Passage: Luke 6:12–6:26
Count your blessings in Jesus, not in the world.
What does it mean to be “blessed”? What does it mean to have a blessed life? There’s a hashtag that people use on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram called #blessed. When you use a hashtag - the pound symbol - you are linking your social media post with other people’s posts who have used that same hashtag. So if you go on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you can look at all the posts where someone has used #blessed.
There are some common themes. People will take pictures with family or friends and express their thankfulness to be with those people or to have them in their life then label it #blessed. Someone might do something nice for someone else - surprised them with a gift, helped them with something - and people will take a picture and label it #blessed. Perhaps someone will be on a vacation or have a nice relaxing moment and they’ll take a picture of the beach they are looking at or the coffee they are drinking and label it #blessed. Sometimes people feel happy about their significant other or their kids and they post a picture of them and label it #blessed.
A common theme is thankfulness for good things in their life. They capture moments when their hearts are full because of the people they enjoy or because of times when life is going well. Things are as they should be.
What makes you feel blessed? When does your heart feel full? When do you feel happy with how your life is going? When do you lean back and just soak in the scene and think, “This is the good life”?
In our passage in Luke 6:12-26, Jesus answers what the blessed life is for us. When does Jesus think we should use #blessed? It may be surprising to us how Jesus describes the blessed life.
It’s important for us to align our picture of the blessed life with Jesus’ picture of the blessed life. Most of the time, we let our feeling of blessedness go up and down based on our circumstances: things going your way, vacation, a tasty meal or drink, a quiet time to rest and relax, family time together, relaxing. The problem is that we are letting our current situation determine whether we count ourselves blessed. We count our blessings based on what is happening to us right now or how people feel and think about us: are people happy with me, do they like me, am I feeling loved. It’s like the stars all have to align and at certain moments, we have a good day or a good hour or a good five minutes where we feel blessed.
What if the blessed life is not something that we work to make happen or wait to happen but is something given to us? What if it went deeper than our current circumstances and whether people like us or approve of us? Jesus says it does. Jesus tells us the blessing we receive from him cannot be altered, taken way, or weakened. It is a constant. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a constant state of feeling blessed no matter what is happening around you?
This passage will unfold in three parts. First, the leadership of the kingdom. Then a taste of the kingdom. Then the blessings of the kingdom. Let’s look at the Leadership of the Kingdom in verses 12 through 16.
The Leadership of the Kingdom (6:12-16)
Here in verse 12, we see Jesus’ commitment to prayer, spending time with the Father alone. In 4:1, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be alone. In 4:42, Jesus left Capernaum to be alone in a desolate place. In 5:16 stated that Jesus made a practice of withdrawing to desolate places to pray. Here again, he went out on a mountain to pray and spent all night with God. This rhythm and habit in Jesus’ life shows the necessity and priority he saw in getting alone with God. The Son of God’s relationship with his heavenly Father was first priority. He needed to step away from what he’s doing in order to be. If we want a relationship with our heavenly Father like Jesus, we too need to create rhythms in our life to stop doing for God in order to just be with God.
The result of this prayer time is clarity on selecting a group of his disciples for a special task. After spending all night in prayer, Jesus calls his disciples to himself. Then he selected twelve from among them whom he named “apostles. Twelve is no random number. Israel was made up of twelve tribes, named after Jacob’s twelve sons. This selection comes on the heels of five stories of controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. His selection of these twelve disciples is a judgment on Israel’s leadership who are rejecting Jesus. The religious elite and teachers of the law will not be the leaders in God’s kingdom.
What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple? The word “apostle” means “sent one” and was often used to refer to someone sent for a specific purpose like an ambassador, delegate, or messenger. These men have been chosen by Jesus as his ambassadors: to be authorized representatives of Jesus and his kingdom. In Acts chapter 1, Luke’s sequel, it’s clear that a major role of the apostles is to serve as authorized witnesses about Jesus. The requirement was that they were with Jesus from his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist until the day Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Acts 1:21-22). While there are others called apostles outside of the Twelve (Acts 14:4; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 9:4–6; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25), this group came to be recognized to carry a unique authority due to Jesus’ choice of them. In fact, the writings about Jesus and his kingdom that the early church recognized as authoritative were ones either written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle. These are the writings that make up the New Testament. The early church didn’t choose which books would have authority but they recognized which books possessed authority by the fact that they were written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle. And that goes back to Jesus’ choice of these twelve to be his authorized witnesses and representatives.
