A Counter-Cultural Commitment

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

There are some biblical scholars who have noted the discrepancies between Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and what Luke describes in chapter six of his gospel. Based on this, they have titled Luke’s version as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” One of the reasons for this is the location. Luke clearly states that Jesus came down from the mountain and “stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17 ESV), while Matthew indicates that Jesus delivered His message while “on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). But then there is also an obvious difference in the content of the message. Luke records that Jesus’ sermon contained four beatitudes and an equal number of woes, while Matthew’s account has Him delivering nine beatitudes and no woes at all. Yet it does not seem necessary to conclude that these were two separate sermons delivered on two different occasions. Once again, each gospel author had a primary purpose behind his effort to chronicle the words and the works of Jesus. As a result, they chose to include or exclude different details in an effort to support their thesis and to better communicate with their particular audience.

Luke’s mention of Jesus standing on “a level place” could simply mean that Jesus found a more stable place from which to deliver His message. The Greek word is pedinos, and it derives from a root word that means “foot.” In a sense, the word pedinos refers to a place that is “easy on the feet.” Jesus was about to give a lengthy message and wanted to find a comfortable place from which to deliver it. So, He found a relatively level spot on the mountainside from which to address the crowd.

But Matthew and Luke are in agreement when they mention that Jesus focused His attention on His disciples. Matthew records that as soon as Jesus sat down, “his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus “lifted up his eyes on his disciples” (Luke 6:20 ESV) and began to speak to them. What He was about to say was primarily directed at His disciples, the twelve men He had just chosen to be His apostles. But there was a large crowd that had gathered to hear Him speak and His words would have relevance for them as well. It is important to recall that the audience contained two types of people: “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV). There were those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and those who were there out of curiosity. Even since John the Baptist had begun his ministry in the wilderness of Judea, news had spread about the possibility of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Rumors had spread about the arrival of the Messiah. And as the news got out about Jesus’ miracles, more and more people were drawn to see if this Rabbi from Nazareth was the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus begins His message with the provocative statement: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 ESV). Right off the bat, He addresses the issue of the kingdom. But He does so in a way that must have left everyone in the audience baffled and surprised. He associated the Kindom of God with the poor, something no self-respecting Jew would have done. To their way of thinking, to be poor was a curse. It was a sign of God’s displeasure. But Jesus says that they are actually “blessed” (makarios). The Greek word conveys the idea of being fortunate or well off because of the favor of God. But to the Jews, the blessings of God were always associated with abundance and riches, not poverty and deprivation.

To those who were living in poverty, this message would have been encouraging and confusing at the same time. It made no sense. It went against everything they believed and understood about God. But what they probably failed to grasp was that Jesus was talking about a different kind of poverty. Matthew describes Jesus addressing “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). Jesus seems to have been focusing on spiritual poverty or humility. He is describing the individual who understands his or her total reliance upon God for all their needs. They are submissive and obedient, willing to place their hope and trust in the gracious hands of their loving and merciful God. And Jesus countered this mindset by pronouncing a woe on all those who viewed themselves as rich or self-sufficient.

“…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24 ESV

Years later, the apostle John would record in the book of Revelation the words that he heard Jesus speak to the church in Laodicea. Jesus accused them of spiritual pride and arrogance, a condition that had left them with a lukewarm faith that Jesus found repugnant:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that the Kingdom of God was reserved for those who recognized their spiritual poverty and their need for a Savior. There was no place in God’s kingdom for the prideful, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Next, Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21 ESV), and He counters it with “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Once again, Jesus is speaking in spiritual and not physical terms. But His words concerning hunger and blessedness would have been just as confusing to His audience as His mention of the blessing of poverty. Physical hunger was an everyday reality for many in Israel. The exorbitant taxes of the Roman government made it difficult for the average Israelite to make ends meet. So, where was the blessing in that. But Matthew reveals that Jesus was focusing on a specific kind of hunger.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6 ESV

As Jesus had told Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). And as Jesus would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:4 ESV). According to Jesus, there was more to life than food and drink. The Kingdom of God was reserved for those who placed a higher priority on doing the will of God than on their own physical needs. His disciples were going to learn that deprivation and hunger would be part of their everyday experience as His followers. They would occasionally go without meals. They would sleep in uncomfortable conditions, endure many hardships, face trials, and find themselves despised by the religious leaders of israel. But in the end, they would find satisfaction in following Jesus.

And Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV). Which He counters with, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Jesus wanted His disciples to know that life was going to be difficult on this side of heaven. His coming was not going to usher in an earthly utopia where Rome was defeated and Israel once again enjoyed a renewed period of peace and prosperity. The days ahead would be filled with trials, difficulties, and sorrow. But the future would be filled with joy and laughter. The days ahead would require great sacrifice, but the future reward was well worth it. But for all those who wanted to focus on living their best life now, to enjoy heaven on earth, Jesus warns that the future will be a time of weeping and mourning.

Finally, Jesus tells His disciples, “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!” (Luke 6:22 ESV). But He also warns them, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26 ESV).

These men were going to learn that following Jesus was a costly endeavor. There were hoping for immediate reward, in the form of positions of power and responsibility in His earthly kingdom. But they would soon discover that their alignment with Jesus was going to be anything but an earthly promotion. They would be hated, reviled, and slandered because of their association with Jesus. And the day would come when they had to watch their friend, teacher, and Messiah die on a cross as punishment for His crime of being the King of the Jews. If they were looking for the praise of men they had signed up for the wrong team. Their mission would face constant opposition. Their efforts would be ridiculed and their words would be rejected. But Jesus assures them that they will find favor with God and a place in His Kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson