All Saints Day| November 1, 2015| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Matthew 5:1-12
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” St. Matthew 5:1-12
Jesus teaches his disciples. A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christ teaches all his Christians. If you are a Christian, Jesus is your teacher. Listen to him. His holy teaching is the greatest blessing you will receive in this life.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit are those who could be rich or poor and would be content in either condition because they know that their lives do not consist in the abundance of their possessions. The poor in spirit understand that true wealth is to know him by whom all things were made, who upholds all things by the power of his Word. When the kingdom of heaven belongs to you, Christ belongs to you, and he rules over you like no other authority in the world. Instead of pushing you this way and that and laying burdens on you that you cannot bear, he takes your burdens off of you and bears them himself, going to the cross to suffer and die for you. That’s where he gains his kingdom. Belonging to his kingdom is what makes you wealthy beyond measurement. You are truly blessed.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Who said Christians must always be happy? Christians mourn. They are sad. They mourn the injustice in this world. They mourn pain and suffering they see around them. They mourn especially their own sins they have committed against God. In sorrow we offer to God our broken and sinful hearts. The Psalmist writes:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart –
These, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
No, God doesn’t despise the penitent. The world might. Putting on airs and boasting of your virtues is the way of the world. But God forgives and blesses those who are sorry for their sins.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
You wouldn’t believe this by looking around you. The meek are ignored. You get ahead by promoting yourself. The humble are pushed aside and forgotten. That’s what you see. But your eyes would deceive you. No one has ever seen God, but he who is at the bosom of the Father has revealed him. When you know him who is begotten of the Father from eternity you know him to whom this earth belongs. It doesn’t belong to those who have the biggest armies or the most efficient weapons or the most brilliant strategies of conquest. The earth belongs to him who humbled himself all the way to the cross and is even now exalted at the right hand of the Father. The meek take refuge in him and all he has is theirs.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
You don’t hunger and thirst for what you already have. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness want to be righteous. They want to be what God wants them to be. And they know they are not. But God knows their need and he meets it. He satisfies their hunger and thirst for righteousness by reckoning to them the perfect righteousness of Christ. God justifies them by the blood of Jesus. This satisfies their spiritual hunger and thirst. Jesus gives them water to drink that springs up into eternal life.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Children do as they see their parents do. Christians are children of God. God is merciful. So are Christians. Mercy, pity, kindness, compassion – these are attributes of our God. We know him this way through his Son, Jesus. The sick, the lame, the blind, the leprous, those who were unable to help themselves cried out to him for mercy saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” And so do we as we sing every Sunday, “Lord have mercy upon us; Christ have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us.” Giving and receiving mercy is the hallmark of the Christian’s life. It is a blessed life, a content life.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
To be pure in heart is not to be without sin. No Christian is without sin in this life. To be pure in heart is to be sincere. It is to be honest and truthful with yourself. Much of what passes for religion is posturing, pretending, posing, and in a variety of ways putting on a religious show to demonstrate a sincerity that isn’t there. The pure in heart are those who know that they need what God alone can give them. And God gives it to them. They need God. God shows himself in the person of his Son. Those who in simple childlike faith look to Jesus to deliver them from their troubles in life will see God. For Jesus is God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Jesus makes peace. Isaiah writes of him, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” St. Paul writes, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” At Jesus’s birth, the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Jesus makes peace between God and sinners by taking away the sin of sinners and setting them before God as saints. We who call ourselves by his name forgive those who sin against us. This is how we make peace. The single greatest blessing we have in this life is the forgiveness of sins. To make peace through forgiveness identifies us as sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If you take a stand on what is right those who hate what’s right will hate you. And they’ll take it out on you. Christian businessmen who refuse to help homosexual couples celebrate their sin are fined by judges and their businesses are ruined. A godless culture hates godly people. Expect matters to get worse. Jesus says:
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Christians are going to be persecuted by people who would prefer to sin than to be forgiven of sin. When we take a stand on what God teaches is right we will draw the anger of those who don’t believe in repentance or the forgiveness of sins. But we do. It is through repentance and the forgiveness of sins that we are Christians, that we are blessed, that we become saints. Christians wear, as a beautiful robe, the righteousness of Christ. It covers them and makes them saints. Jesus concludes the beatitudes by saying:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Did you notice the change in how Jesus addresses his disciples here? The first eight beatitudes say, “Blessed are they.” The final one says “Blessed are you.” He makes it very personal because it all has to do with him and you. You are blessed when people insult you, persecute you, and tell all sorts of lies about you on account of Christ, because of your relationship to Christ, because you hold on to Christ and regard him as your greatest treasure. You are blessed when you suffer for Christ’s sake because this puts you into the best company. That’s how they treated the prophets. That’s how they treated the apostles. That’s how they treated Christ. That’s how they will treat his Christians.
God justifies us, that is, he reckons us to be righteous not because of righteous things we do, but solely through faith in Jesus who lived a righteous life for us and suffered and died on the cross for our sins. The Revelation of St. John describes the saints in heaven as those who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The color white symbolizes innocence. The innocence required to gain entrance into heaven is the innocence that comes by Jesus’ blood. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” That’s what it means to wash your robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
God gives us eternal life freely as a gift. That doesn’t mean the Christian life is always easy. It’s not. It is a blessed life. It’s a life lived at peace with God. But peace with God means enmity with this world. Don’t listen to the false prophets who tell you that if you are a faithful Christian you’re going to prosper, be healthy, popular, and successful. Christians are persecuted. That’s nothing to fear. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We who look forward to being conformed to Christ’s image in glory must be willing to be conformed to his image in suffering.
The saints who have gone before have marked the way. The Lord of the church upholds those who confess his name. Those who turn to Christ with a penitent heart and ask for forgiveness are never denied. Jesus promises us heaven. He purchased eternal life for us by sacrificing himself for us. When he says, “Great is your reward in heaven,” he is speaking the truth. What does this world offer us that can compare with the joys God has prepared for us? When we are given the privilege of suffering abuse for Christ’s sake we have every reason to rejoice and be glad. That’s an honor we don’t deserve. When we suffer lies and persecutions for Christ’s sake, we know where we stand. Christ, who is seated at the right hand of glory in heaven, will vindicate his Christians here on earth. Amen.