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“Jesus’ Topsy-Turvy Teaching”
Matthew 5:1-12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany—January 23, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

During the 1988 presidential campaign, one of the vice-presidential candidates famously said, “Everything that should be up is down, and everything that should be down is up.”  He was talking about the economy, such things as unemployment and interest rates.  However, that memorable phrase accurately describes the problem with us: “Everything that should be up is down, and everything that should be down is up.”

Everything in your life that should be up, is down: holiness, righteousness, service to God.  And, everything in your life that should be down, is up: sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  The solution to this “upsidedowness” in your life is “Jesus’ Topsy-Turvy Teaching”:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Because everything in your life is upside-down from what it should be, Jesus’ radical, topsy-turvy teaching is exactly what you need to set things right in your life again.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  The poverty Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with assets and liabilities.  Jesus is talking about being “poor in spirit,” a spiritual attitude, of spiritual poverty.  An attitude that says, “I have earned nothing from God; I am owed nothing by God.  All that I am and have is a gift from him.” 

Paul puts it this way in Titus: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  That is what it means to be poor in spirit, acknowledging your spiritual bankruptcy, your spiritual poverty.  Relying for your salvation not on anything you think you have earned or deserved but on Jesus Christ and the salvation he earned for you by his atoning sacrifice.  As the hymn “Rock of Ages” says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  When you stop relying on yourself for your salvation, when you put aside your self-righteousness and instead rely on him and his righteousness, you receive the kingdom of heaven, you have eternal life.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn.”  The mourning Jesus is talking about is a spiritual grieving and mourning and lamenting over your sin.  Jesus means, “Blessed are those who repent,” “blessed are those who lament and sorrow over their sins.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  We began our service today with a quotation from the 1st Epistle of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But, if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Your sins are all forgiven; the sins which trouble your conscience are all pardoned.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek.”  Christian meekness does not mean weakness.  Jesus himself was a forceful, powerful, “manly man,” who when necessary expressed himself very strongly, as when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip. 

Christian meekness does not mean weakness; Christian meekness means humility.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”; and in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”; and he tells Titus, “Remind the people . . . to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The Golden Rule of the Bible is, “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”  But, we are often tempted and pressured to follow not the Golden Rule of the Bible but the Selfish Rule of the world, “Stick it to others before they have a chance to do it to you.” 

Jesus promises that even though in the eyes of the world your Christian meekness may be perceived as weakness, ultimately you will not lose out, ultimately you will never be worse off by showing true, Christian humility toward all men.  In fact, when Jesus says that the meek “will inherit the earth,” he is symbolically promising that true Christian humility will be richly rewarded, not only in heaven but also in this world. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Jesus is speaking of a spiritual hunger, a spiritual thirst, a “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Such a spiritual hunger and thirst is a longing and desire to know God, to please him, to do his will. 

The Bible often uses this imagery of spiritual hunger and thirst.  Psalm 42 begins, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  Psalm 119 says, “I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.”  Psalm 34 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Peter urges, “Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  The early church father St. Augustine said, “Our hearts our restless until they find their rest in Thee.”  Your spiritual and emotional searchings and longings will not be satisfied by anything or anyone else.  Not by the comforts or amusements or pleasures of this world; not by money or material things; not by a different god.  “Our hearts our restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Your spiritual and emotional searchings and longings will only be satisfied by a living relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Lord says in the book of Isaiah, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”  Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. . .  If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. . .  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Jesus invites you to calm your restless heart, to satiate your spiritual hunger and thirst, to find your spiritual rest and fulfillment, in him: “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. . .  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful.”  Jesus once told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  This servant owed his master a great debt that he could never repay.  His master has mercy on him and forgives his debt.  But, then that same servant refuses to have mercy on one of his fellow servants who owes him a small debt.  The parable concludes, “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”  The way of the world is to seek revenge and hold a grudge; but the way for Jesus’ disciples is to follow his example and show mercy, underserved kindness, underserved love, undeserved forgiveness.  As he himself prayed even as he was being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In contrast to the way of the world, Jesus promises that you will be blessed by him when you follow his way, his example, and let go of your grudges and revenge and instead show mercy to your fellow man.  As he taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Paul puts it this way in Colossians: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 

“Blessed are the pure in heart.”  Jesus is not referring so much to moral purity but to sincerity, a lack of hypocrisy, a heart that genuinely trusts in Jesus and devoutly desires to follow in his ways and do his will. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  In this world it often seems the advantage goes not to the “pure in heart” but to the hypocrites, to the deceitful and the dishonest.  But Jesus promises his sincere, faithful followers a far greater advantage: “for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Every single Christian is called to be a peacemaker.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “God has called us to live in peace”; and in Romans, “As far as it depends on you, live in peace with everybody.” 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  It appears that Jesus promises in this Beatitude: If you are a peacemaker, then you will be God’s child.  But, it’s really the exact opposite:  Since you are God’s child, you will be a peacemaker. 

You are able to live in peace with others, and you are moved to be a peacemaker among others, because you yourself are at peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ.  “For they will be called sons of God.”  Jesus promises that you will be recognized by others as God’s child by virtue of your peaceful ways.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness . . .  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  Jesus says, “No servant is greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  Paul tells Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 

That really sums up all the Beatitudes: From a worldly perspective, following “Jesus’ Topsy-Turvy Teaching” in your life, living daily as his disciple, it seems to have very little reward, very little payback.  But, there is a greater motive compelling you to follow your Master: his love for you.  And, there is a greater reward than any earthly payback: his promise to you of heavenly blessing.  “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

The Beatitudes are “Jesus’ Topsy-Turvy Teaching” for your life.  Blessed are:

the poor in spirit;

those who mourn;

the meek;

those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;

the merciful;

the pure in heart;

the peacemakers;

and those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

Amen.

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