We don’t normally like to think of ourselves as being meek. These days meekness is usually associated with someone who is weak and submissive. Someone who is timid and easily pushed around. Yet in the third Beatitude in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
The Beatitudes lay the foundation for Jesus’ Sermon recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7. An interesting feature about these eight beatitudes is that the first and last make the same promise. The first reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. And number eight says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
To begin and end a series of statements with the same theme is called ‘an inclusion’. This means that everything between the first and last statements is included in the one theme – in this case, the kingdom of heaven. We are to think of Jesus’ Beatitudes as the standards of God’s kingdom. They’re not just descriptions of the attributes of different sets of people who are members of the kingdom – some are meek while others are merciful. Rather they capture features that the Lord expects of all his people.
Jesus expects his people to grasp the reality of their spiritual impoverishment: they are poor in spirit. His people mourn over their own broken relationship with God and mourn that humanity is tragically lost because it has rejected its Maker. And now thirdly, Jesus is describing another quality of his people – meekness.
So what does it mean to be meek?
Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 11:28-30 help us. There he says: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle – literally meek – and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
As the Gospel of Matthew unfolds we learn that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came amongst us, not with the trappings of royalty and privilege, but with self-deprecation and lowliness. He came, not to exercise unbridled or terrorizing power, but to honor God by serving men and women in their greatest need. He set aside his glory to rescue us.
Here we begin to learn the rich meaning of meekness – gentleness and humility in serving the best interests of others. Someone who is meek does not insist upon their rights. They think of others before themselves.
Consider for a moment the scene around Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was naked, exposed to the idle curiosity of the crowd and the vulgar frivolity of the soldiers who were making a party of it. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they taunted, “save yourself.”
And yet the extraordinary thing is this. There’s no spirit of revenge. Jesus didn’t curse his tormentors. Instead, as Luke tells us, we hear a prayer: “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Now it’s also important to notice that the kind of meekness that Jesus is speaking about in the Beatitude is not that of the person who is a pushover. Meekness is not to be confused with being nice and easy-going. Meek and lowly as he was, Jesus could take a whip to greedy money-changers in the Temple. We mustn’t confuse meekness with weakness.
“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says.
Is it not true that many of us who claim to be God’s people have forgotten this? We have stalled on the first two letters of the word meek – the letters, me, Me! At the personal level we are so often more concerned with justifying ourselves than building one another up in our relationship with the Lord Jesus. And is it not true that we are often more committed to giving our opinion about church or ministry matters than we are at reaching others with the good news of the gospel?
Back in 9th century England, King Alfred, a professing Christian, was not only a capable military strategist but also a wise and visionary ruler. It seems that because he knew the Christ who had taught the Beatitudes, he worked for peaceful solutions even with the most ruthless of his enemies. As Arthur Bryant in The Story of England: Makers of the Realm comments: Alfred had the wisdom to realize that the sword, though powerful to defend, could settle nothing permanently, and that only the conquest of the heart could endure.
Following his defeat of the marauding Danes, Alfred made a peace treaty with Guthrum, the Viking King – a treaty which identified land in East Anglia for the Danish Vikings. Alfred’s meekness led to the Christian baptism of Guthrum and peace in the land.
“The meek shall inherit the earth” Jesus promises. He was quoting from Psalm 37. He was saying that only the truly meek will learn contentment. Their ego is not so inflated that they insist they deserve more. Indeed, because as God’s people they are learning from him, the meek understand that they are co-heirs in the inheritance with Jesus (Romans 8:16f).
Furthermore, Jesus is saying that the day will come when the meek will inherit the new heaven and the new earth. It will be a time when this Beatitude will literally be fulfilled. Throughout eternity God’s people will continually rejoice that this Beatitude is literally true. Indeed, they will be grateful that by the grace of God they learned to be meek during their life now.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” What is your response? Do you really want to be one of Jesus’ disciples, exemplifying in your life those qualities that were so evident in his — meekness and humility in serving the best interests of others?
© John G. Mason – September 30, 2020
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