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The Confidence of Meekness (Matthew 5:5)

The Confidence of Meekness

Matthew 5:5

Bryan Craddock – May 7, 2023

The third beatitude that Jesus proclaimed helps us see who is blessed (the meek), what the blessing is (they shall inherit the earth), the reason for the blessing (adoption through Christ), and a response to it (spiritual confidence). This sermon is part 4 in “Messiah’s Blessing,” Bryan Craddock’s expository Bible teaching series on Matthew 5:1-12.

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When I was in third grade, I persuaded my parents to buy me a goldfish. I had pretty severe allergies, so a fish was a good option for a hypoallergenic pet. Of course, it is not the most exciting creature. You can’t get it to do tricks or anything, but it is low maintenance. You are supposed to sprinkle in some fish food each day and clean its tank once in a while.

As simple as those tasks are, I had a hard time remembering to do them. The water in the tank was seldom clear, but I suspect that my fish became acclimated to its polluted environment. After cleaning it one time, I put the fish back in and it died. Perhaps the fresh water was just too much of a shock to its system. But I don’t recall being too broken up over it. We just went out and bought another one.

We all share something in common with that fish. We live in a polluted environment. Many people see that problem in the physical world. But I am talking about a contamination that is intellectual, cultural, moral, and spiritual. We are immersed in it. We have become more acclimated than we realize. Even when we try to resist some aspects of it, we often respond in ways that show how corrupted we are.

But biblical teaching is like fresh, clean water. It can be a shock to our system, and no passage seems more jolting than the Beatitudes that Jesus declared at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. He directly contradicts our assumptions about what is good and what it means to be blessed. We pursue wealth and happiness, but as we have seen from the first two beatitudes, he says blessed are those who are poor and who mourn. I think we have a particularly difficult time with the third beatitude. Matthew 5:5 tells us that Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

There is something repulsive about the word “meek”. It is just one possible translation of the original Greek term. Some English Bibles say humble or gentle. But meek may be the best word to use precisely because it provokes that feeling of disgust.  We equate meekness with weakness, and no one wants to feel weak.

In fact, there are several sermons titled, “Meekness is not Weakness” that are available online. But I’m not sure that Jesus would agree. As in his other Beatitudes, he clearly intends this statement to be shocking. We should not try to soften the blow. He is refuting our worldly ideas about power and control.

It doesn’t make sense to our way of thinking, but Jesus presents meekness as the path to the blessing of confidence. What does he mean? How are we to understand this? We will find out as we examine who the blessed are, what the blessing is, what the reason is, and what our response should be.

The Blessed: The Meek

It has been said that every tool is ultimately a hammer. Household projects rarely go as planned. Bolts get stuck. Nails get bent. Screwheads begin to strip out. All the while our frustration level rises. We grow impatient, and we are tempted to apply more and more force. Just break it off, pound it into place, and call it good.

We have the same inclination in other parts of life, particularly when it comes to dealing with people. We have opinions about how things should be. We give a suggestion, then make an argument. When that doesn’t work, we press, nag, shame, browbeat. When our patience runs out, we might yell, throw things, or even get physical. We choose the way of the hammer. In force we trust! It’s destructive, but we find ways to justify it and still call it good.

Jesus, however, says, “Blessed are the meek,” and he clearly demonstrates this characteristic in his life and ministry. The same Greek term is used in two other passages in Matthew. First, Matthew 11:28-30 tells us that Jesus says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Why did people feel so burdened? The Jewish people of Jesus’ day understood that the blessings promised in the Old Testament are linked to obeying God’s commandments. The Law is good and right, but in their fallenness no one could ever manage to keep it. They labored under the heavy burden of sin as we all do.

The Pharisees thought that the solution to that problem was to create more rules. Their stipulations were supposed to be hedges to keep people away from sin, but it didn’t work. It added to their sense of shame or led them into hypocrisy. Yet the Pharisees doubled down, heaping scorn on people like Jesus who did not follow all their extra-biblical traditions.

But Jesus promises rest. There is still a yoke to be borne in following him. There are still commands to be obeyed. But he came to help people and to teach them rather than pounding them into submission. Meekness is the heart of his ministry.

The most powerful illustration of his meekness comes later when he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Over 3 years of ministry, he has shown himself to be the promised Messiah. The people should embrace him as king. But rather than raising an army to sweep in and seize power, he enters the city riding on a donkey’s colt.

