The Beatitudes Sermon Series: “The Life God Blesses”
#3: Blessed are the Meek…”
Galatians 5:16-25 and Matthew 5:5 (Weymouth New Testament)
This morning, we are continuing our look at the Beatitudes of Jesus – those “keys to happiness” that seem so elusive in our lives. We all want to discover true happiness, to live a life of blessedness. And yet it seems that the door to happiness is locked. We try all kinds of “keys” to unlock the door – things we believe might make us happy, and yet we are not happy.
Right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hands us eight keys that will finally unlock that door – keys we have been receiving one by one: The first week we considered what it means to say “Blessed (or happy) are the poor in spirit.” Last Sunday we reflected on the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Both seemed like unlikely “keys” to the blessed life – but Jesus insists that they are!
Today we are handed a third key: “Blessed are the Meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
As we have seen throughout our study, Christ’s prescription for happiness runs counter to the world’s advice: The world insists, “Blessed are the rich in things.” But Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The world promises, “Blessed are those who have been spared sadness.” But Jesus counters, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Today, Jesus surprises us again, “Blessed (happy, to be envied, fortunate, well-off) are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
MEEK! – Inherit the earth? That can’t be true! We all know who gets ahead in the world, and it’s not the “meek!” People get ahead by assertiveness and intimidation, by looking out for #1. We’re like the woman Billy Graham once wrote about, who said, “I want to climb the ladder of success, and I don’t care whose fingers I step on as I climb up the rungs.”
No, Jesus, you’re wrong! The meek are the ones down at the bottom of the ladder who are always getting their fingers stepped on! Everyone knows that the meek don’t inherit the earth – don’t they?
That all depends on how you define the word “meek.”
Let me get at it this way: Have you ever aspired to be meek? When you were a child, did you say, “When I’m all grown up, what I really want to be in life is, . . .to be meek! That’s my aspiration – my highest goal in life.”
When you look at your children or grandchildren and think about them growing up, what is your dream for them? Do you say, “My dream for them is that they might be meek”?
“Meek” really is not a word that comes to mind when I think of what I want to be myself, or what I want other people to be.
And some of that is because when we think of the word “meek” there are so many negative connotations of “meekness.” If you were to put the word “meek” into the thesaurus in your computer, it would spout out a number of words that we don’t like very much, words that we might call downers or negative. So, here are some synonyms of meek, according to the computer:
acquiescent and spineless,
brow-beaten and bullied,
compliant and docile,
cowed and dominated,
hang-dogged and hen-pecked,
intimidated and broken and crushed.
Is this what we want to be? Is this what we want for those we love – to be like that? You know, I really don’t think so. But Jesus says, “Happy, Blessed are the meek. They are the winners.”
What do you think of when you hear the word “meek?” For me, “meek” conjures up an image of someone who is weak, cowardly, sheepish, and easily intimidated – someone who would let others walk all over them – someone without enough gumption or self-respect to stand up for him or herself.
When I hear the word “meek” I always picture those old Charles Atlas ads I used to see on the back of comic books – that caricature of a skinny little man lying on the beach who had sand kicked in his face, by that muscular bully, too weak and shy to defend his honor. At least, that is how I have always thought of this word.
You see, that described me growing up. I was the kid who got sand kicked in his face. Skinny, uncoordinated, and introverted, I was easily intimidated by the “jocks” in the class, who labeled me the class “nerd.” I had no self-confidence, and even less self-esteem. To my way of thinking, I was the very definition of “meek.”
But as I have studied for this sermon, I have learned that I was not “meek” at all, at least, not according to what the Bible means by “meek” – a wimp, maybe; meek, no. As with so many of the words in the Bible, our English translations do not begin to convey the whole meaning of the original language. The biblical meaning of the word translated here as “meek,” has little to do with my juvenile notion about what the word means.
In the Bible, there are three individuals who are identified as possessing the quality of meekness. Who do you think they would be? – you might be surprised! From these three characters, I think we can learn a whole new definition of what the Bible means by “meekness.”
