For My Sake (Matthew 5:1-12)
Rev. David French
Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, problems seem to multiply? Today is one of those days that if a pastor and his hearers aren’t careful, things can get out of focus and go off the theological track pretty quickly. I say that because it’s not unusual for the true meaning and joy of All Saints’ Day to be swallowed up and lost in a flurry of good intentions but bad theology.
For instance, with the very best intentions, we can find ourselves focusing on our deceased loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord, which means we’re taking our focus off of Jesus who brought them there. While I’m sure it’s not meant this way, and it’s almost always after the funeral, but I often hear, “So-and-so has gone to be with grandma and grandpa, or their husband or wife; and while true, it’s missing the source of true comfort. Sadly, we often end up focusing on our own sentimental wonderings instead of on Jesus who comforts us in all of our sorrows.
Consider the words of our Lord from the Beatitudes, and you tell me who these Beatitudes are about. Who they focused on? The popular response is to say, “us!” But, should that be our first response? And notice I didn’t say it was wrong to see the Beatitudes as speaking to us and our reality in Christ. They are about us! But, are we the primary focus? Think about it. By a show of hands, who here has fulfilled even one of these Beatitudes as God intended? Look around. Do you see any hands? Did you expect to?
My friends, the Beatitudes are not simply goals for us to strive after in our quest to be a saint. They are not descriptions of what we need to do or attitudes we need to have. That would put the focus of this text on you and me and what we do, and we all know that just isn’t how God’s plan of salvation works. In God’s plan, all the focus is on Jesus and what He’s done for us with His life, by His death, and through His resurrection.
The Beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. These blessed realities can only be understood with a Christ-centered faith, that is, a faith that holds to Christ alone. I mean, who is the One who was truly poor in spirit; that is, who brought nothing to the table except His trust in God above all things? Who is the One who truly mourns over sins; not just the sins that make life rough for us, but all sin; even the sins we’re not sorry for and will do again? Remember our sin cut the heart of Christ so deeply that He was willing to offer His own blood to pay for each and every one of them. Christ’s desire is that no one would suffer for their sin. Can you honestly say that?
Who is it that has unconditional mercy toward others, who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Is it you? Because I know it’s not me. Isn’t it Christ who is being described with these words? Don’t the Scriptures, at the end of Jesus’s temptation in the desert, say, “He was hungry”? And wasn’t this hunger and the thirst He speaks of from the cross endured for you and your eternal salvation?
You see, the Beatitudes really are first about what Christ has earned with His life, and then about the reality of our sainthood, our holiness, and our blessedness in Him. That is, we get credit for what Jesus did at the very moment we’re united with or graphed into or what we more commonly say, baptized into Christ. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake.” That is, people aren’t attacked by Satan, the world, and their own flesh for “being good.” Satan isn’t trying to make sure no good deed goes unpunished. That’s man’s idea. God’s children, His holy ones, are attacked by Satan for one reason … they have a righteousness that is not their own.
As we read in 2 Corinthians 5, “God made him who had no sin to be sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This work of God, known to theologians as our “alien righteousness,” is why God calls His saints “blessed,” and it’s why Satan continues to fight the way he does. But please understand, there is a difference between being attacked by Satan and being corrected or disciplined by God, even though they may feel the same to us. Certainly, there are times when God allows crosses into our lives, but only so that He by His grace might bring us to repentance, and so, be forgiven, a blessing received by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son alone.
This fallen, sinful world and its Evil Prince hate those who truly trust in Christ alone. The truth is, if you’re in Christ, the world will hate you. Satan will target you, and your sinful flesh will relentlessly try to deceive you. My friends, it’s not a matter of if. It’s not a probability or a possibility or a maybe. It’s a fact. That is your reality.
Being faithful to God while living in this fallen world will mean tears and heartaches and sorrows, which is why God invites us to come to Him in the Divine Service, to hear His Word, to receive forgiveness for our sins, to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for life through forgiveness, and to be strengthened that we might live fearlessly and faithfully the new life we received in our baptism.
And that’s the truth that needs to be held onto. It’s only in Christ, by grace through faith, that we are able to live these Beatitudes in our daily lives and vocations, not trying to somehow earn God’s blessings, but simply living the life He’s already blessed us with. That is, blessed us with His grace, His mercy, His peace. Being in Christ, by grace, we are able to faithfully bear our crosses, trusting His forgiveness and standing firm as the world crumbles around us.
In Christ and because of Christ, we can be poor in spirit, that is, trusting that God is in charge and working all things for our good. In Christ and because of Christ, we can dare to call sin “sin” and publicly mourn over it, letting the world know the truth of its deadly condition before its Redeemer and Judge. We can dare to be meek and lowly, not seeking vengeance or payback or selfish glory or our own way. We can dare to bite our tongues, turn our cheeks, and quietly suffer persecution, knowing that God is in charge and we are already blessed by Him because we are in Him. We and all who trust His promises are His and nothing or no one can snatch that truth away from us.
So, what are we to do? Be in God’s Word and partake of His sacraments. That’s what all the faithful saints of all times and in all places have always done. No matter what’s happening in the world, the saints of Christ gather in His house, where He has promised to be, to receive from Him a foretaste of the feast to come; a feast that all the faithful saints who have gone before us are enjoying right now at the heavenly side of the Lord’s Table. A table set with the fullness of His promise and the glory of Christ presence. A table with an earthly side, where we kneel and also receive from Him and for His sake all the mercy and forgiveness that He earned for you, His precious child.
In His name, amen.