Everybody wants to rule the world
In his short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" Leo Tolstoy tells the tale of a peasant named Pahóm who states that he wouldn't fear anything if he only had enough land. The Devil takes him up on this boast, and Pahóm eventually purchases land. But over time, he succumbs to greed and wants more. Eventually, he is offered the ability to cheaply purchase as much land as he can walk around in a day. Taking up the challenge, Pahóm sets out at daybreak and is barely able to return to his starting point by the time the sun goes down. He exerts himself so much that when he finally reaches his destination, he drops dead. Pahóm's servant buries him, and Tolstoy answers the tale's guiding question with one final, poignant sentence: "Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed."
The meek will inherit the earth
Everyone wants more: whether it be money, looks, land or power. As "Tears for Fears" wisely told us, everyone wants to rule the world. But this honor of ruling the world will only belong to some. As Jesus said: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).
For Jesus' Jewish listeners, the imagery of inheritance may have reminded them of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Or of Moses and Joshua. Stories in which God's faithful people are promised an inheritance: the Promised Land.
But to understand the inheritance of God's people, we must understand not just the Promised Land, but God's Kingdom. The two ideas are inseparable. Graeme Goldsworthy, in his book "Gospel and Kingdom," helpfully defined God's kingdom as "God's people in God's place under God's rule." This idea goes all the way back to the beginning when God created man and woman in his image and granted them dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28).
God's original design for humanity was that they would represent his Kingdom by ruling on the earth: being God's people under God's rule in God's place. The earth itself was intended as humanity's inheritance. Indeed, God still has big plans for the earth, not just in this age but in the age to come. Many Christians believe that our destiny is to leave this earth and go to heaven. But the biblical picture of the future is not our removal from, or even the destruction of the earth. Rather, it's a "new heavens and a new earth"—renewed and restored to its original intention. Revelation 21:1-3 paints a picture of the earth redeemed and renewed under the rule of King Jesus: heaven coming down to be reunited with earth.
And according to Jesus, the "meek" are the ones who will both inherit and rule on this new earth. But just who are the "meek"?
Jesus gives us a clue by quoting the Old Testament: "But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace" (Psalm 37:11). This quoted Psalm offers a five-fold description of those who will "inherit the land." They are "meek" (v. 11), who "wait for the Lord" (vv. 9, 34), are "blessed by the Lord" (v. 22), are "righteous" (v. 29) and "keep his way" (v. 34).
The meek have no inheritance or property of their own, so God is their only hope. They have learned to trust completely in his timing, his ways and his promises. They don't take things into their own hands, force their own agendas, or fight their way to the top of the pile. They don't have to fight or wage war in order to gain this inheritance. It's been promised to them by God, and they are confident he will give it to them in his time.
Meekness is power
We live in a world in which possessions, property and rule go to those who take it by force, earn it through charisma, or grasp it with deceit. To this, Jesus said: "… whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. …" (Matthew 20:25-27) It's not the arrogant, power-hungry, charismatic or deceptive who will rule in the Kingdom, but those who have devoted themselves to humble service, no matter what the personal cost. The ability to rule well is found in those willing to serve like slaves.
We tend to look for leaders who are strong, courageous, tough and dominant. We don't want weaklings. But meek does not mean weak. Rather, meekness is a chosen posture of humility towards others. Jesus himself was not weak but displayed perfect meekness: he "… came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
This much is clear: Jesus radically redefines power. Economic, social and political power are nothing compared to Kingdom power. This truth should call us up short when we turn to these things for salvation or deploy the categories and symbols of the world to define God's Kingdom. The Lord's statement was neither "Love is Love" nor "Don't Tread on Me." It was, "Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth."
The meek are those who get power because they decline power. They will rule in the next world because they don't have to rule in this one. They don't fight for their rights or assert their own interests over the interests of others. Even when they do rule, they do so with deference to others, as servants.
Meekness is freedom
When you think about it, isn't the person you want ruling the kind of person who doesn't rule because they need something, but because they already have everything? The kind of person who doesn't have to use their power to achieve, or acquire or impress—but are freed up to use their power for the good of others? That is true freedom—a freedom that doesn't have to fight for its rights or defend itself but is free to trust completely in God.
King David, who had everything, was pleased with his inheritance. He once wrote, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance" (Psalm 16:6). But he wasn't speaking of palaces or property. His true inheritance was God himself: "the Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot" (Psalm 16:5).
You see, those who will eventually rule the earth—the meek—are the people who desire nothing because they already have everything they need: they have God. He is their possession, and they are content.
The meek will end up inheriting the earth because they didn't pursue the earth in the first place. The meek are those who've pursued and trusted God, and in the end, get everything else too: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Mike Phay is the pastor at First Baptist Church. He can be reached at 541-447-7717.
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