All Saints Day| November 3, 2019| 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
Last Sunday we celebrated the Reformation of the Church. God sent Martin Luther to bring to light the gospel that had been hidden by false teaching. The people were being taught that they would be saved by their good deeds. Luther found in the Bible the precious teaching that a poor, lost, helpless, sinner is justified by God freely by God’s grace alone, through faith alone for the sake of the obedience and suffering of the Lord Jesus.
Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor
Good works cannot avert our doom
They help and save us never
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone
Who did for all the world atone
He is our one Redeemer.
This is the heart of our Christian faith. How is a sinner justified by God, forgiven of all his sins, rescued from death and hell, and brought to heaven? It is not by his good deeds. It is not by his works. It is by God’s grace alone. God gives us the credit for Christ’s good deeds, even as Christ took the blame for our sins. This blessed exchange makes us saints. This we believe.
Today we go from the Christian’s faith to the Christian’s life. Our text is Jesus’ introduction to the first sermon he preached. He describes the life of his saints. Faith and life go together. Faith isn’t simply assent to truth. The devil knows what God’s truth is. But he doesn’t trust in it. He cannot. We Christians do. We trust in the God who has rescued us from the clutches of the devil and the guilt of our sins. From this faith flows a blessed life.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If you had enough money you’d be happy, right? If you were content with what you had you’d be happier still. Greed for money leads us into every kind of sorrow. To be poor in spirit means that whether you have much or little in the way of this world’s goods, you know that your life does not consist in what you have. Your wealth is in heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The losses we suffer in life are too many to count. Death is the greatest loss. It’s so permanent. Jesus promises comfort. It is the comfort of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” That doesn’t seem to make sense. Look at the rulers of this world and tell me how much meekness, how much humility you see. The proud, the boastful, the self-aggrandizing egotists appear to be in charge. But they are not! Jesus is. He who humbled himself all the way to the death of the cross is King of kings and Lord of lords. Those who find refuge in the suffering and death of Jesus will inherit the earth. Their Father in heaven moves heaven and earth for their benefit.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” The religions of this world teach you how to justify yourself. You declare yourself to be righteous. You choose which rules to obey, you obey them, and then you congratulate yourself on how righteous you are. The saints of God know that their own righteousness is like filthy rags. They hunger and thirst for a righteousness they cannot produce. They try with all their hearts to love God above all things and to love their neighbors as themselves. They see that their righteousness is not righteous enough. God sees their hunger and thirst for genuine righteousness and he satisfies them. He reckons to them Christ’s righteousness. He clothes them in the perfect righteousness of his only begotten Son. In this they find true spiritual rest.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” When God reckons you to be righteous with the impeccable righteousness of Jesus, you have tasted mercy. God has had pity on you. You pass on this pity to others. You show mercy because that is what you have received from God. Every time you show mercy to another in need, you do so in confidence that God will show you mercy in your every need.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Sinners cannot purify their sinful hearts. God can. He does so through his word. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) The word of Christ is the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. This is how he makes our hearts pure. We see Christ. We see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The angels announced God’s peace to the shepherds on that first Christmas. Thirty three years later, the Prince of Peace died on the cross. By his death, God made peace with us. Christ’s blood takes away God’s anger against sinners by taking away sin. This makes us peacemakers. Since we are at peace with God we seek peace with others. We don’t look for conflict. When we find ourselves in a conflict, we would rather be reconciled than vindicated. The peace of God we have in Christ gives us the desire for peace with those who have done us wrong.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” We say it’s not fair. It’s not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good for us. How can being treated unfairly be good for you? It’s how we learn. Some things you cannot learn in a classroom. You learn it by living. You learn it by getting clobbered for doing what is right. Jesus did no wrong. When evil people insulted him he remained silent. By enduring persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus gained his kingdom. When we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we are being conformed to Christ’s image. It’s a privilege! It may not feel like it, but faith relies on God’s word, not our feelings.
A young man refuses to engage in the intimacy of marriage before he is married. The other boys make fun of him. A judge opposes same sex marriage because it is an offense to the God who made us male and female. She is persecuted. Christians take a stand on what is right. Those who punish them for it are wrong. Christians bear the wrong. They think of Jesus and thank God for the privilege of suffering for righteousness’ sake.
This brings us to the final beatitude:
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.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those” eight times. Then he says, “Blessed are you.” He makes it personal. This is the last and the greatest of the beatitudes. We should be exceedingly glad when people insult us, persecute us, and tell vicious lies about us on account of Christ whom we confess. This is how they persecuted the prophets. This is how they persecuted the apostles. This is how they persecuted the early Christians. But look at them now! Listen to the description of the early Christian martyrs from Revelation chapter 7:
These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
“Great is your reward in heaven,” Jesus promises. He has purchased this reward with his own blood.
Lo, these are they of glorious fame
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and blame.
Young folks die. Old folks die. Everybody dies. It’s not whether. It’s not when. It’s how. Jesus preaches to us about the blessedness of our lives as saints here on earth. He concludes these beatitudes with the promise of heaven. Some secular humanist types scoff at what they call the pie in the sky, by and by, when you die. They claim that our Christian hope for heaven means we are no earthly good. They are wrong. When you know you are headed toward heaven and why, your life here on earth is blessed.
People think of saints as Christians who have gone to heaven. Saints are living here on earth, too. We are surrounded by saints. Your fellow Christians are saints. The Bible calls Christians saints. The word “Christian” is seldom used in the Bible. Every Christian is a saint. All Christians have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. All Christians are forgiven of all their sins for Christ’s sake. We become saints through faith alone. All of God’s saints and only God’s saints are on their way to heaven. The life of God’s saints on earth is a life of true blessedness. We know our Savior. Because we know our Savior, Jesus, we know we are going to heaven. Because we know our Savior, Jesus, we know what the blessed life here on earth is all about. Amen.