Conrad Richter wrote an amazing trilogy back in the 1940’s and 50’s about the settling of Ohio by the American Pioneers, from the perspective of a pioneer woman by the name of Sayward Wheeler. The story progresses through: The Trees, The Fields, and The Town as the land is settled, and it is very good reading. In the second book, The Fields, Sayward’s son Kinzie could not get the oxen to take the yoke. Richter writes “Kinzie’s face was red from hollering at the beasts and struggling with the yoke.” They just wouldn’t respond to him. But when his mom Sayward got there, he writes: “She set the yoke on Buck’s neck and held the other end up. ‘Come under, Bright,’ she called, and … the off ox lumbered around and under meek as a hound. Oh, they knew her voice when they heard it …” and they obeyed.
The picture of that ox, hearing the voice of its master, and gently obeying, is a perfect picture of the word we are looking at this morning in Matthew 5:5, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” This quality is perhaps the most misunderstood of any of the Beatitudes. And it is partially because it is a very difficult word to translate into English. But we’re going to look together for a few minutes at what it DOES mean, and just how important it is, both for salvation, and for the way we live and respond to other people as Christians. And of course, it is a character quality of Christ that it is God’s goal to build into every one of our lives. But I think we can sum it up with the picture of that ox — and the little phrase from the old hymn: “Trust & Obey.”
I. THE MEANING OF THIS BEATITUDE:
The Greek Bible word in Matthew 5:5 (praeis) is often translated “meek” or “gentle”, but it is really so difficult to translate this word, and despite what most people think when they hear it, it certainly doesn’t mean “weak” at all. This word was used in Bible times to describe a horse, which is very powerful, but which had come to be trained to submit to the will of its master. A “trained” horse was said to be “praeis”, “gentle,” “trained,” submissive to its master. It implies trust and submission to the will the one who had trained it. Sayward’s ox is a good picture of the real meaning of this third Beatitude: it is a trust in God, that leads us to submit rightly to Him, first for salvation, and then for every area of our life as a Christian.
We can do our best to try to define things we see in scripture, but we can have a lot more confidence when God just gives us a definition right out of His word:
— For example, in Hebrews 11:6, God gives us a definition of faith. He says it is: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” We know what faith is, because God just defines it for us there.
— It’s the same in Hebrews 1:14 where God gives us a definition of angels. He says they are “ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation.” We don’t have to “guess” what angels are; God flat out tells us there.
— Well God does basically the same thing with this 3rd Beatitude, in Psalm 37. Psalm 37:11 says: “the humble will inherit the land”. That verse, in Hebrew, is virtually identical to Matthew 5:5 in Greek: “The humble will inherit the land/the meek shall inherit the earth.” So Psalm 37 is an Old Testament foreshadowing of Matthew 5:5 in the New Testament. And God SHOWS us, all through Psalm 37 just what this character quality means. In fact, I like to call Psalm 37 “The Meekness Psalm,” because this whole Psalm describes in detail for us just what Jesus means. in Matthew 5:5. If you want to know what “praeis”/Biblical meekness is, study Psalm 37.
If you have your Bible I hope you’ll turn to Psalm 37 for just a moment. Perhaps the best summary of Biblical meekness is found in in Psalm 37:3, where it says: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” That’s so simple, and yet so powerful. You may need to memorize that verse: “Trust in the Lord and do good.” That teaches us that meekness starts with a trust in God; and this trust in Him leads to a submission to His will; which causes us to do the right thing. “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” That is the essence of meekness: TRUST & SUBMISSION; trust & obedience.
Unfortunately we don’t have time to study Psalm 37 in depth this morning, but if you will study it, you will find that meekness is described there from several different “angles” — but basically it says this same thing over and over again in different ways: trust in the Lord and do good.
— :1 says “do not fret because of evildoers”. Our natural response to evildoers is to strike back at them – and we justify it because, after all, they were evil to us first and they “deserve” whatever we might do to them. But God says, don’t do that. Instead, you “trust Me, and do what is good.”
— :5 says “TRUST (here’s that word again!) “trust also in Him, and HE will do it.” You don’t have to take things into your own hands; let GOD do it. Trust Him!
— :7 “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him”, that’s trust!
— :8 “cease from anger and forsake wrath … those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land …”. So don’t respond in anger; wait for God, and trust in Him.
And so it goes on throughout Psalm 37. But you get the idea: the meek person/the “gentle” person/the “praeis” person; whatever you want to call it: “the 3rd Beatitude person” is the person who trusts in God, and because they trust God, they do the right thing, believing that God will take care of it. It doesn’t mean the person is “weak” — they COULD do something on their own — but instead they “take their hands off” the situation, and trust GOD to take care of it.
