Luke 4:14-9:50

The Calling of the Apostles and the Sermon on the Plain
Luke 6:1-49


In Luke 5 Jesus has been casting a wide net, calling people to follow Him. In chapter 6 though Jesus chooses out of this wide circle of disciples 12 to become His apostles. Notice that Jesus does not simply call them to be His apostles. He calls them only after He has spent the night in prayer.

What is the significance of these apostles? Upon deeper reflection you will discover that although Christianity is based upon the person and work of Jesus as found in the NT, we have nothing written by the hand of Christ in the NT. Everything we know about Jesus and His teachings comes from the hands of the apostles. Their ministry is essential for the future of Christianity. Although we believe that some Christian denominations are amiss in elevating these apostles to the status of saints, in that they actually work now in heaven for our salvation, we nevertheless should give them their proper due as major movers in the history of Christianity. Paul calls them and the early NT prophets "the foundation" of the church with Christ Jesus being the capstone (Eph. 2:20).

After Jesus calls these 12 to Himself, He descends from the top of the mountain where He has been praying and delivers the Sermon on the Plain. This sermon gets it name from Luke's statement that Jesus descended from the mountain to a level place. Although it is quite possible that Jesus was standing on the plain at the base of the mountain, it is also quite possible that Jesus merely went to a level place on the lower part of the mountain to deliver the sermon. This seems most likely because both this passage and Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) are too similar to be two different sermons.


The Beatitudes and Woes (6:20-26)

Jesus launches the with pronouncing 4 beatitudes and 4 statements of woe. The 4 beatitudes in Luke 6 correspond to beatitudes numbers 1, 2, 4, and 8 in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. What is a beatitude? It is a pronouncement of blessing. It means that we now stand in God's good graces. Too often well-meaning but ill-informed Christian speakers have reduced the beatitudes to being nothing more than the "Be Happy Attitudes!" Although "happiness" does form a part of the idea behind beatitude, a beatitude is more than this. In this passage the beatitudes mean that God's people stand in God's good graces. No matter the circumstances, in fact in spite of the circumstances we always stand in God's favor. In many ways our relationship with our children demonstrates what it means to stand in God's good graces. Ultimately what happens to Nathan and Molly does not affect my relationship with them. No matter what they will always stand in my good graces. I love them; they may disappoint me; I may disappoint them. Our relationship though is bigger than that though; they will always stand in my good graces. The same much more applies to our relationship with God.

Naturally the key word in a beatitude is "blessed." Because of time we won't devote appropriate space to researching what Jesus means by "blessed." In short though when Jesus uses the word "blessed," He is referring to the concept of blessing and curse found in the OT. God did such a good job in creating the universe that after He was finished, creation was in a state of blessedness (Gen. 1:28). Because of Adam and Eve's sin, the curse entered into the world. Mankind gets so bad because of the curse that God eventually wipes out the world with a flood. With the coming of Abraham though, God begins to reverse the curse: "I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3). This promise to Abraham will find fulfilment with the coming of His "seed," that is, Christ (Gal. 3:16). When Jesus declares "Blessed are the ...," He is declaring that God's promise to Abraham is coming to fulfilment. A day will come upon the return of Christ when the curse will be completely lifted and we will experience complete blessedness; however, with the first coming of Christ God's promise to Abraham is beginning to be fulfilled. God's blessing is coming upon His people, those who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Lord. (For more on this topic look at Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and to the Beatitudes)

The powerful feature though in the beatitudes is the kind of person Jesus calls "blessed." The primary theme of Jesus' preaching was the kingdom of God. Because of what we have experienced in life, we believe that kingdoms are mighty, powerful entities which crush their opponents and bestow great honor and wealth upon the noble and powerful. Yet when Jesus was standing before Pilate, He declared unequivocally, "My kingdom is not of this world." To prove it Jesus further stated, "If My kingdom were of this world [but it is not], then My servants would be fighting that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36). What kind of person makes up the kingdom of God? The people Jesus considers great in His kingdom, that is, the people Jesus pronounces His blessings upon in the beatitudes are the very people the kingdoms of this world would never consider great. Jesus has basically taken all the values of this world and turned them upside down making them THE VALUES in His kingdom.

Look at the people Jesus considers blessed: the poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the persecuted. First, these people are not blessed simply because they mourn, hunger, etc. Rather they are blessed because they have responded properly to the negative situations in their lives. Their poverty, hunger, and sorrow have driven them to depend upon Jesus to meet their needs, not only their physical needs but also their spiritual needs. They have come to realize that life is ultimately not about them but about Jesus. Second, at least in the 4th beatitude these suffer because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. They are persecuted not because they are offensive but because they believe in an offensive religion. Jesus divides people. People either stand with Christ or they stand against Him. This brings real division in relationships and with the division persecution.

On the other hand, look at those upon whom Jesus pronounces the woes: the rich, the filled, the laughers, and the popular. Blessings fall upon the down and out, while woes fall upon those riding high on the hog. The rich person can be just as poor as the poverty-stricken person in the first beatitude; however, it is a lot harder. Jesus will say that the camel can go through the eye of a needle easier than a rich man can enter heaven; however, with God even that is possible. The task is not hard for God. It is harder though for the rich man.

Notice the clear cut choice between woe and blessing. There is no third option. Either we are in the circle of God's blessing or in the circle of woe. A third circle of our own making is not available.

The Lifestyle of the Citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven (6:27-36)

After describing what kind of person makes up the kingdom of heaven, Jesus then describes the lifestyle of that person. Jesus makes the vital connection between who we are and what we do. We can't say we're poor in spirit if we don't live like it. We can't say we hunger spiritually when we go around spiritually satisfied. The life I live will prove whether or not I am poor, hungry, sorrowful, and persecuted. In this passage Jesus lists several examples of the actions the poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted will perform in their lives.

