4th Sunday after the Epiphany | Matthew 5.1-12
The first thing Jesus does this morning is He makes a distinction.
There are crowds and there are disciples;
And Jesus uses one to catch the other.
That distinction really is significant, especially today, this 4th Sunday after Epiphany.
This, after all, is a season where we are being enlightened.
We are hearing Jesus, and knowing Jesus, and being made to see Him for who He is.
By His grace Jesus reveals Himself to us;
And so we can make some epiphany distinctions of our own:
Knowledge and Wisdom,
Law and Gospel,
Wretchedness and Righteousness,
Jesus and everyone else.
Those distinctions are terribly important
Because if you refuse them,
You risk losing everything.
You will have no wisdom, fake justice, a powerless Gospel, and a false Christ.
Without some Epiphany distinctions, you’ll hear His sermon and imagine
Jesus the politician, making a campaign pitch;
Jesus the therapist, assuring you it’s all going to be ok;
Jesus the law-giver, telling you to be good, so He can pay you back.
You’re poor in spirit, and so you will receive His kingdom.
You’re sorry for your sin, and so you will receive comfort.
You are meek and mild, so you will inherit the earth.
You hunger and thirst for righteousness, morning and evening.
You are merciful, and so you will receive mercy from Jesus.
You are pure-hearted, a peacemaker, and so you must be one of His.
You are persecuted and rejected by the world, just like the prophets.
Blessed are you.
It is the easiest thing to hear Jesus’ list of “blesseds” and see yourself;
That’s the way the crowds, i.e. anyone outside the church, hears this sermon:
As morals, as example, as virtue. As quid pro quo, as this for that, as an exchange.
And if they are right, then blessed are none of you.
These words can’t describe you.
You are so spiritually rich that you can skip Church and Bible Study.
You are so sorry over your little sins,
That you might make it all the way to the parking lot before taking them back.
You hunger and thirst for righteousness when it is convenient,
Or when it suits you.
You show mercy to some even as you murder others with gossip and complaint.
You speak peace with your mouth, and in your pure heart declare war.
Others I hear spitting venom before they even leave this room on Sunday.
Which means that the Kingdom, mercy, inheritance, satisfaction,
Rejoicing, and blessedness of which Jesus speaks
Are surely for someone else.
Your only hope is that Jesus is not a clever politician with a heartwarming speech,
Or just another moral teacher,
Or some random deity here to make demands and dangle rewards in front of you.
Jesus’ sermon is not about you, at least not primarily.
And so a good Epiphany distinction might clarify:
Who is He talking about?
These beatitudes, these “blesseds” are like Jesus looking in a mirror.
Jesus is poor in Spirit. He boasts in nothing but the LORD.
Jesus mourns over sin, your sin – which He has come to relieve.
Ever the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus is meek and mild, as we sang at Christmas.
Jesus hungers and thirsts for righteousness, for every time you have been satisfied with your own righteousness.
He lives not on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Jesus is merciful, even as we are merciless.
His is the only pure heart – pierced for your impure heart.
Jesus is the Peacemaker, reconciling God and man by the blood of His cross.
Jesus is persecuted for righteousness’ sake, i.e. for your unrighteousness
Jesus is reviled and rejected, that you may be welcomed into His Kingdom.
These beatitudes, these “blesseds” are about Him.
Jesus has come to fulfill all righteousness and blessedness for you.
That message is lost on so many crowds.
The crowds would have another version of the Golden Rule, as if they could keep it.
The crowds yearn for some moral standard, as if they could achieve it.
But you are not the crowds. You are Disciples.
To you, His Disciples, to you gathered around Him,
Learning at His feet, to you Jesus declares:
That you ARE righteous;
That all these blessings apply to you.
Because they first describe Him:
This Jesus, the Christ, who has bound Himself to you.
In the waters of Baptism He made you His little brothers and sisters,
Children of His own Heavenly Father.
There He has covered you with a righteousness not your own, but His.
By Baptism you are, as Paul writes in today’s Epistle:
“… in Christ Jesus,” who has become to you:
So for all of that you can go ahead and boast.
Go ahead and brag.
Only boast in the LORD.
Because everything that goes for Jesus, now goes for you.
In Christ you are the poor in spirit; you are the truly repentant, the meek,
The one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness,
In Christ you are the merciful one, the pure, the peacemaker.
And so all those blessings: the kingdom, comfort, mercy, and satisfaction –
They are promised to each and every one of you in Christ.
Please keep that distinction in mind when the other blessings come.
When you are persecuted for Righteousness’ sake, i.e. for Jesus’ sake;
When friends abandon you and betray you,
When people speak ill of you for saying what Jesus says and doing what Jesus does.
If you want to give it a try, just say what Jesus says about the lives of the unborn;
Or what marriage is; or the roles of men and women; or spiritual headship.
Say anything against the sermons the world preaches to itself, and you will find yourself blessed abundantly with as much persecution and slander as you like.
You don’t really need to go looking for trouble, though.
As a Christian, you are a marked man.
Persecution will find you.
And when it does, those blessings will be difficult to endure.
It is then you should know that your living Beatitude, Jesus, has gone ahead of you.
Persecution, rejection, crucifixion, and all hell, He has endured for you.
But he has also done so for the crowds.
And so be patient. Come what may, you are in Jesus’ pierced hands.
Everything you have to lose you lost in the font.
You have been baptized into His death,
Even as you have been baptized into His resurrection.
And yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.