1 “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”
After discovering three attitudes of a dedicated disciple, (draw close to the Lord, learn from the Lord and live out what you learn) now we delve into the first of Christ’s 8 blessings. The Beatitudes are progressive, like rungs on a ladder that we are called to climb. There is a reason why Jesus starts by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus as the master teacher didn’t just randomly begin anywhere with an explanation of God’s expectations. He starts by with humility, saying that those who recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy will be blessed. We must first become humble if we ever hope to live out the other seven, for the foundation of all other graces is laid in humility. Simply put the door to His kingdom is too low for those who stand tall in the sufficiency of self. Why does Christ’s call start with humility, because when there is less of us we will experience more of Him. You will never be filled by the Savior when you are full of self. We will only be filled when we own our emptiness, and we will never truly live until we admit how dead we are on our own. This stands in sharp contrast to our culture, in our world verse 3 would read, “Blessed are the movers and shakers, the successful, powerful, and self-confident.” Yet God’s wisdom is drastically different from the conduct of our culture. In the Old Testament there are several words that are translated “poor” and they refer to those who not only recognize their neediness but as a result are desperate for God. Psalm 40:17: “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.” Psalm 69:32: “The poor will see and be glad–you who seek God, may your hearts live! The word poor here is the same word that is used to describe the beggar named Lazarus in Luke 16, the one who sat at the gate of the rich man. The Bible tells us that the dogs came and licked his sores and that he ate the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. He was absolutely and completely impoverished and so are we. In the verb form it means, to crouch or beg. So a person who is poor in spirit is someone who is undeniably destitute and dependent on another. In essence Jesus is saying “Blessed are the beggars.” Blessed are those who recognize their wretched spiritual poverty before a holy God. It’s the idea of coming before God with empty hands. Do you see the poverty of self-sufficiency? We may be educated, but we are spiritually ignorant; we may be financially secure but we are spiritually bankrupt. We need a healthy heaping of humility, Psalm 18:27 says: “You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.” Either we will be humble, or we will be humiliated. First we need to:
- Admit our arrogance
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable about “some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else…” The Message paraphrase captures the heart of the story and paints for us a picture of pride: “He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people.” Jesus then explains how two men went into the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee, the other a despised tax collector. The Pharisee, feeling good about all of his accomplishments, basically recited his religious resume to God. Verse 11 tells us that he prayed about himself, his prayer was one of pride: “I thank you that I’m not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.” He bases his faithfulness on the back of others failures. In verse 12, he boasts about how much he has done for God: “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” In contrast the tax collector paints a picture of what it means to be “poor in spirit.” He wouldn’t even look up and he beat his breast as he cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Message captures his poverty completely: “Meanwhile, the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” They both prayed, but only one was heard, why, because one prayed out of spiritual poverty, the other pride. While one felt religiously rich, the other knew he was spiritually bankrupt. One man was impressed with his own accomplishments; the other was depressed by his failures. One boasted, the other begged. Second we need to:
- Confess our conceit
1 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God: “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?” As Jesus addressed the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3, he spoke some very stern words to a people who had become arrogant. They had experienced His blessings but they had allowed themselves to become lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. They were comfortably conceited and Jesus said He wanted to vomit them out of his mouth. This image of making the Savior sick denotes a deep disgust. Conceited Christians make Jesus want to throw up. In their comfortable conceit they didn’t feel like they need anything anymore. Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’” Instead of being poor in spirit, they were full of themselves. They were boasters instead of beggars, and Jesus said: “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” They failed to see the true state of their spiritual portfolio. If we’re serious about living out this first Beatitude, then we must admit our arrogance and confess our conceit. Have you acknowledged your impoverished condition? Being spiritually poor means that we not only come up short but we know it. When we admit our desperate condition we will see our true need for God. For us to inherit God’s kingdom we must give up our kingdom. Until we see ourselves as beggars in need of His blessing we will remain wrapped up in ourselves and deceived by our own proud accomplishments. Have you filed for spiritual bankruptcy? Are you depending on God’s provision, do you see your poverty in light of His plenty? The fastest way to become poor is to come into God’s presence, for when we are in the presence of the One who is perfect it’s hard to boast about how good we are? Only when we come to the end of ourselves, and God exposes our deficiency can we see His sufficiency. This Beatitude comes with two promises, first we will be blessed and second, the kingdom of heaven is ours. Are you relying on your filthy rags or on His righteousness? Are you resting in His provision or your pride? Why not trade your pride for His plan, for His grace is sufficient for your every frailty (2 Corinthians 12:9); His wisdom adequate for your every perplexity (James 1:5); His peace ample for your every anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7); His forgiveness equal to every iniquity (1 John 1:9). God is enough.