"God Bless You!"
A sermon based on Matthew 5:1-12
Sunday, January 30, 2011 – Pentecost 4A
"God bless you!" Usually that phrase is followed by a sneeze, isn't it? Sometimes it's said in response to something kind someone does. But not this morning. This morning "God bless you" is followed by a list of things we should do and more… Someone once said that Jesus' beatitudes are the attitudes we should be. Be merciful, be peacemakers, be pure in heart. Then (and only then), Jesus tells us, can you expect to be blessed by God.
In his "Sermon on the Mount," the longest record of Jesus' sayings, Jesus pulls off the gloves and hits hard with the law. While many believed they were good and worthy of God's blessings as long as they were fairly decent folk who stayed out of serious trouble, Jesus took the law to a whole new level. One that we can't keep.
So how can God say to us, "Bless you!" How can we who fail to keep his law, be blessed by him? We certainly deserve no blessing from God! But we are blessed by him and are rewarded by his grace and in turn we long to be a blessing to others. Listen to the opening lines of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5:1-12 and learn how to be blessed by God…
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I. We Deserve No Blessings
The word translated "blessed" in these verses, can mean "happy." But the NIV got it right here when they translated it "blessed." Everywhere that Matthew uses the word it's implied that God is the one blessing. Jesus isn't just telling people the key to finding true happiness. He's telling us how to be blessed by God.
So who are they that are blessed by God? Let's look at the list. "Blessed are the poor in spirit…" Jesus isn't insisting we take a vow of poverty. The words "in spirit" make that clear. Blessed are the ones who humbly recognize their sin and see how spiritually impoverished they are before God. They recognize they have nothing of value to offer him that he needs.
· "Blessed are those who mourn…" Obviously it's not just those who mourn over the loss of their own selfish interests. But blessed are they who mourn over their sin in true repentance.
· "Blessed are the meek…" – who aren't haughty and proud before others, sure, but especially before God.
· "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…" – who long not for more money or for an easier life, but who crave a great righteousness and obedience to God. Who are driven by their longing to serve him.
· "Blessed are the merciful…" –who are quick to forgive show compassion on others, who don't' hold a grudge, but let go of their sense of being wronged and desire to get even.
· "Blessed are the pure in heart…" – who have no unclean thoughts or attitudes, who are always pure, then, in what they say and think and do.
· "Blessed are the peacemakers…" – who are quick to serve others instead of themselves, who are calm and patient, and seek to listen before they speak and understand before being understood.
· "Blessed are those who are persecuted… [and insulted] …because of [Jesus]." That implies that blessed are those who are seasoning their speech with Jesus and make it known that they follow him. Blessed are those who don't back down from doing what's right when it's tough to do the right thing and the right thing will cause them suffering.
"Blessed are these," Jesus says, "who do all these things all the time." "Great is your reward in heaven." But how well do you do?
A survey once showed that that 85% of all drivers in America consider themselves to be "above-average" drivers. Of course, this cannot be true: By definition, only 49% of drivers are above average. But the survey gives us an insight into human nature: People generally view themselves as better than others. And if they are better than others, then they are doing a good enough job.
But how well do we really do? Driving skills aside, how do we compare to the beatitudes? Do you think you meet the qualifications of a saint? Do you do the things Jesus says perfectly? Do you at least do them well? Are you even above average?
· Are you poor in spirit or meek or haughty and proud? If you answered, "No. I'm not proud! I'm always very humble!" Well, how ironic! See how easily we can fool ourselves?
· Do you always hunger and thirst for righteousness, longing only to serve Jesus, mourning over those times that you've failed? Or do you sometimes selfishly hunger and thirst for your own comfort and convenience and mourn only when things don't go your way?
· Are you always a merciful peacemaker, looking for opportunities to serve and forgive? Or do you sometimes hold a grudge against someone who's hurt you or wrong you? (And this in spite of the way God has dealt to patiently and mercifully with you.)
· Do you always boldly share your faith come what may? Or do you sometimes keep quiet in order to avoid any chance of insult or persecution?
