The Festival of All Saints
“Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit”
St. Matthew 5.1-11
01 November 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Mt. 5.1-3; ESV)
The first recorded preaching of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus, after His Baptism and temptation, He began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” St. Mark has Jesus’s first preaching as, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1.15) The first of the Beatitudes and the initial preaching of Jesus are not different. They say the same thing.
The blessed citizens of God’s Kingdom are those who have poverty of spirit, who see the times for what they are, that God has moved forward and accomplished His plan of salvation, that it is well-nigh time to repent of sin and believe the Gospel. All the other blessedness given to Jesus’ disciples flows from this one.
Our Lord is saying there is a mountain to climb, heights to scale. On your own, you are outside of this kingdom. If you think you have the spiritual power in you to make it on your own, you are sadly mistaken. The mountain is too high. The heights are too great. You cannot attain to the blessedness of God, cannot hope to be counted in this kingdom of heaven, on your own merits. For we remember these words too:
“God has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” (Lk. 1:52–53)
This first preaching from Jesus was cold water on the Jews of Jesus’ day. The religious elite of the Jews were very proud about their religious and ceremonial accomplishments, very proud about the sacrifices they had offered to God, very proud about their zeal for the law, their circumcision, their self-righteousness. They were self-confident. They were self-important.
But here is Jesus who says if you’re going to enter the kingdom of heaven and find the blessedness of God, you must be absolutely nothing, realize that you are bankrupt spiritually. Repentance and putting one’s faith in someone greater than you are, in someone outside of yourself, are the marks of Jesus’ blessed disciples, who are in His kingdom.
Now thinking of the Reformation of the Church celebrated yesterday and observed here last Sunday, this first word from Jesus also was cold water on many Christians of Luther’s time. The church in his day had many thinking that Jesus in calling for spiritual poverty was also asking for physical poverty. So many men and women of the time forsook raising families and securing daily vocations that aid common society, in order to try to obtain holiness and blessedness through their good works done in monastic orders, taking vows of poverty and chastity. Luther did so himself. Again, as with the Jews of Jesus’ day, man’s idea of religion is to try to hold up to God one’s own spiritual virtues. But common sense tells us that physical poverty does not necessarily make one godly and virtuous. Luther wrote,
“In short, physical poverty is not the answer. There is many a beggar getting bread at our door more arrogant and wicked than any rich man, and many a miserly, stingy peasant who is harder to get along with than any lord or prince.” (Luther)
Indeed, Luther would testify, many of the monks and nuns were the most spiritually and morally bankrupt, least virtuous of all. We see the current scandals in today’s Roman Church and not much has changed.
Thus learn to understand what it means for Jesus to ask that we be “spiritually poor” or poor before God. This is not something that the eye beholds. Think of Luther’s quote. We cannot evaluate things externally, on the basis of money and property or of deficits and surpluses. We should evaluate things on the basis of the heart. We must not be over concerned whether we have something or nothing, much or little. And whatever we do have in the way of possessions, we should always treat it as though we did not have it, being ready at any time to lose it and always keeping our hearts set on the kingdom of heaven, as the Apostle Paul says:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:2–3; ESV)
You have died to this life. Your true life is hidden with Christ. This is to be the blessed poor in spirit and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Poor is rich, rich is poor, spiritually speaking. The rich go away empty, the poor and hungry are filled with every good thing. Real life is hidden with Christ.
Christ, who died to this life Himself, who became poor in spirit Himself, to secure this kingdom and blessedness for the repentant poor in spirit. He practiced what He preached. And He alone earned the riches of the kingdom of heaven. Listen to the vision of the Apostle John from Revelation 5:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:11–12)
Jesus, the blessed Son of God, and also our blood and flesh brother, came down from heaven’s blessed realm, bore the load of your sin and the sin of all the world onto the cross. He became so poor and persecuted He suffered death on the cross: He is the Lamb who has been slain – and yet has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He indeed has received power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing – having been raised from the dead, conquering the grave, and ascended to God’s right hand – but He does not keep this all to Himself. He shares what He has earned with all the those who have repented and believed the Gospel, all who are poor in spirit, who receive Him by grace, through faith, in Baptism, Supper, and Absolution, where He has placed in His Church this blessedness and kingdom.
Here, God’s Kingdom and the blessings of heaven are present, yet hidden to our eyes. They are yours now in humble, earthbound means. But Jesus, the angels, the heavenly saints, the Church of all times and places – they join you here, they rich in eternal blessing, you waiting in humility and patience, even amidst the mourning and persecution and difficulties of this temporal life – but you do have the blessedness of heaven even tonight and every Lord’s Day. That’s the first thing Jesus preached in the Gospels – yours is the kingdom of heaven. And it is His last word on the matter too. For one day, with those blessed saints arrayed in white before God’s throne, you will know and see with your own eyes and in your own resurrected flesh just what it means to have all things in the Kingdom. On that day, you will sing with the myriad host:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +