August 29, 1999
If we want to follow Christ faithfully, we must be prepared to face animosity and persecution. Such hatred, Alistair Begg explains, shouldn’t be provoked by obnoxious behavior on our part, which rightfully causes people to recoil. Instead, it arises in response to our allegiance to Christ. The Beatitudes assure us that while some will see believers as “losers” according to the world’s values, Jesus promises us enduring joy.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We want to ask, Lord Jesus, that to some degree we might now have the experience of the two travelers on the Emmaus road, who, when they urged you to stay with them for a while, had their eyes opened, and they began to understand the fact that you were alive, and that the crucifixion was not the end but was actually only the forerunner of the glory of your resurrection. And indeed, when they reflected upon the time they spent with you, they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us, when he talked with us on the way and when he opened the Scriptures to us?” Is it too much for us to ask—I don’t think so—that you will stir our hearts in this way? Only you, O God, can do this, and to you alone we look. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, to Luke chapter 6, if you would, and to the section we were studying this morning and where we left off, and we’ll try and bring this to closure now, at least as far as the twenty-sixth verse.
We said this morning that here in this manifesto the Lord Jesus was exalting that which the world despises and was actually making little of the things that the world makes much of. In other words, the value system that he here describes, which is to be one of the hallmarks of Christian discipleship, turns the world totally the right way up. And he has been pronouncing upon the preoccupations of so many of our lives when he addresses the issues that we considered together: the matter of what it means to be poor and to acknowledge our need of God; the same in terms of hunger that reveals our spiritual emptiness; a sadness which emerges from seeing ourselves as sinners before God; and then, as we resume our studies, the experience of being hated and despised.
And notice he says, in verse 22, there is a blessing that attends you, there is a happiness that will follow you, there is a bliss that will be known of you when men hate you—which is, of course, the exact opposite of what we grow up to believe. It is important, we tell one another, that people like us and that we go about things in such a way as to be liked. And so it is a striking statement on the part of Jesus: “[Happy] are you when men hate you”—when instead of welcoming you to their gatherings, “they exclude you” from the gatherings; and instead of speaking well of you in your absence, they actually demean you and “insult you,” and when news of the gathering finally leaks out to you, you discover that you have been regarded as a byword and as totally irrelevant. They will “reject your name as evil”—and the key phrase in this verse is, you will note, “because of the Son of Man.”
In other words, it is because of our relationship with Jesus that this condemnation comes. There is a rightful sense of condemnation when we are obnoxious individuals. And everyone has the right to say, “You know, he is rather obnoxious,” when we are always picking faults, when we are bitter, and they say, “You know, I have no time for her. She’s such a bitter person.” It is not this to which Jesus is referring. He is referring, rather, of the lot which will be the experience of the true disciple who, instead of finding that everybody thinks he or she is a wonderful person, discovers that when they really hold the line for Jesus, there will be a point at which it becomes clear that they are hated and despised. It was, as we’re going to see by the time we get to verse 26, the mark of the false prophet who sought to heal the people’s sin lightly, saying “‘Peace, peace’ … when there is no peace”—it was the false prophet who was spoken well of.
And some of you have experienced this at school. You’ve perhaps taken a stand for the Bible, or you’ve said, with faltering tongue, “Yes, I actually do believe that Jesus is the person that he claimed to be.” And for a while you were going along nicely with your peer group, and all of a sudden you found yourself isolated and a little removed. You had always been included in the foursome when you traveled with your business colleagues when they arranged for golf, and all of a sudden you discovered that although you packed your clubs, you were not included in the foursome. And when you tried to trace it back to something that you had done incorrectly or something that you had fouled up in the realm of business, you could think of nothing at all, except for the last time you’d been together with that particular individual who put the foursome together, you had explained to him who Jesus is and why he died and what he means to you. And ever so subtly, and yet so very clearly, the hatred begins to spill out, and the sense of despite becomes your experience. The Christian disciple should regard it as a cause for joy—“Jump for joy,” says Phillips; don’t you like that phrase?—when he or she finds that they’re on the receiving end of hatred and persecution on account of their faithfulness to the Son of Man.
It’s striking, it is not, that Jesus promises his followers that they would be absurdly happy, and yet that they would never be out of trouble? And when we, by seeking always to establish a policy of appeasement, want everyone to like us all of the time, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of this equation.
And as I’ve said before, and as I think we’ve concurred with one another, the pluralistic context in which we presently live, where people are very open concerning spiritual things, where they’re happy for you to explain a little about Jesus and why you would attend worship and why you’ve been reading your Bible and so on—they will be able to tolerate that up until the point where you are prepared to declare with Peter, as it’s recorded in Acts 4, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” And at that point, be ready for the persecution. Be ready at that point for the hatred; be ready at that point for the spleen, and the people will then say, “Who in the world do you think you are, and how could you be so obnoxious and so arrogant as to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way at all?” Pluralists will ultimately only accept pluralists. And beware of the people who tell you that they really like the Sermon on the Mount, and they want us to know how much they do, but they regard Jesus as someone other than divine. And they think that it is possible for them to believe in a Jesus who is not divine, and yet at the same time to embrace his message. No, the Jesus who spoke these words is the Son of the Father, the eternal Son and one part of the Trinity of God.
Now, let’s then go in verses 24 to 26, because I think there is an obvious shift here. In 20, he looks at his disciples and he says … and in 24, it would seem likely to me, although one cannot be absolutely certain of this, that he probably lifts his gaze from his immediate discipleship group and looks out on the crowd, and now addresses them in a more general way, turning from the poor to the rich. He certainly wasn’t addressing his disciples, because his disciples weren’t rich. So he is not speaking to the same group the second time. “But you who are poor,” he says, “and know your own poverty and your poverty of spirit, yours is the kingdom of God. But you who are rich, you’ve already received your comfort.”
Now, the word which is used here, which Phillips paraphrases “how miserable”—the word which is here as “woe,” or maybe translated by the English word “alas” or by the phrase “how terrible”—is really a quite striking word. It’s not a casual statement, nor is it a statement of condemnation. There is a sense of compassion in this word: “How terrible for you! How dreadful it is, how disappointing, that you who are rich should already have received your comfort!”
Now, clearly, in the same way as we mentioned this morning about the poor, it is not that poverty is the key to entry into the kingdom, nor are riches in and of themselves the key element in exclusion from the kingdom. If that were the case, of course, a lady like Lydia, who obviously was prosperous in Philippi, would never have had her eyes opened and her heart opened to the truth of God, and she would never have become a believer, because she was rich. And if by virtue of being rich she was inevitably excluded from the kingdom, then there would be no possibility of her being saved. No, in the same way that just because a person is poor—physically poor—is not welcomed into the kingdom simply because he’s poor, but only if he understands his poverty of spirit, so a rich person is not immediately excluded from the kingdom just because they’re rich, if in point of fact they understand that all that they have is a gift from God and they come to trust in him and depend upon him and embrace his Son as their Savior.
Now, we’re helped by turning on a couple of pages to chapter 12, and the story there concerning the man whom Jesus called a “fool.” Luke chapter 12—and you’ll remember the story when you get there: it’s the story of the man referred to as “the Rich Fool.” You remember the context in verse 13: somebody in the crowd pipes up and says, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” All the things that must have been shouted at Jesus, it must have been quite remarkable, you know: he’s engaged in a sermon or he’s dealing with something; all of a sudden, a voice in the silence shouts out, “Hey, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” And Jesus looks around and fastened his eyes on the person, and he says, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” In other words, he said, “The courts are here for that stuff. I’m not here to decide who’s getting what.” And then, seizing the moment, he says, “Hey, you better look out. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them this parable.
