Starting in verse 20 and lasting through the end of the chapter is what some call the Sermon on the Plain. Likely the same sermon as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, it is Jesus’ manifesto explaining how a citizen of the kingdom of God is to live. In a word, the godly citizen is to be different. He is to live a life completely at odds with how the world says to live.
Jesus starts His sermon with a list of attributes that characterize those who are blessed – who receive God’s approval. Said another way, He lists the attributes of those for whom this sermon is intended. He pronounces blessings on character traits that in most cases the world loathes. He effectively says, “Let Me blow up all your assumptions about what’s important and esteemed in this life.” By blessing what the world scorns and condemning what the world admires, He sets the tone for the rest of the sermon wherein He will repeatedly instruct His disciples to live according to kingdom values instead of worldly ideals.
Jesus and His disciples and the newly-named apostles descend the mountain where He selected them and come to a level place. It is this level place that gives this sermon its name, the Sermon on the Plain (as distinguished from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). This is likely a misnomer as the level place could simply refer to an area on the mountain that is flat enough for a gathering. It’s very possible that this is the same sermon as the Sermon on the Mount, just transcribed differently and more briefly. Unlike Matthew, Luke doesn’t record the sermon in its entirety in one place but reproduces various sections at different points in the gospel.
The scene Luke describes is amazing. A large crowd – a great multitude of disciples and a great throng of other people – gathers to hear Jesus speak while they also bring their sick and ailing to Him. The people are from all over Israel and even from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon (which likely means there are gentiles in the crowd too). Anyone who comes to Him is healed or delivered from unclean spirits. The people all try to touch Him because a mere touch heals them, and presumably because there are so many that He can’t personally interact with each of them. It’s a picture of Jesus compassionately ministering to as many people as He can and demonstrating his supremacy over a fallen world (…for power was coming from Him and healing them all.)
20-23 – Blessings
At some point after He’s healed and cast out demons, Jesus begins to preach to the people. It’s notable who Jesus addresses His words to. Verse 20 says that Jesus turns to His disciples and begins to speak. What He’s about to say is meant for His followers; He’s about to describe how to live as a kingdom citizen in an anti-kingdom world. The one exception to this might be the woes of verses 24-26, but even those in one sense are addressed to His followers as they show that worldly living, though rewarded now, ultimately comes to ruin.
Jesus begins with blessings on four types of people: the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated. He sets the tone early that His kingdom is made up of people the world doesn’t celebrate.
What He says to the poor is that theirs is the kingdom of God. Luke phrases this first blessing somewhat differently than Matthew. In Matthew 5:3, the first blessing is for the poor in spirit. As we saw in Luke 4:18 (which was a quote from Isaiah), the poor include those who are on the outside of religious society, those who are sinners waiting for salvation. It’s more than an economic condition; it’s a state of the soul, a hopelessness that comes from sin. In that way, Luke agrees with Matthew. This is a promise to everyone who realizes their helpless state apart from the Messiah.
These are the people Jesus has come for. Theirs is the kingdom of God (note the verb tense) because Jesus is here to inaugurate that kingdom. And the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom because understanding need is fundamental to approaching God. If we have no need for the King, we have no place in the kingdom. Only the poor in spirit enter God’s presence.
By starting with this blessing, Jesus effectively strikes a tone for the whole sermon. If His followers are first to be poor in spirit, then they will realize they are completely incapable of living up to what He is about to explain. To be a citizen of the Kingdom, we first have to understand our helplessness and unworthiness and how that affects our ability to incorporate the very character qualities the kingdom demands. Without God we can’t enter the kingdom and without God we can’t live as a citizen of it. We must live in the power of the Spirit, not in the power of our own strength (Gal 5:16-17/Matt 7:7-8/I Jn 5:14-15). We can’t but He CAN.
And that’s why the believer never graduates from this status. We must always be poor in spirit. A sense of our sinfulness, an understanding of who and what we are apart from Christ, are critical to sanctification. It’s when we forget what we are in ourselves that our pride leads us away from Spirit-dependent living and into a short-changed life of self-reliance and dissatisfaction (and limited usefulness for the kingdom). We must focus on God, focus on His word, remember our redemption, and thus sharpen our sense of fallibility in order to fully enjoy kingdom life.
The second blessing is on those who hunger. Here again, Luke phrases it somewhat differently than Matthew. Matthew says Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Just like longing for food, it’s an overarching desire for what we don’t have and can’t supply for ourselves. If we understand our sin – if we’re poor in spirit – we’ll hunger for righteousness. We’ll hunger for what we don’t have.
Note that Jesus says this blessing is for those who hunger NOW. Believers will not always long for righteousness because they will someday be completely filled. This is what He means by the blessing: you shall be satisfied. When the kingdom is fully realized, when Jesus returns and leads His followers to the new earth where sin doesn’t exist, this longing will be fully satisfied.
There’s more to this than an eternal answer, however. It makes sense that this is satisfied to a lesser extent in this life too. If we long for righteousness, if we long to be more like our Redeemer (conformed to the image of the Son – Rom 8:29), God will answer that longing. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4).
The promise here is notable in how it compares to the promises of the world. NOTHING in this world delivers ultimate satisfaction, but Jesus says this longing will be satisfied. Don’t miss this promise – SHALL BE SATISFIED. He doesn’t mince words, He doesn’t hedge. IF we hunger for righteousness, IF we hunger for Him, we will be filled. Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13-14).
