Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Preached: January 5, 2014 at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA
Today we begin our journey through the most famous sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount. Approximately 1 month ago when I was debating what to preach on following the Christmas series, this idea of preaching through the Sermon on the Mount came to mind, and to be honest, I was not that excited about it. Yes, I had read this section of many times, but it had never spoken to my heart.
Having said that, as seems the case quite frequently, when I began to read, really read it, I started to fall in love with it, and I, for the first time saw its beauty. My hope is that as we walk through the sermon, verse by verse, you will likewise see the riches of the Sermon on the Mount.
With that said, please turn with me to Matthew 5:1-3. We will read it, pray, and then lay the groundwork.
• Matthew 5:1-3 - “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The first thing I want to draw our attention to is that there are two groups of people who benefit from the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds and the disciples. At this point in Jesus' ministry, he was extremely popular. In Matthew 4:24 we are told, “his fame spread throughout all Syria” and in verse 25 we are told, “great crowds followed him.”
This is one thing that I believe we under appreciate about Jesus ministry, the crowds. Jesus was not a lone wolf, he was a force to be reckoned with. There was something extremely attractive about Jesus that caused throngs of people to flock to him. These people would leave there homes, their jobs, their responsibilities and follow him to remote regions to hear his teaching, be healed, or to be free from demonic oppression. In fact, some of these crowds were so captivated by who Jesus was, they would follow him out into the middle of no where and completely forget about basic necessities such as food. With that said, remember that Jesus was not anything special to look at. He wasn't the Brad Pitt of the Jews.
· Isaiah 53:2 - “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. “
Likewise, he was not born of noble blood, nor did he grow up on the right side of the tracks. His own disciple, Nathaniel even commented, “"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). He was simply a carpenter's son, yet here he was in Matthew 5 with great crowds hanging on every word. Why? Because this is what happens when God becomes man and walks amongst us.
The second group we see are the disciples. Like the crowds they also follow Jesus, however, they followed Jesus differently. They are not culturally curious about Jesus, they are committed converts. They have counted the cost, and have made a decision in their heart to lay down their lives, and submit to Jesus' authority over them. Jesus is not a side show, He is their King. The no longer follow the world, and its teaching, they follow Christ and His teachings.
Both of these groups benefit from the Sermon of the Mount. Mathew 5 tells us that it was the disciples that came to Jesus to be taught. However at the end of the sermon we are told in Matthew 7:28.
· Matthew 7:28 - “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,”
Therefore the audience that heard the Sermon was a mixed bag. It was not just the disciples who hear these words, by also the crowds.
Today, as we sit here today, we most likely also have a mixed bag of crowd and disciples. Each Sunday I preach I anticipate this reality. Having said that I do not frequently, if ever, write sermons that are purely evangelical, or seeker sensitive. Why? Because Jesus did not cater to the world, and therefore, nor will I. Jesus above all spoke truth. This truth was not softened, sugar coated, or abundantly clear. Jesus spoke at an intellectual and spiritual level that is, and always will be, unmatched. Having said that, when he spoke His words had an effect on the crowds. Even when they didn't completely grasp his teachings, they left astonished at his teachings. There is something about truth when proclaimed that speaks to our souls. When the light of Christ is shining, we tend to be like moths to a flame.
The second thing I want us to recognize is not only the people, but the location. I don't want to focus on this too much, because I don't believe it is of primary importance, but it is hard to avoid the connection. This sermon took place on a mountain. Jesus intentionally walked up a mountain with the purpose of teaching the ins and out of the Kingdom of God. This is not the first time something like this had happened. A guy by the name of Moses, spent a lot of time on a Mountain with the purpose of hearing from God and then proclaiming what he heard to the people of Israel. Moses's main purpose was to lay out the rules on how the people of Israel were to live in relationship with God, and with the World. Jesus is doing something similar with the Sermon on the Mount. What is interesting about Moses, is that he knew that he was not the final authority when it came to the the realities of God's Kingdom. Listen what he told the people in Deuteronomy 18:15
· Deuteronomy 18:15 - “"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen”
As great as the Prophet Moses was, he was not THE Prophet. He knew that the day would come when Jesus would show up and preach a deeper truth. With that said, let us take a look at this deeper truth.
Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount with what has been named the beatitudes. These are the verses that begin with “Blessed are the...” For any of this to make sense we have to understand what “blessed” means. Many times the word blessed is defined as to be happy. I do not believe this understanding is wrong, but it does not go far enough in its definition because I think it begs the question of “Why are you happy?” I believe a better way to think about the word “blessed” is to understand it as being approved by God. Kent Hughes describes blessed as the smile of God. Max Lucado describes “blessed” as the applause from heaven. However, make no mistake, this approval produces happiness, in fact God's applause is the only source of true happiness.
With this in mind, lets re-read verse 3 with the word approved inserted: “[approved] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This changes it a little bit doesn't it? As we work through these in the weeks to come, I want you to think of the word blessed this way. I think it will assist you greatly in your understanding of the beatitudes.
The first thing that Jesus tells us that God approves us, smiles up, or brings happiness are people who are “poor in spirit.” What does this mean?
To be poor means to lack, to be without. If I am financially poor, this means I lack money. If I am intellectually poor, this means I lack knowledge. If I am spiritually poor, this means I lack spirit. The Greek word for poor is ptochos. The root word of ptochos means to “cower and cringe like a beggar.” This understanding or power fits very well with our understanding of what it means to be financially poor, but think about this in a spiritual sense. A spiritual beggar is someone who is who recognizes their desperate spiritual condition, their spiritual bankruptcy and seeks out some One to help. Another word we could use for “poor in spirit” is humble.
