“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The way of God’s kingdom is opposite our modern way. We say, “Blessed are the self-righteous, those who don’t lean on God, those who have it all together.” Jesus Says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who realize their absolute spiritual poverty.”
We say, “Blessed are those who laugh it up, who party down, who don’t care, who won’t be bothered.” Jesus says, “Happy are the unhappy, who let God break their hearts with what breaks his.”
The world says, “Blessed are the tough, overbearing intimidators who know how to get their way, the arrogant, the proud.” Christ intones, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Of all Jesus’ beatitudes this one is the most antithetical, the most absurd, the hardest to swallow. “Aw, come on, Jesus! The wimps shall inherit the earth? Me be a doormat? Me let people ride roughshod over me? You’ve got to be kidding! What is this? Some sort of invitation to become a weakling, to be ignored?”
Years ago I was digging in my garden and accumulated a wheelbarrow fill of extra dirt. “What am I going to do with all this earth?” I wondered. My child said, “Dad, why don’t we give to the meek?”
Comedian Jerry Clower played football for Mississippi State University. Their opening game was with Baylor, a Baptist college. To get ready for the contest Clower jogged, practiced, and didn’t miss prayer meeting for six weeks. On the game day, first play from scrimmage, Clower got walloped. His helmet flew off and he hit the dirt face first. He jumped up sputtering and complaining to his opponent, “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian, and see what you did to me?!” The lineman smiled and said, “Sure, I’m a Christian. The Bible says, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth,’ and I was just helping you get your share.”
Then there’s the one about the man who died and went to heaven. Standing in front of the pearly gates, he noticed two signs. The first one read, “All men who were henpecked by their wives stand in this line.” To no one’s amazement the line had 234 men in it. The second sign read, “All men who weren’t henpecked stand in this line.” One man waited there. Now Peter came out, looked at the first line, smiled knowingly, then did a double take at the solitary man in line two. “Excuse me, did you read that sign?” “Yes” “You mean to tell me you weren’t henpecked?” “Oh, my wife told me to stand in this line!”
Meekness. We’ve turned it into a joke.
We’ve more in common with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who on a 1950’s visit to a French cathedral said, “There is much in Christ that is in common with us communists, but I cannot agree with him when he says, “When you are hit on the right cheek, turn the left cheek.” I believe in another principle. If I am hit on the left cheek I hit back on the right cheek so hard the head might fall off!” To which we all say a hearty “Amen!”
Let us study the third of Christ’s beautiful attitudes. The three points we’ll look at are: meekness, how it is applied to our relationship with God, and how it is applied to our relationship with people.
What It Means
“Blessed are the meek.” The original Greek word for meek is praus. It translates as gentle, humble, considerate and courteous.
Meekness does not mean weak-willed, wimpy or devoid of courage. Rather, it means self-controlled. In Canada they have these huge Clydesdale horses which can be hitched up to pull great logs out of the forest for timber companies. These horses are so strong yet so gentle that little children can crawl all over them and play about their hooves without injury. This is a picture of meekness, of tamed strength. It is mayhem and manners in perfect control.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus described himself as “gentle and lowly in heart.” It is the same word: praus. God in human flesh: tamed strength able to heal blindness, coddle little children, raise the dead, wear a crown of thorns, feed 5,000, hang upon a cross, yet slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth.
In 2 Corinthians 10:1 the apostle Paul refers to both Jesus and himself as meek. You will understand that the Corinthian church was a mess. They didn’t respect their elders. The authority of Scripture was rejected. Anarchy reigned supreme. So Paul visited them. But he came meekly. He wrote, “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you–I, Paul who am timid when face to face with you, but bold when away.”
So, the best understood translation of the third beatitude? “O the blessedness, O the happy fulfillment of the gentle, the humble, the considerate, the courteous! O the blessed meek, those of tamed strength, they shall inherit the earth.”
The question arises, how does one develop this attitude in his life? I mean, humility is a hard quality! As soon as you say you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. “Don’t you people understand just what an all-around good fellow of absolute humility I am?” “Perhaps you’ve read my book, Humility and How I Attained It, $39.95 at your local bookstore.” “Last year the deacons gave me the humility award badge but they had to take it back because I kept wearing it.” See what I mean?
