“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 four facts.
Who preached the sermon.
The place where the sermon was preached.
Who heard the sermon.
The purpose of the preaching of this message.
First, 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 even 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 the Lord spent the night before He preached in prayer (Luke 6:12-16). 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.
The place where Jesus chose to communicate these particular words is not really known. One possibility is Mount Tabor, located about 40 miles outside of Jerusalem. It was no accident the Lord chose a mountain side from which to proclaim the principles of His kingdom. This was the fulfillment of picturesque prophecy. In the nineth century BC, 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 [Acacia, NE of the Dead Sea]” (Joel 3:18).
The day that Christ spoke, was the day the mountains of Palestine 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 never forgot. God the Holy Spirit burned into hearts the immortal words of the Master. Initially, those who heard Christ preach the Sermon on the Mount were His disciples. 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 (Matt. 5:1,2). The disciples were going to go forth some day as Apostles to preach on behalf of the Lord.
As ambassadors for Christ, they would represent the King and His Kingdom. The Twelve needed to be instructed properly, and privately, so that there would be no misunderstanding what the message of the King was to be. What better preparation for the ministry than to be alone with Jesus. Once The Twelve were fully instructed, the Sermon on the Mount could be, and was, conveyed to others (Luke 6:17-49).
Of course, the content of the Sermon on the Mount is not to be altered. The ambassadors of Christ are never to create new doctrines. Christians are called by Christ to proclaim the message of God’s redeeming grace, and to present the principles of kingdom living.
“Tell me the old, old story
Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply,
As to a little child;
For I am weak and weary,
And helpless and defiled.
Tell me the old, old story;
Tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.”
It is the old, old story we want to hear, and tell others. Christ has spoken, and it is enough.
As Jesus began to teach, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It is instructive Jesus would begin with this idea because, spiritual poverty is a foundational truth for the Christian life. Many years ago in Switzerland, Francis Schaeffer (1912 – 1984) asked his generation at L’Abri (“The Shelter”), “How should we then live?” Jesus said,“We should live as one who is poor in spirit.”
Some might be surprised at these words, because the frantic search for happiness does not look in the direction of humility. Individuals are too busy looking out for number one, and taking selfies.
In a moment of honesty, it can be noted that the unhappiness of individuals in modern society, is reflected in disturbing statistics.
Every day in America, 28 tons of aspirin, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills are consumed. There are 1,200 new alcoholics each day to deal with. Divorce rates in the U.S. are now among the highest in the world.
Christians are not immune to the stress of marriage. In a desperate search for happiness, people from all social classes often turn to inappropriate sexual behavior, or drugs. Then, individuals defend that which is indefensible by declaring, “I have a right to be happy.”
The Bible says people have a responsibility to be holy. Happiness will be a by-product of holiness.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ sat down on a hillside in Galilee, and said,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
The idea is this.
In the heart of every person there is a throne, and on the throne, either self sits to reign, or God reigns. When self-reigns in the life, God is told what to do. If God is not compliant in a timely manner, He is dismissed from one’s life.
C.S. Lewis became a devout atheist for many years because, when he prayed for his dying mother to be healed of cancer, his prayer was not answered in the way he thought it should have been. Lewis became angry and bitter at God. He began to deny the existence of God. Self-sat down on the throne of his heart. He was nine years old. The fundamental problem was that young Lewis did not sincerely pray, “Father, not my will but thine be done.” Self-told God what to do.
Another way self-reigns on the throne of one’s heart, is by loving something in an inappropriate way. It is possible to love something more than God. When Sarah was told she would have a child, she laughed, but Abraham believed God. After his birth, no child was loved more by a father than Isaac, whose name means “laughter.” Every wish of the child’s heart was granted. Every moment was designed to protect him, and bring happiness into his life.
It was an inconceivable moment when the Lord God spoke to Abraham one day saying, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2, NIV)
No parent was more horrified than Abraham to hear the Lord’s astonishing command. How could the child of promise be sacrificed? The sacrifice of his son was an unthinkable act.
Once the shock of the divine command was dispelled, Abraham meditated on the situation and concluded that the God of creation is also the God of recreation. He and the lad would go to Moriah. Both would return because God would raise Isaac from death. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (Gen. 22:5, NKJV).
Abraham took Isaac to the top of the mountain and laid him bounded on an altar. Then, Abraham raised a sacrificial knife against the pale blue sky to slay his beloved son. Abraham would obey God at any cost. The Sovereign, not self, sat on the throne of his heart.
Just as the knife was about to plunge downward, the Angel of the Lord stopped the hand of Abraham from killing Isaac because God now knew, Abraham loved Him more than anything. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his idol. It was enough. God let Abraham keep his beloved son, and return home with Isaac, because Abraham was found to be poor in spirit. Someone else sat on the throne of his heart, even the Lord of Glory. Abraham learned the blessing of nothingness.
