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Sermon on the Plain

Luke 6:17 -- 49

In some systems of interpretation of the Bible this passage is to be harmonized with the Sermon on the Mount. It seems somehow undignified for Christ to repeat himself (which, of course, he did – for example, every time he encountered the Pharisees). Is it not much more likely that his message was the same in different places, tailored to the ears of the hearers? As such, this passage can stand alone – and be of great benefit to our ears too.

The Paradox of Wealth

Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all. And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. "Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. "Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

(Luke 6:17-26 NASB)

Wealth as God’s favor

The Bible sometimes seems to be very ambivalent towards wealth. For example, we can see this attitude in Proverbs:

  • Wealth is said to be given by God.[1]
  • It is said to be a blessing given to the righteous.[2]
  • Indeed, if wealth be condemned, how can we reconcile that with Paul’s instructions on what the wealthy are to do with their money?[3]

So we see the common opinion of the time of Christ: wealth is the visible sign of God’s favor upon you.

Wealth seen as wickedness

Of course, this wealth can be looked at as the result of evil.

  • James condemns the wealthy in no uncertain terms, and warns of their imminent punishment.[4]
  • We are told that ill-gotten wealth will somehow wind up in the hands of the generous – who will distribute it.[5]
  • Indeed, riches pursued by evil means are said to be a mist, a vapor.[6]

So how do we reconcile these views?

No reliance on riches

The key seems to be this: place no reliance on wealth; it is not to be trusted for your security.[7]

  • In particular, we are not to “weary” ourselves about riches – it’s not worth the doing.[8]
  • One very good reason for that: they are of no use on the Day of Wrath.[9] When our Lord returns, does it matter what’s in your checking account? Perhaps he will look at how you spent it instead!

So why, then, do riches have such a bad reputation? Part of this must be our envy of the rich; there is also a sound basis as well. The question is not how much money you have but how much you love it. As Paul tells us, the love of money is the root of much evil.[10]

Balance Points

Like much else, we must reach a balance point if we are to do as God desires. We are in the world but not of the world, and our attitude towards wealth should show that.

  • We need to realize that wealth is not as important as some other things – such as harmony in the family.[11]
  • We need to remember the lesson of the Rich Young Ruler[12] - that sometimes our money gets between us and God.
  • Finally, we must recognize that God wants us to have the right amount of wealth suitable for us – and we should desire this as well.[13]

Loving Your Enemies

Christ, having tackled the subject of wealth and happiness (and undoubtedly dismayed many of his hearers) goes on to tackle the common problem of vengefulness – the burning desire to justify ourselves, to get even, to pay back the wrongs we’ve been done. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, and for us to take vengeance is to steal from Him. What, then, are we to do?

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. "If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. "If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."

(Luke 6:27-38 NASB)


The passage, at first glance, makes no sense. Look what Christ is telling you to do for (not to!) your enemies:

  • In the realm of physical things you are to do good to those who hate you. This does have the advantage of being completely unexpected. It will puzzle them mightily. It’s just that it puzzles us too. But it is commanded, so we had best get to it.
  • In the realm of things spoken, we are to bless them. This also sounds hard, but consider: how many people are genuinely so evil that you cannot find something good to say about them, or something to praise in their conduct? The evil in others is quick to be seen; the good may take some searching.
  • Finally this: of all things the strangest, that we should go before the throne of grace, to the ruler of all things, the Creator Himself, and intercede on their behalf!

You will be surprised how effective that last one is. God hears it so seldom that he is quick to reward it. But we would be of angelic virtue if we failed to ask – “WHY?”

Why you would do such a thing

We can, perhaps, see the virtue of forgiving our enemies after we thrash them into submission. It feels good to have your enemy begging for mercy, and even better to think yourself magnanimous for granting it. But why would you do this in any other circumstance?

First, it distinguishes you from those who are of the world. The world says you should look out for number one. Such people, even being evil, are quite capable of doing good things for their friends. It often happens that such good deeds are also profitable for the doer – eventually. The trap is this: because you bless your friends, you think you’re being righteous. But you’re not. You’re being ordinary.

