Now or Later
The mission of Jesus is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10); he saves to bring them home to the father (Matthew 11:27). God's agenda in the lives of those who saves is to conform them to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
This mean that God works in our lives to shape us to look like Jesus. Having been purachsed by Christ's blood (20:28), we are like raw blocks of granite in his workshop. Imagine God as a divine Michaelangelo, with hammer and chisel in hand, working on his masterpiece, knocking and tweaking and chiseling away at us, until we look like Jesus.
If you're like, that means we've got a long ay to go! The good news is that we end up being like him when we see him as he is (I John 3:2); we shall be instantaneously transformed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). So here's the question: if we're going to look like Jesus anyway, why does it matter if our character is like his during our lives?
The answer is simple but profound: in this life, we are his representatives, and our character should be a signpost of his kingdom. That is, we should exemplify in our lives the character of his kingdom to represent his goodness to the world.
1. Discipleship: the English word disciple comes from the Latin discipilus, which means learner or student, but in a more serious way that those English words imply. The best approximation in English would be the word apprentice, someone attached to a master to learn their craft. Jesus ministers to crowds, but he makes disciples - apprentices - to learn the Jesus way, believe the Jesus truth, and experience the Jesus life. The call to follow Jesus is the call to be an apprentice of the master.
2. Designation: In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus calls his disciples together and chooses twelve of them to be his apostles, those specifically tasked with overseeing the mission of gospel advance. It was such an important choice Jesus stayed up all night in prayer before he chose these men. And what a great selection! Within a generation of his death and resurrection, the gospel had advanced to three continents, from India to Spain to Ethiopia, spilling beyond the bounds of Israel and the Mediterranean world. But before sending on mission, he prepared them for the difficulty they would face.
3. Induction: In Luke 6:20-26, Jesus gives a series of blessings and woes. This famous scripture is often called beatitudes as if these are attitudes God blesses. Rather, it's best to think of this as conditions upon which God pronounces blessing. Jesus begins to teach his disciples that following him is completely counter-cultural. They are going to be blessed, but in the most backwards kind of way.
Before we look at these contrasting statements, let's define what we mean by blessing and woe:
- The word blessed is the Greek word makarioi, which means 'favoured'. Some Bible versions translate it as 'happy', but happiness is a feeling based on circumstances, and the word blessed is much more profound. It makes no sense to say 'happy are those who mourn' - they're not happy, that's why they're mourning! But they are blessed. To pronounce blessing is to affirm to someone it will be well with you, for those who seek first the kingdom, because of God’s benevolent grace.
- The word woe is an exclamation of pain and pity for the misfortune that awaits people through God’s judgment. As we see below, each blessing has a flip-side; woe waits for those who disregard God and do not believe they need him. It will not go well with you if you are an object of God's wrath.
The Blessings and Woes:
1. Poverty vs. Riches
v. 20: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
v. 24: But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
For those willing to recognise their deep need for God and turn to him, they inherit his kingdom. For those so full of this life they see no need for God, they already have all they're going to get. David describes himself as poor: 'This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles' (Psalm 34:6). How could a king be poor? Because he recognised his desperate need for God; without God, we have nothing, evenn if we're rich according the standards of this age.
For those who do recognise their need for God, theirs is the kingdom now. Whereas we only experienc the fulness of God's kingdom in eternity, when we repent and believe the gospel, we are transferred by the Holy Spirit from the kingdom of darkness to the kingom of light (Colossians 1:13) and made partakers of the new age even in this age (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Some of Jesus' disciples were undoubtedly poor in a socio-economic sense, and this blessing would speak powerfully to them. After all, the disicples all had to quit their jobs to follow Jesus - they must have assumed they were signing up for a life of poverty. But more than enduring the lack of possessions while waiting for the riches of heaven, Jesus is teaching his disciples to live now in the light of eternity and to value that which is eternal.
2. Poverty vs. Riches
v. 21: Blessed are you who are hungrynow, for you shall be satisfied.
v. 25: Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Those who are hungry recognise their need for God; those who are full arlready have their fulness and will be hungry when God's true food comes. Whereas the kingdom is experienced now, those who are hungry will be satisfied - future tense - in God's kingdom.
3. Weeping and Laughing
v. 21: Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
v. 25: Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
There are many reasons a follower of Jesus may weep, and we meet some of those in the next verse. The word for laughing in this verse often applies to the haughty and proud who laugh in mocking derision at those who seem to be less affluent, less fortunate, less knowledgable, less good looking ... just less. And for followers of Jesus - whether Jews who were exluded from synagogues or Gentiles who were excluded from civic life - all due to religious affiliation - there was much to mourn about. But Jesus promises a great reversal: God settles all accounts in eternity.
4. Exclusion vs. Praise
v. 22-23: 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! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
v. 26: Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Consistent with Jewish teaching style, Jesus saves the main point to the last. The poverty, hunger, and weeping all come because believers are hated, excluded, and reviled because of their identification with Jesus. To truly identify with Jesus - to truly follow Jesus - puts us on a collision course with the values of this age. Especially when we publicly identify with Jesus. It costs.
Conversely, there is warning when people speak well of us. Why? Because if we are affirming the values of this age, we're probably not being faithful with God's truth. We all have a deep need to be liked, to be affirmed, to be well-spoken of. But Jesus asks us this question: do you want the world to speak well of you, or do you want God to speak well of you?
At the heart of this teaching is the tension between the now and the not yet. Are we going to cash in our chips now and get all the reward out of this life that we can? Or are we going to embrace the apprenticeship with Jesus and say 'yes' to the poverty, hunger, and weeping that comes from following him? We only do that if we put on an eternal perspective. Moses praying in Pslam 90:12: 'So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom'. Wisdom is living now in the light of eternity.
When Jesus inducted his disciples into their apprenticeship, he didn't start with the glory, but the pain. The glory will be unimaginably awesome. But he wanted to be sure that even in the beginning of their journey, the knew what they were signing up for. Their pathway to glory was marked by recognition of their utter need for God. Discipleship – following Jesus – means to depend completely upon him and receive what he generously offers, to live now in light of future reward, and to publicly identify with Jesus.