The third blessing is on those who weep now (once again, He delineates their current state with their ultimate state). This comes out of the first two blessings. Weeping is likely a response to sin. It comes from fully appreciating how awful sin is, how awful its hold in our lives is, how awful it makes the world around us, and how pervasive its ramifications are. It is pity and fatigue and sorrow over a deceived world rushing headlong into hell, and disgust at how easily we’re entangled in the same lies.
Weeping carries with it a sense of looking at sin as God does. We truly hate it. We hate it for what it is and what it does. We hate it simply because it’s sin. We hate it because it breaks fellowship with our Father in heaven. This in turn affects our confession and repentance. We don’t simply hate the consequences of our sin or the guilt it brings about; we hate the sin itself and the offense it is to the God who redeemed us.
The blessing is that today’s weeping – weeping in this life – will turn to laughter in the kingdom. Mourning over sin will turn to joy and laughter in a kingdom world free from sin. The understanding of and response to sin is a mark of a citizen of the kingdom, and a citizen of the kingdom will someday live on a new earth where there’s no sin and thus no weeping.
The last blessing is on those who are hated, ostracized, insulted, and impugned for the sake of the Son of Man. Jesus calls them blessed because their reward in heaven is great. They are like the prophets of old who were persecuted for proclaiming God’s truth to a recalcitrant people. Amazingly, Jesus tells them to be glad when they’re persecuted and to leap for joy. It shows how heavenly-minded the kingdom citizen is to be. The reward in heaven is so great and so worth it, that persecution and hardship in this life are cause for celebration.
Think about that. Leap for joy when you’re persecuted and mistreated for the sake of Jesus. LEAP FOR JOY when people hate you, damage your reputation, call you names, do everything they can to make you miserable. LEAP FOR JOY! How weird is this?? How much clearer can Jesus make it that we’re called to a DIFFERENT life than the life the world’s citizens aspire to? [See Acts 5:40-41 for an example of this admonition in action.]
It’s worth noting that the last blessing has a qualification. It’s for people who are persecuted for the sake of the Son of Man. This is not a license to become generally loathsome to others. The citizen of the kingdom is prone to criticism because he doesn’t fit into the world and doesn’t prize what the world prizes, not because he intentionally acts outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.
In all cases, these four blessings are revolutionary. They condone the very things the world says are marks of a failed life. Who wants to be poor, hungry, sad, or hated? And yet Jesus points to them to show that in the kingdom there will be a great reversal. Those who have their feet anchored in this world and long only for the rewards and temptations of this life with no thought for tomorrow or eternity will be wrecked in the next life. Those who have everything now will have nothing in the kingdom if all they worry about is having it all now. Conversely, those who seem to have nothing now are comforted in the kingdom and will be rewarded in the next life.
24-26 – Woes
Unlike Matthew, Luke includes a section of woes that are the mirror-images of the blessings. Note the structure of these verses. Each woe is a direct counterpart to a blessing. Blessed are the poor – woe to the rich. Blessed are those who hunger now – woe to those who are well-fed now. Blessed are those who weep now – woe to those who laugh now. Blessed are those who are hated – woe to those who everyone speaks well of.
These give the other side of the blessings and are just as surprising. Just as it’s odd that people who suffer are blessed, so it’s odd that those who prosper are cursed. In the kingdom, everything is the opposite of what the world says. And that means the kingdom will not welcome anyone whose feet are firmly planted in this world with no thought of the next. In all cases, the woes are pronounced on those who only focus on the rewards and comforts of this life and who care only for the approval of men.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Behold, My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry. Behold, My servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty. Behold, My servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame. Behold, My servants shall shout joyfully with a glad heart, but you shall cry out with a heavy heart, and you shall wail with a broken spirit (Isa 65:13-14).
There are two conclusions among many that we can make from the opening of this sermon. First, the main difference between a citizen of the kingdom and a citizen of the world is an understanding of need. The citizen of the kingdom realizes his need for redemption and a Redeemer. The citizen of the world sees nothing beyond it and longs for nothing outside of it. Thus, from a kingdom perspective, the kingdom member who lives outside the borders of happiness in this life is blessed while the prosperous and happy citizen of the world is condemned for his short-sighted foolishness.
Second, as believers and citizens of the kingdom, we must understand just how counter-cultural the lives we’re called to are. If the world says to do it, that it’s required for happiness, that it’s the way to fulfillment, that it’s what everybody needs to ensure they’re living the best life, odds are it’s wrong from a kingdom perspective. Every day is ‘opposite day’ for the believer. While the world tells us it’s all about us and we deserve to be happy, the kingdom tells us that suffering, deprivation, and being hated are blessed states if they draw us closer to the King and benefit the next life. We are to be godly-minded with a focus on eternity, not self-centered with a focus on the here and now. We are forgiven sinners with a keen sense of our fallibility, not worthy individuals with a keen sense of what we deserve.
None of this is to say that the believer is called to a life of perpetual suffering and unhappiness. What it means is that he measures his quality of life by an entirely different scale than the world. And what he’s ultimately called to is a life where satisfaction is met by a Redeemer who says to His disciples, “I’m enough.” If we have Jesus, we have enough.
God help us to see the world through the lens of this sermon.
2 thoughts on “Luke 6:17-26 – Called to be Different”
A hearty “Amen and Amen.” I was disturbed by the comment of a pastor in response to mine about the decline of beauty – melody, tone, poetry, etc. – in modern church music. He excused it with something like ‘Well, the church has to follow the trends taken by the world’s music.” I could only reply, “Sorry, Pastor, but I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. The church should be leading the world, not following it.” Thanks for your commentaries, Pal. Al
Great comment, Al! And thanks for the encouragement.