In my last post I talked about the Eight Blessings Jesus Gives Us. Today I want to talk about the "woes," Jesus added to those blessings when he gave his famous Sermon on the Mount.
You don't usually hear about these woes because many of us rely on Matthew 5:1-11 for the list of the blessings (or beatitudes). But in Luke 6:24-26 Jesus followed with four woes (or condemnations) that are the reason many people do not not experience God's blessings today.
But woe to you who are rich,
No, if you are rich in wealth, this is not talking about you. The woes address the blessings. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Meaning those who recognize how unworthy they are to come before God. They realize how much they need Him and go to Him in repentance. But the "rich," those who believe they are "good enough," have received their consolation. Jesus would have been referring to the Temple priests and teachers of the day. Those who were corrupt on the inside but acted righteously on the outside. They believed (as many do today) that their good deeds would make them right with God. Their self-righteousness excluded their need for repentance. And they were full of self-righteousness. It has been suggested because of Jesus' remarks in Matthew 6:2, that wealthy Pharisees would often blow trumpets to announce to the poor in the neighbourhood that they were distributing alms. However, scholars have not found evidence of any such practise in Jewish literature. Jesus was clearly speaking in hyperbolic terms because what was happening was just as bad. When alms were distributed to beggars in the streets it created a parade of people who followed the "benevolent" Pharisees. Which of course caused the people to look on them with admiration. So their "consolation" (their comfort) was found in the eyes of others who looked up to them. They loved to make a show of how generous they were with their money and good deeds.
Woe to you who are full,
The poor in spirit mourn their sinful state and hunger for a closer relationship with God. The rich in spirit are already satisfied with their lot in life. They do not hunger for a more intimate relationship with God, nor do they seek to know Him through His Holy Word. They are satisfied with their lives and with the praise of others. They are content to rest in the fact that they will make it to heaven on their good deeds alone. Yet, they will be hungry for more. They will always be searching for something else to fill that void. But they will never be completely satisfied until they come to the Lord on their knees with a repentant heart.
Woe to you who laugh now,
No, he is not pronouncing judgement on happy people! That would be absurd. But, just as the blessings build on one another, so do the woes. If you are satisfied with your life, you will never seek to know the Creator of the Universe. You will trust in your own moral code or your good deeds to get into heaven. While the Pharisees and scribes appeared to honour God in public, Jesus said they were like whitewashed tombs. Full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28)! Applying these verses to people today, it is easy to see what happens. If you are content to live a life without God you convince yourself there is no God and so you have no worries about an afterlife. You laugh now and enjoy your life, but Jesus says one day you shall mourn and weep. It will be the day you stand face to face with God, and you will come to the horrible realization that your life was meant to glorify your Creator, but all you did with it was bring glory to yourself. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life unless you leave God out of it.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
It is obvious who Jesus was talking about in His Sermon on the Mount. Every one of these woes were directed at the Temple priests and scribes who loved the adoration of the people, the money they made from them and the power they wielded as priests, over them. They loved parading around in their distinctive robes, indicating who they were. They were so self-important they cared more about the applause and adoration of the common man than the God they were supposed to be serving. But these examples can also be applied to many people today. I think of celebrity preachers when I read this verse. Too many people in the church today fawn over popular authors, speakers, singers and preachers. This idolization of famous Christians has got to stop. Especially since so many of them preach a false gospel.
In the end, the four woes Jesus pronounced after he spoke of the eight blessings, are meant to be a warning to those who "speak their own truth." It is for those who have become so full of themselves they have no need of God. It is for anyone who believes that being good enough is enough.
Woe to you if you think it is.