Is Jesus making something up when he says “the meek shall inherit the earth”? (Matthew 5:5) Is this make believe? A misguided promise? An empty blessing? Does he, can he, really, literally, mean the earth? Yes! And it is often forgotten more than it is doubted.
As Christians, we are not just living for “heaven”. Yes, we believe that after death we will be with Jesus “in heaven”, as we often describe it. But heaven as a place or sphere of God’s dwelling that is “spiritual” and separated from the body is not the end.
We preach Christ Jesus crucified, resurrected, and glorified. This proclamation is good news about something that has happened, and is in the happening, that is bigger than death and "getting to heaven". It opens up into “life after life after death”: a new bodily life on a new heaven and earth.
All things have been created in Jesus Christ; all things are held together in him; all things are saved and reconciled in him; all things are being made new in him; all things are being united in him (Colossians 1:15-23). All things means “things in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). There is no one, nothing, and nowhere that is not under the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
Where he is and where we are will one day be one and the same location. "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body." (Philippians 3:20) And from him we will receive a new heaven and new earth in which we will not simply be, but we will live there. It will be a life rich, full, abundant, and beyond the furthest reach of the best inkling of the human imagination.
If we think heaven only, we tend to think only or mostly of some "spiritual" component(s). However, if we think not heaven only, but new heaven and new earth, we will begin thinking and feeling towards a whole new world and realm of life that includes the future transformation of every aspect and dimension of our present life and living.
This is a present-future blessing and promise that Jesus is making (Matthew 5:5). We can begin to receive it now. No, this earth will not ever be the new earth. But we do begin to see and to know in part now what we shall see and know in full then. The kingdom of God has come to earth in Jesus Christ.
What God began and wanted man to accomplish on earth in that garden in Eden, to cultivate it and not abandon it to itself (Genesis 2:8), God will complete through Jesus Christ in a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21-22). It won’t be a return to an uncivilized humanity in an uncultivated piece of wilderness, but a new kingdom, heaven and earth united, encompassing the whole world, received and enjoyed by a redeemed and new humanity: the meek and the humble.
What will we do? Who can fully know! But maybe we'll find new meaning in Paul's words, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
Blessed are the meek or humble. Most of us would say, “That’s me!". But what would others say? And how can we really know?
Here’s a good place to start: How put off are you when others dislike you, or disagree with you, or ignore you, or snub you? Our conduct towards others reveals a lot about how we view and think of ourselves, not only them.
The meek are those who won’t assert themselves over or upon others to get ahead.
Instead, the meek are those who trust in God, commit their ways to him, wait upon him in stillness, and don’t fret or worry about evil (Psalm 37). They are those in their heart neither overcome by opposition nor given over to vindication. They don’t lash back at their critics. They are quick to hear and slow to speak when others correct or bring something to their attention (James 1:19-21). They are open to reason and teachable, and as a result, are wise (James 3:13-17).
Meekness is the opposite of being cowardly, lazy, ignorant, without passion or conviction. And, yet, meekness won’t exalt itself because of it.
More strikingly, though, the meek are those who are trustworthy. No one finds it easy to entrust something valuable to someone proud and arrogant of heart. Why? Because the proud will do whatever they want with it. They will not care what we want done with it. They won't receive the gift in the same spirit or heart we’re giving it.
But the meek, Jesus says, are trustworthy. How trustworthy? They inherit the earth.
In the movie, The King’s Speech, when Bertie (King George VI) has become King of England, there’s a moment when he is sitting in front of the desk on which all the official duties of the King await him. He is overwhelmed, breaks down, and through tears confesses to his wife that, “I’m just a naval officer. That’s what I know. I’m not a king. I’m not a king. I’m not a king.” It wasn’t that receiving the crown made him meek. It was that the crown revealed his meekness.
When the meek inherit the earth it’s not then that they become meek. But rather in inheriting the earth their meekness is revealed. They have not asserted themselves, and will not conquer, demand, or take what is not theirs. They receive the earth in the same spirit or attitude with which it is given.
What Jesus saved us for—to inherit the earth—cannot be separated from how Jesus saved us—in meekness and humility (Philippians 2:3-10).
The whole sphere of the earth and creation and the whole sphere of the world and culture—every tribe, nation, and tongue—are the realm of God's creating and saving work in Jesus. In him, the whole of creation and the world is being made new. This transformation through salvation is both fully present and fully future. No age and no moment is outside of God's creative and redemptive action in Jesus. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
We cannot, however, receive this gift of salvation, given in humility by our Savior, and seek to assert ourselves on behalf of or in the name of our Savior. Rather, the means and attitudes with which we serve Jesus in the earth are the same means and attitudes with which he served. He calls us now to follow him. To imitate him. To become like him. We are to learn Christ (Ephesians 4:20).
But this means more than that Jesus teaches us didactically. He imparts and gives himself to us through the indwelling and renewing of the Holy Spirit. In this way Jesus gives us of his own meekness and humility. As his church and his disciples, then, in a particular culture, place, and time, we can trust God, commit to him, wait upon him, and not fret about the evil around us. We have been blessed with Christ and, in him, with every blessing, including the earth (Ephesians 1:3, 10).
"And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:18-21
Jesus begins his well-known, yet widely misunderstood, “sermon on the mount” with a list of Beatitudes, or Blessings. These Blessings are not an ethics of strict morality. Rather, they are an ethics of grace: a life driven by the power or energy of God’s grace. They are, first, about what God has done in Jesus Christ. Only then are they, second, about what we do.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
To be “poor in spirit” is to be in a helpless state of being. It means an emptying and a confession of living not by one’s own labor but on the means of others. As Americans we find this condition deplorable, horrifying even. We consider the blessed, the blessable, to be the self-assured, self-sufficient, and self-reliant—the very opposite of poor.
If we said this was the Un-American Dream, we wouldn’t be saying something that was quite true. No one really dreams of being poor or helpless. But if we said this was an American Nightmare, we would be saying and describing something true about each one of us: the fear of either being unable to live up to and make the American Dream real, and so being a complete failure in the eyes of others, or of admitting that we can’t make it on our own, and so humbling ourselves before others.
Yet, Jesus says precisely that: the only true blessing is reserved for people who see and know they are destitute and helpless. This is hard to swallow, to sell, to believe.
We all live functionally believing that there are some who are more undeserving of blessing than others. Without our realization or with it, there are kinds of people, or a kind of person, that when we see or hear or smell them something inside us bristles. We are put off, turned off. These are unblessable.
So we discover that we are not “poor in spirit” at all. We are actually quite proud in spirit.
When the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News of His death and resurrection, takes root in our hearts, it destroys, eradicates, pulls out by the roots, this pride and belief that we are better than others. In fact, until we see, hear, and smell ourselves and bristle, the grace of God has yet to penetrate into our heart.
But when grace does begin to penetrate our hearts and we begin to know ourselves as those who are “poor in spirit” and no better than others before God—as those who are not momentarily helpless but in a continual state of being helpless—we begin to change, to put on a new self, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:9-11). This image is not ours or one we make or create or mold for ourselves. It is the image of Christ Jesus into which we are being made and made new.
As Christians, then, new creations in Christ, “poor in spirit” but rich in grace, we no longer look down on others. We no longer regard anyone and make any distinctions according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16): according to someone’s political view, religious faith, social upbringing, life worldview, etc. Why? Because Jesus loved the world, not only Americans, not only Christians, and not only people we agree with and like. He loved the world, and He died for the world, and because of the cross and the empty grave, even the worst of the worse are blessable with a new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).