"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"The first words of your sermon need to be some of the most striking words of your sermon.”
Those were the instructions that I was given when I was in seminary. My professors told me in my preaching classes that the introduction always needs to grab the audience and bring them in. It needs to peek their interest and make them desire to listen to what you have to say.
I admit that I don’t always abide by that rule. Try as I may, my introductions don’t often have the appeal that they perhaps should.
But that was certainly not the case for our Lord Jesus. When he began to preach the Sermon on the Mount he began with these beatitudes. And with them he most certainly would have peeked the interests of his listeners. That is because the Beatitudes present us with something that is of great interest to us all. It teaches us about God’s blessing and what it means to be blessed.
And the first line of these beatitudes is perfectly crafted for the greatest impact. This first line is a gem because it is so shocking. At least it would have been for the people living in the first century. I’m sure that it has lost something to us. But it would have been quite stirring to them.
Even the first word would have been tantalizing to them. I don’t think that it is an accident that the first word we hear from Christ’s mouth is the word “Blessed.” Nothing is a coincidence with Christ. I believe that this is profound for one very good reason: The last word of the Old Testament is the word “curse.” Yet the first word from the mouth of Christ is the word “Blessed.”
Christ was the man of blessing. His life and ministry on earth was for the purpose of blessing. And here we see that he defines for us the essence of a blessed life.
Now again, first words are important. Jesus is here defining what it means to be blessed of the Lord. Now, what would you expect to be the first thing that came out of his mouth? I bet you would expect to hear something like this, “The blessed of God are the theologically astute.” Seminary professors, with all their bible knowledge and all their degrees, those are the ones that God blesses right?
That’s not what Jesus says. He says that the blessed of God are…eh’em…the poor in spirit. Hopefully you see something of the shock value in this. Jesus was tearing down the elitist perceptions of his day. And he was showing that those who God blesses are not those that we normally thing of.
I would assume this will turn our world upside down too. Who do we typically think of as blessed? We think of people on Wall Street, with their millions of dollars. We think of movie stars and baseball players. We see the guy coming up and getting his Trophy or award an we think, “He sure is blessed.”
But when we look at what Jesus says, we find that the blessed are quite different from our normal perceptions.
I hope that I will have more opportunities to speak to you in the upcoming months. It would be a pleasure to develop a relationship with you all and have the opportunity to talk about what it means to be blessed of God. But as it stands today, I find it a privilege to talk about this one verse and what it says about being blessed.
As we think about this subject, I want us to see who Jesus says is blessed. The Son of God says that a blessed person is, at the very outset, one who is poor in spirit.
I. Who are they?
Our Lord Jesus says the blessed are those who are “poor in spirit.”
Now I want you to be particularly aware of the phraseology here. I want you to understand that it is not merely the poor that are blessed. It is the poor in spirit that have God’s favor.
Some people throughout the history of the church have interpreted this verse in an economic way. They would say that if you take a vow of poverty and renounce all worldly gain, you ascend to some greater spiritual plane than those who don’t. If you have a Roman Catholic or Anglican background, you might be familiar with this. These traditions have typically interpreted this verse in that way. They believe it has to do with one’s financial standing in society.
But there is nothing blessed in being fiscally destitute. Neither is there anything spiritual in renouncing temporal gain. God does not give any special favors just because they happen to be in a lower tax bracket. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore everyone deserves to be stripped of all that they have, and no one stands in God’s good graces—no matter what their bank account may be.
Moreover, there are many people who have been rich in this world who have been blessed of God. I think of Abraham. God opened the floodgates of heaven for him. He was quite wealthy. Then there is King David. The Bible says that he was a man after God’s own heart. But he certainly would have had a great deal of wealth.
So don’t think that your economic standing has anything to do with this verse. God is not countenancing those who are financially poor. He is talking about those who are poor in spirit.
Now what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, to be poor in spirit means that you recognize how incredibly sinful you are. Being poor in spirit means acknowledging the fact that you have fallen short of the glory of God—and you recognized how far short you have fallen! To be poor in spirit means you recognize that you are spiritually bankrupt before God!
Some of you might be familiar with the story that Jesus once told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. These two men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up in the middle of the court with his head and hands raised high and said, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I have.”
His prayer was more of a litany of his greatness, wasn’t it? You could say that the whole time he was praying he was boasting of his self righteousness. “I have done this;” “I have done that.”
But the tax collector was different. He stood at a distance. In other words, he didn’t even feel that he could come close to God. So he found a little corner and tucked himself away. Then it says that the poor wretch could not even bare to lift his head. He only beat his breast and said, “God, forgive me, a sinner.”
Now it should be obvious to you that he was so distraught that his mouth could hardly even function. He makes no eloquent speech. He only says, “God, forgive me, a sinner.” This is barely a sentence. It is more like Morse Code or short hand. And he does not say that he is “a sinner.” The original language says “the sinner.” That is to say, if ever there was a sinner, it is I! He believed himself to be the chief of sinners.
This man knew what it meant to be spiritually destitute. He recognized that before God he had nothing of worth—nothing of merit. He had no righteousness of his own to which he could look or depend. The only thing that he saw when he took an inventory was how vile his life was because of his sin. That was the only thing his soul had to offer.
This is what it means to be poor in spirit, my friends! To be poor in spirit is to admit that you have nothing to offer God but your sin. You have no righteousness of your own.
