The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
February 17, 2019
The Contrasts of Christianity
He went down with them 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 coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
You and I, my friends, live in a world that is completely steeped in contrasts— contrasts that can be seen in just about every facet of our existence. For example, I have been voting since I was eighteen years old and never have I seen such a stark contrast between the two major political parties as I see today. In every place where I have ever lived it has been relatively easy to see economic contrasts. You drive through this neighborhood and you will see nice big houses with well-kept lawns. Drive into a different neighborhood (sometimes not too far away) and you can see houses that are run down and junked-out cars in the yards.
The contrasts that we see all around us, my friends, are indeed numerous and sometimes very vivid. But nowhere— nowhere— is the contrast so sharp and so clear than between the world in which we live and the faith which God has created in our hearts. With that in mind, let’s look at these words of Luke 6 under the theme: The Contrasts of Christianity.
There are essentially two different ways in which people look at our text for today. One way centers on Jesus teaching us a lesson from a purely physical or worldly perspective. This perspective, however, does not line up well with the rest of Scripture. For example, we would never want to say that all those who are “poor” from a worldly perspective can automatically look forward to being blessed with entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Nor would we ever want to say that anyone who is “rich” from a worldly perspective will never be able to look forward to enjoying the comforts of living in their heavenly Father’s home. The other way to look at this text is from a spiritual perspective. This would have Jesus pronouncing a “blessing” on those who realize that they are spiritually “poor” as well as on those who “hunger” for spiritual nourishment. This is how I understand this portion of God’s holy Word.
Turning now to our text we once again find Jesus surrounded by “a large crowd of his disciples” and “a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon.” Luke also tells us that the people had two reasons for coming to see Jesus. Look at verse 18 of our text. Luke says that people came from all over “to hear him (Jesus) and to be healed of their diseases.” Were any of these people disappointed— whether it was in Jesus’ teaching or in His power to heal? Absolutely not! The people were overwhelmed both by the authority with which Jesus taught God’s Word as well as by the way in which Jesus had the power to heal anyone— even those who were “troubled by evil spirits.”
I think it is important for us to note the power and the authority that Jesus possesses before we get to the “blessings” and the “woes” that are listed here in our text. The reason it is important for us to see and to remember the power and the authority of Jesus is because both the “blessings” and the “woes” that Jesus proclaims to us here go completely against “conventional human wisdom.” They go completely against what our own sinful nature wants us to believe. I find it personally alarming how often I hear Christians say, “Well, I think God wants me to do this…” or, “I prayed about it and I feel God wants me to do that….” Yet, they have no Scripture to back up what they think. There may even be Scripture passages that say the exact opposite of what they feel God wants them to do! The power and the authority that Jesus reveals here in our text have not somehow diminished down through the ages. That same power and that same authority are just as valid today as they were in the days of Luke. That same power and that same authority will be just as valid on the day Jesus returns to this earth and gathers all the nations before Him to judge them on the basis of what He reveals to us here in His holy Word! (See John 12:48)
With the power and the authority of Jesus clearly in mind let’s look at the heart and core of our text for today which centers around four “blessings” and four corresponding contrasting “woes.” Let’s look at each pair— each contrast— individually.
The first contrast is found in verses 20 & 24. Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” When we look at these words of our Savior from a spiritual perspective it is not hard to understand what Jesus is emphasizing here, is it? The “poor” are those individuals who recognize that on their own they have absolutely nothing to offer to God. They are spiritual “beggars.” They understand that even the very best they can do are like “filthy rags” in God’s eyes. (See Isaiah 64:6) Like the tax-collector in Luke 18 they can’t even bring themselves to look up to heaven but beat their breast and beg, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Those who by the power of God’s Law have been led to recognize their spiritual “poverty” are indeed “blessed.” They are “blessed” with the “kingdom of God.” Through the precious message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they are led to the foot of the cross on Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) and are given the guarantee that purely by grace through faith in what Jesus has done for them they will most certainly inherit nothing less than the incomparable eternal riches of God’s own heavenly Kingdom!
