Blessed are the Meek

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on February 2

Matthew 5:1-12

Download Audio

“Through truth prevail over unbelief” – that’s what we gather here for this evening; that’s what we long for. Go with me if you will to Matthew chapter 5. We’ll continue the series that we started last Lord’s Day evening on the Beatitudes. And before we read them, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, thank You. Speak to us. Speak to us from Your holy Word. Use Your Word as the tool in Your hand to make us like Your Son, to etch His image in our hearts. And so give us grace, wisdom, power, by Your Spirit, to reproduce that image in life and behavior and attitude, day by day. Thank You, our Father. Speak to us, feed us from Your holy Word. We make our prayer in Jesus’ name. 

And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

It was a marvelous beginning to this series last Lord’s Day evening, so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this and carry us forward by one beatitude. Let me ask you to read along with me as I read from Matthew chapter 5. I’m going to read the whole of the beatitudes just so we get them all in our heads. We want to talk about meekness tonight.

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

To take just a moment to think large, if we can, about the Sermon on the Mount and then draw our attentions to this particular beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” As Cory said to us last week, here in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s like Jesus’ life is paralleling the great events of the history of redemption. He draws the people to Him to really proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom. As we look at the life of Jesus, it causes us to think about the life of His people gathered at Sinai to hear this is what the kingdom of God looks like as they heard the Law proclaimed. Here’s Jesus bringing them again. This is the Gospel of the kingdom. This is what the kingdom of God looks like. The Sermon on the Mount is about practical holiness, isn't it? This is life in the kingdom of God expressed right here in the world in which we live. In an age of “go to this, go to that; do this, do that Christianity” we need to hear Jesus telling us about a spirituality that’s lived out in secret where only our Father sees. We need to have Him focus our attention on the condition of our hearts rather than our efforts at external conformity. We need the externals. We need to do the externals; the externals have to be there. But our problem is that we tend to start with them. We tend to start with behavior. Jesus starts with the heart and then moves us out from there.

In terms of the Beatitudes themselves, they are the character qualities of those who are part of the kingdom of God. These are the virtues that describe all believers and all believers give evidence of all of these. They’re a whole. Through them, we really view fundamental Christian character from eight different angels. None of them points to a natural tendency. Each of these virtues is produced by grace and they are the Spirit’s work within us. This is who Jesus is making us to be. Let me say that again. This is who Jesus is making us to be. 

How does that work? What does that look like? I’m going to give you a very personal example from just a few moments ago. I’m here to talk about meekness tonight. You know this is an honor to stand in this pulpit. It’s a scary honor. It’s a privilege. It’s a daunting privilege considering how much my family and I have been fed from this pulpit in years gone by, including this morning; fed rich, spiritual food from this pulpit. So for me to step into this pulpit, it’s a privilege; it’s a scary privilege. It’s an honor; it’s a daunting honor. And you know, if you don’t approach it right it’s easy to kind of get puffed up a little bit. “I’m going to preach at First Presbyterian Church!” And so, we’re listening to the prelude, I’ve got my head down, I’m praying, “Lord, don’t let me choke tonight for these nice people,” and then I look at my tie and right down the middle of my pretty red tie I have slopped a whole big spoonful of soup it looks like, and so I’m standing before you freshly pressed with all my best on and the dirtiest tie I’ve seen in a long time! And in my ear, the ear of my heart, here comes Jesus. “You see, it ain’t about you. In the play of Balaam’s life, you’re going to be the donkey! You get to be the donkey!” You know, I need to hear that. You see, that’s how Jesus develops meekness in me right now, because I’m standing before you with everything dressed and pressed and the dirtiest tie I’ve seen in a long time. He’s whispering to me, “It’s not about you; it’s about Me.” And I need to hear that because He develops meekness in character in ways just like that.

You’ve got your own experience of that. I relate mine to you right now because that’s also part of the process. Jesus is about building us into people like this and sometimes it’s a bit comical. It’s always a bit painful because I don’t want to be bankrupt. I don’t want to mourn. I want to be full. I want to laugh. I don’t want to have a life where I recognize before God I’m empty and if there’s fullness it comes from Him; it doesn’t come from me. If there’s laughter and joy it comes from Him and what He is doing and what He has done. It comes in connection with Him and not out of all the places I want to squeeze it from. I want to squeeze it from every good thing He’s given me, and yet they’re not enough. Only He is enough. In the midst of my mourning over what sin has done to me, in the midst of my mourning over what sin has done to us, I love that point that Cory made last week that embracing a life of mourning means I feel someone else’s hurt. I can recognize their hurt; I can recognize the hurt of their circumstances because yes, it’s not all about me. Embracing a life of poverty of spirit means I’m looking for wealth that only God can give. That’s who Jesus is making us to be.

