All Saints Day, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Blessed are you.
Is that true? Do you believe that?
If you’re a Christian, you’re blessed by God, right?
Okay, so what’s a blessing?
When you say, “Bless you,” what do you mean?
If you’re blessed, what are you?
Everybody knows the Beatitudes.
And everybody’s heard a pastor say something like, “But do you really know the Beatitudes?”
Too often, what follows is some trite saying like, “The Beatitudes are attitudes that you are to be.”
That’s terrible. Please forget that I just said that.
But these are verses that suffer the fate of being well known—and so they’re often misunderstood. It is a good idea to hear them as simply as they would’ve sounded to the ears of a first-century Jew.
We know the first Beatitude as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
But what’s meant is more literally like this:
“Congratulations to those who know their need of God.”
That sounds strange, but we immediately understand it better.
When you are blessed, properly speaking, congratulations are in order.
But—exchanging a word we have trouble defining with a word we don’t have trouble defining creates a new problem.
Now, if we say “congratulations” instead of “blessed,” it might be awkward.
If someone sneezes: “Congratulations!”
It doesn’t fit.
I’m not trying to get you to change what you say when someone sneezes, but words mean things.
There are times when a person is blessed by God.
And there are times when a person is not blessed by God.
In the first Lesson today, from Revelation, blessed are those who cry out with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).
Blessed are they—congratulations are in order—because, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17).
So, yeah, congratulations are in order to those who know Jesus.
I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “Know Jesus. Know peace. No Jesus. No peace.” It doesn’t work if you’re only hearing it—K.N.O.W. Jesus. K.N.O.W. peace. N.O. Jesus. N.O. peace. You’ve seen that, right?
Bumper sticker theology isn’t bad because it’s wrong—it’s often right, but it can’t possibly explain anything well in so few words.
So, let’s unpack it.
Know Jesus. Know peace. If you know who Jesus is—if you cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb”—if you have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb—you will know peace in the life to come.
You may not know peace here on earth—and that’s where the bumper sticker fails at explaining things—you may not be healthy, wealthy, or wise. You may not have all the things you want. You may have been born a jerk.
Know Jesus, though, and you will know peace in the forgiveness of sins and the life to come.
Blessed are you. Congratulations.
But if you don’t know Jesus. If He is absent.
No Jesus, that is.
You will not know peace in the life to come.
You may not suffer a single day on earth. You may have all the stuff you want—a great house, a great-looking wife, and a splendid wardrobe, but if you lack Jesus, you have your reward now. You will know nothing of blessings or congratulations.
Consider the second lesson: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
Blessed are the children of God. Known by God, they know Him. Congratulations.
But the world, those who do not know God and therefore do not know His children or love them, there is no blessing, no congratulations.
The point is, in the Church, when we speak of blessing—having God’s blessing, receiving God’s blessing—the Lord bless you and keep you—what we’re saying is, “Congratulations.”
God has saved you. You have much to look forward to.
And so that’s “Blessed.”
But what we need to understand next is “…are the poor in spirit.”
Or, “Congratulations…to those who know their need of God.”
There’s lots of good answers when it comes to defining “poor in spirit.”
Spiritual poverty. To be spiritually bankrupt. And on it goes.
But what it means is to know that you need Jesus.
I’ve met lots of people who act like they don’t need Jesus.
There’s nothing more sad.
Jesus says, “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace…calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:16-17).
The dirge is the Law.
The flute is the Gospel.
Some people hear that they should repent—that they should amend their sinful ways—that they should hear the Word of God—and they just don’t care.
Or—they think their concerns are more important.
Whatever it is, they hear the dirge, but they don’t mourn.
And some hear that their sins are forgiven—that Christ has taken their sin away—that Jesus died upon the cross, was buried, and yet raised to life that they would hear and believe and be raised to life—some people hear that, and it has no affect.
This happens when you hear the Bible as a fairy tale, a myth, or just a strange story, as if the Bible’s compelling but ultimately meaningless.
In both cases, there is no knowledge of the need for Jesus.
And so, no blessing, no congratulations, can be shared.
But to the poor in spirit, to all those who know their need for Jesus, blessed are you.
I hate the thought of hearing God’s Word and not caring about it. But that’s an abstract example.
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: “Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?”
Do you go to church faithfully? “Do you read the Bible faithfully? Do you give of your time, talent, and treasure cheerfully, without compulsion?
If you do—do you thank God for it all, or do you pat yourself on the back?
And if you don’t—do you even care?
If you hear the dirge—do you mourn?
If you hear the flute—do you dance?
I hate the thought of hearing God’s Word and not caring.
And so, I’ll say to you what I say to myself, time and again:
Don’t just read the Bible at home (but of course, do that).
Don’t just come to church and hear the Bible read (but of course, do that, too).
You have a great need for Jesus, for His Word.
That you hear it and believe, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit into the world, to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. John 16:8).
The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified you and keeps you in the true faith.
He daily and richly forgives you all your sins, and on the Last Day He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.
Mourn when the dirge is played.
Dance for the flute.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
“Congratulations to those who know their need of God.”
Yours is the kingdom of heaven.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!