The 4th Sunday after Epiphany - January 30th, 2011 Matthew 5:1-12

Sermon introductions can take several different forms. Some sermons begin with cute little stories about puppy dogs and babies. Others present a general spiritual axiom around which the rest of the sermon is governed. And, in some cases, unfortunately, the sermon introduction degenerates into an extended autobiography of the pastor. The Sermon on the Mount does not begin with a cute story about puppies or babies. It isn’t an extended autobiography of the preacher. It really doesn’t even present a general axiom. Jesus themes his sermon - “You are blessed!” Those are the words that serve as the doorway into the entire Sermon on the Mount, which we are going to spend the next five weeks meditating upon. Be careful, though! These beatitudes, rich as they are, are not to be mishandled! They are Jesus’ introduction to a sermon of discipleship, and one interpretive slip-up at the introduction will most certainly distort our view of the entire sermon. These blessings of Christ are phenomenal, but misconstrued, they become a burdensome list of elitist attitudes that not one person can rightly live up to no matter how “righteous” they may try to be. So, how do we approach the beatitudes? Keep these three things in mind. First, Jesus is offering these words to his disciples...a.k.a., believers. No unbeliever is “blessed” in the sight of God. Second, the descriptions “poor in spirit, mourning, meek,” and so on down the list, are not virtues that we pursue and are rewarded for achieving. They are conditions that Jesus’ disciples presently are in, and despite those conditions, find themselves to be “blessed!” And third, when Jesus says, “blessed,” the force is not some random feeling or empty emotion. Being “blessed” is equivalent to being “saved!” With those guidelines established, I believe that we are ready to enter into the Sermon on the Mount through the doorway of the Beatitudes, the blessings, where Christ our Savior says under no uncertain terms what we need to hear the most, “Blessed are you!” I. The spiritually bankrupt

The first two beatitudes read like this: “2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Again, just to reiterate: Jesus is speaking to his followers, and being poor in spirit and mourning are not virtues that are sought out and then rewarded with blessing if they are achieved. These are spiritual conditions of all of Christ’s disciples. All of Jesus’ disciples are naturally spiritually bankrupt. The debt we’ve racked up with the Almighty because of our sins is so great, so enormous that we can’t even begin to think that we can pay back to our God what we owe him. We have caused such complete spiritual depreciation in our hearts that we’re more than sinking under our sin debt. We’re sunk with no way to get ourselves out. In our country, just think of how hopelessly in debt so many people are. During a time that many should have been more frugal and careful, (the 90s) people were rather cavalier in taking on indebtedness. Couple with that lack of frugality the declining housing market and what you have is a recipe for financial disaster – and so many people are sunk with no way out. That’s sad. People are losing

their homes, losing their ability to sustain themselves. But in most cases they have only themselves and their carelessness to blame. Spiritual bankruptcy is infinitely worse – because it leads to more than just losing the house – it leads to being lost and forgotten forever in hell. And every one of Christ’s disciples finds themselves “poor in spirit,” which is certainly a reason to “mourn” as Jesus says in the 2nd beatitude. So why does Jesus say that such people in such conditions are blessed? Such people are blessed because as Christ’s disciples, they are brought to a full recognition of their spiritual depravity, and are shown the only way out – through the cross of Christ. Thus, blessed are we, because the full debt of our sins has been satisfied, not with gold or silver, but with holy and precious blood. Our bill of transgression has been stamped “Paid in full!” Now that’s comforting. Just imagine if your creditors, your mortgage company came to you and said, “Somebody paid your bill already. It’s all taken care of!” What joy that would bring us. That’s what Jesus did for us! And that’s why we’re blessed even in our condition of spiritual bankruptcy and sadness over sin. For the debt that weighs us down and enslaves us has been paid by Jesus – and is applied to our personal sin debt through faith. Would you agree, then, that you are blessed? II. The essentially powerless

