Let's begin with a brief review. To whom is this sermon addressed? Believers! This sermon is about how to live in the kingdom, and all believers are kingdom citizens. Every principle in the "Sermon on the Mount" is found elsewhere in the New Testament. For that reason, Christ's message must be for us now. He expects His people to apply His standard of living right now.
When is the kingdom to come? The kingdom of God was inaugurated at the beginning of Christ's ministry, and it was consummated when Christ came in judgement on Jerusalem in AD 70. The kingdom of God is the Church! And all Christians are kingdom citizens.
Look with me at how the Lord begins this great sermon:
Matthew 5:3-12 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Nine times in these ten verses the Lord used the word "blessed". What exactly does it mean to be blessed? Many translate this as "happy". But happy doesn't cut it for me. Happiness is an emotion that is based upon circumstances. The Lord is not talking about an emotion here, He is talking about our condition before God. "Blessed" means: "one who has received a gift or favor from God". We are not just talking about "happy." Blessed is the opposite of cursed. One is a favor, the other is a punishment.
This sermon of Jesus' initiates a dramatic change in the flow of divine revelation. The last message from God in the Old Testament is a message of judgement:
Malachi 4:1-2 (NKJV) "For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," Says the LORD of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.
Malachi 4:5-6 (NKJV) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."
The Old Testament spoke of the law, Mount Sinai, judgment, and ended threatening a curse. The New Testament shows the way to grace and peace, and begins with promises of blessing. This contrast of covenants- the Old being a curse, and the New being a blessing- is brought out by Paul in:
2 Corinthians 3:6-9 (NKJV) who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
Please keep in mind what we saw in the introduction- that the New Covenant, the Church, and the Kingdom are all synonymous. The Old Covenant brought a curse, but the New Covenant, the kingdom, brings a blessing.
The Latin word for "blessed" is beatus , from which we get the word beatitude. The Greek word used here is makarios, meaning: "blessed".
Jesus did not speak the beatitudes in Greek; he spoke in Aramaic. Aramaic and Hebrew have a very common kind of expression, which is in fact an exclamation which means: "O the blessedness of ..." That expression, 'esher, in the Hebrew is very common in the Old Testament. The first Psalm begins in the Hebrew: "O the blessedness of the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1:1). This is the form in which Jesus first spoke the beatitudes. The beatitudes are not simple statements; they are exclamations: "O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!"
The beatitudes are not pious hopes of what will be; they are not nebulous prophecies of some future bliss; they are declarations of what is. The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is a state into which the Christian has entered. The very form of the beatitudes is the statement of the joyous thrill and the radiant gladness of the Christian life.
The meaning of makarios can be seen from one particular usage of it. The Greeks always called Cyprus he makaria, which means: "The happy Isle", and they did so because they believed that Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find the perfectly happy life. It had such a climate, such flowers and fruits and trees, such minerals, such natural resources that it contained within itself all the materials for perfect happiness.
Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained; that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life. The English word "happiness" contains the root hap, which means: "chance". Human happiness is something which is dependent on the chances and the changes of life, something which life may give and which life may also destroy. The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable.
"I have everything I need for joy!" Robert Reed said. His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can't bathe himself. He can't feed himself. He can't brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his underwear. Strips of Velcro hold his shirts together. His speech drags like a worn out audiocassette. Robert has cerebral palsy.
The disease keeps him from driving a car, riding a bike, and going for a walk. But it didn't keep him from graduating from high school or attending Abilene Christian University, from which he graduated with a degree in Latin. Having cerebral palsy didn't keep him from teaching at St. Louis Junior College or from venturing overseas on five mission trips.
And Robert's disease didn't prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal. He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after the rush hour, and a tutor who would instruct him in the language.
Then he stationed himself daily in a park, where he distributed brochures about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa.
When Robert speaks, other men carry him in his wheelchair onto the platform. They lay a Bible in his lap. His stiff fingers force open the pages. And people in the audience wipe away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and boasted, "I have everything I need for joy." His shirts are held together by Velcro, but his life is held together by joy. Robert is truly blessed.
A problem that we face in interpreting this text is that most of us have no idea what a blessing is. Oh, we say blessing at our meals, and if someone sneezes, we say "Bless you!" But to bless someone has become more of a courtesy then anything else. It's like saying, "Have a nice day!" Or asking someone, "How are you?" And if that's the way we see a blessing, as simply a nice thing, then we will never understand what our Lord is saying in the beatitudes.
