Sermon audio here.
It hasn’t even been a month and a half since we celebrated the Incarnation of our Lord, yet here we are in the wilderness of Lent. This focus on our Lord’s cross and suffering corresponds to the Gospels themselves. Mark doesn’t so much as mention the birth of our Lord and spends 2/3 of his Gospel in Holy week.
Matthew begins his Gospel with our Lord’s family history, moves on to His birth, and then tells us about Herod, the magi, and the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem. After that, Christ is baptized, tempted, then calls His disciples.
Finally, in chapter 5, He has the chance to sit down and preach to them. You could think of His Sermon on the Mount as discipleship-orientation class. He’s just called them to follow Him, and now they’re going to learn what that entails.
Jesus begins His sermon with a summary of the whole thing: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Our Lord will spend nearly three chapters unpacking this. But “Blessed are the poor in spirit” isn’t just a sermon theme; it’s actually a summary of the entire Christian life.
What our Lord is commending here is spiritual poverty. This is the opposite of the spiritual self-help programs that fill the shelves of Christian bookstores today. Jesus doesn’t help those who help themselves; He helps those who abide in Him.
At no point do you become independent of Christ. He is the Vine, you are the branches. Those who cut themselves off from the Vine will wither and die. The branch has no life of its own; it’s only alive insofar as it remains attached to the tree.
Our Lord welcomes the weary, the burdened, and the beggars. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus is the Great Physician for the terminally ill.
It’s easy to become arrogant and forget your beggarly status before God. This was the problem St. John had to deal with when he wrote to one of the 7 churches in Revelation. God told them,
“You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent,” (Rev. 3:17–18).
Being a beggar is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it’s something we really struggle with. Nobody wants to beg; it’s shameful. But on the other hand, it makes Christianity really easy, because Christ has done everything for you. Your spirituality doesn’t depend on anything you do; it depends entirely on what Christ has done for you. Your faith isn’t strengthened by doing, but by receiving.
Luther last written words were, “We are all beggars. This is true.” None has an advantage over the other. Nobody has a special “in” with God. The Holy Spirit has granted us all equal access to the Father through our baptism into Christ.
This access to God means that you’re not only a beggar; you’ve also been put on equal footing with the holy angels. Sometimes angels have been called God’s “holy ones.” It’s a wonderful surprise, then, that the New Testament uses this same term, “holy ones,” to refer to Christians. In Christ, you, His holy saint, are brought into communion with the holy angels.
Your solidarity with the angels is only further highlighted by the account of our Lord’s birth. Prior to this, the praise of the angels was limited to the heavenly sanctuary (Psalm 29; Isa. 6). But when the Word became flesh, the angels invited the shepherds to join together with them in singing their heavenly song. With the King walking the earth, keeping the angel’s song confined to heaven just wouldn’t do.
The Holy Word became flesh so that He might make your flesh holy, too. He shares His holiness with you so that you might be numbered among that great communion of holy ones. Jesus takes you from begging with the deadbeats to singing with the holy angels.
Christians are therefore holy beggars, equal in status to the angels. Yet that status belongs to you only in Christ, for your holiness comes from Him. The more you beg and live by God’s grace, the more reason you have to sing together with angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven. Heaven and earth are full of His glory, indeed.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Based on chapter 1, “The Mystery of Christ” in Grace upon Grace by John Kleinig
Wednesday of Invocabit, 2016: “From Begging with the Deadbeats to Singing with the Angels”
Around the Word Bible Studies