Matthew links this event to a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. In Matthew 21:4-5 he tells us,

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

Those in power must have thought him foolish, but there is more to come. By week’s end, he allows himself to be arrested, beaten, and crucified. Is that weakness? Yes and no. He has power, not only to escape, but to compel submission from his enemies. Instead, he chooses to accept suffering and weakness. His sacrificial death on our behalf is the only way for us to find rest from the burden of our sins.

So, Jesus displays astounding meekness, and that quality should characterize all who follow him. James 1:19-21 contrasts anger with meekness. It says,

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

At first glance, James seems to be dealing with two entirely different issues. Verses 19-20 talk about how you relate to people. Verse 21 addresses your relationship with God. But James makes a connection. If you insist on trying to control people with anger, will you ever be meek before God? My anger at other people assumes that they can do better. My anger at other people is a claim that I have got my life under control.

Meekness realizes that only God can change our hearts. Is that what you believe? Is that how you relate to God and to people? Blessed are the meek!

The Blessing: They Shall Inherit the Earth

Owning your own home is part of the American dream. We take pride in having a place to call our own. Of course, it’s not just individuals who lay claim to real estate, nations do as well. Terrible wars have been fought throughout history to determine who controls strategic plots of land.

But from a biblical perspective, we know there is only one true owner. He is the one who created all things. Psalm 24:1-2 declares, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”

The blessing of Jesus’ third beatitude is rooted in this idea of God’s ownership. The world assumes that wealth and power is the path to possessing land. But when Jesus says that the meek shall inherit the earth, he means that they will receive it as a gift from God.

The idea of inheriting land from God is central in the Old Testament. It is part of God’s promise to Abraham. Genesis 15:7 tells us, “And he said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.’”

From our English translations, there does not seem to be any connection between this promise and the third beatitude, but they actually use the same words. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, but a Greek translation of it, known as the Septuagint, was available before the time of Christ. In Greek, the words for “land” and “possess” in Genesis 15:7 are the same ones translated as “earth” and “inherit” in Matthew 5:5. The difference is that with Abraham, the Lord clearly identifies a specific place, “this land.” Jesus’ statement seems to refer to the entire earth, all the land everywhere.

Later when the Lord raises up Moses to rescue Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, he leads them to the promised land and commands them to take it by force. He calls them to carry out his judgment upon the nations who live there. But the people of Israel refuse to fight because they fear those nations. For their disobedience, the Lord sentences them to remain in the wilderness for forty years. The next generation begins to conquer the land under Joshua, but they never finish the job. Their possession of the land is always contested. Perhaps God wanted them to see the futility of taking it by force.

Many years later, King David came to understand more about God’s plan for the land. He speaks of it in Psalm 37, encouraging people to trust the Lord and to wait upon him. In verses 7-11, he says,

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

Matthew 5:5 is almost a direct quote from the first line in the Greek version of Psalm 37:11. From what David says, it is clear that the key to receiving the inheritance is that God will judge evildoers and remove them. The New Testament gives us further insight into this event. Though Jesus demonstrates meekness in his first coming, he will exert overwhelming force when he returns to carry out God’s judgment upon the earth. Revelation 19:15-16 tells us,

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

That will be the time when those who follow Christ inherit the earth. Though many view his reign as something that is only spiritual, Jesus reinforces the Old Testament promises of a future earthly kingdom. It will not come about through human wealth or power. It will only be received by the meek. But why? What is the connection? How does that happen?

The Reason: Adoption through Christ

Most parents feel a deep connection with their children. We raise them from birth. They reflect aspects of our appearance. We can be so invested in their future that we have a hard time letting go. But I doubt many of us have those feelings toward other people’s children. That is what can make adoption so special! A person chooses to show that kind of love toward a child that is not theirs.

We like to think that every person is a child of God, and that is certainly true in the sense that he is our Creator who made us all in his image. But we have all turned away from him. Because of our sin, we have no place in his family and no inheritance for the future. Adoption through Christ is the only way that anyone will inherit the earth.

