Sermon preached on Matthew 5:5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/2/2014 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blessed Are The Meek”
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. That’s an awesome blessing held out, isn’t it? Isn’t that in fact a common desire of sorts? To want it all? To want to gain the whole world? And yet Jesus also warned that it doesn’t do anyone any good to gain the whole world, but lose their soul. And so in this beatitude we are told that there is a way that some will gain the whole world. Those who belong to Christ’s kingdom, will in fact, gain the whole world. Christ’s kingdom will come in its fullness to this earth. At that time, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ. At that time, we who belong to his kingdom, will be heirs of the whole earth. How then is someone a part of Christ’s kingdom? Well, the Beatitudes here at the start of the Sermon of the Mount are describing the person that belongs to his kingdom. This has been giving us a picture of what someone who belongs to this kingdom looks like. Of course, on the one hand this reminds us that we need the Spirit’s work in us, to grow us in these traits. On the other hand, it encourages us for those who have come to put their trust in Christ, what our life has begun to look like now as a Christian. This is the case with this meekness. For blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Let’s begin then by describing and defining this meekness. That will be the bulk of our message for today. Then secondly we’ll think further about what it means to inherit the earth. So then, what does it mean to be meek? What do the meek people look like that are described here? Well, if you look this word up in either a Greek or English dictionary, it will typically define it words such as humble and gentle and mild. You might also find it described as “unassuming” and “tame.” In some sense, this is a hard thing to try to describe, because I already said that poor in spirit, the first beatitude here, is also roughly defined as humble. But there is a nuance of meekness that gets at something different than being poor in spirit; they are different ways in which humility is expressed and seen. I will try to clarify that as we go along. But let’s start by thinking about two common qualities of this meekness: it’s unassuming nature, and its tameness.
To say that meekness is unassuming is to say that in humility you are not overly concerned for your own exaltation or even your own vindication. Rather, you tend to wait for others to exalt you and vindicate you. This comes from humility. Similarly, you don’t presume to exalt yourself to a place you don’t even deserve. And when you are exalted, say to a place of leadership, you don’t let it get to your head and start acting like you are better than others. In the same way, if you are exalted in any leadership position, then, when others falsely defame you, and are critical of you, you respond in a mild, gentle, and measured way.
So, I will mention several examples of this aspect of meekness. Think first of Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 about which seat to take at a wedding feast. Jesus advocates this unassuming quality of meekness when he says to not just presume to take the best seat. You’ll be embarrassed if the host then comes and kicks you out of that seat to give it to a more honored guest. Rather, take the worst seat, so that instead the host can come an honor you by moving you up to a better seat. Don’t be assuming. Show forth your humility in meekness by taking the lesser place. Let others lift you up, instead of lifting yourself up. That’s being meek.
Or take John the Baptist. In John 3, some of his disciples come to him concerned that Jesus is now getting all the attention, and John’s losing all his disciples to him. But John in meekness was not concerned. John rightly said in John 3:27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” John goes on to say that he must decrease, and Christ must increase. In John’s meekness, he didn’t assume a position greater than actually belonged to him.
But this unassuming meekness should still be present in humans who do have positions of leadership. For example, in Deuteronomy 17 it gives the provisions for the kings in Israel. One of the provisions is that these future kings must not have a heart that is lifted above his brethren, Deuteronomy 17:20. In other words, as a human king, he should have enough humility to realize he is still a human, just like the people he is ruling. This should be expressed in meekness toward the citizens of his kingdom. In fact, when you look at ancient secular Greek literature, this same Greek word for meekness does often get used as a positive trait that rulers should have toward their subjects, even in secular writings. So even in a place of authority, a ruler can have a spirit of meekness that does not exalt himself as inherently better than his subjects. His meekness will bring out a gentleness and mildness in how he treats his subject.
Another example of this unassuming nature of meekness is Moses in Numbers 12. That’s when his siblings Miriam and Aaron become jealous of his special place of leadership. In verse 3 of that chapter, it says that Moses was the most meek man on the earth. And so when faced with a challenge to his leadership, Moses did not seek to vindicate or exalt himself. Rather, he waited on God to vindicate him before Miriam and Aaron, which is exactly what God did.
So that’s a little bit about the unassuming nature of meekness. Let’s consider briefly the quality of tameness that is also a part of this idea of meekness. I mentioned the gentle and mild aspect of meekness, and the language of being tame is essentially getting at that. So think then about the example of a tame lion versus a wild lion. A tame lion is no less strong and powerful than a wild lion. But being tamed, his strength and power is under a control that the wild lion’s is not. And so humans that are meek, in whatever strength and power that we do have, don’t exercise that in some uncontrolled fury and harshness. Paul is a good example of this. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul speaks of his meekness while also boldly challenging the Corinthians, even over their wrong view of his ministry. In a similar way, Paul writes to both Timothy and Titus urging them to have meekness in how opponents are confronted, 2 Timothy 2:25, and Titus 3:2. So, don’t confuse meekness as weakness. That’s not it. Being unassuming, mild, and gentle, doesn’t mean you are weak. It’s a soberness in assessing your own strength and position. Often it’s one that looks especially to others to step up on your behalf. But even when it is appropriate for you to speak out on your own behalf, there is a gentleness and mildness to have you do even that; it’s a measured and appropriate response. Of course, at the core, our humility will need to inform our meekness too. The reality is that we are full of weaknesses. We are poor and humble. That should especially inform our meekness.
So, having started to define meekness somewhat, I think it would then be helpful to contrast it more explicitly with being poor in spirit. This will help us to situate this meekness in the context of our passage for today. We will begin to better appreciate how Jesus is describing of the Christian, at least in part what we have begun to look like. So being poor in spirit can sound similar to meekness, in that both can be described with the word “humble.” But let’s distinguish the two. To be poor in spirit, is that humility that comes as a beggarly low spirit. You come before God and say I am poor and lowly, spiritually speaking. I have nothing before you. As a creature, I am under you who is the creator. And as a sinner and rebel against you, I come knowing that I am in trouble. So this poor in spirit, is the beggarly position before God as sinner and creature. But being meek, is the humility that then comes gently to others, not demanding or assuming.
Let me give you an example that might help here. Since the language is poor in spirit, take someone who is monetarily poor. They have no money and are on the streets and are in a beggarly position. We can imagine such a person who is poor, but not meek. That’s the poor person that comes to you demanding a handout. That’s the poor person that expects entitlements. That’s the poor person who thinks you are obligated to help him, who mistakes mercy for a right. There’s that saying that beggars can’t be choosers. When a beggar comes in a very choosey, demanding, way, they are not being meek. In the same way, you could be poor in spirit, and come before God lamenting at how bad your situation is. You could rightly mourn over your humble estate, that you are a sinner living in a sin-cursed world. But instead of being meek, you could then demand God to forgive you and to improve your situation. This is not that uncommon. Often you talk to people who essentially sound like they think God exists for him to forgive them. That he is somehow obligated to do it. Sometimes such a person essentially blames God for their impoverished state — They might say something like, “He made me like this, so he needs to save me.” Again, this is hypothetically how you could be poor in spirit, but then not be meek.
And so the progression of the beatitudes wants us to get a more full picture of what a Christian will look like. They will not only be poor in spirit, but they will also be meek. They will recognize their poor, low, beggarly, position before God as both a sinner and a creature. They will mourn over their estate, and especially over their sin that brought them into that estate. But they will then approach God in meekness. They will come gently, unassumingly, acknowledging they need mercy from God; not telling God he owes them something.
Maybe another way to look at this is that the poor in spirit here, is followed with mourning. And the meekness here is followed by a hungering and thirsting for righteousness. When we are truly poor in spirit, it should leave us mourning over our situation. But if we are truly meek, then we don’t think ourselves sufficient, but realize we need to grow. We need to be improved. So we hunger and thirst for righteousness. In humility of meekness, we don’t arrogantly look to exalt ourselves to some place we don’t belong, but we look to improve our low estate.
