All Saints’ Day “Blessed Beyond Belief”
November 6, 2022 Matthew 5:1–12
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
The ‘beattitudes’ from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are pretty well-known. “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 those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and so on. Today we’ll let these Beatitudes remind us that ‘the Saints’ have been ‘Blessed Beyond Belief.’
Now, before we get to talking about ‘being blessed’, let’s set aside those friends & family of ours who died-in-faith, & are with the Lord in heaven; let’s set aside the hope you & I have in Christ for our place in His heavenly kingdom. First, let’s talk about the title words, ‘beyond belief’, & let’s consider the question: Do we sometimes act in ways that put the message of Jesus Christ ‘beyond belief’ for others?
You might recall a professional athlete named Lance Armstrong. He was an champion cyclist, winning the Tour de France race 7 years in a row. Even tho he got in trouble for performance-enhancing drugs, he tells an interesting story about his growing up. In a book, Lance tells about his stepfather; the man professed to be a Christian, & he talked a pretty good game (as they say). He would talk about Christ & about faith, but he had a frightful temper.
He used to whip his stepson for silly things -kid things- like being messy.
When Lance was 14, his mother went into the hospital for surgery. He had to leave for a sports event while she was still recuperating, and his stepfather came along as a chaperone.
As they waited together at the airport, the stepfather began to write notes on a pad. He’d write, then ball up the paper and toss it into the garbage can, and then start again. Strange. After a while the stepfather got up to go to the restroom. Lance went over to the garbage can, retrieved the wadded papers, and stuffed them into his bag. Later, when he was alone, he took them out and read them. They were messages to another woman. His stepfather was having an affair, adultery, & writing to another woman while his mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery. So, the question: What kind of impression of Christ & the faith do you suppose that gave this boy? Did it threaten to put Christianity ‘beyond belief’ for him?
We don’t daily run into Christians having affairs, but we daily run into Christians struggling with various sins. And, others run into US as we struggle with our sins. Does our conduct ever put the blessings of the Christian life beyond belief for others? What about our foul language, or our insulting & maligning of others? What about our financial dishonesty, our carelessness with alcohol, our choices of music & entertainments, or our misuse of social media to gossip or to bully others?
In Matt.18, Jesus says, ‘Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!’ =that’s the way the world is. But even more woe to the one thru whom they come!’ Yes, there is forgiveness for all sins in the cross of Jesus, but there’s still a concern here: that our actions, even our forgiven sins, can still have consequences for us or others. And one consequence is that we sometimes make the blessings of the Christian life unbelievable for others. We don’t want people to look at our lives and say, ‘if that’s what a Christian is, I don’t want to be one.’
These Beatitudes of Jesus, for All Saints’ Day, are supposed to be ‘good news’ for us; they speak the blessings God gives us. But we may hear these blessings and dismiss them as flowery language, like poetry & sweet nothings. Or, we might read them & think, ‘if I have to be all that poor & meek & hungry & pure & persecuted to be blessed, I might not be too blessed.’ That would be hearing these as ‘Law’; that we won’t be blessed because we don’t live this way.
So Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” but we don’t often turn the other cheek. “Blessed are the merciful,” but how many times do we leave church forgiven, and then do not forgive others when they sin against us? “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but how many times do we fly off the handle and fight with others? That’s the Law of God which correctly accuses us of our sin; that IS our reality before the Holy God. It’s the Law that exposes our pitiful self-righteousness and makes us see how ‘poor in spirit’ we actually are. God’s Law must first prepare us so that we can hear what true blessing is.
This is why these Beatitudes are not first about US; they are first talking about someone else. There’s only one human being who -in himself- is accurately described by the Beatitudes. That’s the Son of God. Blessed is He! The ‘gospel’ -or ‘good news’- is always focused on our Savior Jesus, so for the Beatitudes to be ‘good news’, they must first apply to Jesus.
It is not hard to see how these ‘bless-eds’ describe the perfect Son of God.