So that’s the basic meaning of the 3rd Beatitude: “trust in the Lord and do good” like verse 3 says. Take your hands off, and trust God to take care of your situation.
There are so many insights in Psalm 37 on this quality that God wants to build into us. You may want to spend some more time studying Psalm 37 this week – especially if you’re dealing with some of the issues we’ll be talking about today. God will show you what this quality means, and He will build it more into your life as you study Psalm 37. But for now, let’s look at how this quality applies: first to salvation, and then to the way we treat several different kinds of situations in our lives as Christians.
II. MEEKNESS AND SALVATION
We’ve seen that Biblical “meekness” is trusting in God, and submitting to Him as our Lord & Master, like an ox to his master. You can see how this applies to salvation. In fact, as you go through these Beatitudes, you see how they flow from one to the other, and how this is the next step in salvation. As we’ve seen, first, you must recognize your poverty in spirit — that you are a sinner — and then mourn over your sins, as we saw last week. This 3rd Beatitude then is the next step: having admitted and mourned over your sin, now you positively put your TRUST in what Jesus did on the cross to save you. That is the “trust” element here, like Psalm 37 teaches us: “TRUST in the Lord and do good.” Trust what Jesus did; trust that His death on the cross pays for your sins, not anything good that you can do. You need to just “Take your hands off” of your salvation, and trust what Jesus did on the cross to save you. And then, having trusted Him as your Savior, you follow Him as your Lord. Like Sayward’s trained ox, so we will submit to the will of Jesus as our Lord, and follow Him, wherever He leads us. “Trust & Obey,” like the old song says. “Trust in the Lord and do good.” That’s how this Beatitude applies to salvation: just take your hands off the issue of your salvation, and trust what Jesus did for you on the cross, alone.
Back when our son Michael was a preschooler, I remember one time, he was playing with a bunch of alphabet blocks, and he couldn’t get them to stack up very high, so he said to me, “Dad, come and build it really tall!” And so I got down on the floor with him, and I started to build it, but every time I would get 5 or 6 of the blocks stacked up, he would reach in and try to mess with it, and every time he did, he would knock them over and the whole thing would fall down. After this had happened several times, I finally looked at him and said: “Michael, if you want me to build it tall, then keep your hands off of it, and let me do it!”
Now: I am know I am bad dad — I don’t need any comments on that! But that DOES give us a picture of how we are with God for our salvation. We can’t fix ourselves with the works of our own hands. We have to get to the point we were talking about a couple of weeks ago, where we say “nothing in my hands I bring” — I’m taking my hands OFF of my salvation. I can’t save myself. I am going to trust what JESUS did for me on the cross ALONE. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” My TRUST will be in JESUS and in what HE did ALONE for my salvation.
For some of you here today, your first step in this 3rd Beatitude today is to “take your hands off” your salvation, and put your trust in JESUS for it. “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Trust in Jesus as your Savior, “take His yoke upon you” and follow HIM as your Lord from this day forward.
III. Meekness in the Christian Life
Like all of these first several Beatitudes, there is an application first for salvation, but then we are to continue to develop this quality as we grow in our Christian life to be more like Christ. Remember, Biblical “meekness”, this 3rd Beatitude, is basically “trusting in the Lord and doing what is right” — even when others have not done right to US. In fact, that is what a lot of Psalm 37, which explains this Beatitude, talks about:
— Remember it begins in :1, “Fret not because of evildoers … they will wither quickly like the grass.”
— And then it goes on to say those key words in :3, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” In other words, YOU don’t worry what the “bad guys” are doing; YOU trust God. YOU do what is good.
— Verse 5 says: “Trust also in Him and HE will do it.”
— Verse 6 says “HE will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.”
See, God’s saying here over & over: don’t respond in an evil way back to evildoers. YOU keep doing what is right, and trust that GOD will take care of them. Entrust your situation to GOD, and let HIM take care of it. That is the Biblical “meekness” that God wants to build into our lives as Christians. And again, all this is all based on TRUST — just like we take our hands off our salvation and trust God for it, so we are to take our hands off some of our difficult relationships and situations, and trust THEM to God too.
We see numerous examples of this in scripture. Those who are great in the eyes of God all through the Bible exhibit this quality:
— In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam grumbled about Moses’ leadership in the Exodus. They said, “has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” But Moses did not respond back to them in an ugly way. He did not take things into His own hands. In fact, Numbers 12:3 says “Now Moses was the meekest man in all the earth.” (This is that same word) Moses showed his “meekness” here by trusting God, and not taking things into his own hands. And the Bible tells us that God’s anger burned against Aaron and Miriam, and HE punished them for their rebellion against His anointed leader. But Moses himself left it alone; he trusted God and did what was right.
