All Saints Sunday November 6, 2016
1 John 3:1-3
44, 463:1-6, 391, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Prayer: O almighty God, by whom we are graciously knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ, our Lord, grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those unspeakable joys which You have prepared for those who unfeignedly love You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. (2) And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: (3) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (5) “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (6) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (7) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (8) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (9) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (10) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (12) Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, fellow cross-bearers,
Today, we have before us some words that may be familiar to you. They are often called “the Beatitudes,” a Latin word for “blessed.” It is a very fitting title as each verse begins with Jesus describing as “blessed” those who are found in the various conditions He references. From the Beatitudes, Jesus goes on to deliver His well-known “Sermon on the Mount.”
While you may not have remember all of these Beatitudes, some or most of them probably sound familiar. But do you know what they mean? And what do they mean to you? These words of Jesus are often preached on as commands Jesus is giving for a blessed life. Someone even coined a new phrase for these verses calling them the “BE—ATTITUDES,” as though Jesus were commanding “let these things…being meek…being merciful…be your attitude and you will be blessed.” But as we read through our text, such an explanation comes up short. This is not Mount Sinai our Good Shepherd is sitting on, giving new commandments. Jesus here is not commanding forced mourning or having a persecution complex in order to be blessed.
So what are the Beatitudes about? What is Jesus saying to us in His sermon? That is what we want to focus on today. Let us consider the disciple’s life under the cross. It may be vulnerable and exposed before God and man, but it is blessed by Almighty God Himself in Christ. May God the Holy Spirit strengthen and embolden our faith in Christ.
To help us understand what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, we first need to look at WHO He is talking to. In verses 1 and 2 of our text, we find the setting for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus sat down and WHO came to Him? His disciples. Now strictly speaking, a disciple is a follower, a student. The disciples who came to Jesus to hear Him teach would have included those 12 famous ones who would later become His Apostles, like Peter, James, and John. But there is no need to limit it to the 12 disciples. We know from the rest of the gospels that for a time, Jesus had a large contingency of disciples numbering at least 70 at one time.
Bottom line is that Jesus was speaking these beatitudes to those who already believed in Him as their Lord. Believers no different than you. Believers who want to sit at their Lord’s feet and hear His Word. Believers who go to Christ for comfort, forgiveness, healing, and strength. And where do we find forgiveness? Forgiveness is only to be found in Christ-crucified. By the wounds inflicted on Calvary’s cross, we are healed.
At the foot of the cross, what do we see about ourselves? Do we see what great disciples of Christ we are? Do we see how faithful we’ve been to our God? Even as our Savior had His clothes stripped away and He was exposed before the God and the world, at the foot of the cross we too are exposed and vulnerable. Under the cross of Christ we come, as Jesus says in verse 3, “poor in spirit.” We are at the cross of Christ because we know our spiritual bank accounts are empty. We are poor, spiritual beggars. We flee to His cross for the richness of His grace and forgiveness.
This, then, takes us to the next beatitude. In verse 4, Jesus speaks of those who “mourn.” How does it feel to have transgressed again and again, against your heavenly Father with your thoughts, words, and actions? We flee to the foot of the cross, mourning and lamenting our sin that put Jesus on the cross. But we also mourn and lament the wickedness we see in the world around us. We mourn for a world that cares nothing for the Christ who died for them nor His Word.
Under the cross we are also “meek.” Now, we often associate “meekness” with “weakness.” Yet, this is the very same word which Jesus uses to describe Himself and the word used to describe Him as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus is “gentle—or meek—and lowly.” Was Jesus weak, though? In Christ we see courageous meekness. Standing beneath the cross of Christ, how can we be anything but meek, gentle and lowly as we see the eternal Son of God offering His life to save us?
In verse 6, Jesus further describes life under the cross as those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Righteousness is all that is good, holy, and “right in God’s sight.” We stand under the cross of Christ because we know we have no righteousness of our own. We are spiritually starving. We are starving for the righteousness of the LORD, which is given by faith in Christ.
Next Jesus goes from speaking about our attitude toward God and speaks of our attitude toward others. He speaks of those who are “merciful.” Mercy is an act of sympathetic love toward those who are need of assistance in a temporal or spiritual way. Beneath the cross of Christ we see the mercy that almighty God had on us. We see His act of sympathetic love in dying to save us from hell. From His mercy we are merciful toward others in need.
In verse 8, Jesus speaks of those who are “pure in heart.” Now, a “pure heart” is one that is undivided or a “singleness of heart.” When we, in faith, stand beneath the cross of Christ, we are not there to go through the motions. Those who are pure in heart are genuine and look to Christ alone for salvation and cleansing. “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)
In verse 9, Jesus speaks of those who are “peacemakers.” This, again, is an attribute found under the cross of Christ. There on the cross we see the Almighty, Eternal Son of God earning peace between us and God. He’s tearing away the wall of division that existed between us and God on account of our sin. From under the cross we seek to be peacemakers as well. Rather than demanding our way, and causing strife, we seek to make peace. As Paul writes to the Romans, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom 12:18)
These attributes leave us vulnerable and exposed before God. Beneath the cross of Christ we confess that we have sinned against God in our thoughts, words, and actions. We come mourning beneath our load of sin and starving for His righteousness.
