The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Listening to the words of our Lord in the Gospel lesson for today, I’m immediately struck by the grammatical tenses that Jesus uses while teaching His disciples. Jesus speaks in the present tense as well as the future tense. “Blessed are…” (present tense), and “you will be…” (future tense). I think it’s safe to say that everyone here understands what Jesus is teaching here. Life in the present tense for the faithful disciple of Christ can be pretty miserable. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it. But…we know what awaits us in the future. We will be comforted. We will be satisfied. We will receive mercy. We will enter into heaven and all this present-tense misery will be a thing of the past. We find great comfort in these words, especially as we grieve the loss of loved ones, because these words give us a glimpse into what they’re already experiencing right now in heaven. Like Revelation tells us, every tear has been wiped away. No more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain or suffering. Their blessed heavenly reality means no more hungering or thirsting. No more scorching heat from the sun. All these things have passed away. (Side-note: This also means that they are NOT looking down on you from heaven. If they could see the misery, pain, and suffering you have to endure in this veil of tears, then it couldn’t rightly be said that they are in paradise, right?) They now presently and eternally stand in the presence of their Lord and Savior, worshiping Him, basking in His light and His living water, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” This is their present and eternal reality, and this is our future reality. This eternal blessedness is what awaits us.
But…there is a small problem here: What about right now? What are we saints—holy ones of God—supposed to do in the meantime; in the present tense; in that time between now and our future heavenly state of perfect blessedness? Folks: If you’ve been attention at all to these words of your Lord, you will hear Him say quite clearly that you ARE—present tense—blessed. “Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who suffer, hunger/thirst.” We don’t have to wait to be blessed. We are blessed, right now! Sure, we may not feel very blessed. The rest of the world will probably not see us as blessed. I have NEVER personally heard anyone say that they have been blessed with cancer or homelessness or marital infidelity. And yet…our Lord tells us that, in/through faith, we ARE blessed; blessed by Him.
How can this be? Answer: Because our Lord sees the faith that holds fast to Him, even as we suffer and struggle and bear these miserable crosses. He beholds this saving faith; faith that holds fast to Him—presently—even as the storms of life rage all around, and He lovingly reminds us that we are presently in His hands, and nothing and no one can steal us away from Him. We belong to Him—presently. We bear His name upon our head and our heart—presently—marking us as one who has been redeemed in the water and blood of the crucified and resurrected Christ.
This is why I want to draw your attention to those particular Beatitudes that ONLY speak in the present tense. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS (not “will be”) the kingdom of heaven.” Contrary to popular belief/teaching, to be in poor in spirit isn’t a goal we should strive for, as if we need to become poor in spirit in order to attain blessedness, nor is it an attitude that we need to gin up and manufacture. It is a condition. You don’t become poor in spirit. You are poor in spirit. You are found by God to be poor in spirit. Believe it or not, to be poor in spirit is a good thing! To be poor in spirit does not mean to be of little or no faith. Christ never blesses that, but to be poor in spirit means to have nothing to bring before God; nothing except trust and faith in Him alone, which means you’re not trusting in anything or anyone else. Can that faith be battered, bruised, and stressed? Absolutely! In fact, because of our stubborn, sinful pride, that’s how it often works. We’ve tried everything else, and we’ve had our rear ends handed to us. To be poor in spirit means that all the other things in life that we tend to trust in have been stripped and gutted away from us. To be poor in spirit means to have a poverty of spirit, an emptiness, nothing left… nothing except saving faith in Christ. All we can do is lay at the foot of Christ’s cross, looking up from our battered and defeated position, and call upon Him to save us, deliver us, and be merciful to us for His sake. Faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone. God calls this condition of faithfulness “blessed,” and blessed you are.
But what about the whole “kingdom of heaven” thing? Isn’t that a future-tense thing? Heaven awaits us(?) Yes…but that’s not what your Lord is saying here. He’s not speaking of the place that is heaven, but rather “the kingdom of heaven.” Yes…there is a difference, although it sounds very strange and foreign to our 21st century ears. A “kingdom” isn’t a particular place; i.e., a particular zip code or area. “Kingdom” in the original Greek (basilea) is best translated as “reign and rule.” Wherever God reigns and rules, there is the kingdom of heaven—the reign and rule of heaven. Does the God of heaven and earth reign and rule, right here and right now, or does He only have sway in heaven? You know the answer! You don’t have to wait to get home to heaven in order to be part of the kingdom of heaven! God reigns and rules right here and right now! His reign and rule extends even to this humble little place; even to your anonymous little life. You ARE a citizen of the kingdom of heaven! You are witnessing and taking part in God’s reign and rule. It’s not just a future-tense hope. It’s a present-tense blessedness.
The same present-tense reality is recognized in the final two Beatitudes. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (for the sake of Christ; for the sake of justification in/because of Christ), for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” You are blessed—right now—in Christ. Yours IS the kingdom of heaven—right now—and you have an even better, incomprehensible, immeasurable gift waiting for you in heaven. He’s already prepared it for you. It’s waiting for you right now!
That’s how I want to close today—by pointing you to the present-tense reality and comfort of the King of Heaven in your midst, reigning and ruling, serving and nourishing you, even as you suffer and struggle and bear your crosses. Your crucified and resurrected Lord reigns supreme. He reigns eternal. He reigns here and now. No matter what anyone else says; no matter what may happen to you; no matter how bad or dark or uncertain things may get in this life on this side of eternity, here is your God and Lord, right where He tells you to seek Him; right where He promises to be, now and till the end of the age. “I am with you always.” This is most certainly true. It’s true and certain because He says so.
Yes, we will have crosses to bear. There’s no sugar-coating it or denying it. There will be times when we look around and all we see is the darkness of shadowy death all around us, hemming us in like a valley that seems to have no way out. “You are blessed. I am with you always. You are baptized into My death and resurrection. My victory is your victory. You are blessed. Rejoice and be glad.” Faith understands this Beatitude; this pronouncement of Gospel blessing and comfort. Faith holds fast to this. Faith rejoices in this, even in the midst of sorrows and suffering. “We grieve, but not like those who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him” (Ps 28:7). “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! (Ps 107:1).
My fellow saints; my fellow “holy ones”: Here He is, right here and right now. Here is your blessedness. Here is your righteousness. Here is the very same Almighty Lord of heaven and earth and Lamb of God Himself that all those who have fallen asleep in the faith are gathered around right now in all the fullness of His glory and His peace and His eternal blessedness. May this present and eternal reality give you joy and peace that surpasses all understanding, now and into all eternity.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…AMEN.
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