Listen to it:
Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who are these, and from where have they come? They are the blessed ones. Not because you’re here on November 7 instead of out in the woods! Not because you’re at church at all. Not because you’ve done anything to earn it. These are the poor in spirit, the spiritually empty, who come before God with nothing but empty hands, to whom God must give everything. These are the mourning ones, who grieve and sorrow over the effects of sin and death in this world and in their lives. These are the lowly ones, on whom the world looks down in derision. These are the ones who need, and know they need, a righteousness that comes not from their own works or within, but from outside themselves; who hunger and thirst for it as for their very life, for water, or food, or air. Who are these? These are the ones Jesus invites: “Come to Me, all who labor, who toil, who are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your selves.” These are the ones on whom the Reign of God has come, as Jesus said to John’s disciples: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is the one who does not fall away from God because of Me, who knows that I am the Reign of God come upon the earth.” Who are these? “[M]y dear brother[s and sisters], learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.’ Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours” (Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel (trans., ed., Tappert), 110). God dwells in the high and holy place, but also with the one of lowly and contrite heart (Psalm ). Yahweh is near to the one shattered in heart, and the one humble of heart, He will save (Psalm ). The Blessed Ones, poor in spirit, crying out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” because I cannot create it in myself. Blessed Ones, who have a share in the first resurrection, cleansed and brought to life in Christ’s resurrection, so that the second death has no authority over you (Revelation ).
Who are these? “By the mercy of God, you are beginning to live again, not to sin, but to righteousness, not to the world, but to Christ, knowing that to live to the world is death, and even to die in Christ is life” (Bernard of Clairvaux). You are beginning to be merciful, because the mercy of God has been poured out on you as the blood of Christ, which purchased you back for His Father. You are pure in spirit, having come to see the face of God in the mercy of Jesus, in Baptism, Absolution, and Supper. You are beginning to be doers and lovers of peace, rejoicing in concord and harmony, in one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all (Ephesians ). One Supper, joined to all the true members of Christ. Who are these? These are the ones waiting for the appearance of their Savior, with all the saints of all times and all places. They are done with their toil, we toil on. They are free of sin, death, and pain; we still deal with grief, sorrow, and weakness. “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine” (LSB 677:4). You may be persecuted, or mocked, or even killed. But: “Blessed are the ones dying in the Lord from now. Yes, says the
Spirit, so that they may rest from their toil and struggle, for their works follow after them” (Revelation 14:13). “But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day: the saints triumphant rise in bright array” (LSB 677:7). We all—blessed ones on earth and the souls of the saints with Christ—wait together for our promised hope: the resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting.
Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? They have come out of the great tribulation, martyrs and confessors of Christ, all. But they are not us in this creation; nor are they the dead who have died in Christ before us. They are all of us together on that last and greatest Day, when Christ is revealed and we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. When He will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious Body. When “All wrongs [are] forgotten and all vengeance made right/the suffering verbs put to sleep in the night” (Josh Ritter). When: “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia” forever (LSB 677:8).
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, 11/5/10