Here is a wonderful illustration, incidentally, of open-air preaching—of how to preach in the open air. And we’ve gotta go find somewhere to preach in the open air. I’m itching to preach outside where people don’t want to hear. I want to go find a spot and preach, until they move us, and then we’ll preach somewhere else. I don’t know why we don’t. It’s great! It’s one of the scariest things you can ever do in your life. And all of you who think you’re preachers, you’ll be there with me, and you’re going up in the first rotation, and we’re going to find out whether you are preachers. Because you’ll find out real quick whether anybody stops and whether anybody stays. There is nothing quite like it. And one of the things you need to be adept at doing is seizing the moment.
And Jesus, in that context, takes a shout from the crowd, turns it into a teaching moment, and then conveys a parable. And it is this parable, of course, of a rich man who produced a good crop and basically said to himself, “I’ve got it made in the shade. I’ll tear my barns down and build more, and I’ll say to myself, ‘You know, you got everything stored away, your Shearson Lehman account is in fantastic shape, and you’ve no fear of those commercials that come on during the golf tournaments on Sunday afternoons; you’ve got plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” And God said to him, “You fool!”
That’s a very striking thing to say, is it not? Why? “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you’ve prepared for yourself? [And] this,” says Jesus, making application of the story that is told, “is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself—”
Now, notice there is not a full stop there. If there were a full stop there, then we would all be committed to a vow of poverty. We would all have to embrace a form of destitution. We would all have to say, “Yeah, maybe monasticism is right.” It does not say, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself,” but, “who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” Thank God for people in our congregation who’ve stored up things for themselves! For out of the store that God has enabled them to create, they have been a large part of the building of the structure here, and the next part, and the parts that are yet to come—not on their own, but out of the store. Why? Because they are rich towards God!
Now, go back to chapter 6 and look at what he says: “Woe to you who are rich”—woe to you who think that financial success and material prosperity is the key to your life, and you fail to acknowledge your need of God; woe to you who are so rich in your own eyes that you refuse to run to God—“for you have already received your comfort.” We could paraphrase that, “You’ve had it.” You’ve had it. When you took your allowance early, thinking you’d get another one because your father would have forgotten that he gave it to you early, and you squandered it fast, and you were back for more, and he said to you, “You’ve had it”—that is exactly what Jesus is saying here. The rich man will stand on the day that he comes before God, and he will plead his case on the basis of these things, and Jesus will say to him, “I hope you enjoyed having all that stuff. I hope you enjoyed it, ’cause you’ve had it. And there’s no more.”
I was introduced to Richard Cory through Paul Simon, and his song, you know, that began,
They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
[And] with political connections [he] spread[s] his wealth around.
[And] born into society, a banker’s only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace and style.
Living as I did in England at that time, I had no idea who Richard Cory was. It’s only since I’ve come to the States that I understood that Simon stole the notion, or used the notion, from a poem by E. A. Robinson, and the poem is entitled, “Richard Cory,” and it goes like this:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
I just married a young man who’s a stockbroker. I married him to his wife, you’ll be pleased to know. But I married them down in North Carolina a few weeks ago. He’s a stockbroker in Nebraska, his wife also, with two separate companies. I was asking him … he’s just a boy. I can say that now, as time goes by. He was just a boy; I was staggered to think that he would look after anything for anybody at all, quite honestly. And if I’d been the girl’s father, I would have been anxious, not because he wasn’t a fine kid, but he just seemed like such a boy. (There again, I can only imagine what my father-in-law thought. But anyway, that’s by the way.) But I said to him, “Have you picked up some good clients? Tell me one thing that’s happened to you in the last six months that struck you.” He said, “Well, I opened my biggest account. A man came in and deposited $30 million with me.” I said, “Yes? What struck you?” He said, “Well, when he went to the restroom, his wife confided in me that their marriage was a shambles, that the money was a total nuisance to them, that they were purposeless in their existence, that they were held together by the money, and that their biggest concern was the arguments of their children over who was going to get what.”
When all that a man has is worldly wealth, he is poor indeed. What a tragedy. “Woe to you who are rich. You’ve already had it.” Young person, you want to be rich—I mean rich-rich? I mean money-rich; I mean stuff in the bank. Beware. Not everyone can handle it.
