Now And Not Yet
All Saints Day (Observed)| Matthew 5:1-12| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| November 6, 2022
The theme that seems to permeate through every text for All Saints Day is now, and not yet. We are God’s children now, St. John says. Yet, what we will be has not yet appeared (1 John 3:1-3). St. John sees a vision in Revelation 7. He sees the saints gathered around the throne of God, clothed in white robes, praising God and Christ with a loud voice. Yet, this is a vision. When the vision ends, John goes back to the island Patmos (Rev. 1:9) on which he is exiled. And after reading this beautiful description, we look up from the pages of Revelation and see that we are still here on this earth, with sin and ills contending.
And Jesus embraces this theme of now and not yet in His Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are they now, for they will receive something later. His sermon is filled with reversals. The lowly will be exalted. The empty will be filled. The sad will be joyful. The poor will be rich. Yet, to all these future tenses, he places the present tense: Blessed are they. Blessed are those who mourn now, for they will be comforted in the future. Their comfort is in the future, but their blessing is now, in the present tense, even amid their mourning. They are blessed now, yet they have not yet seen the full content of their blessing.
To better understand Jesus’ sermon, we need to define His words. Nine times in this sermon, Jesus uses the word blessed. But what does that mean? Some modern translations have tried to update this text by translating it “happy.” But that says too little. Besides, those who are blessed are not always happy. Happy is an emotion. Blessed is a state of being. This means that Christians can be blessed even when they feel very unhappy.
To be blessed is tantamount be being saved. It means that you have an eternal reward. To be blessed means to have everything that accompanies eternal salvation: forgiveness of sins, peace with God, a good conscience, eternal life, adoption as children of God, and much more. It is a little word, a good word, but it means more than we can express in words. Those who are blessed are Christians. In this sermon, Jesus describes His Christians here on earth. He calls them blessed, meaning that they are saints even now, set apart by God. Yet, He also describes the cross they must bear on this earth before they experience their full blessing.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Here, Jesus doesn’t use the future, but only the present tense. The poor in spirit are currently blessed, because they currently possess the kingdom of heaven. But what does that mean? Who are the poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit means to be needy in spirit. It means that you’re a beggar. You don’t have and you know you don’t have. You’re humble, repentant, sorry for your sins and begging God to be made rich. Jesus speaks of the poor in spirit when he says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13) Jesus could just as well have said, “It is not the rich who beg for bread, but the poor. I did not come to feed the rich, but the poor.” The rich do not beg. But it is beggars in the spirit to whom God gives richly. The rich He sends empty away.
But what does it mean that the needy in spirit currently possess the kingdom of heaven? It means that poor repentant sinners receive God’s grace here on earth. Here, in church, spiritually poor, beggarly sinners come before God, repenting of their sins, and begging for forgiveness and eternal life, and God fills their open hands until they’re over flowing. He forgives their sins. He promises them eternal life. He calls them his children now, so that their citizenship is in heaven even as they live on earth. This is what God promises in Isaiah 66, “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit. And who trembles at My word.” (NKJV) The spiritually poor live in God’s kingdom of grace today by faithfully receiving the means of grace, so that they will live in God’s kingdom of glory in eternity, seeing it with their own eyes.
The next six blessings are to those who currently suffer, but will rejoice in the future. Those who mourn today are blessed, because God will comfort them in the future. Those who are meek and lowly today are blessed, because God will bequeath to them the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness now are blessed, because God will satisfy them. Those who mourn now are aware of the evil of this world. That can only truly happen when one’s eyes are opened to faith in Christ. Christians mourn the suffering of God’s Church, the corruption of His creation, the sin that soils every soul. Yet, these mourners God will comfort. He will wipe away every tear from their eye. They will enjoy eternal bliss with God their Savior.
The meek are the lowly. They are those who do not exalt themselves, but wait on God to exalt them. The meek are the spiritually poor, to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. God exalts the lowly, but casts down the proud. Being lowly in spirit often results in possessing less here on earth. Those who accumulate much property and wealth are often those who are not meek, but aggressive and who even claim what isn’t theirs. Yet, God promises the earth to His Christians. Jesus will raise the dead, and we will possess the new heavens and the new earth.