The thing about poor people is that they have to rely on others, don’t they? Of course, I am not talking about American poor people. I’m talking about poor people—people who are completely destitute. Those little African kids you see on TV commercials—the ones who’s stomach’s are bloated and whose bodies are wasting away. They are people who cannot by any means support themselves. They are completely dependent upon other people for their sustenance.
This is the attitude of the spiritually poor before God. They recognize that they are more than bankrupt. They are utterly destitute. Their only hope of survival is in someone else—someone who has the means of sustaining them spiritually.
Who you may ask is that? It is Jesus, of course! The only one alive who we can take care of our poor wretched soul is our God! His mercy is our only means of survival.
The one who is blessed is the one who goes to Christ for that mercy and finds him to be All in all. If you are poor in spirit, you come like the Tax Collector to Christ and say, “I cannot give you anything, but my sin.”
Think how different this is from what we are used to. Does not Christ completely flip our normal view of things completely upside down? Are we not usually people who are given to self aggrandizement? We typically will do our best to make ourselves look the best, won’t we? And when we think about our standing before God we try to do our best to find something that he would glory in.
But you know what they say, “The man who sings his own praise is usually off key.” And in this case, when it comes to our standing before God, we are way off.
You know, that Pharisee who stood up to pray is a good picture of the way we typically are. “Look at me. Isn’t it great that I fast or tithe. I’m a good boy, aren’t I, God?” The thing is we do not recognize that the good things we do are so soiled and sullied with sin that God would fear even to look upon them if it were not for Christ. And we would never have done even the least bit of good if it had not been God’s all gracious hand there restraining our sin.
You know, after we have dinner, we begin our nightly routine of clearing the table. And it never fails that there comes to be a gross glob of gunk sitting in the strainer at the bottom of our kitchen sink after we’ve rinsed all the dishes. Now imagine having company over to your house. And you take that slimy piece of goo out to them and say, “Look what’s for dinner! Isn’t this a wonderful treat!”
Yet this is what we do when we glory in ourselves. If we ever tried to hold anything up before him and get his approval, it would be like a little impoverished child holding up dung before him.
If you wish to be blessed of God, you must recognize this poverty of spirit. You must come to the point where you admit that you have nothing to give to God and that his mercy is the only thing that will guarantee your survival. For these people are the ones who are blessed of God.
And as you look at the second part of the verse you will notice exactly why they are blessed.
II. Why are they blessed?
The Lord Jesus says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Now I want you to think about how profound these words are. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It says here that he who has nothing, has everything! Those who are poor in spirit are made rich beyond their wildest expectations! These paupers become princes in a land that they did nothing to conquer or subdue. Christ simply bestows this majestic endowment upon them. And he makes them co-regents. People who will rule with him in and for eternity. He gives them who had nothing, everything! Including a crown to wear and a scepter to hold.
This is the greatest rags to riches story ever. We all love the story of little Orphan Annie, don’t we? Why is that? It is so sweet to see this little girl rise from her low estate to the upper echelons of society. And we think, “How blessed is that girl!”
But that is nothing compare to what the poor in spirit receive. Those who admit that they have nothing, are nothing, and can do nothing for God receive much more than Mr. Warbucks could ever imagine! They receive life in and the fullness of the kingdom of heaven.
The blessing of God is that you no longer stand outside God’s doorstep! The king of heaven opens the door to you. But what is so magnificent is that he not only invites you to come in, but he gives you a deed to the property. He makes you the ruler over it and gives you the right to take full advantage of all that it has to offer.
I hope that you understand in this that this is the glory of the gospel of grace. This is grace at its best. Do you know what grace is? It is giving someone something that they do not deserve and have no claim by themselves. And here you see that a gift, of gargantuan proportions, is given. The entire kingdom over which God rules is bestowed upon them.
Tell me. Which one of you will go out right now and find the poorest man in our area and give him your whole estate? Imagine walking out of this place right now and seeing a beggar at the bottom of the steps. He doesn’t look up at you, he doesn’t even ask anything of you. He is just sitting their in his filth. Would you toss the keys to him and say, “Here you go. It’s yours.”
But that’s what God does to the one who is poor in spirit.
Perhaps you hear something of the parable of the prodigal son in this. Do you remember that story? It is found in Luke 15. It is about a boy who said, “Father, I wish you were dead. That way I could have my inheritance.” That is a nice thing to say, isn’t it? But the father complied with the boy’s wishes. He gave him his share of the inheritance and let him go off. And the boy squandered every penny in licentious living. But then, when he was destitute—when he was looking at the pods that he was feeding the pigs and thinking how delicious they looked—he realized that he would be much better off if he went home and became a servant in his father’s house.
So he went home. And what happened when he got there? His father said, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.” Then he said, “Put a ring on his finger. Put sandals on his feet!” These were all marks of royal status. His father made him heir of his estate again.
My friends, that is what is true of every person who is a Christian. When he bows before God and casts himself upon his mercy, God lavishes upon him the kingdom of heaven. He is blessed because God gives him not just eternal life, but all that the has! He looks at you and says, “Every square inch of My glorious realm is yours.”
During each of these services, we sing the doxology. We say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Yet, do we realize the extent of blessing that we really do have? We possess infinite measures of unending happiness. Security is ours in boundless measures. To the poor in spirit, honor is as common as water and sand. And we have not even begun to taste of its fullness! For Christ has not yet come and his kingdom has not yet been consummated.
My friends, there is nothing more rewarding than to find yourself abased before God and holding only to Christ. To him whose life is so characterized, God bestows riches forevermore.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.