When the Bible speaks of blessing, it's not just a courtesy thing. Do you remember in the book of Genesis when Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of his rightful blessing- the blessing that belonged to Esau, because he was the oldest? Now, do you remember Esau's response when he found out that his brother had stolen his blessing? It's found in:
Genesis 27:41 (NKJV) So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
Sounds like he was a little put out, doesn't it? Doesn't sound like he had lost a simple "God Bless You." Because he didn't. A blessing in the Old Testament was the conveyance of God's blessing on everything you did- on your family life, your finances, your spiritual life. In every area of your life it was being asked that God would pour out His bounty. That is the idea of "blessed" in the beatitudes.
"Blessed" is a word used to describe the character of God: Psalm 68:35 says, "Blessed be God." Psalm 72:18 says, "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel."Psalm 119:12 says, "Blessed art thou, O Lord." In 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul called the Almighty "the blessed God."
The New Testament also uses "blessed" to describe Christ: He is "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). It is because believers are "in Christ" that they are blessed. The only people who will ever experience blessedness are those who belong to God and Christ. Second Peter 1:4 says that believers are "partakers of the divine nature." That means we can know the same joy and contentment known by God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
That also means the promises of blessing in the "Sermon on the Mount" do not apply to those who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ. The happiness that belongs to God and Christ can be experienced only by those who know and love Him.
Now that we understand what "blessed" is, look at who it is that is blessed:
Matthew 5:3 (NKJV) "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." This sounds quite different from what we hear in our society. The world says, "Blessed are the powerful. Blessed are the wealthy. Blessed are the rich. Blessed are the blond. Blessed are the beautiful. Blessed are the tall. Blessed are the politicians. Blessed are the well-born. Blessed are the citizens of the United States." But in this passage we are told something completely and totally different from the world's ideas of blessedness. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Who Are The Poor?
Some say Christ was referring to material poverty in Matthew 5:3. They point to:
Luke 6:20 (NKJV) Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.
This verse is a part of Luke's account of the "Sermon on the Mount." Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20 should be compared and studied together. Matthew 5:3 defines the kind of poverty Luke was referring to. Also, if we must be without money to receive blessing, then the worst thing a Christian could do would be to give money to those in need. Instead, we should be trying to con people out of their money to get them into the kingdom! But that interpretation runs counter to the teaching of the New Testament and would require the closing of orphanages, hospitals, and missions that reach out to the needy. Our Lord wasn't speaking about material poverty in Matthew 5:3.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The word that Jesus used for "poor" is the Greek word ptochos. The verb form in the Greek text means: "to cower and cringe like a beggar." In classical Greek, that word referred to someone who was reduced to begging in a dark corner for alms. It doesn't just refer to someone who is poor, but to someone who is reduced to begging. The Greek word penes was used when talking about normal poverty; It referred to a person who was so poor that he could barely maintain a living from his wages. Ptokos means that a person was totally dependent on the gifts of other people. Beggars were usually crippled, blind, or deaf. They couldn't function in society and had to plead for grace and mercy from others. They had no resource in themselves.
The person who is blessed is the person who is ptokos. He understands that he is absolutely incapable of improving his spiritual condition, and that he is totally dependent of God's grace.
A person who is poor in spirit has no sense of self-sufficiency. He recognizes that he is spiritually bankrupt. We see an illustration of this attitude in:
Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV) Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
This tax collector was poor in spirit. He realized that he had no merit with God, and cried out for mercy. The Bible tells us that he was justified, declared righteous. Then it says this, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." In order to receive God's grace, we must come to God in humility-- that is in total dependence upon Him.
Now, you may have never thought of it this way, but you are spiritually bankrupt. You and I and every person in the world are spiritually bankrupt. Paul teaches this in:
Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one."
This is spiritual bankruptcy. We have no assets, nothing we can turn over as partial payment for our debts. And all our efforts to earn favor with God are considered as filthy rags:
Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
Man owes God a debt that he has no means whatsoever to pay. Man, every man, is spiritually bankrupt. Salvation is a declaration of bankruptcy. But what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? In the business world there are two options, popularly known as Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Chapter 11 deals with what we could call a temporary bankruptcy. This option gives you time to work through your financial problems. It gives you time to pay your debts, to work yourself back into a position of good standing.
