Matthew 5:1-12

4th Sunday after the Epiphany – 1/29/2023

In our contemporary age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what is real from what is fanciful, what is fact from what is fiction, and what is factual news from what is fake news. We have rapidly gone from the concrete and empirical world to the artificial, alternate reality of cyberspace. Some of us are old enough to remember when our lives revolved around what we could see and hear going on in the lives of people right around us. But now, through Facebook, TikTok, and other social media, many are becoming completely obsessed with video vignettes purportedly depicting the tragedies and comedies occurring in the lives of total strangers all over the world, and yet, they don't even know what is happening in the lives of their neighbors or their communities. We used to actually speak to one another face-to-face, which enabled us to not only hear what the person was saying but also read their facial expressions and physical mannerisms to better understand what they meant. Such direct communication also made us more accountable for what we said and how we said it.

Now, you can almost throw personal accountability, caring, and integrity out the window. Texting, emojis, and tweets have made it possible to criticize, scold, slander, and gossip with impunity and total anonymity. Likewise, technological advancements in the area of media have made it possible for us to just ignore the problems and challenges of our real lives and, instead, lose ourselves in the virtual reality of television shows, movies, video games, and social media. We become oblivious to what matters in the real world.

Speaking of reality and the real world, a few minutes ago we heard once again our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rather straightforwardly set forth for His disciples just what it means to have a "blessed life" in this world. He held nothing back and told it like it was. He didn't give a soft sell or a deceptive speech. It was the first part of His "Sermon on the Mount," as recorded for us by Matthew.

By today's societal standards, which have been hijacked by wokism and immorality, Jesus' concept of "blessedness," as expressed in these Beatitudes, as they are often called, strikes the ears of most people as being rather harsh and even absurd. When Jesus' descriptions of those who are blessed are stacked up against all that this world considers to be necessary for a wonderful and happy life, one might ask, "This is being blessed?" Really?"

Listen carefully once again to Jesus and see if you can detect the blessing. First and foremost, Jesus says that the blessed are "poor in spirit."Biblically speaking, to be poor in spirit is to be happy with what one rightly sees within himself according to God's Law and standards. In other words, under the scrutiny of God's law, he agrees that he is spiritually impoverished, and he is content with that knowledge, knowing that it will lead to a true state of blessedness.

This is kind of a negative attitude, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to be more positive about ourselves and have high "self-esteem"? Isn't the prevailing mantra to console our spirit something like this: "I'm okay just the way I am?" I'm perfect, even beautiful, and I demand that everyone else recognize that!"

"Well, no," Jesus says. You and I are not perfect the way we are. False understandings, weaknesses, murderous and wicked thoughts, and evil desires of every sort fill our hearts and lives. We are corrupted and not at all as God created the first man and the first woman, totally righteous and perfect in every way, just like their Creator Himself. Jesus insists that a truly blessed human being in this fallen world is one who rightly sees, rightly understands, and rightly acknowledges just how far short of perfection and the glory of God he is. for then he can truly appreciate how much he needs the self-sacrifice of the perfect man and perfect God, Jesus Christ, which alone will make one righteous in God's sight.

Next, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn." Mourning implies that you have suffered a great loss. How's that for a blessing?

"Blessed are the meek." Jesus continues. Now, meekness is a humble and gentle attitude that expresses itself in patient submissiveness to others and even to some offense. Really? Suffering abuse, mistreatment, and injustice with grace and humility—how in the world is that a good thing, a blessing?

Next comes "hungering and thirsting for righteousness." How does that comport with maintaining a positive self-image or putting your best foot forward? If you are constantly seeking a sense of being right outside yourself, aren't you belittling yourself? How is this a blessing to you?

Now, the next three scenarios Jesus presents as being blessed are things many in our world would acknowledge being good, even virtues. However, they would also see that they might not bring happiness but sadness, stress, or even hardship. Jesus says, "Blessed are the merciful... "Blessed are the pure in heart... and blessed are the peacemakers." Few would deny that having pity and compassion for others, operating always with pure and moral motives, and striving to be a minister of reconciliation for those who are at war with each other are desirable traits. But all would also agree that living and behaving in these ways can, and often does, incur the wrath and displeasure of some of the same people to whom you extend your compassion or try to reconcile. Accordingly, people often conclude, "Why should we bother?" "Being merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker always seems to end up biting you in the end!" So is it a "blessing?" As most people would conclude, these are the attitudes and efforts to avoid if you want to be successful... or blessed.

Finally, as if to save the most contradictory for last, Jesus states, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake." Here, Jesus even gets personal. He speaks directly in the second person to His audience: "Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account."

With these words, Jesus loses almost everyone. Even many Christians struggle to see anything positive or beneficial in being persecuted. We tend to want our religion, our worship life, and our witness to be a source of fun, ease, physical reward, and emotional satisfaction. But if it means pain and maybe even imprisonment or death, well, then, who needs it?

Wouldn't it be interesting and fun to highlight these Beatitudes on a Christian recruitment poster? How well would that be received, do you think? "Come, follow me, and say goodbye to happiness." Embrace misery! Come, join me, and you will die! "You will be blessed!"

Keep in mind that the Greek word translated as "blessed" can also legitimately be translated as "happy." Sounds like a real "happy" list, doesn't it?

I'm afraid that for most of us earthlings, ours is a fantasy-land idea of blessedness. We seem to perceive that it's the bold, self-reliant, and self-assured who get it all. Pride tends to go before honor. It's how well we do on the football field of life, not what's in our hearts, that counts. Our concept of righteousness is based on our outward appearance; to the strong goes the victory, and to the victor goes the spoils, not the weak. It's those who feel good about themselves who are admired and favored. It's the one who makes hamburgers out of his opponent that will win, not the "pansy" who tries to make peace. It's the ones who go with the flow who are trouble-free and sing a happy tune. It's those who avoid conflict who are most at ease and happy in life.

There's no denying that it is hard for us with our worldly mindsets to comprehend what Jesus is saying. But what we must understand is that we cannot view His words through the lenses of contemporary ideals, philosophical worldviews, or even the desires of our flesh.

Jesus is not describing what it takes to get ahead in this world and gain lots of stuff, nor what it takes to feel some temporary moments of laughter and physical enjoyment. When He speaks of being blessed, He is speaking from the vantage point of God, through the lens of His cross, and from the perspective of eternity.

When He speaks about being blessed, He is not speaking about our physical estate in this world. He is speaking about our status before God. That status involves a repentant and believing heart—a heart sorrowful over our sin and our lack of righteousness before God— However, thanks to Jesus, Who in His flesh destroyed sin and death and earned us the declaration of righteousness before God through His atoning sacrifice, our heart is also full of hope and sure confidence in Christ Jesus... and seeks to act toward others as God has dealt with us.

This is what it means to be truly blessed. You and I, as those who have been washed in the blood of Christ and made Children of God through Holy Baptism and faith in Jesus, might indeed "feel bad" in our flesh; our life in this world might indeed be the pits. Yet we are "blessed" beyond all measure.

Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us. "The kingdom of heavens" refers to all that is God's—His kingdom of grace now and His kingdom of glory in eternity. This is ours as those who are poor in spirit. God's righteousness is the possession of those of us who believe in Christ. The eternal comfort of God's love is upon us even as we mourn what sin has done in our lives and this world. God gives the inheritance of the whole earth to us, who are not proud of our own merits but are dependent solely on God's grace and Jesus' merits on our behalf.

God's blessing carries over even into our relationships with others. Because we have received mercy, we are motivated and equipped to show mercy. "The Father of all mercies... comforts us in all our affliction, so that we can comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted" (2 Cor. 1:4).

We have been graciously granted peace with God so we can be "peacemakers," extending that peace to others. Even persecution, trouble, and pain for the sake of Christ cannot destroy this blessedness. For we are assured: "..that the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him" (Ro. 8:16–17). "To the degree that (he) shares in the sufferings of Christ, (he) will also, at the revelation of His glory, rejoice with exaltation" (2 Peter 4:13).

On top of this, the one poor in spirit, hungering for righteousness, and persecuted for the sake of Christ finds himself in the wonderful and illustrious company of all God's prophets and apostles. They, too, experienced hardships in this world. They, too, were persecuted for Christ's sake. Imagine, then, dear believer in Jesus Christ, that you stand in the revered company of the likes of Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. Quite a "winners' circle!"

The greatest of all in this illustrious company, however, is Christ Jesus, Himself. All of these "beatitudes" apply first and foremost to Jesus... and only secondarily to those whose hearts are like His. For He has become our comfort, our righteousness, our substitute under the wrath of God, our hope, and our guarantee of an eternal victory over the grave and even hell...

In its fascination with sensual pleasure and worldly comfort, the world might scoff at Jesus' idea of who are the blessed ones, saying, "Blessed! Really? "Jesus' concept of blessedness is all foolishness."

But with the apostle Paul, we, who are poor in spirit, mourning over our sins and sin's effects in our lives, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness that leads to life, can say: "..God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are." (1 Cor. 1:27)

Jesus promises that while we may have trouble, feel pain, and have few things to laugh about in this life, the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, and that should bring a big, wide, contented grin to our face and heart forever! Amen!

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