Sermon by Rev. Lance Filio
We come now to our discussion of the actual beatitudes. Last week, we emphasized how each beatitude is applied to all believing Christian and all eight of them are applied to them as a whole. We also qualified the term “blessed” as a resulting state given by God to all of his people. Now, we will look into each beatitude to determine how is this so.
There are eight beatitudes listed here on our text and a kind of chiastic pattern that emerges from it. A chiasm is “reversal of grammatical structures in successive phrases or clause”.
Now, the center of the whole poem determines the main point of the whole structure. Looking at the list as a whole, the highlight lands on verses 6 to 7. The upper and lower ladders are verses 3-5 and 8-10 respectively. This pattern divides the verses in a natural and orderly manner. Verses 3-5 deals with the internalized virtues a kingdom-member possess while verses 8-10 externalizes these virtues toward men. However, the middle section (verses 6-7) serves a transition between them. It focuses on source of all these virtues which is God himself.
Today, we will hear God’s word preached from the first and second section of the beatitudes. 1) The poor in Spirit, the mourners, and the meek; 2) The hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and the merciful. Next week, we will summarize the second section then end by focusing on the third section.
Before we begin, let us pray…
The poor in Spirit, the mourners, and the meek
verses 3-5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The first three virtues pertains to the experience of God’s work of grace prior conversion and continues to possess here on earth. These are the qualities each believing Christian demonstrate when they realize their worthlessness before God. God is holy and we are not. Prior conversion, we rebel against him and were considered dead in our sins and trespasses before. Yet by God’s regenerating work, faith and repentance were granted to them which convicts them of their sins and receive the offer of God’s redemptive work in Christ. The spiritual effect of these events are the first three virtues in our beatitudes.
The term “poor in Spirit” does not mean material poverty. The monastic movement from the early churches equate lack of wealth with spiritual prosperity. There were stories from this period where a famous rich person leaves his wealthy position, decided to donate them to the poor, and entered the monastery instead. It all sound pious but eventually all becomes corrupted. Down in history these monasteries yielded to much power over the state because of their great wealth. How ironic.
On the other extreme, charismatic churches promise health and wealth to all their members thinking that spiritual prosperity equates to material “blessedness”. Healing and prayer rallies are flocked by those who longs for God to bless them. Some genuinely come for their spiritual needs but more often they use it for their own gain. They are waiting for some material reward from heaven.
But Jesus speaks of poverty in Spirit as a way for us to see our own spiritual poverty. Conversion begins when we realize we are dead in sins and trespasses. We need to recognize our lack in order to receive it from God and what we lack is the righteousness God. We will see this connection to verse 6 later on but it is suffice for us now to say that the kingdom of heaven comes with God himself and God reconciles us to himself through Christ who is our righteousness. We are united to God in Christ through faith and by the Spirit. This comes to us by being convicted of our sins and our recognition of our poverty before God.
Next, we mourn over our sins and lack of righteousness. To mourn means to acknowledge and repent of our sins before God. When we realize we are have no way of saving ourselves because of our sins, we will mourn over it and ask God for forgiveness.
Only a believing sinner truly repents. Sound conversion comes from truly acknowledging one’s sin and turning away from it. A Christian when converted does not ignores sin, justifies it or even blames others for it. A regenerate believer mourns over his own sins the moment the Holy Spirit convicts him/her of it. Repentance, just like faith, is a gift from God. We know our conversion from sin to God is genuine when we are able to see our sins, acknowledge them, and mourn over them.
During counselling, I am often asked by members who sin and doubt about their conversion. They were discouraged by the fact they still sin and because of it, question whether or not they real Christians to begin with. Well, do believe you are a sinner in need of God’s grace? When you sin, do you personally see them as sin, as an offense before a holy God? That is the main difference between a regenerate and unregenerate person. When sinning, a regenerate person repents.
Spiritual poverty and mourning over our sinful state make us meek. Meekness means to possess a humble and gentle disposition before God. It is the quality Christ himself possess. In his call to give rest, Christ reveals his character to us as someone who is “… gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29).” Humility is an important character a disciple possess because Christ himself demonstrate this virtue of humiliation.
According to Dr. Ferguson, “meekness is notoriously difficult to define. It is certainly not a lack of backbone. Rather, it is a humble strength that belongs to the man who has learned to submit to difficulties (difficult experiences and difficult people), knowing that in everything God is working for his good. The meek man is the one who has stood before God’s judgement, and abdicated all his supposed “rights”. He has learned, in gratitude for God’s grace. to submit himself to the Lord and to be gentle with sinners.”
None of us are inherently humble because sin makes us proud. Yet as followers of Christ, we are called to life of humble submission. Our sinful nature refuses to bow down before God and others. Unless turned by God in conversion, we will never be able to do so. Only God can makes us truly humble. By virtue of our union with Christ through faith and by the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives, we submit to God and humble ourselves before men.
In sum, spiritual poverty, mourning over sin, and humbly submitting before God and others mark the members of God’s kingdom. These are the internalized qualities they possess that makes them truly blessed by God.
The hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and the merciful
verses 6-7: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
We come now to the center of the poem. According to Jesus, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and those who are merciful will be satisfied and receive mercy. They will receive these benefits from God because God is the source of these blessings.
The picture of being hungry and being thirsty illustrates perfectly the spiritual condition of every believer. Similar to our physical hunger and thirst, our spiritual condition exposes our dependence on God and it acknowledges our need for God’s grace in our lives. It is a matter of life and death. The moment we discover that we are beggars before God, we long satisfaction from him alone for no thing and no one else can do for it. We are sinners in need of God’s grace and we find what we need from him. We hunger and thirst for God and his righteousness and God promises to satisfy them.
What is this righteousness we long for? Dr. Ferguson explains it by saying: “it means, first of all, to to long for a right relationship with God, and consequently to be righteous before him. But it also means to desire to live rightly before him in the world, and to desire to see right relationships restored in the lives of others.” In order to expand on this, he lays down three dimensions of righteousness.
First, we long for the imputed righteousness of Christ. It is for our justification, for the forgiveness of sins. It is a kind of righteousness that declares us righteous. Martin Luther emphasizes this kind of righteousness as the hinge of the Reformation by which the whole church stands and falls. It is the only way for us to have a right relationship with God. It does not come from our own inherent righteousness but a righteousness that comes from God himself. It is a righteousness that God provides in his grace.
Second, we long for the sanctifying grace that makes us righteous before God. It is the kind of inherent righteousness wrought in us by the Holy Spirit that cleanses us from the corruptions of sin that remains in our flesh. We cannot possess the benefit of justification without the grace of sanctification. When we are united to God in Christ by faith and Spirit, we receive the dual benefits of justification and sanctification. We cannot be justified without being sanctified, and vice-versa.
Third, we long for the righteousness of God extended to others through the reconciling work of gospel. We labor in God’s kingdom to bring God’s people in it through the ordinary means of entering to it which primarily comes through the preaching of the gospel. We bring God’s kingdom to world as salt and light to world. We are dismissed every Lord’s day to love our neighbor as our self. We live as ambassadors of God’s grace and invite every one to look and see.
In sum, we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness by receiving the righteous work of God in Christ and by the Spirit, and extending them to others.
ZCRC(Imus), as members of God’s kingdom, we are blessed in spite of our spiritual poverty. We mourn over sins and humbly submit before God and others. God satisfies us with his righteousness and for that we are most truly blessed. Amen.