Matthew 5:1-12 ~ These Most Holy Words……All Saints’ Day (Observed) 11/5/2023 Christ Lutheran Church, Cleveland, OH
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:1-3a)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessed All Saints’ Day to you dear Christians saints who are yet alive on this earth and joined to those saints of blessed memory who have been called from this vale of tears to reside with Jesus as we bring our thanksgiving and praise the Holy Trinity.
Jesus begins His teaching with the words, “Blessed are.” It is impossible to give adequate treatment to these most holy words of Jesus. There is a wealth of substance in these Beatitudes. Consider this, an English version of Martin Luther’s commentary on The Beatitudes is 270 pages of 130,420 words translated from the German text. These are most holy words.
Jesus sees a great multitude and heads up a mountain to be alone with His disciples. He sits down. His sitting down emphasizes the fact that He is ready to teach heavenly things — the holy truths His Father has sent Him to proclaim. Sitting down is the mark of a Jewish Rabbi preparing to teach his student-followers.
The large crowd does not get to hear this sermon called the “Sermon on the Mount.” This is for the disciples — Jesus is preparing the disciples for their apostolic ministry. But these Beatitudes have a twist. They surprise us and they advise us in two ways. First, we must remember the context. Jesus is preaching to the disciples. “Blessed are” the: poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, or, gentle, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
If you read the beatitudes quickly and without much contemplation, then you might make the mistake that is commonly made. You might think that Jesus is speaking these words to make you comfortable with how you are living your life. Without really pondering these words, you might quickly conclude that He is saying that you are blessed because you are all these things He lists here, but think again.
Sure, you are poor in spirit, you mourn, but are you really all that meek or gentle in your thoughts and dealings with others? Do you always hunger and thirst for righteousness, even those recurring days where you skip daily prayers and Bible study or wake up and ignore the call the Divine Service here where God is present to serve you? Are you always merciful or do you curse others in your thoughts and heart? And how about that heart of yours? Does it always seek the things of God or does your fleshly lust and desire present other sinful pursuits?
Are you ever really persecuted for righteousness' sake, i.e., for the kingdom of God? It is not always easy being a Christian, because in our walk with Christ we come to know what holiness is supposed to look like, and then we know what we look like. The two are not the same.
This is often the way it goes with Christians. We despair of our sins; we hear the proclaimed blessed forgiveness that is ours through Christ, then after we bask in the grace and mercy of Jesus for a while we stop thinking about the grace we always need and defer to how holy and pure we are.
We stop yearning for the Gospel and we yearn for “spiritual pep talks.” We want to be "spiritual" and leave the crucified Jesus on Cavalry’s cross for bigger and better things. Dear friends, this is not what inspired the saints in glory. The saints who reside with their Savior Jesus are those who never stopped clinging to Christ’s cross. In Holy Baptism they received the Gospel gift of “the Spirit living in them and that they were now living in the Spirit.” Jesus instructs His disciples with the Beatitudes so their hearts would learn from Jesus’ upcoming rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection to be repentant at all times, because the truth of the matter is, believers struggle with sin constantly.
Those who simply want to bask in “spiritual motivational preaching” for the rest of their lives forget that even St. Paul struggled with sin late in his life as he states his letter to the Romans. The Christian who acknowledges their unrighteousness is the Christian who is learning to understands both sin and the need for the forgiveness of Christ.
These beatitudes are beautiful in their content because they speak primarily of Christ. He is poor in Spirit by His incarnation — “born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and humas flesh.” (Athanasian Creed) He mourned for us poor sinners, both in heaven and on earth. Jesus is the meek and gentle One. He is the only one that we can say wholeheartedly and perfectly hungered and thirsted for the righteousness of God the Father.
Jesus is the merciful One. Only Jesus is the pure in heart. He is the only One who was without sin. As the scriptures rightly say of all men naturally born into the world, "for there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Jesus is the peacemaker. He is also the One who was persecuted for righteousness' sake.
We, as Christians, might desire to have these holy attributes applied to us. But we fall on our behinds as our flesh seeks the things of the world which turn our hearts and minds from the holy things of God.
What, specifically, can we point to in order to prove that the Beatitudes speak primarily of Jesus? We find His hunger and thirst in righteousness in one place specifically. We find His mercy in that same place. We find it where He was persecuted for righteousness' sake: on the cross. It is true that we can find His mercy, His meekness, His mourning, His being the peacemaker all wrapped up in His incarnation and life because it all points to His Cross.
It is in His suffering and death that He makes peace between the Father and the world. His pure heart is seen in His holy righteousness which submits to the cross and the shame associated with it. His mercy is no where found with such great intensity but in His crucifixion. His hunger and thirst for righteousness is found on the hill at Golgotha. He mourns the pains of eternal wrath, when He says, "My God, my God, what have you forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)
This is the point. Jesus begins preaching this sermon to the disciples in order that they learn about the fully God and fully man truth of Jesus, their teacher and Messiah. It is the beginning of a long course instructing these men about the Cross.
It is the first record we have of Christ's cruciform preaching, but it will not be His last. As the gospels proceed, we will hear Jesus speak with greater intensity about the cross. We will hear Him say such things such as "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (John 12:32)
In St. Matthew 16 (v. 21) Jesus reveals His disciples openly that He must go to Jerusalem to be crucified “and on the third day be raised.”
This distinction regarding the Beatitudes is important because how one understands these words of Jesus will have implications for understanding faith and salvation.
One interpretation leads us to Christ and our salvation in His righteousness alone. The other leads us to ourselves which has unpleasant consequences. At the end of His teaching Jesus directs His words specifically to His disciples: "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."
Here Jesus reveals His objective for preparing His disciples for Apostolic ministry. He is teaching as a Rabbi tutors his students. The church celebrates All Saints’ Day because Jesus sent forth men into Apostolic ministry to preach this eternal peace which springs forth from Jesus. These beatitudes speak of Christ's active righteousness. His righteousness is then applied to the saints through the cross. We are made holy by His blood.
Though you are sinners, you shall live. Though you have made mistakes and followed the flesh and its lust, you shall be holy. You shall wear your garment of white because Christ has covered you and made you His own child through Holy Baptism. Your righteousness is a passive righteousness, given and applied to you through Christ. Let us always hold to the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10)
“Blessed are” your lives in Christ Jesus!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.