NO RULES, JUST RIGHT
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 28, 2017
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “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! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
— Luke 6:20-26, ESV
This is not an old commercial for Outback Steakhouse. It is a new sermon for the kingdom of God. It presents a paradigm shift, an opposite way of religious thinking and living compared to that which prevailed in Jesus’ day and can still be found in ours.
Fresh from recording several conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, Luke now begins to write what looks like a summary of “The Sermon on the Mount.” In actuality, this was a different sermon preached from a different place than the one recorded by Matthew. Call it “The Sermon on the Plain” (ref. Luke 6:17) if you will. Some of the same images and principles are contained in both sermons to be sure, but great preachers like Jesus often repeat key themes in different settings.
The setting here is the conflict between the religious realm of the Pharisees and the kingdom of God offered by the true Messiah and King. To the Pharisees, God was completely transcendent, detached, angry, ripe to punish all of the rule-breakers. In Christ, God draws near, compassionate, forgiving, dying to make people right with Him. To the Pharisees, salvation is earned by doing the right things. In the kingdom of God, salvation is given by a powerful grace that transforms us into the right kind of people. To the Pharisees, earthly well-being was a sign of God’s blessings for complying with their traditions. In the kingdom of God, however, material things do not matter very much, and there are certainly no religious rules to get them.
In the kingdom of God there are no rules, just a right standing with God. It is not achieved by works, but given by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to the lyrical words of Jesus and look at some of the ways His kingdom differs from the self-righteous song that was sung by the Pharisees.
Poor and Rich
The Pharisees, prosperity gospel preachers, and secular capitalists actually have a strong principle in common. To them, poverty is an absolute indicator that you have either done something wrong or refuse to do things right. Material riches, however, are the utmost things to be sought, and having them is a sure sign of success. That’s why the Pharisees had no qualms about “devouring widow’s houses” (ref. Luke 20:47), for they considered themselves to be right with God and the poor widows wrong. And though they claimed to be biblical scholars of the highest degree, they couldn’t seem to remember certain words of God (ref. 1 Samuel 2:7; Proverbs 22:2, etc.).
Jesus shines a new light on poverty and riches, emphasizing being more than doing, turning things upside down by offering blessings to the poor and woes to the rich. The contrast was clearly aimed at the condition of His handful of followers, mostly poor Galilean peasants, as compared with the well-to-do Pharisees who had looked down on them all of their lives. One group was poor, and not just in spirit. The others were quite rich by first century standards. One group had God in their midst, the other did not know who He was. So, who was truly “blessed” (a spiritually permanent, not an emotionally temporal state of being) and who deserved a “woe” (living under the awful wrath of God)?
Jesus does not commend poverty per se, for many of His followers then and now have much in the way of material means. The word Jesus used for “poor” here referred to a crouching, dependent beggar. Aren’t we all? Only those who live in the kingdom of God, however, recognize it. We are dependent upon God for every breath, every piece of bread, and every blessing.
In the kingdom of God, riches and poverty are relatively unimportant. Use what you are given to seek blessings, not money. For blessings abound, the kind money cannot buy, for true followers of the true and living God, Jesus Christ.
Hungry and Full
As night follows day, so hunger follows poverty. No money means no meat, and in Jesus’ day there were no food stamps. Christ’s first followers often followed with stomachs growling, which is why He had to miraculously feed them on at least a couple of occasions. Pharisees in that day, like a lot of fundamentalist preachers in our day, were often found to be fat men, and would refuse to give even a crumb to beggars they referred to as sinners.
Like He did at the beginning and end of His public ministry, here at some midpoint the Lord turns the tables upside down. Blessed are the hungry, Jesus said, literally, to those not just hungry for the word of God. Woes are for the fat, or overindulged, according to Jesus. Can you imagine what the food is going to be like in Heaven? And can you imagine the horror for the overeater when he realizes he cannot get any more?
Again, Jesus is not saying that malnutrition is a spiritual gift. Yet many believers have literally gone without food for Jesus’ sake. The great Baptist missionary Lottie Moon died of starvation, refusing to deprive the native Chinese of what little bread she possessed.
Less seems to be more in the kingdom of God. It is not about what you have, or how much you have, but Who you have that matters. Food is good, even necessary, but spiritual food is what we seek in the kingdom of God, for people will forever starve and die without it.
Weeping and Laughter
Going to bed at night with your pockets and stomachs empty is hard to take, especially when children are in the house. Surely it is enough to make one weep. On the other hand, the Pharisees were quite fond of mocking and laughing at the unfortunate in their midst. Somehow, in their sick minds, it made them feel better about themselves.
The weeping Christ referred to might better be translated mourning. It is painful to experience, even to see, the effects of poverty upon people. It is even more painful to look upon the evidences and effects of sin upon a person, a community, a country. “Jesus wept,” and so should we, over sin, death, and all degradations.
Jesus enjoys a good laugh, of this I am certain, but not the kind of pharisaical laughter wrought out of pride devoid of pity. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was once accosted by a parishioner peeved at the preacher who purveyed puns and jokes. Spurgeon told him, tongue in cheek, that the jokes came from his brother, so the man left to look for Spurgeon’s sibling.
Laugh, but do not mock. Mourn for the excesses of sin and unbelief in the world. But know that those who live in the kingdom of God will have the last laugh when all is said and done. Blessed are those in the kingdom of God who have weeping and laughing, sin and salvation, in the proper perspective.
Persecution and Popularity
Following Christ is the proper perspective, albeit not the popular one. An especially unpopular Christians is one who is prophetic. In the kingdom of God, being prophetic is not telling the future, but speaking to the present. It is taking seriously the word of God, our Bibles, and holding its truth up as the source of authority for salvation and spiritual life.
Such prophetic believers have always been booed by the world, even from within the visible kingdom. Prophets may be put down by the world but they are championed by God. On the other hand, those who claim the name of Christ and tickle peoples ears as prophets for profit may live in big houses now, but the walls will come tumbling down when they stand before the righteous judge of all the earth. The same is true for those who live a compromised faith for the sake of popularity. It is just not worth it, says the Lord.
Once again, Jesus’ pronouncements are absolutely true but not absolute. Just as there have always been sincere followers of Christ who have money, are overweight, and laugh a lot, so there have been epochs of time when great preachers and committed Christians have found some popularity. A lot of them have sold a lot of books, got elected to office, and enjoy successful businesses, all without compromising the word of God. But in the norm of kingdom living, the more favor you find with God, the less you enjoy with men.
The obvious point is that it is better to have Jesus with persecution, than to enjoy popularity without Him. The praise of men will not get you to Heaven, only the grace of God. The King and the kingdom is all that matters.
The Pharisees lived in a world of rules, but they were not right with God. Christ has come to offer a kingdom without such a long list of rules, where you can become right with God, now and forever. The cost of the kingdom may include poverty, hunger, crying, and persecution. If any or all of these should be given to you, wear them as a badge of honor.
The gospel is not meant to make you wealthy in this life, although if you find yourself with money, use it for the glory of God and the good of others. It will not fill you with all of your dietary and other desires, but you will find yourself quite full in the end. It will make you frustrated to the point of tears with how the world works for now, but you will have the last laugh when all your tears are wiped away. And, being a genuine Christian will not make you famous, and could bring infamy in these times, but consider the company you are in.
This brings us to an end point where “The Sermon on the Plain” and “The Sermon on the Mount” perfectly coincide. You don’t want rules, you want to be right, with God. So, seek first the King and His kingdom. The rest will take care of itself.
Copyright © 2017 Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, All rights reserved.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org