When Law and Gospel are mingled together you never end up with faith and salvation. For salvation and faith are apart from the Law. Christ’s works and merit is the only merit for salvation for sinners. As we will read in today’s text Salvation is won for us by Christ alone and this comes to us by the Word of Law and Gospel. Repentance, which is necessary for salvation is a gift given in the Word.
Matthew 5: 1 Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.4 Blessed are those who mourn,for they shall be comforted.5 Blessed are the gentle,for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,for they shall be filled.7 Blessed are the merciful,for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart,for they shall see God.9 Blessed are the peacemakers,for they shall be called children of God.10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:1-12
When I teach someone a text of Scripture, I am obligated to discuss Law and Gospel. After all It’s all over the Bible so it is hard to miss. Not to mention that it is how we ought to read the Bible. For a right understanding of Law and Gospel helps us to understand most passages so that we don’t end up mingling the two together, as our sinful nature likes to do, and we end up with a works based righteousness program of how to attain heaven, godhood, or a more blessed life. This passage is a passage that cannot be explained without Law and Gospel. Many have tried, and I’ve heard just about as many fail, yet there are some good solid theologians that get it right. For, if you don’t separate Law and Gospel you will read this text as things you must do to “follow Jesus” or to fix your troubled temporal life, etc. As you will find an example of in a “Christianized” self-help program called ‘Celebrate Recovery’ which I had wrote about in an article a few years ago. You can find that article here.
Cursed are those who reject the gift of repentant faith
13 Therefore the Lord Yahweh says,“Behold, my servants will eat, but you will be hungry; behold, my servants will drink,but you will be thirsty. Behold, my servants will rejoice,but you will be disappointed.14 Behold, my servants will sing for joy of heart,but you will cry for sorrow of heart,and will wail for anguish of spirit.Isaiah 65: 13-14
While everyone is quick to see that this passage is full of blessings it also implies there will be curses. This is the Law. As this parallels Isaiah 65, and Luke 6, there are curses and blessings. Those who are full of their own righteousness, those who do not mourn their sin, those who reject a pure heart will be cursed. If you think that your sins aren’t bad, that you do not need a Savior for your sins, that you so not need God, then you have separated yourself from God and have chosen to reject His blessings.
The absence of blessings are curses. To not be blessed us to be cursed. We are all under the curse of sin, death, and the devil apart from Christ who brings the blessings of righteousness, eternal life, and Himself. Apart from Christ you are cursed, damned, and chaff for the fire. This is the depth of our sin. The Augsburg Confession calls this concupiscence, the original sin is so deep that we do not know God, or love God. Our conscience runs from an angry God because our conscience knows it has sinned against God.
This is why the Blessing comes. The Blessing of Christ, the Promised Blessing, is the Gospel. The Gospel is what tells us that God is not angry with us and God calls us to Himself, through the Word written in the blood of the Lamb. He washes clean the handwriting on your conscience and announces you as His own. He places His name on you in Holy Baptism, washes you clean, and places the robe of His Righteousness on you.
Blessed are those who Repent
Those who mourn, are poor in Spirit, humble, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are those who are crushed by the Law. These are those who see their sin, know they can’t be righteous of themselves and don’t even try to be self righteous, yet yearn for a righteousness outside themselves. Namely a Righteous One who imputes His righteousness to them. These are the ones who receive the Kingdom, are comforted with this good news, who inherit the new earth, and are filled with righteousness.
Trying to do these things to follow Jesus as a new Moses won’t end up well. While you can mourn your sin and hunger for righteousness under the Law you cannot attain a solution apart from Christ. Not to mention you don’t do anything to inherit something so trying to be gentle to inherit the new earth is by definition to try to be justified by the Law. To do something to inherit, to do something to be gifted, is absurd. It must be that something has caused me to be gentle that is not of myself. Namely, the Law has humbled me and I have received mercy. Think also how this works with hunger and thirsting. If you are hungry you cannot be filled just by being hungry, you must be filled by something external. So it is with inheriting the new earth, the life after the resurrection. It comes as a gift outside yourself that you cannot attain by works or merit.
This is repentant faith. Contrition, godly sorrow over sin, and faith, believing the Promise. As we have seen this first half of today’s passage is mourning over sin, being poor, hungry and thirsting, for righteousness. This is contrition and faith; namely repentance. The Law crushes our pride, our joy, and leaves us humble (Contrition). We are left thirsty, and hungry, for a righteousness that fulfills the Law. We cling to the Promise of such righteousness (faith). This is repentance.
Blessed is the fruit of Repentance.
The merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, and those persecuted the the sake of righteousness, the Righteous One, the Gospel. Here is a list of blessings that come from the fruit of repentance. We are now merciful for we have received mercy. Think of the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus tells us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us“. Let’s look at the small and large catechism for a brief explanation:
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we verily, on our part, also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.Small Catechism; Lord’s Prayer
But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. 94] For just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. 95] If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6:37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6:14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc.Large Catechism; Lord’s Prayer
We have a pure heart because we have God. To have God is to have a pure heart. A heart that is pure is one that has no other “god” or idol. It trusts not in it’s own righteousness but only in the Promise of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
Ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good, especially in want and distress, and that, moreover, renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God. If, on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of which it expects more good and help than of God, and does not take refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from Him, then you have an idol, another god.Large Catechism; First Commandment
To be a peacemaker is to bring peace. The greatest peace to bring is that there is now peace between God and man. It is nothing more that to proclaim the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) Christ. Being a child of God is one who is at peace with God because of the Prince of Peace who has reconciled us to the Father.
Persecution also comes from this new life in the Spirit. You are a new creation and you stand out reflecting the Light in a darkened world. There will be much hate towards you from the Evil one. You stand out, you make evil look bad, and sin is called out for what it is; for this, you will be persecuted, you will be hated, and yet this is proof that you have the Kingdom. Your fruit, your confession, is proof that you have the Spirit.
Galatians 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23
Blessed are you
The last few verses were spoken directly to the disciples yet these verses still fit with the persecution we can expect to endure. Whatever reward God gives those who are gifted with faith is His alone to give and it is not anything that we have merited. For the kingdom of heaven is a reward yet we did not earn or merit it in any way. I will say that all of these blessings are here now in part but will be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth. It is in the next life, the eternal everlasting life, that all of these blessings are fulfilled in their completion.
That in and of itself is a reward gifted to us from God. That our sanctification be completed and our fruit to be ever flowing and never ceasing. To think of a day when there won’t be any sin or lack of righteousness, when there won’t be any mourning, sickness, our hearts will be pure, righteousness fills us to the brim, and there be no persecution left. For the Evil one will be eternally punished, and all that is left is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.
Blessed are you, because you have the Spirit. You have been given the gift of repentant faith in His Holy Word. The Spirit has given you faith, His name, and His Promises. You have been baptized into Christ and there He has you. There you are washed, There you are clean of all unrighteousness, there you have His robe of Righteousness. Here, right now, you are baptized. All of the blessings and promises are yours. You are righteous, sanctified, and holy. Not of yourself, but because of Christ’s merit to you all done and given to you as a gift because of His everlasting love for you. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. With your sins forgiven, go in peace.