The Great Reversal
Luke 6:17 – 26
The Great Reversal
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Do you like change?
Some of us love change and thrive on it, always looking for the thing that’s new and different! Others of us, not so keen, and just the thought of some disruption to the familiar is enough to make us a little anxious.
Maybe though you’re a bit sceptical of change, in the vein of French novelist Jean-Baptiste Karr. He was quite famous in the 19th Century, but today is most-well known for his quotation, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
He’s saying nothing ever changes at a fundamental level. And anything that looks like change, is actually the opposite;, it’s just reinforcing the status quo.
Well in chapter 6 of Luke’s careful history of Jesus, Jesus offers us a view of human experience and of the future, that is, well, it’s the polar opposite to Karr’s, isn’t it?
I read an article about persecution this week. It said “two thirds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world today live in dangerous neighbourhoods. They are often poor.
They often belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities.
And they are often at risk.”
It’s not really the sort of statement that is going to encourage people to go out and become Christians is it?
Perhaps not really the message that someone like Kat wants to hear, as she’s making a public declaration of identification with Jesus, or as she and Eben promise to raise Eva as a disciple of Jesus.
To identify as a follower of Jesus today, as in almost any age, might mean opposition and hostility.
But in Luke 6 we hear Jesus’ promise, that things won’t always stay the same,
The status quo won’t go unchallenged, and in fact Jesus himself will bring about a great reversal.
So look with me at how Luke, our very careful historian introduces this episode. Verse 17, Jesus goes down with his Apostles, and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.
There are some similarities here to a sermon of Jesus that Matthew records in his gospel account, and so some people have wondered if Luke just found an an early version of Matthew’s gospel and copied bits of it into his account, just changing enough to get around copyright law!
But of course if you listen to a preacher for long enough, you’ll certainly hear them say the same sorts of things more than once. Some of our young people here reckon they’ve been to enough weddings that I’ve conducted that they know all the jokes, and they already know when to laugh, before I even get to the punch line!
So Luke and Matthew are writing about different events, where Jesus says similar things, about what life as a follower of Jesus is going to be like.
Jesus’ message of reversal is counter- cultural
And, well, what Jesus says is counter-cultural, isn’t it? Blessed are you who are poor, verse 20, But woe to you who are rich, verse 24.
Woe sounds a bit old fashioned, but it’s just an exclamation of pain or pity. If you’re hammering in a nail, and you whack your thumb with the hammer, then “woe” is what you can cry out, if no other suitable words come to mind!
So this is at odds with the majority opinion today, and also in Jesus’ day, but Luke tells us people came out to hear Jesus from all over!
Judea, Jerusalem, the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon
It’s not just Mount Barker, Littlehampton, and Nairne,
It’s Strathalbyn, and Prospect, and West Lakes!
And we have the apostles, who are introduced in the previous verses, Jesus’ closest followers, but also some other disciples;, people who are following Jesus,
And also just a great number of people from all over, They’re not followers of Jesus, they’re just interested, they’re intrigued, they’re not quite sure what to think, but something about this man says he’s worth listening to.
So let’s look at each of these pairs of blessing and woe. We’ll spend a bit longer in the first one because that kind of sets the scene,
So don’t get worried if you look at your watch and think we should be further through than we are!
It’s better to be poor
It’s better to be poor, Jesus says.
Verse 20, “Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
24, “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Well, we know which one sounds better, don’t we?
But Jesus flips our expectation on its head
Blessed is a, religiousy kind of word, isn’t it?! It really just means to recognise that you are fortunate because of your circumstances.
So I remember when our kids were smaller, we were sitting at the dinner table, and I said to our kids, “Look, I’ve got Mummy and 3 kids, aren’t I blessed?”
And one of the 3 held up their glass, and said “I’ve got Milo milk, aren’t I blessed?”!
To recognise that you’re fortunate because of your circumstances.
And we see it loads of times in the Old Testament, being in relationship with God, being provided for by God, was reason to describe yourself as fortunate, or blessed.
Well if you’re poor, Jesus says, you’re fortunate!
