All Saints Sunday
November 4, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
Matthew 5:12 (ESV)
The Beatitudes, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, are certainly one of the most used and abused passages of Scripture. Like the Ten Commandments, we are used to seeing them as the theme for a countless number of stained-glass windows and wall plaques. I guess the reason why this passage is so popular is that most people regard it as being a relatively “safe” theme. They view it as one of those passages that sounds so nice that no one could possibly find it offensive. Of course anyone who buys such a bland interpretation of this section of Holy Scripture is mistaken. But misinterpreting the Beatitudes is nothing new. There’s a whole history of it. Christian interpreters have viewed it, at various times, as a strict moral code for Christians, as a code of conduct for those who had chosen the monastic life, as a method of preparation for the judgment, and as an idealistic standard that can never be attained by sinners like us.
All of these views miss the point. Jesus is not giving us in the Beatitudes a set of rules by which to live our lives. He is merely describing His people--His saints (as we might call them on this All Saints’ Sunday). He is saying that His saints are blessed, and He’s giving some specific examples as to how they are blessed. Now the average person would never see these things as examples of blessedness. Who in his right mind wants to be poor? Who wants to mourn? Who wants to be meek? Who wants to hunger and thirst? Who wants to be persecuted? Certainly nobody that I know! But this is the very nature of Christian discipleship. Jesus repudiates the values of this world. He turns them upside down and inside out and says: “This is what I value. This is what makes a person truly blessed.” This morning we, as saints of the Lord Jesus Christ, are going to take a brand-new look at this familiar passage of Scripture and seek to learn, under the Spirit’s guidance, what a Christian saint is like--what a Christian saint values. In particular we will focus on the goal and the promise of Christian discipleship, which is, in fact, sainthood.
Contrary to what many people suppose, we have not been given the goal of being poor, or mourners, or hungry and thirsty, or persecuted. We haven’t been given those things as a goal because those things are bound to come our way anyway. Jesus says that the secret of being His disciple--His saint--is to be able to rejoice when those things come your way. And how do you do that? You do that by making sure of a few things. If you’re going to be poor, make sure that you are poor in spirit, realizing your need of the forgiveness that God has provided in His Son. Since you’re going to mourn, make sure that you mourn the same things that God mourns: sin, selfishness, unbelief, spiritual indifference. Since you’re going to be hungry and thirsty, make sure that you are hungry and thirsty for the right thing: the perfect righteousness of Christ, that is given to you through faith and with which you will be clothed on the day of judgment. Since you’re going to be persecuted, make sure that you are being persecuted for the right reason: for being a faithful witness for your Savior. Anybody can be poor because he is exploited. Anybody can mourn the death of a loved one. Anybody can be hungry and thirsty because he has no food. Anybody can be persecuted because people just don’t like him. And there is nothing to rejoice about in any of that. But the Christian who knows that these things are happening to him because of his loyalty to Christ has a deep sense of fulfillment that no one or no misfortune can ever take away from him.
It is also our goal to be glad. That’s a little different than rejoicing. Rejoicing is a reaction to something that happens. Being glad is an attitude that grows out of that experience. It’s not enough for us to simply rejoice in the fact that we are considered worthy of persecution for the sake of our Savior; we also ought to develop, because of that persecution, a certain gladness in our discipleship--a glad acceptance of everything that discipleship brings our way. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a whole lot different than being a husband or a wife. In fact, the Bible uses the relationship between Christ and His Church as a model for husbands and wives in their relationship with one another. We all know that husbands and wives marry “for better or for worse.” In the same way, the disciple of Jesus is committed to the Savior no matter what. And if you have that kind of commitment to Christ, that is certainly something for you to be glad about.
And what about the promise that Jesus gives us in the Beatitudes? He says something here about our reward being great. We have to very careful when we start talking about people being rewarded for what goes on in this life. I say that we have to be very careful because if all of us were to be rewarded for the way in which we have lived our lives here on earth, none of us would get anything but death and condemnation, because that is the just reward for sin, and all of us are sinners. When Jesus talks about having a great reward awaiting us, He’s not talking about a reward that we have earned, but one that He has earned for us. He lived a life of moral perfection for us--the very kind of life that He describes in the Beatitudes. He has borne on the cross the burden of God’s wrath against our sin. He has risen from the dead to give validity to all of this. Because of everything that He has done for us, we have a reward waiting for us--the reward that He Himself has made possible.
And what is this reward? In the Beatitudes Jesus calls it “heaven.” Just about everyone knows what heaven is, right? Well, maybe. Heaven is nothing more or less than the fulfillment of all of the Christian’s hopes and dreams. John the evangelist describes it quite vividly in the book of Revelation. He writes of his glimpse into heaven, saying that it has “the glory of God; its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. . . . I saw no temple in the city,” he goes on to say, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of the life” (Revelation 21:11; 22-27). This is what we long for, and this what God has promised to give us as a free gift of His grace in Christ.
So who are the blessed? The blessed are the saints--and especially today we might say “all saints.” That includes all who have lived and died trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, and it also includes you and me and everyone else who trusts in Him today, as well as all of those who will trust in Him in the future. We are blessed because of the One who lived and died and rose again in perfect harmony with the will of God, Himself manifesting the life to which His Spirit calls us, and by His grace sanctifying us so that God accepts us and all of our imperfections as if we and they were perfect--all for the sake of His perfect Son.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.