4th Sunday after Epiphany (A)
February 2, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
A paradox is something that seems contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd, and yet may be actually true in fact. A good example of a paradox would be the saying “the beginning of the end” or another one would be “I have to be cruel to be kind”. Saint Paul had one where he says, “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” The purpose of a paradox is to make you think about what the statement is really saying. In today’s Gospel, a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, there are numerous paradoxes, which reveal to us the paradox of Christianity.
The Sermon on the Mount takes up three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and over the next few weeks, the Gospel will come from different portions of Jesus’ great sermon. Today we begin with what are called the Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” is another word for “blessing” as Jesus bestows blessings upon His disciples. When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He was being followed by a great crowd, but the focus of His sermon was on His disciples. Jesus was preaching to those who had faith in Him; including each of us. What Jesus is not doing in our text is laying down a bunch of rules for us to follow. Rather the blessings that Jesus grants us describe what Christians are. We are poor in spirit, we are meek, we are merciful, and so on. This means we’re blessed even when it doesn’t look or feel like it.
Jesus begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” This is a paradox because Jesus is saying that by being poor, we’re rich. Of course, Jesus isn’t talking about earthly riches and wealth, He’s talking about our spiritual poverty. To be spiritual poor is to know, I mean really know, that you have nothing to offer God. What can you offer? You offer nothing because you have nothing. After Martin Luther died, they found a note in his pocket. It said, “We are all beggars. It is true.” What Luther realized is that we’re spiritually bankrupt. We’re destitute and lack the resources we need to achieve eternal life. A beggar can only rely on the goodness of others, and we too can only rely on the goodness of God.
And God in His goodness gives you the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. You don’t have to wait for them either; they are yours right now. You have the forgiveness of sins, you have eternal life, you have the knowledge that Jesus Christ died for you. You’re enriched through your baptism, through the Lord’s Supper, and through the Absolution I pronounce to you. These blessings are yours and they contain the completeness of Christ’s grace. You are blessed because Jesus has come to you in your poverty and given you everything that you need.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” As those who are poor in spirit and yet rich in grace we then become those who mourn. We certainly mourn over those whom we have lost, and Christ will comfort us in these times with His promises. Here we can also see how we mourn over the state of our lives and the state of this world. This world is sinful, and as Christ’s people we mourn the sin that goes on around us. We don’t embrace sin and we don’t accept it either. We are saddened by the state of this world, but we also confess that we’re guilty of some of the same sins. So, we mourn our sin as we come to God in repentance. As those who are mourn, we’re comforted with the knowledge that Jesus has done all that is necessary to ensure our forgiveness. God comforts us with the hope of forgiveness and with the knowledge that He no longer remembers our sins. We may mourn what we have done in the past, but to God those sins have ceased to exist. You can also be comforted by the truth that the sin of this world cannot undo what God has done for you through Christ Jesus.
The next beatitude which Jesus speaks is one that is probably very familiar to you. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” On the surface this is not so much a paradox but perhaps a mistake. We all know that the meek don’t inherit much in this life. To be meek is a sign of weakness in a life where aggression and strength rule the day. So what does Jesus mean? To be meek in God’s eyes goes back to being spiritually poor. It means that we recognize that we’re powerless to save ourselves. Those who are meek are the ones who’ll receive eternal life for you have humbled yourself before God. The meek will reign in eternity when God reverses everything we’ve come to expect. The proud knocked off their pedestals and the meek will take their place. Those who are arrogant before God will be condemned while those who have turned to Him in humility and faith will find the blessings of Heaven. This is the reversal to which we look for hope and comfort in this life.
In the next verse of His sermon Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Righteousness is our standing with God. As Christians we seek to be in a good relationship with God. We want forgiveness, we want salvation. And as we heard earlier, we have nothing to offer God, certainly not our own righteousness. This is why Christ gives us His righteousness. As Paul says in Romans 3, “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all who believe.” This righteousness is yours from Jesus and you should hunger for it. You should crave this righteousness like you’ve never craved anything else in life. This righteousness restores your relationship with God. God looks at you and no longer sees your sin He sees His Son’s perfect sinlessness, and as a result He sees you as you are – pure and holy.
To be pure and holy, to be forgiven in God’s eyes is not always a good thing in the eyes of the world and this comes as no surprise to Jesus. He warns us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” The world has always hated God and His people have always lived in a hostile environment. This doesn’t mean though that we should curl up in little balls and wait for Jesus to return. Instead you should rejoice because persecution shows that you are God’s people. We’re blessed because this persecution isn’t the end for us. Heaven is what awaits each of us, and we look forward to it knowing that all of God’s saints, persecuted or not, have the blessings that far surpass anything bad that happens in this life.
The greatest paradox in all of history is that you’ve been given peace, forgiveness, and eternal life through the death of one man on a cross. How can life come from death? How does a dead man being laid in a grave bring us the righteousness of God? As Paul said in our Epistle, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He then goes on to say, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The cross is foolishness, it makes no sense to the unbeliever and it never has. But to the Christian, what seems to be foolishness is actually the great wisdom of God, and what doesn’t appear to make sense, makes all the sense in the world because it means that we are forgiven sons of God. The Son of God appeared meek and poor as He hung on the cross, but it was making us rich beyond all comprehension. His weakness became the power of our salvation. This is a paradox, but it is an awesome contradiction to all that the world holds dear, as it rewards those who are unlike the world but who are like their Savior Jesus Christ.
The Beatitudes are the blessings that God bestows upon you, and while they may seem to be paradoxes in the eyes of the world, they aren’t to God. These paradoxical blessings are not some blessings that you have to wait for or hope for; rather they are yours now. The Kingdom of Heaven is yours and no one can take it away. You can be comforted with the knowledge that all your sins are forgiven. You are blessed because you hunger and crave the righteousness of God. So hear the blessings of God and believe that they are for you, for you are God’s blessed disciple. And that is one of the greatest paradoxes, that you are a sinner that God has made a holy saint.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen