Gracious Savior, keep my eyes ever focused on you and your blessings, which are mine by grace alone. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, who has won heaven for us, dear faithful disciples:
Jesus sits down to teach or preach what we now refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Here on a mountainside Jesus teaches his disciples. The section of the Sermon on the Mount that we consider today is the opening words or blessings, traditionally referred to as the Beatitudes. Many people recognize these words as the teachings of Jesus; many people consider these to be their favorite words of Holy Scripture. At the same time so many people fail to understand these words of Jesus. So together we focus on these famous words of Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to understand these words correctly. Understanding these words begins with understanding that they are words addressed to followers of Jesus, not unbelievers. That would lead to a discussion about the starting point of approaching the Beatitudes. Is the starting point earning something from God or is the starting point receiving something from him? Are these words about living a godly life to be saved? Or are they, rather, about living a godly life because God has saved you? In order to understand these words of Jesus correctly we need to understand that they are words addressed to his disciples. As such they are words meant to guide God’s people in lives of thankfulness to him for his great gift of salvation. And so today we are encouraged – Rejoice that your name is written in heaven!
This is first of all an invitation to rejoice over Christ’s work. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Why? Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How is the kingdom of heaven theirs? Jesus. Why are those who mourn blessed? They will be comforted. Where does this comfort come from? Jesus and his resurrection bring comfort to the troubled heart. Why are the meek blessed? They will inherit the earth. Why? Jesus! You see this is indeed about the work Christ has done. Those who know what Christ has done, receive these blessings that come with the gift of faith.
After the great reformer, Martin Luther, had died from a massive heart attack – a small piece of paper was found in one of his pockets. On that piece of paper he had scribbled, “This is true, we are all beggars.” Followers of Christ are beggars, the poor in spirit. Heaven, you see, is a gift from the grace of God. When we know that our salvation is by grace alone, we are focused only on God for this precious gift. We are people who live life knowing that the life to come is not something we earn but something we receive as a gift. We know that we bring nothing to the table that contributes toward salvation. We are poor. God is rich. In his grace and mercy God shared the riches of Christ with us – who need it!
As we find ourselves mourning, we know that Jesus is the only one who gives true comfort. He comes to us and says, “Don’t be afraid!” He announces, “Your sins are forgiven!” He assures, “Because I live, you live also!” How blessed we are that Jesus has conquered sin and death for us. What comfort to us as we experience sadness and loss!
When Christ returns, he will raise all the dead and believers in him will reign forever with him. What a tremendous future we have because of Christ! You see this is truly all about what Christ has done for us! Rejoice over Christ’s work! Because of Christ, you name is written in heaven! Those who humbly walk with God have a glorious future!
We have discovered that we have reason to rejoice because of Christ’s work on our behalf. What great comfort and certainty we have for our future because Christ has secured salvation for us! Now we wonder how we can demonstrate the joy we have because of what Christ has done. The Word instructs, rejoice by imitating Jesus!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
These are words that describe our Savior and therefore, describe those who have been credited with his righteousness by faith. By faith, we are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness – that is, we keep pursuing righteousness while never fully achieving it. We battle each and every day to live as God would have us live and each day we fall short because of our sinful flesh. Yet, we do not stop persuing righteousness. We never give up because we know the love our Savior-God has for us. We want to please him to thank him, not appease him to get something from him. We want to imitate the mercy he pours out on us each and every day in the way he cares for us and provides for us both spiritually and physically. So we strive to show mercy to others as Christ has shown abundant mercy to us. As Christ secured peace between a holy God and sinful people, we want to be peacemakers. As we follow our dear Savior we work to bring the peace of the gospel into the lives of others. We want everyone to have the peace we have with God through Jesus! We show our appreciation to Jesus for his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation as we strive to follow his example of living and loving. We do this because he has saved us, forgiven us, and given us heaven as our home. But there is one more thing presented to us here by our Lord Jesus. We rejoice in our salvation always. Yes, rejoice even in suffering.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In calling people to follow him Jesus said, “If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In speaking to his disciples before he went to the cross Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Here Jesus is really saying the same thing. We will experience hardship in this world because we follow Jesus. We will be ridiculed, insulted, looked down upon, and mistreated because of our trust in Jesus. But even in the midst of such ugliness and hardship we can rejoice and be glad because we know the future. We know that Jesus has conquered all sin and sorrow, all evil and even death. We know that all things work for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose. We know that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We know Jesus. We know his loving care for us. We know that he has secured our future. Heaven is our home. That is our reward – a reward of grace. In other words we haven’t earned heaven – Jesus has and he shares all good things with us!
When we contemplate these words of Jesus it is easy for us to be filled with guilt and a sense of failure. For these words do point out our failures and condemn us for our sins. But understand that these words are intended for us who know Jesus and who know that our names are written in heaven because of Jesus. So now may these words of Jesus guide us to rejoice over his work, guide us to imitate his way of life, and guide us to find joy even in suffering. Lord, help us to continually rejoice that by your grace our names are written in heaven! Amen.