Our fourth beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5), is one of the most famous and demanding of all the teachings of Jesus. To most people it represents a noble but idealistic statement – everyone knows that it is the strong and the assertive that get what they want in this world, but Jesus is not talking about the possession of this world.
To understand the impact of these words of Jesus, we need to identify with his hearers. He is speaking to disempowered people, people without basic human rights. They were overtaxed by the local Jewish rulers, exploited by the Romans, religiously despised by their spiritual leaders and materially poor. They lived in a dictatorship not a democracy. When, John the Baptist was imprisoned (Matt 14:1- 12) and subsequently beheaded there was no court of appeal. When Jesus was put on trial, the highest authority publicly confessed his innocence (Luke 23:4, 14- 15, 22) but still handed him over to be murdered.
This is the world of millions of persecuted believers in many countries today who intuitively grasp the truth of Jesus words. We struggle with these beatitudes because we live in a world of favour; if we are in trouble some welfare or government agency will be our advocate, and we can all vote. The “meek” who first heard Christ had none of these privileges.
We are not meek people. People like Shane Warne and Lleyton Hewitt (and our footballers) are Aussie born and bred. How about the outcry when Schapelle Corby was convicted in Bali – many Australians simply think we are superior to the Indonesians.
We have become like the typical pagan societies of Paul’s day: “29 filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”(Rom 1:29- 31)
[This word translated “meek” could be translated “gentle”, “humble” or even “mild”. It could be used of an animal that had been trained to obey its master’s word of command, like a dog that comes when you whistle or a horse that responds immediately to the one who controls the reins. [allows the inner strength to be “controlled by God”]]
How we lost our meekness.
Our natural state as people tends to arrogance rather than meekness. We are instinctively addicted to self – promotion e.g. who has not exaggerated a job application, or cheated in a test, or covered up a mistake in order to look better.
How we got to be like this is recorded in Genesis. God gave Adam and Eve a basic command, “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”” (Gen 1:28) This command linked together his blessing and the rule of his world.
The next episode in the story shows how we turned everything upside down. The snake portrays a marvellous possibility for humanity, if you assert yourself and take the fruit of the earth for yourself [action of ruling] you will “become like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). In other words, you will become as completely sure about yourself and your own abilities as God is about himself and his abilities. The choice was simple, rule the world by depending on God or rule for yourself.
We really do want it all for ourselves: “The world is your oyster.” “There are no limits.” “The world is at your feet.” “You can become anything you want to be.” “All power to you.” This attitude of personal pride and self – empowerment has killed meekness in the human heart.
There is however a serious down side. Without meekness, you do not have the blessing of God and without God we treat ourselves like little gods to whom we must be loyal. We have to carry the burden of appearances, popularity, respect, success, being “spiritual” and so on. We even think we have to get ourselves into a state where we like ourselves. This sensitivity to oneself is a great curse that fills us with the weight of self- pride, self- defence and self pity.
Alexander the Great was the conqueror of the world, one day in a fit of temper during an argument with an old friend he seized a spear and pinned him to the wall. He came to pieces and fell into a temper tantrum like a toddler, because no one can get their own way all the time. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”(Proverbs 16:32)
People try to stay on top because they fear a fall, but as John Bunyan puts it, “He that is down need fear no fall.” Apart from sin, we have nothing of which to be ashamed – no need for self promotion.
[G.K. Chesterton “modesty has moved from the organ of ambition…settled upon the organ of conviction. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part that he ought no to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.” Cited in J. Piper, “Future Grace”]
Promises to the meek
The Bible is full of God’s promises to the meek.
“Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Ps 37:10- 11)
“The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; all those alert to do evil shall be cut off.” (Isa 29:19- 20).
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
[“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” (Zeph 2:3)] [“For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord—” (Zeph 3:12)] [Isa 61:1 (MT) it is the meek who hear the good news]
C.S.Lewis explains why it is better to be meek than proud; “The pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch; but it is nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self- regard we shall want the scratch of self – approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither [self- regard nor self –approval] but have everything else instead (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky) instead…” (C.S.Lewis Cited in J. Piper, “Future Grace”). You cannot be full of yourself and full of the enjoyment of God and his gifts – you cannot have it both ways.
[Paul tells the Corinthians, “21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1Cor 3:21 -23) These worldly Corinthian Christians had lost a sense that they were the heirs of the world because they had become focused on human leadership. If you have an ambition to be a leader you are not a meek person.]
What does meekness look like?
Examples of meekness
[Who are some of the meek people in the Bible, when Abraham and Lot ‘s herds were getting too numerous for them to travel together the older man allowed the younger man to assert himself and make the first choice (Gen 13:1ff). Abraham’s security was spiritual and in God, not like the nations of today, in physical geography. (n.b. promise of 13:14- 17 follows this)]
In Numbers we read how Moses was opposed by his brother and sister because he married a non- Hebrew wife. He says nothing, he refuses to defend himself; then in an amazing statement we read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.”(Num 12:3). Suddenly God appears and vindicates Moses by striking Miriam with leprosy. But what happened later? Moses lost his temper (lost his meekness) with the Israelites and struck the rock in anger. God immediately disinherits him from entering the promised land (Num 20:1- 13).
[David was so meek that he would not kill Saul though he had repeated opportunities. He knew that God had to give him the kingdom and it was not to come through his own might and power.]
Meekness was the secret behind Ghandi’s effectiveness in India. The fall of communism in Romania began with mass prayer vigils in the public squares. Meekness releases power. If you read the story of the martyrs you will find they are meek people. Meekness is not that socially correct and spiritually powerless “niceness” that fills most churches because people fear conflict.
Messiah and the meek
In the Bible, meekness and inheritance of the earth are tied intimately to the chosen Messiah.
