January 29, 2023
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John Chapman was born on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. At the beginning of the 19th century, he moved to Ohio planting, sharing and selling apple seeds along the way. The results of his work could be seen in the countless apple orchards that helped with the westward expansion of the United States, which earned him the nickname “Johnny Appleseed.”
Over the last few weeks of the Epiphany season, we have focused on Jesus’ appearances as the chosen Savior. Epiphany means appearance and from Jesus’ baptism to John calling him the “Lamb of God” to his preaching, teaching and many miraculous healings he did throughout Galilee as the Light shining in the darkness, Jesus made it clear that he, the Savior, had appeared. Today and for the next few weeks, we are going to hear from Jesus what his appearance means for his followers or disciples. The words we are going to focus on are recorded in Matthew 5 and begin what is called the “Sermon on the Mount.” Today we will zero in on the first part of his sermon, referred to as the “Beatitudes”, which comes from the Latin word “beati” which translates to “blessed.” This word “blessed” has caused confusion over the years as to who brings about the blessings listed by Jesus in his sermon.
The confusion is solved by understanding who Jesus taught. In our Gospel reading from Matthew 5, we read, 1 “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.” Jesus taught his disciples. These are not the twelve disciples, they would be assembled later, rather these were all those who had heard his words and believed. This sermon was not outreach and evangelism, but rather a sermon for followers and disciples. His message was for what we would today call a congregation. This is important to understand because it clarifies who brings the blessings Jesus taught about in his “Sermon on the Mount.” The crowd he preached to had already been brought into the kingdom of heaven; they were already believers. Jesus was describing the blessings that belong to believers, not blessings hopeful recruits need to work towards. This was not Jesus acting as a coach holding tryouts for the team, but rather a coach encouraging his players who are already part of his team during a game. Jesus was teaching his disciples who they were because of what he made them.
The blessings listed by Jesus are only appealing if he is the one giving them to us. The blessings Jesus listed began like this,
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”Matthew 5:3-6
These are spiritual characteristics, so it is not the socioeconomic poor or physically hungry and thirsty. The blessed are those who have been convicted of their spiritual weakness and breaking of God’s law by Jesus’ preaching. Thus, these first four characteristics highlight the spiritual life of a Christian as one who relies on God’s strength to give them relief and the riches of eternal life in heaven. The next four blessings describe how Christians treat others
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:7-10
The blessed see all people as sinners who need the grace, love and forgiveness of Jesus. They do not quickly judge others, but help. They see sin as a sickness and the message of Jesus’ forgiveness as medicine. They seek peace not with weapons of war, but with words, the powerful Word of God. They expect and endure persecution for their faith, understanding that the world hated Jesus and so it will hate them, but their reward will be in heaven. When these blessings are listed, it becomes obvious that we are not the ones who make ourselves blessed. We want to see ourselves as strong, sufficient people, rather than weak dependents. We want to be right. We want others to think and act according to our rules, and those who cross us to feel foolish or be forgotten. When we hear these blessings listed, they remind us how often we have avoided Jesus’ blessings. They remind us of the many times we have not struggled against sin but have given in to it. Without Jesus, these blessings become burdens and expectations too good for any of us to live up to.
With Jesus as the focus, these blessings fill us with joy. In our New Testament reading from 1 Corinthians 1, Paul reminds us that God makes us blessed,
26 “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”1 Corinthians 1:26-27
God knows the real you. He cuts through the superficial LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat profile. He is with you off camera, unscripted and in the reality of your situation. He identifies the humiliating, shameful weakness of your sin, and responds with blessings. Throughout the Epiphany season, we focus on Jesus appearing as the Savior. He is the one who calls the shots as the powerful preacher and miracle worker. God made you blessed through him as we continue to read in 1 Corinthians 1, 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” You are the description of Jesus’ blessings because of him. Jesus is our boast because he kept God’s law perfectly to sacrifice his life on the cross for your sins and to rise from the dead assuring you that you are not guilty and have a home in heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you have been called to faith to be members of the kingdom of heaven.
As Jesus disciples, we continue to seek out his teachings. In our Old Testament reading from Zephaniah 2, we read, 3 “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands.” And from Zephaniah 3, 12 “But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord.” Zephaniah and those who shared his hope in God were confident better days were ahead for them by the grace of God. Zephaniah lived in the same world as you and I, a world in which sin wreaks havoc and most people blame God for evil, rather than running to him for rescue. His encouragement then is timeless for all believers to trust in the name of the Lord. The Bible teaches us that God’s kingdom of heaven is a gift of grace. This grace of God has changed our eternal destination as we read in Matthew 5, 12 “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Zephaniah was a prophet and knew persecution, but he continued to share and put his hope in the unpopular message of God’s deliverance because his hope was in the Lord. Jesus was persecuted to the point of crucifixion for sharing the truth about himself as the Savior. You face persecution for your faith in Jesus and how you live as one of his blessed people. But you have real joy compared to those who persecute you. You have real joy because you have a real Savior, a real home in heaven and real answers for those who have not heard about Jesus, even real answers for those who persecute you.
John Chapman better known as “Johnny Appleseed” spread apple seeds. The results of his work were apple orchards. Jesus came to save sinners. The results of his work are the “Blessed.” In our Gospel reading from Matthew 5, Jesus says that you are blessed and that yours 3 … is the kingdom of heaven, you 4 … will be comforted, you 5 … will inherit the earth, you 6 … will be filled, you 7 … will be shown mercy, you 8 … will see God, you 9 … will be called children of God,and again yours 10 … is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice and be glad because God has blessed his people. Amen.