Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + 11/2/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Living in the northern hemisphere as we do, this time of year even meteorology and the changing weather help to turn our thinking and our mood to the subject of the end times—the end times of our lives, of our world and the only thing in God’s plan of salvation left to happen short of further conversions, as we confess of our Lord in the creed, “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” Maybe it is in part to encourage us to hang in there, to persevere and endure that, once a year, we pause to remember all those who have gone on before us with the sign of faith, all the saints who from their labors rest while we continue to feebly struggle. Some of the saints are well known and famous, many more are not. And as we imagine in our minds eye St. John’s vision of “a great multitude that no one could number…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” maybe we see some familiar faces among them, a departed mother or father, a departed child, brother, sister, uncle or aunt. I’m tempted to imagine also the faces of those who nobody but their angels have ever seen, those countless millions (!) never given the chance to live outside their own mother’s womb. As with the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, unwitting martyrs for Christ, who more than they are the “poor in spirit,” the “meek,” or those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” who now are the possessors of the kingdom of heaven, the heirs of the new heavens and earth?
The saints are all those forever blest with the gift of eternal life and salvation. The eternal blessing of salvation is only for those who by faith before the world confess Christ as Lord and Savior. They are forever blest because the name of Jesus is forever blest—forever blest as the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the key to understanding the blessedness of all saints and the blessed text from the Sermon on the Mount commonly called the Beatitudes, the Blessings.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” These and all nine of the Beatitudes used to be included as another chief part or major teaching in ancient catechisms to be memorized, sung, learned by heart together with the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. And indeed St. Matthew places these words near the beginning of his Gospel as such a perfect summary of the faith that saves and the Savior that saves. In fact it is as a summary description of the Savior that the value and meaning of these words are discovered and properly understood. For apart from Christ these words end up being only an impossible moral demand of the Law. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” so you have to be poor in spirit to be blessed. “Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers,” so only those who achieve these qualities are blessed. These otherwise beautiful words become quite ugly quickly if their blessedness is understood to be nothing other than qualities that you must somehow find within yourself and manufacture in order to obtain the blessing.
Only when you discover that Christ is here first describing Himself and how the Law of God finds its perfect and only fulfillment in Him do these words truly become the most beautiful and comforting words of Gospel.
To be “poor in spirit” means someone who makes no claims on God for themselves, who simply knows their need of God. And what sort of claims can any of us make on God before whom, after all, we stand as destitute beggars? So this word describes, first and foremost, Jesus in His earthly ministry, His state of humiliation, in regard to God His Father, to whose will he submits, as he repeatedly prayed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, Thy will be done (Mt. 26:38-42), and also to all people, to whom he makes himself a servant. As He taught His disciples, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:26-28).
The word “poor” resembles in meaning the words for meek and humble or lowly. These latter two words are used by Jesus of Himself when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:28-29). So all of these words together describe the humiliation and earthly ministry of Jesus. It is only by faith in Him, His holy life, His vicarious death and amazing resurrection that these words can be used now to also describe you and me and all who, in the flood of Jesus’ blood are cleansed from guilt and shame.
As a result of this faith, heaven is being populated not by the “wise according to worldly standards,” “the powerful” or those “of noble birth.” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Blessed are the poor in spirit. So we do not, for instance, have to look to or even take much notice of the latest religious movement, fad or sure-fire, best-selling spiritual book in order to discover some hidden purpose for life. Your purpose is to repent, be baptized and believe in God and “him whom he has sent” (John 6:29), namely, Jesus Christ who “for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9); he who has chosen you “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Only “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-9).
Who are these, clothed in white robes and from where have they come? “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). May it also be said and sung, in the same way, about us:
Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand,
A priestly band,
God’s throne forever near.
On earth they wept through bitter years;
Now God has wiped away their tears,
Transformed their strife
To heav’nly life,
And freed them from their fears.
They now enjoy the Sabbath rest,
The heav’nly banquet of the blest;
The Lamb, their Lord,
At festive board
Himself is host and guest. [LSB 676:2]
Let us pray.
Merciful Father, Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, rose victorious over death and the grave. We remember with thanksgiving all Your servants who trusted in Christ and who now stand in Your nearer presence where all sorrows are turned to joy. Strengthen us in the confident hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come that we may await with joy our reunion in Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.