· And even if you do seem pure and good and kind and loving on the outside, are you always pure in heart, in your thoughts, in your attitudes, where only God can see?
Me neither. And that's a problem, friends.
"Blessed are those who do all these things," says Jesus. But that's a pretty big condition to be met before one can say "God bless you." You see, this portion of Jesus' sermon is all law. We can't do these things well enough. We deserve no blessing or reward from God.
But, while we've failed at keeping God's law and deserve no blessing God can still say, "Blessed are you," of everyone here. How? Not because we keep the law, but because Christ kept it for us. It's been said that one should always, "Practice what you preach!" Well, Jesus did…
II. We're Blessed by God's Grace
A German Lutheran pastor who served during the time of the Second World War and stood up to Hitler at the cost of his life, a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, understood the Beatitutes well. He said, "Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the Poorest, Meekest, and most sorely Tried of all men is to be found — on the cross at Golgotha. The community which is the subject of the Beatitudes is the community of the crucified. With Him it has lost all, and with him it has found all."
Jesus, and Jesus alone, personified the Beatitudes. Only he was everything the law demanded we be: He was poor in spirit and humble even though he alone rightly could be proud since only his heart was perfectly pure with no unclean thought or attitude, with no sin ever committed. He was meek, humbling himself before God the Father by becoming a man, humbling himself before other men becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Jesus mourned over sin—not his own, but ours!—and over it's effects in the lives of sinners. And he took action! He hungered and thirsted—longed for and craved—our righteousness. He was so hungry that he would willingly cast his soul into the hell of separation from the Father to bring it about!
Yes, Jesus, perfectly practiced what he preached. And so he alone deserves blessings from the Father, but he chose to be persecuted for our righteousness, insulted because of us, and to die for us so that he might be merciful to us and forgive us. He is the perfect Peacemaker – winning peace for us between God and us.
And by his work, by practicing what he preached, he gave us God's blessings. He says to us, "God bless you!" and it's true by his grace. Blessed are those who know Jesus. Now, ours is the kingdom of heaven—right now as God rules in our hearts and forever in glory. We have been shown mercy by God and when we mourn over our sin, when we're meek and poor in spirit, confessing it to God, we are comforted by his forgiveness. Now, we are pure in heart with every sin removed. We are filled and satisfied with Jesus righteousness won for us, never to hunger or thirst or be lacking again. We are called Sons of God—brought into his family, with the promise to receive an inheritance. We will inherit not only the earth but heaven itself. We will see God—face to face!
How true it is that we can "Rejoice and be glad, because great is [our] reward in heaven"—a reward not earned by us, but a reward given to us by grace. And now, we can't help but be changed people—people with Beatitude attitudes!
III. We're Eager to Be a Blessing to Others in Thanks
One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mom and said, "Mommy, there's something about the sermon I don't understand." "Oh? What' that?" mom asked. "Well, pastor said that God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?" "Yes, honey, that's true." "But Mommy, he also said that God lives inside of us when we believe in Jesus. Is that true, too?" Again, the mother assured the little girl that what pastor said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?" And you know, she was right. That's what the Beatitudes are all about—God shows through.
When we understand what Jesus has done for us in spite of what we deserve, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our greatest joy is found in serving him in thanks and we can never be satisfied in that desire.
But Jesus isn't here, physically. So how can we serve him? Well, he tells us. "Whatever you [do] for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you [do] for me." (Matthew 25:40)
So we're eager to share what we've been given by God with others. We're meek and humble in regard to our status. After all I'm just one beggar telling another beggar where to find free bread. We hunger and thirst to share Jesus' righteousness with them and are willing to be persecuted, insulted and wronged for it, ready to show mercy to those who hurt us, ready to make peace. And if no peace can be found and we continue to be hurt or insulted or persecuted for it? Who cares? It's nothing to us because we're blessed by God! Rejoice and be glad, dear friends, because great is your reward in heaven! In Jesus' name, dear friends, God has blessed you. Amen.