“Blessed is the humble -or poor- in spirit, for his is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed is he who mourned for the world, for he will be comforted. Blessed is the meek one, for he inherits the earth. Blessed was he who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, for he was satisfied & filled.
Blessed is the merciful one, for the Father showed him mercy. Blessed is the one pure in heart, for he sees God. Blessed is the one making peace with God, for he is called the son of God. Blessed is he who endured persecution because of righteousness, for his is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s where the good news begins. Jesus is the only one who -in himself- is all the things the Beatitudes talk about. Blessed is HE!
The Beatitudes become good news, or ‘gospel’, for us because =when Jesus came= He fulfilled the Law for us, rescuing us from being judged guilty – for all the times of not being humble, righteous, merciful or pure. We call this Jesus’ “active obedience.” During all the years on earth, Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly & on purpose. As a baby, as a toddler, as a teen, as an adult == at home, at work, with friends & when alone; every minute of every day, for 33 yrs, Jesus did the will of his heavenly Father without fail. He was faithful, …in our place.
In the grind of daily life, when we encounter a little pressure we often give-in to our sinful nature, and bend & break the commandments of God. But God’s Law is holy & severe; so thankfully our Savior committed no sin. Blessed is Jesus, the Son of the Most High, for HE was obedient unto death = even death on a cross.
And yes, Jesus did endure the punishment of God against our sins. For all those times that we have not led a blessed life, for all those times when we have put the blessings of following Christ beyond belief for others, for all those sins – He went to the cross & removed our curse. As Galatians 3 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” By being poor, meek, pure & persecuted, Jesus was blessed = and He became our blessing.
Yes, Blessed is He! And He is the one who now tells us that we are blessed = both now and later. I wonder if you noticed the shift Jesus makes at verse 11? After all those Beatitudes, Jesus turns to US in our text and says, “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.” Yes, Jesus says we are, and we will be, blessed.
This blessing happens when we are His, and He -the blessed one- lives in us.
The author C. S. Lewis describes this blessing this this way; He wrote:
Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your money and so much of your work — I want you. I have not come to torment your old self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there; I want to have the whole (rotten) tree down. I don’t want to drill the (infected) tooth, or (just cover it with a crown), … but to take it out (& throw it away). (turn away from your) whole natural self. … I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself; my own (goodness &) will shall become yours.” (C. S. Lewis, “Beyond Personality,”)
This is nearly ‘unbelievable’. How can we empty ourselves so completely that Christ will move in, reside in us, and let us live in His blessedness? This would be ‘beyond belief’, except that it is not our work, but God’s. So, God goes beyond for us, as 1Cor.12 says: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
The blessings of the perfect life of Christ and his forgiveness would be beyond our belief were it not for the working of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Baptism was given, & why it’s so important. As the old Adam is drowned, Christ makes His home in us. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20).
What we have confessed from Luther’s Small Catechism is biblically true: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Sanctified means to be made holy & blessed. The Holy Spirit has brought you into the blessedness of Jesus Christ.
“In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (so that)…On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
That’s the big finish, & the highest point of blessing. On that Resurrection Day is when we will truly be blessed beyond belief. On that day we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight. (2 Cor 5:7). We will see our Savior face-to-face. On that day we will dwell with God, and we will be with all those who died in Christ before us, and have been waiting in blessing for the Lord’s finale. They are already seeing ‘beyond’, and they are blessed.
We pray that the power of the HSp will continue to overcome many in their unbelief, and that they might hear & believe the gospel of their salvation. We pray that our life will not be a hindrance to His work = but a help instead. Because of the Blessed One, all believers in Jesus will be in the great multitude that no one could count, in Rev. 7; those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Blessed are you & I in that baptismal faith gifted to us; we are ‘blessed’ and the dead-in-Christ are ‘blessed beyond belief.’ We are all rejoicing and being glad, because of Jesus, great is our reward in heaven.