Read Matthew 5:1-12
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
Over the next three weeks I’m going to be focusing on that part of Matthew’s Gospel known as The Sermon on the Mount and today I will begin by considering the first section of that sermon, what is known as The Beatitudes, Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be blessed.
After being baptized; after facing the temptations of the devil; Jesus began his ministry preaching (Matthew 4:17), “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He then went on to teach about life in the kingdom of heaven and specifically, what it means to live under the reign of Christ. Finally, Jesus took the preaching and teaching of the kingdom into the lives of people through a ministry of healing (Matthew 4:24) the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics.
Preaching, teaching and healing. These three facets of ministry seem to carry a different value for people. For example, preaching God’s Word in my current congregation draws about 70-80 people into our church facility each Sunday. However, teaching God’s Word collects a mere half-a-dozen each week. What about healing? Does our congregation offer healing? I think most people, even Christians, would struggle to identify how churches offer healing today. On the other hand, if I could heal those with any affliction like Jesus did, I believe we’d be so overwhelmed with numbers that we’d have to build a new facility. My point here is that most people are attracted by the tangible things they believe they need and want and preaching and teaching while fine more some, hold little value for most in comparison to what is offered in healing. I believe this reflects our sinful nature.
All people are by nature sinful creatures, out to get what they want and then once they have it, they’ll either want more of it or they’ll get tired of it and go someplace else. Great crowds followed Jesus because of what they could get from him in terms of healing their afflictions. Later on they would follow because of the free food they could get from him, but eventually, these crowds would disappear when Jesus called people out of this self-centered existence.
From the crowds we now turn to a smaller group known as Jesus’ disciples. Early on Jesus had called and gathered a few disciples along the way. These people had followed him because of who he was and what he was about. It was the food of God’s Word in Christ’s preaching and teaching that had drawn them, held them, intrigued them and at times, even confused them.
It was preaching and teaching the Word of God that was most important for Jesus because it was through the Word that the Holy Spirit created and nurtured the faith of these disciples; bringing the real healing that they and others needed.
It is from amidst the great crowds who had come for healing that Jesus then withdraws up the mountain to speak to those whom he had called (5:1); those who had repented and placed their trust in him.
In similar fashion, Jesus also speaks today to those of you he has called and gathered here also; to those who trust in him; those he has called to be his disciples; those whom Christ desires to bless.
It is this great blessing that begins the Sermon on the Mount and it is these blessings that act as a kind of doorway to understanding everything else that Jesus will say in his sermon.
Jesus begins and repeats nine times Blessed are you… What does he mean by that?
To be blessed by God is to receive God’s gracious favor apart from anything we could do. These Beatitudes or blessings that Jesus speaks of are not spiritual goals or qualities to somehow be attained through self-improvement or growth. Rather, they are encouragements and promises for those who are following Jesus as his disciples. They are in essence who we are in Christ. We are the blessed ones.
Now you may look at your life right now and think, “I don’t feel too blessed. Yes, I’m trying to follow Christ, but my life doesn’t look very blessed. It certainly doesn’t look like these blessings.” You may indeed be suffering in some form. You may find yourself attacked by those around you. You may be discouraged. You may not see yourself as blessed in any way. Today, Christ is here to encourage you and to say that even though your life may be difficult, you are still truly blessed by God.
This is the message of Christ to those he has called and gathered and the very first beatitude Jesus begins with is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now when you think about being poor in spirit that doesn’t sound like someone really blessed. In fact, we live in a society that encourages people to be rich in spirit; to have a positive self-image; to think highly of yourself; to rely upon your own inner resources. That may indeed lead to some success in this life., but it won’t cut it with God. God’s blessing does not come from within us or through our attempts to be better.
Instead, God’s blessing arises when we come with nothing in our hands. We are, as Martin Luther reminds us, beggars and so we confess, “I am a poor miserable sinner, and I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed.” This is what it means to be poor in spirit; to come empty handed before God.
Earlier in his ministry Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is the Spirit humbling us before God so that we may lift you up by God’s blessing. This is what James (4:6) alluded to when he wrote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humility in repentance opens our eyes to our poverty and need before God.
