Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Today, we are observing the Feast of All Saints, otherwise known as All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is the day set aside by the Church to recognize and give thanks to God for all the those who have preceded us in the faith and now rest from their labors. We believe that, in Christ, all Christians are forgiven saints of God and that, when a Christian’s earthly race is complete, they depart to be in the living presence of Christ, awaiting His return and the Resurrection of the Dead. Those who die in faith are not dead, but very much alive in heaven. Therefore, we give thanks to God for them.
This Church holiday is an old one. Our first records of it being celebrated publicly date back to the 4th century. Our records of it being celebrated on November 1st date to around the 8th century. Our fathers in the faith celebrated it much as we do – remembering and giving thanks to God for those who have gone before us, and asking that we might, by His grace, follow their example. We also recognize on this day that the blessedness which Christians enjoy in heaven is not received only upon arrival there; it is something we receive now in this present time, through faith in Christ. Our Lord says this Himself in our text, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He teaches that those who mourn their sin and look to Him are blessed with forgiveness now and will be blessed through the same into eternity.
Our text for this observation of the Feast of All Saints is from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the fifth chapter. Here, the Spirit relates to us the words of Jesus in what is usually called, “The Sermon on the Mount.” If you’ll permit me to be honest, it’s not an easy text. Our readings from the epistles of St. John are vivid and clear in their meanings, but this text from Matthew has been made difficult. It’s a challenging text to preach and teach because it’s so often, well, mangled. Most often, you may have heard this – and I’ve believed it at a time – that the Beatitudes are a Law text; it’s been taught that the Beatitudes are special promises that belong only to the people who fulfill them. In a denomination other than our own, it’s also taught that they only apply to those who would follow the example of Mother Theresa and the like. Regular Christians need not necessarily hear this text.
The key to understanding the Beatitudes and seeing that they belong to preaching of the Gospel is understanding what our Lord meant by “blessed are the poor in spirit.” The word, blessed, crosses our Lord’s lips a number of times in Matthew’s Gospel and He always uses it in a sense beyond just happiness. To be blessed according to our Lord is to receive salvation. In chapter 11, when the Baptist sends a message to Jesus asking if He is the Messiah, Jesus responded that the blind were seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised up, and the poor were having the Gospel preached to them. Then He said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” After Peter offered his great confession of the Christ, Jesus likewise said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” To be blessed according to Jesus is to receive His Word in faith and trust in Him for salvation.
Who is it that receive Jesus’ Word of forgiveness, but those who recognize their need for it? In His response to the Baptist’s question, Jesus was citing from Isaiah, where it says, “the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” The poor Jesus speaks of are not necessarily those poor in possessions, they are the poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit is to recognize through the preaching of the Law, that we are both dead in and enslaved to sin.
The poor in spirit, the ones whom Jesus says are blessed, and those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs are us. They are us, and all Christians. We hear the preaching of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, and we recognize that there is nothing in us but sin and death. We are filled with anxiety and terror, uncertainty and shame; and we mourn our sinful condition. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they shall be comforted.” Jesus’ whole life and work was dedicated to preaching the Good News to the poor in spirit and comforting those who mourn their wretched bands. He proclaimed to those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness that Righteousness had, indeed, come. He who created the heavens and the earth took upon Himself human flesh.
He did this so that His righteousness might become our righteousness. Though we stood afar ways off from God and – ever since our first parents – have been justly barred from God’s gracious presence, God came near to us. In His flesh, on the tree of the cross, Jesus Christ bore the weight and guilt of all our sin. He bore in Himself all the wrath of God that we earned by our many transgressions. As we heard last week, He made propitiation – atonement – in His blood for our sins. In Baptism, we receive the forgiveness He earned and He places on us the white robe of His righteousness. In Him, we poor sinners are made rich in salvation. In Him, we who mourn our sin are comforted with forgiveness. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs” – through Christ – “is the kingdom of heaven.”
Understanding what Jesus meant by, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” helps us to see that the rest of the Beatitudes are Gospel promises to those have received the gift of faith in Christ. By our Baptism, we were not united only to His death – but His resurrection, as well. The life we now live, we live with and in Him. Through the Holy Spirit we strive to be meek, that is, gentle in our relationships with others. We seek to embody toward them the love we have received in Christ. We have mercy on others, caring for them as we are able. We are peacemakers when, instead of holding our brother’s sins against him, we forgive him – because we have first been forgiven in Christ. We are made pure in heart through Baptism and seek to remain in the truth and purity of God’s Word.
Abiding in Christ’s Word, forgiving and having mercy on each other, and loving as Christ first loved us will not bring us friendship with the world. As we strive to remain faithful to His Gospel, we will experience that friendship with Christ is enmity with the world. That is why our Lord speaks of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake and of having all kinds of evil uttered against us falsely on His account. His promise counters all hardships we might face. He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” The reward that awaits us belongs to us even now through faith in Jesus: our sins are forgiven, we look forward to our rest in heaven, and we expect the joy of the new heavens and the new earth.
This same blessedness, this same hope, is what carried our fathers forward into heaven’s embrace. On All Saints’ Day, we give thanks to God. We give Him thanks for the forgiveness that He has given to all who believe in His Son; we give Him thanks for preserving His faithful against all adversity; we give Him thanks for gathering them to His side. We ask that we would be encouraged by their witness and by God’s grace follow their example, until the blessedness which is ours now in Christ is more fully enjoyed in the life to come.