Sermon for All Saints’ Day
Revelation 7:9-17 + 1 John 3:1-3 + Matthew 5:1-12
Today we celebrate the blessedness of all the saints—saints like Peter and Paul, James and John, Mary and Mary Magdalene; saints like Stephen and all the martyrs who were put to death for their confession of Christ; saints like Augustine and Athanasius, Luther and Chemnitz; but also saints like Ingrid and Earl, members here who have fallen asleep; John and Joyce, my parents who fell asleep in the Lord. Your parents and relatives who died in faith. Today we celebrate the blessedness of these saints, but also the blessedness of you, the saints of God, together with all believers in the Lord Jesus.
The word “blessed,” which Jesus uses nine times in the twelve verses of our Gospel, means “fortunate,” “happy,” “privileged recipients of divine favor.” To be blessed is to have God smiling on you with His grace and favor.
But ours is a hidden blessedness, isn’t it? We speak of the blessedness of the saints above—men and women who were often despised and mistreated on this earth, men and women and children who suffered and died, men and women and children whose bodies have turned back to dust in the grave. Even now their blessedness is completely hidden from our eyes. We speak of the blessedness of the saints below—and yet, most of the time you would have a hard time in this world proving that God is smiling on His Christians.
Oh, but He is! Listen to Jesus today as He reveals what our eyes cannot see, as He explains who the blessed are and what it is that makes them so privileged. Hear the Lord Jesus teach His disciples about the hidden blessedness of the saints.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God has smiled upon the poor—the poor in spirit. This is spiritual poverty Jesus is talking about. You can be filthy rich financially and still poor in spirit. Or, you can be dirt poor when it comes to money but still snobbish when it comes to God.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means to recognize yourself as a beggar before God, a beggar who sees in himself nothing but the dirty rags of sin, the bankruptcy of good works, the lack of any spiritual possessions that might satisfy the requirements of God’s law. To be poor in spirit means to stretch out your beggar’s hand and to look to God for nothing but charity, alms for the poor, not because you’re entitled to it, but because you know God to be merciful in Jesus Christ.
How can Jesus call these people blessed? Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God’s kingdom—Paradise!—belongs to the undeserving, to the poor in spirit who hope in God’s mercy alone. They possess nothing on their own, but God has given them His own kingdom, His own riches in the Person of Jesus.
This blessedness of the poor in spirit—the blessedness of possessing the kingdom of heaven—is hidden to us now. We don’t look like possessors of God’s kingdom here on earth, and we can’t see the saints above reveling in the glory of God’s kingdom. But we are, and they are. The saints above were poor in spirit here below, crushed by God’s law, raised up by his grace, washed clean in His Baptism, fed by His body and blood. And although they died, they are not dead. Their souls live in heaven above, in the kingdom that was theirs here on this earth, but that they now have been granted to enjoy as they sit down at the banquet table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This blessedness is hidden from them no longer.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Those who mourn…well, that’s everyone, isn’t it?, believers and unbelievers alike. But just as the blessed poor are the poor in spirit, so these mourners are spiritual mourners. The blessed mourners are those who mourn over their sins, with a broken and contrite heart. They are those who sigh and cry under the weight of the blessed cross as the world crumbles to pieces around them. The blessed mourners are those who mourn over the horrors of sin in this world, who mourn over the sting of death, and who look up to God with tears in their eyes, because it’s hard to be a Christian.
You can’t see this blessedness. It’s hidden. But, Oh, how God smiles upon these mourners. Why are they blessed? Why are they privileged? For they shall be comforted. Secure sinners who do not mourn over their sin but sin bravely and flippantly and could care less whom they offend—they will not be comforted. But these blessed mourners who look up to God in faith with tears in their eyes…their tears will be wiped away. The comfort of the Gospel of Jesus’ love and sacrifice, the comfort of God’s favor is held out to them even now. Forgiveness is granted to them fully and freely. Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. And as for the saints above, the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The blessed meek, the meek about whom Jesus is speaking are gentle and humble of heart, just as Jesus said about Himself, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The meek in the kingdom of God don’t insist on their rights, but instead, in love, they consider others better than themselves and live to serve others, even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
You can’t push your way to the front of the line in the kingdom of God. Instead, the last shall be first. You can’t fight for a place among the saints. Instead, the meek shall inherit the earth. The saints below have not fought our way to the top. Instead, we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This blessedness is hidden from us. We know it by faith. But the saints above—they have seen it firsthand in heaven where, as Peter says, our inheritance is kept for us, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. The world tells you you’ll be blessed if you hunger and thirst after love, pleasure, money, power, prestige, reputation, comfort and ease. But God condemns such hunger and thirst. Instead, Jesus calls blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Why? For they shall be satisfied. How? Not with a righteousness of our own that comes by works, but with a righteousness that comes by faith to all who believe. The righteousness of Christ is hidden from our eyes, but God reveals that to those who believe in Christ for righteousness, He credits the righteousness of Christ to us and fills our heavenly account with the goodness and righteousness of Someone Else, our Lord Jesus Himself.
Do you hunger and thirst for His righteousness to stand in for you before God? You shall be satisfied. Do you struggle against sin and temptation? Do you hunger and thirst for the day when sin will no longer be your constant companion? It’s coming, and for the saints above, that day has already come. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. We don’t have time today to consider in detail all the blessedness that Jesus speaks of in this Gospel—the hidden blessedness in being merciful, in being pure in heart, or in being peacemakers. I would like to consider with you briefly the final words of Jesus.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. If ever there was a blessedness that is hidden from our eyes, it is this one. To be persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of goodness, for the sake of the Gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God—that doesn’t sound like divine blessing, and it doesn’t feel like divine privilege, either. Our flesh rages against the cross and persecution. The devil takes suffering and persecution and divisions in the Church and holds them before our eyes and says, “See! You are on the wrong side! What kind of God would let you be persecuted for being faithful to His Word?”
But Jesus tells us how things really are—that the blood of the saints is precious in His sight, that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are privileged and blessed, because His kingdom belongs to them. When you are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, ridiculed, shamed, slandered, condemned and even put to death—rejoice! You get to be like the blessed Prophets. Rejoice! You get to join the ranks of the blessed Apostles. Rejoice! You get to be like Jesus.
And that’s the long and short of what it means to be blessed: to be like Jesus, the Holy One—poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meek, hungry and thirsty for our righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted. Neither you nor I nor any of the saints who have gone before us are any of those things by nature, nor could we become those things by our own efforts or by our own choice. On the contrary, there isn’t a saintly bone in your body. But in His grace, God has given His Son to be all that we were not, so that by faith alone in Him, we might possess all that He is, first by reckoning, then by becoming. By faith, God reckons us even now to be among the saints. And now His Spirit, through the Means of Grace, continually renews us in the image of Jesus Christ so that, day by day, we grow into His image and become like Jesus in true righteousness and holiness and blessedness.
It’s a hidden blessedness now. But it won’t be hidden forever. The saints below have it by faith. The saints above have it by sight. On this festival of All Saints, let us rejoice in this blessed communion we have with one another as fellow believers, with the saints in glory as co-heirs in this blessed inheritance, and above all, the fellowship that we have been given with Christ Jesus, our Lord.
And what better way could there be for us to celebrate this communion than with the blessed Meal of Holy Communion where all the saints in heaven and on earth gather around the body and blood of Jesus to receive, by faith, His forgiveness on the earthly side of the rail, and to celebrate, by sight, His victory over sin and death on the heavenly side, where we one day shall be if we persevere in this faith and finish the race, as all the saints have done? May it be so, by God’s grace. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.