Blessed are the Saints
Sermon based on Mt. 5:1 – 12 for All Saints Day
Dear saints in Christ: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
You may feel a little uncomfortable being called a saint. After all, you obviously haven’t met a martyr’s death like Saint Peter and Saint Paul. You are not one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus sent out like Saint Matthew and Saint Mark. You haven’t stood up to the pope and his heresy to the point that a bounty has been put on your head as the sainted Martin Luther did. Even today, there are those alive who have dedicated their lives to mission work and acts of mercy in harsh conditions around the world – maybe they can be called saints, but no, not me. And then you hear Jesus preaching the Beatitudes, saying that the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart are blessed – they are saints. But that doesn’t sound so much like me.
The Beatitudes show us that based on what we think, say, and do, we are not saints. We prefer pride to meekness. We hunger and thirst for all kinds of things, but righteousness isn’t one of them. We avoid the needy so that we can avoid showing them mercy. We certainly aren’t pure in heart, but conjure up all kinds of selfish thoughts from the depths of our hearts. We prefer strife to peace as long as it means we get our own way. How then, can we be blessed? How can we be saints?
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To receive the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven – and thus be a saint – we are to be poor in spirit. How does one become poor in spirit, and what does it mean?
As Matthew records, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [4:17].” The Beatitudes are exactly that – Jesus preaching repentance, starting with the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit but to realize that you are spiritually poor – spiritually bankrupt in fact; to realize that you have absolutely nothing good in your natural self? Looking at the demands of the Law, you despair in yourself to fulfil the Law. You see that you are no saint.
Those who do not despair in their own righteousness – those who think that they’ve earned sainthood – they do not have the promise of the kingdom of heaven. To the Pharisees and scribes who grumbled that Jesus would eat and drink with sinners, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” [Lk. 5:30 – 32]. To those who think that they don’t need a Saviour; to those who are self-righteous in themselves, thinking that they have kept the Commandments perfectly, Jesus gives no blessing or promise of the kingdom of heaven.
In fact, concerning the scribes and Pharisees, those who lived by the letter of the law – those who by all appearances were leading a holy, honourable, and saintly life, full of good works – concerning them Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven [Mt. 5:20].” All their righteous deeds were not enough. Their external saintly appearance meant nothing. They did not see their sin or their need for a Saviour, and thus the kingdom of heaven is not theirs. They were not poor in spirit, but rather full of themselves, thinking themselves to be rich in their own saintliness.
But those of us who see our sin and see that we do not deserve to be called saints are blessed. Crushed by the Law of God, we are poor in spirit. We realize our helpless condition, and that we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.
This realization leads us to mourn and to humble ourselves, which are the second and third Beatitudes. We mourn, filled with sorrow over our sin, grieving over our thoughts, words, and deeds. We mourn over our own spiritual death, in meekness and humility realizing that we need help from outside of us – to save us from ourselves. We thus hunger and thirst for righteousness. The righteousness that we realize we do not have in ourselves becomes something for which we crave. We see our need for redemption and long for it. We see our spiritual poverty and seek to be filled.
According to Jesus, it is exactly the poor in spirit, those who mourn over their sins, those meek in their own ability to save themselves, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – according to Jesus, these are the ones that are blessed. Theirs is the kingdom of God. They shall be comforted. They shall be satisfied. They shall inherit the earth.
Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the anointed one who proclaims good news to the poor [Is. 61:1, Lk. 4:18]. This good news is that Jesus took our spiritual poverty on Himself and nailed it to the cross. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus saved us from the kingdom of the devil and brought us into the kingdom of heaven. Those that mourn over their sins are comforted by the good news of forgiveness in Christ. Those who humbly despair in themselves and look to Christ will receive the promised inheritance of the kingdom. Those who hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness – because they have none of their own – are the very recipients of His righteousness. Jesus is the bread of life that fills us [Jn. 6:35]. He satisfies our hunger and thirst by giving us His righteousness. He gives us the reward of the kingdom of heaven which He earned for us.
This is the same reward enjoyed by the saints who have gone before us, those saints we remember this day. These also are saints not because of what they have done but because of what Jesus did for them. They have already received their reward, while we have not yet fully realized ours. They have already passed through death, while we still live in death. But your time will come; the time when you will no longer have sin; the time when you will no longer face sickness and hardship; the time when you will join your loved ones who have died in the faith.
So, just like the saints who have gone before you, blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Note that this is present tense. Jesus does not say that yours will be, but that yours is the kingdom of heaven. This we can understand when we realize that the kingdom of heaven is not primarily a place, but rather the reign of the king that takes place wherever the king is. The reign of heaven is in Jesus. The good news of Jesus’ proclamation is the good news of the kingdom, of His reign [Mt. 4:23, 9:35].
While the saints who have gone before us have a fuller realization of the reign of Christ, we believers in Christ are also in the kingdom of heaven with them already. We have the blessings of the kingdom of heaven: forgiveness and communion with Christ.
All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into Christ’s death, and our old sinful self was crucified with Him [Rm. 6:3, 6]. So we have the benefits of His death already now. We stand before God forgiven. We stand before God as saints! And as saints, we have communion with one another and with Christ [1 Jn. 1:7].
In the Lord’s Supper, we also have communion with Christ and with each other [1 Cor. 10:16 – 17]. Thus we confess in our Communion liturgy, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven” – that is the saints that have gone before us – “we laud and magnify Your glorious name evermore praising you and saying…” We then sing the same words as those sung in heaven when we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy” [Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8]. As the saints in heaven worship and praise God, so we, the saints on earth, join in. We worship and praise God together with our loved ones who have died in the faith.
And we, the saints on earth, are also part of the great multitude that no one can number in our first reading from Revelation, clothed in the white robes we received in our baptism [7:9]. This is a glimpse into the heavenly celebration of eternal rest and peace as if it were already a present reality. And thus it is a sure promise to the saints here below that they will indeed find their eternal rest as described by John:
Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes [Rev. 7:15 – 17].
Dear saints of God, that describes you! You are part of the multitude that John saw in heaven. You are those whom Jesus calls blessed in the Beatitudes. This is the main point of the Beatitudes – you who have nothing to offer God but sin – yours is the kingdom of heaven. You who mourn over your sin – you will be comforted. You who are brought low by yours sins and hunger and thirst for righteousness – you will be satisfied. The blessings of the Beatitudes are for you, because Christ earned them for you and gives them to you, just as He has given them to the saints triumphant. May God grant us to rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven, where we will fully realize the blessings promised to us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, will keep rour hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.