“The Way of Sainthood”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, how are you doing? With your sainthood, I mean. How do you feel, most days? Like a saint? Poor in spirit, mourning, lowly, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted, mocked, lied about, with all sorts of evil spoken about you? That’s the life of the saint. That’s the life of the disciple, and it cannot be otherwise. Because those words describe the one who has nothing before God, one who is empty and needs to be filled. Further, they are words about one who knows she is empty; one who knows he needs to be filled. Such people are saints: holy with a holiness from outside themselves.
This world is not worthy of the sainthood of which Jesus speaks (Hebrews 11:38). The people of this world have it precisely backwards. You do not become blessed of God by making peace or being merciful. This is true regardless of the fact that “blessed are the peacemakers” is second only to “do not judge, lest you be judged” as the Biblical-sounding phrase that most people think they know. Pretending to quote the Scriptures still gives an appearance of authority. But I have nothing to say to those who think that these Beatitudes in Matthew 5 give an outline for a more just society or good government. Those who use them this way may have heard hints of saintliness, but they are wrong about what makes a saint, because they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29). And we in the Church are not immune to this false understanding. We love to quote the Beatitudes, especially the ones about being merciful, pure in heart, and peacemaking, but none of us would choose to be described by the others: poor in spirit, mourning, lowly, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, persecuted, mocked, lied about, and having evil spoken of us. No, the life of the saint is not something you would choose, not if you are in your right mind. Nor would I choose it for myself. In fact, no saint has ever chosen sainthood. When Jesus says “blessed are…,” He is not saying, “Be poor in spirit, be humble, make peace, be merciful, etc., and then you will be blessed.” Jesus is telling us that the blessed ones will do these things and these things will happen to them. The “blessed” part is the part that’s already done, not the thing at which we are aiming. Notice that Jesus speaks specifically to “his disciples” (Matthew 5:2). He is not speaking to the crowds. He goes away from them and up onto a mountain to talk privately with His disciples. This teaching is not for the unbelieving crowds, and so they naturally misunderstand it. We misunderstand it also, to the extent that we have been influenced by the world. In this world, you achieve higher status by doing, so sainthood is reserved for those special few among us, who are as gods among men. When this comes into the Church, we begin to think that sainthood is achieved at death based on the excellence of the life lived. But we do not travel the path of life in order to reach the goal of sainthood; no, we only reach the goal if we have been made saints. Sainthood belongs to those who are blessed by God in Jesus Christ, whether they want it or not.
So we must ask the question: how does it go with us? How is your sainthood? If you’re like me, you tend to put the emphasis on “your.” How is your sainthood? Yeah; doing pretty well today. I’m taking a whole hour out of my week for God. (Sometimes it’s even an hour-and-a-half, if the sermon is long or it’s a communion Sunday!) That’s got to be worth something. But Jesus doesn’t even mention the blessed ones who give Him less than one percent of the minutes in a week! How could He overlook that? What Jesus does do is emphasize the “blessed ones.” He teaches us to put the emphasis on the “how.” How is your sainthood? Which seems to me a much more realistic question. O Lord, how? How do you take this mess of skin and bones and guts, lusts and desires and failures, and make something holy out of it? How do you get past the bloated selfishness and the quick temper and all the garbage that enters us through our ears and eyes? How, indeed? By killing us. See, your life as a saint begins and ends with death: the death of the One who was nailed to the cross. He kills sinners to make saints, even sinners like you and me. You would not choose this life of sainthood if you were in your right mind. Thank God that you are out of your mind, and into the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)!
Those who have the mind of Christ travel the way of sainthood, and the way of sainthood is paved with the blood of Christ. Where is Christ? He is the one who carries you and your poor spirit into the reign of heaven. Where is Christ? He carries you from mourning into eternal consolation. He fills your hunger and thirst, your emptiness, with Himself, with a foretaste of that great feast to come. “I am the bread of life,” He says, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35, ESV). He stands before you as the merciful One, and His mercies are ever new, even as you show mercy to those who need it. The peace of Christ is yours; you are peacemakers as you bring the words of Christ’s peace to your office, classroom, and home. He is the one who “reconciles to himself all things, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20, ESV). Death and your sin do not and will not have the last word. Resurrection is the last word. The second resurrection, the resurrection of your body and mine, will complete the first resurrection of water and the Word. So the way of sainthood stretches between the resurrections. Between the resurrection from spiritual death and the resurrection from physical death, we mourn over our sin and the death that wreaks havoc in our world and on those we love. Between the resurrections we hunger and thirst for the perfect righteousness of God; we cry out for final justice along with the souls of the saints who have gone before us (Revelation 7:9-11). Here there is persecution and lies and evil spoken of the people of holiness. But remember: Jesus was persecuted and lied about and mocked and killed on a cross; because you follow Him, you should not expect anything different. He has said it: “you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9, ESV).
But do not lose heart. The second resurrection is coming! When the saints are resurrected, and their bodies and souls are reunited in the new heavens and the new earth, together with them we will be fully comforted, fully filled, fully sons of God, completed in the full vision of the glory of God. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, ESV). “[You] are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. [You] have washed [your] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, ESV). “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them'” (Revelation 14:13, ESV). Saints of God, blessed and holy in Jesus Christ, rejoice and be glad on this festival day of all saints, because your reward is great in heaven; your inheritance awaits you in the new creation. “Behold, [He is] making all things new” (Revelation 21:5, ESV).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/31/07