Beatitudes – Matthew 5:5
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”.
As we think about this verse, it’s good to keep in mind that Jesus made these statements—these Beatitudes— to help us understand what the character and behaviour of a person who has become a Christian, should be.
By now I’m guessing that you are beginning to see that the Beatitudes teach principles so unlike the principles of the world. This particular Beatitude may be a little more difficult to get your head around though—world conquest goes to those who are gentle/meek!
The world would have us believe the tougher and more aggressive you are, the more likely it is that you will succeed, oh, and don’t worry about who you tread on!
The Christian is different because as 2 Cor. 5:17 says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
… we are a new creation.
Can you imagine the surprise and possible shock those listening to Jesus would have felt?
Expecting a spectacular, materialistic kingdom led by a conquering Messiah, imagine if you can, how they felt to hear Jesus say—no, not happening like that!
Scholars say there is a link between these first three Beatitudes:
To acknowledge we are poor in spirit is the central condition that leads us to mourn as we become aware of our sin, and this in turn leads to meekness.
So, this third characteristic—meekness—is a bit tricky!
Expressing in English the word “meek” is not easy.
Translators have used different English words to try and do justice to the Greek word used—and I’m not going to try and pronounce it! They have used words and phrases such as:
-Of a gentle spirit;
No wonder Scottish Theologian William Barclay said it was the “untranslatable word.”
I wonder how we understand the word meek? Probably most of us would think somewhere along the lines of a person who is so quiet and unassuming as to be almost invisible.
Is this right?
Is this the meaning Jesus had in mind?
Perhaps the simplest way we could understand the word is to say that meekness is submissiveness to the will of God. Let’s see.
Briefly looking at how the word was used in the ancient, secular world it is said that the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, maintained that meekness:
… is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason, and not getting angry at all …
So, the ability to be angry at just the right time and not angry at the wrong time—a balancing act.
The word also had a control meaning. Scholars tell us the Greeks used the word when they spoke of training their domestic animals to obey their master.
If we now look at some background factors we can surmise that the people listening to Jesus probably understood the Old Testament very well, and likely remembered the statement that Psalm 37:10, 11 made:
10. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
11. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity (NIV).
and most likely would be wondering how long this “little while” might be—because it had already been one thousand years!
Then there were the four religious factions—the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. A suggested summary of this situation says that in their search for a restoration of the country’s fortunes:
– The Pharisees sought a miraculous answer;
– The Sadducees sought a materialistic answer;
– The Zealots sought a military answer, and
– The Essenes sought a monastic answer.
Our revolutionary Jesus ruled out all four ideas with just six words—the meek will inherit the earth.
Let’s have a look and see what the Bible says about meekness.
The Bible does mention some characteristics:
– Zephaniah 2:3—safety in the day of anger;
– Ephesians 4:2—associated with humility/lowliness;
– Titus 3:2—spoken in consideration of others;
– 1 Thessalonians 2:7—has a soothing effect on people.
Old Testament heroes showed meekness at critical times in their lives.
When pleading with God over the judgement Sodom was about to experience, Abraham humbly submitted to what was God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2) when he says in Genesis 18:25:
Will not the Judge of all the earth do right (NIV).
He put aside his ideas and feelings and trusted God’s judgement.
And Job probably speaks out the greatest model of meekness as recorded in Job 1:20, 21:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (NIV).
In Numbers 12:3 we are reminded that Moses was:
… a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (NIV).
Now, that wasn’t always so—remember in his younger days he killed and buried and Egyptian! And, he didn’t always get it right in his later years!
But, he frequently needed to determine the fine line that was defending God’s honour and his own; when his people grumbled or argued with him, he prayed for them. He did not have an inflated idea of himself. The most important factor for Moses was God’s honour and glory.
In the New Testament Stephen—the first Christian martyr—showed the most remarkable meekness when on the very edge of death. As Stephen’s body was being pelted with stones by the angry mob, his final words were a prayer:
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit … Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:59, 60 NIV).
If nothing else, Stephen’s story teaches us not to confuse meekness with weakness.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the absolute pinnacle of examples of meekness found in one person—Jesus. He demonstrated meekness in every area of his life.
Today, some are challenged with the gentle Jesus meek and mild—yet Jesus says of himself in Matthew 11:29:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (NIV).
It has been noted that meekness is pretty much the only personal quality about himself that Jesus specifically highlighted, so it has to be a very significant characteristic.
In his position in the Godhead, Jesus showed meekness. Philippians 2:6, 7 (NIV):
Who, being in very nature[ God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
In our interest, Jesus stepped aside from his full glory, and accepted human limitations.
Throughout his time on earth Jesus always submitted to his Father.
It is perhaps most intensely depicted in Gethsemane. Luke 22:42 (NIV)—
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
Then, on the cross, Luke 23:46 (NIV):
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.
There can be no shadow of a doubt that Jesus always, and without exception, totally accepted the divine will. Perfect examples of meekness.
Jesus showed meekness in dealing with the words and actions of men. But never did he display a lack of concern for God’s honour and glory.
I think it reasonable to say that meekness commits its cause into God’s hands, is not provoked by criticism, takes on board personal insult without being resentful.
You might remember that at the beginning of the series I suggested that the Beatitudes are more graces than gifts.
Meekness, I think, is a grace produced by the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. It defines a person’s response to God and to mankind.
Meekness toward God shows in a spirit of submission to whatever God asks of us and perhaps especially those situations which will cause sorrow or pain.
Meekness toward mankind shows in the way a Christian endures patiently with hurtful actions or failures of others.
So, what of the promise linked with this Beatitude? Those who are meek, will inherit the earth.
A rather unbelievable statement! We are seeing just how radical Jesus teaching is.
As mentioned earlier, the norm is to assume the rough, pushing person, the one that rides roughshod over anyone and everyone who happens to get in their way, would naturally win out.
Jesus is saying—not so!
In Psalm 37:11 the inheritance was the promised Land of Canaan. The Jews thought of Canaan as a type of heaven and so to inherit the land became a saying that meant the blessing given under the Messiah.
In Jesus’ time, the expression denoted any great blessing, so I am suggesting the indication would appear to be that the inheritance is the world, the new land—God’s Kingdom.
I’m not sure Jesus was saying they would own vast properties, but rather specific blessings. So, to “inherit the earth” would mean that the meek would enter His Kingdom and enjoy the blessings and glories of the new land (Rom. 8:16, 17).
Obedience and righteousness were required for entering the Promised Land, so too for entering the new land.
When God dispenses His final judgement, only the meek will be around to “inherit the earth”.
While this is considered an apocalyptic promise for the future, we can be encouraged by knowing that our present sacrifices will be rewarded.
I think it is fair to say then, that meekness is having an honest opinion of ourselves, that will show in our attitude and conduct toward others.
We are not capable of making ourselves meek—it is only as we receive the word within us that we become poor in spirit, mourners and meek.
As James 1:21 says:
So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life (MSG).
And remember, meekness is a fruit of the Spirit—Galatians 5:23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.