Luke 6:20-28: Blessings and Woes

Read: Luke 6:20-28

Luke’s account of the “Beatitudes” includes only four of the 8 that are included in Matthew 5:1-12. But unlike Matthew, Luke includes four parallel “woes” that accompany each of the 4 beatitudes that he lists. Luke’s list seems supportive of one of his overarching themes, which is a gospel for the marginalized people in society, which in his days would include woman, the poor, lepers, and Gentiles.

  • Wealth and Poverty (verses 20 and 24): Jesus says those that are poor are blessed because they will have the kingdom of heaven, but pronounces a woe on the rich because they have their “consolation”. Interesting, the New Testament uses the same root word in the Greek, “paráklēsis” which is translated “consolation” to describe the Holy Spirit and his role with believers. He is called the “helper” (John 14:26, John 16:7, John 16:14). The woe here is not against being wealthy, rather trusting in one’s wealth for security. Likewise, one who finds pride in being poor is no better. The admonishment of the New Testament is to use wealth for good (1 Timothy 6:11-21, Proverbs 3:9-10) rather than evil (James 5:1-6) with one’s wealth and to be content in ones circumstances (1 Timothy 6:6-8, Philippians 4:11).
  • Plenty and Hunger (verses 21a and 25a): Jesus says those that hunger will be filled but those that are full will be hungry. Matthew 5:10 account adds “for righteousness”. The same inheritance is given to these as is to the poor, namely the kingdom of heaven. Here again, the admonition isn’t to go about being hungry or be prideful in one’s hunger, rather find contentment in one’s circumstances, and as for those that have food he or she should be willing to share it with those who do not have food (Psalm 146:5-7, Matthew 5:42-43, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Matthew 25:35-40).
  • Rejoicing and Mourning (verses 21b and 25b): Inevitably, there will be time for laughter and a time for mourning. For the Christian though, contentment again is great gain, and the call to rejoice in all circumstances goes out (1 Thessalonians 5:16) . The Christian condition is ultimately victorious even though temporal circumstances may be tough. In almost ever instance the command “rejoice” is found in the New Testament, it is done in the context of adversity A few references include 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10, John 16:22, Acts 5:41, Acts 16:25, Romans 5:2-3, Hebrews 10:34, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 4:13. The theme of great joy in the midst of grave circumstances is one of the marks of great faith in the one who does bring comforter.
  • Persecution (verses 22 and 26): There were not a lot of things that Jesus said would be certain for the disciples, but persecutions for his name sake was one of them (John 15:18-26. 2 Timothy 3:12-13). The disciples came to understand this to the point where there considered it a joy to be counted worthy to suffer (Acts 5:41). 1 Peter 4:12-19 says that one should not consider suffering to be something that is “strange”. The implication was that it would be “strange” to not have such persecution coming down on people. God is not calling people to seek out martyrdom (Matthew 10:23), but when persecution does come one is called to rejoice in spite of it. But to those who reject the message of Christ, they will be judged.

There is no guarantee that Christian life is an easy life and whoever says otherwise is selling a false gospel. Jesus did not call Christians to a life of comfort, but rather to expect a life of affliction for his name sake. For most American Christians, this isn’t the case, but for Christians around the world, persecution is real and intense, and those that do follow Christ suffer poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution of all types. In the event that one doesn’t suffer like this though, he or she should be about the work of comforting the poor, needy, mourning, and persecuted and praying that through their faith a harvest will come!

Lord, in spite of all the evil in this world, help me to rejoice and praise you!

Luke 1:39-45: Blessed Believers

Read: Luke 1:39-45

The Holy Spirit was alive and working among the four characters mentioned in this text:

  • Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying her “lord” even though the child wasn’t even born. And for this reason, she held Mary in high regard as one would respect a person of honor.
  • Elizabeth and her child John were both filled with joy even as Mary and her child approached – so much so that Elizabeth’s child “leaped” in the womb.
  • Elizabeth recognized these facts in spite of the fact that Mary was yet unmarried. Conventional wisdom would have condemned such a pregnancy.