The Apostle Paul speaks of adoption in Ephesians 1, highlighting the love that prompted God’s choice. In verses 3-5, he says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

We encounter a deep mystery in the idea of predestination and this adoption that results from it. From a purely human perspective, it seems as if my relationship with God comes about through my choice. I decide to believe and to follow Christ. But passages like this remind us that in his eternal sovereign love, God chose those whom he would adopt before the world ever existed. You might ask, “Why didn’t he choose everyone?” But when you consider our sinfulness, the real question is, “Why did he choose anyone?”

So, we are adopted by God’s gracious, loving choice, but he makes that relationship possible through Christ. When we believe we are united with him. This mysterious connection is what allows us to participate in the privileges of sonship. In Ephesians 1:11, Paul tells us, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Jesus is the one who deserves the inheritance, both physically and spiritually. He is the Son of God who took on flesh. He is a descendant of King David with the right to rule. He also pleased his heavenly Father through his perfect obedience. But since we have all fallen short of that standard, we need redemption to share in his inheritance. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul explains,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The price of our redemption is death. There is no inheritance apart from the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. The author of Hebrews makes this clear in Hebrews 9:15. He speaks of Jesus and says,

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

So, we see the amazing love of God. He gave his one and only Son for wayward sinners like you and me. He chooses us, leads us to faith in Christ, adopts us as sons, and promises us an eternal inheritance in Christ’s kingdom. How should we respond?

The Response: Spiritual Confidence

Worldly inheritances are sometimes contested, particularly when great fortunes are at stake. The legitimacy of the will is questioned. Accusations are made. Heirs are scrutinized. I don’t know whether it has happened this way in the real world, but in tales of kings, the one who possesses the king’s signet ring is often the one who receives the throne. Of course, someone more powerful might attempt to seize the kingdom by force. So, the meek seldom receive great worldly inheritances.

Our adoption through Christ, on the other hand, allows us to have spiritual confidence that we will inherit the earth. Jesus gives us something far better than a signet ring. He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul says,

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Some say that receiving the Holy Spirit is something separate from and subsequent to being saved. They often associate it with some dramatic experience. Others say that believers can lose their salvation. But these verses contradict both of those views. Paul is clear that when someone hears the gospel and believes, he or she is sealed with the Holy Spirit. Their inheritance is guaranteed. How does the Spirit accomplish that?

Paul says more in Romans 8 about how the Spirit works to make us spiritually secure. First, the Spirit leads us to overcome sin in our lives. In verses 13-14 Paul tells us, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

This Spirit convicts us of right and wrong. He is the “Holy” Spirit. Elsewhere Paul speaks of him using the word of God as a sword (Eph 6:17). He helps us discern our thoughts and intentions (Heb 4:12). He grieves when we disobey (Eph 4:30). But he also cultivates spiritual fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

Second, as Paul continues in Romans 8, he describes how the Spirit encourages us by assuring us of our salvation. In verses 15-17, he tells us,

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

He is the Spirit of adoption. When we are afraid, he prompts us to cry out to God as our Father. He somehow communicates the sense that we are his beloved children. As we face suffering, he reminds us of our eternal hope.

Third, the Spirit also intercedes for us. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

In our weakest moments, we can be so overwhelmed that we cannot find the words to say. The Spirit knows what we need, and he speaks to God the Father on our behalf. No matter how hard life may seem, the Spirit enables us to stand with confidence. We can face the onslaught of temptation. We can overcome fear and endure suffering. We can be assured that he will lead us to eternal glory. This is the confidence of meekness.

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Who is blessed? The meek. What is the blessing? They shall inherit the earth. Why? Because of adoption through Christ. How should we respond? With confidence in the work of the Spirit

Do you have this confidence? If not, I encourage you to place your trust in the Lord. Believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. Receive eternal life and invite the Holy Spirit into your life. If you want to learn more about the Spirit and the confidence that we have in Christ, Romans 8 would be a great place to read.

If you are trusting in Christ, have you lost this sense of meekness? Have you become pushy, opinionated, controlling, even power-hungry? Sadly, that attitude seems to be common among many who profess to be Christians, but it is the opposite of what we find in Jesus. You might need to confess your lack of meekness and seek forgiveness from someone. We all need to practice being confident in the work of the Spirit.

May we find true rest in our meek and lowly Messiah!

Reflect

When do you find it most difficult to be meek? Why?

How do the ideas of inheritance and adoption help you think differently about those situations?

What could you change in your life to better express your spiritual confidence in Christ?