Blessed Are the Meek 

Well let’s talk about meekness. What is he saying right here and how does that relate to us? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” You know, the world that we live in is a world that thinks in terms of strength and power and ability and self-assurance and aggressiveness and self-realization, self-actualization, whatever those mean. The more you assert yourself, the more you express yourself, the more you organize and demonstrate your powers and abilities the more likely you are to succeed, and it really is all about succeeding. Those who take the bull by the horns are the ones who inherit the earth. Our beatitudes are “Blessed are the strong. Blessed are the movers and shakers. Blessed are the beautiful. Blessed are the proud and the bold.” And those are the beatitudes of our world. Our world values the personal possession of power to use for its own ends, its own purposes. And as we read what Jesus has to say and what He says He is making of us as citizens of the kingdom of God, it reminds us that the Bible sees the world in an entirely different way than we are taught to and it defines reality in entirely different terms than we use to define reality. We then have to be retaught. That is what God is about the business of doing with things like flat tires and dirty ties and confusions that happen all through life at times. God is about the business of reteaching us – how to interpret the world and our place in it from His point of view.

There’s a logical connection, if you’ll let us think about it, a logical connection between the beatitude of meekness, “Blessed are the meek,” and the other two that have gone before it, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” Let’s think about it for a second. The poor in spirit realizes his own weakness and poverty before God; his own bankruptcy, moral bankruptcy before God. He’s empty-handed; there’s nothing he can bring. There’s nothing he can point to that is something to take pride in. That realization brings him to mourn for his sin and his tendency to sin. Paul said, “O wretched man that I am!” Isaiah said, “Woe is me!” Those are expressions of mourning, and mourning over empty-handedness; mourning of sin, the wreckage of sin in my life and ultimately in my world.

And this beatitude, “Blessed are the meek,” now Jesus opens the door. We’ve been to Jesus and I have been examining me; you and Jesus have been examining you and you’re ready to agree with Him about your poverty of spirit and about your need to mourn. You’re ready to learn some mourning from Him. In this beatitude, Jesus is beginning to invite other people in and they begin to recognize that we are spiritually bankrupt. They begin to recognize that we are wretched and we have good reason to mourn before God. It’s one thing for me to admit my sin and my sinfulness; it’s one thing for you to admit your sin and your sinfulness. And then Jesus opens the door and invites other people in to recognize and make comment on your sin and my sin and my empty-handedness, my emptiness and my need to mourn. 

In the first two beatitudes, you and I have been examining ourselves. It’s all been very private and thoughtful. Now, other people are brought in to search us and know us. That’s a very hard step and you and I sit there and after someone tells us how bad we really are, we sit there and say, “Sweetheart, you don’t even know the half of it, but I agree with you. I agree with you. It really is bad. And whatever I have to apologize for” – fill in the blank; that’s not an apology, by the way. But this is an apology, “I’m sorry.” 

David, a beautiful example is David as he is confronted by Nathan the prophet months and months and months after his sin with Bathsheba. And David seems to be doing fine, seems to be thinking everything is fine – “I got away with it.” And Nathan confronts him with that marvelous parable about the poor farmer with one little ewe lamb and wags his prophetic finger, his bony prophetic finger in David’s face and says, “You are the man!” and begins to proclaim to him all that God will do and all that will be wretched in David’s life because of his sin. And David remarked, at the close of hearing all of that, “I have sinned against the Lord. You’re right, Nathan. I’ve done wrong against the Lord.” And we know the way David’s narrative goes from there. He could have thrown Nathan out, but he was meek as Nathan uncovered all his dirty laundry. “I have sinned against the Lord.” Now that’s not David being a good boy scout. This is the fruit of God’s Spirit. But we also know that David, just like you and I, can quench God’s Spirit and can harden his heart towards God’s Spirit as he’s shown us he can. And you and I can do that very same thing. He’s listening to the Spirit of God drawing his heart toward the truth, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

What is Meekness? 

Well let’s look for a definition of meekness. Matthew Henry helps us here. We want to spend a few minutes kind of talking through Matthew Henry’s definition. “The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions, comply with His design, and are gentle toward men.” There’s a lot there – “submitting themselves to God, to His Word, to His rod, following His directions, complying with His design, and are gentle towards men.”

Let’s think about submission to God’s Word. It’s good to look for examples in God’s Word. We think about the centurion, Cornelius. After a strange message from the angel, “Go, send the men to Joppa and get Peter and bring Peter here.” Cornelius, standing ready to hear from God. “We are ready to hear what God has commanded you to tell us,” he says to Peter. He’s ready to submit himself before God. 

