Pastor Chris Tweitmann
If we were to head out together towards the North Pole and we relied on a compass as our guide, we could wind up as far as 590 miles off course.
This is because the needle of a compass points towards the magnetic north pole and not the geographic north pole or what is known as true north.
Did you know there were two North Poles – the geographical North pole and the magnetic North Pole?
The earth produces a magnetic field.
The places where the lines of magnetic induction converge are called the magnetic poles.
If we were to stick a steel rod through the earth – the conjunction of the lines of longitude – where the pole passes through the rotation axis of the earth – those would be the true North and South poles shown on most maps.
These are fixed points. In contrast, the location of the magnetic north pole changes over time.
Because the earth is round and not flat, magnetic north will vary depending on where you are on the planet.
In addition, since magnetic north is based on the earth’s magnetic field, it changes – shifting within a range of hundreds of miles from year to year.
The expression true north is based on these variances which navigators and surveyors have to account for on a regular basis.
As we return to the Gospel of Luke, all of this becomes relevant as Jesus begins to teach those who would follow him what “true north” is the Kingdom of God.
Each of our lives takes a direction.
Sometimes we can think we heading one way only to discover we’re off course from where we intended to go.
Like magnetic north, there is much in this world, in life on this side of eternity, that attracts us to the point of navigating our lives according to such markers which gradually, ultimately cause us to drift off course in our relationship with Christ.
But as we’ll discover, it is only when we keep our eyes upon the fixed position of Christ and follow Jesus as our “true north” that we remain within the blessings of the Kingdom of God. (TEXT)
Jesus is about to make an important decision.
We often think Jesus only had twelve disciples.
However, if we read the four gospels closely – it soon becomes clear – even right here in this passage –
“…he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them…” “…A large crowd of his disciples was there…” -Luke 6:13, 17
initially Jesus had many followers – would-be students – sitting at his feet, under his instruction.
But now the time has come to cull the herd – to designate twelve pupils out of the group – to become something more than is disciples.
Jesus is discerning whom to choose to become his apostles.
“When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles…” -Luke 6:13
The word “apostle” means “one who is sent out” – in the sense of a messenger or a representative.
From among all of his followers, Jesus is deciding which ones will become the first, founding ambassadors of the Gospel – of the good news he brings – and of the Kingdom of Heaven – the reign of God he comes to inaugurate.
Just how significant a decision this is becomes obvious by what Jesus does prior to making it. Did we notice?
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” – Luke 6:12
It’s such an important choice, Jesus camps out by himself on a mountainside and pulls an all nighter under the stars praying – conversing with God – seeking his Father’s wisdom and guidance.
When’s the last time you and I spent that kind of time – gave that kind of focus to our Creator?
I ask this not to arose guilt or shame but rather to inspire and encourage us.
In following Jesus, we tend to notice the big, momentous things Jesus does – standing up for those who have been silenced, interceding and resourcing people in need that others have ignored, setting the table and breaking bread with outsiders who are being excluded.
And yet we also do well to pay attention to the little things Jesus does – to which it may appear only a passing reference is being made but which actually are the foundational practices that both enable and empower the more impactful work Jesus accomplishes.
In other words – and particularly related to what happens here – if prayer – abiding in and conversing with God – was necessary before Jesus made big decisions, before Jesus acted in the Lord’s name, before Jesus taught others about the way of the Kingdom,
Does it make any sense for prayer – having that kind of abiding, conversational relationship with our Creator – to be any less of a priority for us?
Could this be the reason why the decisions we make end up not being good ones – healthy, wise, and fruitful?
Is it possible the insight we are looking for – the vision, clarity, and strength we need to face that challenge, that obstacle, that opportunity before us is right within our grasp, our reach – if only we’d make the time and the effort to reach up and out to our Heavenly Father instead of remaining stuck within the limits of our own heads and hearts?
Having chosen twelve of his followers to become apostles of the Kingdom of God,
“When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” – Luke 6:13 – 16
Jesus takes them back down to where the rest of his disciples are waiting.
In the time Jesus has been gone, a large crowd of people from all over the place – including regions outside of what were considered Jewish territories – have gathered alongside Jesus’ disciples.