In sharp contrast to the spiritually “poor” are those who feel that they are spiritually “rich” all on their own. As far as they are concerned they don’t need God. They don’t need the cross of Jesus Christ. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18 they think that they are doing just fine all by themselves. “Woe to you,” Jesus says to those who think that their own pious life and their own good works will somehow gain them God’s grace and favor. While they may feel spiritually comfortable in this life, eternity has a rude awakening waiting for them.
The second contrast contained here in our text is found in verses 21 & 25. Jesus says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied…Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” Once again, when we see these words from a spiritual perspective they are simple to understand! The good Lord has given to us an amazing “banquet” of spiritual “food” to strengthen and to nourish our soul. What is that spiritual “food”? Exactly! God has graciously given to us the free banquet of His holy Word and His holy Sacrament. When we “hunger” for that spiritual food, when we “feast” on the Means of Grace on a regular basis then our souls will be “satisfied” not only here in this life but especially in eternity.
In sharp contrast are those individuals who feel that they are already “well fed.” They don’t feel a need to gather around God’s holy Word because from their perspective they already know all they need to know. They don’t feel a need to receive the Lord’s Supper because while they have not been to church in quite some time they still pray and they still believe. “Woe to you,” Jesus says to those who feel they are “well fed.” They are running the risk of going “hungry”— that is, being banned from God’s wedding banquet for all of eternity.
The third contrast is found in verses 21b & 25b. Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” When we look into the mirror of God’s holy Law and see the severity of our own sin we cannot help but weep. When we look into the dark corners of our own heart and see the sins that are “crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7) just waiting for an opportunity to pounce we cannot help but weep. When we look back through the pages of the diary of our own life and see how often we have echoed the words of Peter in the courtyard, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about” (Mark 14:71) we cannot help but weep. When we see how often we have stumbled and fallen in our life as a saved child of God we cannot help but fall to our knees at the foot of the cross and weep tears of repentance. For all those who weep over their sins Jesus puts His loving arms around them and says, “While your sins may cause you to weep now, in My heavenly home you will experience only joy and laughter!”
In sharp contrast to those who humbly weep over their sins are those who feel that they have a right to laugh and to enjoy the pleasures of this world— even if it means disobeying God’s will for them as it is revealed on the pages of Scripture. “Woe to you,” Jesus says to those who do not hate sin or do not sorrow over their own sins. For them eternity will be filled with “mourning and weeping.”
The final contrast is found in verses 22-23 and in verse 26 of our text. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven…Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
How do people react when you boldly stand up for the Truth? What I mean is this: How do people react when you boldly stand up for the Truth and say that abortion is wrong because abortion kills an unborn child? How do people react when you stand up for the Truth and say that homosexuality is unnatural and gay marriage is just plain wrong? How do people react when you stand up for the Truth and say that the Bible is God’s holy, inspired, inerrant Word from beginning to end? How do people react when you stand up for the Truth and say that the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ and that everyone who does not believe in Jesus will be condemned to hell forever? Do they hate you? Do they exclude you and insult you? Do they reject you or ridicule you or label you as intolerant and unloving? Don’t worry Jesus says to you! The “reward” that Jesus has waiting for you in heaven is worth infinitely more than anything you could possibly endure for Him here on this earth. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
In sharp contrast to those who strive to remain faithful to Jesus no matter what earthly consequences they might endure are those who will change what they believe and adapt how they live all so that people will “speak well of them.” “Woe to you,” says our Lord. If we disown and reject Jesus while we are here on this earth, Jesus will reject and disown us in eternity. (See Matthew 10:32-33)
Whether it is in the area of politics or in the area of economics or in the weather forecast we see on the television every day, this world will always be steeped in contrasts. But the sharpest contrast, my friends, is indeed the contrast that is created in our hearts and in our lives when by the grace and power of God’s Holy Spirit we are able to stand up and boldly proclaim that we are a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that if ever we begin to wonder if the sharp contrast between what we believe and what the world believes, the way we live and the way the world lives is really worth it that we lift up our eyes to the cross and remember. (Pointing to the cross) Remember that in sharp contrast to this world which in its present form is passing away (I Corinthians 7:31; I John 2:17) are the new heavens and the new earth that our crucified and risen Lord has guaranteed to us, His children.
To God be the glory!