The Mighty Meek
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:5).
Jesus’ hard sayings appear to be the reverse of logic. They turn our values upside-down. As an example, Jesus said that unless we hate our father and mother, we are not fit for the Kingdom (Matthew 10:37). (How’s that for a Father’s Day sermon text?) That appears to repeal one of the Ten Commandments.
What the Master meant was that our love for Him is to take priority above even love of family. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness,” He said (Matthew 6:33).
The third Beatitude is another startling text: “To be congratulated are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
I. What Jesus Appeared to Say
We equate the word “meek” with “weak.” We would describe a meek person as a cowardly, timid soul, afraid of his or her own shadow. This is a passive person who becomes a human door mat, a spineless fellow. He rolls over like a whipped dog, turning his soft underbelly to the enemy.
In modern English, a meek person is subservient, lacking spunk, the opposite of aggressive. Characters from literature who were meek include Casper Milquetoast and Dickens’ Uriah Heep. Nowadays to call someone meek would be an insult!
When Jesus said, “Happy are the meek,” He appears to have gone too far. Why, it sounds down-right un-American! The pioneer spirit which conquered the frontier was not the spirit of meekness. Such an idea is contrary to the Protestant work ethic, which glorifies hard work and ambition.
We think people should be self-reliant and stand up for their rights. We respect the go-getter with drive and would never think of advertising for a meek salesperson.
I heard about a trucker who went into a drive-in restaurant along the highway. He had ordered a large steak and was beginning to enjoy it when four motorcycle toughs came in. They roughed up the trucker, cut his steak into four pieces and ate it. The man did not talk back to them. He simply paid his bill and left.
The tough guys were gloating. One said, “He didn’t say a word or lift a hand. He wasn’t much of a man, was he?”
The waiter said, “He wasn’t much of a driver either. He just backed his truck over four bikes in the parking lot!”
Does the third Beatitude mean that Jesus wants us to be a sissy? How do you deal with public humiliation and private misunderstanding? Do you strike out, hit back, lose your cool? Do you try to explain and appear defensive? Do you grovel in the dust or throw in the towel and quit? Or do you keep your God-consciousness, knowing who you are?
Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth. Wow! Our world appears to be controlled by the nuclear giants, or by violent dictators. The world has known no end to tyrants, from Caesar to Napoleon to Hitler, not to mention Castro and Khadafy. Inherit the earth? It’s more like we shall see the slaughter of the meek. All they will inherit is six feet of earth!
Still, the Bible says that the “Lord laughs at the wicked” (Psalms 37:13). That must be the terrible laughter of judgment. God will have the last laugh. The third Beatitude is Christ’s gauntlet flung down at the feet of our violent terrorist world.
II. What Jesus Really Said
The interesting thing about Matthew 5:5 is that “meek” does not mean “weak” in the original language. One of our chief communication problems is that words change meaning.
As an example, in 1710 Sir Christopher Wren showed the new St. Paul’s Cathedral to Queen Anne. It had taken twenty-five years to complete the church, which had been destroyed by the Great Fire of London. Her majesty exclaimed that the building was “aweful, amusing, and artificial!” The architect was grateful for his gracious sovereign’s compliments. But those would be considered insults today. In 1710, aweful meant awe-inspiring; amusing meant amazing; and artificial meant artistic. Words change meaning. “Manufacture” originally meant made by hand, but today it means the opposite.
The New Testament word translated “meek” meant:
1. Domesticated or tamed. It was used to describe a wild stallion that had been broken to the reins. Aristotle wrote about the “golden mean” between extremes. He considered the meek man one who had the virtue of striking a happy medium. As an example, a person might be a spendthrift or a miser, but the meek man is a generous steward of his resources.
William Barclay said that the meek person is one who gets angry at the right time — such as at injury to others — but does not grow angry at the wrong time — insult to self. Happy is the person who is self-disciplined.
2. Meek means trusting. Jesus got the idea for this Beatitude from Psalms 37, “Trust in the Lord and do good … the meek shall inherit the earth.” Meekness is trust, according to A. M. Hunter of Aberdeen.
