February 17, 2019
Text: Luke 6:17-26
Either Jesus gets everything backwards, or we do. I think you know the answer to that, but just consider for a moment how utterly backwards our Lord’s blessings and woes sound to our fallen human ears. Blessed are you who are poor? Who are hungry, who weep, who are hated, excluded, reviled, spurned as evil? And then: Cursed are you who are rich? Who are full, who laugh, who are well-spoken of by others? This is the opposite of the American Dream. We consider those blessed who are wealthy and happy and have a good reputation. And the poor? They should get a job. Those who weep need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Most people with a bad name have earned it. What on earth is going on here? What does this mean? Four blessings, the beatitudes. Four curses, the woes. And all is not as it appears. Jesus turns everything on its head, as He is wont to do, because you and I, as we are wont to do, have everything utterly inside out and upside down.
The question, really, is not how much money you have, how much you eat and drink, or whether you are persecuted and reviled. These are but the symptoms of the greater issue, and circumstances change. The issue is not one of outward appearance, but of being. Who are you, and to whom do you belong? The issue is one of faith. The issue is one of Christ. And the Prophet Jeremiah makes this clear in our Old Testament reading (Jer. 17:5-8). You either trust in man, whether it be yourself, or other men, or the stuff of men, the stuff of this life. Or you trust in the LORD, YHWH, the one true God, the Father who sent His Son to become flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, your life, and your salvation. If you trust in man, if flesh is your strength, if your counting on your wealth or your possessions or your honor, or even and especially your own good works, then you may be rich now, and full now, you may laugh now, and be respected now, but when the drought comes, you’re like a shrub in the desert. For all your riches, you’re really destitute. Turns out you have nothing. You shall not see any good come. You shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, an uninhabited salt land, which is just another way of saying, hell. No God, no good. That’s hell. That’s what trust in man gets you. Hell.
But if you trust in the LORD, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, then you may be poor now, hungry, mourning, and persecuted now, but what can any of those bad things do to you? The LORD God is on your side. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you to death on the cross, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give you all things (Cf. Rom. 8:32)? So when the drought comes, you are like a tree planted by the water, sending out your roots by the stream. And what is the water but that which is included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, the water of your Baptism into Christ? The worst drought the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh can throw at you cannot rob you of the water. It cannot rob you of Christ. So you do not fear. Your leaves remain green. You are not anxious in times of economic crisis or famine, when the money dries up and the tummy rumbles, nor in times of grief or persecution, when you come face to face with death, when people hate you and exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. You can rejoice and be glad in that day, for the tree planted by this water, the one in Christ, cannot be moved. And so their fathers did to the prophets who were before you. Learn from the prophets what it means to be rich in poverty, full in scarcity, filled with joy even in the midst of grief, to rejoice in persecution. They did not love their lives unto death, and their reward is in heaven.
That is why you are blessed when the world would call you anything but. You poor, you who, even in the midst of worldly wealth, know that you have nothing… Yours is the Kingdom of heaven.
You who are hungry now, take the long view. Your hunger is for this earthly life only. It is the blink of an eye. This is not to say that we should not feed the hungry. Quite the contrary. But it is to proclaim good news to those who lack. You shall be satisfied! The sign points to the reality of that Day. Remember how Jesus fed the 5,000 men plus women and children on five loaves and two fishes? And twelve baskets full were left over. Jesus is the living Bread from Heaven. He will not leave you empty.
And you who weep now, who know the sorrows of this world, who have been beaten down by the changes and chances of this life, who know the cold sting of death… Take heart! You shall laugh. Your mourning shall be turned into dancing. Jesus is the end of death.
And to all of you in the holy faith of Christ, who are despised and rejected by the world, mocked and ridiculed, shunned by family members and those you thought were friends, those you thought loved you, simply because you confess Christ and His Word… that is now, but rejoice for what will be. Your reward is great in heaven. Leap for joy. Thank God that you have been counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Christ. You may lose your business if you try to run it according to your biblical convictions. You may have to pay fines or lose your livelihood. Your Christian confession may be labeled hate speech. And the day is coming sooner than later when Christians will suffer imprisonment and death once again. It has happened before. It is happening now in other places throughout the world. Don’t think that you are immune. But let not your heart be troubled. Your Father in heaven sees. He hears your prayers. He will come to your aid. He will deliver you. He will never leave you or forsake you.
So you are blessed. That is the reality Jesus has pronounced over you. But the most important thing you have to understand about these beatitudes is that, before they can be about you, they are first and ultimately about Christ. This is a description of your Savior. He is the poor man. Literally, born into poverty, in a stable in Bethlehem. His parents have to give the sacrifice of the poor when He is presented at the Temple, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons. He is raised in a carpenter’s home. He is not rich. But even more profound, St. Paul preaches to us, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; ESV). His ultimate poverty is that of the cross. There He is the Sin-Bearer. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He who is everything becomes nothing on Golgotha, a worm and not a man, hungering and thirsting for our righteousness, for our salvation, with shame and grief weighed down, hated by all, excluded, reviled, spurned as evil. Not just by man, but stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted (Cf. Is. 53). Jesus, our blessed Lord, becomes the Curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; Cf. Deut. 21:23).
But what happens in His accursedness? He defeats it. He rises from the dead. The Kingdom of God is His. He is the Kingdom of God in the flesh. And He has purchased you by His own blood to be in His Kingdom as His own beloved citizen and as a child of His heavenly Father, to live under Him and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Where Jesus is, we are, by virtue of our Baptism into Christ. Who are you, and to Whom do you belong? You are baptized into Christ, a Christian, and you belong to Christ. No identity crisis for you. You are not your job. You are not your wealth and possessions. You are not your good name and reputation. And you are certainly not your good works or merit before God. Your identity is all wrapped up in the flesh and blood of Christ. Let me say it again: Who are you, and to Whom do you belong? You are baptized into Christ, and you belong to Christ. Therefore you are blessed. And He sets a Feast before you, His own Body and Blood, which is just a foretaste of the eternal Feast to come. You are filled. You are satisfied. And you laugh and sing and rejoice at this Feast, as you will for all eternity, for this is just the beginning of your reward which is great in heaven, all of which is pure gift from the Lord Jesus. The beatitudes are about you, because they are first and ultimately about Jesus.
Now, we’ve talked about the blessings and the woes, but we dare not neglect the introduction of our Gospel reading where we learn what happens whenever we gather around Jesus to hear His Word. He touches us at the very core of our poverty and lack and grief. And He heals us. He forgives our sins. He fills us with Himself and all of His gifts. And He frees us from all that binds us. He heals our sickness and disease. He puts the demons to flight. He gives us life where once there was only death. And notice, that all these people who came to hear Him sought to touch Him, and power came out from Him and He healed them all (Luke 6:19). Well, here we are, gathered around Jesus to hear His life-giving Word and be healed by Him. And now we long to touch Him, so that the same power comes out from Him to heal us. And that is what happens at the altar. His Body. His Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to put the demons to flight, and to heal you of all your afflictions. The ultimate healing, of course, happens on that Day when Jesus comes again in glory to raise you from the dead. But the beginning of that healing is here, now, in the gift He gives when He touches you. That is the power that comes out from Him. Our whole life is lived around the altar, because our whole life is lived around and in Jesus. Our identity, our very being, is Jesus.
Woe to all who trust in man. They have received their good things now. Their punishment awaits. But blessed are you who trust in the LORD. No evil can finally harm you. Not really. For you are baptized into Christ. You belong to Christ. He is your wealth, your satisfaction, and your eternal reward. He is your whole identity. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.