This sermon is part of the sermon series "Change of Heart". See series.
Have you ever felt really anxious and stressed? If I don't accept this offer, then …. If my child doesn't get into the right school, then …. If I don't meet the right person soon, then … If we don't buy or sell at just the right time, then …. Then what? Or maybe there's someone in your life you're concerned about, someone who seems to have lost their sense of priority and perspective. They're so determined to prove something or acheive something that nothing else, or no one else, seems to matter. At different times in life we've found ourselves in both of these conditions, fretting over our own future, or fearing for someone's soul.
Then along comes Jesus with this sublimely silly statement, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. " I don't think so, Jesus—this is not the earth I live on. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Survival of the fittest. Early bird gets the worm. The only thing the meek get is left behind.
These Beatitudes aren't getting any easier, are they? "Blessed are the poor in spirit"—whose hearts are desperate for God. "Blessed are those who mourn"—whose hearts are broken over sin, their own and the world's. We understand these first two a little better now, but that doesn't make them any easier.
We want to be like Jesus—we really do—and not just by gritting our teeth and trying harder. We want to be like him from the inside-out; we want to think and feel and desire what he thought and felt and desired. But these things don't come easily to us— desperation and brokenness and now meekness. We're asking God for a change of heart.
Let's take a closer look at this Beatitude, and see what it reveals about the heart of Jesus and about the change he wants to work in our hearts as well.
Blessed are the meek?
After discussing the Beatitudes with a group of people, most agreed that this one made the least sense. Meek sounds an awful lot like "weak," someone said. "Yeah," someone else added, "Imagine going for a job interview and telling the hiring manager that you're "meek"! And if being meek isn't likely to get you a job, how in the world will it get you the whole earth? And what does it mean to inherit the earth?
What does the word "meek" mean exactly? It doesn't mean weak or timid or indecisive or easy-going. Outwardly, it's like gentleness, in that it implies sensitivity and kindness in dealing with other people. Inwardly, it's like humility, in that it involves an honest assessment of ourselves in relation to God and others. Someone described meekness as "a controlled desire to see others' interests advance ahead of one's own. "
"Controlled" is an interesting word, because in the Greek language the word "meek" was sometimes used to describe a wild animal that had been tamed. The animal's strength is still there, but it's under control. Meekness has thus been defined as "strength under control. " A meek person isn't weak. On the contrary, a meek person knows his strength, but is able to restrain it in the interests of others, or in the pursuit of some higher purpose.
When the Bible uses the word "meek," it always springs from trust. A person who trusts God to meet her needs doesn't have to strive or scheme or demand that her needs be met. People often point to Abraham as an example of meekness, when he allowed his nephew, Lot, to have first choice when they divided up the land. As the leader of the clan even he had every right to choose first and claim the best land for himself. Instead he let Lot choose first, and Lot chose the best land. Abraham was able to yield his right to choose because he trusted God to provide no matter which land he ended up with.
We tend to think of meekness as something we show toward others, but it begins with our attitude toward God. The meek person knows that his needs and his future are in God's hands, so he doesn't need to compete with others to get what he wants, needs, or thinks is fair. Meekness means yielding your agenda to God and others.
Our natural inclination is to press our agenda, to demand our rights, to get the upper hand, and to do it before anyone else does. The world seems to reward people who do it that way. Maybe you've heard about the popular fascination with "life lists"? It began with a spate of bestselling books with titles like, 1000 Places to See Before You Die and, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and for those who want to get a head start, 101 Things to Do Before You Turn 40. There's a popular novel out called, The Next Thing On My List, and a movie about a couple of old-timers trying to fulfill their dreams called, "The Bucket List. " A website called 43Things. com has enrolled 1. 2 million people who've posted their lists on line. The more popular entries include losing weight, making a million dollars, and skydiving. People are pursuing these things with religious zeal—checking them off and moving on to the next one. When asked to explain the phenomenon, one author explains that every person comes to a moment when they realize "life is not a dress rehearsal. " If they want something out of life, they'd better go for it, and they'd better start now. Leave it to North Americans to turn life itself into a to-do list!
This gotta-have-it-and-gotta-have-it-now spirit also shows up in our need to control things. Know anyone like that? People who try to manage their anxiety by managing the people and events around them? We call them "control freaks"—bosses who micro-manage, so-called "helicopter parents" who swoop in to oversee every detail and moment of their children's lives, husbands and wives who bully or manipulate their spouse to get their own way. All of this is driven by fear—fear that my needs might not be met; fear that someone else might get ahead of me; fear that I might miss my big chance or that life might pass me by. So we press and strive and fret and grasp to get what we want out of life.