“Trusting as the moments fly,
Trusting as the days go by;
Trusting him whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.”
The German Bible translates meek as “sweet-tempered,” not selfish anger. The French Bible translates the Beatitude, “Blessed are the debonair,” God’s gentlemen.
3. The Mighty Meek are those who exert self-control. They have gentle strength; are magnanimous and do not insist on their own way. Read 1 Corinthians 13 in the New English Bible for a description of the meek.
The meek are God-controlled, tamed, directed. They surrender to the will of God. “Each thought and each motive, beneath His control.” They are humble enough to learn and strong enough to be gentle.
The Bible’s examples of meek men may surprise you. “Now the man Moses was very meek …” (Numbers 12:3). He was certainly no soft sissy, but a strong leader who could exhibit flaming anger when the occasion called for it. Still Moses was a God-controlled man.
The second example is Jesus who said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly …” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus said that the reward of the meek will be to inherit the earth. The disciplined, God-controlled will indeed inherit the earth. This will happen in the end time when God’s Kingdom is fully realized here in the world. However, this promise has a present dimension as well. Sockman said that the meek will inherit the earth when the proud have killed themselves trying to make it.
Let me conclude with a true story. Captain Max Cleland fought in Vietnam in 1967. One day he jumped from a hovering helicopter and ran to clear the whirring blades. He turned and looked back to watch the chopper take off. To his horror, he saw a live hand grenade which had fallen from his pack. He ran back to toss it from beneath the helicopter and its crew. Time ran out.
Cleland lost his arm and both legs. No one thought he would survive. But he did. Ten years later, President Carter appointed Cleland administrator of the Veteran’s Administration.
Cleland’s autobiography is entitled Strong At the Broken Places. The title comes from an Ernest Hemingway line, “Life breaks us all and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Jesus said, “Blessed, happy, to be congratulated, are the God-controlled, the mighty meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Hungry For God
“To be congratulated are those who want above all else to be and do right, and to see right prevail, for they shall be satisfied,” (Matthew 5:6, paraphrased).
What do you want, really want?
Many of our desires are trivial. We want a new dress or suit, a bike, a car. Some of our wants are silly. An Irishman caught one of the little people and was granted three wishes. He asked for a large cool glass of beer that would never run dry. Then he asked for two more of the same.
Many of our desires are worthy. We want health and a good job, which will give us the opportunity to do something significant and provide for our family. We want a happy marriage and a good education for our children.
We know the world’s standards of desire. They are all good, but none is the highest good. They include:
– Pleasure. With this as a life pursuit, the end result can be nausea.
– Money. Lots and lots of money. “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and rich is better.” Few would argue with that, but it is sad when money makes a fool of a person — when they never know if they are loved for themselves.
– Fame. Athlete Len Bias got it for only twenty-four hours. He achieved his life’s ambition, signing with the Boston Celtics, only to have his heart explode.
– Power. We’ve witnessed the corruption which accompanies absolute power, in Haiti and the Philippines.
The world’s desires are like cotton candy. Do you remember eating cotton candy at the fair? It looks and tastes good, but is it very satisfying.
The Bible’s standard is different from the world’s. Little wonder it is misunderstood. It teaches that we are to desire God and righteousness. The psalmist who wrote Psalms 42 andPsalms 43 lived at the foot of Mt. Hermon, where the headwaters of the Jordan River rise. He was far from the Temple in Jerusalem and longed for the opportunity of worship there:
“As the deer longs for flowing streams
So longs my soul for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for the Living God” (Psalms 42).
As Rudyard Kipling lay seriously ill, he stirred. The nurse asked, “Do you want anything?” Kipling replied, “I want God!” Jeremiah quotes the Almighty as saying, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:1-3). Jesus said in the fourth Beatitude, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
I. Appetite is a sign of health, even in our diet-conscious age.
All living things hunger and thirst. I’ve read that a beech tree can take up sixty-five gallons of water in one summer day. A hospital patient exclaimed, “I never knew what a blessing it was to be hungry!” John Redhead defines a small boy as an appetite with skin stretched over it.
