Blessed are the Meek
What comes to mind when you hear the word “meek”? Perhaps it’s something like the scrawny guy from an advertisement who gets sand kicked in his face and takes it for fear of getting pummeled. For most people, meekness sounds more like a character deficiency than a virtue. We see a very different idea expressed by Jesus in the third Beatitude from his Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matt. 5:5
The word translated “meek” in verse 5 refers to a gentleness, mildness or humility. Jesus says those who are “blessed” – who have a deep, unshakable happiness in life – are the lowly and humble.
That’s a jarring and even offensive idea in a culture like ours, where strength, power and self-esteem are most prized. Lifting oneself up is the path to true happiness, not staying low. Humble and mild people get trampled on by those with the fortitude and self-assurance to go after what they truly want.
Jesus’ message about meekness is even more jarring when we see his explanation. The gentle, humble person has true happiness because they know that they will “inherit the earth.” That is, they ultimately will end up with everything they could ever want and more. This is precisely backwards from our expectations. The way to get what we want is by asserting our rights, not laying by laying them aside in humility! We are taught to advance our ideal vision of the future by fighting for a consensus and wielding authority over and against those who have contrary ideas.
Jesus was not just an idealist who preached meekness and humility – he provided the ultimate example in his own life and death. Jesus encouraged people to follow him in part by pointing to his own meekness and gentleness:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:28-29
Likewise, when Paul encouraged the believers at Philippi to humbly count others more significant than themselves, he grounded his exhortation in Christ’s example of meekness and humility:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Phil. 2:5-8
The contrast could not be greater. Here we have God the Son, endowed with unfathomable power to speak into being galaxies so large they confound our senses, subatomic particles and the gargantuan forces that hold them together, and mankind as the crown of all. (John 1:3; Col. 1:16) The high and holy eternal Son deserves praise and exaltation beyond our understanding and well beyond our ability to give. Yet he did not hold onto that exalted status as was his divine right.
Instead, he emptied himself and was brought low. The unutterably high and powerful one took on the humble status of one of his own creation, taking the form of a servant and “being born in the likeness of men.” That alone should stop us in our tracks, in awe at Jesus’ humility. But he did not stop there. Jesus further humbled himself by following the path of obedience to the event at the center of God’s plan from before time began. He willingly hung on a Roman cross and was subjected to a painful, humiliating death in the place of sinful man.
This was complete meekness and gentleness; this was total humility. Looking forward to Jesus’ death, Isaiah used a picture of meekness and humility that his agrarian audience would have known well – the little lamb being led away to be slaughtered:
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." Is. 53:7.
Don’t miss the imagery. Why is it easy to slaughter a lamb? Because they don’t fight back. Jesus lived meekly and gently, and he went to his death meekly and gently.
Jesus also is the basis for the promise in Matthew 5:5 that the meek will “inherit the earth.” After describing Jesus’ humility in Philippians 2, Paul turns to the outcome of his death and resurrection:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:9-11
The Son of God who went to the cross in humility now has been exalted as Lord of all and given the name above all names. And as exalted Son, Jesus is the rightful heir of all creation. (Heb. 1:2) The fact that Jesus owns all the earth is the ground for our hope that we who stand in him by faith someday will inherit the earth with him. We are sons and daughters of the king of the universe. He is coming to raise us to new life with him, so that we can enjoy the fruit of his new creation in an imperishable, sinless kingdom. (Rev. 21:1-4)
But now? We are called to turn away from self-exaltation, and instead to walk in humility as Christ patterned for us. The path of meekness and gentleness may never be popular, but Jesus promises that it is the path to true, settled happiness as we experience life in him.