LET THE POOR REJOICE
Luke 6 20, 23a, 24 NET
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. 23a Rejoice … and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.
Before I started writing this week’s message, I prayed for God to teach me what Jesus said in this passage, and to help me to teach it with all his passion. The sermon we are going to be studying is one of the masterpieces of the spoken word. Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 have been quoted for two millennia. They have also been misquoted and misrepresented for two millennia.
So, as I begin to analyze and expound on the text, I’m going to try to not only say what Jesus was saying but also explain what he was not saying. To start with…
This sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians (20a).
The sermon starts with blessings — we see an example in verse 20. If we are not careful, we can read those beatitudes as if they are a new law code and Jesus is the new lawgiver. I’ve heard preachers who say that the beatitudes explain what the Christians’ attitudes should be. It is as if Jesus is an evangelist telling us what kind of people we should be to live in his kingdom.
If Jesus is doing that in this sermon, then he’s only doing it indirectly. He had hiked up a mountain — not for the scenery, but to have some alone time with his Father. He stayed on the summit all night long praying. A group of his followers had joined him up there because at dawn he gathered this group around him and hand-picked twelve of them as his missionaries.
The thirteen of them descended and stood on a large area of open, level ground. A huge crowd found them there. They came for healing, for deliverance from demons, and to hear Jesus preach. We don’t know how large the crowd is, but we do know it consisted of people from several regions.
Jesus is preaching to the twelve here. They are his primary audience. That is why his sermon here is not patterned after his previous messages, which called on the crowds to repent and believe the gospel. He does not have to go over that ground again. That is why I am saying that the sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians. That is not what Jesus is doing here.
This is where I think a lot of people misunderstand the message of the sermon. Jesus starts with this list of blessings and we treat the blessings as if they are hurdles we have to jump to become Christians. Nope.
Look at Jesus. He’s looking at his twelve missionaries. They are the primary target of his sermon. He uses the second person here. He says “Blessed are you who are poor.” Who is the “you” that he is talking to? He’s talking to this small group of men who are already committed and commissioned as his missionaries. We see that clearly in verse 20. It says ” he looked up at his disciples and said…” He’s describing them.
He’s also speaking to the crowd. He is suggesting to the crowd that if they want to be blessed, they should follow the example of these missionaries. That is the context in which the sermon is given.
The main command of this text is to rejoice! (23a)
When I was taught how to analyze the Greek text of the New Testament, I was told to look for the main verb. Everything hangs on the main verb. I think we often treat the beatitudes as if they are a bunch of separate main verbs, but they are not. They are adjectives. They describe the missionaries.
The main verb does not show up until verse 23 when Jesus tells these missionaries to rejoice. That is the Greek word χαίρω, which means “‘be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance’ (Danker).
So, let’s get this straight. The first thing Jesus wants his true disciples, his followers, and his missionaries to do is to rejoice about something. They are blessed. Others are cursed, but they are blessed. Others are doomed to a destiny of suffering and destruction, but they are blessed with a destiny of joy and eternal life.
Jesus adds the phrase “jump for joy” — I think — just in case we are tempted to try to reinterpret rejoicing into some superspiritual contemplation thing. Nope. He wants us to jump for joy.
Also, this sermon is not designed to get believers to renounce wealth (20b).
Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.” He was saying that to the men who had just pledged their lives to serve him no matter what. Some of them had been rich by their standards, but they gave up their means of getting richer to follow him.
There have been many in history who have thought that to be a true believer, they would have to give up on a better life. Many in the crowd that day were probably looking at these twelve examples of kingdom citizens and questioning whether they dared to become poor like they did, to follow Jesus.
But Jesus is not highlighting the poverty so much as the commitment that led to the poverty. From his standpoint as the Son of God, everyone on the planet is poor. But he is commending his missionaries because they have chosen to seek his kingdom instead of their desires.
In the Old Testament, we learn that God is not against wealth. It comes from him.
7 He raises the poor from the dirt, and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile, 8 that he might seat him with princes, with the princes of his people.
You don’t have to empty your bank account and go and sleep on the street to be a true Christian. But you do have to surrender anything in your life that might compete with Christ as the center of your life.
If you are poor and love Jesus, God wants to raise you from the dirt, to lift you from the garbage pile. He has a reward for you. It is a great reward. You may be poor now, but you are going to be rich later.
Your great reward is in heaven. Please note that it does not say that heaven is your reward. Jesus says he is coming back and his reward is with him (Revelation 22:12). If you are waiting to die then you are waiting for the wrong thing. You have the wrong hope. The Christian hope is not death, it is the coming Christ.
What Jesus was telling his followers in the sermon is that no matter how poor they seem now, the reality is that they are really rich. They have a great reward stored up for them in heaven. Hebrews 9:15 calls it the permanent inheritance. Jesus would later in the sermon tell them “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Now, there would be those who would like the best of both worlds. They would want to stay rich in earthly things, but also buy themselves an insurance policy by seeking a form of religion as well.
But this sermon is not designed to give rich people access to the kingdom (24).
The same Jesus who blessed his followers for their poverty also condemned the rich for their wealth. He said “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.”
The Old Testament reflects this truth as well. In 1 Samuel 2:7 (part of Hannah’s prayer), we read …
7 The LORD impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts.
The poor in Christ are going to be exalted. The rich without Christ are going to be humbled.
Christian singer Michael Card wrote a great book on the Gospel of Luke called “The Gospel of Amazement.” He points out how Luke emphasizes God’s love for the poor. Here are some quotes:
“Luke is known as the Gospel of the poor and marginalized because he shows more concern for women, who were the most marginalized group in the first century, and for those who existed on the bottom rung of Jewish society. Luke alone tells us of the shepherds who are the first recipients of the good news of the birth of Jesus. Shepherds were regarded as outcasts in first-century Judaism, barred even from testifying in a court of law. Only Luke tells of the impoverished baby who sleeps in a cattle trough. Only Luke tells us the story of the widow of Nain, as well as the widow who offers both of her remaining coins to the temple treasury” (Card, 20).
“A kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and where the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world … is coming. It is Luke’s favorite world to describe” (Card, 69).
“The pronouncement of blessings (birkot) was a very rabbinic thing to do. But Jesus pronounces a disturbing list of blessings no one has ever heard before. Who would have ever thought of blessing the poor? Their poverty was thought to be a curse from God” (Card, 90).
“The woes represent the negative side of the blessings. Although the poor will receive the kingdom, the rich have already gotten all they will ever get” (Card, 90).
Let me conclude today by clarifying something so that there is no mistake. Jesus is not saying that all you have to be is poor to be saved. Lots of poor people are going to reject Christ, and they are not promised eternal life. Repentance and faith in Christ are still prerequisites to being citizens of the coming kingdom.
But a commitment to Christ and his coming kingdom will mean that your priorities will change. You will be more interested in your future reward than your present bank account. So, many of us who name the name of Christ are going to find ourselves poorer than those who do not. Jesus’ command for those of us who find ourselves in that state today is simple: REJOICE.
Rejoice because we have something that cannot be taken away. It is a reward that is safely stored in heaven with our name on it. It will be delivered to us at the appropriate time by a very reliable shipper.
It is also important to state that Jesus gives a corresponding WOE as a warning to the rich. All those things that are more important to them right now are not eternal. When the Master returns, they will be found to be unfaithful and unworthy for eternity. If all they want is riches today, then they should enjoy those riches. They have received their comfort already. It’s a temporary comfort. Nobody writhing in hell’s agony will ever say “I’m so glad I had a bunch of nice things.” There will be weeping as they contemplate their permanent destruction. But they will all know that they had a choice in life.
If you are listening to this message today, and you have not committed your life to Jesus Christ, you have a choice as well. Don’t allow the temporary riches of this earth to keep you from investing in the next.
Card, Michael. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2011.
Danker, Frederick W. Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 2009.