Rev. Thomas Steers Christ the Saviour Lutheran Church, Toronto
This morning Jesus offers us blessings in the beautiful words of the Beatitudes.
There are true blessings in this precious sermon of Christ, the Sermon on the Mount.
But are we blessed only if we’re perfect –only if we’re completely meek, merciful, and pure in heart?
If we read the meaning of these words of Jesus’ incorrectly as a ‘spiritual to do list,’ the Beatitudes can lead us to terror instead of reassurance.
So what is Jesus saying to us here, and how do we find God’s meaning and comfort in this sermon of Christ?
It’s our natural tendency as fallen human beings to turn the Gospel or Good News of Jesus into law, and believe that if we do all the right things, we’ll be right in God’s eyes.
We can see an everyday example of this in the thousands of self-help books & inspirational life coaches who say if you follow their methods: ‘You can take control of your life, achieve your goals and be rich and always happy.’
This kind of thinking appeals to our old, sinful nature, but as many of us know, it’s not true.
It’s sad to talk to people who come under the influence of this pop psychology or the prosperity Gospel of some churches, or denominations who preach personal holiness as a way of self-salvation, and who don’t understand why it hasn’t worked for them.
They’ll turn to you and say, “I’ve really hungered and thirsted for what’s right but don’t feel satisfied.”
“I’ve tried to be pure in heart but fall short of the mark.”
“I’ve mourned and haven’t felt comforted. What can I do?”
The trouble with the motivational self-help gurus, and with those who try to turn the healing Gospel blessings of Jesus into law, is that they make you responsible for the healing.
They leave you with a moral checklist that has to be completed, and put you at the center of the universe, instead of God, instead of Christ.
Then the weight of this distorted law crushes people driving them to despair.
There are many ways to study the Beatitudes.
One good way is to begin with what are sometimes called the bookends — the first and eighth Beatitudes.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’ and then, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’’
The beatitudes promise us the kingdom of heaven.
In the Greek language of the New Testament a kingdom is not just a place, but it’s also the ruling activity of the king, what the king is doing.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is the ruling presence of God.
Heaven’s kingdom is the work of God, performed in, and through, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.
This kingdom includes everything Christ did and still does to bring us to eternal life with Him.
Or in other words, the kingdom of heaven is Jesus Christ Himself.
The phrase “poor in spirit” in the Beatitudes simply describes the way we are.
We have no spiritual resources on our own.
There’s nothing we can do to earn salvation.
We’re born into the debt of sin, and we only go deeper into debt as we live.
All people are poor in spirit — we can’t help it.
And as Jesus Christ kept saying again & again the ones who are the worst off are the self-righteous because they don’t realize the seriousness of their condition.
The first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” teaches us that the presence of God in human flesh, Jesus, is a true and lasting blessing for us.
The people who heard Jesus teach this sermon the first time didn’t have the whole story, they hadn’t seen or heard about the crucifixion and resurrection — but we have.
We know Christ is that blessing for all sinners because He took the sin debt of the world to the cross and paid it all.
We who were helplessly over our heads in sin debt are now rich in Christ — debts forgiven.
And our wealth in Christ was made sure & certain when He rose from the grave.
The eighth beatitude, or the other ‘bookend’ in this list of blessings, also describes us.
Jesus describes us as “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
But the righteousness in this phrase is not our own, it’s not because of our ‘good deeds.’
Instead, it’s the righteousness of Christ that He earned for us with His perfect life and innocent suffering & death. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)
The non-believing world rejects Jesus, and so it rejects those who have His righteousness through faith.
The secular world resents Christ because He tells them without Him they’re lost and can never be good enough in God’s eyes based on what they do.
As we’ve seen, the world often persecutes Christians, and when this happens Christ promises us His blessings.
The One who reigns in heaven already belongs to believers, and is with them in difficult times.
The persecution of the church, the body of Christ, is part of our current reality.
It will be that way as long as we live, for the Bible tells us it’s part of the condition of a broken world.
The present reign of Christ in this world is a hidden reality.
He rules not from visible worldly power, but from the apparent weakness of the cross.
He shows His true power only to those who believe in Him.
And it will only be on the last day that all people will see Christ and know He is Lord of all, and King of Kings.
Those who didn’t believe in this life will shield their eyes from His majesty.
Those who have believed will look into the loving eyes of their Saviour.
The bookend beatitudes teach us that the true blessings of these words depend entirely on Jesus.
There is nothing we, the spiritually poor, can or must do to earn the blessings, and for that, we thank God.
We who have Christ look out at the world around us and see the results of sin, and it can break our hearts.
Not because we aren’t also part of a fallen humanity, but because many around us don’t know their Saviour.
We mourn over the sin we see in ourselves and others, including those we love.
But Jesus tells us that when we mourn this way we’re blessed because when the Last Day comes He will dry our tears and take away our sorrow and pain.
Even as He lives with us now in a way we can’t see with earthly eyes, you will see Him one day in paradise.
Those who have Christ, who is the Kingdom of Heaven, look at themselves and see they are meek.
Not because they seek meekness. They haven’t set out on a quest or spiritual pilgrimage to become meek.
They’re meek because as sinners, meek is all they can be.
It describes the helpless sinner.
But because of the work Christ did for us on the cross the meek in this world will rule with Jesus on a new earth that will replace this sinful one.
Those who have Christ know Jesus is their righteousness.
They know they’re helpless and only the righteousness given to them by Christ saves them.
When Jesus told the Pharisees that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter heaven before them this is what He was talking about. (Matthew 21:31)
Those who believe in Jesus as their Saviour have a pure heart because we’ve received forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.
When the Holy Spirit works faith in us through God’s Word, the Bible, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, God performs a spiritual heart transplant on us.
God removes our dead, unbelieving heart and creates a new one in us.
Those who have Christ in their lives are peacemakers.
Because even though we’re spiritually poor on our own, God has made peace with us through Jesus.
By virtue of our Saviour’s holy precious blood, shed for us, we have peace with God.
And those who have this peace will share it with others.
The last blessing of the Beatitudes doesn’t seem like much of a blessing at first.
“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.”
No one enjoys being persecuted, but how else can we expect a sinful world to treat those whose sins have been forgiven.
So when people make us miserable because we believe and trust in Jesus, we have this promise of blessing from Christ Himself.
The true blessings of the Beatitudes is that we have a loving Messiah who gives them to us as a free gift because of God’s mercy, just as He gives us salvation.
Brothers & Sisters, Christ this morning tells you to rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven.
May the peace which passes all human understanding, keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.