Good Enough to Be a Saint
|"Beatitudes Sermon" by James I. Tissot|
Click here to listen to this sermon.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Today, we observe the Festival of All Saints. We remember those who have gone before us, suffering persecution and even dying for the faith. We remember those saints who have, by the grace of God, served the Church and world with lasting contributions. We remember those loved ones who have now entered eternal rest. And we consider our own qualifications for sainthood!
What does it take to be a saint? In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus recites the “Beatitudes,” qualities of those who are blessed to be saints. This is an important passage of Scripture, and one that carries with it great joy and blessing. However, it is also one that is often twisted and misunderstood to lead us to despair. Therefore, we examine these Beatitudes first according to the Law; then we will examine them in light of our Savior, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
But before we enter into a study of the text, I offer this statistic by way of illustration. A while back, I read that 85% of all drivers in America consider themselves “above-average” drivers. Of course, this cannot be true. By definition, only 49% of all drivers could be above average. However, 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 must be doing a good enough job.
This transfers over into religion far more than we are aware, and it becomes apparent in how these Beatitudes are taught. Often one will hear, “The message of the Beatitudes is that, if I do these things well enough, then I will be blessed.” It’s a human standard of measure. “If I am better at this than average, then I’m in pretty good shape. I’m good enough to be a saint.”
But is it true? Let’s take a look at the Beatitudes, to see if we are good enough at keeping them. A short sampling should do the trick.
Jesus declares, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Now, meekness is power under control. One who is meek uses his power, authority, position, and skills in service to others, not himself. So, are you meek enough? Do you use your power, position and talents in service to others? Do you consider other’s needs before your own? We could go on and ask more questions along these lines. But the response of the sinful nature will still be, “Sure, I could be meeker, but I think I’m meek enough.”
But here is the thing. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.” He does not say, “Blessed are those who believe that they’re meek enough.” He calls for perfect meekness. It’s not your measure that matters, but the measure of the almighty, holy God. To believe we’re meek enough, is arrogance—the very opposite of meekness!
Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to desire the things of God—holiness, faith, purity. And those who hunger and thirst will seize every opportunity to be fed. Do you gather often with your fellow believers to receive God’s gifts? Do you devote enough time to Scripture and prayer?
Once again, the response of the Old Adam is to say, “I hunger and thirst for righteousness enough because I’m satisfied with my efforts.” But Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst by their own standards.” He offers no qualifiers. To believe that we hunger and thirst for righteousness enough is, again, a most unrighteous arrogance and pride.
One more example ought to do it—or do us in. Jesus declares, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Once again, to see God is a privilege of the saints, who will see Him in glory for eternity. Of course, to be pure in heart, you have no thoughts of lust or covetousness. You are perfectly satisfied with the things that you have, perfectly trusting when trials arise. You are not affected by prejudice, nor would you ever indulge in gossip or grudge-bearing.
Now, I know of no one, who claims to have a heart that is absolutely pure; it’s impossible. That’s why the Old Adam comes up with this seductive line: “I’m only human, and I could be a lot worse than I am—like some people are.” But listen once again to the Beatitude. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” says Jesus. He does not say, “Blessed are the purer in heart.” If we say or believe that we are pure enough in heart, we give proof enough that our hearts are far from pure.
Remember where we started with the Beatitudes, with the common teaching that “If you do these things, then you will be blessed.” But the trouble is that you must do these things perfectly, all the time, to earn the blessing. No, once you examine what they require, you are far more likely to cry out, “Enough of the Beatitudes! They promise blessing if I do them, but I can’t. I’m not good enough!”
And if that is what you cry out, then you are blessed. You are blessed because, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, you have made an honest confession of sin. You’ve examined yourself by the mirror of God’s holy Law, and you’ve concluded that you cannot live up to it. If it is up to you to be meek and merciful and pure, you are without hope.
You are now prepared to hear about the One who has saved you, who showers these blessings upon you, your Savior Jesus. Listen, marvel, and rejoice.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus. No one has been poor enough in spirit, except Him. Marvel at this godly, unending humility during the Savior’s journey from birth to cross. Had Jesus demanded that He sit on a throne and be served, hand and foot, by all, He would only have asked for what He deserved. But the Lord did not come to be served, but to serve—and to give His life as a ransom for many. Humbly, the almighty Son of God healed the sick, fed the hungry, taught the sinner, forgave the penitent, raised the dead. He served, even to the point of death on the cross. He was poor in spirit enough, that you might have the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus mourned—not just the death of a loved one like Lazarus, but the killing sinfulness of man. He mourned for Jerusalem, because her inhabitants would not repent. Furthermore, He paid the price for sin on the cross—that your mourning might be turned to dancing. Jesus mourned enough, that you might be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Remember, meekness is power under control, used in service to others. Jesus did not use His omnipotent power for His own profit, but in service to others—He cured diseases, multiplied bread and fish, and cast out demons. When beaten and spat upon by sinners, He did not wipe them out with a word; meekly, the all-powerful Son of God allowed Himself to be crucified. He has been meek enough, so that you might be delivered to the new heaven and the new earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Remember the temptation of Christ, for in the wilderness Jesus suffered hunger rather than listen to the devil’s temptations and turn stones into bread. He hungered enough for your righteousness there that you might be filled with forgiveness. Remember the words from His parched lips near death, “I thirst.” He has thirsted and died on that cross enough, that you might be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” To be merciful is not to give an evildoer what he deserves. Again, the Lord Jesus did not destroy those who arrested Him, blasphemed Him, crucified, and mocked Him. He could have come down from the cross, saved Himself and destroyed them utterly. Instead, He died for them. Instead of condemning you for your sins, He forgives you. He has been merciful enough, so that He might give mercy to you forever.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Hebrews 4:15 declares of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect as we are—yet without sin.” Jesus was perfectly pure in heart. Because He was without sin, you can go before His throne of grace with confidence. Jesus has been pure in heart enough so that you might see God in glory forever.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The Lord Jesus Christ made peace. He made peace between man and God by removing the sin that kept us from God’s presence. He has made enough peace so that you are sons of God and heirs of heaven.
Do you see? When we saw what we had to do to fulfill the Beatitudes, we saw we couldn’t do it—not even close. They only showed us how deep and dark our sin—how terrible our failures. But look what happens when we look at the Beatitudes and Christ. Now you see your salvation! He has fulfilled the Beatitudes enough—He has done these things perfectly, and He has done them for you. Christ Jesus has taken away your sins at the cross—He has suffered God’s wrath for your failures to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and all the rest.
But in taking away your sins, He has also given you the credit for His obedience—for His keeping of the Beatitudes. God the Father looks upon you and says, “I see no sin in you, because My Son has taken it all away. Now, for His sake when I look at you, I see one who is poor in spirit, mournful and meek, earnest for righteousness—holy. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
How odd it seems at first. You do not become a saint you’re good enough. Rather, you are declared holy because, by the work of the Spirit, you confess that you are not good enough and can never be on your own merits. And if you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. And the ironic thing is, that this actually frees you to live a more virtuous life. You’ll never be good enough to earn sainthood, but having been declared a saint for Jesus’ sake, you are given the power to live a blessed, godly life even now.
You are blessed! You have been bought with the blood of Christ the crucified. You are a new creation, created in Christ Jesus to do the works that He has prepared for you, and to live the holy life that He gives you. As you live in your baptism through daily repentance your old sinful nature is put to death and your new self emerges to live in Christ. Jesus not only gives you His forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness to secure your standing before the heavenly Father and gain eternity in heaven, but He gives you His character, His identity, and His virtues to take as your very own and lead you in your life, amid trials and temptations, here and now.
You want to be poor in spirit? Christ imparts His humility to you. You are called to think with the mind of Christ, to hear His Word, and to put that humility into action. You want to be meek? Christ bestow His meekness upon you. See it with the eyes of faith. Put it into action by faith. Do you want to be merciful? Christ gives you His compassion. See it with the eyes of faith. Exercise mercy for the benefit of your neighbor in need. Do you want to be pure in heart? Christ imparts His purity to you. He creates in you a clean heart. See it with the eyes of faith. Exercise it in godly living. Set your heart of the things of God and Jesus will make you a man (or woman or child) after His own heart.
What does it take to be a saint? You need to be without sin. And so you are—not by your work, for it is never enough, but by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. He has done the work and paid the price to declare you holy for His sake. Now, He lives in you, imparting His holiness to you. In Christ, you are blessed. You are good enough to be a saint. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.