How does humility come? Just bow your head and grunt prayerfully, “I will be humble. I will be humble. I will be humble!”?
Look at the logical progression of the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” A disciple’s relationship with God begins by recognizing lam bankrupt morally and spiritually. I am totally dependent upon God’s mercy.
The second attitude is mourning. I am spiritually impoverished and I care. I cry over it. I can feel God’s hurt over this writhing, sinful world.
Third comes meekness. Because of my poverty and grief, I’ve no room for pride, for arrogance and a sense of having arrived.
So how do I become humble? First, I gain a true estimate of who God is. Then, second, I gain a true estimate of who I am by comparison. When I do that I don’t have any trouble being humble.
Meekness With God
That is something of what it means to be meek. Now this: meekness in our relationship with God.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther observed, “God created the world out of nothing. As long as you’re not yet anything, God cannot make something out of you.”
As a Christian I must recognize God as eternal, almighty, holy and loving.
I also recognize God as my creator. I am dust. My life span is but a few years. And I shall return to dust. I am neither very strong nor intelligent. There is sin in my life. I don’t love very well. So I am poor in spirit and I mourn.
This keeps me humble. It kills pride.
All this, yet it is so easy to lose sight of these things and become impressed with myself. Why, some good looks, a career, money, a new car, a few accolades and I can become so impressed with myself that I forget God.
2 Chronicles 26 is a case in point. King Uzziah’s life is spread out before us there. God blessed Uzziah with a godly, two-parent home. His father was a king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. “He was crowned at age 16. The nation unified behind him. He enjoyed excellent health. Zechariah the prophet guided him. He was builder. He won his battles. His standing army was huge and well-trained. His fame and power grew. He ruled 52 years. But in verse 16 it says, “After Uzziah became powerful his pride led to his downfall.”
Did you hear about the woodpecker pecking on a tree when a lightening bolt struck? He got up and congratulated himself, saying, “Boy, I didn’t know I had it in me!”
Uzziah’s name means, “God is my help.” He forgot that and became vain. And the Bible says one day he strolled into the temple, picked up a censer, and prepared to make an offering. Eighty-one priests opposed him. That was their job. God had strictly prescribed how he was to be worshiped. And Levite priests were to handle the liturgy. But Uzziah swept them aside. “I’ll do it myself,” he said.
Uzziah was sort of like Michael Jordan, who conquered basketball and then went after baseball. Uzziah had conquered armies, built cities, and marshaled the masses. He now thinks he can do anything, even come to God on his own terms.
So there he stood in the temple, censer in hand, ragging at the 81 priests who opposed him, when suddenly, leprosy broke out on his forehead. And the Bible says the priests didn’t have to show Uzziah the door for “he himself was eager to leave because the Lord had afflicted him.”
Uzziah spent the rest of his life as a leper remembering that only God is great.
Scripture is full of swell-heads who think they are something, but learn the hard way that God is God and we are not.
Acts 12 tells of King Herod accepting worship from his subjects. An angel smote him, his guts spilt and worms ate him.
Daniel 4 tells of Nebuchadnezzar, whom God made great. Walking on his palace roof he surveyed his realm and said, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built…by my mighty power…for my glorious majesty?” He was smitten with madness and lived like a wild dog for many months.
I remind you that it’s not just ancient history in which God opposes the proud. It still occurs in modern times. For years the Soviet Union said, “There is no God!” Even Russian cosmonauts sneered, “I went into the heavens and I didn’t see God there.” Finally, when God had enough, he said, “There is no Soviet Union!”
Lord Byron’s poem, “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” has this in it. 2 Kings 18-19 tells of the Assyrian king Sennacherib of Nineveh. He wrote boastfully of himself that he was “king of the universe.” But when he attacked Israel and mocked God, an angel unsheathed his sword and in one night slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. Sennacherib retreated to Nineveh and was himself assassinated by his two sons. Lord Byron tells the story.
The Assyrians came down like the wolf on the fold.
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea.
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast.
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed.
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly; and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still.