Now, we mustn’t imagine that Jesus is somehow glorifying poverty, as if he’d much prefer us all be living on the street unable to afford to eat or anything like that.
The poor get a mention a few times in Luke’s gospel account, this is a group that Luke our historian has a particular concern for. But in Luke’s writing, and even in much of the rest of the Bible, poor is not purely an economic term, as much as a spiritual term.
When Luke speaks of the poor, he means those who do have significant need, so the socioeconomic thing is not entirely absent, but that need, that helplessness that people have, drives them to dependence upon God.
The poor are those who recognise they have needs, and they trust God to supply their needs.
So actually, you can be pretty wealthy, and still be poor in this kind of way.
You can have a lot of stuff, and still recognise that in God’s eyes you have significant need,
That there’s things that you cannot achieve for yourself,
That there’s stuff you need him to do for you, and particularly, to bring you into relationship with him,
See, this is less about what you’ve got in the bank, and more about what you’re banking on,
What you’re trusting in.
Several times in the Old Testament Psalms, we read the phrase, I am poor and needy. It’s exactly this kind of language.
But each time those words are spoken by Israel’s King David, who was absolutely not poor in a financial sense!
They reckon Queen Elizabeth has a personal net worth of 650 million dollars! But even she pales in comparison to some of the other royalty in the world. The Sultan of Brunei is worth an estimates 27 billion dollars, and has a personal collection of more than 600 Rolls Royce vehicles.
Well, King David was the same, give or take!
When he says, I am poor and needy, he’s not talking about his dollars but his dependence.
He’s coming to God, saying, “What I need most, only you can give me.”
Is that what you think?
That what you need most, can only come from God.
That cuts across our ideas of self-sufficiency and autonomy, doesn’t it?
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Notice also that this humility and dependence upon God isn’t just temporal,
The next 2 blessings are spoken to people who are hungry now, and people who are hated now, but because poor is about your attitude towards God, it’s not something that’s going to pass away, this is the permanent character of the people to whom Jesus is speaking.
And so it raises the question for us, is it our character?
Do we humbly trust in God to provide what we need?,
Starting with, and most significantly, the forgiveness and reconciliation with himself that can be ours only through Jesus’ death in our place.
And if that is you, then here’s your assurance that that’s enough!
Here’s God’s promise, that trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship is enough;, yours is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God, one of Jesus’ favourite themes in his teaching. It means the rule of God over his creation,
It means living within the relationship that God longs for us to have as his people.
If you’re one of these poor,
If you’re like King David, recognising that despite your 600 Rolls Royces and everything you’ve got at your disposal, you still need God, then Jesus says, “the kingdom of God belongs to you!”
Some years ago I went and visited my sister who lives in the UK. And as you, we went and stood at the gates to Buckingham Palace and peered through the railings, hoping for a glimpse of the Queen, or Prince Philip, or even one of the corgis.
But imagine when I was there, if a voice had come out over the PA, “Clayton Fopp, please step forward,
And so I step forward, and the big iron gates swing open,
And imagine I walk up the driveway to the palace, and out comes the Queen, and Prince Philip, and the corgis.
And imagine she looks me in the eye, and she says, “Clayton,”, I won’t do her voice! She says, “Clayton, it’s time for me to retire.”
She puts the crown on my head, and says, “the kingdom is yours.”
Now, what’s going on there? I mean a constitutional crisis is what’s going on! But if that little scenario ever did play out, she’s saying, “All the benefits of this kingdom are yours.”
Which is exactly what Jesus is saying.
Come to God like this,
Hands empty, trusting in his provision, and all the blessings of God’s kingdom, his rule and relationship, are yours.
Notice it’s the present tense. It’s not “the kingdom of God will become yours.” But now, today, the many blessings of living under the rule of God’s king Jesus, are yours.
You might not think that becoming a follower of Jesus means getting in line for many blessings. That might just mean that Christians around you haven’t done a very good job of communicating that to you.