—David did this same thing in II Samuel 16, when his son Absalom led a coup and took over the kingdom, and David was forced to evacuate from Jerusalem. There was a man named Shimei, who was a relative of Saul, the king whose place David had taken, and Shimei came out and threw stones at David and his men as they retreated out of town, and shouted after him: “Get out, get out, you … worthless fellow!” One of David’s best soldiers turned to David and said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.” But David said, My own son is rebelling against me, how much more this fellow? He said, no, perhaps the Lord has told him to curse me, leave him alone. And then he said in :12, “Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” See what David did? He didn’t take this situation into his own hands; he didn’t strike back at his enemy. Instead he trusted in God, that HE would take care of this situation, and HE did what was right, no matter what the other guy was doing. As a result, David literally “inherited the land” and God made him king of Israel again.
— But the greatest example of the 3rd Beatitude is Jesus, who is always the perfect example of each of the Beatitudes.
— In II Corinthians 10:1, Paul said, “I urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. Paul saw Jesus as the ultimate example of meekness.
— Jesus Himself said in Matthew 11:29 “Come to Me all who labor … for I am meek” (“gentle”: the same word!) Jesus used this very word we are looking at today, to describe Himself. Dane Ortlund wrote that If Jesus had his own personal website, the “About Me” section would read: ‘Gentle and Lowly in Heart.” (Dane Ortlund, Gentle & Lowly). But Jesus not only SAID that He was “gentle” or “meek,” He lived it out:
— When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter took out his sword and struck one of the captors and cut his ear off. But Jesus rebuked Peter, and said “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) Jesus allowed Himself to be taken; He knew it was God’s will. Jesus was not “weak” – as the old song says, “He could have called 10,000 angels” (12 Roman legions would actually have been more like 75,000 angles; it doesn’t matter; it would have taken only ONE!) – but the point is, Jesus was not “weak” here; He was “meek”. He didn’t take things into His own hands like Peter did with his sword. He trusted that this was God’s plan; and He did what was right. Jesus perfectly lived out this 3rd Beatitude.
And remember, it is God’s #1 goal for our lives for us to become like Christ. He wants us to be Poor in Spirit; He wants us to Mourn over sin; AND He wants us to respond to our difficult situations and to our enemies with “meekness” — NOT “weakness” — but to “TRUST in Him and do what is right.” It means we won’t strike back with evil for evil. It means we don’t gossip back about those who gossip against us. It means that no matter what the other person does, WE are going to “trust in the Lord and do what is right.” Because the most important thing in our lives is not to “get that person back,” but to be like Jesus.
When Timothy McVeigh exploded the bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, a man named Bill Day lost his sister in the explosion. The Daily Oklahoman did an extended interview with Mr. Day some time later, which was remarkable due to Day’s lack of bitterness and desire for revenge, which marked so many of the other victim’s families. The reporter asked him why he was not bitter, and Day said: “Because I am a Christian, I believe no one is going to get away with anything, and it’s more fearful to fall into the hands of God” than for me to get my own revenge. See, Bill Day exhibited the 3rd Beatitude here: he took HIS hands off of it, and trusted God’s judgment, which freed him to respond in a Christlike way.
That is what we will do as God builds this quality in us. People will say things about us, and do things to us, but WE will “trust in the Lord and do good.” We will “take our hands off of it,” and leave the judgment to God.
And again, as we really commit these situations to God, we will pray. I think it’s significant that our response to each of the first 3 Beatitudes is prayer:
— if you’re poor in spirit, you will show your dependence upon God by the way you pray;
— if you mourn over the sins of others, you will pray; — and here, if we are meek, we won’t take things into our own hands, but we entrust it to God in prayer.
We see again and again that prayer is the key to the Christian life! But the problem many of us have is that because we do not really trust God, we don’t much pray, and instead we keep taking things into our own hands, and when we do, we mess it up.
It is like in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham went into Egypt, and he told his wife Sarah to tell everyone that she was his sister, because she was so beautiful, and he was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him and take her. So he lied, and Sarah was almost compromised with Pharaoh until the truth was found out. But why did Abraham lie? Why did he compromise? At the heart of it, it was because he didn’t trust that God would take care of him in Egypt. So he “figured out a way” to take care of himself, by lying and compromising. He didn’t “trust in the Lord”, as Psalm 37 says, so he didn’t “do good.”
See: the giveaway sign that you are NOT trusting God, is when you do not “do good.” Instead you take things into your own hands. You lie. You cheat. You strike back and get your own revenge. Why do you do these things? You do these kinds of things when you don’t really trust that GOD will take care of it for you. So you feel like YOU have to do whatever YOU can do, because you don’t trust GOD to take care of it for you.