The next two beatitudes are: “5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Now, if you haven’t noticed, I’m taking two at a time, and there’s a reason for that. Like the 1st and 2nd beatitude, the 3rd and 4th have a very logical and intimate connection. Christ’s disciples are “meek,” or if I were to use a different term, “lowly,” the spiritual condition of one who is truly “powerless.” That’s quite the opposite of what many would consider a bless-ed existence. Power, might, authority, that’s what most people strive for. But Jesus, in a wonderful paradox, says to his disciples that being in the condition of powerlessness is “bless-ed” because such people, such believers, who understand how powerless they are to stand before the throne of the Almighty, must therefore hunger and thirst for a righteousness that is outside of themselves, that they are powerless to achieve. That righteousness is Christ himself. When we come to the realization that we are powerless, that we are lowly and unable to help ourselves before the mighty demands of the righteous Judge, we have no choice but to cling to Christ and his righteousness. When we are left starving and parched in the wilderness of sin, lacking any power to provide for our basic eternal need, we have no choice but to look for true fulfillment where it can only be found – in Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, in the oasis of the gospel that brings us spiritual refreshment by leading us to the cross where our sins are drowned in innocent blood. How blessed we are, that, essentially powerless, unable to help ourselves, that our Lord Jesus offered himself over to death to rescue us from sin, and then offers his benefits to us in the gospel to quench our spiritual thirst, to feed our hungry souls so that we are filled up right, not with the world’s work-righteous junk-food, but with His righteousness, applied to us, that righteousness that satisfies us to eternity – to the time when the “inheritance” is poured out upon us in all its fullness.


The next two beatitudes read: “7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Now, we have a noticeable shift, don’t we? The first four beatitudes speak of inability, spiritual poverty and lowliness. Here, there is blessedness and salvation for the “merciful” and the “clean hearted.” Again, let’s understand these things correctly. These are not virtues that are pursued and then rewarded. These are conditions in which every Christian is found. They are characteristics of disciples. Mercy characterizes the follower of Christ because mercy has been shown to us first, to which we have been enlightened by God the Holy Spirit, who also creates in us a clean heart, just as we ask for him to do in our liturgies. Here, in God’s house, you learn what it means to be shown mercy. Here, in Word and sacrament, you learn the heart of God, and you are given the eyes of faith to see the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob in the face of Christ Jesus. Here, every single Christian receives what we need the most – a full cleansing through and through, a washing by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that makes use pure and ready to stand before our God and see him face to face. That’s what makes us blessed – not that we mustered up mercy and purity of our own volition – but that God himself has purified our hearts through the Holy Spirit, shown us mercy in the face of Christ and drives us to extend mercy beyond ourselves to every other needy, helpless, hopeless, spiritually bankrupt, spiritually lowly soul for whom the Lord Christ died, and to whom the Lord Christ sends us as his ambassadors. How blessed we are – we who are the mercifully enlightened! IV. The systematically harassed

The mercifully enlightened

Finally, Jesus says: “9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” One more time, these are not virtues that earn us blessing when achieved. These are conditions that every Christian finds themselves in. Peacemakers – ones who have peace and seek to share true peace. You’d think that the world would be open to a message of peace. But it’s not! The sinful heart loves war and hatred, and any message that offers peace without the element of personal contribution is most certainly ripe for retaliation, for insult, persecution and slander. That’s when we need to remember our bless-ed “saved” status in Christ the most! Friends, understand that you are in the minority, truly among the “remnant” of believers in this world. Don’t be ashamed of your Savior, and at the same time, don’t be shocked when you find that most could care less about him. Don’t be shocked at the sinful, unbelieving reaction to the gospel – because it isn’t what the “itching ear” wants to hear. What the “itching ear” wants is a laundry list of things to accomplish that can be cited as reason for being sure that God wants me in his heaven. The gospel of Christ, the cross of Christ leaves no room for the sinner to say, “With the strength of my hand, I have won the eternal victory.” Nothing more can be done, and nothing more has to be done, because Jesus has done all things necessary for us to receive our eternal reward in heaven. What that means is that no matter what harassment we might face in our public confession of Jesus as Savior of all, none of that can take away our status of “blessed,” “saved.” That’s exactly what Paul said to the Romans in the well-known 8th chapter:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. “ Quite the introduction, isn’t it? I think that we’re ready, then, for the next few weeks of diving into the Sermon on the Mount. As we do, let’s not forget Jesus’ key that opens the door to the rest of the sermon, and really opens the door to glory – You are blessed, right now...spiritually bankrupt, essentially powerless, systematically harassed, you are blessed, because you are his...his disciples! Amen.

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