But whatever we think of Jesus, and in a room this size I reckon there’s a wide variety of opinion on that, but regardless of what we think, the one thing history won’t let us think about Jesus, is that he was just completely out of touch with reality, that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
People came from Strathalbyn and West Lakes to hear him,
They couldn’t get enough of him.
You don’t become the most influential person in the history of the world, if you’ve got a tenuous grip on reality.
Obviously the people who heard Jesus say this, thought he was the sort of people who knew what he was talking about, and could be trusted.
But the flipside of this promise is no less difficult to hear, is it?
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
And if is to contrast with the poor of verse 20, then this also is not just talking about how much you’ve got in the bank.
Being rich is not about how much you’ve got invested, but what you’re invested in,
It’s not about your nett value, but the question of what you value.
What are you relying on?
What do you think is going to pay off in your life?
And of course, if you are rich, financially, then you have plenty that you can be tempted to trust in!
And all of us, on a global scale, on an historical scale, we’re rich, no doubt about it.
If you’re rich, you have plenty of things you might be tempted to depend on, instead of depending on God, that’s why Jesus says woe to you.
But just like you could be wealthy and still be poor in Jesus’ eyes, you could actually have not much money at all, and still find yourself in the same sort of situation as the rich.
Is your priority to make life comfortable for yourself now?
Do you try and use everything at your disposal to meet your own needs, including your own spiritual needs?
Do you think you can buy your way into God’s good books?,
Or earn your way into God’s good books?,
Do you take great comfort from the fact that you can always point to someone worse than you, and so whatever comes after death, you must gonna be alright, because you’re not as bad as that person?
That is not a worthwhile comfort, Jesus says.
It’s better to hunger now and be satisfied by God
He continues, Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
But conversely, Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Now, there’s nothing more holy about going without.
Jesus isn’t saying that by the time the cake gets served at 11:30 this morning, if your stomach is really rumbling, then you’re in a particular state of blessing!
No, he’s saying that those who have needs, will be satisfied.
And for some, the need is real and physical.
There are some who don’t have the necessities for life as God intended it. And to anyone in that situation who comes to God on the basis of his free invitation, here is the promise of reversal, the promise of satisfaction.
I had a friend survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He had run for his life, and lay in a field, literally too scared to move, for days, before fleeing over the border, into a refugee camp, eventually ending up in Australia.
I asked him once, more sensitively than this, but I asked “what is real hunger like?”
And drawing on that terrible experience over many months, he said, “hunger is when you think you want to eat more than anything else in the world, but then you remember there are some things that are worth more than eating.”
And then he spoke of his family, which if he could have saved, he said he would have gladly not eaten at all.
For the person who trusts in Jesus, there is a future hope that is even greater than hunger now.
Notice, that unlike the previous one, this promise is in the future.
God doesn’t promise wealth and prosperity now,
God doesn’t promise complete physical strength and healing in this life, but there will come a time when needs are satisfied.
Again the Old Testament fills in our picture a bit, the transformation from being hungry to being satisfied is an image we see repeatedly, and normally it’s a picture of spiritual satisfaction rather than physical.
And since Jesus echoes that language, we can be pretty sure he’s talking about what we might call spiritual satisfaction, as much as physical.
Of course, this is only going to appeal to someone if they’re already interested in God’s priorities.
This promise is only any good to you, if you believe that what God offers you will make the sufferings of this life pale into insignificance.
But Woe to you who are well fed now, verse 25, for you will go hungry.
Now again, let’s remember how Jesus is using his words. He’s not saying that if you have a good meal and you’re feeling really, really well fed, that Big Mac and fries and the Coke have really hit the spot, then you’re gonna face Gods’ judgment! That’s not his point at all!
But if you’re a self-made man, or woman,
If you don’t think you need anything, least of all from God,
If you’ve allowed your material possessions to become ultimate in your life, or to blind you to things that are important, then you need to be very careful!
The person who thinks they have no need of God now,
Who thinks they can meet all their needs through the work of their hands or whatever, there will come a time when they are the ones with their face pressed up against the windows, watching other people receive good gifts from God’s hand.
