Here we have the Beatitudes, which are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The word “Beatitude” is the Latin translation of the first word in each line, which we see as the word in the Holy Gospel, “Blessed”.
Now the word “Blessed” does not mean happy, as many people want it to mean. People want Christianity to make our lives pleasant and nice. This is attractive, because who does not want to feel good all the time? But that is not what Christ gives. He gives life, and life to the full, but that does not mean that we are happy all the time.
The word “Blessed” is a strong Biblical word. It indicates that the Lord’s blessing is on you. It is a powerful, abiding reality. If these things in the Beatitudes describe you, then you are one of God’s blessed ones, His saints.
So we look in particular at the description of what the blessed ones are like.
We have the expressions, “the poor in spirit” and the “lowly” or “humble”. But we have to be careful that we do not read into this the kind of victim mindset that seems so common in our society. “Poor me, everybody’s out to get me.” This kind of martyr complex is not what Christ means. Sure, He talks about being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. But if I, for example, get a flat tire and then I whine and complain that I am lowly and persecuted, that is not what Christ is talking about.
Instead, we can see what Christ means from other parts of Matthew’s Gospel. In chapter eleven our Lord says, “The poor have the Gospel preached to them.” The thing the poor need is the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is not only the financially poor that need this good news. It is all who are poor because they lack the riches of salvation. They lack the work of the Holy Spirit upon their sinful spirit. In other words, they are “spiritually poor”
People are spiritually poor whether they know it or not. It is an objective condition of need because of lack in yourself. We humans are sinners (at least for now), no matter how good we might seem to ourselves.
Being poor also means that we are unable to make ourselves unpoor. We cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We need Someone rich to help us.
In the same way, Christ is not speaking about just anyone who mourns, but specifically those who mourn because they are poor in spirit. The objective reality of being spiritually weak, when you are aware of it, makes you mourn.
Do we mourn? It should come automatically to us as Christians. Doctor Luther said: “Therefore simply begin to be a Christian, and you will soon find out what it means to mourn and be sorrowful. … You will be hindered and hemmed in on every side, so that you will suffer enough and see enough to make your heart sad. If you were not a weak sinner, then you could stand against all obstacles and enemies on your own strength. But any realistic assessment realizes that we are not such strong people.
If we are not sad and feel helpless because of our sinful state, perhaps we are not remembering or meditating upon our poor condition. If we feel the true depth of our state, then we feel miserable because being a sinner is wretchedly awful. Although we cannot fully see it by ourselves, Scripture reveals how terrible our sin is.
Similarly, those who recognize that they are “lowly” will then hunger and thirst to be filled with righteousness. Here the word for humility or lowliness is not describing a virtue. Instead, it is describing the fact that we are low creatures. We are not lofty and majestic in ourselves. We should have been. The image of God in which we were created was an awesome, incredible thing. But sin broke the image. Sin replaced righteousness in us. Death and corruption replaced life. We were beings who should have walked upright with dignity, but instead we crawl in the mud like beasts, so to speak.
Of course, the lowly ones who are blessed must hunger and thirst for righteousness, and then are satisfied. So where are you fed righteousness? We want to say that we are fed at the Cross. But that is not really true. We are fed when the Gospel comes to us. God declares us righteous. He washes us righteous. He feeds us righteous. That is how we are filled.
All these things are complete yet not complete. We are comforted in the Gospel, yet we are still stuck in this den of sin and evil. Our comfort will not be full until we no longer weep again.
Still, we do not inherit only ephemeral virtues. What I mean is that our spiritual blessings are not disembodied things of which we think and feel yet cannot touch or see. We inherit the earth. We inherit physical blessings. We are fed the food of the kingdom that enters our mouths, and we are washed with physical water to which the audible Word has been joined. A real man that you can see and touch speaks out loud the Good News to you, with sound waves that strike your physical ear drums. Therefore ours is the resurrection and the new heaven and earth, because we are Christ’s blessed ones.
As for mercy: It is not that we are commanded to be merciful and if we are then we will receive mercy. Instead, mercy is the natural condition of those who have received the grace of Christ. If you have received forgiveness, then you will surely forgive others.
The blessed ones will be pure of heart, and will therefore also be merciful. The clean heart comes only from God, as we sing in our offertory. Only a clean heart can show true love because it has first received pure love.
The Blessed ones who are peacemakers will also be persecuted for righteousness sake. Who are these peacemakers? They are all Christians, because we do or make peace every time the Gospel is on our lips. When we forgive the sins of others, we are erasing conflict. We can use the precious Blood of Christ to reconcile with those who have hurt us, no matter how great the hurt.
Particularly, peacemakers are the ministers of the Gospel who speak and splash and feed the Gospel to others. Of course, the devil and the sinful world hate Christians, but even more they hate the preachers. So Christians and particularly pastors may find themselves at the receiving end of the anger of satan and his servants. Hurtful words, hateful attacks, perhaps even death, may come to any of us.
Is this the happy life? Not if you count your emotions as the most important thing. But it is the blessed life. God the Father through Jesus Christ has blessed you eternally. He has given you the full reality of Christ’s forgiveness won on the Cross. Nothing, not even a horrid and painful death, can take away the life He has given you. You will inherit the earth, not even this earth which is beautiful yet flawed by death and decay. No, you will inherit the perfect earth to come.
You are blessed because you are the sons of God. You are His own, in the image of the only-begotten Son. Although you did not deserve this great honor and instead deserved punishment and eternal death, God has been merciful to you.
Therefore rejoice that you are the blessed ones, the saints, the receivers of mercy. Rejoice that, although you may be persecuted and suffer many things, yet you are still His blessed ones. He has said it, and it is so. Amen.
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