We are also vulnerable before man. What is the danger in being merciful to others? We fear they may take advantage of us and abuse or misuse our mercy. Having a pure, undivided heart may leave us naive towards the wickedness and corruption of the world. And peacemakers are always the first to be made fun of and beat up. Vulnerable, indeed!
This vulnerability is fully exposed in the last two beatitudes of our text. Jesus speaks of being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” and “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” This is the ultimate vulnerability of living under the cross. Evil men, living in the darkness of unbelief, hate Christ, hate the weakness they see in the cross, hate meekness, hate the righteousness of God, hate everything which would expose them as sinners. So those living under the cross who confess such things, should expect the same treatment which our Lord and Master received.
The cross is not pretty, it is not glorious. Nor is our life underneath it. Yet, on this All Saints Sunday, we are reminded that God is not ignorant of the vulnerability of His little lambs and sheep. Jesus knows first hand, just what this wicked world can do to the gentle and merciful. Therefore Jesus doesn’t just speak of life under the cross, but what is His emphasis in the Beatitudes? His emphasis is how blessed you are!
“BLESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Right now, the poor in spirit, the spiritual beggars, are members of the kingdom of heaven. God’s kingdom has come to us. He is reigning in our hearts and promises that one day we will live with Him in the eternal glories of heaven! “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
“BLESSED are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Under the cross we mourn our sin and the sin we see all around us. But we are blessed because of the comfort that Christ gives us. He comforts us right now, assuring us that we are forgiven and have been reconciled to God by His death and resurrection. Christ Himself comforts the communicant as He dines with you and gives you His own body and His own blood which He offered on that cross for your salvation. As we heard in our lesson from Revelation (7:9-17), cleansed by the holy blood of Christ we await the eternal comfort of heaven where there will be no more sin or sorrow or pain or death. The comfort of having God Himself will wipe away our last tear.
“The meek shall inherit…NOTHING!” or so the bumper sticker read. That is what the world tells us. The meek and gentle are vulnerable and exposed and maybe even taken advantage of. But no worries, Jesus says, you are blessed by God. “BLESSED are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For all things are yours: whether…the world or life or death, or things present or things to come — all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3:21-23) Do not fear meekness. Christ your Savior reigns in heaven and guides all things in heaven and on earth for the benefit and good of you, His Church!
“BLESSED are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Under the cross we are starving for righteousness, for we find none in ourselves. But in Christ we are filled beyond measure for God Himself gives us HIS righteousness. “Not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Phil 3:9)
“BLESSED are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Don’t be afraid of being merciful to someone and then being taken advantage of. God has had mercy on you and on the whole world by punishing His Son for the sins of the world. Do some take advantage of His mercy as a licence to sin? Absolutely. But that didn’t stop Him from being merciful to us. We can be merciful to all, knowing that God knows and continues to shower us with His mercy in Christ.
“BLESSED are the pure in heart, for the shall see God.” Having an undivided heart for God is a blessed thing, because we are focused on the one we long to see. Right now we see Him by faith. We see Him as our loving, heavenly Father who cares for us and provides for us. But we are also promised in our Epistle lesson from 1 John 3 (v 1-3), that we will see Him face to face, as He is.
“BLESSED are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Like Father, like son, the saying goes. So it is with the peacemakers. Those who seek peace are acting just like their heavenly Father who sought to make peace with us and sent Jesus to accomplish that.
Yes, even when we are persecuted for following Jesus, we are blessed! “BLESSED are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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.” The ultimate THREAT of following Christ is also the ultimate BLESSING in following Christ—being persecuted for His name sake, being made fun of, mocked, hurt, or even killed. Rejoice and be glad that you were counted WORTHY to suffer for Jesus’ name, just like countless saints before you! Yes, blessed are you, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Not because you are suffering to earn it, but because you are suffering right along with the One who died to give it to you!
As we hear of these attributes, we are reminded of the many ways we did the opposite. Rather than being meek, we demanded our rights and our needs. Rather than making peace, we drove a wedge of division and hate. Indeed, we have sinned in such unloving ways as these. But the more time we spend as disciples of Christ under His cross, cleansed by His blood from ALL our unrighteousness, the more these attributes will grow in us. As we grow in the blessings which Christ has given us through His life, His death, and His resurrection, the Holy Spirit will work such blessed attributes and conditions in us. Thanks be to God for the many blessings He has richly showered on us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.