Jesus was leading a movement of hope. It began on a Sabbath in his hometown synagogue when he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:16-18).
The movement of hope grew through Jesus’ ministry. It grew when Jesus challenged the scribes and Pharisees by healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath in the synagogue. Luke 6:6-11 tells this story of hope:
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
As news about Jesus’ movement of hope spread, Luke tells how a great crowd of people began to hear Jesus teach and to follow Jesus. It is in the reality of this great crowd that Jesus’ longest teaching in the Gospel of Luke is found in Luke 6:20-49 as Jesus preached what is known as the Sermon on the Plain.
In preaching the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus used two traditions that were practiced by the biblical prophets. The first tradition was to compare and contrast the values of God’s kingdom with the current values of the world’s kingdoms. The goal of this prophetic tradition was to help people hear the message of a prophet with fresh ears as they considered the values of their lives.
It was in this prophetic tradition of comparing and contrasting that Jesus began his Sermon on the Plain with four blessings for people whose only hope is God.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are your who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
It was also in the prophetic tradition that Jesus began his Sermon on the Plain with four woes for people whose only hope is themselves.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false
The Wesley Study Bible describes the blessings and woes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in this way:
In a world where wealth and prosperity were often presumed to indicate divine favor, Luke records words which teach exactly the opposite. The “poor,” the “hungry,” and the weeping are blessed along with the hated, reviled, defamed, and excluded. The “rich,” the “full,” and the jovial are subjected to woes and impending trauma. The four blessings and the four woes here reflect a divine value system in which the privileged no longer exploit their privileges for their own benefit, but instead share their privileges with those without privilege: and in which those without privilege become blessed.”
- 1248-1249, The Wesley Study Bible, Abingdon Press, Nashville
The first prophetic tradition was comparing and contrasting the values of God’s kingdom with the values of the world’s kingdoms. Jesus was comparing and contrasting the value of depending solely upon God and depending solely upon yourself.
The second prophetic tradition Jesus used in preaching the Sermon on the Plain is recorded in Luke 6:17:
“He came down with them and stood on a level place.”
In the Bible, a level place often referred to a place that was void of hope. The Old Testament books of Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, Habakkuk, and Zechariah refer to a level place as a place of death, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning. (Jeremiah 9:22; 14:18; 30:4; Daniel 3:1; Joel 1:10, 20; 2: 22; 3:19; Habakkuk 3:17; Zechariah 12:11).
There were two Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel, who prophesied that God can renew the hopelessness of level places. They prophesied a message of hope that God can bring life from death even in the hopelessness of level places (Isaiah 40:4; Ezekiel 3:22, 23; 8:4).
Working Preacher.org Feb. 17, 2019, Ronald J. Allen
It is no mistake that Jesus stood on a level place as he proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom in the Sermon on the Plain by pronouncing both blessings and woes in the tradition of the prophets. It is no mistake that Jesus is standing on a level place as he pronounces the good news of God’s kingdom It is no mistake that Jesus is standing on a level place as he looks upon the crowd at people who are searching for a word of hope for their lives.
It is from the level places of life that Jesus’ movement of hope is spread, is spoken, is preached here from the Sermon on the Plain as Jesus pronounces both blessings and woes as Jesus stands with us in the level places of our lives.
Rev. Jo Anne Taylor defines Jesus’ prophetic message of blessings and woes in the Sermon on the Plain in this way:
We are blessed when we are God-centered, regardless of our earthly circumstances, and we find woe whenever we are self-centered.
A Pastor Sings.org, Rev. Jo Anne Taylor
Jesus stood on a level place as he led a God-centered movement of hope. Preaching the Sermon on the Plain he invites those of us who find ourselves standing on level places to stand with him. He invites those of us who are among the blessed and those upon whom he pronounces woe to stand in the hope of Jesus.
Standing in a level place. Where are you standing today? How is God calling you to be part of the movement of hope of Jesus this day?
Standing on a Level Place
by Pastor Marc Brown
February 13, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 6:17-26
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for February 13, 2021
Scripture Lesson Luke 6:17-26
The Good News “Standing on a Level Place”
Music “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
Closing Music “Joy in the Morning” by Lani Smith