Intro – Mark Twain once wrote about a swift-footed dog who had “a good opinion of himself” and thought he “knew something about speed” chasing a coyote. The coyote would let the dog get close, but never catch up. After awhile the dog notices that the coyote is actually slowing down to let him keep up. Twain goes on, “then that town dog is mad in earnest, and he begins to strain and weep and swear, and paw the sand higher than ever, and reach for the coyote with concentrated and desperate energy. This “spurt” finds him six feet behind the gliding enemy. And then, in the instant that a wild new hope is lighting up his face, the coyote turns and smiles blandly once more, as if to say: ‘Well l shall have to tear myself away, bub – business is business, and it will not do to be fooling along this way all day’ – and forthwith there is the sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold that dog is alone in a vast solitude!”
God’s question to us this morning is, what are we chasing that is eventually going to leave us “alone in a vast solitude”? Jesus says in Matt 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” If we want it all, we must pursue righteousness. Chase anything else, and we’ll end up emptier than a popped balloon.
In this sermon, Jesus is contrasting His followers with the Pharisees. He is saying, “Whatever the world may think, you poor, hungry, weeping, rejected followers of me – you’re the blessed ones.” This is not instruction on how to get into the kingdom, but it describes the attitudes of those who truly are. We’ve looked at the first one – poor in spirit. Today, the last three.
II. Blessed are the Hungry
V. 21, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” There’s a surprise. Hungry people are blessed? Yes, and on the flip side, in v. 25, ““Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” So what does it mean to be hungry? Is lack of food a blessing? Clearly not. Otherwise v. 25 would be condemning people for eating their fill – and we’d all be lost, right?
To get Luke’s point, pay attention to the word “now.” His emphasis isn’t on the hunger, it is on the timing. And his point is, better to be hungry now and satisfied through eternity than to be full now and hungry for eternity. That’s the contrast. So what hunger is he talking about? Mt 5:6 clarifies: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Kingdom people hunger for righteousness. They long to see the end of sin and the triumph of moral perfection. We’re right back to Jesus’ comment in Matt 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To hunger for righteousness is to long for God’s character to prevail in me and my world.
Paul says in Col 3:5, “Put to death (KJV = Morify) therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” What earthly idols come before God in our lives? Believers hunger for righteousness. It’s a family trait. Sometimes we fail, but in our heart of hearts, we long to be free of sin, long for God’s character to prevail. We hunger for righteousness. We can’t wait for the day when the distractions of the world will lose all their allure, when regret is never an issue, when the pull is only toward God. Like the 4th grade boy at church camp. He wrote home: “Dear Mom, please send me lots of food. All we get here is breakfast, lunch and dinner.” He wanted more, just like the Christian longs for more righteousness. Such a person is blessed. And the day is coming when his longing will be satisfied – a day of moral perfection.
Now – but for those who are satisfied now – who belittle sin, who define morality in their terms, Jesus says in v. 25, “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” That describes an eternity of regret, Beloved, for those who want no more righteousness. Recently a news story told of a man whose neighbor called to warn of a prowler. The man got his 20 gauge, and opened fire when a hooded form came through a window. Too late, he found it was his own son, sneaking in because it was late. Imagine the despair of that man. The last waking thought every night and the first every morning – if only I could have one moment back. Just one second. But, of course, he can’t. It’s too late. The second is gone! He faces a lifetime of regret.
That is what Jesus is talking about, only it’s not a lifetime of regret; it’s an eternity. The Pharisees knew their moral excellence would cut it with God. They didn’t hunger for righteousness; they already had it. But this very moment, they experience relentless regret that though they came face-to-face with the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, they blew Him off. Now they hunger for righteousness, but it’s too late! May I ask, “Will you long for God now and be satisfied for eternity, or will you chase the world now and long for God for eternity? Blessed people hunger for righteousness NOW!
III. Blessed are Those who Weep
Tears hardly seem blessed, do they? Yet Jesus says in v. 21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” His contrasting comment in v. 25 is, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” What does He mean? Well, once again, it is spiritual reality that He has in view. When Jesus says “Blessed are you who weep now” He depicts those whose hearts are broken because they see a world in which God is not honored and His will is trampled underfoot if it is even considered.
Twice in the Bible we find Jesus weeping. In Luke 19, Jesus is cheered as he enters Jerusalem for the last time by disciples hoping it’s kingdom time! But Jesus is heartbroken. Luke 19:41, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jesus saw through our cheers to the hard hearts within. Many believe that this is the moment when Jesus officially offered himself to Israel as their Messiah. But they rejected Him. They wanted His gifts, not Himself. Their rejection breaks His heart. He weeps at their sin!
Then, there’s John 11. Lazarus has died. The sisters, Mary and Martha, meet Jesus in tears – in despair that He has not come soon enough to heal Lazarus. Jesus tells Martha in v. 23, “Your brother will rise again.” She infers He means an end time resurrection. Mary arrives also crying. She says in v 32, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It's a rebuke that He was late. 33 "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.” Why did Jesus weep? Because of the death? No, he was about to resurrect him. So, why was He deeply troubled? It was because of their unbelief. He cried over their sin.
When Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” He refers to those who weep in repentance. They see how far short they fall of the glory of God and throw themselves upon His mercy. They long for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven and will rejoice greatly when that time actually comes.