Sometimes our desires are too easily satisfied. We settle for a college degree instead of an education. Many live in a marriage of convenience rather than one of commitment. Some pledge to the church from their surplus rather than learning the joy of sacrificial giving.
Things are important, even essential, but things alone do not satisfy. Thomas Wolfe, in his novel You Can’t Go Home Again, described a drab Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. The street was lined with shabby buildings. The sky was bleak and gray. A group of men were hanging around on the corner in front of a cigar store.
“For hours they stand there, waiting and waiting and waiting, but for what? For nothing, nothing at all! And that is precisely what gives the scene its special quality of tragic loneliness, awful emptiness, and utter desolation.”
What do you want? What are you waiting for? We all have desires which things alone cannot satisfy.
A friend visited Stalingrad. The city had been ninety percent destroyed in World War II and then rebuilt. A guide proudly showed the American tourists his city, with its new apartments, factories, shops, theater, and recreation facilities. The guide announced, “Man has no needs which Communism cannot supply!” But the guide had not pointed out any churches. The ancient Hebrew prophet asked, “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2). He had a prophetic question for our age as well.
II. There is a higher hunger reflected in this Beatitude and psalm.
A dog may share your home, food, and water, but he cannot share a sunset, great music, or a dream. Jesus, who taught us to pray for our daily bread, also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Deuteronomy 8:3). We have a God-hunger. We are made in the image of God, made for God.
Righteousness sounds like such a pious and foreboding word. Simply stated, it has:
A. A spiritual side. To be righteous means to know and love God. In a phrase, it is to be right with God.
B. A moral side. Righteousness means to do what is right. A man bought a car from a dealer who was a member of the same church. The car was defective and the buyer asked that it be made right. The dealer refused and said, “I learned long ago that I cannot let my Christian principles interfere with making a profit.” I don’t agree with that attitude. God intends that we be honest, kind, and forgiving with others, while we control anger, greed, and lust within ourselves.
Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisee or we’d never enter the Kingdom. That is a tall order! The difference is that their righteousness was a matter of external law, but ours is to come from the heart.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that we have been told not to kill. He said not to be angry. We were told not to commit adultery and Jesus said not to lust. The Jews were taught “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” but Jesus told us to go the second mile, do more than is expected. They were to love their neighbors and hate their enemies, but Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for their good. That is tough. Try it.
C. A social side to righteousness. The New English Bible translation commends those who long “to see right prevail.” As a Christian, we must care about the welfare of others. Social concerns become our concerns: war and oppression, unemployment and hunger, racial hatred and drug abuse.
Righteousness is highly practical:
– Be right with God.
– Do what is right.
– Long to see right prevail.
You make the application in your own life.
This is both the most demanding Beatitude and the most encouraging. Jesus did not say, “Happy are those who achieve righteousness,” but “Blessed are those who desire righteousness, who hunger and thirst for it.” He held out a fantastic promise. “They shall be satisfied.”
Thomas a Kempis said, “Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.” Remember how King David wanted to build the Temple, but could not? He was commended for his unfulfilled desire, “It was good that it was in your heart to build the Temple,” (1 Kings 8:18).
Henlee Barnette tells about a simple man who taught a boys’ Sunday School class in Kannapolis, North Carolina. The man had a limited education, was crippled, and stuttered. Yet twenty-six boys out of that Bible class entered the ministry, including Barnette. Asked how he accomplished so much, the teacher replied, “I give God all I’ve got.” He asks nothing more — or less.
Show Mercy
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7; Parallel scripture reading: Matthew 18:21-35).
A photographer took pictures of a lady and sent her the proofs. She was furious! She charged into his studio, slammed the proofs on his desk, and exclaimed, “These pictures do not do me justice!” The photographer took them slowly from their envelopes and examined each one. Then he looked into the woman’s hard, bitter face and said, “What you need is mercy, not justice.” Here we have both humor and truth.