What’s interesting is the people in this group. Simon (also called Peter), Andrew, Simon’s brother, and James and John, who are sons of Zebedee, were all fishermen. They all began following Jesus in chapter 5:10-11 after their huge catch of fish under Jesus’ guidance in their boat.
Philip and Bartholomew also met Jesus in those early days, recorded in John chapter 1. Matthew has usually been identified as another name for Levi, the tax collector who began following Jesus in Luke 5:27-28. Thomas is famously called doubting Thomas due to the story in John 20 where he desired to see the marks in Jesus’ hands and the spear hole in his side before he would believe Jesus was resurrected. Not much is known about James, the son of Alphaeus. Simon, we are told, was called the Zealot. This term was later used to refer to a political group who wanted to fight back against Rome by violence and rebellion. That group was possibly formed a bit after this time period, but Simon is still recognized as a Jewish nationalist, passionate about liberation from Rome’s occupation. Little is known about Judas son of James, but he is called the son of James to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
So what kind of people make up the leadership of Jesus’ kingdom? What’s their background? What makes them qualified? We know there are four fishermen, a tax collector working for Rome, a zealot who hates Rome, and a traitor. These are people with different occupations, different political positions, different incomes, different backgrounds. Some of these guys couldn’t be more different than each other. In any other setting, they might even hate each other. But they are brought together by Jesus.
Who can be part of this kingdom? It doesn't matter your background, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can join this kingdom. You can even become a leader. This is the beauty of the church. The invitation is for anyone. This list of disciples is a picture of who can be part of this kingdom.
What is a disciple? It isn’t defined by your occupation, your political party, your past. What definition would you give? It’s important for you to know that because if we want to be part of Jesus’ kingdom, then we need to be his disciple. So wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to know what a disciple is? What does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple? It’s also helpful if as a church we all have the same definition so we can be united in what we are pursuing and so we have a common language and understanding. Our definition is this: a disciple is someone surrendering all of life to Jesus and inviting others to do the same.
Think about each of our stories. Who were you before you surrendered to Jesus? We all have different stories. But Jesus brings us all together as one. And sends us to invite others to surrender to Jesus no matter their background.
This part of the passage gives us a picture of who is included in Jesus’ kingdom. The second part of the passage gives us a picture of what the kingdom of God is like. It’s a taste of the kingdom here on earth.
Demonstration: A Taste of the Kingdom on Earth (6:17-19)
Jesus came down from the mountain where he prayed and to which he called his disciples. Then he stood on a level place, where three groups were present: apostles, a great crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of people who came to hear and be healed. Among the multitude were also people who were troubled with unclean spirits. These people come from Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities so may indicate that Gentiles were coming to Jesus even now but it also could be referring to Jews who came from that region.
The crowd’s desire is to hear Jesus and be healed. Jesus heals and casts out demons. People were seeking to touch him because power would flow from him to heal. This scene is a picture of Jesus’ ministry to release and restore people. He released them from what burdens them and afflicts them. He restores them to health and wholeness. This is a taste of what Jesus is going to do finally and completely for the whole creation and for all who surrender to him. This is a movie trailer that gives you a taste for what’s coming but it’s not the whole thing.
Jesus’ kingdom mission includes both words and deeds. These deeds of healing and casting out demons are a demonstration of the kingdom. In the next story, Jesus begins a proclamation of the kingdom in words. Words and deeds, proclamation and demonstration, go together - demonstration in deeds, proclamation in words. As a church, we summarize this in our vision: showing and telling the good news about Jesus. We show, or demonstrate in deeds, the good news about Jesus. We tell, or proclaim in words, the good news about Jesus.
The next part of this passage, verses 20 through 26, begin a sermon. Jesus addresses the people who have come to him. The sermon shows that you must respond to Jesus. You can experience some of the deeds and demonstration of the kingdom without a response. But if you want to actually be part of the kingdom, you can’t stay neutral with Jesus. The people who have just come to touch Jesus in order to be healed need to see that more of a response is required.
Proclamation: The Blessings of the Kingdom (6:20-26)
The whole sermon is three parts. We are only looking at the first part today which is made up of two lists first of the blessings of the kingdom and then the woes or curses of rejecting it.
The list of blessings are called “beatitudes”. When Israel entered into a covenant with God, the “blessings” for obedience and the “curses” for unfaithfulness were made clear. Psalm 1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps 1:1-4). Here too, when you come into relationship with Jesus and enter his kingdom, you are blessed - your status and position have changed. But it doesn’t mean your physical circumstances right now have changed. You have moved from death to life spiritually. Your future is in God’s kingdom where he will release and restore from all that pushes you down and pushes you out. Justice will be done. All will be set right. And you will be on the good side of that justice.