Meek and humble in heart
Here comes Jesus, saying, "Blessed are the meek …. " Blessed are those who give way, who let go, who yield their agenda to God and others. This wasn't just a one-off saying for Jesus. He develops it more fully in Matthew 11:28-30. After touring the towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida, and seeing their lack of faith and absence of peace in their lives, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle (or, meek) and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Doesn't that sound like a better way to live? Do you ever feel burdened by your "list"? Don't you wish you could slow down and rest? Jesus is inviting us to learn a new of living; a way of life that he himself modeled. Once again we discover that Jesus didn't just teach the Beatitudes, he lived the Beatitudes. Dependence on God, brokenness over sin, and now meekness toward God and others were attributes of his own heart.
Jesus often demonstrated meekness. He was meek when he rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. He could have ridden in on a stallion—he was the King, after all. He knew he was the King, and for once, the people knew it. He had every right to enjoy that moment—to enter Jerusalem with the majesty that belonged to him. Instead, he chose to come in meekness, on the back of a donkey.
Jesus demonstrated meekness in the upper room, when no one seemed willing to do the menial and unpleasant task of washing people's feet. It certainly wasn't his responsibility. He was the rabbi, and the guest of honor. He had every right to expect someone to minister to him that evening—after all, he was about to suffer the worst humiliation and suffering a person could endure in this life. All he had to do was say the word, and someone would have hopped to it. Instead, "knowing who he was," the Scripture says, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist, rolled up his sleeves, and washed the grit from his disciples' sweaty, calloused feet.
How about in the olive grove, when the temple guards came to arrest him? Did they really think they could take him with their puny swords and clubs? When he stood up and said, "I am he," his words alone were enough to knock them to the ground. But he kept his strength in check, and when one of his disciples tried to fight for him, Jesus told him to put away his weapon. He chose to go quietly.
When he was falsely accused, he could have defended himself. When he was unjustly sentenced, he had every right to demand a fair trial. When he hung from the cross, he could easily have summoned a legion of angels to rescue him and silence his enemies. He could have, but he didn't. I Peter 2:23 tells us why, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Jesus yielded to wicked people and unfair treatment, in order that he might die for the sins of the world, in accordance with his Father's will.
He was able to do all that because earlier that evening, in the Garden of Gethsamanae, he had surrendered to his Father's purposes: "not my will, Father, but thy will be done." It took him preparation to get there, but that's where meekness begins—with a surrendered heart. When we trust Jesus with our deepest needs, we don't have to demand our rights, assert our preferences, or control people and circumstances. When we yield to God and his perfect will for our lives, we are free to yield to others, knowing that our lives are in his hands, and that his purposes will be accomplished.
In God we trust?
Surrendering to God doesn't come easily for us. We say we trust God, but we feel better when we have the cash! David speaks to this tension in Psalm 37: "Do not fret because of those who are evil, or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away."
Fretting is what we do when our plans don't seem to be working out, when the real estate market heads south, and life, or success, or happiness seems to be passing us by. Envy is what we feel when other people get promoted and we don't, when they make the team and we ride the bench, when their kids seem to be doing better than our kids. When we feel that way we begin to press, to control, even to compromise our convictions because we're not sure God's going to come through. But all that fretting and striving only serves to make us and others more miserable and more fretful.
How much better, David learns, to leave matters in God's hands, to trust his good purposes for your life, and to let things come to you in his time: "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this …. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him …. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land."
In a short story entitled Much Land, Leo Tolstoy tells of a Russian peasant named Pahom who dreams of having more land. Even though he is able to provide a decent living for himself and his family, when he sees others with more land, he is convinced that if he had more, he and his family would truly be happy and secure. One day he happens upon some landowners who offer to sell him, for 1,000 rubles, as much land as he can cover in a day. All he has to do is walk the land with a spade and dig holes to mark his claim. The only stipulation is that he has to be back at the very spot he started by the time the sun goes down, or he loses the land and the money. Pahom can hardly believe it. He sets out briskly, stopping every so often to mark his claim, and quickly moving on again. The day grows hot. He stops momentarily for a drink, but he knows every time he stops it costs him more land. He wants to rest, but is afraid if he sits down he'll fall asleep, so he keeps going, getting farther and farther from his starting point.
Suddenly he realizes how low the sun is in the sky. He begins to run, realizing that if he doesn't get back in time it will all be for naught. He's exhausted now, but he has to hurry. He sheds his food and water and even his clothes to lighten his load, so he can run faster. Finally his starting point is in sight. He can see people waiting for him on the horizon, but the sun is almost down. With every ounce of the strength he has left, he pushes himself, running faster and faster, his heart pounding in his chest. Just as the last curve of the sun slips below the horizon, he reaches his mark and collapses in exhaustion. The crowd cheers. He made it. But when his servant tries to help him to his feet, he realizes that Pahom has died. His heart had burst. The final line of the story reads, "His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all the land he needed."
If only Pahom had listened to Psalm 37. "Do not fret, it only leads to evil … but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land." Meekness means you don't have to take every promotion that's offered to you. You don't have to "buy up" simply because you can. You don't have to get into "the right school." You don't have to win every argument. You don't have to have it your way. You don't have to compromise your faith or your values to get what you think you have to have. "Six feet was all the land he needed." How much land do you need? How much wealth? How much recognition? And what will it cost you to get it?