When He says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” He is describing those who laugh at sin, who mock the gospel, care nothing for the will of God and everything for the will of self. These lives are given to their own pleasure. Like the Pharisees, they have no time for anything except their own self-centered existence. They will spend eternity weeping and mourning that they missed it, because they missed Him. Peter gives us a vivid description of those who laugh now in II Pet 3:3-4, “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Peter couldn’t have given a better description of 21st century America if he lived here himself. But the mockers missed one thing. V. 8, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar.” In other words, “Two thousand years is no big deal, guys. In God-time, that’s 2 days! He’s patiently waiting your repentance – but He will not wait forever.
Do you mourn your sin this morning? Are you a weeper or a mocker? A lady came up to the great evangelist and song writer, Charles Wesley, one day. She said, “I want you to pray with me. I’m a great sinner. I try to do what’s right and I fail so dreadfully. Will you pray with me?” Wesley replied, “I will gladly pray with you, for you need it. You are, indeed, a great sinner” whereupon the lady glared at him and said, “What do you meant? I’ve never done anything so awfully bad.” Not much weeping there. She wanted to quiet a guilty conscience, but not plum the depths of a black, selfish heart. Beloved, blessing comes only when we agree with God that even our best efforts are nothing more than filthy rags, for they are shot through with self. Far better to weep now, rather than mourn for eternity.
IV. Blessed are the Persecuted
Jesus’ final bombshell – the ostracized are blessed. V. 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. Jesus uses 4 words to set expectations. Others will hate (mentally despise), exclude (ostracize), revile (speak evil of) and spurn (disdain, throw out – a reference to expulsion from the synagogue).
Let’s face it, most of us think to be loved is to be blessed. We are addicted to the approval. We are driven to prove that you can be a Christian and still be cool! We love the approval of men over the approval of God. It is more tangible, more comforting, more -- immediate! Now, Paul does urge in I Tim 3:7 that believers “be well thought of by outsiders.” Jesus Himself advises in Matt 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” A believer’s life should be so characterized by Godliness – kindness, integrity, compassion – that many would be attracted to it. But our goal is God’s approval, not that of other people. We’re not in popularity contest. Persecution is inevitable.
Our Godly conduct will attract some but repel others. Jesus says in John 15:20-21, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” Note that both here and in Luke, when we are persecuted, it is to be for the sake of Christ – because claim Him – not because we are personally obnoxious or cantankerous. But if we live for Christ, some will ostracize us. Persecution is inevitable. Many business colleagues couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t join their drinking, raucous, dirty-story telling sessions until 3:00 in the morning. It was entre into the club. While some respected the stance, others took offense. Paul said in II Tim 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution will happen.
But – look at the promise of v. 23. Tho persecuted, you ought to leap for joy. Why? Because “your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets”. Jesus says in v. 26, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus point? Those who are the real deal take joy in persecution; they’ve joined an exclusive club – one that’s a lot better than the corporate club. One that includes prophets – like Elijah who mourned the wholesale slaughter of his brother prophets under Ahab and Jezebel. Like Amos who was banished and beaten to death. Like Isaiah who tradition says was sawn in two. Ill-treated by men on earth temporarily. But honored by God in heaven forever! We have to decide what way will it be for us. Do we want the favor of people now, or our Father’s favor forever?!
We’ve got it easy. People all over this globe are dying horrible deaths right now today because they name the name of Christ. They’re dying. At worst, we lose a few friendships, get a few mocking looks, are thought odd! Can’t we embrace that for Jesus’ sake? Peter challenges in I Pet 4:12-13, “12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Jesus ups the ante Matt 10:32-33, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” No subtlety there! So whose favor are you seeking – men’s or God’s? The answer to that tells who you are.
Conc – Blessed people are strange people. They are poor in spirit, hungry for righteousness, weeping for God’s will to be done and rejoice in persecution. That’s not exactly the world’s definition of success. They’re blessed, not because life is great now, but because it will be later. So what are we chasing? The favor of an omnipotent God, or the favor of men that leads to the vast solitude of an eternity without Him? If you’re chasing happiness through what this world offers, you’re chasing a coyote you can never catch! Lest we think this is just for 1st century believers, let me assure you, it’s for NOW!
Randy Alcorn’s novel Safely Home includes a dedication: "To Graham Staines who left his home in Australia to serve lepers in India for 34 years. To Philip Staines, aged 10, and Timothy Staines, age 6, who at half past midnight on January 23, 1999, as their father held his arms around them, were burned to death by a mob in India, murdered because of the Christ they knew and served. To Gladys Staines [Graham’s wife], who continues to minister to lepers and who said to all India this quote which was on the front page of all the newspapers, ’I am not bitter or angry. I have one great desire, that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who gave his life for their sins.’ And to Esther Staines, Graham and Gladys’s daughter, 13 at the time of the incident. Her statement was also on the front page of the newspapers, ’I praise the Lord that he found my father worthy to die for him.’"
Our world would say those people were fools. What a waste. But to God -- they are some of the most blessed people on the planet. Gladys, still ministering to lepers in India, sent an email to Alcorn: "I have been thinking about heaven quite a lot lately." And so should we all. That’s what blessed people do. They live now in light of then. Let’s pray.