Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew, chapter five. We’ll be looking at the Beatitudes one by one over the next few weeks. We start, we’ll go ahead and read the entire text. And as we look to the reading of God’s word, if you please join me in prayer. O Lord, we do ask that you would shed your light on us, that being rid of the darkness of our hearts, that we may come to the true light, which is Christ, who is the light of the world, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. Beginning in verse 1, seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and talked to them saying, Blessed are the poor and spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Less are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Less are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Less 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. ‘Less are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word of the Lord, faith, to be seated. The Beatitudes are what we call the first few verses of the sermon on the mount. The Latin word beathe means blessed, therefore the beatitudes. They’re the eight blessings that Jesus speaks of here. And these blessings give us a picture of the man or the woman who belong to the kingdom of heaven. They provide a portrait of godly character. And Jesus starts this with a surprise. He speaks first of the needy, the poor. Those who recognize their own need are blessed. And this is a rather rare virtue. At the same time, we’re confronted with how do we keep self-pity and self-loathing in its prideful form out of the equation? There’s a self-loathing that is just the flip side of the coin of pride. Because arrogance and self-pity come from the same proud heart, both are self-dependent. Because we are spiritually bankrupt apart from the Lord, we must recognize our absolute dependence on Him. Jesus preached the sermon of the Mount on the side of a mountain.

We hear that the beginning, seeing the crowds, he went up to the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him and he taught them. It would more likely would have been a hill by our standards. Sermon on the hill doesn’t quite sound so dramatic, but you’ll recognize there’s a similarity here with Luke 6. In Luke 6, we read there that Jesus came down and stood on the level place and the crowds came to him and he spoke, and that’s referred to as the sermon on the plane. There were blessings and woes put together in that message. And there he said, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe do you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. ‘ (1:1-10) Jesus was an itinerant preacher. It should not surprise us that he spoke the same or similar message wherever he went. No doubt there would have been variations for message to message, but those who were in Jerico needed to hear what he said just as much as those in Copernium. And large crowds came to see Jesus because of the miracles. And his teaching was the means of turning crowds into disciples.

Jesus wasn’t looking for attendees. He wasn’t looking for groupies. He was looking for men and women to follow him. Remember, many did not like this part of Jesus’ ministry because of what He taught. They didn’t like the truth, dealing with their hearts. They’re looking at the beatitudes, I appreciate New Testament scholar Dan Dorianne has an approach to this. He said, Of course, grace holds the beatitudes together, but the first three describe a disciple’s need. Then the center of the fourth is that God’s promises, he promises to meet those needs. Five, six, and seven describe the result of God meeting those needs. What we have is the needs. We are poor in spirit, we mourn, we are meek. Then the Lord meets those needs for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they are satisfied. God satisfies them, which gives way to inaction. Because of what God has done, we are to be merciful, we are to be pure in heart, we are to be peacemakers. So looking this morning, just at verse 3 of this great need in poverty, we see there’s a danger of having it all, and the prophet and the spiritual bankruptcy.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Of course, one of the biggest questions that come up is, is it pronounced blessed or blessed? Typically, for grammatical purposes, verb is blessed. Advert, blessed. So blessed, because it’s an adjective, blessed are the poor in spirit. And that word blessed here is very similar to what we see from Psalm 1. Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. Some translations will even say happy. You could even use the word fortunate. Not happy as a feeling or an emotional state, but happy as a condition of life. A happy life in a condition. In the world’s way of thinking, blessedness or happiness comes from being free of pain and suffering. Happiness is when we satisfy all of our appetites for pleasure. We might say in a world, beatitude, happy is the man or woman who gets all that they want. The world’s beatitude begins with, blessed are the rich. This is decidedly what Jesus is not teaching. He turns it on its head. In Luke 6, Jesus just says there, blessed are the poor without any qualifier. When Jesus sat down at the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4 and the prophet of Isaiah, the scroll was given to him, he read this detailing his ministry.

He said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he’s anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Now, for some reason, many Christians want to run to only the spiritual side of all of this and leave off the economic. We don’t want to think that our pocketbook matters in spiritual concerns. The religious or spiritual meaning of poor does not exclude all the financial side of that word. A quick scan of the Bible, and you’ll see that poor primarily refers to economic poverty. It refers to those who are oppressed, those who are humiliated, and those who are meek. When Jesus says, Woe to the rich, or, It’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, he’s making this comparison. There is a twin danger of making the good news about Jesus only spiritual or only about social justice. The good news of Jesus affects the whole person, body and soul, and affects the whole of human society. Labeling one-half as woke to keep us from caring for those in need is wrong.

Labeling one-half as conservative or fundamentalist to keep us from caring about morality is wrong. Never underestimate the power of our labels to justify our hard hearts. We do it all the time. We create a label for something, and then we don’t have to do anything about it. Jesus was addressing in his ministry, primarily those on the poor side of the economic scale. The poor do have a greater understanding of what it means to be needy, to be without. Now, here in Matthew, the qualifier, poor in Spirit, does shift the focus to the heart. All peoples need a renewed heart. No one is exempt. It can be that you are wealthy and you do have a poor spirit, a heart that’s transformed. You can also be dirt poor and see no need of God whatsoever. The issue is one of seeing the dependence upon the Lord. Jesus is saying we are blessed when we recognize our own spiritual need. I put this in the bulletin by Michael Wilkins. He said, The Kingdom of God belongs to those who know they have no resources, material or spiritual to help themselves before God. It’s all encompassing. Martin Lloyd Jones, he spoke of the poverty spirit as a person’s attitude towards themselves.

By ourselves, nothing we have will give us any credit or merit before the Lord. We are indeed impoverished and we are incomplete without Him. We need Him at every turn. Those with resources don’t see their need of the Lord. There is a blindness to being satisfied in ourselves. And in one of those ways, particularly in our society, we are rich in distractions. We have an ability to anesthetize ourselves with trivial preoccupation. Think of the number of streaming movies at our disposal: cell phone games, 24-7 sports channels, 24-7 news channels, video games. We’ve taken eating and food to incredible heights. We have more hobbies than we know what to do with; four-season recreational activity, and on it goes. Our culture bombards us with a constant need for activity and shutting off the brain. Boredom is treated like a disease. Personal pleasure and stimulation have become part of an inalienable Bill of Rights. But silence and inactivity can be fertilizers for the growth of our character and the hands of our master gardener. He knows what we need. To quiet our hearts before Him, to be still and to think about what pleases the Lord, transforms and shapes who we are.

A life of distraction can keep us from seeing our great need of the Lord, and the need of heart transformation, the need of seeing our own spiritual bankruptcy. For those who recognize their need, Jesus tells us, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The paradox of the Gospel is here. Lay down your life to get it, give up everything in order to gain. And when you see that nothing you have can earn you God’s favor, you’re in a position then to receive from Him. There’s no self-sufficiency before the Lord of glory. What’s truly amazing is that this state of blessedness or happiness, and it doesn’t have to have an anchor in our circumstances, because that’s usually what we think of being blessed or happy is good favorable circumstances. Paul and Silas in Acts 16, they were in prison in Philippe for preaching the Gospel. There we read about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Wrongly imprisoned, and they’re singing hymns. How is that humanly possible? Because they were rich in Christ. The circumstances didn’t change that. We hear Paul speak of this in Philippians 4.

Paul says, Not that I’m speaking in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. See, the focus is outward. It’s looking to what God has done for us and not upon the circumstances. That outward focus is the very opposite of pride. I said earlier that self-loathing and arrogance are just flip side of the same coin of pride. The person who’s constantly focused on their inability and self-doubt can seem humble at first, but there is a refusal to accept what the Lord grants to all of us as His sons and daughters. A refusal to be rich in Christ. The proud can look on his or her own resources when they have them and be very pleased with himself. And conversely, this can turn into nothing more than self-pity when they don’t have them. Both are focused on themselves. In the King James, it speaks of navel gazing, looking in. You’re looking at yourself constantly and that’s what pride does.

The focus is always on what we have or what we don’t have, our positions. Not a self-focus in a way of reflection of character, but a focus on just us as the center of all things. And that poverty that Christ speaks about is a recognition that our need then brings our eyes upward and away from ourselves, that we see other people. We see Him in the process. Again, the kingdom of God belongs to those who know they have no resources, material or spiritual to help themselves before God. You’re coming and saying, Lord, I’m empty. Please fill me with your Spirit. That’s the poverty that Jesus speaks of. We are enabled then to take the riches of Christ to be a conduit for others because the gifts and the blessings of the Lord are never just for us. They’re never meant to be hoarded. We are to give away what He has, and there ought to be a joy and a delight in being able to bless others with what God has given to us both material and spiritual. A generous heart flows from those who know their own poverty. I just read a recent statistic.

This charity giving in 2022, Americans gave 1.7% of their disposable income to charity. It’s the lowest level in 30 years, 1.7% of disposable income. Now, there are certainly great gifts of philanthropy done by the super-rich, which is usually also a very small portion. But most charities are runoff of donations, which are given by those in the lower tiers of economic wealth. It’s always been that way. Those who have had need and no need understand the joy and gift and giving. In the fourth century, Christian bishop named Gregory of Nisa, he said this, he said, Gold is a heavy thing, and heavy is every matter that’s sought after for the sake of wealth. But virtue is light and it bears the soul upward. Transformed hearts are generous hearts. We hold on to the things of this world, to the blessings of God very lightly. It’s not just money, it’s our time, it’s our position, it’s our presence. It’s many things. Giving your time and energy and labor towards someone is a great gift. Positions of authority, using that well for the kingdom. And you think about, again, in the digital age, one of the things that everyone tells us, people are lonely and isolated.

One of the great gifts then is your presence. To enter into somebody’s life and to be that somebody they know to help pull them out of that. That’s a part of being rich in the Lord. It encompasses all of life, human flourishing at every level. The riches of Christ belong to us who recognize our need in order that we can then give. Now, in one sense, Jesus was the only one who was not poor in spirit, but he was humble and he was meek. Those are not personality traits, those are character traits. You see, you can be bold and assertive and poor in spirit. You can be timid and passive and filled with pride. I think it was Rick Warren who said, We’re not to think less of ourselves like self-loathing. We are just to think of ourselves less often. We think just of ourselves less often. We think about that. We’re very preoccupied with us. We’re very aware of what’s happening with us. And to not think about ourselves so much, that is a supernatural act of God’s grace. Jesus calls us to Himself that through our understanding of our absolute poverty, that he will fill us with the riches of His kingdom, that that poorness is a means, the avenue of God’s grace coming to us because we are saying, I have nothing that deserves anything from God.

I don’t merit anything from Him. It’s all His grace. When you recognize your own poorness, it puts you at a humble basis where you’re not looking down on others. I’m not constantly comparing because one of the great things that a consumer society needs is comparison. How do I know if I’m happy? Well, I’m doing better than they are. How do I know that? Well, I look at their Facebook post or their Instagram and I can see I’m doing better than them. I feel terrible because they’re doing more fun things than me. There’s a reason that we are a very depressed society. Depression, in part, comes from an inward looking to the self, often fueled by comparison. But when you’re poor in spirit and you’re looking to the riches of God, His kingdom, His values, it changes then that focus to be outward. Think about that. We live in a society where everything’s me, me, me, me, me, new, new, new, new, attain, obtain, obtain, get and get, and get. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true that there was another way of doing business where people actually gave of themselves for the benefit of someone else with nothing in return?

That is an intractive endeavor, is it not? That’s something the world, why they might not agree at first with the person work. If Jesus are like, I wish that were true. Wouldn’t it be great if? Well, it’s not would it be great if. It is true because it is. Because that’s the savior that has come to us to live in the world that he has created, where we indeed are so loving and self-giving to one another that needs are met without us being the ones who meet them. The world doesn’t even understand what that looks like. It’s hard for us to live like that. And yet Jesus is calling us to this very type of existence, because that’s this kingdom at work. You and I get to live out that kingdom now imperfectly to be sure. But we get to live in such a way that as the kingdom is advancing, as the kingdom is coming, it truly, profoundly impacts not only our own lives, but the lives of society around us. The freedom to give that we have received in order that we can keep giving more and more of the infinite love of God that never taps out.

Brothers and sisters, let us be poor in Spirit. Pray with me. Father, indeed, we are so grateful to you. We have nothing to commend ourselves. Father, our righteousness indeed is as filthy rags. Father, we ask that you would forgive us as well of our damnable good works. Nothing in our hand we bring. Lord, simply to your cross we cling and we thank you. We thank you for Jesus. We pray, Father, that by your Spirit that he would continue to reveal to us not only our poverty, but the fullness of the riches of Jesus. Father, that we would live according to the values and the truth of your kingdom. We pray, Lord God, that you would continue to bring your words of truth into this community and beyond, that our savior would be glorified through the lives of your people here in the valley. We ask all of this through Jesus, our risen and ascended Lord. Amen.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription