What We Are; What We Will Be: The Feast of All Saints

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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” (1 John 3:2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Beloved! Children of God! That’s what we are called in our Epistle for today. Blessed! That’s what we are called in our Gospel. But it was not always so. When we first entered this world, it was as God’s enemies. Despising Him, wanting nothing to do with God or His Word. We were under His righteous wrath for our sin. No wonder throughout Scripture, God uses many unflattering adjectives to describe our first status: Foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, and worst of all, cursed. So, which is it? Are we beloved children of God… or are we enemies? Are we blessed… or are we cursed? Are we sinners… or are we saints? What are we? What will we be?
God calls believers by various names, but the dearest term of all is “children of God.” And that’s not just an honorary title—He has literally adopted us into His family, making us brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus, through Baptism. You might say that our baptismal certificates are also our adoption papers.
God calls us His children! This is not a patronizing term, meant to make us feel little, but loved, important, and secure. God the Father solemnly obligates Himself to do for us what all good fathers do for their children—provide for our daily needs, protection, and guidance. When we pray, we don’t have to feel as though we are approaching a stranger. We are talking to our Father! We can call on a relationship that He initiated—it was His idea, His doing, His adoption, not ours. But even more than just providing for our temporal needs, we call upon a Father who has saved us for eternity through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.
For now, that Father-child relationship is not visible to the rest of the world. Frankly, to the naked eye, we don’t look that different from anyone else. But even if we don’t get any respect from the world, that is no cause to doubt the Father’s love—most of the world can’t believe that Jesus was God’s beloved Son either.    
So, we are children of God. What does a child of God look like? In one word—blessed! That’s really the point of Jesus’ Beatitudes. Far from popular opinion, Jesus was not making ethical demands upon His followers, but was describing the blessings God’s children would fully enjoy in the new heaven and earth, and even begin to enjoy now in the Kingdom of God.
Please understand this blessedness is not recognized by the world. Words like poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger, thirst, and persecution don’t sound too blessed to unregenerate ears. Your own sinful flesh won’t care too much for this blessedness, either. And so the devil will leverage that into doubt and unbelief. And the truth be told, much of the time you don’t really look or act all that much like a child of God. Neither do I. But remember: we walk by faith and not by sight. And the reason that the world doesn’t know us is that it did not know Him. That makes it all the more important to ponder these words of Jesus.
The Beatitudes of today’s Gospel are the introductory words of the most famous sermon ever preached. “The Sermon on the Mount” is perhaps also the most misunderstood sermon. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a summary of the whole Christian faith. As a matter of fact, it is safe to say that a person who claims to find his whole religion in this sermon is not even a Christian. No one who hears or reads this sermon by itself, apart from the rest of Scripture, will come to a proper understanding of the Christian faith. Certainly no one who hears or reads this passage without properly distinguishing Law and Gospel will be able to correctly understand it. And most certainly, no one who hears or reads this passage without seeing its fulfillment in Christ will ever find comfort in these words.
In order to understand this sermon, we must keep in mind its original context. The audience was, primarily, Jesus’ disciples, although the large crowds who had been following Jesus were evidently listening in. The purpose of the sermon was to give the believers a better understanding of the God-pleasing life.
An unbeliever is likely to interpret Jesus’ words as a prescription for making oneself righteous and earning a place in God’s kingdom. When he takes a close look at the requirements, he may decide it isn’t worth the effort. Or he may take only a superficial look and convince himself he is capable of saving himself. But the Beatitudes help to correct both of these misunderstandings. They set a standard so high that none of us can reach it. That’s the Law of this text. Jesus wants us to realize that we cannot save ourselves. We cannot make ourselves God’s children any more than a little baby can decide to be born or choose his or her own parents. Our heavenly Father must adopt us. We cannot earn God’s blessings; they must be given to us by grace as a gift for the sake of Christ.
And that leads us to the Gospel of this text—the Beatitudes point us to Christ and His perfect life, His atoning death, and His resurrection on our behalf. The Beatitudes do not tell us how to become blessed; they rather describe the blessedness that already belongs to God’s children. They tell us the ways in which all Christians are blessed. All Christians are poor in spirit. We all mourn and are meek. We all hunger and thirst for righteousness and are merciful and pure in heart. We all are peacemakers and are persecuted for righteousness.
Of course, if we examine ourselves, we must confess that we exhibit these characteristics now only to a limited extent. And we are also made to realize that we forfeit many blessings by failing to live up to the ideals Jesus expresses here. So today, we want to take a look at the Beatitudes in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the blessings we already possess as Christians, and then as we appropriate them, grow in our faith toward God and in our love to one another.
Jesus begins the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual poverty. We realize that we sin daily and much. We deserve nothing but punishment from God. We admit that our best efforts at living up to God’s standards as expressed in the Ten Commandments fall miserably short. We know that of ourselves we cannot do a single thing that is good and acceptable to God. We are spiritual beggars!
The poor in spirit also know that we are rich before God through faith in Christ Jesus. His perfect obedience to all of God’s commandments and His sacrificial death on the cross for all the sins of the world have been credited to us. So the poor become rich. We are most blessed.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus continues. Everyone mourns at times, especially at the death of a loved one. But the Lord is not referring to occasional times of grief; rather He speaks of mourning all the time on account of sin and death in the world. The one who fulfills this mourning never delights in sin. He never accepts some sins as “harmless” or “okay.” Rather, he understands the serious consequences of any sin, particularly his own. But there is also good news. Jesus promises those who mourn sin and its consequences shall be comforted. We receive the Good News of forgiveness now, and await the further blessings of eternal life, where the Lamb will be our shepherd and God will wipe every tear from [our] eyes (Revelation 7:17).
Jesus says next, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek are gentle and patient. We are not boisterous and demanding. We do not insist on our rights without consideration for others. We possess an inner strength that the “macho” only pretend to have. And to the surprise of many, we will inherit the earth. It is for our sakes that the earth is preserved even now. It is for our benefit that God directs the affairs of men and nations. And we will inherit the new heavens and the new earth when Christ comes again.
         
