the most titanic struggle of their lives. But you see, the Captain of our salvation is so kind and wise that He is preparing us for the battle and He wants us to be able to rejoice in the battle, but He wants us to know that the battle is coming.
So look at what He says. He says in the most shocking way to His disciples, He looks right into their eyes, and especially into the eyes of the Twelve. And why am I saying that He is looking into the eyes of the disciples? Well look at what Luke says in verse 20: “He lifted up His eyes on His disciples.” Now I'm not saying that Jesus wasn't preaching to the multitudes; He certainly was. He wanted everyone there to hear and understand and respond in faith to what He was saying, but He especially wants His disciples to understand this. So as He is preaching — and I understand this because I do this — He is looking into the eyes of His people, and He's saying, “I want you to get this.” He's preparing them for what they are about to face, and listen to what He says, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry now, blessed are you who weep now, blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of Me.”
Now my friends, you understand how ironic and shocking this is, and you understand how ironic and shocking it would have seemed to Jesus’ disciples when He first said it to them. We've been hearing these words all of our lives and we go into autopilot and they don't shock us at all. But you hear what Jesus is saying, “Blessed are you when you’re dirt poor. Blessed are you when you feel the pangs of hunger like your brothers and sisters in Christ in the Sudan are feeling daily. Blessed are you when you have experienced sorrow so deep that all you can do is weep and you can't stop. And on top of that heap of blessing, let me give you one more. Blessed are you when people hate your guts, and exclude you, and think you’re a fool, and spurn your name and ruin your reputation because you love Me.” You see what Jesus is doing? He is preparing these disciples for battle.
Before you go applying these words to yourselves, understand that what Jesus was saying, especially to His Twelve, was absolutely what they were going to face. They were going to face poverty for Him, hunger for Him, bitter weeping for Him, hatred for Him, rejection for Him, reviling and even death for Him. He was telling them what they were going to face. Now, a couple of things immediately pop into your mind — this is happiness? Thank you for laughing! Yes, that's the right response. This is ridiculous! What do you mean this is happiness? And the second question that pops into your mind is — where does this happiness come from? Because I don't think it's coming from the poverty and the hunger and the weeping and the hatred and the reviling and the spurning and the rejection and the death — I don't think that's where it's coming from. Friends, you've got to ask that question. You've got to give it an answer. And the only answer to those questions is theological. They come from Jesus and from the Bible. And it's a question that the disciples had to ask and answer and it's a question that you and I have to ask and answer because Jesus is calling you to rejoice and to know deep, true, real, lasting happiness when the world is falling down around your ears.
You know, two weeks ago when we were studying Elijah, we asked, “What happens when your greatest treasure is taken away?” You see what Jesus is doing to the disciples now? He's asking, “What is your greatest treasure, and how do you find your happiness and how do you keep that happiness when everything else is taken away?” He's preparing His disciples for the battle of living and ministering in this fallen world. And my friends, that is a battle that we all share in if we're followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And our world, very frankly, has different ideas about it.
Some of you are fans of the Broadway musical, Wicked. It's a quirky story of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West and there are some poignant songs in that musical – “I'm Not That Girl,” where a woman sings about being in love with a man who's in love with another girl. Or there's the song, “For Good,” where two people sing about just knowing one another and having a deep friendship has forever changed their lives. There are some poignant songs, but I think, I think, the song that is most poignant for me, is the song that's sung by Glenda, the Good Witch of the East I guess she is, or the north or whatever she is — “Thank Goodness.” And in that song she's musing on what true happiness is and she sings to herself, “Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true.” And then she says, questioning herself, “Isn't it?” And throughout the song she's questioning, is that really happiness? And so she keeps trying to convince herself, “I couldn't be happier, I simply couldn't be happier! Well, not simply, because finding your dreams can be complicated,” she says. “There's a kind-of-a, sort-of-a, cost. There are a couple of things that get lost. There are bridges you didn't know that you crossed until you crossed.”
So happy is what happens when all your dreams come true, right? Isn't it?”
And you understand what Jesus is saying to His disciples here? “I am not selling you that bill of goods. Let me tell you what happiness is. Happiness is when you have nothing left but Me. Happiness is when you’re dirt poor but you still have Me. Happiness is when the pangs of hunger are so loud that you can't think, but you still have Me. Deep, real happiness and blessedness is when you’re weeping because the things that are most precious to you in this world have been lost, but you still have Me. Happiness is when you've lost everyone because of Me and they hate you and they revile you and they have rejected you and spurned you, but you still have Me, because you've learned that I am the only treasure that can't be taken away from you. I'm the only thing that you can walk through this world and be sure of that you’re never ever going to lose because I will not let you go.” You know how wise and kind that is of Jesus to tell His disciples up front? He's building them for the battle that they’re about to enter into. They’re going to lose their families and their children, they’re going to lose all their worldly possessions, they’re going to lose all their reputation and esteem in the community, they’re going to be rejected by their friends and their family and their nation, and in the end they’re all going to be killed. And He is preparing them to rejoice even in that. And my friends, that's what we're doing every Lord's Day together. We’re here preparing for that. That's the life we live here in this fallen world.
You know, Brad Mercer was here with us on Thursday and he told us that Harrison, his son, will soon be deployed to Afghanistan to the mountainous region where Osama Bin Laden was last seen and he’ll be doing cave to cave, mountain to mountain fighting with the 173rd Airborne, the Dragon Squadron. And I promise you this, when he and his men begin fighting the Taliban, I guarantee you that neither Harrison nor any other member of the 173rd is going to go running back to his captain and say, “Captain, there is a big problem here. The Taliban is shooting at us.” I guarantee not a single one of them is going to ask that question. I guarantee you that there has never been a Navy seal unit deployed on special operations that has ever gone back to the commander and said, “Commander, we've got a real problem. The enemy is shooting at us, real bullets!” I promise you, when the marines hit the beaches at Guadalcanal they did not go back and say, “Captain, there's a problem here. The enemies have machine guns and they’re using them!” Because everything that their commanders had been doing was to prepare them for that moment and when it happened, they were not surprised. They were not saying, “Why is this happening to me?” because they knew they were built for this moment. When it happened, they went into autopilot because they knew what to do because this is what they had been built for.
This is the moment that they had been built for, and my friends, why is it that when we face the great challenges of our lives — “I'm so sorry,” the doctor says, “There's nothing I can do for you. He's dead.” Why is it that we fling our hands up in the air and say, “Why is this happening to me? I wasn't expecting this!” Friends, we were built for this! This is what Jesus is preparing us for because He loves us and the Captain of Salvation isn't sending us into the field of battle and saying, “Oh, by the way, there may be a few bumps along the way.” He's saying ahead of time, “Here's what I'm calling you to — poverty and hunger and weeping and the hatred of your friends and neighbors.” And my friends, let's face it, none of us here in this room have ever felt the poverty or the hunger or the weeping or the hatred that these original disciples did, but we are called to all manner of contest for our faith in this fallen world.
And when it comes, I just want to ask you this — What's your treasure? Who do you love? What were you built for? Where does your happiness come from? And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “When you get to that point that anything that any normal person values in this world has been taken away from you, and you still find yourself rejoicing in Me, then you will know that you have found your true treasure, because I can't be taken away from you, because no one can take you away from Me.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing in these Beatitudes? He's building you for the battle.
What's your battle this morning? You see, all of us are called to a battle of trust and of treasure — will we trust God in our battle and will we treasure Jesus more than anything? We’re all called to that battle. Whenever we've lived, if we've been a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, anytime in history, we're all called to a battle of trust and of treasure. Will I trust God in the mess that I find myself in right now, and will I treasure Jesus more than anything?
This is what Jesus is preparing His disciples for at the very beginning, because the Captain of our salvation knows what's out there. And even better news my friends, He's already beaten it. “Take courage” He’ll say at the end of John 16, “I have overcome the world.” He's not asking you to overcome the world because He's already done that. He's already done that for you.
But He is asking you to do this – when you meet the world in all its fury and the bullets are whizzing around your ears, don't throw your hands up and say, “What's happening to me? This isn't what I was expecting!” Trust God. Treasure Me. Know true joy.
Heavenly Father, it is so easy to sing, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?” but Lord, it is very hard when we are in the crucible ourselves. Lord, I know some of my brothers and sisters here this morning are right in the middle of the blue and white-hot flames of the crucible. Grant that they would be able to sing this hymn in faith. And for those of us who are not there yet, get us ready Lord. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.