This favorite Beatitude is easier to understand than the others.
– Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who realize their spiritual poverty.
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
– Happy are those who mourn, who feel a Godly sorrow for their sin.
– To be congratulated are the meek, the God — controlled.
– Blessed are those who hunger and thirst —
to be right with God,
to do right, and
to see right prevail.
Now Jesus says, “Happy are those who show mercy, for they shall obtain mercy.”
The fifth Beatitude sounds simple to us, but it was radical in Jesus’ day. The Jews believed that all suffering was due to sin. Therefore, they were hesitant to show sympathy lest they obstruct justice, the justice of God.
The Romans ruled the world with force, and they had no use for pity. To show mercy was considered a sign of weakness. The ruthless Romans used crucifixion as a means of execution for non-citizens. The Greeks reasoned that if God cared, then we could manipulate and control Him. Therefore, they conceived God as the Unmoved Mover; not even God would show mercy.
Today, merciful people are suspect. They may be called “do-gooders” or “bleeding heart liberals,” and their motives are apt to be called into question. Contrast this suspicious attitude with the clear teaching of scripture: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and see his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
John Bright told about a man’s horse going into a ditch, breaking its leg, and having to be destroyed. The neighbors were generous in expressing their sympathy at the man’s misfortune. Bright’s father said, “I’m sorry five pounds worth. How sorry are you?” He passed the hat and bought the man another horse. Showing mercy can be a very practical thing. The merciful are those who give a fellow what he needs.
Mercy is a great Old Testament word, chesed. It appears 150 times there and ninety percent of the references are to God. This word may be described as God’s steadfast mercy. He keeps His promises.
The term chesed is also used for God’s covenant love toward His Chosen People. It was demonstrated for all the world to see in two historic events: the Exodus from Egyptian bondage and the return from Exile in Babylon.
Our English word sympathy literally means “to suffer with.” Barclay described it as the ability to get inside another’s skin; to see with their eyes and feel with their emotions. That is what God did in Christ. God became man at the incarnation and took on our humanity.
After Queen Victoria lost her husband, Albert, she heard about a friend in St. Andrews who had lost her mate as well. While on holiday in Scotland, the Queen went to call on her friend. The woman stood and curtsied as Victoria entered the room, but the Queen insisted, “I’ve not come as a Sovereign to a subject, but as one woman who has lost her husband to another woman who has lost her husband.”
Micah summed up the message of the 8th century B.C. prophets in a single sentence: “He has shown you, O Man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8). Here is the essence of what God expects of us legally, ethically, and spiritually.
Lloyd Ogilvie calls mercy “pain in your heart at another’s hurt.” Such a phrase brings vivid scenes to mind:
– Jesus touching lepers and healing them;
– Albert Schweitzer dressing an ulcerated sore on a patient in Africa;
– Mother Teresa caring for the homeless of Calcutta.
Happy are the merciful. Their reward is that they shall receive mercy. We reciprocate. If you are detached and disinterested, do not be surprised to find others relating to you in the same way. If you love and care, you may well find that you are loved and affirmed.
This Beatitude is illustrated many times in the teachings of Jesus. Recall the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18; and Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, which concludes with the words, “You go and do likewise.”
In a judgment scene, Jesus said we would be rewarded if we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and visit those who are sick or in prison. “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35). Those who show mercy to others will receive mercy from God.
Shakespeare contended that mercy is “twice blessed.” Portia said to Shylock, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes.”
A world without Christ is a world without mercy. To have the treasure of the Kingdom and not share it is cold cruelty. “Better to pass a suffocating man with a tank of oxygen than to pass a lost person with the keys to the Kingdom,” wrote Clarence Jordan. The fifth Beatitude constitutes a call to witness.
God wants to show you mercy, the mercy and good news of the Gospel. He anxiously awaits your repentance in order to forgive your sins and grant you joy and the bright hope of eternal life.

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