“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…” – Luke 6:17
These folks have journeyed, like many before them, for two reasons:
“who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.” – Luke 6:18
to hear Jesus speak and hopefully to be cured of whatever is ailing them – physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.
Once again, as Luke has described before, various healings begin taking place.
“Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” – Luke 6:18 – 19
The miraculous power Jesus is wielding is so tangibly palpable to all, everyone is straining just to be able to make physical contact with him.
In the aftermath of this incredible manifestation of the touch of the divine – signs and wonders of hope and renewal by the hand of God,
with this once surging crowd before him and no doubt listening in, Jesus turns and addresses his disciples directly.
“Looking at his disciples, he said…” – Luke 6:20
What amounts to Jesus’ State of the Union address often has been called “The Sermon on the Plain.”
Astute observers will notice Jesus’ teaching here sounds similar to what is famously known as “The Sermon on the Mount” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
And while there are some notable differences between these two teachings, both accounts still are likely to be recordings of the same sermon. We ought to view the variance between the two versions as the difference between two students taking notes on the same lecture.
Matthew’s version is a first-hand account. As one of the original 12 apostles, he heard these words straight from the horse’s mouth.
Whereas Luke’s reconstruction of this message is from second-hand research he has done – talking with those – like Matthew – who were there in-person when this sermon was originally delivered.
We’ll be looking at this foundational teaching by Jesus over the next couple of weeks.
Today, we’re going to focus on what have come to be called the Beatitudes – “Blessed are you…”
Unlike Matthew’s version in which there are eight beatitudes, Luke condenses the list of those who are blessed down to four.
“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 people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.” – Luke 6:20 – 22
Notice also Luke strips away
Matthew’s added description of these groups of people:
“the poor in spirit,” “those who hunger for righteousness,” etc.
Luke removes our ability to over-spiritualize the conditions of poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution and instead sets Jesus’ promises within the harsh, physical, economic, material, and social realities of a broken world.
Even more than this – and again unlike Matthew, Luke records Jesus doesn’t just teach who is blessed; Jesus also declares the counterbalance – those who are in misery, those lives are steeped in woe and regret.
“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 everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
– Luke 6:24- 26
Now, this list of people may surprise us.
It certainly would have surprised anyone back in Jesus’ day who would have put themselves in one of those groupings.
Then and now, we typically don’t associate the rich, the well-fed, the entertained, and the admired with being unhappy or finding themselves in anguish.
And while we’re at it, if we’re honest, we don’t normally consider being poor, hungry, broken-hearted, and persecuted as a state of blessedness.
As we scratch our heads, we might be tempted to receive what Jesus is saying here as a list of virtues and vices.
On the surface, as we hear Jesus declare these sorts of people are blessed whereas these types of folks are to be despaired, we might easily conclude Jesus’ point is become like the first group of people.
However, these are not a set of instructions.
Jesus doesn’t direct us to go out and execute plans for becoming poor, starving ourselves, making ourselves weep, or doing something in order to get persecuted.
If the foundation of the Christian faith is there is nothing we can do to earn or merit the Lord’s blessing, but instead we are blessed solely by the grace of God, then it follows Jesus isn’t giving us a how-to lesson for being blessed.
Furthermore, if the good news of the Gospel is there will be end to all the troubles of this world – no more death, sorrow, crying, and pain, then Jesus isn’t declaring some virtue, to be found in the condition of being either poor, hungry, grief-stricken, or abused.
A little detail Luke emphasizes is how Jesus came down from the mountainside and stood on a level place among those gathered.
“He went down with them and stood on a level place.” – Luke 6:17
Jesus put himself on a equal footing.
In other words, through this teaching, Jesus isn’t so much giving those who follow him a prescription for living as he is leveling with us – giving a description – an acknowledgement – the truth about the way things are.
The Gospel does not romanticize the realities of poverty, hunger, grief, and oppression.
The Gospel acknowledges these are the distinctive marks of the things not being the way there are supposed to be.
But the Gospel also proclaims the arrival of the God who comes down in person to set things right – to reverse the mess we’ve made of our lives, our relationships, and all creation.
Jesus isn’t telling us how to be blessed. Jesus is reorienting all of us to who can be blessed.
Keep in mind, Jesus isn’t giving these statements to his disciples in abstraction.