From the first character, we learn that to be meek does not mean to be weak. To the contrary, in the Bible, meekness is actually strength.
The first individual in scripture described as “meek” was none other than that great and imposing Old Testament figure, Moses. In Numbers 12:3 we read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
Moses, meek? Moses – who was raised in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh, meek? – who killed an Egyptian guard out of anger, meek? – who confronted Pharaoh and demanded Pharaoh’s obedience, meek? – who stood before God Almighty and boldly pleaded for mercy for the sake of his people, meek? – who led an unruly and stubborn nation with a firm hand for forty years, meek?
According to our modern ideas of the word, Moses was anything BUT meek! There must be more to this word than first meets the eye – and there is!
A number of years ago, Bill McCartney, the former football coach and founder of Promise Keepers, spoke at one of the Promise Keepers rallies I attended. He was describing strength of character, particularly as it relates to leadership. In his talk, he defined “meekness” like this: “strength and courage, coupled with kindness.”
If that is what meekness means, then we can begin to see how the Bible could call Moses “meek.” Certainly, in his role as the liberator of God’s people, Moses exhibited “strength and courage, coupled with kindness” – strength of faith to follow God’s direction, courage to stand before Pharaoh putting his life on the line, and kindness as he looked with compassion upon the plight of his people. Yes, Moses was meek by that definition. That’s because, to be meek does NOT mean to be weak.
The second individual identified in the Bible as being “meek” also was an example of strength rather than weakness. But that wasn’t why he was called meek. There is another aspect of meekness that must be considered.
To understand how this second biblical character could be considered meek we need to look carefully at the technical meaning of the word in the original language used here in Matthew’s gospel. The Greek word in this passage, literally translated, means, “TRAINED TO OBEY.” So literally, this Beatitude should read like this: “Blessed (Happy) are those who are trained to obey, for they will inherit the earth.”
There was a man who was terminally ill, and knowing he was dying, said this to his wife: “My dear, see that you bring the children up to honor and obey you, for if they don’t obey you when they are young, they won’t obey God when they’re older.” There’s a lot of truth in that! To be meek means to have been trained to obey.
How many of you have ever attended a rodeo? I’ve only been once or twice, but I enjoyed the experience. One time, more than years ago, while I was serving a church in a rural community, I took my two sons to a rodeo (I don’t know if they even remember it – they were quite young at the time). I remember trying to explain to them about “bronco busting” – you know, the technique used by cowboys in the old west to break wild horses. The wild horses that galloped freely across the open lands of the American West possessed a great deal of strength – but their unbridled power was of no use to anyone. In fact, unharnessed strength in any form can be very dangerous! In order for a horse to be useful to its master, its WILL must be broken. Only then is its strength controlled and refocused so it becomes useful. The same is true for us.
So, who was the biblical figure that demonstrates this quality of meekness? Not surprisingly, he, too, seems like an unlikely candidate. The Bible describes the mighty King David as “meek!”
David? We don’t think of David as being meek! And he wasn’t meek for much of his life. For the first half of his life, David was caught-up in himself. He was wildly successful at whatever he tried: As a boy he killed the giant Goliath and in the process, rescued the entire army of King Saul from disgrace. He was a great military leader whose fame caused him to become something of a super-hero, the kind of macho-man that made all the women of Israel swoon, and all the men of Israel jealous. His was a “rags to riches” story: he went from being an overlooked shepherd boy to become the most beloved King in all the history of the Jews. He just seemed to have the charisma and the talent to do anything. It appeared that David could do no wrong!
But it wasn’t to last. David’s troubles began when he started to believe his own press-releases! David arrogantly began to trust in his own strength and abilities. His authority went to his head, and as always happens, he began to abuse his power. He seduces another man’s wife, gets her pregnant, and then arranges to have her husband murdered to cover up his sin. And again, as always happens, the truth came out. God exposed David’s sin through the voice of a prophet. And David confessed, repented, and was restored to God’s favor.
