Blessings and Woes
Blessings and Woes
We’ll end up in chapter 6, but if you would for the sake of recap, turn to the book of Luke, chapter 1. Not many authors in scripture give us the reason they were writing, but Luke does. And in those first 4 verses, Luke says he has taken the time to carefully compile all of the eyewitness stories surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and has compiled them into this narrative. His audience is a man he calls “most honorable Theophilus,” and he says he is writing, look at verse 4, “so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.”
So the outcome of Luke’s letter here is that we would know for sure that Jesus is who he said he is. In chapter 2, his arrival is good news that brings joy and peace to the world to some, according to the birth announcement by the angels. But not everyone saw Jesus’ coming as good news.
In chapter 3 when he was taken to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord as a 6-week old, an old man prophesied that Jesus would bring division to the world. That some would rise and others would fall. There would be separation. Last fall we started to see some of that division happen, but there is much more to come.
And by chapter 4, Jesus is clear on the “why” he has come, which he clearly communicates in chapter 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We studied this a while ago now, but the poor aren’t just the economically challenged. The poor are anyone who is outcast, sidelined, rejected. They are those who don’t have the power or the privilege. The poor are those who are near the bottom of the social ladder. The broken-hearted. Captives. Blind, oppressed.
These folks came to Jesus all the time. They saw themselves as needy, and they saw him as the one who could meet their needs, so they sought him out.
But not everyone saw themselves as needy. There were the elite, the powerful, the privileged who didn’t find Jesus’ message to be good news - the economically, socially, and the religiously rich. They found Jesus rather annoying, and even inconvenient.
Some of them have been hawking Jesus everywhere he goes, trying to trap him or catch him doing something against their religious law so they can write him off as a heretic or crazy person. And in Luke 6 verses 1-11, they thought they had him. Jesus stepped over the lines they had drawn about the Sabbath, and they had caught him. Doctors were not allowed to work on the Sabbath, but Jesus healed a man’s hand. Farmers were not allowed to harvest on the Sabbath, but Jesus let his disciples pick some grain because they were hungry.
And they start saying, “hey, you can’t do that!” But in verse 5, Jesus sort of plows right through their authority over what could be done and couldn’t be done, and said, “I’m the Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, I’m the authority here, not you. To say that was to put himself in the place of God, who alone was the authority over the Sabbath, and that didn’t go over very well.
Verse 11 says they were filled with rage. The original language here used a word that literally means “mindless”, “Senseless”, or “extreme fury”. In other words, they were so angry they lost their minds. I’ll let you work out in your imagination what that might have looked like. But they were in a rage and started discussing amongst themselves what they might do with Jesus. So that’s where things are at as we come into verse 12.
Verse 12:  During those days (the Pharisees' confrontation and hidden motives everywhere he went) he went out to the mountain to pray and spent all night in prayer to God.  When daylight came, he summoned his disciples, and he chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:  Simon, whom he also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew;  Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot;  Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
So here’s the situation: Jesus is facing opposition, and he has a major decision to make about the future of the church: Which of his followers can he call up into leadership, so that the church has leaders once he is gone?
Here the Son of God, full of grace and truth, fully human yet at the same time fully God, eternally divine, full of wisdom and filled with the Spirit, the Promised Messiah here to save people from their sin, and he feels the need to pray! He doesn’t lean into the notion that he is divinely wise himself or self-sufficient – He seeks God the Father’s will!
Jesus himself thought of prayer as more valuable even than sleep. Why?
I think it’s because he knows who he’s praying to. He knows the character and nature of his Father. He knows that prayer is the way we interact with the One who is powerful, infinitely wise, eternally sovereign; it’s where we find our solid footing when life isn’t so predictable.
That’s why we started praying in our gatherings as a church last year. That’s why we’re going to keep doing it this year. Not because prayer itself is especially powerful, but because God is powerful and he’s invited us to communicate with him. “The prayer of a righteous man is effective,” scripture says, why? because God has chosen to work his will and his power through prayer.