"Blessed are the meek," Jesus said, "for they will inherit the earth"—those who are willing to surrender their needs and dreams and fears to God. Meekness is having hands that are extended toward God instead of grasping after lesser things—hands that are open to receive whatever God gives, instead of clinging tightly to something they think they need.
If there's a room no one wants …
Taylor University is a Christian college in Indiana. Years ago, they were pleased to learn that an African student, Sam, was going to be enrolling in their school. This was before it was commonplace for international students to come to the U.S. to study. He was a bright young man with great promise, and the school felt honored to have him. When he arrived on campus the President of the University took him on a tour of the campus, showing him all the dorms. When the tour was over, the President asked Sam where he would like to live. The young man replied, "If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me." The President turned away in tears. Over the years he had welcomed thousands of Christian men and women to the campus, none had ever made such a request. "If there is a room that no one wants, give that room to me." That's meekness.
If there is a job that no one wants to do, I'll do that job.
If there's a kid that no one wants to eat lunch with, I'll
eat with that kid.
If there's a piece of toast that's burnt, I'll take that
If there's a parking space that's far away from the
church, I'll park in that space.
If there's a service time that's less convenient for
people, I'll worship at that service.
If there's a hardship someone has to endure, I'll take
If there's a sacrifice someone needs to make, I'll make
Understand that the meek person doesn't do this out of guilt, or under compulsion, or in a spirit of martyrdom. He does it because he is confident that his heavenly Father knows what he needs, and that he grants the desires of hearts that are surrendered to him. This kind of meekness doesn't come naturally to us. Not only because we're upwardly mobile suburbanites, but because we're fallen human beings. It doesn't come naturally to me. I've got enough Type-A blood in my veins to know about fretting and striving. That's why we need a change of heart. That's why it has to be a work of the Spirit. The apostle Paul said, "For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control." That's why we need to take Jesus' yoke upon us and learn from him, because he is meek and lowly of heart.
Inherit the earth
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Notice Jesus didn't say, "will inherit the world." He's not referring to things like wealth or fame or comfort—things the world tells us we have to have and have to have more of. He said, "they will inherit the earth." The Bible tells us that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." The earth includes all the good things that God has made, and all the good gifts he offers to his children, like beauty, meaning, love, and significance. "The earth" represents the goodness and fullness of God, both in this life and the life to come.
Then notice Jesus says, "they will inherit the earth." "Inherit" is an interesting word choice. Remember we said the Beatitudes were more about "being" than they are about "doing." Well, what do you have to do to inherit something? Nothing. In fact, the moment you start trying to get an inheritance, something's wrong. When you start wishing rich Uncle Leo would kick off already, or when you try ingratiating yourself to someone in hopes they'll put you in their will, then you've probably disqualified yourself from the inheritance. The only way to inherit something is to be rightly related to the person who has something to give away. So the only way to inherit the earth is to surrender to the one who owns it.
God always gives the best.
Charlie and Agnes are some of the meekest people I've ever known. Charlie is a bright, energetic, hard-working man who could have been successful at just about anything he set out to do. What he set out to do was mission work. He spent his entire career working with some of the lowliest people on earth—alcoholics on skid row. For many years he was director of Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, and then in his retirement years he went to work for the McCauley Water Street Mission in New York. At a time in life when most people his age were playing golf or taking cruises, Charlie would commute every day to minister to homeless men on the streets of New York.
You don't get rich doing mission work your whole life, but every once in a while, Charlie and his wife Agnes would get to do something special. One year they invited me and my wife, Karen, to join them for a night on the town. Someone had given them tickets to hear Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall—velvet-covered seats in a private booth. It was a great night, and we all enjoyed it. As they drove us home that night, Karen and I were sitting in the back seat, and I was admiring Charlie and Agnes. They were all dressed up for their big night out. She was sitting close to him, like they were high school sweethearts. They struck me in that moment as two of the happiest people on earth. Just then I noticed a little plaque they had stuck to the dashboard of their old Chevy. It explained everything: "God always gives what's best to those who leave the choice to him."
Charlie and Agnes had long ago given up striving, fretting, and demanding things from God and from life. Instead they had surrendered to God their talents, their careers, their safety, their material needs, and even their retirement. Instead of chasing the abundant life, they waited for God bring it to them. They discovered that God always gives what's best to those who leave the choice to him.
Maybe there's one thing in particular you need to surrender to God; something you've been holding onto, trying to control—a dream, a fear, a relationship, a material thing. Maybe you need to surrender your whole list to God—all the goals and dreams you have for life. There's nothing wrong with having a list. I made a list years ago of things I hoped to experience or accomplish in life. It's what we do with that list that makes the difference. We can clutch it in our fist and check things off one by one. Or, we can offer it to God and say, "If it be thy will, Lord." Maybe you need to surrender your very life to God, to receive him as your Savior and bow to him as your Lord. Maybe it's a good time to ask the Lord to do some heart surgery.
Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.