“Woe to you who are well fed”—woe to you who are laboring under the delusion that you have no need of God. Well, one day you’re going to “go hungry.” Here’s the individual who is able to go, as I said this morning, to restaurants around town. They call him by his name, he walks in. They never give him a bill; it’s all taken care of behind the scenes. His friends are never embarrassed with the thought that the check might be given to them, because it never ever appears. His car is always parked; it’s always ready for him when he leaves. It’s always a “Good morning, sir,” and a “Good evening, sir,” and he seems to have it all together. If that’s all he has, he’s about to become incredibly hungry.
You see, our society is driven by these things. If we miss that, we’re missing the point dreadfully. And self-satisfied individuals often remain satisfied through their lives. Let’s not miss that. Yes, it may well be that the foundations will cave for some such individuals, but it may never be. Better that it did cave for them, because then they may discover their need; but if they’re able to go through this way, always well fed, always prosperous, always living with the illusion that somehow or another they have no need of anyone to supply anything to them, then the hunger that hits them will be an insatiable hunger that will last for all of eternity.
Can you imagine wanting a drink of water forever? Can you imagine being hungry with a hunger that never stopped? Being lonely with a loneliness that could never be assuaged? This is Jesus speaking here. He is speaking about the ultimate realities of life. He is making it clear, in the fledging elements of his ministry, that the real issues of life actually hinge upon the great question of eternity, and that our ability to enjoy life now has to do with the fact that we’ve been able to settle the issue of what life will mean then—in other words, that the way to learn how to live is to settle the issue of how to die, and once we’ve dealt with the death question, then we can come back and have another go at life, but until we deal with the death issue, we’ll never be able to make sense of life. And we’ll be inclined to believe what the world cries out: Get rich. Get fed.
Or thirdly, get funny: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” Now, this isn’t all the Bible says about laughter. Laughter’s good. In fact, it “doeth good like a medicine,” says the Old Testament. And often laughter can be therapeutic, when we particularly laugh at ourselves—it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves—when we share laughter with somebody else, when we recognize that in circumstances there is a way of viewing things that just is absurd and creates joy within us.
And indeed, many people in life have been marked by these things. If you’ve read much of G. K. Chesterton, the famous author, you will know that he had an innate ability to see things from an unexpected perspective, which was very often humorous. On one occasion he is reputed to have been walking down a London street. He wore a cloak, mainly, we’re told, and he would gather the cloak around his rather solid frame, which is a nice way of describing him. And as he gathered his cloak around him and went around a corner, he walked straight into somebody carrying a grandfather clock, who knocked G. K. Chesterton flat on his tail. And as he lay on the ground looking up and he realized what had happened, his sense of the ridiculous and his love of humor took over, and he said to the person, “Why can’t you wear a wristwatch like everybody else?”
Now, we understand that. That’s funny! And that’s okay. And there’s nothing mean or dark or empty in that. But what Jesus is referring to is ultimately the laughter of fools, where when everything’s funny, nothing’s worth laughing about; where the people are sitting there, singing over and over to themselves, “Send in the clowns. Where are the clowns? Bring on the clowns! Can’t somebody do something funny here? Because everything seems so dreadfully depressing and dull, and I haven’t had a good laugh for ages.”
You know what? Comedy is not as good a thing to go and see as a play as tragedy. It never will be, because all laughter is eventually flat—even good laughter. But tragedy is cathartic. Tragedy can stir your soul and change you, leave you thinking about it hours after the play has ended, long into the next week, and even the next month, and the next year. That’s why when the wise man in Ecclesiastes describes the circumstances, he says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to join the laughter of fools.” Because in tragedy there is a greater opportunity for us to face the reality of life.
And the last thing is popularity: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep,” and “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” You know, it’s virtually impossible to have everybody speak well of us, unless we speak out of both sides of our mouths. And that, of course, is a dreadful thing in the business world, where you think that you’ve had a conversation, and someone had said something to you, and then later on in the morning you meet the person concerning whom they were speaking, and it is apparent that they left you, went into another room, and said the exact opposite. And if we want everybody to speak well of us, we will endeavor to sacrifice principle left, right, and center.
