“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto 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” (Matt. 5:1-3).
By way of introduction to this passage, we want to notice who preached the sermon, the place where the sermon was preached, who heard the sermon, and the purpose of the preaching of this message.
First, notice who preached these words. The Bible says that Jesus Christ preached the content of these verses in what is commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount. Because this is true, the words of this passage of Scripture become all the more important. These are not the thoughts of a mere man to be read and rejected at will. These are the words of the eternal Son of the Living God. Hebrews 1:1 says that “in different ways and in various manners God has spoken to mankind. But in these last days God has spoken unto us by His Son whom He hath appointed heir of all things.” Hebrews 12:23 instructs us to listen to Christ. “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.” The words of Christ become more meaningful when it is realized that the Lord spent the night before He preached in prayer. While others slept, Jesus prayed. While others rested, Jesus labored. All through the night Jesus spoke to God the Father about men so that with the dawning of the day He could speak to men about God, and the kingdom of heaven.
Second, the place where Jesus chose to communicate these particular words was probably Mount Tabor, located about 40 miles outside of Jerusalem. It was no accident that the Lord chose a mountain side from which to proclaim the principles of His kingdom. This was the fulfillment of prophecy. The prophet Joel had said, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop new wine, and the hills, shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18). The day that Christ spoke, was the day that the mountains dropped the new wine of gospel truth, and the hills flowed with the milk of spiritual nourishment. Jesus was the fountain of living water. Those who heard the Lord speak that day never forgot. God the Holy Spirit burned into their hearts the immortal words of the Master.
Primarily, those who heard Christ preach the Sermon on the Mount were the disciples. Matthew 5:1 and Luke 6:20 agree. When Jesus saw the multitudes, He left them and went up into a mountain. When His disciples came to Him He opened His mouth and taught them in particular, and for good reasons. The disciples were going to go forth, some day, to preach on behalf of the Lord. As ambassadors for Christ, they would represent the King and His Kingdom. The disciples needed to be instructed properly, and privately, so that there would be no misunderstanding what the message of the King was to be. The disciples must be prepared. What better preparation for the ministry than to be alone with the Master.
The presentation of the Sermon on the Mount to the disciples, teaches all Christians, of all ages, that we are not called to be creators of new doctrines. All Christians are called by Christ to preach the message of redeeming grace, and to present the principles of kingdom living.
Over the years I have been asked by individuals what I believe, and what I preach. I tell everyone the same thing. I believe, and I preach, the old, old story of Jesus and His love. I have nothing new to say. Christ has said it all. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that we begin to study this sermon of the Saviour, as Jesus began to teach, and He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
There is a search being conducted by modern man. It is the frantic search for happiness. The unhappiness of modern man is reflected in disturbing statistics. Every day in America, 28 tons of aspirin, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills are consumed. There are more than 12 million alcoholics in the United States to deal with. Divorce rates in the U.S. are now among the highest in the world. Forty to fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.
In the search for happiness, many people, from all social classes, turn to sex and drugs. It is estimated that thirty-eight percent of Americans have experimented with marijuana. Over ten million U.S. citizens have tried cocaine. The motive for drug experimentation is often a longing for happiness. The motive for illicit sexual relationships is happiness. In all of this, happiness remains an elusive goal.
Wise men have tried to point others to the principles on which happiness is based. Charles Spurgeon said, “Happiness consists in being perfectly satisfied with what we have got and with what we haven’t got.” Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The strength and happiness of a man consists in finding out the way in which God is going, and going in that way, too.”
Two thousand years ago, the Lord Jesus Christ sat down on a hillside in Galilee, and set forth fundamental principles by which individuals could be happy. The first principle of happiness is found in Matthew 5:3. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As Jesus sat on the side of a mountain, below Him settled a vast multitude of people from every walk of life. Most of them were poor. The people knew the backbreaking labor of trying to cultivate the rocky soil of Palestine. Jewish fathers would tell their children that after God finished creating the world, He took all of the extra rock and debris and dumped them in Palestine. The people knew the humiliation of being subjects to a foreign power. The people knew the poverty of having little or no food.
But it was not physical poverty that Jesus called blessed. There is no virtue in being hungry. There is no dignity in starvation. There is no joy to be found at the sight of swollen bellies. There is no inner pleasure to be experienced when the body is so malnourished that the hand cannot be lifted to keep away the angry flies that buzz over the body. Physical poverty is a crime against humanity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016. Any war on poverty is a just and moral war. Still, Jesus does not call the physically poor blessed, but those who are poor in spirit.
To be poor in spirit, is to be aware of one’s spiritual poverty before God. To be poor in spirit, is to have been made conscious of one’s spiritual misery and want. It is not easy to be poor in spirit, because the natural inclination of the heart is to make self appear better, brighter, and more successful than one really is.
What man does before others, he does before God. The natural man often comes to God and says, “Lord, I thank you I am not as other men. I am a church member. I have been baptized. I give money to the church. I am a good person. I have a rich spiritual background to show you.”
And yet, the Biblical teaching is that such a person, outside of saving faith in Jesus Christ, is not rich before God at all.
The spiritual reality is that the non-Christian cannot offer to God any good works, because they do not exist in his life. The Lord of Glory refuses the good works of the un-regenerated person. He always has, and always will.
