[Matthew 5:1-12] Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
You Are Blessed in Jesus
There were two daughters from a large family, who tended to get their all-white Easter clothes dirty. Mud stains, grass stains, blood stains from scraped knees. But this year there was an Easter ball, an Easter banquet. To attend, your clothes must be white. No marks or stains. These two so wanted to attend, but how would they get in?
One of them never intended to become so stained, but it kept happening nevertheless. The other had many stains from intentional slides in the grass and jumps in the puddle. What was to be done? To their surprise, at home, their mother had just unpacked a new delivery – a new washing tub. (These were days before electric washing machines.) And she opened new soap. And a new wash board.
These two, peeking from around the corner into the back room where their mother set up for laundry, watched as she took ahold of piece after piece – their dad’s shirts, stained with dirt from work in the fields – their brothers’ clothes, stained with sweat and spilled drinks – servants’ clothing – grandmother’s old clothing – even their neighbors’ stained and dirty clothes.
They watched as their mother scrubbed and washed each piece. They watched her techniques and methods closely. They observed how hard she worked at it. And, as the laundry hung in the sunlight, drying, they saw how dazzling white it all was. No stain. No blemish. What once was filthy was now as white as the light itself, like freshly fallen snow. Fit for the Easter feast.
Now they knew the way. They knew exactly what to do. They each went out and bought their own wash tub and scrubbing board and roller and soap. They put in their stained clothes. And they washed. The same way their mother did. Same technique. For as long and hard as they could.
And, putting them on the line to dry, they saw hanging there clothes – their clothes – still stained. Still marked up with brown and green and red – only more deeply set in. In contrast with the sunlight, they only saw all the more how unclean their clothing really was. They wondered, “What went wrong? We did all we were supposed to do?”
One of them despaired and gave up hope of entering the ball. The other tried all the harder, convinced herself her clothes were finally clean, and flaunted them all around town – while everyone else could still see the stains – eventually to her embarrassment.
Going to their mother, their mother told them, “Dear ones, you had it all wrong. I didn’t stand there washing laundry that day so you could go and wash your own. I was there for you to come to me. I’m the one who makes your stained clothes white. I am here for you to come to me.”
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus goes up on the mountain, opens His mouth, and speaks of the sainted life, the blesséd life. “Blesséd are _______”
The crowds listen. Some go and say, “This is what I’ll do. He’s set the example. He’s told us the technique and method. He’s described the virtues. I’ll do these things and become blesséd.”
Some try and, still seeing their stains after a long time, despair and decide they don’t believe. Others walk around as if they’re virtuous, as if they’re displaying these beatitudes or meeting the bar better than others – but God sees that you’re only fooling yourself.
And He will say, “You’ve had it all wrong. Jesus didn’t go up on the mountain that day giving you the list of methods by which you make your own robes clean. No, by these holy words, you should see how deep your stains really are. He came so that you might come to Him.”
In the heavenly banquet, there’s a number that cannot be counted – from every nation and tribe and people and language – who heard these words of the Beatitudes, “blesséd are ____”, and said, “that’s not me.” That’s not me. But it is Jesus.
Jesus came to save sinners. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” [1 Timothy 1:15]. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [Mark 2:17].
On the mountain in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us the sainted, blesséd life in words which He alone fulfills. On another mountain – mount Calvary, Golgotha – Jesus does not climb up, but is brought up, and is hung upon a cross. There, He washed your stained robes white by His blood.
Those many crowds around His throne at the banquet, they are those who knew their stains and laid their dirty robes at the feet of the only One who could wash them. They “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14].
Like the woman who set up her laundry tub to wash away her family’s stains, Jesus was set up upon the cross as the Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world [John 1:29]. In baptism, your life was sprinkled clean by the blood of His cross. You are washed, no spot or blemish visible to God’s eyes – “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” [Hebrews 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34]
In a twist, those who know they don’t meet the measure of the blesséd life in the Beatitudes are the only ones who start living them:
So, hear these Beatitudes which show you the blesséd life and run, not to yourself and your performance, but to the only Righteous One who has set up the washtub of His cross, His font, and His Supper, by which the deepest stains of your robes are washed as white as His light. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.