Those who hunger and thirst do not have what they hunger and thirst for, otherwise they would not hunger and thirst for it. So, this righteousness which the blessed desire is not theirs. The blessed are sinners. Yet, they desire to be righteous. And they want everything to be made right. Righteousness is often paralleled with salvation in Scripture, because God saves us by setting everything right. He does not ignore sin; he pays for it. He does not condone wickedness; he restores the sinner. We are righteous today through faith in Christ’s blood by which he washes away all our sin. Yet, in the future even our actions will be made perfectly right. Our salvation will be complete. God will satisfy our godly desires.
The merciful are blessed now, because God will have mercy on them. In other words, those who forgive others their trespasses are blessed, because God will declare them innocent of all sin on the Last Day. We are indeed forgiven now. God’s absolution says so. Yet, we know we are forgiven only by promise. We have not yet stood before God’s glorious throne as Christ judges every person according to his deeds. So, Jesus has given us a sign for everyday uses. When we forgive others, we remember that God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus. As Jesus says, “He who loves much is forgiven much.” So, you confess that you are forgiven and that God has mercy on you today by showing mercy and forgiving others. In this way, you demonstrate God’s love to others and give courage to your conscience that God will do as he promises.
The pure in heart are blessed now, because they will see God. To be pure in heart means to hold Christ in your heart. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, Jesus tells us. Yet, faith holds Christ Jesus in the heart, forgiving our sins and causing us to bear good fruit. No one can see God and live, because sinners cannot behold the holy God. Yet, to those who have cleansed their hearts through faith (Acts 15:9), Jesus promises that they will behold God face to face with their own eyes (Job 19:25-27; 1 John 1:2).
The peacemakers are blessed, because God will call them His sons. Christians are peacemakers. If you are not a peacemaker, then you are not a Christian. Yet, we must define peacemakers. Peacemakers are not those who sacrifice God’s Word and teaching in order to keep the peace with unbelievers. Peacemakers aren’t cowards who avoid standing up for what is right in order to avoid conflict. Rather, peacemakers confront sin and error with God’s holy Word, yet in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1). Peacemakers attempt to bind people together with nothing less than unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). This means that when peacemakers seek to make peace, they always appeal to the blood of Christ Jesus, which was shed to make peace between us and God. So, when Jesus tells you to go and talk to the one who has sinned against you, between you and him alone, he is telling you to seek to be reconciled and to forgive for the sake of His shed blood.
On the Last Day, God will declare the peacemakers His children. Children mimic their father. Our heavenly Father has made peace with us through the blood of Christ. So, we prove ourselves to be God’s children by making peace with one another for the sake of Christ’s blood. We repent when we sin against others. And we forgive those who have sinned against us.
Finally, Jesus says that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, that is, on account of Him are blessed, because God will reward them greatly in heaven. Christians recognize that suffering too is a sign of God’s love for us. When we suffer for the sake of Christ, the old Adam must die and the new self must rise up. We don’t get to choose our cross or who will revile us or for what purpose. Yet, when we are reviled and mistreated for standing on Christ’s Word, we know that our reward is great in heaven. This reward does not refer to salvation alone, yet it never excludes it. All who have faith in Christ will inherit eternal salvation apart from their works. However, Scripture also teaches that there will be additional heavenly rewards given by grace to those who suffer for the sake of the kingdom. So, when Christians suffer for Christ’s sake, they indeed have cause to give thanks to God. Suffering produces both temporal and eternal benefits for the Christian.
This theme of now and not yet should comfort Christians; however, the not yet often outweighs the now in our experience. We currently live in the valley of the shadow of death. We are preoccupied with what we are not yet and what we do not yet have much more than what God declares us to be now: blessed. And because the not yet seems stronger, even the blessed now seems faint. Rather, we focus on the other “nows” that we can see, hear, and touch. Our senses of hearing, seeing, and touching are often stronger than our faith. So, how can we assert that we are blessed now and be certain of the not yet?
Only in Christ. Christ became poor for us. He mourned for us. He humbled himself for us. He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness, so much that He fulfilled all righteousness for us. Jesus was merciful to poor sinners and shed His blood to forgive them. Jesus had no deceit in His heart as He went to the cross. Jesus made peace between the Father and us by the blood of His cross. Jesus suffered more than anyone for righteousness’ sake. And Jesus has received His reward for all this. He is declared today to be the Son of God, who reigns over the heavens and the earth. Jesus is comforted with His victory as all His enemies lie under His feet.
Our certainty in our present blessedness and our future reward rests in Christ Jesus alone. Every heavenly reward we receive from Him. He currently is victorious. So, we take His word for it that we are blessed now, and we look forward to receiving the content of that blessing in God’s good time. Amen.