All Saints Day| November 4, 2012| 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 opened his mouth and taught his disciples. We call them Christians. If you are a Christian, you are a disciple of Christ. If you are a disciple of Christ, Jesus is your teacher. Those who receive Jesus’ teaching, believe it, and confess it are his disciples. They are Christians. They are saints. They are righteous.
When we think of Jesus we think primarily of his saving work. We become Christians through faith in Jesus and his saving work for us. We become righteous before God, not by doing righteous things, but through faith alone in Jesus Christ who is our righteousness before God. We wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. We believe in Jesus and are baptized in his name. Our sins are washed away by the blood he shed on the cross for us. We don’t become Christians by what we do. We become Christians through faith alone.
Today’s Gospel Lesson addresses the life of the Christian in this world. Jesus preached it to his disciples. It is the introduction to the first sermon he preached. The eternal Word became flesh and preached the word. He preached about God blessing his people. The congregation that listened to his sermon had, as their hymnal, the Psalter of the Old Testament. The first psalm of the Psalter begins with a description of what it means to be blessed by God. David writes:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in his law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
The Christian delights in what God says. He meditates on it. He takes it in. He lives on it. God’s word is the source of every blessing we enjoy in this life. God’s word causes Christians to prosper.
God knows that it doesn’t look like it. Jesus speaks to this. He teaches us that we are blessed when it appears that we are unblessed. Listen to Jesus upend the values of a dying world. Listen to the wisdom that comes down from above. Just as the righteousness by which you stand before God as righteous is hidden from your sight, just so the blessedness of your Christian life is hidden from your sight. Listen to Jesus. He will show it to your faith.
Jesus doesn’t preach to us theoretical abstractions that are true in some heavenly sense but don’t touch this earth. Jesus preaches to us a practical, down to earth sermon. God’s children are blessed right now here on earth where they are living. The beatitudes or “blesseds” begin with the words, “blessed are,” not “blessed will be.”
God tells his children that they are blessed but we see the opposite of what God promises. To be blessed is to prosper, but his people are poor. To be blessed is to be happy, but his people mourn. His people are meek, not mighty. They hunger and thirst for a righteousness that they cannot see or feel. They show mercy and apparently receive something else. They are pure in heart but the world doesn’t care and despises them for their foolish naïveté. They make peace but there is no peace. They are persecuted wherever they go and it appears that the bad guys get the last word. What does Jesus say about all this?
Don’t go by what you see, dear Christian. Don’t insist on visible proof of God’s promises. God’s word, not our sight, validates our lives in this world. Judge for yourself. Everything you see will be lost. A beautiful mansion falls into ruin, is chopped up into apartments, and finally torn down for something newer. A sleek and coveted car finds its resting place as a rusted out shell in a junkyard. The stylish clothes that were so alluring, so beautiful to behold, are now an embarrassment, suitable as a Halloween costume. The gorgeous movie star grows older and older until no amount of make up and special lighting can hide from the eyes the onset of old age. And then she dies.
Don’t go by what you see.
Christians are poor in spirit. The poor in spirit may be rich or poor in material wealth but their affections are on the kingdom of God. God gives them this kingdom. It is a wonderful place. It is with them all the time even when they are feeling as low as they can feel. It is God ruling over them and governing them, but not by threats and coercion. He rules over them by forgiving them all their sins and reckoning to them the obedience of Christ as their righteousness. He fills them with his Spirit and encourages them. He lifts them up every time they fall. He gives them the grace to be what he called them to be.
Christians mourn. They mourn their failure to be on the inside what God demands that they be. But they know they will be some day. They will be like God. God comforts them with this knowledge as they struggle against temptations and suffer under their failure. Not only are they forgiven of their sins. They can look forward to the time when there will be no temptation to do wrong or any memory of past sins.
Christians are meek. The world isn’t impressed with them. They don’t care about what the world cares about. I’m not just talking about money and fame and power and all that stuff that everyone knows is of no lasting value. I’m talking about the goodness the world thinks is so good, the goodness that parades itself, advertizes itself, and asks for recognition and gets it. They toot their own horns, display their own piety, brag about their own achievement and ignore meek Christians who would rather rejoice in the obedience of Christ their Savior than to rejoice in their own spiritual prowess. These ignored and despised Christians will inherit the earth, for it belongs to the one in whom they trust.
Christians hunger and thirst for righteousness. They want a righteousness that only God can give. They know that it won’t come about by political means. They don’t look to politics or human governments as the agents to produce the righteousness that they need. They hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. They hunger and thirst for Christ. They want his obedience reckoned to them for righteousness for they know that this alone is what can make them righteous before God and this alone is what will enable them to do righteous deeds that are truly pleasing to God. They want to please God.
Christians are merciful. They know God’s mercy in Christ. They have experienced it. They cry out for it and God hears their cry. Mercy defines their lives and their future. Whenever life becomes difficult for them; when they must face pain and persecution; when they begin to feel lost and abandoned by God; they remember this promise of their Lord Jesus: “they shall obtain mercy.” On that promise they rest their faith.
Christians are pure in heart. Not sinless, for if they were sinless they would be in heaven and the beatitudes are not spoken to the saints in heaven, but to the saints here on earth who daily struggle with sin. No, pure in heart here means what the Psalmist meant when he wrote:
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)
Those in whose spirit there is no deceit are pure in heart. They are honest about their sin and sincerely trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. They don’t manufacture their own righteousness and try to pass it off as the genuine article. They confess their sins to God. They don’t defend them or deny them. They own up to them honestly. They are pure in heart. When God absolves them he gives them a vision of himself. The pure in heart and only the pure in heart can see God.
Christians are peacemakers. They have received the peace of God that passes all understanding. They have peace with God for Christ’s sake. They want peace with others. A natural outgrowth of receiving peace is making peace. God made peace with us through the death of his Son. When we make peace with others we are called sons of God. We are doing for others what has been done for us.
Christians are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for two reasons. First, they will call a spade a spade. They won’t go along with the crowd when it defines sin away. That makes people angry. When Christians agree with God about matters of right and wrong they are called bigots and are persecuted.
The second reason Christians are persecuted for righteousness’s sake is that they care more about Christ’s righteousness than their own. This is intolerable to the worldly religion of worksrighteousness that fawns over the goodness of sinful men while showing distain to the gospel that reveals the righteousness of Christ given to faith. We happily toss aside all reliance on how good we’ve been. We know that we have the obedience of Christ as that robe of righteousness that makes us saints. This the world cannot tolerate, for we discard the gods in which they trust as so much useless religious rubbish.
Christian, you are blessed when “they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake.” You are blessed because “great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” You don’t look to this world to validate your life. You look to the God who made you, who redeemed you with his blood, and who sanctified your body to be his temple. He vindicates his saints.
Look at the Christians who have gone before. God has vindicated their faith. Abraham and Sarah, David the shepherd boy, Daniel in the lion’s den, the Virgin Mary, and countless Christians throughout the history of the church, including loved ones we have known and lost. We saw them die. We couldn’t see the heaven into which God received them. We still can’t see heaven, but we can hear the word of blessing from our God. It is sound and certain. We Christians are blessed. We have true joy, genuine wellbeing, prosperity, peace, comfort, and the confidence that our faith will be replaced by sight. As the Bible says:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him. Amen