I’ll be the first one in line to say sometimes my prayers feel terribly unpowerful and weak. I lose my train of thought and sidetracked. I have something brilliant to say while everyone else is praying, and the moment it’s my turn I forget most of it. I’ll admit I wish I prayed more, I wish I prayed better, I wish I could say every morning is a sweet time of fellowship with the Lord, and sometimes it just feels flat. Anyone else feel that way? Most of my prayers don’t seem very powerful.
But the God we pray to is powerful enough to take the simplest little prayer, “God help me,” and move the needle in our lives, in our communities, in our world.
I wonder if the reason we don’t pray more often is because we think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We’re not the desperate poor. We’re Americans! Prayer feels like a burden or an obligation instead of an invitation.
Yet prayer is the invitation of God to come close! It’s like a loving dad or mom or a close friend saying, come here and tell me how you’re doing. How was your day? How are you enjoying my good world and the good things I’ve shown you today? What things are troubling you? Prayer is the invitation of God for those who are not self-sufficient, and Jesus takes the opportunity to talk to his Father.
Why is this important for Jesus? Because He is still being led. We saw this back in chapter 4 as the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Here again, Jesus is not making things up as he goes. He is fully submitted to the Father’s eternal and wise plan. How do we know? Because Jesus got up from prayer, and obediently chose his own betrayer to be part of the inner circle. That makes no sense at all, unless there is a much larger plan and purpose happening here that Jesus is submitting himself to. That makes no sense at all unless God is sovereignly involved.
But what is encouraging about this is that Jesus is so committed to the will of his Father that even the most vile treachery you can imagine, betraying the Son of God so that he is crucified, is not outside of God’s sovereign purposes. God was so involved in working things together for our redemption that he placed Judas right next to Jesus so that he would learn Jesus’ patterns and could eventually betray him – which would lead to our redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
God is so committed to your redemption that he will put someone in the desk beside you at school or at work whose presence will force you to rely on him, so that the Holy Spirit has space to grow you in faithfulness, goodness, patience, self-control, becoming more and more like Jesus as you learn to rely less on yourself and more on him. (James & trials)
 After coming down with them, he stood on a level place with a large crowd of his disciples and a great number of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon.  They came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those tormented by unclean spirits were made well.  The whole crowd was trying to touch him, because power was coming out from him and healing them all.
Choosing the 12 wasn’t the only thing he prayed about. He must have prayed about how to help the people who are coming out to hear Jesus speak. Those who are coming are interested in more than just hearing his stories. They want more than just knowing about him – They want an actual interaction with him. A personal touch from him, even if it was accidental.
There is a desperation here. A hunger. A poverty of sorts, where they know they don’t have what it takes to heal themselves. They are looking to the only person who can do something about their condition, and actively believing that if they can just get close enough to touch Jesus’ arm or his shoulder or something as he walks by, they can be healed.
That’s what faith looks like, and God LOVES that kind of faith!  Then looking up at his disciples, he said:
Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. In other words, blessed are you who look to God and his promise, even though your external condition might be desperate. Blessed are you who bring your desperation to God. “The kingdom of God is composed of people who can live above their circumstances and trust God.” (Bock, 575)
 Blessed are you who are now hungry, because you will be filled. Again this is another reversal, but this one includes the word “now”. Blessed are you who are now hungry, because you will be filled. You might not have everything you long for now, here on earth, but the day is coming when you won’t long for anything. You’ll be completely satisfied. Now we know food is only filling for a moment. You get hungry again. So this speaks to more than just food. One commentator says it like this: “The reference is not so much to physical filling with food as it is to spiritual satisfaction at being received by God and welcomed as one of his children. (Bock, 576)”
Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. I’m putting those last two together, because this kind of weeping happens as people suffer exclusions and hate and insults and slander because they identify with God and depend on him. Jesus is already facing opposition here in Luke 6, and he’s telling his disciples they can expect the same for them. They might be kicked out of their families, or the synagogue, or lose friendships.