When Messiah comes, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with justice for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” (Isa 11:3 -4)
God speaks to his chosen one in Psalm 2 and says, ““You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:7 – 8)
This chosen Messiah is Jesus, this is how Mary prophesies of his mission, “51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51- 53)
The future of the world is not in the hands of the mighty, strong and aggressive but in the hands of Jesus.
Satan knows this too, this is why he comes to Jesus in the wilderness and offers him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt 4:8). Jesus replies “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Matt 4:9). Jesus knew that it was no yet time to rule the world, this was not yet the blessing of the Father. In John 6 after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, people try to make Jesus their king, but he refuses because he is not interested in being a worldly king.
He does not interested in popularity or influence or being well thought of – he is not burdened with any of these things.
Humanity always seeks to appoint rulers in its own image. Cf. new book on Hitler, most Germans followed him not because they were interested in his political ideology but because he raised their standard of living when he first came to power. Generally this is the basis for how people vote- we vote for those who will increase our present rule of the earth i.e. our personal prosperity.
Jesus was so different, his meekness made him the most approachable person the world has seen,
JY Alice Springs church meeting in Todd River indigenous woman preacher berating her own tribe for its lack of commitment to God (very harsh). These words concerning Jesus came to mind,
“18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 9 He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.””(Matt 12:18- 21).
Walking away from the church meeting I went up the main street to a hotel that had a sign, “Animal Bar” on the outside and went inside. The bar was totally full of aboriginal people (no whites) drinking and smoking – but I tell you, when I spoke with them about the things of Christ I found a meekness that put to shame the screaming Christian outside. I learned something spiritual from those people. (Tried to talk to the white bouncer at the door- hopeless.)
Who but Jesus could say this:
“Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:29- 30)
“I am meek and lowly in heart”, what sort of Messiah and King is this? Who in the whole history of the world has thought of God as meek?
As Jesus enters Jerusalem the crowds go berserk because they anticipate the violent overthrow of the occupying Roman power by a military Messiah about to set up a material and nationalistic kingdom. Instead they get, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, meek, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Matt 21:5; Zech 9:9)
When on earth will the church ever learn to be like its Lord – we talk about evangelistic campaigns, we have revival crusades, there was even an outreach group calling itself “World Conquest”.[No one wants a meek ruler - it was inevitable he would have to be disposed of.] . Some Christians are presently trying to argue that the original Crusades were godly – how does this line up with what Jesus’ said when Pilate threatened him?
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
You only know if a person has a meek heart when they are under pressure. Jesus proves he is totally meek in his suffering and death ,
“When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” (1 Pet 2:23).
“The leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him….saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23: 35- 37).
The mystery of the cross is that in dying in this way Jesus does prove he is God’s King among men. In refusing to assert his right to equality with God he actually reveals the heart of God (Phil 2:5 -11).
You do not hear Jesus praying for himself on the cross, he makes no effort to save himself; if God does not save him he will not be saved, this is the measure of his meekness – and at the height of his suffering, in the absence of the blessing of the presence of his Father he has no evidence that he will be saved (Mark 15:34). For Jesus, the evidence that the meek really do inherit the earth must await his resurrection.
Inheriting the Earth with Jesus
From the time of the resurrection the Father is in the process of giving the world to his Son.
“the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 1:3 -4).
“in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, [through whom he also created the worlds.] ” (Heb 1:2)
Every moment of every day the Father is fulfilling the ancient Messianic promise of Ps 2
“You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:7 – 8).
But since God is different from us he does not do it by the ways of men, it does not happen by conquest or colonization or strength, it happens as the followers of Jesus go out in his command (= Gen 1:28) to “make disciples of all nations” by proclaiming him in the gospel as King (Matt 28:19). God’s Chosen King inherits the world as we are his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The parable of the sheep and the goats tells us how we actually live as meek people with an eye to an eternal inheritance from God.
“Then the king (Jesus) will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ” (Matt 25:34, 37- 40).
The meek are unself–conscious, they have stopped being fooled by their self–estimation. You can recognize the meek because they freely mix with and minister to the sort of people Jesus mixed with and ministered to, people who don’t count in this world.
Let me read a deeply spiritual quote, “Modern mentality reasons in terms of growth. Things …must not stay small. Significance according to heavenly measure is defined in its littleness. Defending meekness is to lend oneself to greatness. Guarding and nourishing those who are looked upon as nothing is to befriend the heirs of the earth. Maturity stays meek by opening one’s heart to prayer for orphans and widows. Our world has lost its sense of proportions, and our churches follow the same path. Greatness is considered in terms of bigness. The opposite is true – the larger the more impotent. Maturity watches over its meekness.”(Lars Widerberg)
If this is true, why is B.C.F. so self –conscious about its size? The counsel of the Holy Spirit is to forget about how small or large you are and exercise meekness actively by identifying with the most needy people in your community.
“I can only serve God with what he has given me.”
Application and Conclusion
We are so confused – we think God is big –headed and possessive when it is us who are like this. We think we have to have the world now, because we have forgotten about the world to come that the Father has promised us. One day the reversal Jesus experienced from the cross through the resurrection will embrace the whole of humanity.
“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matt 13:41- 43)
The overwhelming spiritual climate of our time fits Jesus’ rebuke to the church in Laodicea, “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’”(Rev 3:17). Such people forget that a future day is coming that is a day of reversals.
The time is coming in the next world, when
“the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Ps 37:10- 11)
In the meantime,
“the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:16 -17)
“if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12)]
Meekness is a supernatural thing, it is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22- 23) and the heavenly Father delights to “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). The question is – do we want to be meek? Do we want to adopt the attitude which prays? “I just want to be a little person with a great God”