We think about submission to God’s will. We look to Jesus and not to Jonah. Jonah did 180 degrees opposite what God called him to do. He got in that ship to go to Tarshish; 180 degrees opposite the direction of Nineveh. We want to submit to God’s will like Jesus, not like Jonah; like Jesus, who prays so plainly, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” Who declares to His disciples so plainly, “I have food to eat that you don’t know because My food is to do the will of My Father in heaven.” We think about submission to God’s rod. We’ve got James talking to us, “Count it all joy when you find yourselves in various trials, because they will produce the fruit of steadfastness.” We submit to God’s rod. 

What is it to be gentle towards men? Meekness bears injuries. Think about that, husbands and wives. Meekness bears injuries. Martyn Llyod-Jones quotes an old saint, “Meekness is like wet kindling. It does not easily catch fire.” Meekness forgives injuries. Men forget kindnesses, but they remember injuries. Meekness works just the opposite. The meek forget injuries and remember kindnesses. Forgiveness cuts against the grain of human nature, doesn’t it? Who forgives? God forgives. What does Paul tell us in Colossians chapter 3? He lists virtues to put on – “a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another; and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you.” There’s the standard – “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” That’s meekness – to be able to forgive, to be willing to forgive, and to let it go. To be willing to look away. To be willing to bear that offense. Meekness forgives injuries.

To go even a step further, if that’s not hard enough to swallow, meekness returns good for evil. Remember Paul’s letter to Philemon? Philemon the convert, living at Colossae, a man of some means apparently. He had the problem of the runaway slave, Onesimus, who went to Rome and found his way to Paul, as only God might know how he stumbled into Paul as he’s running away from his master in Colossae. And comes to faith in Christ. And Paul sends him back to his master, Philemon. He’s done his master an evil, perhaps he’s even stolen something. Maybe he’s stole some cash to fund his flight. There’s a reference to Paul, “Whatever he may owe you, I will repay.” Maybe there was something missing. And Paul calls upon his brother, Philemon, “Forgive, though he may have wronged you.” Or to put it in Paul’s words, “Receive him as you would receive me.” Philemon is called upon by Paul to express the meekness of the Gospel. Even though he may have a case, he may have a charge, he may have an argument before the court – “Receive him as you would receive me. Forgive him. Return good for the evil he has done you.”

That’s what meekness looks like. Meekness, as Jesus is enjoining it upon His people, is a byproduct of poverty of spirit and mourning, a brokenness of will and a receptive heart before God. It is an absence of pride. The meek person that Jesus is making us into is not proud of himself; he does not glory in himself. The meek person isn’t asserting or demanding his rights. Paul reminds us, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus who, did not assert His equality with God” – He did not assert His right to glory. Meekness is, in our case, is a true view of self expressed in attitude and conduct towards God and towards other people. 

Paul says something interesting in Romans chapter 12. “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought,” he says in verse 3, “but judge yourself with sober judgment.” Paul goes on to basically say in the rest of that passage, “Take an honest look at yourself and recognize who you are and what you can offer to the kingdom. If it’s service, then serve. If it’s mercy, then have mercy. If it’s preaching, then preach.” Paul is saying, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Understand yourself rightly.” It’s the meek person, it’s the person who Gospel meekness is at work within, who can understand himself or herself rightly, who can recognize, “I can do this. I can’t do that. I might want to do that, but I’m lousy at it. I do better for people and for the work of the kingdom if I do this. I want to be a great teacher; I’m not a great teacher. I’m much better helping. I’m much better” – you fill in the blank. 

We aspire to things. And we can learn things, can’t we? We’ve all had that experience of people shoving us into a job, shoving us maybe into a room full of four-year-olds and saying, “We think you can do this,” doesn’t really matter. “Some adult’s got to be here and you’ve got to be the one!” And the door shuts behind you. And there you are with a room full of four-year-olds. And maybe along the way you discovered, “Hey, I really like this! I didn’t know this could be so much fun. I think with a little bit here and a little bit there, I think we could really make something here.” You discover something about yourself in terms of an ability that you never knew. You never knew. And you never would have walked through that door on your own. Somebody had to shove you in and shut the door behind you. And you had the sense that they were standing there holding it so you couldn’t open it and get out! A true view of ourselves and a willingness to maybe do something that someone needs, maybe we’re not so good at it. Because just like dirty ties will tell you, “It’s not about us. It’s about the kingdom of God. It’s about King Jesus.” And maybe sometimes it’s just needing somebody to hold the fort down until the right person walks in. Are we willing to be that person? That’s the meekness of the Gospel finding its way into expression in our hearts and lives.

The meek person is teachable, ready to listen and to learn – as the example I was just using – both from God’s Word and from other people. We see in Jesus, He’s the second person of the Trinity, entirely God in person, essence, power and glory, yet He humbled Himself so that He became dependent entirely – you see this so clearly in the temptation scene, especially in Matthew 4 and Luke 3. He becomes dependent entirely on what His Father gives Him, what His Father teaches Him, and what His Father tells Him to do. In the years before those moments, Luke chapter 2 tells us He is entirely submissive to Mary and Joseph. That’s the meekness of Christ that He gives to us as we unite with Him.