Let’s walk through them starting in verse 20:
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: (Luke 6:20a)
So these blessings are addressed to Jesus’ disciples. He’s looking at them as he says them. If you call yourself a disciple of Jesus today, Jesus looks you in the eyes and speaks these to you. What does he say?
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20b)
“Poor” in Scripture takes on a wider meaning than just low or no income. The word for “poor” has less to do with how much money you have in your wallet and more to do with your status and position in society: how do other people see you, how do other people treat you, are you part of the in-crowd. Someone could have low social status for financial reasons, but it could also be because of education, gender, occupation, family heritage, religious purity, and more. For instance. So “poor” includes anyone who for whatever reason has a low social status.
Levi or Matthew the tax collector was employed by the government so he wasn’ts financially poor, but he had a low social status because of his job. He was an Israelite making money off his own people by working for the enemy. He was an outcast. “Poor” includes people who are experiencing oppression, neglect, or exclusion due to whatever reason at the hands of the courts, government, or religion. These people find themselves marginalized, disadvantaged, vulnerable, and needy. Their place in society and in religion wasn’t secure. Think about high school. Students are often part of distinct groups. You might have a music group, an athletes group, the popular kids, and so forth. The “poor” are the unpopular kids. They are left out. They are ignored. They are bullied and made fun of.
Jesus isn’t saying anyone who finds themselves in this position is automatically part of his kingdom. He is talking to people many of whom find themselves in this category AND who have indicated a commitment to him. Remember, he is looking at his disciples. And in the final beatitude, Jesus says these people have identified themselves with him. The requirement for entering the kingdom is not that you are “poor” but humility and a response to Jesus. This is similar to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew: blessed are the poor in spirit. But often people in this position more easily recognize their need and look to God to help them. The blessing for them is that even though their status and position in society and the world is low, what they have is the kingdom of God! They may not have much in this world, but they have what God offers them.
The second beatitude says:
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. (Luke 6:21a)
Being hungry is a result of being poor. But the situation that has created this hunger is caused by injustice and oppression. So this is close to what Matthew says: blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They are hungry physically but also hunger for things to be set right - for God’s kingdom to come.
One of the common images used for the kingdom is a banquet with the Messiah as the host. The focus is not on the food, although it will be the case that they won’t have to worry about food, but on satisfaction and fulfillment in God - in his reign and rule. Even though their bellies are grumbling now, they can set their eyes on the future party with Jesus in his kingdom.
The third beatitude is:
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6:21b)
Weeping and mourning in the Old Testament primarily occur due to injustice in the world which leads to God’s people being persecuted or exiled from God. This then fits well with the previous beatitude and the next one. These are the tears of experiencing injustice, suffering, persecution, and rejection. These are tears longing to be set free and for the world to be set right. Jesus says that those tears will turn to laughing in his kingdom because then they will be set free from the injustice and the rejection of the world and all will be made right.
The last beatitude says:
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)
Hated, excluded, reviled, spurned because of your commitment to and identification with the Son of Man, Jesus. The image Jesus gives is vivid: rejoice and leap for joy in that day when these things happen to you. Why? Because your reward is great in heaven. Why is your reward great in heaven? Because that is also how they treated the prophets. Even though we have the books of the prophets in our Bibles today, they often were not well respected or listened to when they were actually alive. People didn’t like their message. They were hated and reviled. People just wanted them to be quiet and sometimes sought to get rid of them. So though suffering at the hands of others, disciples of Jesus can know that their reward is great in heaven. Whatever people do, they cannot take away what Jesus gives to them.
Is this what you would call the blessed life? Poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, reviled, spurned? Do people post pictures of this on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? “I have no money to buy food today. #blessed.” “I was excluded and reviled because of my loyalty to Jesus today. I’m rejoicing and leaping for joy! #blessed.” “I’m weeping over the injustice and ungodliness in the world. #blessed.”
Of course, it’s not that these conditions and situations are what makes someone blessed. What makes them blessed is that even though they are in these situations, this will not always be their situation. Someday they will be reversed. They are part of the kingdom of God and that means one day they won’t be of poor status and position, every hunger will be satisfied, every tear will be wiped away and turned to laughing, and the rejection and hatred they are experiencing now will give way to reward from Jesus in his kingdom.
The good news for these people is what Mary said in her song back in chapter 1.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:51a-53)
The prideful are brought down and those of humble or poor estate are exalted. That’s the message of the whole Bible: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. It’s Jesus’ sermon from Luke 4 where he said he has come to proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, liberty for the oppressed.