Arguably what will help us the most in getting our minds wrapped around this idea of meekness is to consider Psalm 37. You see, Jesus actually is referencing Psalm 37 when he talks about the meek inheriting the earth. The context of that Psalm especially helps us understand this quality of meekness, especially in regard to our salvation. You see, Psalm 37 is all about how there are wicked people all over that are afflicting God’s people, especially the poor and lowly among them. In response, the psalm calls us to trust in God and focus on doing good. In all this, wait for the Lord to save you. And so that’s the meekness there in Psalm 37. That when the wicked all around you seem to rule the world, be meek and wait for the Lord to save you; then you will inherit the world. Of course, that’s again why the Beatitudes speak immediately after to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Because if you are meekly waiting for the Lord, you are realizing that you too much look like those wicked people too. That you deserve God’s wrath and curse too. So, in response to his assured salvation, you look to grow in the righteousness that you know he desires of you. We’ll talk more about that next week.
So then, the background of Psalm 37 helps us to tie these ideas all together. Those poor in spirit beg of the Lord for help. They mourn over their sin and cursed estate. They meekly acknowledge their need for God to lift them up; for God to save them. For God to show them mercy; that they are no better than the wicked who are not saved. This causes in them a hunger and thirst for growing in righteousness. In all this, even amidst those persecuting them, they meekly wait for the LORD.
As we’ve been saying, Christians are those only beginning to express these qualities. Christ, on the other hand, has fully embodied them. It’s Christ’s Spirit living in us that knows these qualities that is working them in us. And so, Christ lived out this meekness in the full. In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul refers to the meekness and gentleness of Christ. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says that he is meek and lowly in heart, as he calls us to take his yoke upon us. Or even at the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, the Bible says that Jesus came riding on a donkey as an expression of his meekness, Matthew 21:5, “Behold, your King is coming to you, meek, and sitting on a donkey.” He didn’t come riding in on some powerful steed in ostentatious fashion, but in meekness on a donkey. Yet, again, his meekness did not need mean weakness or false humility. Because at that time, when the religious leaders tried to get Jesus to silence the crowds who were praising him, he said that if the crowds were silent, then the rocks would cry out.
So then, let’s turn now and think about the blessedness held out to the meek. It’s that the meek shall inherit the earth. To start, think about it like this. Meekness realizes that we can’t actually gain or earn the whole world. No, that’s impossible for us. That would not be meek us to even try to take that. In our meekness, we realize that the only way we’ll ever come to have the whole earth, is if we instead receive it as a gift. Well, that’s what Jesus says. That’s what an inheritance is. When you inherit something, you are receiving something you didn’t earn or have a right to inherently. But someone instead wills to give it to you. Of course, when you think of inheritance, you also tend to think about the fact that your normally receive an inheritance when someone dies. Hebrews 9 gets into that briefly. That Christ’s death enabled us to receive the promised inheritance. Here again we see Christ demonstrating a very radical form of meekness. Jesus exercised such radical meekness such that when they plotted to put him to death on the cross, he did not resist. Matthew 12, beginning in verse 13 gets at some of this, going on to quote Isaiah 42:1, talking about the way Jesus didn’t raise his voice in complaint, but meekly went to his death. Why was he willing this to happen to him? In order to save the weak and helpless and exalt them. So that we who are in Christ, can inherit the earth, even though in our sin and rebellion we’ve not earned the earth. We’ve actually earned hell. That’s what we’ve deserved. But in part by his radical meekness, Christ paid for our sins and died on the cross that we could be heirs of the world.
So then, we become heirs of the world, not by our own merits, but by Christ. By faith in his righteousness. Paul says that this was true of father Abraham in Romans 4:13. There Paul says, “The promise that he [Abraham] would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” That too is then how we become heirs of the world, and co-heirs with Christ. Through faith and repentance. James 1:21 says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” We meekly put our faith in Christ. That’s the kind of faith that is saving faith. It’s meek faith. Faith that is unassuming. Faith that does not assert our own standing before God or our own power. Because we know we don’t have anything to assert in that regard. This is faith that waits on God to save in Christ. Faith that meekly looks for mercy. Faith that knows we need Christ to purify our hearts. Faith that acknowledges our need to grow in righteousness. Faith that sees Christ and his righteousness as what we need. Faith that knows that Christ earned what I needed to earn, but couldn’t. Faith that looks for Christ to lift us up by paying our debt and letting us share in his righteous standing. Faith that receives Christ’s offer to inherit the earth by grace. If you have never done this, do so then today. Repent of your sins. Mourn over them. And then in meekness, receive by faith the forgiveness of sins held out in Christ. That Christ’s death on the cross would be applied to your account.