It is from this poverty that we follow Jesus in faith, thankful for the mercy God gives to us as poor undeserving sinners. it is under the cross of Christ’s mercy that we get what we don’t deserve – forgiveness, life, and salvation and we don’t get what we do deserve, which is death, damnation, and judgment. It is Christ’s death on the cross that has won our forgiveness, and it is that forgiveness that opens a new life and eternal salvation to all who are poor in spirit. It is Jesus’ resurrection and our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection that assures us of these gifts of God’s grace; that you are blessed…
Now it doesn’t matter how much or how little you may have in your bank account when it comes to God’s blessing for in Christ you have a far greater treasure. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The kingdom of heaven! That is what you have! In Christ, God has opened his eternal bank account to you. St. Paul (Romans 14:17) reminds us of what this treasure consists of and what it does not consist of. He writes: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. People like Joel Osteen may have a 17,000 square-foot mansion, but what God offers you makes that look like nothing.
Now I want you to pay attention to the grammar here. Jesus says, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This promise is in the present tense. The kingdom of heaven is your present possession. It’s yours right now.
This is the same present reality that Jesus proclaims when he says in John’s gospel (John 5:24), “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
In Christ, your salvation has already occurred and there is no one who can take it away from you. Christ’s promise is yours already ! Yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Now all of the other blessings that follow this first one, are seen from this perspective; that they are yours. They are who you are as a baptized child of God’s. It is with this in mind that we can take in the other blessings.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Disciples of Jesus mourn the sin they see in themselves and they mourn the damage sin does in the world around us. That’s not a pretty picture. Perhaps you can see in your own life how you’ve messed it up in one way or another, and how your own sin brings you sadness. I’ve heard some people say, “I have no regrets,” but to have no regrets is to not have the Spirit who convicts us of our sin and who leads us to mourn. The Holy Spirit, however, does not leave us in our mourning.
Instead, the Holy Spirit leads us by faith to the assurance Jesus gives us that our sorrow will be relieved in the end. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Yes, in this life there will be many regrets; things we mourn over, but our hope is in Christ who sends us to the future where one day all the damage caused by sin will be reversed, and we will be raised up whole and no longer burdened by sin. All creation, including us, will be restored, redeemed, resurrected. That day is coming, Jesus says, so take hope.
This blessing and the blessings that follow are painted by Jesus with that future tense, calling forth hope. We “shall” be comforted, we “shall” inherit the earth, we “shall” be satisfied, and so on. Now it’s not that we won’t have any comfort or satisfaction in this life, but it will be fully given with Christ’s return to make all things new. In the meantime, in faith we can hold onto his word of promise that gives us hope, so that we do not lose heart.
It is these blessings, these promises of Christ, that enable us to look at our lives from a very different perspective. Life may not always go our way. In fact, it probably rarely does. From the world’s perspective we may look like a bunch of losers. Meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, how can ever get anywhere being that way. Instead, our culture would rather teach people to push their way to the front of the line; to demand their rights; what they are entitled to. Sometimes we may even find ourselves in that crowd.
Amidst these crowds though, Jesus pulls away and says to you, “Come, follow me.” You are not of that crowd. You are blessed through me to be poor is spirit, mourning, meek, hungering, thirsting, merciful, pure, peacemakers….just like me.”
Yes, we have been baptized into Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like the alb I wear, we have been clothed in Christ, covered in Christ’s poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger, thirst, mercy, purity, and peace. The Holy Spirit dwells in us creating in us a new creation in Christ that we might reflect the very character of the One who has had mercy on us and forgiven our sins, so that we may also have mercy on those who sin against us and forgive them. God has made peace with us on Christ’s cross, so that we may seek peace with those around us. This is what it it means to be blessed disciples of Jesus and children of God.
This blessed life is not about asserting your rights, but it is definitely about serving others with the love of Christ who gave himself as a sacrifice for us all.
The prophet Micah (6:8) wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” It is the repentant and blessed disciple who trusts in God and whose trust is nourished through Word and Sacrament so that he can fervently love his neighbour and extend the blessing of God in Christ.
After speaking these future blessings, Jesus comes back at the end of these beatitudes to the present tense and to you, saying: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As those blessed by God in Christ, life will rarely be easy for those of us who in faith follow our Lord, but despite the hardships, even being persecuted for the Christian faith, you can be assured that the treasure of God’s kingdom is yours, and that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).
Even so, from the very beginning of the church, Christ’s disciples have been persecuted. They were thrown to the lions in the first century and have been beheaded by jihadists in the twenty-first century. We don’t face such horrible persecutions in North America, but they do come in milder forms and we will face them as we walk in the blessings of our Master.
So when you experience hostility for your faith, remember the promise of Jesus: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Yes, rejoice and be glad! Your life may or may not be the best right now but remember that you are truly blessed in Christ. Remember, and rejoice. For in Christ you are living in his blessedness.
Grace be with you,