Festival of All Saints - St. Matthew 5:1-12 - November 1, 2015
Sermon on St. Matthew 5:1-12
1) The saints on earth are a sorry lot. Jesus describes them as spiritually poor. This is opposed to those who view themselves as spiritual rich because they are temporally wealthy. The world’s warped gospel teaches that if you are blessed with earthly goods and wealth, that these are a sign of divine blessing and favor. If you are without wealth in this life, if you lack anything in money, property, or personal success, then you are doing something wrong and God is punishing you, chastising you until you figure out how to receive more of His blessing. This is the prosperity gospel of our day, though it has gone by other names in ages past. If you are successful then that is a sign that you have a gracious God. This is not how Christ describes his saints however. He describes them as spiritually poor. What does it mean to be spiritually poor? Luther writes about this verse, So be poor or rich physically and externally, as it is granted to you – God does not ask about this – and know that before God in his heart, everyone must be spiritually poor. That is, he must not set his confidence, comfort, and trust on temporal goods, nor hang his heart upon them and make mammon his idol. What Luther says of mammon can be said of any temporal blessing such as property, success, reputation, and comfort. You may or may not have these things and you may or may not have them in abundance. The spiritually poor person is the one who puts no trust in these temporal blessings but looks only to the Triune God for his daily bread and tomorrow’s need. Abundance or lack, neither of these will phase the poor in spirit, for they acknowledge that all the have is not of their own labors, nor is it the changes and chances of life that have taken their goods. The poor is spirit confesses daily that everything in this life is from God the Father as a good and gracious gift.
2) Jesus then describes what such spiritual poverty looks like. Blessed on those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. This is not merely mourning the loss that death brings. The saints on earth mourn for the world. The saints of God see the world from a different vantage point than those who are in the world and of the world see it. The Christians sees the world as their Lord sees it. The saints feel in their hearts wickedness, blasphemy of God and his Word, arrogance, and evil which the Devil, the world, and the wicked hearts of men concoct on a daily basis. The saints of God see the church attacked by the gates of Hell yet never overcome. The saints of God feel the temptations of the Devil who daily walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Yet they see that He can be resisted as St. Peter says, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9) The saints of God experience the promise of Jesus, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) The saints expect suffering, trial, and hardship because that is what Christ our Lord endured during His days in the flesh. But this does not mean the Christian is to be sour and weepy at all times. Luther explains, Thus Christ does not want to urge continual mourning and sorrow. He wants to warn against those who seek to escape all mourning and to have nothing but fun in all their comfort here. And He wants to teach His Christians, when things go badly for them and they have to mourn, to know that it is God’s good pleasure and to make it theirs as well, not to curse or rage or despair as though their God did not want to be gracious. This is why the saints, when they mourn, are called blessed. For even these moments you are truly blessed because God has promised to end your mourning in heaven where there will be everlasting joy.
3) Jesus describes the saints, the spiritually poor, as meek. You understand how difficult this is. The saints are not to retaliate when wronged. Instead the saints are to forgive and be ready to speak their forgiveness to their persecutors and those who wrong them. The Christian is not to return evil for evil, a word for a word, or a tooth for a tooth. If someone has an office by which God governs, then this is not the case. The secular government is not to be meek toward criminals and threats against its people. Neither are pastors to be meek when false doctrine confronts the sheep whom Christ has given him as a trust and responsibility. The Christian though, we are called to meekness, to suffer all sorts of wrong for the sake of Christ. When we are persecuted we are to endure up underneath it steadfastly, as Christ our Lord did during His earthly life and especially His passion. When He was false accused and reviled, He did not return with a true accusation. So it is with the saints. Though we lose everything for the sake of the Gospel, we remain blessed because Christ says, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Take they are life, goods, fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth. All who are baptized into Christ and live by faith in His righteousness shall inherit everything that He inherits.
4) Jesus continues, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. This is not the righteousness of faith of which Jesus speaks, but our life of good works which flow from faith. As Luther points out, all the beatitudes flows from the first one, being spiritually poor, which is faith which looks to Christ for everything, including our righteousness before God. The righteousness for which the saints hunger and thirst is that righteousness which we are to do in response to having been declared righteous by God through faith. The saints of God hate their sin. We should say that first I suppose, that the saints of God, though declared righteous and holy by faith, still are sinners in this life because they bear the sinful flesh. Forgiveness of sins does not eradicate the sinful nature and replace it, at least not yet. On the Last Day your baptism will be complete, or rather it will culminate, with your resurrection which is spiritual and physical, so that you will no longer have to live with the flesh with its desires. Anyone who claims that Christians stop sinning, or that it is possible to stop sinning in this life is a deceiver and a hypocrite. All the saints of God in the Scriptures confess their sins. St. Paul, in Romans 7 acknowledges that the good he desires to practice, he doesn’t do, while the wickedness that he despises, that’s what he ends up doing! He confesses that without Christ he would die in this body of death. St. David of the Old Testament says the same thing in Psalm 143:2, Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous. So God’ saints hunger and thirst for good works, godly thoughts, and pious imaginations, but we our hunger and thirst to be always doing God’s will is thwarted now, that hunger will satisfied in the next life.
5) Christ then describes His saints as merciful, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Christ continues showing us the fruits of justifying faith. He calls them merciful. The saints of God are merciful to others, though they receive no mercy or clemency from others in this life. He calls them pure in heart. The pure of heart are not those who seem holy to those around them, those whose piety can be seen on the street corners and in the public square. What is meant by ‘pure of heart?’ Luther writes, One that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God. When one changes their own ideas and conforms them to the Word of God, this is purity of heart. The human heart is naturally impure from following its own lusts, its own desires, its own greediness, its own cowardice, and its own imaginations. We are by nature impure not only because our desires that violate the commandments, but also we are impure by our desire to build idols in our hearts and think of ourselves as the highest good rather than God Himself. Finally Christ says Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. As Christ makes peace with God and man through His blood, so His saints are to strive to live peaceably with all men as they are able. We not only desires peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and honesty, but when necessary we work towards that peacefulness and quiet among our neighbors for their benefit as well.
6) The final two beatitudes close out the idea that all of these are fruits of faith, the results of being spiritually poor. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed on you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my name. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Faith’s final fruit is endurance in Christ’s doctrine to the end. The Devil hates Christ’s Word and His pure doctrine and will do whatever He can do destroy both Christ and His Word here on earth. Persecution has come upon us in the past for sticking to the pure doctrine of Christ and our small flock has survived and thrived because of it. Days of persecution may very well come again, though we pray that the Lord will spare of from this. When we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and on account of Christ, we must endure it and not become ashamed of our Gospel because it is Christ’s Gospel. Instead, when this is fulfilled in us, and when all these fruits of faith are fulfilled in us, we are to rejoice. Not because we are masochistic. Not because we like to feel bad. But because Christ commands us to rejoice in our suffering because suffering is a gift from God to conform us more and more into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we suffer, especially for the Gospel’s sake, we rejoice because we are in the most excellent of company, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
7) The saints are a sorry lot. That’s what it looks like to the world. And that’s what the world, the devil, and your own sinful flesh would have you believe. But that is not the case at all. The saints of God are not a sorry lot, forsake, abandoned, and cast off by their God. Your Lord Jesus calls you blessed and that is what you are. You have the forgiveness of sins! You have baptism into the name of God! You have Christ’s true body and blood for your absolution. You have the very Words of Jesus in the Holy Scripture. You have all the promises of God, for they are all true and fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Do not live by what you see, but what Christ says of you, and Christ says that you are blessed. St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Amen.