How terrible, that the physical blessings of life, could blind us, to the spiritual blessings that can be ours through Jesus.
Even though Jesus uses the physical to illustrate the spiritual, the temporal to shine light on the eternal, he is still including the physical and the temporal.
Jesus does care about those who don’t have enough to eat.
The question is, do we?
Sometimes the problem of people going hungry is used as a reason to doubt the existence or the goodness of God
People say to me, “I can’t believe in a God who allows hunger, who won’t do anything about it.”
Well here’s the promise that God is doing something about it, a promise from Jesus’ own lips.
The question that then remains is, “What are you doing about it?
What are we doing about it?”
You get angry at God for not doing something about it, well, God is!
Every day, we make decisions that allow hunger to continue.
I think I could go so far as to say, that almost every single one of us, allow people to go hungry, because of decisions that we make, how we choose to spend our money, for example.
And yet we have the audacity to say, “God ought to do something about it.”
A friend of mine sponsors a child overseas through Compassion, and he used to jokingly gave her the nickname Foxtel. Because he had cancelled his Foxtel subscription, in order to feed this child.
Slightly crass perhaps, but it shows us the sort of choice each one of us is faced with.
Does the fact that we are not hungry, blind us to real needs in our world?
It’s better to weep now and rejoice when all things are made new
It’s better to weep.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
If you look at the world and you weep,
If you see those who are poor and hungry and it breaks your heart,
If you have God’s heart for his creation, and it’s breaking because of the effect of sin and rebellion on his world,
Then one day, when all things are made new, you’ll have reason to celebrate.
Once again we see that Jesus’ language is shaped by the Old Testament, where weeping was a sign of mourning injustice in the world,
It was a way of expressing your sadness that “this is not how things ought to be!”
And if you’ve got that longing in your heart for a better day, then Jesus says there’s a time coming when you can laugh and celebrate.
The bible tells us that sin and rebellion spoil God’s creation.
When we throw off God’s rule, and we reject God’s pattern for life, we suffer for it, and our world suffers for it.
But God promises to make an end of death, of crying, of mourning,
He promises to do away with pain, and to wipe away every tear.
There can be a day, Jesus says, when sorrow, and tears,
And sickness and death,
And saying goodbye to friends,
And burying children and parents, a day when all those will be a thing of the past.
And maybe you would hope against hope, that such a thing could be true.
Of course, for God to do away with the those things that spoil our experience of life, he has to deal with the cause of that spoiling.
He has to deal with our sin and rebellion against him.
Somehow the punishment for sin and rebellion has to be paid!
Luke goes on to tell us, in his careful history of Jesus, that in dying on the cross, Jesus takes away sin,
Takes the punishment that we deserve,
And enables us to be welcomed into relationship with God for an eternity free from suffering and pain.
And so, as we’ll see in the last of these 4 pairings in a moment, it all comes down to what do we think of Jesus.
How do we respond to him?
Do we think he’s just another religious teacher, or do we believe he stood in our place, to usher us into this experience of life as God intended it?
Of course, the flipside is a pretty horrible picture, isn’t it?
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
The reversal here is for all who are callously indifferent to the sadness and suffering of others.
If Jesus was preaching this today, he’d say “woe to the Internet trolls, who make a mockery of the sadness and hardship of others.”
But, it’s not just them, is it?
Any one of us could be so caught up in the ease with which we live, that we become blind to the suffering of others,
We become deaf to people who say, “there’s more to life than this”,
We can look at people, maybe like Kat who we’re going to baptise in a few minutes, we can look at people who say “I want to live my life now, in the light of what’s to come”, and we can think, “They’re just a little bit crazy!”
The danger in doing that, is that we’ll find ourselves cut off, from the laughter and celebration,
Excluded from life as it was intended.
Instead of laughing at them, we should grab them and say, “please tell me about it!
Tell me about the promise of joy and celebration when creation is made new as God intended it”
It’s better to face opposition because of Jesus than be loved by everyone
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
What actually makes for a blessed life?
What’s the thing that matters?
Your connection to Jesus.