With a large crowd of people in need around them, we can picture Jesus motioning toward all those gathered – Jew and Gentile alike – as he declares people like this – the have-nots – the disenfranchised, the famished, the heartbroken, and the wounded, they can, they are to be blessed.
But again, Jesus isn’t preaching moralism here.
Jesus isn’t merely offering some vague future promise of hope.
Jesus isn’t simply declaring “It’s okay if you’re poor or hungry or grieving or persecuted – because someday – ultimately you will be blessed.”
Notice, both the blessings and the woes Jesus proclaim are anchored in the present tense.
These are not only promises of being blessed in the end but of being blessed here and NOW.
And Jesus backs up this talk with visible, practical action both in this moment and as we watch Jesus go forward.
For as followers of Jesus, what do we witness?
We witness Jesus, again and again, bringing relief to those who are languishing in poverty – those who find themselves powerless.
We witness Jesus, again and again satisfy the hungry both with tangible food – loaves and fishes anyone? – as well as by laying a foundation of hospitality and meal-sharing that demonstrates there is more than enough room at the table for all.
For those who mourn and weep in the face of loss – even death itself – we witness Jesus bringing hope and healing.
And for those who have been punitively isolated or condemned as unworthy – even untouchable – we witness Jesus crossing lines, tearing down boundaries, taking the alienated by the hand and leading them back into fellowship and community.
Jesus walks the talk – the talk – just a reminder – he gives directly, specifically, to his disciples – those who profess to follow him.
Jesus isn’t just doing all this for show.
Jesus is modeling, Jesus is inviting those who follow him to go and do likewise.
Not to hand to those in need, those struggling in poverty, hunger, grief, or with abuse – some pie-in-sky, spiritual platitudes of “Everything happens for a reason” or “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
Beyond the fact Jesus never said of ANY of these statements, what Jesus did say – the truth and promises he proclaimed, he commands those who follow him not just to repeat with words but to embody through their deeds.
As disciples of Christ, we are to reflect and implement the values of the Kingdom of God – the way of Jesus
– not to be blessed but because we are blessed
– not to secure our salvation but because our salvation is secure
– not to do good, to feel good about ourselves but because God is good –
because God’s goodness is not reserved for the few but for the many – not for those who deserve or earn it but for all of us who cannot earn, do not deserve anything on our own.
And this brings to the woes Jesus proclaims – those woes expressed for the rich, the well-fed, the entertained, and the admired.
Is Jesus condemning having wealth, eating well, laughter – enjoying life – and gaining respect and recognition?
Are those who have inherently cursed because are not have-nots?
If Jesus’ teaching here is not a prescription of do’s and don’ts, then the answer is, of course not.
If Jesus’ teaching is rather a description of how things work in a broken world apart from God, then we ought to hear these woes as more of a caution – as less of a pronouncement and more of Jesus trying to get our attention.
Jesus is not declaring if we’re rich, well-fed, loving life, and enjoying the admiration of others that we can’t follow him.
No, Jesus is warning us to be careful because these can be the very conditions that make following him more challenging, more difficult.
Once again, Jesus is revealing, acknowledging something that’s unfortunately true in this fractured world of us.
The reason why some of us need to watch out and take care, the reason why some of us ought to pitied, is when being wealthy, eating well, enjoying life, and having others speak well of us falsely lead us to believe we are self-made and self-sufficient.
Those who are well off materially easily are tempted to believe they have all they need.
Perceiving themselves as self-reliant, such persons, as Jesus describes, already have received their comfort and consolation.
Cocooning themselves both from our universal need for God and from their connection – their responsibility and accountability to their fellow man, such people are too be pitied because not only have falsely convinced they lack nothing – but when they inevitably go hungry, when they unavoidably confront loss and mourning, they will have cut themselves off from the satisfaction and the healing – the blessedness God in Christ graciously extends to all.
When we believe this life is all that matters, when we believe our identity – who we are – and our destiny – where we are going – is a result of what we earn, what we consume, what we accomplish, – all of those other things are going to become distractions, obstacles, from seeking and abiding in the Lord.
Our rest won’t be in Jesus, it’ll be on the couch.