And you notice he says, “How miserable you are when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated”—notice the adjective—“the false prophets.” And a true prophet is ultimately too uncomfortable to be popular. And the man or the woman, the young person, who leads a holy life, who is prepared to speak the Word of God with boldness, will come quicker rather than later into collision with the ungodly and will inevitably fall into disfavor with them.
So, what you have then, in summary, in these two sections are the correlatives of each thing: on the one hand, here is blessing for those who are poor; here is woe to those who are rich. I won’t iterate the whole thing; you can go through and do it for yourself. It’s perfectly obvious.
The characteristics of Christian discipleship are, from the world’s perspective, the marks of losers —make no mistake about it. The characteristics described here of true Christian discipleship, from the perspective of the pagan, are the marks of losers. Because what does Jesus say? Poverty, hunger, sadness, and the experience of hatred. He said there is great blessing that attends these when in the experience of them, both individually and in a unity, they bring us to see our utter inability to depend upon ourselves and the absolute necessity of depending upon God.
Correlatively, the characteristics of the ungodly are the marks of those who have made it: rich, fat, happy, popular. The American dream, is it not? I don’t mean to be unkind; it’s the British dream, too. It’s the Swiss dream, the German dream, the Dutch dream. It’s the dream of the pagan! (Well, maybe not “fat” in our pretzel-eating days. Horrible, dreadful things, pretzels. Miserable things, pretzels. Better to eat rolled up pieces of cardboard. But anyway—in fact, I think they are rolled up pieces of cardboard. I fly on the plane, I say, “Give me the peanuts, I want to be fat. Don’t you know that’s the American dream? What are you doing with these crummy little pretzels?”)
“I want to be rich, fat, happy, and popular. Where do I sign up?” Jesus says, “You can sign up anywhere. There are booths all across the city. But understand this: you’re signing up for an eternity without me. There’s only one place where you can sign up for poverty, hunger, sadness, and hatred, and that’s when you come and bow before my cross.”
What a wonderful teacher Jesus is! How incredibly clear we discover this to be! May God bring his Word to each of our hearts, and may we not harden our hearts if we hear God’s voice.
Let us pray together:
Lord Jesus Christ, you who were rich beyond all splendor for our sake became poor in order that we, through your poverty, might know the riches of eternal life, the forgiveness of our sins, heaven as our home.
One of the reasons, Lord Jesus, that it’s so difficult for me to teach this, to understand it, to apply it, and for each of us to respond to it, is because, frankly, we are surrounded by so much. And so we ask that you will help us, in the midst of the provision that you have made for us and the lot that you have cast for us, to navigate our way around the Bible, led by your Spirit and stirred up to follow hard after you.
We thank you that to the end of this day, we acknowledge it to be the day that you have made, which we’ve been able to rejoice and be glad in. And we thank you that throughout the world today we have been able to add our voice to every tribe and tongue and language where Christ has been embraced.
And as the day began, so now we bring it to a closure: in the presence of Christ. And in his name we pray. Amen.
 Luke 24:32 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:22 (NIV 1984).
 Jeremiah 6:14 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:23 (Phillips).
 Acts 4:12 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:20, 24 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:24 (Phillips).
 Luke 12:14 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 12:15 (paraphrased).
 Luke 12:16–20 (paraphrased).
 Luke 12:20–21 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:24 (NIV 1984).
 Paul Simon, “Richard Cory” (1966). Paraphrased.
 Edwin Arlington Robinson, The Children of the Night: A Collection of Poems (Boston: Richard G. Badger & Company, 1897), 35.
 Luke 6:25 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:25 (NIV 1984).
 Proverbs 17:22 (KJV).
 Stephen Sondheim, “Send in the Clowns” (1973). Paraphrased.
 Ecclesiastes 7:2 (paraphrased).
 Luke 6:25–26 (NIV 1984).
 Frank Houghton, “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor” (1934). Paraphrased.
 Psalm 118:24 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.