Blessed below and blessed above

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Sermon for the Festival of All Saints

Revelation 7:9-17  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12

The Festival of All Saints is a good time to review some key teachings of Scripture. For instance, what is a “saint”? A saint is a holy person. How does a person become a saint? Not by leading a holy life. If it were, then there would be no saints. Not by doing miracles, or answering prayers after one dies, or being declared a saint by the pope. Those are false doctrines of Rome. Sinners become saints when they are brought to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus and when they are sanctified by Holy Baptism, that washing with water by the Word. So, then, the saints are all baptized believers in Christ, in heaven and on earth. The one holy Christian (catholic) and Apostolic Church is made up of all saints.

But we speak of two sides of that one Church, the side that is now in heaven, and the side that is still here on earth. We speak of the saints above, who from their labors rest. They are “the blessed,” the Church Triumphant. They have reached their goal. Their fighting is over. Their suffering is finished. And their blessedness is sealed forever and cannot be changed. And we speak of the saints below as the Church Militant, Christians who are still in the midst of the fight, who are still running the race, who still suffer here below and are still surrounded by deadly enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.

It is to us here below that Jesus speaks the words of the Gospel. It is the saints here below whom Jesus calls “blessed” as He points us in the Gospel to a blessedness that is ours even here below, precisely because of the blessedness that surely awaits us there above. Not “blessed will they be,” but “blessed are they.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Poor in spirit. The poor in spirit may or may not be poor in possessions. The poor in spirit are described by God in this way in Is. 66: But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word. You see, to be a saint here on earth doesn’t mean “to be perfect.” It means to come before God, not with your head held up high, but with your head hanging low, with nothing but your depravity, with your guilty conscience and your beggar’s hand, a beggar who knows he can only survive at the mercy and generosity of Him who is rich in mercy, only for the sake of Jesus Christ. Blessed are they—“privileged recipients of divine favor.” For theirs is the kingdom of heaven—right now. Because when you have Jesus for a Savior, you have a gracious Father in heaven. You have the kingdom of heaven. You have eternal life.

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Not all people who mourn are blessed. But there are two kinds of mourning that God acknowledges as blessed. First, God calls all impenitent sinners to mourn over their sins. This is the mourning of repentance, the mourning of admitting your sins against God in thought, word, and deed, and sorrowing over them. Blessed are they, for they shall be comforted with a comfort that doesn’t wait till you get to heaven, but with the ready comfort of the absolution, the comfort of God, through His ordained minister, releasing you from your sins, declaring you to be forgiven. With words of peace, God comforts all who mourn over their sins with the good news of Christ crucified and delivered over to death for our sins, bringing them to trust in Christ’s holy, precious blood for the forgiveness of sins. Blessed are they who mourn in this way.

And also, blessed are they who mourn over all the suffering and loss that Christians must face in this life, for they shall be comforted. They shall be comforted as soon as they leave this vale of tears, as poor Lazarus was in Jesus’ parable. You remember? When he died, his soul was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom where, Jesus says, “he was comforted.” So, too, all believers in Christ who have suffered loss in this world will be comforted in death, as they come out of this great tribulation. They are before the throne of God, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. To be meek is to be kind, humble, lowly, not aggressive or pushy. To be meek is to be like Jesus, who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” It looks as if the powerful and the ruthless, the violent and the ungodly are going to take over the earth. But it’s just the opposite, according to Jesus. The earth will be inhabited by, inherited by, the meek. Yet, not this earth. This earth will be destroyed by fire and no one will inherit it. But the new heavens and the new earth that God will create when Christ returns—that will be the inheritance of the meek. Blessed are they.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Sinners who acknowledge their own sinfulness long for someone’s righteousness to hold up to God, because they know they have none of their own. So they hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ, and they are blessed, for they shall be filled, even here below, as Paul also said to the Romans: The righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

But as Christians, we also hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice to be done in the midst of so much depravity in this world where wickedness is exalted and godliness is condemned, where the wicked prosper and the godly suffer. But the Day of the Lord will come, and in that Day, in the resurrection, all the ungodly and unjust will be destroyed, and the new creation will be, in the words of St. Peter, “where righteousness dwells,” and the saints shall be filled forever.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. The words of Jesus admonish His Christians to set aside all bitterness and rage, all apathy and indifference to your neighbor, and to have a compassionate heart, to show mercy and compassion to those around you, especially to those who don’t deserve it, because that’s the kind of mercy God has shown to you in giving you His Son, and Baptism into Him. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. A pure heart is not something you can create within yourself. Your heart is, by nature, sinful and unclean. But as God’s Law calls you to repentance, as His Gospel shows you Christ and His loving sacrifice for you on the cross, through that Word God’s Holy Spirit takes unclean hearts and purifies them by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. But those who trust in Christ Jesus are blessed, for they shall see God, as John said in the Epistle: Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

But then, what does John go on to say? And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. A heart that has been purified by faith will not willingly go on living in impurity and sin, but will daily struggle against sin and strive to keep God’s commandments. This life is, after all, our time of preparation to see God. Why would we go on living as those who are preparing to dance with the devil?

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Peacemakers, godly pacifists, are not those who refuse to go to war or who condemn all war as evil. Godly peacemakers are those who, like Christ, are ready to sacrifice themselves for the good of their neighbor and give up all things rather than cause war and bloodshed and discord and anger and bitterness. Blessed are those who are willing to be wronged rather than do wrong to their neighbor. They shall be called sons of God, because they are just like The Son of God, in whose mouth was found no deceit, who did not call down fire and brimstone on His enemies, but allowed Himself to be crucified for us, and so made peace between God and man.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This is a timely beatitude as we see Christians being persecuted more and more around the world and here in our own country. Our first impulse is to be afraid, or to be troubled by the injustice of it, or even to grow angry and lash out at those who mistreat God’s people, whether it’s at your school, or in society, or in the WELS or in the Missouri Synod, where people still tell lies about our church and our diocese and slander us to this very day. But we mustn’t forget Jesus’ word: Blessed are those who are persecuted, blessed are you when they revile you, when they falsely say all kinds of evil against you for My sake. Rejoice and be glad! Why? Because you’re getting a prophet’s treatment, which also means that you’ll receive a prophet’s reward.

And so Jesus describes the blessed life here below: a life of poverty of spirit, a life of mourning and meekness, hunger and thirst, a life of mercy and purity of heart, a life of making peace in the midst of conflict, a life of persecution and suffering for the name of Jesus that was branded upon us in our Baptism and that we Christians carry around with us every day. Only by faith can we call such a life “blessed.” But that’s exactly the purpose of Jesus’ Words: to strengthen our faith, to spur us on to love and good works, and to fix our eyes on Him and on the prize He has promised to those who love Him. The saints above in the Church Triumphant finished their race in faith, and now they cheer on the saints here below in the Church Militant to finish our race, too, still trusting in Christ Jesus, still confessing His name, ever faithful, ever courageous, and ever blessed. Amen.

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