But, Jesus says, if that happens to you, it should dawn on you that this is actually a blessing. Because the great reversal that Jesus is promising here is that when you are slandered here for the sake of Christ, those tears will one day turn to laughter. The pain you experience on earth is nothing compared to the glorious joy that is right around the corner for you. Psalm 30:5 says “weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning.” Paul would write in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
 "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy. Take note-your reward is great in heaven, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.
Here’s why this is good news for River City Church today: If you go all in on Jesus, he 100% guarantees that you will not get a bait and switch. He 100% guarantees that you will not be left hanging, just like the prophets were never left hanging. God will honor his word, and his commitment to the plan of redemption. Even in the face of severe suffering, God will never abandon his commitment to his promises. If you go all in on Jesus, you are counted in the same group as the prophets of old, spokesmen of God, who also suffered yet found God to be faithful. Of course, the very person speaking these words, Jesus himself, will soon face severe suffering and have to remain committed to the plan and faithful to the will of his Father, and Philippians 2 says the reward for Jesus’ faithfulness is that God gave him the name that is above every other name – that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
This is the essence of Jesus’ ministry. Compassion. Mercy. Grace. Welcome and invitation to those who have been cast aside by the social or religious powers that be.
But there are those who will not find their reward in heaven.
 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort.  Woe to you who are now full, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are now laughing, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets.
These are warnings to those who think of themselves as self-sufficient. In Jesus’ day, it was pretty clearly the religious elite, the Pharisees who viewed their wealth and happiness as signs that they were righteous and God was pleased with them. And Jesus shot them some pretty serious warnings here.
But I think this is a warning to us in the Western culture. We have a lot of wealth here. We very much pride ourselves in being self-sufficient. This bit about laughing here isn’t the kind of laughing that happens at a birthday party or a comedy show. This is laughing at the pain of others. Laughing when that person at work “gets what’s coming to them.” If you’re willing to be honest with yourself, the reason we don’t pray is because we see ourselves as self-sufficient. We don’t pray because we don’t think we need to.
However, in these four woes, Jesus calls for repentance for those who have been self-sufficient. He calls for repentance from those who put their trust in money or influence or being at the right place on the social ladder. If you’ve put your trust in wealth, the only reward you get is that you are rich here on earth. That’s what it says! You’ve received your comfort. It is limited. It’s not eternal. It’s earthly. You got what you wanted. Good for you. But the reward you get for being full of everything you want now is that one day, the things that fill you will be gone and you’ll end up wanting, longing. You’ll be left holding an empty bag (Bock, 584)
The reward you get for laughing at the expense of others, condescending others or bragging about yourself, looking for the approval of your peers even if you have to tear someone down or tell a lie to get it, verse 26, will become the pain of what is lost forever (Bock 285).
But the beauty of the gospel is that even if you have put your trust in wealth, or you have overlooked or even laughed at someone else’s lack while you are holding enough to be helpful, the beauty of the gospel is that even if you have been condescending in the past – you don’t have to stay in that camp! Jesus holds out his hands to you, and invites you to repent! He doesn’t want anyone to die in their sins. He wants everyone to come to repentance and salvation.
The reason he can do that is because he stepped in to take your place on the cross. The punishment that should have been yours for chasing the almighty dollar, for pushing aside that friend so that the right people or the cool kids will like you, the punishment that should have been ours for misusing and abusing God’s grace was all placed on Jesus at the cross. He died in our place, and rose again proving that his payment worked.
What he’s asking of you today is that you drop your self-sufficiency and seek him. Like the people in Luke 6, let’s not be content to know about Jesus. Let’s decide not to rest until we’ve found him. Touched him. Seen him. Let’s come to prayer tonight, tomorrow, Thursday, next Sunday, saying I want everything that he is for me.
If you do, his promise is that he will not leave you hanging.
Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Green, Joel 1997. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co