The New Creation

[[Kick me! I forgot my voice recorder this morning. Kick me or have mercy.]]

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/30/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Since the celebration of Advent/Christmas this year the Epiphany of Our Lord has, thus far, consisted in a sort of introduction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After His miraculous incarnation and birth of the Virgin Mary and childhood, when He was about thirty years old John the Baptist ushered Him into His office as the Messiah, the Christ by His Baptism in the Jordan River. Hereafter He began His active, earthly ministry in Galilee, preaching, teaching and healing every disease. But only now does St. Matthew get personal with us in his Gospel. Today the call goes out to all who would be Christians, disciples, learners or followers of Jesus Christ. The invitation is in the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, called the Beatitudes; “beatitude” the Latin word for the Greek “macarioi,” in English, “blessed.” The Beatitudes are an invitation to discipleship, the “entrance exam,” if you will, or the doorway through which one must enter to begin the journey as a disciple. For these words have the power in themselves to begin to change you—to change you from a sinner into a saint, from a child of earth to a child of heaven, from an unbeliever to a believer, from one destined to the punishment of hell to a citizen of the blessing of heaven. Whoever enters through this door enters the kingdom of God and becomes “a new creation” as the Apostle Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:17). So are you ready? Are you ready to discover what you must become or have already become by faith in Christ? Walk this way.

These words are, at once, so famous and so familiar. We hear them on All Saints Day every year as well as twice out of the three-year lectionary from Matthew and Luke. They have been the subjects of any number of popular books. And yet they remain somehow distant, mysterious, and unclear in their intent and meaning. For our fallen, sinful, spiritually blind nature is always the first to jump up and interpret the Beatitudes as a list of rules; of virtues one must somehow achieve in order to become a Christian. Why else would a famous “positive thinking” television preacher call them only “The Be Happy Attitudes”[1]? Some see a parallel between Jesus delivering these pithy proclamations up on a mountain and the Ten Commandments delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Yet Jesus is not merely “a new Moses.” He is the God who issued the Law to Moses in the first place.

When we hear the Lord say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek,” etc., our first thought is that, in order to be blessed we must somehow find it in ourselves to become those things. But here is the first insight! These things, these virtues or conditions can only be a gift created in us by God and only as we realize that we do not possess them in ourselves!

Take the first pair: Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Another translation of “poor in spirit” is, “How blest are those who know their need of God.[2]” And that’s pretty good! To be poor in spirit is exactly that. In other words to acknowledge and confess that you are totally powerless and in total need until God provides faith and works that new creation in you. It is the spirit in which we sing, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling”[3] This is why the second beatitude goes with the first, “Blessed are those who mourn.” For this doesn’t have reference to just any sadness of which there is plenty to go around in this dark world of sin and death. This is the mourning of faith that sees what sin has done and continues to do to us and to the whole world. It is a cry for deliverance of those who are completely helpless to deliver themselves from sin, suffering and death. The blessing to such as these, the poor in spirit and those who mourn, is that the kingdom of heaven, the gracious, loving, redeeming, saving rule of God is already theirs with the promise that we will be comforted on the Last Day, in the resurrection and the life of the world to come.

The second pair of beatitudes goes the same way. “Blessed are the meek” literally means the powerless, those who cannot help themselves. Is this not what it means to repent? To confess your sin and weakness and to turn in faith to God to save you? That’s precisely what the second half is, for to hunger and thirst for righteousness is faith that looks to God to provide our salvation.

Now the third and fourth pair of beatitudes do the same thing, but in reverse order. They describe those who are disciples already. However, instead of first listing the status (like “poor in spirit” or “meek”) followed by the resulting attitude (“mourning” or “hungering or thirsting for righteousness”), first is spoken the attitude followed by the status that produces it. “Blessed are the merciful” describes all Christians. Christians all are merciful because they know the only merciful God who has made Himself known in his Son. In this they are “pure in heart” for we acknowledge that there is only one God to be found in Jesus. Likewise all Christians are peacemakers because they all have known what it means to be unfairly persecuted because they are Christians. Knowing the mercy of God propels us to carry that message of peace to everyone.

The baptism of an infant is the perfect illustration of what happens with the beatitudes. Those who hear become what they say. The infant receives forgiveness and the gift of faith without any effort or even awareness on its part. It is totally God’s gracious, merciful work through His mighty Word. This is followed by growing and learning to whatever level or capacity we are able that we have received God’s mercy and become His new creation.

So, if you have heard these beautiful words of invitation and have come to the repentance and faith required to produce the status and attitudes Jesus here speaks about, then are you ready to follow and to learn to become a disciple, a follower of Christ, a Christian. All of these things hold before you the future inheritance of The New Creation that begins now in a hidden way, but will be revealed in the regeneration of all things of the final judgment day.

As a sort of post-script, it is regrettable that we do not hear the entire Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel readings of the liturgical year. But that means that there must be further instruction, catechesis, Bible study in the life of a Christian. Let us seek how to further advance in repentance and faith by continuing to grow in the Word of God.

[1] Robert Schuller ©1985. Bantam Books.

[2] Lutheran Book of Worship, 17.

[3] LSB 761:3.