The blessings Mary received came because of her faith – she had the great honor carrying God incarnate. The coming of Mary and her child caused those who were sensitive to the Spirit’s workings to be filled with joy and with the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 shows that even in times of hardship and persecution the Spirit gives joy. This is because the readers of Thessalonians had become “imitators” of “us” – namely the apostle Paul and his companions that had been to Thessalonica to plant a church there. Christians nowadays too are like the Christians in the scriptures – they have the Holy Spirit and they have Jesus. When the Lord comes near and the Spirit works, the natural response of Christians should respond in joy in spite of the odd of unusual circumstances as Mary and Elizabeth were experience. Christians can believe and be blessed as Mary was.

Lord, when you come near, help me respond in joy!

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3: Meaning in Life

Read: Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes adds to his remarks in Chapter 3 in Chapter 4. He had remarked that he saw no meaning in the fact that in justice and judgment there was evil, and that there was no difference between the righteous and unrighteous in death. The preacher continues on this theme, thinking that power is in the hands of oppressors and that there is no advocate for the oppressed. He reckons it is better to be dead than alive, and even better yet is the one who had never been born – that is the one who has never seen the evil in the world, even where there should be justice and judgment. The words are a harsh sentiment, but the Preacher is not necessarily speaking of things in light of the fully revealed Christ. The Preacher when he made these remarks apparently had not concluded the fact that it was best for man to fear the Lord.

The relationship between life and death is more realized in the New Testament in light of resurrection. The hope offered by resurrection gave Paul a completely different attitude towards life and death. He says first that to live is Christ and to dies is gain (Philippians 1:21). In saying this, Paul says that there is joy in serving the Lord even though he faces suffering, and to die is gain because one gets to do the second thing: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being sure of what is hoped for and confident of things not seen – that is being certain of some future promised that has not yet been received. Knowing that Jesus died and rose from the dead conquers death is the basis of the hope for the Christian and that even though one day, he or she may still yet live.

Christians therefore need not be pessimistic in life or in death as the Preacher was. Saying that it is better to be dead than alive or better to have never been born because of evil is not the mark of a Christian, rather saying it is best to be a child of God because of the hope  offered by God to all those that believe. The job of the Christian is not to mope over the apparent injustice in life, rather the job of the Christian to proclaim the life that is offered in Jesus and how sin is judgment are reconciled in the Cross. The heart of the Christian can know and believe in the hope, knowing that to live is Christ having his joy and to die is to be with the Lord.

Lord, you are what gives meaning to life!

John 16:16-22: A Living Jesus Means A Living Hope

Read: John 16:16-22

Jesus in a roundabout way predicts his death and resurrection—they will see him now, and in a little while they will not see him, and then will see him again. The disciples are confused by these remarks. Jesus had also said that he is going to be with the Father. Jesus was actually talking about the post resurrection appearances that he made to the disciples and then other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Jesus adds some more commentary to the mix in that they will lament and have grief, but that their grief will be turned to joy. He compares it to a mother giving birth, who is in pain at the time of birth but then forgets the pain after the baby is born. The joy of the disciples was made complete after Jesus resurrected from the dead.

The resurrection was a momentous event for certain, as it fulfills the Christian hope for eternal life. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” and “first born” of the resurrection that is to come (1 Corinthians 15:20, Colossians 1:18). Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, the hope of the Christian is real. Peter calls it a “living hope” and a “sure salvation” as he expounds upon the implications of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3-12). Paul also calls it “victory” because death has been defeated and has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:50-57. The victory, assurance, and hope that come from the resurrection of Jesus most certainly should complete the joy of those who believe in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

Christians living today have the same hope promised to the disciples, but there are also times in the lives of believers when they too lose loved ones as the disciples were about to lost Jesus. They grieved his loss as anyone else would grieve and as Christians today grieve. These can be hard and confusing times when nothing seems to make sense and it God feels distant. But when a believer dies, other believers can celebrate because of the living hope of resurrection that Jesus offers. Nothing more could be more reassuring than that, but what else is true is that it will be the last of such partings. The perishable is traded for immortality, so death will be no more!

Lord, help me to see your hope clearly when it is hard to see anything at all!