Jesus crowd

Luke 6:17-26

Most Bible scholars, if not Bible readers, are quick to point out this sermon in Luke (6:17-49) is essentially the same one given in Matthew, except there we call it the Sermon on the Mount. Though there are some differences, the similarities outweigh them. The most obvious difference is this one:

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 coastal region around Tyre and Sidon… (Luke 6:17)

Other differences include:

  • Matthew’s version is much longer than Luke’s;
  • In Matthew, Jesus preaches on a mountain, in Luke He is on a level place;
  • Luke includes some material not mentioned in Matthew;
  • Matthew has nine beatitudes but Luke has only four.

For the similarities, notice the following:

  • Both sermons begin with a series of beatitudes;
  • Both sermons include serious teaching on loving your enemies;
  • Both end with the same parable.

If we believe both Luke and Matthew have recorded the same event, why are there differences? Luke was writing to Theophilus, a Greek, who had little or no interest in anything having to do with Judaism. Luke’s Gospel, when taken as a whole, is very light in Jewish context. Matthew, on the other hand, is writing primarily for Jewish readers, so it is no wonder Luke excludes much of what Matthew had included for his audience.

1. The setting, verses 17-19

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 coastal region around 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.

Luke uses a curious phrase to describe who was listening to Jesus this day: “a large crowd of his disciples…and a great number of people” from various places. Luke always stressed Jesus’ popularity, especially during these early days of His earthly ministry. Many members of the audience are described by the historian as “his disciples.” There were “the learners,” the people who, though not apostles, were people traveling around with Jesus. Today, we might call them “fans.” In addition to these “fans,” where others. These were the “curiosity seekers,” the “rubber neckers,” who had heard about Jesus, this miracle working preacher, and they came to see what the hubbub about this man was all about. We have no reason to think there were trouble makers in the crowd.

In addition to this group of listeners, we find out that Jesus’ apostles were there, and it was to this group in particular that Jesus addressed the bulk of His sermon, although we can be sure everybody else heard His teachings.

2. Four blessings, verses 20-23

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 people 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 ancestors treated the prophets.

Jesus looked intently, meaningfully, at His disciples. Which ones? It may be that Jesus was addressing His comments to the many learners listening to His teaching, or specifically to His apostles. The phrase “you who are poor” seems to narrow it down. Was He addressing only poor disciples? Perhaps, but more likely Jesus is addressing those whom He had called earlier that day; those who had given up everything to follow Him. If that was the case, then Jesus was talking to The Twelve, with the others listening in.

Luke’s version of the blessings, or the Beatitudes, is much shorter than Matthew’s but no less powerful, especially when they are contrasted with the four woes which follow them. Each blessing finds its opposite in a corresponding woe. We’ll look at the woes in due course.

Blessed are you who are poor.

Jesus is NOT saying that all poor people are blessed nor does He mean that those who follow Him are blessed because they are poor. Physical poverty is not necessarily a blessing. No, what Jesus is getting at here is something much deeper than mere physical poverty. Jesus’ apostles were definitely impoverished, having given up their former lives as fishermen or tax collectors or whatever, to follow Him. But thanks to their material poverty, these men had been made aware of their spiritual poverty. Not only that, although they were spiritually poor, they were not bankrupt. For it is at the very depths of spiritual poverty that one finds the riches of God:

…for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now.

This is the hunger that no amount of food and drink can satisfy. Matthew adds “…for righteousness,” so we know that this hunger is something that relates to the kingdom of God. What is explicit in Matthew is implied in Luke. Jesus is referring to spiritual hunger. Those who hunger for the things of the Spirit, righteous things, will see their hunger satiated:

…you will be satisfied.

Jesus would later tell a parable, relayed to us only by Luke, of the Pharisee and the tax collector, that serves to illustrate this idea of spiritual hunger. Notice the punch line:

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

Here was a man desperate for mercy and forgiveness, for a touch from God, and for the peace of mind and heart that comes from knowing one is in right standing with God. This is what spiritual hunger looks like. Whenever anybody is that desperate to experience God, he will not be disappointed.

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Blessed are you who weep now.

Luke’s third blessing finds its counterpart in Matthew’s second. Luke’s “weepers” are Matthew’s “mourners.” In Matthew, these people are promised “comfort,” and in Luke, we read this:

…you will laugh.

But what are these people crying over or mourning over? The obvious answer is the state of their own sinfulness. When we get close to God, the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts us of our sins. We certainly can’t be thrilled when we see ourselves the way God does! Indeed, it saddens us. But even more than our own personal sinfulness, when we are born again, His Spirit dwells within us, and His Spirit surely grieves at the state of mankind. When He grieves, we grieve.

So, Jesus is referring to “God-centered” weeping. Perhaps Psalm 119:136 illustrates this kind of weeping best:

Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

And in Daniel, we see the prophet in prayer, weeping over the sins of his people, culminating in 9:19–

Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

These weepers are also blessed. One day, their weeping will end and they will be able laugh.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5)

Blessed are you when you are hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected as evil.

The blessing associated with being hated, excluded, insulted, and taken for evil is not unlike being able to laugh:

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

All this negative treatment must be the result of being associated with Jesus Christ. If you are persecuted on account of your faith, “great is your reward in heaven.” Your reward is in direct proportion to your sacrifice, and yet, because it will be a heavenly reward, it will be much, much greater.

In a way, this particular blessing is prophetic in that it described precisely what happened when Jesus ascended to heaven.

3. Four woes, verses 24-26

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.

Now we come to the woes, which in both structure and content form an exact antithesis to the blessings. In each case, Luke quotes Jesus as blessing the very people we would normally call the unfortunate ones and pronouncing woes upon the kinds of people we generally consider fortunate. Once again, we see this major theme of Luke’s: the Kingdom of God is the exact opposite to man’s expectations. It has no parallel in this world. Jesus’ teachings turn everything upside down.

Woe the the rich

There is nothing wrong with wealth, but trusting in wealth is sinful. When acquiring earthly wealth of any kind is your sole ambition, this woe is for you. This woe is particularly dreadful. Those who have chosen to find satisfaction in the here and now over future blessings basically forfeit those future blessings. Quite literally, they:

…have already received their reward.

Never let it be said that God would force His blessings on anybody who doesn’t want them!

Woe to you who are well fed now.

One who is “well fed” is one who thinks they have no needs. Like those who have trusted in their wealth, those who have so much they think they need nothing else, will receive exactly that from God: nothing. The sad fact is, every man, even one who is stuffed with and choking on blessings, is a needy man. But God will do nothing for a needy man if that man manifests no desire.

In a weird twist, one who is full, will go hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing.

The same holds true for those who revel in gaiety and joviality while ignoring God. Imagine the tragic scene of sinners, blind to their own state, laughing and joking on their way to an eternity of misery, completely unaware of that future. Eventually, their smiles will fade and it will be time for them mourn and weep.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.

What does Jesus mean? Is it bad when people compliment you? Obviously, Jesus is getting at something deeper. Hendriksen offers this insight:

What Jesus is saying amounts to this: “When everybody speaks well of you it must be that you are a deceitful, servile, flatterer.

Absalom,. King David’s son, is a good example of the kind of person Jesus had in mind (2 Samuel 15:2-6).

And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” (2 Samuel 14:4)

Here was a man who did everything he could to ingratiate himself with just about everybody, yet he was a liar, he was insincere, and sought only to enrich himself. Absalom, and people like him, are like the ancient false prophets who preached only what people wanted to hear. This kind off preaching and flattery is vacuous. If everybody speaks well of you, there must be something wrong with you. If you are taking a stand for the truth, especially God’s truth, you will offend somebody.

Like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants us to understand that following Him means radically changing the way we live, which begins with changing the way we think. Naturally, when we live and think differently than those around us, trouble may ensue. While looking for trouble is not something we should be doing, if it comes our way, it means we are doing something right.

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