Perhaps it would help to understand the opposite of “poor in spirit.” The opposite of poor in spirit is is rich in spirit. Someone who is confident in their abilities, there resources They are not beggars, they are people who believe they have everything. They are self-confident, self-reliant, self-centered. To use an accepted psychological tern, they have high self-esteem. Another word for rich in spirit is pride. Notice that there is not a beatitude that says, “blessed are those who think highly of themselves.”
To assist us in understanding what it means to be poor in spirit, lets take a look at a few examples.
King David was an amazing person. God and him had a very unique relationship. A very intimate relationship. God was not a religion to David, He was everything. In Psalm 51, we see David pouring out his heart to God after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband. This is what he said.
· Psalm 51:16-17 - For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. “
In this moment of repentance, David recognized that he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer God in light of his sin. He realized that no amount of animal sacrifices was going to earn a right standing before God. He was completely at the mercy of his Creator. In this moment he realized that the only thing he could give God was a recognition of his complete and utter spiritual bankruptcy. In this moment, David was poor in spirit. He was not relying on his ability, his righteousness, or his effort to earn God's approval. He was broken and contrite, and this is exactly where God wanted him. This is what God approves of. This is poor in spirit. Lets look at another example.
Moses. According to Numbers 12:3, Moses was the most meek, or humble, person on the planet. Listen to what transpired at the burning bush.
· Exodus 3:10 - “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
The first words out of Moses mouth was “Who am I.” This is a great picture of true humility. Moses was given the task of being God's messenger to Pharaoh, and Moses looked upon his own self and his own abilities, and saw nothing. He saw himself as completely incapable to achieve the task requested. Moses understood his bankruptcy. Moses was poor in spirit, and this was exactly who God called to be His prophet. One more example, Isaiah.
· Isaiah 6:1-7 - “1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."
This is one of the most intense passages in the entire Bible. Isaiah saw the Lord in a way that very few people ever saw God. He saw God in a way that produced one response, poor in spirit. Imagine the scene. God, in all his Glory, sitting on a throne. His majesty so complete that his robe filled the temple. The creatures that worshiped God were so powerful that their worship shook the foundations of the building, and in the midst of this insane picture stood little Isaiah. He was the most insignificant thing in the room, and he knew it. As Isaiah looked around at the greatness of God, his one response, his appropriate response was, “"Woe is me! For I am lost"
Once again, Isaiah looked upon himself and saw that he was nothing in comparison to greatness of God. He realized he had zero to offer. He realized his poverty. He realized he was a beggar before the almighty God, and this is what God approves of.
So how does this translate to your life? It has everything to do with the kingdom of heaven.
· Matthew 5:3 - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When Jesus left heaven and came to Earth, he had one purpose, to set up a new Kingdom on earth. To put right what had gone tragically wrong in the Garden of Eden. This was the Kingdom that Israel had been waiting for. Jesus described this Kingdom as a peal of great value. This Kingdom would abound with love, joy, and peace between God and man. This Kingdom would have life abundant. This Kingdom is what your soul craves, whether you know it or not. And Jesus says that the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven is to be poor in spirit; to be spiritually bankrupt; to recognize that you a sinner have nothing that you can offer a Holy God; to be a beggar before the throne of God.
A phrase that we hear from time to time and one we should keep in the forefront of our mind is: Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone. This statement is a summary of what it means to be poor in spirit when it comes to entering into the Kingdom of God. One of the purposes of this statement is to remind us that we have nothing to do with our salvation. It is all Jesus. The truth of our condition is that we are sinners who are dead in our trespasses, depraved, spiritually bankrupt and completely and utterly incapable of saving ourselves. In this condition, we have no hope of entering into the Kingdom of God on our own accord. We need help. We need Jesus.
This idea of relying upon Christ alone for our salvation is fundamental to the gospel. Having said that, many people do not understand this crucial component. Instead of being poor in spirit, they think wrongly about their own spiritual condition.
For example, some people believe that they are a good person, and therefore God will let them into heaven because he is impressed by them. Others cannot humble themselves enough to accept that they have nothing to do with their salvation, therefore they attempt to add to the sacrifice of Christ, as if the blood of God's son was not enough.
This may include wrongly trusting in their church attendance, the taking of communion, or their baptism, believing that their religion will get them access to the Kingdom. This is not poor in spirit. This is pride of the flesh. This is works based salvation. This is not accepting Jesus as your Savior, this is making yourself your Savior. And so many people are imprisoned by these false teachings. It breaks my heart. And it breaks Jesus heart because this is not the gospel he proclaimed.
· Matthew 16:24 - “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
If you attempt to save yourself, or add to Christ's work on the cross, you will lose everything.
· Matthew 18:2 - “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like a child, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom.”
There is no one more dependent in this world, then a child. They depend on adults for food, shelter, security, everything. They are as poor and beggarly as they come. We must be spiritual children.
· Matthew 19:24 - ”Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Jesus flat out says, that no one has the capacity within themselves to enter the Kingdom of God. It is impossible. There is no such thing as being good enough, smart enough, religious enough. We must accept that we are spiritually dead and void. It is God who does it. It is Christ alone. I will now end with a great text that reinforces this great truth of being poor in spirit. It is the words of Jesus as recorded in Revelation 3:17.
· Revelation 3:17 - “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 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. “
As we sit here today, some of you may believe that you are doing just fine without Christ, that you need nothing. I pray that God would open your eyes to the reality of who you are apart from Christ. You are a wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked beggar, but Jesus wants to change that, if you will let him. If you will humble yourself enough to come to him. If you do, everything changes.
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