Long ago, God rejected the fruit of Cain. The prophet Isaiah said that the attempts at righteous deeds, by the unconverted man are as filthy rags in the sight of God. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6). The gospel call goes forth commanding the natural man to repent, not only of the sins of lasciviousness, but also the sins of self-righteousness.
But the unconverted soul does not understand. The natural man merely continues to point to good deeds, to offset the vile deeds of the body. The natural man believes he will go to heaven because he is a good person. Because the natural man views himself as being a good person, there is no sorrow, or contrition, or remorse over violating the moral laws of the Lord.
Tension now builds, for God declares relentlessly that the natural man is morally and spiritually unable to please Him. The natural man, the man who is not a Christian, may try to please God, but he cannot. The Bible says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). This, the natural man will not do. He is poor in spirit, but refuses to admit it.
To press this point, and to demonstrate how truly poor in spirit the natural man really is, the Bible speaks of the unconverted as being utterly lost, and unable to find the way back home. Many years ago Episcopalian Bishop James Pike and his wife were traveling in the Middle East. They went out on a journey one day by themselves in a jeep, and got lost in the hot burning desserts of the country. They did not know which way to go. In desperation they separated. Bishop Pike wandered around in circles until, on September 9, 1969, he collapsed and died in exhaustion, and utter confusion. He was physically lost.
Speaking to the spiritually lost, Jesus said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). Other Biblical images present the unconverted as needing a new birth. Man does not need moral reformation alone; he needs to be born again. If the unconverted is truly dead in trespasses and sin, utterly lost, blinded to the truth, and in need of a new birth, then every unconverted person is hopeless, helpless, and without any natural grace, or merit before God. In short, such a soul is poor in spirit.
Is there hope? Indeed there is. Jesus said of the poor in spirit, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven?” What does that mean?
First, it means that a proper understanding of salvation must begin and end with God, not with man. You and I are living in a day and age in which the gospel is set forth mainly from a man centered view. Salvation is presented as being dependent upon the will and response of individuals. The kingdom of heaven is offered, not to the poor in spirit, but to anyone, and everyone, regardless of their spirit. That is wrong.
Jesus said that the poor in spirit will have the kingdom. God’s condition for salvation, God’s requirement for entrance into the kingdom, is to be conscious of a state of spiritual poverty and distress. That is a God centered understanding of salvation.
We study more, and find that what God demands, God gives. God demands that souls feel poor in spirit, and repent of their sins. It is God who grants the gift of repentance. Paul spoke of this in 2 Timothy 2:25 when he wrote that, “God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.”
In Acts 5:31 we find that God the Father exalted Jesus Christ in order, “to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 11:18 speaks of how God granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life.
Now understand clearly. If God does not grant repentance, if God does not give to a person the gift of repentance, then no person shall ever come to faith. While God is under no obligation to grant repentance to anyone, for He is sovereign in the distribution of His gifts, the good news is that the Lord delights to show mercy. But mercy is only given to the poor in spirit. Mercy is shown to those who become conscious of their helpless, hopeless condition. Then the Sovereign will become the Saviour.
Perhaps you have a loved one, and you want desperately to see that person come to faith. As you present the gospel to them, go to the throne of grace, and plead for the mercy of God to be granted to the one you love. God is not deaf that He cannot hear. God’s hands are not so heavy that He cannot help. He has the power to grant repentance to those we love, and long to see saved. If, and when God begins to work a work of grace, in the heart of a person, there will be a growing awareness of spiritual poverty, and the awakened soul will stand before Christ and say,
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to Thy Cross I cling.”
We do believe that in marvelous, matchless grace, God prepares the soul He wishes to save by making the person to feel helpless, hopeless, and poverty stricken. The utter despair of the soul turns to inner happiness, as the same Lord which wounded the spirit, offers the healing ministry of Calvary’s Cross.
“How my countless sins depressed me,
Gave me sorrow, shame, and tears.
How His wrath and anger crushed me,
Filled my heart with doubts and fear;
But my soul cried out in anguish,
Called for mercy and for grace.
Jesus heard my supplication,
Granted pardon and release.”
Is there hope for those who are unhappy? The answer is, “Yes! for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let the word go forth. Happiness is not found by being full of self-confidence. Happiness is not found by possessing knowledge, or Solomon, the most knowledgeable of all men, would have been happy. Yet Solomon wrote, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2).
Happiness is not found in riches, for those who desire to be rich fall into the snare of the devil. The love of money is the root of all evil. Happiness is not found in honor, and power, for then the Beast and the Dragon of Revelation 13 would have been content. Happiness is found in falling down before God, and crying out in utter despair, “O Lord, be merciful to me the sinner.”
The gospel of redeeming love brings happiness, as it strips the soul of all confidence in the flesh, and places all hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The souls of the saints sing together.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.”
Perhaps you are not happy. Wealth has not brought happiness. Sensual pleasures have not brought happiness. Following the dictates of a free will has not brought happiness. You have nothing to offer to God by way of righteousness. You are poor in spirit. Come to Christ. Look to Jesus and understand this. For the poor in spirit the Saviour has come.
Jesus said He came to give life, and to give it more abundantly. If you want to be happy, then determine today to be a Christian. Decide now to follow Christ, to love Him, learn of Him, and serve Him with all of your heart, and mind, and strength. Christ is waiting now to bring happiness to your heart. Cry out, “Lord, be merciful. I need you. I will follow you. I want you.” Come to Christ, and you can know happiness in your heart. You can have the kingdom of heaven, but only if you are poor in spirit.