Epiphany 4a

Preached: February 2, 2014

Matthew 5:1-12

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which Jesus speaks his blessing on us his people is Matthew 5.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain. When he sat down, his disciples came to him. He got ready to speak and began teaching them. He said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Blessed are those who endure persecution because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they ridicule you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and celebrate, for great is your reward in heaven. For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” (Matthew 5:1-12).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Matthew 5-7 is often called Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The opening verses are some of the best known in the Bible. They even have their own name: the Beatitudes, which means “blessings.” The depth of meaning in each Beatitude could be mined for a lifetime without exhausting its riches. Each holds treasures old and new every time we turn our thoughts to them.

In the moments we have together this morning, let's take a look and marvel once again at the bountiful goodness of our Lord who has so blessed us. Our brief time here only allows a glance. But may the Holy Spirit through the thoughts shared lead you to dig deeper and deeper as you ponder our Lord's Beatitudes.

First, notice whom Jesus is teaching. “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1, 2 NIV84). Although the crowds overhear what he says, he is directing this sermon to his disciples. Who are disciples? They're more than just pupils or students taking a class. They are believers. So they are devoted to following Jesus. He is not just their teacher, but their master and lord. Their hearts are dedicated to him.

So Jesus' words here don't describe how to become a disciple or how to be saved or become blessed. Rather his words describe our new condition as his disciples. They describe what you and I are as we follow Jesus in faith. Take heart, disciple of Christ. You are blessed.

But we don't always feel blessed, especially when people try to define being blessed as “feeling happy.” In fact, you look at those whom Jesus calls blessed and that's not how we would describe happiness. The second Beatitude brings that out so clearly: “Blessed are those who mourn ...” (Matthew 5:4 NIV84). Luke records the counterpart of this in chapter 6. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 NIV84).

So if “blessed” doesn't mean “feeling happy,” what is Jesus saying? Think of it this way. As you, his disciple, follow him in faith, know and believe that you are blessed, no matter what's happening inside of you or outside. You won't continually have happy feelings. You won't always have good things and pleasant experiences surrounding you. But nevertheless you are blessed. You are under the gracious care of your heavenly Father. You are under the merciful protection our your conquering King, Jesus Christ. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the unmerited favor and undeserved kindness of the Almighty rests on you because of Jesus. In Jesus you are blessed. That's his decree, verdict, and proclamation — and he doesn't lie. What greater joy that brings than the passing laughter of this world! In Jesus you are blessed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV84). $11,490. That's how much a single person in Minnesota could make in 2013 before they crossed the poverty line. I realize it's hard to live on $11,000 when you're on your own. But that's a long way from having nothing. That word “poor” today doesn't drop to the same depths of destitution as it did in Jesus' day.

Picture the beggar who has nothing. Even what's left of his clothes are only filthy rags that can't keep him warm or cover his nakedness. His strength is gone. He can't work. His hands are empty. He has nothing to give in exchange for help. How destitute!

That's the physical picture. Now Jesus puts it into the spiritual realm: “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT.” Physical poverty, no matter how destitute, does not make anyone blessed. But spiritual poverty — now that's a different matter.

Spiritual poverty confesses with Isaiah, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV84). It calls out with the hymn writer, “Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace” (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 389:3). It calls out with repentant David, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17 NIV84).

A disciple of Christ knows that he or she is a spiritual beggar. But how easy for us to imagine that we hold some sort of spiritual currency on our own! We know better than to boast of being spiritually self-sufficient, independently wealthy. We'll still confess that we're by nature under the spiritual poverty line. But that's a long way from confessing that we are spiritual beggars without a penny to our name. “At least I have something to offer God, don't I? It might not be much. But can't I scrounge up a few pennies of my own? Can't I make some sort of attempt to show that he should help me? Can't I make some sort of decision or say some sort of prayer to invite him in so that he knows I'm worthy of his care, that I've dusted off a spot for him in my heart, that I'm not quite so evil as some of those wicked people out there? I must have something to offer him; otherwise, why would he have chosen me?”

How damning those thoughts are! They're the inborn thoughts of our sinful nature attempting to masquerade in some sort of outward humility. How they tempt you and me every day to forget how destitute and needy we truly are! God did not chose you or me because of anything in us. Without Jesus we are damned sinners, spiritually bankrupt, in abject poverty.

After his death in 1546, a scrap of paper was found in Luther's pocket on which these words were written: “Hoc est verum. Wir sind alle Pettler.” “This is true. We are all beggars.”

Yes, dear sinner, you and I are spiritual beggars. We are poor in spirit. But know and believe Jesus' words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NIV84). Into your empty hands, the King, Jesus Christ, has placed his immeasurable wealth. As long as you and I were clutching our own wretched, imagined pennies, we had no room for his riches. But blessed are you, the poor in spirit, the spiritual beggars, who confess: “Nothing in my hands I bring.”

The riches of Christ are not just waiting for you in heaven. Jesus says, “for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven“ — right now. Through Jesus the riches of God are yours right now. God the Son took your poverty, your sin, your guilt, your debt. He became poor to make you rich, rich in God's grace, rich in God's mercy, rich in God's love, rich in God's forgiveness. Christ, the King, reigns in your heart. The kingdom of heaven is yours. How blessed you are!

This helps us as we move on to the second Beatitude. Mourning not only includes our grief at a time of loss but also our mourning over our sinfulness as we realize our spiritual poverty more and more. What comfort comes to our mournful hearts every time our faith grasps our Lord's words of forgiveness! “I gave my body and blood into death for you. You are forgiven. Go in peace.“

The meek in the third Beatitude doesn't refer to insipid cowards but rather to a confident boldness that says, “My heavenly Father is taking care of me and my King is protecting me. I don't need to demand my rights or push others down to keep my spot. Rather gentle humbleness fills my heart even as my Savior came not to be served but to serve and give his life as ransom for many. He now reigns over all for the good of me and all his people. What's more, this earth and everything in it belongs to my heavenly Father. I am his child and heir, reborn into his family through baptism. How blessed I am!”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV84). A little child crawls up on Daddy's lap to hear his bedtime story. He's heard it dozens of times before, but he's eager to hear it again. And even as the story fills him with comfort and restful peace, he longs to keep on hearing it. So also we hunger and thirst to hear of our Savior and the righteousness he has won for us. You know it well. But even as it fills your heart again and again, you eagerly long to hear more. How blessed you are!

The next three Beatitudes remind us that the blessedness we have as disciples of Christ also shows itself in the way we treat others. To those in need, whether that's physical or spiritual need, we show mercy. We empathize with them feeling their pain and helping as we are able. For we know the great mercy our God who has blessed us poor sinners. As we show mercy, we want our hearts free of impure motives. We don't want to be driven by guilt or fear. We don't want to be motivated by praise or hoping to feel good about ourselves. We want to do it with a pure heart that has seen God's love in the person of Jesus Christ. Because of his grace we have peace with God through the sacrifice of his Son. So we want not only to live in peace with others but to be peacemakers as well, bringing the peace of Christ to others. How blessed we are to do God's work here on this earth, imitating our heavenly Father as his sons and daughters!

Finally, the conclusion to the Beatitudes makes it clear, as we said at the beginning, that the blessedness Jesus pronounces on us does not always bring happy circumstances. For when others persecute us for believing that Jesus is our righteousness, when others ridicule us and falsely say all kinds of bad things about us because of Jesus, we are blessed. In fact we can rejoice, be glad, and celebrate. For like with the prophets of old who were also ridicule and persecuted, the kingdom of heaven is yours right now and the glory of heaven awaits you who remain true in the faith. How blessed you are! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313