Once again the key feature of this lifestyle is that it takes the lifestyle of this world and turns it upside down. In Matthew's Sermon on the Mount where the key concept is "righteousness," Jesus reinterprets for us the word "righteousness." Righteousness doesn't mean I'm always right as opposed to being wrong. Righteousness means that I am like the righteous Jesus. The same thought is operating here. Look at the specific examples Jesus lists here. Each one of them could have been taken from the life Jesus Himself lived here on earth: love for enemies, no retaliation, giving when asked to give, etc. The world will hit back whenever it is hit; it will bless those who bless it and curse those who curse it. It will demand a credit check on anybody who asks its for money.

Jesus though is commanding His people not to be this way. Too often we're fighting back in life. We're always reasserting our rights because they have been violated. We're either going around angry or going around acting like victims. This is not the life Jesus died to give us. The attitude "Life isn't fair, now move on" applies here.

What motivation does Jesus produce to spur us on to live this new kind of righteous life? Three times in verses 32-34 Jesus says basically when you hit back, when you refuse to give, etc., you are living the way "sinners" live, that is, you are living the way a non-Christian lives. Why does that matter? First, if we are living like those in darkness, then we are not the light of the world. Living like non-Christians will mean they will never see Jesus and be attracted to Him. We must live like light if we are going to be the light of the world to bring people to Jesus. Second, what we do reveals to us who we are. At the end of this section Jesus states: "You will be sons of the Most High God" (6:35). In other words, just like physical children are like their physical parents, so spiritual children are like their spiritual parents. If you are not living like God, then you are not God's children. If you are living the way the world lives, you are a part of the kingdom of this world and are not a part of the kingdom of God. For Jesus the choice is clear and simple. If you are God's children, you will live out the principles Jesus states in this sermon. If you don't live out these principles, you are not God's children because these are the very principles that Jesus Himself lived by.

Focus on a Judgmental Attitude (6:37-45)

Another important feature of this sermon is the disporportionate amount of space Jesus spends upon the judgmental, censorious attitude. This is interesting because although Matthew does devote attention to this topic in his Sermon on the Mount, it is one topic among many. In Luke 6 it plays a major part in the Sermon on the Plain.

It should not surprise us though that it plays such a major part in any of Jesus' sermons. Look at the culture Jesus was addressing 2000 years ago--the culture of Judaism with all its rules and regulations. A legalistic religion is going to be a judgmental religion. A legalistic religion is a list of do's and don't's, and we condemn people who violate that list, especially the list of do's and don't's that we ourselves keep. We seldom if ever condemn somebody for violating the rule we ourselves violate.

One of the interesting contributions Jesus makes in this area deals with the speck and the beam. The word used here for speck refers to a speck of saw dust, while the word for beam refers to the massive beam which serves as the major support for the entire floor or from which other beams come off of in the roof. The image first shows you how ludicrous the entire thing is. A person walking around with the beam of a major sin sticking out his eye is going around knocking over everybody and everything in his way. This is the person who is criticizing somebody else with a speck of a little sin sticking out his eye. If it weren't so serious, it would be funny to look at certain politicians screaming at how bad some people are and yet failing to acknowledge how awful they really are. Second, this image helps explain why people are critical of others. Notice the person with the beam in his eye was critical of the person with the speck and not vice versa. The person with the speck in his eye is not the judgmental person. Many times the person with a major sin in his life is so judgmental of another person with a lesser sin in order to bring that person down to his/her level.

Whatever the situation the fact is that the solution to this problem is for the person who has the beam in his eye to remove it before he starts taking out the speck in another person's eye. We are going to be ineffective as leaders of other people (blind leading the blind) as long as we have the beam of a major sin in our own lives. Moreover, once we recognize that we have that beam in our eyes and try to deal with it, we'll probably become a whole lot more humble towards others who have the speck of a minor sin in their own eyes. The more we accept the fact that we are human, the more we are ready to extend grace and mercy towards other humans. Once when C. S. Lewis was asked to attack the sin of homosexuality, he said: "I never criticize sins I don't commit."

Just briefly this passage relates in some way to Jesus' comments in Matthew that we are the salt and light of the world. The truth is that followers of Jesus impact others, either negatively or positively, just like salt and light impact food and darkness. It is important that we live out the principles Jesus has enunciated so that we might truly be the light and darkness He desires us to be.

The Two Foundations (6:46-49)

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain with the illustration of 2 houses, one built upon a foundation of rock and the other upon a foundation of sand. Note that there are only 2 types of ground you can build on--rock or sand. There is no third type of ground. Moreover, notice that each house will be hit by a raging river. It doesn't matter which ground the house is built upon; it will be hit by the torrent. (Jesus is accurately describing housing conditions in first-century Israel. Most of the creek beds called "wadis" are dry during the summer but become raging rivers when the rainy season hits.)

In the instance of the type of ground you build your house upon, you build your life either upon the teachings of Jesus or not upon the teachings of Jesus. Most of us get really devotional in spirit at this point and say Jesus' word here relates to all the Bible. In the specific context though Jesus is referring to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain. He is speaking about the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the persecuted, the person whose values are those of the values of the kingdom, the person who is merciful and gracious. These are the people who will withstand the raging river of judgment when it hits.

This river of judgment probably to some extent refers to judgments we experience in the here and now. The ultimate reference though is to the final judgment which all mankind will face. On that day it is critical that our house stand. Whether it stands or not though all depends upon my response to Jesus' word. The message of the Bible is not simply "the kingdom of God"; it is "the kingdom of God and Jesus' vital relationship to it."