Our contentment will not be in the depths of the word of God, the unchanging character of Christ; our contentment will be in whatever momentarily entertains us, whatever provides our next fix.
Our sense of purpose and direction won’t emerge from regularly checking in through the Spirit in prayer; our sense of purpose and direction will come from whatever is trending on social media, whatever the cynical talking heads tell us we ought to think and feel.
Part of why Jesus offers us this caution, part of the reason this warning needs to be given, is because what Jesus is declaring – the Kingdom of God is a realm in which conventional, human wisdom is turned on its head.
Beloved, the Gospel of grace goes against everything we fundamentally believe about how the world works.
It runs contrary to what we teach and how we raise our children, the manner in which we construct and run our businesses, the ethics by which we build our societies.
Where you get what you give. You earn what you deserve or what you take. You work hard to get ahead – to establish and prove yourself. You are responsible for your own happiness.
Where those who are poor, who are hungry, are responsible for their own problems.
Where those who grieve are given but a moment to mourn their loss but are quickly expected to get over it or else be left behind by the march of progress.
Where those who are persecuted and abused should have kept their nose out of trouble or if they are not willing or able to change their circumstances, need to accept that its their own fault.
If this remains our mentality – if we still in any way are buying or selling in any way or form – a sense of self entitlement, privilege, or deservedness,
if we continue to cling to the assumption, to convince ourselves that this world apart from God is fair and balanced, equal and equitable, then what Jesus is telling us here – sounds ridiculous, nonsensical. It makes no sense.
And as hard it may be to hear, to accept, – that means, while we may to profess to believe in Jesus – great guy, SOG, we appreciate all he’s done for us – while we may profess to believe in Jesus, we’re not actually following Jesus – going where he goes and doing what he does.
Beloved, we can say we believe in Jesus all the day long. but putting our feet to the floor and actually following Jesus means embracing, internalizing, and actualizing his ministry and mission through our own lives.
This means we who don’t just pay lip service to the idea but practically, tangibly live out of the conviction all that we are, all that we have is by the grace of God and nothing else.
This means walking by faith – faith in Christ – and not walking by the sight of our bank accounts and portfolios, the sight of all our possessions, the sight of all our toys and vacations, the sight of all our titles, degrees, performance evaluations, and approval ratings.
Following Jesus means both living out of the assurance and hope of tomorrow thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection –
and extending to others – the blessings God promises today – a world in which no one is left without, no one is left behind, and no one is forsaken – where all are abundantly well-fed, well-resourced, joyous laughing, and treated with dignity and respect.
For the same Jesus we witness acting with unconditional love and gracious compassion through a tangible ministry of presence, calls his disciples to do the same.
And the same prayer, the same presence, the same power that emanated from Jesus to inaugurate the Kingdom of God is available to those who follow Christ.
We have but to make time, to create margin in our lives for these gifts and we will find ourselves transformed – blessed even as we become a blessing to others.
Each of our lives takes a direction. We are all going somewhere.
Sometimes we can think we heading one way only to discover we’re off course from where we intended to go – from where we are supposed to be.
Is Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus our “true north” – our fixed position for regularly reorienting and guiding this journey of faith we’re all on together?
If we aren’t living out of Christ’s vision for our life together, then chances are we are trying to exist in an alternate reality – a life that will end up running short and proving false rather than becoming full, abundant, and everlasting.
There is much in this still broken but healing world, in life on this side of our final and complete redemption, that we can mistake, that we can presume as the means by which to navigate our course.
But all that glitters is not gold.
And the gifts of God are never given to us as ends onto themselves but always as a means of living for and inviting others into the glory of the Lord.
So instead of worrying about or obsessively guarding all the time, talent, and treasure the Lord has afforded to us, let us open our hands as we open our hearts – all the while never taking our eyes off Jesus.
Let us allow Jesus to continue to teach, to sensitize us, to empower us to notice and to enter into those moments – however big or small –
those moments of vision, of clarity – when the Spirit stirs our gut, touches our heart, and inspires our mind – those moments when we may not know exactly how to respond or what to do, but we know things are not right.
In such moments, let us walk and act by faith – trusting Jesus will reveal the truth, Jesus will show us the way, Jesus will give us the life we are meant to share with that person in need, that person Christ already has claimed as blessed. Amen.