Epiphany 5 February 4, 2018
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
7, 392, Lutheran Service Book 932 (alt. TLH 391), 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: “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 sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When Mary arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, pregnant with the child Jesus, Elizabeth said to her, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” And Mary herself said, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” We would agree that Mary did live a blessed life, carrying the Savior, witnessing his death and resurrection.
But what about your life? How would you describe it? Would you say that your life is a blessed life? Or does it seem sometimes like the wheels are always coming off the bus?
In Jesus’ day, a “blessed” life was seen as one that was beyond the normal cares and troubles that people usually endure. The “blessed” were free from the problems and worries that plagued others. To be content, secure, even happy, was to live a blessed life. So for many, being “blessed” meant that you had lots of earthly wealth or power. If you had many children, good farmland, flocks and herds, strong health, or influence in the community—these were the sorts of things that might cause someone to call you blessed.
Would anyone call you “blessed”? Maybe. Someone who lives in Haiti definitely would. But we might not often think of ourselves as living a blessed life because we see our own struggles, don’t we? What others may envy in our lives, well, we know the real story. We know that even if we have a wonderful family, a roof over our heads, a job, and eat three meals a day, a lot of things still can go very wrong.
Because of these difficulties the people of the world who do not know Jesus turn to themselves, and they pursue earthly things with greater and greater recklessness. In trying to gain the life they want, they take the reigns and just do whatever they want to do. They do not worry or think about the wrong they might be doing toward God and toward others around them as they go. They do not see any of that or care about it, as long as they get what they want. They do not always seek what is good, but they always seek what they think will benefit them. Their motives are selfish. They do not show much mercy or gentleness toward others, and they do little to make peace or smooth over the troubled waters they themselves have stirred up. When someone pushes them around, well they just decide they’re going to push back and that’s all there is to it.
And it seems like these people often succeed. Those who push and shove do seem to end up at the front of the line. Those who bully their way through life grabbing for what they want without much regard for right and wrong as long (as they can get away with it)—they end up being the celebrities whom everyone adores, or the men and women who prosper. The psalmist Asaph complained, “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man.” (Psalm 73:3-4) That sounds like the blessed life we’ve been talking about, doesn’t it?
Such seeming success stories tempt us to follow after that way. Why not be like them and fend for ourselves? Doesn’t it seem better just not to worry about sinning against others, or making peace with others, or showing mercy, or looking for what is good and doing things with a pure heart? Our sinful natures would agree that the more you can gain for yourself, the better position you can earn for yourself, by whatever means, will give you that “blessed” life that everyone seeks, that security and freedom from the cares and troubles of this world.
The Christian life, by contrast, seldom appears blessed. They do not fight back, so they get beaten. They do not shout, so their voices get drowned out. They do not play dirty tricks, so they get tricked. They seek peace, so they are ignored. They look for what is good, so they are mocked and called naïve. They are persecuted and shamed for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are called haters for pointing out sin and standing up for what is right. Their hope of heaven is called imaginary. The Bible accounts they treasure are called made-up fairy tales. They seldom gain great respect in the eyes of the world. They are not often found in “high places,” or enjoying great wealth and lives of ease. Who would ever say that a Christian has a blessed life?
Jesus says it. Jesus reveals to us that the Christian life is a blessed life. He gathers us around Him and calls us up to the mountainside, motions us to sit down, and He shows us the way things really are.
You are His disciples, sitting beside Him. He has seen your transgressions, your iniquities. He has seen when you have acted like the unbelieving, as though the “blessed” life is based on earthly gain, so He points you to His cross and says, “That is why I suffered. This is why I died. That is why I endured the wrath and anger of the Heavenly Father, to take upon myself the judgment that stood against you. Your guilt was buried along with me, and I rose again from the dead so that I could provide for you in return a blessed life, a blessed life for you no matter what your circumstances, no matter what your poverty or wealth, no matter anyone around you might say or do.” Jesus shows you that there is a blessed life for you, security, comfort, peace, and happiness not in where the world looks for it, but in Him.
Jesus says to you, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Poor in spirit, mourning, meek—those are words that describe every Christian, those are words that describe you. You do not recklessly seek to do whatever you want to do, but you listen to the voice of God and try to do what He wants out of love for Jesus. You do not trust in your own strength, but recognize your weaknesses. You do not crash through life ignoring your sins, but you admit them, you mourn over them, and are sorry for them. When you are hurt by someone else, you meekly turn and walk away rather than strike back. You act differently because you are different, because you are Jesus’ children. He has placed in you the desire to be like Him, and His Spirit is at work in you.
Others would say, “Who wants to be like that? You won’t get anywhere in life unless you stop being so meek and mild!” But Jesus says the opposite. He calls you blessed. You are blessed because you have the kingdom of heaven. You have the comfort of the forgiveness of your sins. You will inherit the earth, for God causes all things in the earth to work out for good to them that love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose—and the new earth too at the end of time will be yours. You have a blessed life! That is the way things really are.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The world laughs when Jesus’ children seek out righteousness. When they try to do what is good, when they seek to do things from pure motives, or when they ask God for pure hearts instead of selfish ones—the unbelievers say, “You are all just hypocrites trying to show us up.” But Jesus says, “You are my children. You do not need to be embarrassed to do what is good. You do not need to be afraid to search out what is right, holy, pure, and honorable.” You have a blessed life because you see God. He has revealed Himself to you through His Word. He has shown you His goodness toward you, His love and forgiveness in Christ, His care and concern for you. Gladly you pray, “Create in me a pure heart, make me to love your commands.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy … Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” “Seek peace and pursue it,” the Apostle Peter said. (1 Peter 3:11) There is no need to continue quarrels or hold grudges. Do what children of God do, for you are called “sons of God.” I know others will tell you differently. They’ll say, “Don’t forgive. Don’t be merciful. Don’t make peace.” But not you. You know that does not really make for a blessed life. You have a blessed life because Christ has been merciful to you, and His mercy is shared through you!
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad.” You have a blessed life, even when you face trouble on account of your faith. It is a sign that you are His disciple, and you look forward to life in heaven, so do not fret, but rejoice!
Jesus reveals to us that the Christian life is a blessed life, even if it does not mirror the pattern that the world would call “blessed.” A young Chinese girl named Christiana Tsai learned this. Her parents sent her to a Christian high school, but her father told her, “Just be sure you don’t fall for Christianity!” But that is what happened. When she told her family, they reacted with horror, tore up her Bible, and persecuted her. Then some days later, her brother asked her, “Tell me about Christianity and why you became a Christian. I have noticed that in spite of the way we treat you now, you seem much happier than you used to. I think I would like to believe, too.” Christiana found that life with Jesus is a blessed life, a secure, comfortable, happy life that is at peace with God. Give thanks that it is your life too. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.