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
And with the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail.
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted. the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal:
And the might of the gentiles, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Is it beginning to make sense?
So far we have sought to uncover the meaning of meekness and study it on one’s relation to God. Now lets….
Numbers, Chapter 12, tells of Moses leading Israel out of Egyptian slavery into the wilderness. Miriam wanted some of the glory. And being a hard-driving, high-achieving woman, she opposed Moses. “Does God speak only through Moses?” Rather than backhanding her, verse three says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone on the face of the earth.” He invited Miriam to the tent of meeting to lay her case before the Lord. There God came in a pillar of fire, reaffirmed Moses’ leadership, and Miriam was suddenly afflicted with leprosy! What does Moses do? What would you have done? “Ha, ha! You had it coming! That’ll teach you to oppose me!” No. Moses would have none of this. He simply prayed for Miriam’s healing. And it was so. That’s meekness. Tamed strength.
I know of a meek grandmother. Her daughter-in-law is a feminist, humanist, egotistical know-it-all. When she visits with her husband and two children she is totally domineering, arrogant and disruptive.
It’d be easy to use your power to mash her, to drive her away in the heat of well-deserved righteous indignation. But if you’re a Christian woman wanting to see your son, your grandchildren, and daughter-in-law ever again, meekness is your only recourse. So this woman practices humility, servanthood, and lets her life speak for 12 years now. And the impact is amazing. Over the years the daughter-in-law is mellowing. She’s going back to church. She doesn’t have all the answers. And what’s more, she’s still coming for visits.
Remember when the New Testament was being written? Nero was emperor of Rome. And he was rich, iron fisted, and cruel. He burned the slums of Rome to build it better. And he blamed the fire on Christians, then severely persecuted them.
The apostle Paul was preaching at the same time. He was poor, rejected by his own people, meekly trying to sort out the problems of the Corinthian church. Paul was arrested and eventually beheaded by Nero. Two thousand years later we call our sons Paul and our dogs Nero. Indeed! The meek do inherit the earth.
Visit the Vatican in Rome. The baptistery rests upon a beautiful slab of red jasper. It’s Emperor Trajan’s coffin lid. Trajan was one of the worst persecutors of the early church. But he died and was buried along with his empire. Yet the church of Jesus lives on! The Vatican has dumped Trajan’s body and commandeered his rich casket lid. And new converts stand atop the grave of the proud as they are baptized into the faith.
In 1985 the church sent me to South Texas to do a Fellowship of Christian Athletes youth retreat–the junior high variety. Now everyone should spend a week at a junior high retreat. The hysterics, the energy, the noise–who says there is no purgatory?
A junior high student’s idea of fun is picking on other people. And Bruce was their focus for the week. Bruce had cerebral palsy. He walked with jerks and spoke awkwardly. You guessed it–the kids spent their week imitating Bruce’s awkwardness and mimicking his speech.
I was angry. I taught on self-esteem, the goodness of God’s creation. And I talked to the leaders personally, trying to get them to desist.
You can imagine my anger when I found out the students had asked Bruce to give the devotional in our last assembly. Bruce jerked his way to the podium and it took him five minutes to speak nine words. “I love…Jesus…Christ…and…Jesus…Christ…loves…me!” When he finished there was dead silence except for the wind blowing across the prairie and into the chapel filled with 400 kids. Then someone started to cry, and revival broke out. Until way past midnight kids were coming to the open mike to repent, to ask forgiveness, to give their hearts to Jesus.
I still walk into Christian Athletes conferences and campus meetings and nearly grown men say, “Remember me? I was at the South Texas camp with you and Bruce. That’s when I gave my heart to the Lord!”
I tell you, it wasn’t good preaching or music or discipline that won those kids over. It was Bruce’s meekness.
“O the happy fulfillment of the meek, they shall inherit the earth.”
In the south of Egypt half-buried in the sand is a broken statue of a sneering pharaoh. Carved into the base is the inscription, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.” Nothing else remains except a trackless desert waste.
My friend, only God is great! Remember this and be meek.
Hide me, O my Jesus, in the shadow of your wing, for I know my place. Amen.