You see, David was like that wild horse – powerful and dynamic, yet dangerous. It wasn’t until God “broke” David’s will that David discovered that true greatness comes, not from our own power, but from a spirit of obedience and submission to God. God had used David’s sin to “train him to obey.”
David displayed true strength of character when he stopped relying on his own power and finally submitted in obedience to God’s will. After David’s sin, David penned Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me . . . The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
David was a wild stallion! David needed to be broken, his power needed to be harnessed. He needed to submit to having God put a “bit” in his mouth so that God could lead him where God wanted him to go, and use him as God wanted him used. David had finally discovered that true power comes to those who have been trained to obey.
In the case of both these “meek” characters from the scriptures, their strength was ultimately not in their own power, as powerful as each of them was. Their strength and greatness came from their willingness to live in submission and obedience to God, to humble themselves before God. Their own strength had to be broken so they could discover that true strength only comes from God.
So, back to our Beatitude of Jesus: We’ve seen that meekness is not weakness, but strength. But not just any strength. According to Jesus, the meek who are blessed are those who draw their strength from God, and who are humble and completely obedient to the will of God. Their quiet, harnessed, disciplined strength comes from beyond themselves. These are the people, Jesus says, who are the true winners in God’s sight.
So, how MEEK are you? Could you be called “meek” in the way the Bible uses the word? And, how do you know?
The litmus test is to reflect on this question: Where does your strength come from? Are you going through life “flailing away” like a bronco, full of power, thrashing in every direction at once? Or have you allowed God to “break” your will so that you might be trained and used by Him?
Only when we have done that, Jesus says, can we begin to know what it means to live a blessed life and discover true happiness.
Oh yes, earlier in this message, I said there were three individuals in the Bible who teach us about meekness. The third, of course, is Jesus himself – the perfect illustration of One who possessed “strength and courage, coupled with kindness;” One whose awesome power was rooted in his “obedience and submission to God’s will.”
Was Jesus weak or was he strong? Certainly, in the eyes of his contemporaries, Jesus was a weakling, a loser, the guy who got sand kicked in his face by the bullies of the world. But in actuality, Jesus was anything but weak. And I’m not just talking about those moments in his life when he demonstrated his power – commanding the wind and a waves to be still, the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead, or even his furious anger at the hypocritical religious leaders or the moneychangers who had desecrated the House of God by cheating people who came to worship. No. I’m talking about his meekness in standing before his accusers, and accepting their ridicule, taunting, and abuse. And of course, the ultimate act of godly strength when he willingly allowed himself to be nailed to a cross, so that God’s perfect will might be fulfilled, and you and I might finally receive that ultimate “key” to happiness – eternal life. Now that is meekness! An awesome meekness!
Earlier in this message, I listed all those negative connotations of the word “meek,” words that certainly don’t apply to Moses, to David, or to Jesus. But there were also other synonyms identified by the thesaurus in the computer that beautifully describe all these Biblical figures – and most especially Jesus: In addition to strength and obedience, meekness also implies being:
modest and self-effacing,
unassuming and understanding,
patient and persevering,
unhurried and quietly confident,
contented and courteous.
Blessed are the meek, Jesus says, those who are modest and self-effacing. Happy are the meek – those who are unassuming and understanding. Happy are those who are patient and persevering. Fulfilled are those who are unhurried and quietly confident, contented and courteous. These are the ones who are the true winners in this world. These are the ones who will know what it means to live a blessed life.
Or in Jesus’ own words, “Blessed are the Meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
As we have seen, these may sound like lovely words. But they are not spineless words. In fact, they’re just the opposite. If you’re going to be meek, as in “meek” like the synonyms in this second list, then you are going to be a very, very strong person indeed: meek, but not weak – like Moses; trained for obedience – like David. In other words, meek, just like Jesus.
And “Jesus” IS precisely what he calls us TO BE: As Jesus instructed us in Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am MEEK and lowly of heart.”
Friends, f you want to live the blessed life, – – you must first become “meek – like Jesus.”