Maybe you can think of a time in your life when you’ve done something like that? Or maybe there’s something in your life right now that you’re afraid is not going to work out, and so you’re about to “take things into your own hands” in a wrong way: and you’re planning to cheat, or lie, or go behind somebody’s back, or get your own revenge, or in some way compromise what you know is right, to get things to turn out the way you think they should. But God is telling you today: “DO NOT DO THAT! Learn the lesson of this Beatitude: trust in Me, and YOU do what is good.”
God’s plan for you is to become like Jesus, but for that to happen, you must allow God to build this 3rd Beatitude into your life. And when you do, it will become a powerful witness for Christ, when people see it in you.
During the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, there was a Union Soldier, who just hated the Confederates, but his leg had been shattered by a Southern musket ball during the battle. So he lay, bandaged and helpless on the battlefield, right by Seminary Ridge where he could see Picket’s Charge — and he watched as that last great charge failed, and the South’s forces under Robert E. Lee were defeated.
It so happened that General Lee himself and his officers, as they organized their retreat, rode right by this man on the field. Although he was weakened by his injury, he was so bitter that he looked Lee right in the eyes, and he raised his hands, and yelled, “Hurrah for the Union!” Lee suddenly stopped his horse, dismounted, and came over to him. The man said later, that he thought his life was over. But instead, he said that Lee looked at him with such a sad expression on his face, that it took all his fear from him, and Lee took his hand, and said, “My son, I hope you will soon be well.”
That soldier later wrote: “If I live a thousand years I shall never forget the expression on General Lee’s face. There he was: defeated, retiring from a field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, and yet he stopped to say words like that to a wounded solder of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by! As soon as the general had left me, I cried myself to sleep there on the bloody ground.”
WHY did that man cry himself to sleep? Why will he remember what happened there for 1000 years? Because people just don’t do what Robert E. Lee did that day. Even good people – even some of us here — when we’re mistreated, all our friends tell us how bad those people are, and how we are justified in getting them back, and we go ahead and make our catty remarks, and get our revenge, and put it back “in their face.” That’s just what people do.
But Lee did broke that man’s hardened heart that day, because what he did is so RARE. Nobody acts this way. THIS IS THE CHARACTER OF JESUS CHRIST lived out. This is the 3rd Beatitude lived out. Robert E. Lee was not powerless that day: one word from him and that solider was a dead man. Lee was not “weak”; he was “meek.” He was not powerless; but he trusted in God, and took his hands off it, and did what was right – even in the face of cruel taunting. And when he reacted in that Christlike way, it broke the hardest heart.
Church, if you and I will live the character of Jesus Christ in front of people like that, it will have a powerful impact on their hearts. So many churches are always looking for the newest and best “evangelistic tools” to reach people, but the greatest evangelistic tool there is, is a life that is really like Christ. Years ago the great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote: “Men would sooner believe that the gospel is from heaven, if they saw more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of those who profess it.” And this quality right here is one that people will notice the most; because so few ever really act this way. But this is just what God wants to create in you: and it may be the greatest witness you will ever have to those around you.
But you’ve got to remember: you can’t “just do this” on your own: God’s Holy Spirit has to produce this in you. Galatians 5:22-23 says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, GENTLENESS (the same Bible word used here) and self-control.” This 3rd Beatitude is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Which means that you’ve got to be a Christian, first of all. You have to know that God’s Holy Spirit is IN you to produce this. And then you need to walk with the Lord daily in His word and prayer, and let Him produce this fruit in you.
But you can be assured, if you are a Christian, God IS working in your life right now, to build this quality into you. Remember Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God is working all things together to conform you to the image of Christ. I have no doubt that some of you are in a situation right now that God has specifically allowed to come into your life, to give you the opportunity both to learn this quality, and to demonstrate to people around you, that THIS is how a follower of Jesus Christ responds. And when people see this in you, they will be “cut to the heart” and will glorify God because of you. This isn’t the way “everybody” acts; but it is the way a follower of Jesus does. “Blessed are the gentle — (those who trust God and do what is right) — for they shall inherit the earth.”
— As we bow our heads together, you may have a specific situation in your life today, that you need to trust God with right now. Recognize that God has allowed this situation in your life, to give you an opportunity to learn this quality of Jesus, and to show it to people around you. It’s hard; you can’t do this on your own; but ask God right now, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to help you “trust in Him and do what is right” — no matter what anyone else does. Memorize this verse, quote it when you need God’s help, and ask Him to help you trust Him and do what is right.
— Or maybe you would say, I have never really taken that first step of trusting God for my own salvation. You have been trying to “earn” your way to heaven, but today you need to just tell God: “nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” I can’t save myself, but I trust YOU to save me, right now. And if you’re doing that today for the first time, come and tell me, and we’ll set up a time for you to be baptized.