And if you do, then you are saved. In the future, that means you will gloriously inherit the whole earth. Of course, in the long term, the good news is that will be a completely renewed earth. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” That’s good because we know the troubles of life in this world. So, long term, we will inherit the earth, but it will be a new better transformed earth. Praise the Lord. And yet, even now, as Christians, that means we are heirs. We have not come into the fullness of this inheritance yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are the heirs of it. That means that what goes on here and now in this world, is really, ultimately, in service to us as the heirs. In other words, we look around and see the wicked prospering. The wicked may claim to own or control the world. They may unmeekly boast that the world exists for them and for their pleasure. The arrogant godless leaders of the world may laugh and say it’s good to be king. But what does the Scripture say about the earth in its present state? Romans 8:19, “The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” — the revealing of the heirs, in other words. Romans 8 goes on to talk about how currently the creation is subjected to futility and corruption, and yet it was subjected in hope. Hope that there were be a glorious redemption of God’s lost chosen ones. That he would adopt a people unto himself in which he would bequeath the whole world to, in and under his Messiah king. So for now, the world is groaning for our coming out party — when we will be revealed to all as the children of God, heirs of the whole world. And even now, even before that great day, this is why Romans 8:28 is in effect. That all things work together for our good. For we have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high. The world is ours. Let us then be meek in reply.
Trinity Presbytery Church, by way of application, let us see again how these beatitudes come back full circle. If we are to be heirs of the world, it will in meekness be received as a gift of God by faith. We don’t earn it. Again, it’s the Spirit of God that has been working such meekness in you. And having then meekly received this gift, even the world bequeathed to us, we all the more are called to meekness. In this life, the wicked will taunt us and persecute us. But we are called to show the meekness of Christ in reply. But that is of course, why we can do this. Because we have the Spirit of Christ in us. in Galatians 5:22-23, we see that the fruit of the Spirit includes meekness. Let us then strive for meekness. When others revile us, let us trust God to vindicate us. When the world around us laughs at us, let us looks to God to affirm us. We may have meek and humble circumstances now as the world rages in defiance to God. But trust that he is working all things for our benefit. His plan is at work. If Christ in his meekness went to the cross to secure this inheritance for us, do you really think he won’t work all things out for us to ultimately receive this inheritance? Of course he will.
And yet, that means in the mean time, we are called unto Christ’s example here and now, an example of meekness even amidst persecutors: 1 Peter 2:21,
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.
As we follow in Christ’s footsteps, receive the world’s raging in meekness, and trust in joy Christ’s own sufferings on your behalf. He who gave up his whole life. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Indeed he will.
Please don’t misunderstand me. People might say in rebuttal, “Are you saying the Christian just has to be okay with the world walking all over them?” I would reply by saying this: I’m not saying that there is not a time and place where the meek person doesn’t speak out in their defense. But even then there needs to be a gentleness behind his words and his response should be properly measured for the circumstances. And even then, there needs to be a trust ultimately in God to vindicate you. And a conviction that even if the other people don’t stop stepping on you, that you are still secure in the Lord. An extended example of this is 2 Corinthians beginning in chapter 10 and largely continuing through the end of the letter. There Paul is defending his ministry. But he starts out in 10:1 by stating how he is seeking to plead his defense to them with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He goes on to say in 10:18 that we shouldn’t be interested in commending ourselves, but want Christ to commend ourselves. And so that’s a good example of how meekness is not opposed to personal defense.
So then, let us as Christians be both meek and bold for Christ! And may we look to the Spirit to grow us in both. Let us pray that God would be pleased to bear this fruit more and more in us. And as we see him doing it, realize it means that we are his children, heirs of the world. Praise be to God!
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.