This is a truth that is to be taught to others.
Before a person can be happy, they must be poor in spirit which means, they must have none of self, but all of Christ. This is true for the redeemed of the Lord, and it is true for those who have yet to be converted. As Jesus sat on the side of a mountain, below Him a vast multitude of people gathered from every walk of life. Many of the people who came to hear Jesus were physically poor.
The people in Palestine knew the backbreaking labor of trying to cultivate the rocky soil of the Promised Land. Jewish fathers would tell their children that after God finished creating the world, He took all 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 the hand cannot be lifted to keep away the angry flies that buzz over the body. Physical poverty is a crime against humanity. Every day, more than 25 thousand people in the world die of starvation. Any war on poverty is a just and moral war.
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. Two men went up to the Temple to pray. Only one bowed himself before God and prayed for the Lord to be merciful to him because he knew himself to be a sinner. He was poor in spirit.
To be poor in spirit, is to have been made conscious of one’s spiritual misery and want. It is to desire a Savior.
To be poor in spirit is to put away self-serving ideas such as relative righteousness.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize there is no Treasury of Merit to draw on from other saints.
The Catholic Church is in error on this point.
The only spiritual merit God will honor is that which is imputed from His Son to those who bow before Jesus as Lord.
The gospel call goes forth commanding the Natural Man, the unconverted man, to repent, not only of the sins of lasciviousness, and self-indulgence, but also the sin of the pride of self-righteousness.
This, the Natural Man will not do. He is poor in spirit, but does not know it.
To press this point 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, a well-known Episcopal Bishop, James Pike (b. 1913), and his wife, were traveling in the Middle East in September, 1969. 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 he collapsed. He died in exhaustion and utter confusion. He was physically lost.
Speaking to those who are spiritually walking in circles Jesus said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.”
Other Biblical images present the unconverted as needing a new birth. Man does not need moral reformation; he needs to be born again. “Nicodemus, You must be born again” (John 3:1-3). If the unconverted is truly dead in trespasses and sin, utterly lost, blinded to the truth, and in need of a new birth, then the Natural Man, meaning 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 age in which the gospel is set forth mainly from a man centered view. Salvation is presented as being wholly dependent upon the human will, and the exclusive response of the individual. Such a message caters to a person’s pride.
What is missing in much modern evangelical evangelism is God’s condition for salvation.God’s requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven is for a person to be conscious of their state of spiritual poverty and distress. There must be a God centered understanding of salvation for entrance into the kingdom.
Lest a person come to despair of being saved, we study more, and find that what God commands, He provides. “Give what you command [O Lord], and then command whatever you will.”
In St. Augustine’s Confessions, that was his memorable way of capturing this comforting scriptural truth: God himself effectively works in us to will and to act in keeping with his good purpose (Phil. 2:13) . God commands that souls feel poor in spirit, and repent of their sins. Then, in matchless grace, God gives the gift of sorrow and 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.
While God is under no obligation to grant sorrow and repentance to anyone, for He is sovereign in the distribution of His gifts, the good news is that the Lord delights to show mercy. When God shows mercy to a person by visiting them in the day of salvation, they become poor in spirit for they see themselves as they are in the sight of a holy God. Such was the experience of Isaiah.
“Then said I, 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 mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
Such was the experience of Peter.
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
Such will be the experience of every person who stands in the presence of God. They will become poor in spirit. Then the Sovereign will become their Saviour.
Perhaps you know someone, and you want desperately to see that person come to faith.Before you present the gospel, go to the throne of grace, and plead for the mercy of God to be granted to the one you care about. Petition the King to pardon the guilty.
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 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 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.
Their utter despair turns to inner happiness, when 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 the unhappy unconverted person, the Natural Man?
The answer is,
“Yes! for theirs too, is the kingdom of heaven.”
Let the word go forth.
The blessing of God and inner 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 vanity, all is vanity.”
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.
The blessing of God and inner happiness is found in falling on one’s knees and crying out in utter despair,
“Oh I need Thee, Lord,
every hour I need Thee.”
The gospel of redeeming love brings holiness and then happiness, as it strips the soul of all confidence in the flesh, and places all hope in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The saints sing together,
“On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.”
Perhaps you are not happy.
Money has not brought happiness.
Marriage has not produced 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 now know it would be rejected.
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 I come to give life, and to give it more abundantly.
If we want to be happy, then let us become Christians, and know the reign of the Lord in our heart by His Spirit.
Let us follow Christ.
Learn of Him.
Serve Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength.
Christ is waiting now to bring happiness to our hearts, but we must pray.
“Lord, be merciful to me the sinner.”
“Lord, I will follow you.”
“Jesus, ultimately, I only want you.”
“Spirit of God, come and reign in my heart.”
As we yield to Christ, we can know happiness. You and I can have the kingdom of heaven, but only if we are poor in spirit.