4th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, No dad! That’s not how it goes! No dad! That’s not what it’s supposed to be! No dad! You’re doing it all wrong! From time to time I have a little fun with my children. Maybe we’ll be sitting down for supper and instead of praying, “Come Lord Jesus…” I start, “Now I lay me…” and see which of my children is paying attention. Or maybe I’ll be reading them a story and instead of reading the words on the page I’ll just start making up my own story or changing parts of the story. And what do I hear? No dad! That’s not right! That’s not how it’s supposed to go! Does that ever happen in your life? I mean, do you have in your mind a certain conception of the way things are supposed to go and supposed to be and are troubled when it doesn’t turn out or happen the way they are supposed to (according to your mind) turn out?
What we’re looking at today is the very beginning of Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount, something that’s often referred to as the “beatitudes” or “blessings.” Who is blessed? Who does Jesus say is blessed? Let me just read through these beatitudes for you one more time: “Blessed are the self-confident because they rule the world. Blessed are positive-thinkers because they don’t need anybody’s comfort. Blessed are the cocky and assertive because they get what they want. Blessed are those who hunger for fame because they get reality TV shows. Blessed are the vengeful because they get respect. Blessed are the impure, pleasure-seekers because they see a good time. Blessed are those who beat their opponents because the victors write the history books. Blessed are the popular because everybody loves them.” I hope you’re saying in your mind right now, “No pastor! That’s not how it goes!” Because you’re right.
You see, what we have before us this morning is so backwards, so upside down, so inside out that to most of our world it makes no sense. But what we have before us is Jesus describing His people, His followers, His disciples, you and me. You’re part of this upside down kingdom. Let me just walk through each one of these beatitudes – and as we do so- keep in mind that a sermon could be preached on each one of these:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You could actually substitute the word “saved” for “blessed.” In fact, every time the word “blessed” is used in Matthew it has that nuance of salvation attached to it. Who are blessed? Who are saved? Those who have the condition of being “poor in spirit.” Who are they? They are people who are spiritually destitute, they have nothing, no resource when it comes to the spiritual realm. In other words, they are totally helpless, totally poor spiritually, all their spiritual needs must come from outside of themselves. On their own they are completely lost, hopeless, and helpless. Well, who is that? That’s the entire human race. This is the unconditional, unlimited gospel. The gospel applies to every person because every person is lost on their own. Jesus’ preaching and Jesus’ teaching bring repentance to people and they begin to realize that they are “poor in spirit.” But it’s precisely then that Jesus comes with incredible comfort and grace: they are blessed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It’s for the poor in spirit.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” Mourning people are blessed. To the world, mourning is the worst possible thing- pain, loss, sorrow are to be avoided at all costs. So why are mourners blessed? Who are they? The mourners here are not those who cry because the Packers lost last Sunday, not those who cry because their investments shrank, not those who cry because they didn’t get a raise. They mourn over the worst thing in life: sin. They mourn over their own sins. They mourn over all the pain, loss, trouble, difficulty that sin has brought into life. And they are blessed. Why so? Because in Jesus and His cross God has declared them completely free of all sin and all guilt. And God further promises His continual and on-going comfort, hope, and strength in all our mourning and final, complete comfort in heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek? Gentle? Really? Our world says, “No!” It’s the powerful, the abrasive, nice guys finish last. Not so in Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Who are the meek? It’s those who are powerless. They can’t help themselves, they can’t save themselves. Their humble, gentle, patient, following in the footsteps of their humble Savior. And they will what? “Inherit the earth.” Usually we think heaven, but earth? Think about it, the disciple of Jesus truly inherits temporal things, earthly things. The disciple of Jesus truly enjoys earthly things for what they are: blessings of God, marks of God’s gracious love for them. And they will also inherit a new heaven and new earth on the Last Day.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Righteousness? Really? Shouldn’t it say those who hunger and thirst for getting ahead, making more money, getting more power and influence? Righteousness? Jesus calls those blessed who have a deep longing and urgent desire for righteousness, a verdict of innocence declared by God. And in Christ, they have it! On the basis of what Jesus suffered and Jesus’ death, God has given the verdict of innocent to sinners. Blessed are those who have that. Full, free forgiveness, not once, but daily. The Psalm says, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who get revenge, hold grudges, and make other people suffer.” Blessed are the merciful. Now you could easily get this wrong. This isn’t saying, “Be merciful because then you will be shown mercy.” Rather, Jesus is describing a Christian. You see, when God brings someone to faith, they can’t help but be merciful to other people. They can’t help but see the needs, troubles, problems of other people and jump into action. Certainly not perfectly on this side of heaven. But mercy is present. Mercy emerges after mercy has entered. Christ first shows us mercy by forgiving our sins, he leads us to trust in His mercy, giving us merciful hearts, and then blesses us for showing mercy to others!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” What does it mean to have a pure heart? The pure heart here is a sincere, single-minded heart. So often in Scripture an impure heart is one that seeks idols, false gods, that puts anything else before the one true God. But a pure heart is one that fear, loves, and trusts in God above all else. It’s a heart not ruled by money, power, fame, achievements, but ruled by love for God alone. They will see God in eternal life.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Our world generally likes the word “peace.” Perhaps this one doesn’t seem so upside down. But the peace Jesus is talking about here is not peace from war or division or everyone holding hands. The peace Jesus is talking about here is ultimate peace. Ultimate peace comes only through the message of Jesus the Savior bringing peace between the sinner and God. That is the “grace, mercy, and peace,” the peace that “transcends all understanding,” the peace from the “Prince of peace.” Those who share this ultimate peace are blessed for they are sharing it so that more and more may enjoy the peace that Jesus brings.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Wow! Now this one is certainly upside down! You see, as we live like the Savior and as Jesus conforms our lives to be more like His we will follow in His footsteps from the cross of suffering to the crown of life. Whenever we suffer “because of Jesus” we’re blessed for we know that we’re on the path to life eternal.
All of these beatitudes are so different, so strange, so odd, to this world. But Jesus says we’re blessed. Why so? Why can we live like this? Why can we trust in God’s strength – even if it means giving up our lives like the 3 men in the fiery furnace? Here’s why: “Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven.” Living differently from the world, living like our Savior, is totally worth it and totally doable, why so? Because we already know the end of the story, we know the outcome, we know where we’re headed: heaven. And so, knowing that, live as who you are, Jesus’ disciple, no matter how odd, different, strange it may seem to the world for great is your reward in heaven. Amen.