The Good News and The Bad News

Heritage Presbyterian Church

All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2020
Scripture readings: Revelation 7:1-17 & Matthew 5:1-12; 23:13-36

During this chaotic year, we have had quite a lot of bad news: wildfires, hurricanes, humanitarian crises in various countries due to wars, an explosion in Beirut that destroyed much of the city, an earthquake in Puerto Rico, a Presidential campaign and an election year, murder hornets, and – of course – an on-going pandemic which has led to economic hardships, churches and schools closing, and virtual everything!  With all that, we could use some really good news and a lot of it!  And you will hear it today, I promise you!

But, as it goes in nature, in science, and in life, you can’t have the good news without some bad news too.  So here we go!

First, let us all take a deep, cleansing breath and remember that the ultimate Good News – which is the salvation brought to each of us by Jesus Christ – is always present.  It is there even when we can barely raise our heads to look around.  It is there even when bad news seems to rule our thoughts.  And it is most especially there when we are so overwhelmed and downtrodden that we actually begin to doubt.  Yes, the Good News is always there, no matter what.

In today’s readings, Jesus does his usual masterful job of bringing us various forms of Good News we still need today.  But turn just a few pages in Matthew’s Gospel and you will find another form of good news – namely, that those who continue to live outside of the love of God will get what’s coming to them.  That could be a form of good news for those who are tired of the wicked and the powerful winning all the time.

So, listen to the Beatitudes and their partnering “woes” from Jesus, and see if you hear lots of Good News for our weary ears.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

By labeling these people “poor in spirit” Jesus was actually calling them those are despised just for who they are.  Jesus has not forgotten them, even though society would just as soon do it for him.  Yet, every precious child of God is just that – precious in the sight of God.  

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

These people not only mourn for themselves when they experience loss; they also mourn for others!  They are not even self-centered when they deserve to be; instead, they comfort them too.  These are powerful people, those who can set aside their own tears for the sake of others who are also hurting.

Some experts wonder if Jesus was referring to those mourners for the sins of Israel!  Could it be the sin of nations is a call to mourn?  If so, Jesus is saying they will be comforted.  And what is another a name for Messiah?  Would you believe “Comforter?”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

In this context, “meek” doesn’t mean what it usually means in our times.  To us, “meek” equals “shy, or quiet, or a pushover.”  That is not even close to the meaning Jesus gave that word.  He was referring to those who were not like those around them.  In the days of Jesus, there was an incredible amount of national pride that often blinded the people.  The mighty Roman Empire, the legacy of God’s “chosen people,” the “followers of the Law of Moses” just to name a few.  I doubt Jesus cared much about the pride in these things if they caused others to be treated badly – and they did.  Instead, Jesus was most likely talking to the common workers, the everyday folks who were just trying to live their lives for some good purpose.  

In the woes, notice the bad news Jesus brought to scribes and Pharisees when he challenged their authority.  He described their mode of flashy, important dress, the way they were greeted in the streets, the places of honor in the synagogues and at meals that signified their so-called “superior statuses.”  He ended that particular woe with a familiar quote that many of us know: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  I’ll bet that hurt to hear!

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

In this case, you can substitute “mercy” for “sympathy.”  To show sympathy is to let yourself get involved in the lives and problems of others.  This is the exact opposite of those who would hide behind that familiar refrain:  “Live and let live.”  If we only do that, then the world can literally collapse around us and we won’t care – just as long as we are doing okay.

Whenever I hear this, I am reminded of the character I saw in a movie long ago; he and his friends were trapped on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, but the ice was melting.  His colleague told him not to complain because it would upset the others.  The man said he would remain silent “until the ocean water reaches my upper lip and then I’m gonna say something!”

Long before the water washes over us, we should all be saying something.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

The word “pure” in this context means “clean.”  According to the Apostle Paul – as well as a chorus of theologians, none of us are even close to being pure in heart.  So it would seem this is not something that is reserved for too many of us.  Yet Jesus didn’t say “perfect” ; he was referring to those among us who are “right with God.”  They aren’t perfect – and they certainly don’t claim to be.  They are content to believe and serve.  They know their ultimate reward is waiting for them in Heaven.

And just in case you needed a little more info on this one, the bad news is clearly, brutally spelled out by Jesus when he again addressed the scribes and the Pharisees.  He compared them to “white-washed tombs” – clean on the outside, decayed on the inside.   That’s pretty harsh…and pretty accurate too.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  

This cannot describe only those who live in peaceful areas; in that case, peace is a gift but not something that has been earned.  Instead, this refers to those who work toward peace.  True peacemakers understand that peacemaking is a preventive task, not one that is necessarily earned.  Peace is also not the absence of war; that is simply calm.  Ask Northern Ireland if they have achieved peace.  Ask the Palestinians if they have achieved peace.  Ask Sudan if they have achieved peace.  Ask the island of Cyprus if they have achieved peace. In each of these places, war is not currently happening, yet all involved clearly understand more must be done before true and lasting peace will be achieved.   The “children of God” will be the ones that work toward true peace.  

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”


“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Can’t just imagine what it was like for the common people of Jesus’ day?  They were taxed, controlled, restricted by an occupying army.  They usually lost their own lands to the religious authorities who were supposed to be taking care of them.  They had not heard a prophet’s true voice in over 400 years.  They had to believe that “righteousness” wasn’t something they would ever see in their lifetimes, or in their children’s lifetimes.  Yet Jesus named this one and he even did it twice.  Their frustration, their hopelessness can only be imagined, but it is also something that scores of people all over the world today understand clearly.  To hope for and thirst and hunger for righteousness is to be a human being in a complex world today.  Yet, Jesus promised them and promises us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within grasp.  They and we will have their fill of righteousness.

The bad news is that we may have leaders that refuse to address our frustration and our hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We may have times in which the only righteousness we will achieve will be in Heaven.  That is a tough one to hear and a tough one to accept.  It seems somewhat unfair.  And that’s the bad news, I suppose.  

And finally, we have the final and longest of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Two points to make here:

The first is the reading from the Book of Revelation that we heard for today.  Let me repeat one line from that beautiful passage: “…I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” 

Clearly, this is a picture of that reward – the believers, all the saints standing in the presence of the Lord in Heaven, clothed in white and praising the Lord with loud voices. 

They ARE rejoicing!

Great IS their reward in Heaven!

What good news that is!

The second point is that Jesus also brought the bad news to the scribes, the Pharisees, and any who refused to listen to his good news.  Just listen to the last portion of the last woe: “…on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Again, pretty clear distinction between the good news and the bad news.

So, I urge you to read over the Beatitudes again sometime this week.  Relax and let the words of our Savior wash over you like warm water on a cold day.  

Let the Good News of Jesus Christ blot out any bad news that the world can bring.

And always remember, Saints:  Jesus came to bring the Good News!