Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
Listen to the Sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be blessed? What is someone talking about if they say they are “blessed”? Generally, when someone says they are blessed, they think of specific blessings they might have. What would that list look like if you were to make a mental list of the various things that would make up a blessed life? Our lists will be different from each other, but I think some things will appear regularly. We refer to sound health, a loving family, safety from danger, and financial security when we talk about our blessings. Maybe you would include a thriving congregation, a strong nation, and plenty of vacation time. These are the things which make life “blessed,” right? In our Gospel reading, Jesus challenges the conventional understanding of what it means to be blessed. Jesus’ statements about blessedness seem upside down, inside out. We all think a blessed life is one of ease, security, a life that never wants, never cries, never worries, and never hurts. No, says Jesus. That is not blessed. So, who is blessed, then? That’s what we are going to look at this morning.
Those who recognize their spiritual need
Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with the word “blessed.” Blessedness and happiness are not quite the same. Being blessed is not an emotional state but being in a fortunate, even desirable, situation. It’s a privileged condition, an umbrella under which you live out your existence. Nine times “blessed” is repeated in our text. We call these saying “the Beatitudes,” the blessings. Jesus challenges us to see life from God’s viewpoint, not our own. The first four beatitudes are inward. They point you to your relationship before God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You could sum up the first four by saying blessed are those who recognize their spiritual need.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. That’s right. Not the financially poor, but the spiritually impoverished, the spiritually bankrupt. Blessed are those with nothing to offer God but their sin, messed up lives, broken hearts, and dysfunctional families. Blessed are those who realize they haven’t kept a single commandment in thought, word, or deed and conclude, “I’m bringing nothing.” Blessed are those who have concluded they aren’t good enough. They recognize that God is the only one who can help them and trust that God will act on their behalf. Jesus indicates that despite their poverty, they share in the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn. To mourn suggests something died. Blessed are those who experience the pain of death and grieve over the loss of those they love. Those who sorrow over what sin has done in their lives and the lives of others. Those who have had to lose things for the sake of the kingdom. Those who have “sold the farm” to purchase the pearl of great price. But Jesus says they are genuinely in a desirable situation. Although they may be unable to change the circumstances around them, God comforts them with the promise that he will do something about it. There will come a day–you have Jesus’ word on it–when all the damage caused by sin will be reversed, we will be raised from the dead and no longer burdened by sin, and all of creation will be restored. That day is coming, Jesus says, so take hope.
Blessed are the meek. Yes, the meek. Humble yourself before God, that he may lift you up. For God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Not the strong and mighty but the gentle and lowly. Blessed are the ones who patiently wait on the Lord amid their afflictions and never respond in anger or with force against those who wrong them. They do not become provoked or irritated. They don’t always think they are right but take correction well. Instead, they are patient. They rely on God—not their own strength—to set things right. Blessed are you. The earth is yours. Everyone seeks to grab it by power; you get life on a renewed earth as a gift.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The image of hunger and thirst depicts someone seeking something wholeheartedly. You don’t have what you hunger and thirst for if you are hungry and thirsty. You don’t have righteousness. You can’t make yourself holy. You can do righteous things, but righteousness is about inward as well as outward righteousness, so you can’t conjure up righteousness. We are all beggars, wrote Luther. Hungering, thirsting for righteousness we don’t have and cannot supply. The person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness longs for God to save them with the intensity of someone starving for food or dying of thirst. Ultimately the beatitudes are nothing less than a portrait of Christ’s own life. Jesus, who knew no Sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. He is the Blessed One, and He perfectly exemplifies them. What we hunger and thirst for, what humanity seeks in its religions and philosophies, is found in Jesus. In Him, you are satisfied.
Those who live for others
The next four beatitudes point you towards your neighbor and deal with life before one another. Blessed are the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. You could sum up the last four by saying blessed are those who live for others, and who put others first.
Blessed are the merciful, those who are kind to those who don’t deserve it, those who love the loveless, who lay down their lives for others. Mercy involves identifying with those in need and acting in kindness and generosity toward them. Mercy means that we readily forgive others when they have wronged us. It also means that we are generous to those suffering distress and needing help. We’re even compassionate to our enemies. The mercy you show is also the mercy you have received. Like when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You who have received mercy. And now, because you have received God’s mercy, you show the mercy of God to others. You are like the moon is to the sun, reflecting the sun’s light into the darkness, shining with a light not your own, that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Blessed are the pure in heart. Mere outward purity is not sufficient. God desires pure hearts, unstained by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. They love God with all their heart, soul, and mind. Those with a pure heart have an upright heart. Not only are their outward words and deeds upright, but the very root is good. Our hearts are anything but pure. They are where sin resides and originates – murder, hatred, envy, lust, pride, prejudice, and lies. It all goes on in our anything-but-pure hearts. To be pure of heart is a gift of God. Each week God comes to you with his Word and Sacrament to cleanse your heart. And the consequence of this purity is that you will see God face-to-face in the coming age.
Blessed are the peacemakers who make, promote and maintain peace, among others. Peacemaker seeks to promote peace everywhere they find strife, disturbance and contention. They don’t appease people, but bring try to bring in lasting peace and reconciliation. The Lord will acknowledge such disciples as his own children. They shall be called “sons of God,” for they are reflections of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the One who brought peace by His wounds. We are not, by nature, peacemakers. But, since Christ has won peace with God for us by his shed blood, we try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God.
Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness. Notice that the Lord doesn’t promise peace in this world for his disciples even as they strive to “make peace.” Quite the opposite. There will be opposition, even persecution. Those who are blessed will suffer persecution for being true to Jesus Christ. Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, slander you because you bear the name Christian. Blessed are those who are mocked and ridiculed by the world. Blessed are you when people laugh at you for believing in Christ, exclude you for being a Christian, and mock you for speaking the name of Jesus. Don’t be sad, but rejoice! Circumstances arise in a Christian’s life that calls for heroism—sometimes, we cannot compromise. Either we stay true to Jesus Christ, whatever the cost, or deny him. And if we remain faithful to Christ, we will suffer persecution.
Who is blessed? Those who recognize their spiritual need and those who live for others. None of us perfectly recognizes our spiritual poverty. None of us perfectly mourns our sins. None of us is perfectly humble and gentle. None of us perfectly thirsts for righteousness. No one is perfectly pure in heart. Then what are we to do? There is only one answer. We must cast ourselves on the grace of God. We must ask him to create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. Look to Christ. The Beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. He is the One who mourned over our sin, the man of suffering, acquainted with sorrow. He is the meek One, who turned the other cheek, gave His back to the whips of this world, and went as a Lamb to the slaughter. He is the Merciful One, whose mercy knows no bounds. He is the peacemaker, the One who was put to death on the cross so that we might have peace. Jesus is and does all these things because he is the Blessed One. And you, in Him, are blessed.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.