Date: January 29, 2023
Festival: 4th Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon Hymn: LSB #842 Son of God, Eternal Savior
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps it comes as no shock to you that the world is utterly broken, and there’s no way around it. Already at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, this brokenness is made rather clear. For as Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee after His temptation in the wilderness, what words begin His ministry? They are not exactly words of comfort, or words that elicit warm, fuzzy feelings. Perhaps they remind us of fire-and-brimstone street preachers, for He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near!” [Matt. 4:17; my translation]. Repent, because God the King has come to fix things in the person of Jesus, which means He has come to fix you. The world is broken, and so are you.
Then Jesus starts calling people to participate in God’s cosmic maintenance of the universe. He goes to Peter and Andrew and invites them to participate in God’s kingdom, saying, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” [4:19]. Then He finds James and John the sons of Zebedee and invites them along as well. Everyone in the world is just swimming along in this sea of darkness; and now, a light has come into the world to shine His light upon others, that they might also catch others to follow this path of light to salvation at the end of the dark tunnel of this world we live in. The light shines forth as Jesus begins repairing the broken world and starts filling empty lives in His ministry. He proclaims the Gospel of the kingdom, begins healing every disease and pain, exercising demons, and healing epileptics and paralytics [4:23-25].
There is brokenness in our world and lives today as well. As we read about Jesus repairing the broken world and filling the empty lives of the people He comes across, we can no longer pretend we don’t live in a broken world and have empty lives ourselves. It’s easier to pretend everything is okay when you live a comfortable life, and when life is somewhat predictable. It’s easier to pretend you’re not broken when you keep your standards lower than God’s standards. Perhaps when we hear the 6th Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” we think, “That’s only for married people,” and so we go on lusting in our fantasies and pornography, whether that person be of the same or opposite sex. Or perhaps when we hear the 3rd Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” we think, “Jimmy’s soccer game is more important than him going to church and hearing about Jesus.”
And when we look at the problems of the world, perhaps we think we can fix everything. “If only we adopt the right political policies, we can stop climate change! We can stop racial injustice! We can stop indoctrination in our schools!” And on it goes. While we may be able to do something about these problems to some extent, ultimately, these things that need to be fixed in the world and in our lives are beyond our control.
So, as Jesus begins listing what we call the Beatitudes, He is talking about you and me. First, what does Jesus mean by “blessed”? It does not merely mean “happy.” Jesus uses this word “blessed” several other times throughout His ministry. Later, He will say, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” [11:6]; blessed are the eyes and ears that see and hear Jesus [13:16]; blessed are those who make the same confession as Peter, that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the living God” [16:15-17]; and blessed is the servant who is faithful to God his Master [24:46]. In this wider context of Jesus’ ministry, to be “blessed” means to receive God’s salvation that has come into the world in Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus lists the type of people to whom He comes in the Beatitudes.
In the first section, verses 3-6, notice these are not positive qualities. To be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge you have nothing to offer God—not your works, not your riches, not even your heart, for you are dead in sin. Those who mourn are those who acknowledge the world is broken, and they mourn that they themselves are poor in spirit! To be lowly (not “meek” like it’s usually translated) means to acknowledge that you are powerless. And when people realise they are powerless to save the world and themselves, they then realise how spiritually malnourished they are—they hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, for God to put things right just as He promised He would.
The disciples are there as Jesus speaks these Beatitudes, and they will begin to repent and believe they are poor in spirit, mourning their own brokenness and that of the world, how lowly they are, and they will hunger and thirst for Jesus to put things right. The crowds are also there, and there’s a mixed bag of people—they’re astonished by Christ’s words and miracle working, but will they believe Jesus is talking about them? What about you and me? Am I truly poor in spirit? Do I mean it when I confess that I am unworthy before God and that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and cannot free myself from my sinful condition? Are my hands truly empty? Do I try to bargain with God, saying, “Look at all the good I’ve done, see how pure my heart is”? Do I truly come to Him broken and empty, or do I come to Him pompous and self-righteous?
Christ the King Comes to Reign
Jesus’ blessings are for the broken and the empty. Jesus came to reign as our King. And as it has been noted before, Jesus does not reign as earthly kings reign. He did not come to improve our politics, or to make us feel good. He came to do just as the angel revealed to Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins” [1:21]. He healed the symptoms of sin: diseases and demonic possession. Most of all, He came to do only what God can do: He forgives sins. The only people He turned away were those who thought they had something to offer, like the rich man who thought He kept the whole Law but couldn’t get rid of his possessions to follow Jesus [19:16-22], like Peter and the others had done. Eventually, Jesus would do what every good king does: He dies for His people. But then He does what no other king could do: He rose from the dead for His people, and then He ascended to the right hand of God the Father to continue reigning for His people.
Therefore, Jesus continues the reign of God for you today. Blessed are you when you are poor in spirit—when you confess before Christ the King that you have nothing to offer but your wretched sinfulness, begging Him for mercy. Because when you do, He says, “Yes, yes, it shall be so,” and He gives you the riches of the kingdom of heaven: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Blessed are you when you mourn over the brokenness of the world and your own brokenness, that you are lowly, and when you hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness—for His justice—because you shall be comforted with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When you mourn over your own brokenness, you hear the Gospel of Christ. You just heard it this morning, “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.” When you hear this Word of the cross, it is not folly to your ears but the power of God, for the Word of the cross is His Great Exchange—that when you have nothing to offer Him except your wretched sin, He takes this from you and credits His own righteousness to you because of what He accomplished in His death on the cross and in the empty tomb when He rose from the dead. When you were dead in your sin, He gave you His life, who lives and reigns for all eternity. His righteousness and His life are made yours now, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
And when you mourn over the brokenness of the world, you hear the Gospel promise of Christ about the world that is to come on the Last Day. You will be comforted, you will inherit, and you will be satisfied. When death rears its ugly head in the world or takes your loved one, you will be comforted with the Gospel that “Christ is risen!” And on the Last Day, you will inherit the earth and your hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, for Christ is coming again to put everything in the right. You know He is coming again to judge the living and the dead—to put everything in the right—because He has already put you in the right, that is, justified you by faith. You taste His righteousness already in the Lord’s Supper, which is a foretaste of the feast to come when He will raise you and all the saints from the dead.
When that Day comes, there will be no more crying, no more death, no more mourning, and no more pain [Rev. 21:4], for all these things will pass away as the Word of the Lord endures forever—the same Word that created everything from nothing, that adopted you as a child of God in Holy Baptism, and delivers to you forgiveness of sins whenever you hear it and taste it.
Until then, as we follow Jesus as the disciples did, we will continue to see the brokenness of life and of the world, and to mourn and long for God’s righteousness. That’s why we continue to come to the Divine Service every week, because the liturgy of God’s Word provides a source of stability in a world of turmoil. No matter what is happening in the world out there or in your life outside these doors, the Divine Service remains the same. It serves as a reminder that our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever [Heb. 13:8].
And until that Last Day, when our hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be fully satisfied as we inherit the new heavens and the new earth, we follow Jesus as He uses us as His blessed ones to be a blessing for others. With empty hands before Him, He fills them with His mercy so that we may be merciful to others. With sinful hearts, He purifies them to live pure and decent lives with our family and our neighbours. And having received the peace of God through Jesus Christ, which surpasses all understanding [Phil. 4:7; Rom. 5:1], we live peacefully with others, that Christ may be glorified.
May the blessings of Christ, therefore, guard your hearts both now and forever. Amen.