Chapter 7 is for the person or company that has reached the end of their financial rope. You are forced to liquidate your assets and pay your creditors what you can. This is the, "I'm broke and can never pay off my debts" type of bankruptcy.
So, what kind of bankruptcy did we declare when we came to God in faith? Was it Chapter 7 or Chapter 11? Was it permanent or temporary? It was permanent! We have nothing that we can give to God to pay off or reduce our debt.
As devastating as permanent bankruptcy is in the business world, it at least means that you are free from your past financial debts. Your debts weren't fully paid, but at least they were canceled. You are free from your past debts but not any that you incur in the future.
But the good news of the Bible is that, in the spiritual realm, there really is total, permanent bankruptcy. Our debts were paid in full by Jesus Christ. And not only has the Christian's debt been paid in full, there is no possibility of going into debt again .Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future. This is GRACE!
Colossians 2:13 (NKJV) And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him,having forgiven you all trespasses,
Christ begins the Beatitudes with the need we have to recognize that we are poor in spirit. No one can enter the Kingdom of God on the basis of what they have done. Poverty of spirit is the only way in. As long as you are not poor in spirit, you can't receive grace. You can't become a Christian unless you are poor in spirit:
Proverbs 16:5 (NKJV) Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
The only way to enter God's Kingdom is to confess your unrighteousness and your inability to meet God's standards. You must see your need before you can receive His grace. Much of the church today seems to have the attitude of the first century church at Laodica:
Revelation 3:17 (NKJV) "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;
I think many in the church today have the attitude that, "I have need of nothing." And you cannot come to God unless you realize that you are spiritually bankrupt.
Therefore, "poor in spirit" does not mean those who are economically poor. Rather, it means those who are poor in the presence of God, those who do not possess any spiritual qualifications to merit salvation. The "poor in spirit" are those who are not self-assertive, self-reliant, self-confident, self-centered, self-sufficient. The "poor in spirit" do not boast in their natural characteristics - their birth, their family, their nationality, their education, their physical looks, their race, their wealth, their personality, their culture. The "poor in spirit," in this context, means those who are conscious of their sins in the presence of an infinite, most holy God. Notice what Isaiah said about the one who dwells with God:
Isaiah 57:15 (NKJV) For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Isaiah 66:2 (NKJV) For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist," Says the LORD. "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
In Luke 5 we find a demonstration of true poverty of spirit. When Peter and his companions had obeyed the command of Jesus Christ, they miraculously caught a great number of fish. How did Peter react to this miracle? Did he become arrogant? No. In Luke 5 we read:
Luke 5:8 (NKJV) When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"
The world we live in tells us, "If you want to be successful, be pushy. Push yourself forward. Package yourself correctly. Assert yourself. Sell yourself in the marketplace as attractively as possible." This attitude is the antithesis of being poor in spirit.
Our culture is saturated with this idea of self-confidence, pride, and self-esteem. This can easily be demonstrated. A number of students from various countries took an examination in mathematics, and before the examination the students were asked how they felt about the test. American students rated number one in their confidence. Why? They all were all loaded with self-esteem. But how did they do in mathematics? They came in last. In this same situation students from Korea rated somewhat last in confidence but first in mathematics. How afflicted we are by this pushiness, this ungodly self-confidence, this idea that we can do everything!
We see poverty of spirit also in Isaiah the prophet. In Isaiah 6:1-7 the thrice holy God appeared in his glory to the prophet. How did Isaiah react?
Isaiah 6:5 (NKJV) So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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."
When he saw the holy God, Isaiah realized that he was unqualified, that he was nothing. That is being poor in spirit. It means to be empty of any self-righteousness. It means to realize that of ourselves we have no good works. It means to realize that we are full of sin, in need of grace and grace alone, and in need of the righteousness that comes to us by faith in Jesus Christ.
In Luke 15 we see how the prodigal son became poor in spirit. In all his arrogance he left his father's house, wasted his inheritance, and fell into want in a far country. During a severe famine, this son had no job and nothing to eat. At that point, the text says, he came to himself. He went back to his father and said:
Luke 15:21 (NKJV) "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
Poverty of spirit is the fundamental trait of a regenerated soul. It is the key characteristic, the first and foundational characteristic, of a citizen of the kingdom of God. Without it one cannot be in the kingdom of God. Augustus Toplady captured this attitude when he wrote, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling."