God understands that this will be strange to you – so he promises to reward you for it. You might think that this would be sufficient; but look around and see just how often you find Christians loving their enemies. Why?

  • We have so stressed that Jesus is “just like us” (in that he is human) that we don’t think he will reward us.
  • We have made Jesus into “our buddy” – and therefore we do not believe that he can reward us.

We classify his promise under “pie in the sky” and go about our daily business of paying back who we can, when we can. Do not be deceived in this; Christ meant what he said. Indeed, it is worse than that for us.

The yardstick principle

God is just. The way we treat others (including our enemies) is the way he plans on treating us. If we are in payback mode, then he will see to it that we are paid back for all the evil done by us to our enemies – no matter how righteous we thought we were. Indeed, he extends the principle here:

  • It applies to judgment and condemnation, too. Often our enemies are so powerful (or impersonal) that we have no power to repay them. But our hearts can judge and condemn them! Remember, it’s our yardstick.
  • The same applies to pardon, as well. If we will not pardon, if we will not be merciful, why should God be? It is no use saying, “they deserved it.” Likely enough they did. Do you want what you deserve – from the hands of Almighty God? Or were you looking for mercy?
  • Just so you will know he expects more than lip service, notice how he extends this principle to giving! It is not just to our friends, but indeed to our enemies that we are to be charitable.

The Imitation of Christ

And He also spoke a parable to them: "A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. "For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. "For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. "But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great."

(Luke 6:39-49 NASB)

Jesus puts it to us this way: suppose you were looking for a teacher to provide you with wisdom for your life. What would you look for?

  • If you were blind, you wouldn’t want a guide dog that was blind, would you? No, you’d want a dog that could see well and was obedient to its training.
  • Similarly, if you want wisdom for living, would you pick a pompous hypocrite (usually with a Ph. D.)? Often the jargon is a cover for the lack of real experience in wisdom.

I cannot forbear a story. When I was much younger, I was a teacher at Beverly Hills High School. I had a student in one of my classes whose behavior was not satisfactory; I had to take significant action to correct this. He told me that his dad was a big man in Beverly Hills, and I’d be hearing from him. Sure enough, the next day there was a message to call Mr. Bigshot.

It took six telephone operators to get through to him; when I got there I was convinced that here was a man of power. He asked me to tell him my side of things. I began to spew forth the jargon taught in education classes, hoping to impress him with my knowledge as a teacher. It didn’t work. He listened patiently for a few moments, then interrupted me with: “Excuse me, but what you really mean is that the kid is too big for his britches, right?”

“Yes sir, that’s exactly what I mean.”

“I thought so; I’ll take care of it.” He did, too!

  • Finally, you wouldn’t pick someone to teach you wisdom whose life didn’t show it. When you were young, you probably had a football or baseball hero. Nobody picks their hero from the second string on the bench. How much more should you pick your example for life?

Of course, the message is clear: do you pick the pious hypocrite or the living Christ?

Results of obedience

It’s no good selecting a teacher and example unless you do what you are taught. We rightly look at those who proclaim Jesus as Lord but live as if he didn’t exist as being hypocrites. The key, however, is to look at ourselves and ask if we aren’t guilty of the same things.

Make no mistake: the rains will come. If you proclaim yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, the test will happen. Things will arise which will make your Christianity very inconvenient. If you give up and give in, the next phase is the flood – the time of trial which reveals that you really didn’t mean what you said. Your life will crumble, and all will see it.

So often we think we shall escape this; it is not so. He told us that by our fruits men will know us. They will also know us when the flood waters rise.

[1] Proverbs 10:22

[2] Proverbs 15:6

[3] 1 Timothy 6:17-19

[4] James 5:1-5

[5] Proverbs 28:8

[6] Proverbs 21:6

[7] Proverbs 11:28

[8] Proverbs 23:4-5

[9] Proverbs 11:14

[10] 1 Timothy 6:10

[11] Proverbs 15:16-17

[12] Matthew 19:16-26

[13] Proverbs 30:8-9

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