The Son of Man was Jesus favourite way of referring to himself. Remember Elmo, those of you who were here last week, always referring to himself in the 3rd person.
Well Jesus uses this term, the Son of Man to speak of himself,
Jesus says it’s good to face opposition because of him,
Because of our connection to him,
Because of our trust in him.
Last weekend a friend told me about a friend of his, a pastor in Malaysia, who has been kidnapped after being accused to talking to Muslim people about Jesus.
Every international organisation says that Christians are the most persecuted people group in the world, with over 10,000 killed, and hundreds of thousands imprisoned and tortured every year.
Now we don’t experience that.
I’m not expecting 4 black SUVs to stop me in the street on my way home from church today like what happened to Pastor Koh in Malaysia last week.
But actually, Jesus here speaks exactly to our experience.
If you identify as a follower of Jesus today, it is quite likely that in your family, or your workplace, or your social circle, you will be excluded, verse 22, insulted,
That because of what you believe, people will think that you are evil.
And the temptation, if you’re anything like me, at least, is to want to fight back,
To prove a point.
I remember when I started a new school, it was year 8, and it was my 5th school, there was a kid in my class who made my life miserable because I was a Christian.
I reckon if I could have commanded the earth to swallow him up, I probably would have, that’s how hurt and angry I was, as a, 13 year old.
But what does Jesus say?
Don’t get angry,
Don’t get even,
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because there’s a reward in heaven.
Now, this is not an excuse for Christians to be obnoxious, all in the hope of getting a reward in heaven!
That’s not how it works!
But notice, present tense! great is your reward in heaven. Jesus can speak about it as if you’re already holding it in your hands.
Being singled out because you’re a Christian,
It can make you feel incredibly alone and isolated.
And I know that certainly in terms of what happens in universities and workplaces, there are a number here, for whom this is present experience.
But Jesus says you don’t need to feel alone, in fact, by suffering, even if it is only minor suffering, because you’re a faithful servant of God, you get counted among the ancient prophets of God, since that was exactly their experience.
The other side of the coin, was how God’s people had treated the false prophets. Verse 26, Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Just as there were people among the nation of Israel who spoke God’s Word to his people, there were also false prophets who spoke what was untrue, and typically, the false prophets said what people wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear.
I was listening to a sermon just the other day, from1 Kings 22. There are 2 kings trying to make a decision, and one says, “I’ve got 400 prophets here, let’s go and ask them what they think.”
And to a man, all 400 tell the king to do what he already wants to do.
But the other king smells a rat, and says “surely there’s some other prophet we can ask”
And the first king replies, and this is a quote, 1 Kings 22:8
“There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire, but I hate him, because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.”
If you want to be loved,
And have everyone speak well of you,
Well, I’m sorry that’s not going to happen if you’re a follower of Jesus.
If you speak the truth, you can expect verse 22 kind of opposition, but also be confident of verse 23 kind of reward.
Kat, you might get some flack, for choosing to be identified with a crucified saviour.
There might be some who disagree with you to the point of, verse 22, excluding and insulting you,
But one day when you stand before the God who created you, and sent his son to die for you,
Then you and all who trust in Jesus, will be rewarded in your heavenly rest.
So 4 blessings or promises,
4 woes or warnings.
You probably noticed that with each of these pairs Jesus divides his listeners, and the world, into 2 categories. Every person alive is either one or the other;,
Either poor or rich.
You either possess the kingdom of heaven, or you have already received your comfort.
Do you see these are mutually exclusive groups each time?
We can’t say, “well, I want my comfort now, but I also want to be one who gets into the kingdom of heaven” That’s impossible in the terms that Jesus presents here.
It also means, that either Jean-Baptiste Karr, or Jesus is right.
And if one of them is right, then the other must be wrong.
Either everything will stay the same, the status quo remains, and following Jesus will cost you a little bit or maybe a lot, depending on where in the world you live, but that’s all you can expect.
Or, this great reversal is true, meaning that here we find God’s call to come to him,
To rest in his promises,
To trust in his care and provision,
And to be assured of his goodness and power,