The Reading from Holy Scripture: Matthew 5:1–12 (ESV)
1 Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (ESV)
Dear saints. Yes, you’ve heard me right. You are saints. Becoming a saint is not something that happens to you when you die, nor is it the result of living an especially holy life. You became a saint the moment you were baptized, for saints are believers in Jesus Christ, made holy by His blood. For that reason the Apostle Paul writes to “the saints in Corinth” and “to all God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints.” In other words, saints are Christians—those who have been made holy by a holy Lord. Some saints are already in heaven before the throne of the Lamb singing hymns of high praise to their Redeemer. Other saints are here on earth, joined together with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven praising the same Lord who is adored in heaven.
Whether in heaven or on earth, the saints are not self-made. We were made saints by the Lord in Holy Baptism. As saints, we do not make ourselves holy by our good works. Rather, we were made holy by our Lord Jesus, whose blood has purchased salvation for us and whose Word declares us to be holy and blessed. That takes us to the Holy Gospel appointed to be read in the churches on All Saints’ Sunday. We know this section of Holy Scriptures as the “Beatitudes.” Some teach that the beatitudes are commandments that tell us what to do and how to be. In reality, though, the beatitudes are words of blessing that declare who Jesus is and what Jesus gives. Our Lord Jesus Christ who speaks these words of the Sermon on the Mount is actually speaking about Himself.
Blessèd are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the One who is poor in spirit, for He is totally and completely dependent on His Father and He receives from His Father the kingdom of heaven.
Blessèd are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus is the One who mourns. He is well-acquainted with grief, says the Prophet Isaiah (53:3). He weeps over Jerusalem, for she does not know her Messiah. Jesus is also comforted by the Father, who turns His grief into perpetual joy in His resurrection from the dead.
Blessèd are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus, the High-born Prince of heaven is not ashamed to humble Himself to be born of a Virgin. He comes to us in all lowliness and meekness, gentle and lowly in heart. He rides into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, moving toward Calvary. To Him—to this meek One— is given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). As the only-begotten Son of the Father, He inherits the earth.
Blessèd are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. This Lord Jesus says, My food is to do the work of him who sent me, and to accomplish His work (John 4:34). In other words, Jesus hungers and thirsts for our salvation. And He is filled, satisfied, for His death on the cross has won for us the very Righteousness of God.
Blessèd are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Sent from the heart of the Father, the Son is merciful and He has obtained mercy, not for Himself, but for us who were destitute in our sin.
Blessèd are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The Son demonstrated His purity of heart as with single-minded obedience He held fast to His Father’s will and word when assaulted by Satan’s temptation in the wilderness and again as He willingly suffered and died under the death sentence that belonged to us. Crucified and risen, He sees His Father’s face in glory everlasting.
Blessèd are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who makes peace for us by the blood of His cross, reconciling us to His Father, so that we are now sons of God.
Blessèd are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is persecuted for righteousness’ sake and in the shame of that suffering He brings His kingdom—the kingdom of heaven—to us sinners.
Blessèd are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus is reviled and falsely accused. Yet for the joy that is set before Him, He endures the cross so that His reward becomes our reward.
The Beatitudes describe the perfect life of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, come to save sinners. Yes, the Beatitudes are first of all about Jesus. Jesus is poor in spirit and He receives all things from God His Father. Jesus mourns for your sins and He dies for you. Jesus is meek and He does not lash out in pride and envy. Jesus hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness for you. Jesus alone is merciful, and He does not give you what you deserve. Jesus is pure and without sin. He is the great peacemaker between you and the Father. And He is the one who is persecuted even to the point of death, to spare you from eternal death. Yes, the Beatitudes are all about Jesus.
But the Beatitudes are not only about Jesus. The Beatitudes are also about you, and about every saint of God. When you were baptized, you took on Jesus’ death. When Jesus died, you died. And when He rose again, you also rose again from the dead. As you live in Christ, the world cannot defeat you because in Christ you daily die to sin and rise anew to live in Christ’s righteousness. You have been washed clean and made pure in the blood of the Lamb of God.
All that the Son of God is, He is for us. His blessèdness is our blessèdness. This Lord Jesus Christ is the Blessèd One who comes in the name of the Lord and, in His cross, He makes us blessèd. That is why our Lord says in John l4: I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And so in the Book of Revelation it is announced from heaven, Blessèd are the dead who die in the Lord…that they might rest from their labours… (l4:13).
And so today, on All Saints’ Sunday, we are reminded of the blessèd dead who have died in the Lord; we are reminded that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. We are not walking alone on this pilgrimage to the City whose builder and maker is God. We are saints here on earth and we share in a blessèd, sweet communion with the great multitude of saints whose rest is won.
You and I have come to church on this All Saints Sunday with the memory of someone—a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, a child or other loved one—who died in the faith. Every time we celebrate our Lord’s Holy Supper, we join them, along with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in praising the Lord. Yes, every time we celebrate our Lord’s Holy Supper, we experience in a most intimate way the communion of saints which we confess in the creed. For while here in time and space we eat and drink the Lamb of God’s body and blood, the saints in glory feast at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. Suffering and shame are gone. Tears are wiped away. Their joy is everlasting.
Here on earth, we are one with the saints in heaven. Yes, it is true, to use the words of that majestic hymn which we sang a few minutes ago, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. But we are one with them in our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom we are blessed. The saints in glory were redeemed by Jesus’ blood and so are we. The saints in glory were baptized into Christ and so are we; thus, all of our sins are forgiven and we have the blessèd hope of the resurrection of the body to eternal life. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed One, comes to us through His Holy Word and Sacraments and makes us blessèd recipients of the blessèd future that awaits us, the glory that is yet to come. And by His grace, He gives us the encouragement to press on, to run the race set before us with all the vigour that the Gospel gives, for God is faithful and He will bring us to His heavenly kingdom. Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Revelation 7:10). Amen.