Jesus is sitting on His mountain with all the attendant echoes of Moses and Sinai. A new covenant, a new Israel, a new covenant mediator. The crowds are the nations. The disciples are Jesus’ Israel, His twelve. Moses gave commandments. This is how you keep the land I am giving you. Jesus gives beatitudes, blessings. The kingdom of heaven is yours. There are eight beatitudes, if you are counting. And then there is a ninth. The eight hang together as a unit, the first and eighth promising the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, respectively. The ninth goes from “they” to “you” with Jesus speaking directly to His disciples and to the overhearing crowds. There is no one outside Jesus’ benediction, no one who can say “That’s not for me.” It is, for you. Blessed are you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
How fortunate, how lucky are those who are spiritually impoverished, who have nothing to offer God but their sinfulness and brokenness. They are most to be given to in the way of the little child. “We are beggars all,” Luther said on his deathbed. Completely dependant upon God’s grace. Those who are rich in spirit have no need for God. They are self-sufficient, content in their spirituality, whatever that may be. They already have their reward. But the poor in spirit know the emptiness, the restlessness, the deep darkness of the soul’s night. They don’t have their religious acts together. They are barely able to lift their eyes to heaven and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Like the tax collector in the synagogue, they go home justified. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn.
How fortunate, how lucky are those who feel the deep pangs of death in the core of their being, whose pillows are drenched with tears, who weep even as the world laughs and parties. Those who mourn have nothing in this life that brings them joy, and so they live in hope. Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Those who mourn wait in the night, watching for the light of day when grief is turned to joy and sadness to gladness, when God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Those who mourn are forward-looking, future-oriented, living in hope of seeing what is now believed. Are you mourning, grieving, feeling the absence of those you love who have been taken away by Death? Blessed are you, for you will be comforted by the resurrection of Jesus. Those who are comfortable in this life will mourn, as everything is lost and taken away. But you, mourning now, will be comforted in Christ.
Blessed are the meek.
How fortunate, how lucky are those who are meek, even as the world admires the mighty. The meek cannot fight for themselves much less claim for themselves a kingdom. For now, the earth is claimed by the strong, the aggressive, the warriors. Strong men lay hold of the kingdom with violence. Nations and peoples struggle for their piece of the earth. But the meek bide their time, waiting in silence, hoping and praying. In the end, the race doesn’t go to the swift but to the faithful. The spoils do not go to the mighty but tp tje meek and the lowly, the lost and the dead. You may feel powerless at the moment, helpless against the forces that threaten you. But in the end, your faith in Jesus will be vindicated. It is the meek, not the mighty, who inherit the earth, for the King is meek and lowly.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
How fortunate, how lucky you are who have no righteousness of your own. And if you learn anything from Moses and his mountain of commandments, it’s this – you cannot gain righteousness by your works any more than your hunger and thirst can produce food and drink. The world feels that same hunger and thirst too, and tries to fill it with the tasty delicacies of religion, spirituality, pleasure, money, sex, power. But like Halloween candy after the sugar rush wears off, there remains a nagging hunger and thirst. “As a deer pants for streams of refreshing water, so my soul pants for you, O Lord.” We are hungry until we feed on the Bread of Life. We are thirsty until we drink the Wine of heaven. The hungry and thirsty are empty, waiting to be filled by a giver God who gives the bread of His body and the wine of His blood as food and drink. How fortunate, how lucky, how blessed to hear these words, “Take and eat, my Body given for you; take and drink, my Blood shed for you.” A foretaste, a first course of a feast to come. You shall be filled by the One who fills the hungry with good things.
Blessed are the merciful.
How fortunate, how lucky you are when you show mercy to others. You are a picture of grace, an icon of Christ for your neighbor. To have mercy is to live outside of yourself, to live in your neighbor by love, to be that Samaritan on the road to Jericho. Mercy is love to the loveless shown, in countless acts of kindness done simply because they needed to be done, not for reward or recognition. There is no Nobel Prize for mercy, because mercy happens hiddenly, quietly, without fanfare. But it is never forgotten by the Merciful One who had mercy on us all by His dying and rising. You will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
How fortunate, how lucky you are to be p-re hearted, yet who can honestly claim such a thing? Our hearts are anything but pure, filled with murder, adultery, slander, gossip, thievery, lies, lust, and idolatry. How can we see God with such impure hearts? And here, in the sixth beatitude, we begin to catch a glimpse of something not so obvious at first. Jesus is speaking of Himself, first of all. He alone is pure in heart. But He is there on his mountain as part of His work to make us pure in heart that we too might see God. And to look at Him in faith is to see God already. He is there to create a new heart and a new spirit within us, a kind of piggyback heart transplant of old and new, dying and living, sinful and righteous, beating together until that day our old hearts stop their beating and die. And then at last, we too will be pure in heart, as we are now in Jesus. And in the purity of His heart, we will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
How fortunate, lucky are those who step in the breach, who reconcile warring parties and bring them together with an olive branch. They will be called “sons of God.” What we suspected in the sixth beatitude comes out in full force in the seventh. Sons of God. Jesus, the Son of God, the One who makes peace, reconciling all things to His Father by His cross, the Prince of Peace who brings a peace the world cannot bring. You are sons in the Son, peacemakers in the Prince of Peace, bringing thathet message of reconciliation and peace the world. God is reconciled with you. He is at peace. Now you be reconciled to God. How blessed, fortunate, lucky are those whose feet are shod with the Gospel of peace who speak a peace this world does not know and cannot have apart from Christ!
The eighth beatitude ties back to the first one. Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for the kingdom of heaven is yours.
From this mountain, Jesus can already see the mountain of His cross, Calvary, where He was persecuted in order to fulfill all righteousness, that the kingdom of heaven may come to the earth. It is yours now by faith, but with persecutions. As Christ suffered, so also must the members of His body will suffer. The first disciples suffered at the hands of both church and state, persecuted by the government and by the religious leaders. Don’t expect anything less in this “great tribulation” called “life.” To be in Christ is to be crucified with Him. Yes, raised and glorified with Him, but first crucified with Him. Your sufferings for righteousness’ sake are His sufferings. This is why we rejoice in our sufferings, as Christ works in us endurance, character, and hope, and we recognize that these are simply the labor pains of a new creation in its birthing and do not compare with the glory to come. There is hope for the future. Nothing short of the kingdom of heaven.
And then Jesus looks directly into the eyes of His disciples, and into our eyes as well. He directs the final blessing to “you.” This is “for you.” The words “for you” require all hearts to believe. “Blessed are you. Fortunate. Lucky. When others revile you, persecute you, slander you, and say all kinds of evil about you because of Jesus. Rejoice, be glad; your reward is great in heaven. You are being honored in the way of the prophets who came before you.
Today we celebrate the church’s “day of the dead.” November 1st is All Saints Day, the day to remember the saints and martyrs of the faith. November 2nd is All Souls Day, when we remember our faithful departed, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus and are with the Lord as we await the resurrection. Our day of the dead is really a day of the dead in Christ, because in Christ that the dead are blessed and quite alive. He is the God of the living. “Blessed are dead who die in the Lord. Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them. Blessed, fortunate, lucky are the dead who die in the Lord.
In Christ, the poor are rich in the kingdom of heaven.
In Christ, the mourners are comforted.
In Christ, the meek inherit the earth.
In Christ, the hungry and thirsty are filled and satisfied.
In Christ, the merciful receive mercy.
In Christ, the pure in heart will see God.
In Christ, the peacemakers are sons of God.
In Christ, the persecuted receive the kingdom of God.
Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. The sun will not strike them or any scorching heat or flame. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, as He is your shepherd. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.