Well, there are lots of Biblical examples we could use. We’ve got Abraham and Lot. You know, Abraham giving Lot the chance to choose the best land to graze. Moses, of course, known as the meekest man in all the earth who, in the case of Miriam and Aaron as they took public issue with him and publicly criticized him for his Cushite wife, God struck her with leprosy. And what did Moses do? He did not say, “You had it coming!” He prayed for her that God would restore her. There’s lots of David narratives showing meekness.

Why not look at our Savior? We see, in the life of Jesus, a meekness towards His enemies as He is impaled on the cross, hands and feet. “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” Submission to His Father, “My food is to do the work of Him who sent Me.” Declaring Himself in Matthew chapter 11, after being questioned by His dear friend, His family member, His forerunner, John the Baptist, “Are You the one who was to come or should we look for another?” because the ministry of Jesus did not match up to what John’s preaching was. John had a prophetic voice and he was really preaching beyond the life of Jesus to the return of Jesus. The ministry of Jesus wasn’t adding up to the ax being laid at the root of the tree, but it will be. Jesus saying, at the close of that chapter, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” – John needs to hear those words – “and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” 

It’s interesting that Matthew chapter 12, right after that, talks about from Isaiah 42, talks about the ministry of Jesus, “Behold My servant whom I have chosen, My beloved with whom My soul is well pleased. I will put My Spirit on Him. He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break; a smoldering wick He will not quench. He doesn’t have contempt for the weak; He doesn’t have contempt for the weak. Until He brings justice to mercy, and in His name the Gentiles will hope.” There’s our Savior. That’s who He’s making us to be.

Charles Spurgeon wrote a marvelous sermon on the meek and lowly Savior, and in it he was saying, “Here is Jesus, the great King, the great Savior; the great Savior who was meek enough to take the dross, meek enough to take broken sinners and build a holy habitation for Himself in their lives.” He didn’t take the pretty people. He didn’t call to Himself the able. He called to Himself the broken and the unable. One passage of that sermon, Spurgeon is talking about Jesus, a great King who built for Himself a habitation full of broken and faulty trees, planks full of knots; the broken people that Jesus delighted to call to Himself. What did Paul say to the church at Corinth? “Not many noble, not many wise, did Jesus call to Himself.” That’s who we are. Not the noble. Not the great and the good. Jesus builds His kingdom out of dross. Jesus builds His kingdom out of offscourings. We know that every man, no matter his station, is that, because of what sin has done to him. Every woman, because of what sin has done to her, that’s who Jesus calls to Himself – broken people. What did He say of Himself? “I didn’t come to seek the righteous. I came to seek and to save the lost. To seek and to save the lost.”

Let’s think a moment, just a moment, about what meekness is not. Meekness is not niceness, it’s not weakness. Look at Jesus’ forthright pronouncements to the religious leadership of His day. Those were not sweet little comments that He made to them. He called them blind guides. He called them whitewashed tombs. He’s telling them the truth about themselves. Meekness is not inconsistent with bold truth telling. We’ve got to divorce the notion of meekness from niceness. We’ve got to divorce the notion of meekness from weakness. Look at how Jesus deals with His own disciples. There’s not weakness there. There’s not a spirit of compromise or peace at any price. It’s not an outward manner only; it is more a manner of the inner spirit. Meekness in us is the fruit of a meek Savior’s perfect work. 

One quote and we’re done. Many of you will remember Sidney Robinson; well-known and well- loved in this congregation; a leader in this congregation for many years. A man of great faith. A man of great faithfulness. Marion Silber and I were talking last Sunday and she happened to relate a story of him toward the end of his days. He called her over to himself and he was saying, “Marion, do you want to know the secret of happiness? My secret of happiness is every morning I ask God, ‘God, will You show me how I can glorify You today? God, will You show me how I can glorify You today?’” That’s a meek life. It’s not about him. It’s not even about his own idea. It’s about how he might glorify God. “God, will You show me how I can glorify You today?” It is that pleasing God is the heartbeat of a meek life. Pleasing God, honoring God, glorifying God – the heartbeat of a meek life. Meekness in us – the fruit of a meek Savior’s perfect work. 

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, make us meek. Use whatever You might. Build meekness in us. Build poverty of spirit. Build mourning in us. And then fling open the doors and let other people come and comment upon how wretched we really are. Father, make us people like our Savior. Glorify Yourself among us. Give us grace to embrace the life of the kingdom of God and become its faithful citizens. Hear us, as we make these prayers, hear us our Father as we leave here and call out to You to help us be meek in a world that loves strength and praise and taking bulls by their own horns. Father, help us be people who ask, “How can I glorify You today?” Hear us, our Father, as we make our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.