The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 28, 2018
Text: Matthew 5:1-12 3 Year Series A 18:2047
Theme: You Are the Truly Happy Ones!
Oh, I want my kids to be happy. I think most parents do. In fact, I think most parents would like to see their children have happier, more productive, and more successful lives than they did.
I hope that my children will be better off in life. Not that I had a horrible life. Oh, no! Not at all! The Lord has given me such a rich life, full of blessings. Even in the most stressful, saddest, or challenging of times, God’s grace shone through the clouds and turned things out for my blessing. Nevertheless, it is still my hope and probably the hope of all parents who care for their children that they will have a happier, more productive life than theirs. Would any of you parents disagree with me on that?
And if that should be true of us, wouldn’t it be true of the best parent of all, our heavenly Father. He is the perfect One, the holy One, the gracious One, the God who calls Himself love. If we who are sinful would wish our children happiness, wouldn’t He who is perfect wish that for us?
Yes, God wants us to be happy. Far from being the killjoy that some accuse Him of being, God wants to save us from eternal sadness and make us happy. Are you one of the happy ones? You are if you see yourself for what you truly are before God
I. In Christ you are a sinner turned saint and blessed.
“Blessed…blessed…blessed.” Nine times Jesus repeats that in these verses. Like a continuously ringing bell it tells us clearly what happens to a life in him, for these words are spoken to disciples, those who believe in Him. They are the truly happy ones.
In fact some translators choose to use the word “happy” here in place of the word blessed. And at least one translator wants to make the meaning more vivid by saying, “The truly happy people are those who are spiritually poor…The truly happy people are those who are in great sorrow…The truly happy people are those who are hungry and thirsty” (figuratively: “who want most of all to be perfectly holy before God”; Julian Andersen). Those are paradoxes. They seem contrary to what we normally think. Truly happy people are poor, crying, hungry and thirsty? That doesn’t seem right!
One’s face hardly radiates happiness when the stomach is growling, when the tears are flowing, when poverty puts them on the street. These are not happy situations in the normal sense of the words. Yet, Jesus said, “The truly happy people are those who are poor, mourning, hungering,” and so on. That’s a little upside down, isn’t it? Obviously He has to be using those terms in a different way from the way most people think of it.
Most of the time people think of happiness as a feeling that is governed by outward circumstances. If I have lots of food, if my belly is full, I’m happy. If my bank account is large, I’m happy. If I only experience good times, I’m happy. Most of the time, we think happiness is dictated by good outward circumstances.
But Jesus is pointing to something else. He is not pointing to outward circumstances that can easily deceive us. He’s pointing to inner realities that must be seen before true happiness is felt – not outward deceptions, but inward reflections, spiritual truths.
In other words, before I can enjoy God’s blessings and true happiness, I must see myself for what I am before God on my own, a begging, mourning, meek, and starving person. I must see myself as an empty vessel that needs to be filled. That’s what sin makes me. I am poor in God’s sight, not having the righteousness He demands, begging for help. I am sad, sorrowing over my sin, hungry to have Him fill me with forgiveness. I am a sinner in need of help. And God gives the help I need in Christ, my Savior. When I see this, then God lifts me up in Jesus and make me truly happy in a Savior – a sinner turned saint and blessed in Christ
One of the briefest yet deepest theological truths that Martin Luther ever wrote was found in a little note that said, “We are all beggars, this is true.” Those words take on added significance when we consider the circumstances under which he wrote them. They are said to be the last words from his pen. They were found scribbled on a scrap of paper next to the bed in which he died. His last words: “We are all beggars, this is true.”
How typical, both of the man and of the fullness of his understanding of the Scriptures. A giant of church history, yet his final words were a confession of his radical poverty and unworthiness before almighty God.
But far from words of anguish or despair, these were words of victory, seen in the light of his faith in Christ. For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory on their own. There is no difference between prince and pauper, pastor or people. We all must see ourselves for what we truly are before God on our own – spiritual beggars, mourning the greatness of our sin, starving for mercy. And here it comes to us in Christ. For there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Beggars? Indeed! But beggars transformed into rich saints in Christ, filled with His righteousness, comforted by His forgiveness, finding joy in our present existence, and looking forward to God’s Kingdom that lies ahead. Sinners turned saints and blessed
II. As such…you will become a blessing to others in Christ.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Does that sound like you? I’m not sure it sounds like me.
You see, sometimes when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I shudder. It happens when I get to the words “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What sometimes flashes before my eyes are the times I have failed to forgive others. Does this mean my sins won’t be forgiven? Does God’s mercy on me depend on the mercy I show to others or rather, have not shown?
Pure in heart? Jesus says, “The pure in heart will see God.” I’m not sure that is I – pure in heart. What about you? I know I think some very nice thoughts in my heart sometimes, but could I say my heart is pure? Without any sin? Never quarreling, never at odds with others, always at peace? I have not been these all the time. Have you? Is there reason for any happiness here?
Yes, yes, for one of the most important truths that guides Jesus’ words throughout His Sermon on the Mount is this: Jesus speaks these words to disciples, to believers. He speaks them to those who are the beggarly poor in spirit, confess their sins to God, and cling to the truth that their sins are washed away in the blood of Christ. As John the Baptist said, “He is the Lamb who takes away our sin.”
This is who you are in the sight of God, a sinner turned saint. And this truth makes one truly happy. Through Christ you are pure in heart in the sight of God. Through Christ His peace rests on you and you are at peace in the sight of God. Every word of peace, every reconciliation that Jesus carried out now counts as yours. By faith you are among the truly happy ones.
Since this is who you are in the sight of God, strive to be this also in the sight of others – merciful, pure in heart, peace-loving. In Christ you become a blessing to others. But that doesn’t mean you will always be received well by others.
III. In Christ you enjoy a life that never ends.
While considering this, I read about a World War II veteran who survived a concentration camp. He said that the worst part of life in the camp wasn’t what the guards would do to the prisoners; it was what the prisoners did to one another. The guards created the camps to be their own separate world with a completely different set of rules. Prisoners who showed exceptional cruelty and self-interest and a willingness to betray others were rewarded. Those who tried to keep a semblance of humanity and morality suffered.
The survivor said that there was only one thing that determined whether the prisoners would follow the guards’ rules. Those who believed there was no chance of rescue lived according to prison rules. Those who kept alive the hope of returning to the real world refused to live by prison rules.
Christians refuse to live by the world’s rules, for the world thinks nothing of God but only cares about itself and getting ahead, often at the expense of others. In these verses Jesus calls us to live in a way that’s foreign to the world – a life of faith that finds its all in Christ. Such a life may bring persecution. He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you, because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.” The happy life in Christ will bring persecution, slander, and insult.
That shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus faced it; the prophets did too. Should we expect anything different? Where’s the happiness in this? What will be able to get us through? That is found in Jesus’ words: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We live in this world for now. But this world is a passing world. Heaven is our real home. There you will enjoy in Christ a blessed life that never ends. The world that is only out for itself rewards the child of God with persecution. But then comes the kingdom, the eternal reward to those in Christ, and that blessed life never ends.
I want my kids to know that and be happy. I want you to know it and be happy too. Most of all God wants us to find our happiness and fulfillment at all times in Christ, our Savior. Then we shall truly be blessed. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.