Count your blessings in Jesus, not in the world. Count your blessings in what Jesus gives you, not your circumstances. Not in what you have or what people think of you or what you do.
We all have a vision or picture of the blessed life not so much in our heads but in our hearts. It’s what we desire, what we long for, how we hope and wish things could be. This is our picture of the kingdom. It’s the picture our hearts are aimed at. It’s what we want to be true. It’s our “if only”.
This blessing list isn’t just about helping you have a more positive attitude and feeling thankful. It’s about what gospel you believe. The opposite of the beatitudes are the woes starting in verse 24:
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)
If you think about it, these are often what we feel thankful for and when we consider ourselves blessed: rich or having enough money that we aren’t worried and can relax and buy nice things, full from a good meal, laughing and having fun, people liking us and respecting us. Are these the sorts of things people post on their social media accounts? Pictures of projects they’ve finished or something new they bought, both require money. Pictures of food, which is an odd phenomenon. Pictures where they are laughing and enjoying others. Stories of people doing nice things for them because they are liked and loved.
I’m not saying those things are wrong in and of themselves. We can count those situations as God’s blessings to us. But if that’s what we are chasing, if that’s what we are waiting for, if that’s what our hope is in, then we have believed a different gospel and are living for a different kingdom. Count your blessings in Jesus, not in the world.
It’s about a different kingdom. It’s about a different Savior. It’s about a different King. It’s about a different God. This is a different gospel. This is the gospel of different good news, of a different kingdom. If your blessed life is what’s on the list of woes, you are living for a different kingdom. Your picture of the blessed life is not what Jesus says a blessed life is.
Luke tells us he writes to give believers certainty about what they’ve been taught. When you have trusted in Jesus and entered the kingdom of God but your circumstances are difficult, it can be easy to lose faith. “I’ve trusted in Jesus, but nothing has changed. I’m still poor, I’m still hungry, I’m still mourning. In fact, I’m treated worse because of him! People hate me and exclude me and mistreat me. This sure doesn’t feel like Jesus is king or that I’m blessed.”
We need to look beyond our right-now-present circumstances for joy that lasts. Base your joy not on your worldly position but on your kingdom position. Measure your kingdom position to see if you’re blessed. Lasting joy can only be found in what will last. We need joy that floats above our circumstances. The world can’t touch that joy. It can’t be taken away.
This passage is about Jesus’ disciples and what it looks like to be a disciple in his kingdom. The word disciple is repeated in all three parts of the passage. What sort of outlook on life does a disciple have? Blessed. Why? Because of what Jesus gives us.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains and appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, 25-26)
Jesus doesn't say let go of looking for blessing and joy. He says: find a better source.
What have you chained yourself to for joy? What have you tied your sense of blessing to? What are you holding onto hoping it will eventually bless you and give you joy?
Why do we do it? It’s quicker. It’s easier. But it’s microwave-blessing. It’s fast-food blessing. It’s cheap blessing versus quality blessing. What does the world offer? Money, material things, a good time, popularity. It’s all so temporary. It’s nothing to build a life on. It’s not a good foundation.
The culture and your family of origin have handed you metrics for what a blessed life is. The world is filling us with competing gospels and pushing us to live for a competing kingdom. Advertisers spend millions of dollars to sell you their picture of the blessed life so that you will buy their product so you can have it. Movies, songs, and TV shows hold out a vision of the blessed life to you. The things at that woe list is what the world wants us to love. The world’s riches, its comforts, its pleasures, its joys, its respect and opinions of you. The world has liturgies forming a vision of the good life in us
Why do we settle for it? Because every company is spending millions of dollars to get you to buy their version of the good life. Politicians are trying to get you to vote for their version of the good life. TV shows, movies, Netflix, Amazon, apps on your phone. The world is programming a picture of the good life - the blessed life - into us. The current of the world will naturally pull this way unless we are continually paddling against it.
Jesus is cooking an amazing feast and we settle for hot pockets and TV dinners. Jesus is writing a beautiful masterpiece of a story and we settle for reruns of junk on TV.
It’s tough to live this way. It’s so easy for me to feel blessed because of what I do - if I accomplish this or do this, then I’m blessed. It’s easy for me to feel blessed because of what I have, waiting to have that one thing that will make me blessed. It’s easy for me to feel blessed because of what others think of me
Jesus calls us to be a community where we are experiencing the blessing of the kingdom as we wait for the complete fulfillment. We help each other in poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution.