All Saints’ Day · Matthew 5:1-12 · November 1, 2009
By Jeff Gibbs
I would suggest that the preacher not try to “cover” the entirety of the Beatitudes; there’s too much here! For a relatively lengthy exposition, see Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1 (CPH, 2006), 234-56. Below are only a few exegetical and homiletical suggestions.
One of the major views regarding the structure of the Beatitudes sees 5:3-6 as a first section and 5:7-10 as the second major section. Matthew 5:11-12, then, repeats the eighth blessing on the persecuted, and also ends the unit and segues into the Salt and Light sayings (15:13-16).
I would suggest Matthew 5:3-6 as the text for the sermon. I offer three crucial points of exegetical theology. First, the emphatic adjective “blessed” is the equivalent of “saved” or “redeemed,” as a simple word study of μακάριος in Matthew shows (11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:46). It does not mean merely “happy” or “congratulations.” For people to be “blessed” in this context means they have received God’s salvation that has come into the world in Jesus of Nazareth.
Second, the supportive “for” (ότι) clauses in each of the Beatitudes provides the reason why Jesus pronounces certain kinds of people as truly blessed. The significance of these ότι clauses is this: that is where Jesus is located. So, the reign of heaven in Jesus belongs to the poor in spirit (5:3), final eschatological comfort will come through Jesus to those who are presently mourning (5:4), Jesus will grant the inheritance of the renewed earth to the lowly (5:5), and in Jesus God will set all things right and so satisfy the hunger and thirst of those who long for God to act (5:6).
Third, who are the people named in 5:3-6: the poor in spirit, the mourning, the lowly, and the hungry and thirsty? These are all descriptions of human need, inability, and emptiness; they are not, repeat, not positive virtues! To be poor in spirit is to be in a condition of having nothing to offer God, and no way to save oneself (see “poor” in Mt 11:5 and Is 61:1). To mourn is to acknowledge that the world is broken, and I am poor in spirit! To be lowly (not “meek” or “gentle” in a positive sense) is to be powerless; this is the Greek term (οί πραεις) that LXX regularly employs to translate the plural of ענן, those who are powerless and must look to God for salvation (Ps 37:11). When people realize that they are powerless to save themselves or redeem the world, then they hunger for God’s righteousness, that is, for God to set the world to rights as he promised he would.
In the first four Beatitudes, then, Jesus proclaims that those who have nothing are precisely the ones who receive everything from God. This is true in the present (“the reign of heaven is theirs,” 5:3) and it will be true on the Last Day (“they will be comforted,” “they will inherit,” “they will be satisfied”). To gain access to these promises, then, one bows the knee and says, “Yes, this is true. I have nothing to offer God. But I believe that I shall receive everything from him for the sake of Christ, who speaks the Beatitudes and to goes to the cross and empty tomb for all, and who is coming again the judge the living and the dead.”
Below is a barebones, skeletal outline that would require significant contextual flesh and skin. It provides the basic moves only.
“Christ Fills Empty Hands and Repairs a Broken World”
I. The world is broken, and there’s no way around it
A. In Jesus’ ministry
1. 4:17 Repent, because God the King has come to fix things!
2. 4:18-22 Jesus calls people to participate in what God is doing.
3. 4:23-25 Jesus starts repairing the broken world and he starts filling empty lives.
B. In our world today, and in our lives—no pretending allowed now.
1. It is easier to pretend when life is physically comfortable, and somewhat predictable, and you keep your standards lower than God’s.
2. The things that need to be fixed—in our lives and in our world—are simply beyond our control.
C. So, Jesus is talking about you, and about me. Do you believe that?
1. The disciples are there, and they have begun to repent and believe that they are poor in spirit, mourning, lowly, and hungry for God to put things right.
2. The crowds are there, and there’s a mixed bag—they’re astonished, but will they believe that Jesus is talking about them?
3. What about you and me? Am I really and truly poor in spirit? Are my hands actually, completely empty?
II. The King is come into the world, and he is reigning.
A. Jesus’ gifts are for those who come to him empty.
1. He is not a helper, or an improver—he came to save (Mt 1:21).
2. He healed—he cast out demons—he forgave sins.
3. He only turned away those who thought they had something to offer.
B. Jesus brings God’s kingly reign to us today.
1. The King dies to take away my sins.
2. The King rises to begin a new creation, and guarantee the Last Day.
3. The King sends his Spirit to be in his disciples, and to work through us.
C. Jesus will bring God’s kingly reign on the day when mourning is over and hunger and thirst are satisfied.
1. To follow Jesus is to see the brokenness of life and of the world, and to mourn and long for the right.
2. To follow Jesus is to offer yourself as an instrument, to be used for the blessing of others.
Empty hands are filled. Longing hearts look for the Last Day. Once filled with Jesus’ gifts, then our hands become HIS hands for others . . . merciful . . . making peace. Amen.