In Matthew 21:31-32 we read what Jesus said about this issue while he was teaching in the temple courts. He said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
Matthew 21:31 (NKJV) "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.
What an amazing statement to make to these proud leaders! But it is always true. Wherever the gospel is preached, only the poor in spirit enter into the kingdom of God. Why? They come to God with a clear consciousness of their own lostness and sinfulness. They readily confess that they are full of guilt and are totally unqualified to enter into the kingdom of God. And what happens? "Theirs is the kingdom of God!"
Matthew 21:32 (NKJV) "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.
The tax collectors and prostitutes readily agreed with John the Baptist and with the Bible and confessed that they were sinners. But you see, the Pharisees were full of self-righteousness, just as Saul of Tarsus was full of self-righteousness, which he later identified to be dung and loss. The publicans and prostitutes did not claim any righteousness, so they got it. The Pharisees claimed their own righteousness and received no righteousness from God.
The poor in spirit are those who are in agreement with the doctrine of total depravity and total inability. They will never argue against the biblical doctrine of the total inability of man as set forth by Paul:
Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one."
Romans 3:23 (NKJV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
The poor in spirit are in full agreement with what Jesus said in:
Mark 7:21-22 (NKJV) "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
They will never rely on their own works for their salvation. By the grace of God they recognize that their own righteousness is as filthy rags. They are brokenhearted, they are humble, falling prostrate before God and begging for mercy. Such people alone can sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see." They were dead, but now they are alive. Having been taken out of the kingdom of darkness, they have been admitted to the kingdom of God.
Notice what our Lord says about those who are poor in spirit, "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). This is a factual announcement, not a wish. The word translated "theirs" is emphatic in the Greek text; the kingdom of heaven definitely belongs to those who are poor in spirit. That describes all who are Christians.
In the English text we read, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," but in the Greek it says, ". . . theirs and theirs alone is the kingdom of God." In other words, only those who are poor in spirit are blessed. We are hearing lies when we hear, "Blessed are the rich, blessed are the arrogant, blessed are the pushy, blessed are the self-confident, blessed are the wealthy, blessed are the educated, blessed are the blond," and so on. The truth is, blessed are the poor in spirit. They and they alone belong to the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God belongs to them. They alone are citizens of the kingdom of God. The truth is, others are left out of the kingdom of God. They are left in their darkness, in their lostness, in their arrogance, and in their pride.
We are told, "For theirs is the kingdom of God." The Greek word estin means "is," not "will be." Jesus was stating that reality in the present tense. That means the kingdom of God belongs to us now. It means that now we enjoy the blessings of the kingdom of God. Now we enjoy forgiveness of sins and justification by faith. The reign of Christ and true blessedness are experienced now! We are now a kingdom of priests (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6).
The poor in spirit are blessed, because theirs and theirs alone is the kingdom of God. Now, I want you to understand that like anything else in the Christian life there are degrees of being "poor in spirit". I'm sure that you understand that some Christians are more aware of their bankruptcy before God then others. And the more you are aware of your bankruptcy, the more you are blessed. How, then, do we become more poor in spirit? My counsel is to spend time with God through His word. We must find out who this holy God is. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 2, section 1, we read:
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
We must read the Holy Scriptures to see the eternal, almighty, true and living infinite God. And when we do so, we will shrink into oblivion and into great spiritual poverty!
I think that the American Church's arrogance is due to her lack of understanding of the God of the Bible. To see God for who He is will bring us to a deep sense of humility.
We must also pray to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may humble us and make us brokenhearted, contrite, and poor in spirit. Listen, believer, the more you realize the depth of your spiritual poverty, the more time you will spend in prayer. A beggar is always begging. He knocks at heaven's gate all the time and doesn't stop, because he is always aware of his need. So, what does your prayer life say about your awareness of your spiritual poverty? Prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency.
In his commentary on the "Sermon on the Mount," Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that all believers will have all of the characteristics listed in Matthew 5:1-12. He says that these characteristics are not natural but Spirit-produced, and they show the utter difference between Christians and the people of the world. Christians and non-Christians belong to two different spheres, two different kingdoms. Christians belong to the kingdom of God; non-Christians belong to the kingdom of this world.
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