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” proclaims the Lord. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are primarily concerned about being righteous through faith in Christ Jesus. We naturally then also desire to live righteous and God-pleasing lives, and we are concerned about sharing Christ’s righteousness with the whole world. We trust that, when we put first things first, our heavenly Father will keep His promise to provide us with everything we need for this body and life.
We also know how to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. We know the Lord Jesus as the Bread of Life, and we drink deeply of the living water that He provides. In other words, we faithfully use the means of grace, the Gospel of Christ in Word and Sacrament. We like to make the Word of God a part of our daily routine. We love to assemble regularly with our fellow believers to hear God’s Word proclaimed. We do not casually pass up opportunities to receive the Lord’s Supper, and we live with a daily appreciation of the blessings of our baptism. We know that God forgives all our sins day by day and that we will stand among the righteous on Christ’s right hand on the Day of Judgment.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” says Jesus. The merciful appreciate God’s mercy, which forgives us and saves us for Jesus’ sake. And we, in turn, are merciful to those who sin against us and to all who are in need. Mercy asks only what a less fortunate person needs, not what he deserves. The merciful provide for those in need regardless of merit or ability to repay.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” declares Jesus. The pure in heart speak and act without ulterior motives or concealed selfish interests. What you see in us is what you get from us; and what we say, we mean. What we promise, we will do. But our hearts are naturally sinful and unclean. That’s why it’s appropriate that, after we hear God’s Word proclaimed in worship, we call upon God to “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.”    
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” continues the Lord. Peacemakers do not just passively sit back and refrain from starting trouble. We actively seek to make peace where there is strife. Insofar as possible, we strive to live in peace with all people, but we are also ready to contend for God’s truth and justice when circumstances require it. Although peace is always desirable, peace at any price is not acceptable. Even Jesus said that His Gospel would disrupt peace when some accept it and others reject it.
We know that peace with God is possible only through faith in Christ Jesus. We want to offer that peace to all people. Those who reject it in unbelief will have to answer to God in the judgment, and they will be without excuse. God sent His Son into this world as the Prince of peace, and He will call those people His sons who receive that peace and then, in the spirit of His Son share that peace.
Finally, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If we are punished for wrongdoing, we have no reason to complain. But sometimes we will suffer for saying and doing what is right. That was what happened to Jesus, and He warns that we must not expect any better treatment from the unbelieving world.
We don’t want to deliberately antagonize people and invite persecution, but neither do we want to flee from it when we are called upon to endure suffering for the sake of God’s truth and justice. All God’s Old Testament prophets suffered persecution at the hands of those who should have welcomed and honored them. So did the apostles and evangelists. That will not change because sinful human nature does not change. And I suspect, the way things are going, that you and I can expect a whole lot of persecution to be coming our way in the next few years. But do not fear! All who remain faithful to God’s truth will receive added blessings in heaven by God’s grace for Christ’s sake.
Do you see the kind of love the Father has given to us? He calls us His children! He calls us blessed! And He gives us His saving Word! But that Word would be no blessing if we believed it was up to us to fulfill it ourselves—we cannot keep one of these Beatitudes perfectly, much less all of God’s Law!
But though we cannot keep God’s Law, we delight in it. Why? Because it points us to Christ! It sends us straight to Jesus, who has fulfilled all the Law to give us the blessings. In fact, the more impossible those Beatitudes are for us, the more we delight in them—because they show us all the more the great work that Jesus has done for us in the Gospel.
Christ has been poor in spirit, grief-stricken over sin, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted. He has done all this in our place to win us forgiveness and eternal life. Furthermore, with forgiveness comes strength and sanctification. The Holy Spirit is at work to strengthen our faith so that we might respond by being meek, merciful, and poor and spirit; so that we can make peace and mourn sin; so that we can stand up for the truth of God’s Word, even when persecution comes along.
What we are is God’s children! What we are is blessed! What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that we shall be like Christ. We have been clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness and washed in the blood of the Lamb. God the Father looks upon us and declares, “Because of My Son, Jesus Christ, you are My child. All these blessings are yours. I love you. You are forgiven of all of your sins.”  

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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