Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew5.3 ““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Well, we just concluded a series on The Harvest from Matthew 9 which began shifting our gears as a church to prepare to bring in this harvest. In the final sermon of that series, we saw that the work of harvesting is the work of teaching which corresponds to what Jesus said in the Great Commission. He said to go and make disciples, teaching them all that I’ve commanded you. And so a good place for us to start then as we prepare for the work of harvesting is to ask, “Well, what did Jesus teach?”

The most direct answer is found in Matthew 5-7 in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In these chapters, we find the ethos of Jesus. The Jesus ethic. The Ethos for the people of God.

So we are going to work our way through these three chapters in order to answer that question, “What did Jesus teach?” But I’m going to try to do so in a way that is mindful of the harvest. That is, mindful of people who are yet to be believers. The goal of these sermons is to equip you who are already in the synagogues, so to speak, so that you and I are prepared to go out into the public to have conversations about these things. To be able to address the issues and questions that yet to be believers have with the teaching of Jesus.

In some ways, my goal for these sermons is to just start the conversation. I know I have a lot to learn in terms of understanding what people outside of the church think, and so I’d like for us to start a dialogue. Let’s dialogue with one another, so that we can also dialogue with people outside of the church. We are going to focus in on what Jesus, and the Bible teaches, but we want to do it mindful of other views that are out there. So with that, I hope that these sermons can get us started in having conversations with yet to be believers.

Now the very first topic is money which is obviously very relevant to everyone. And it’s interesting that Jesus talks a lot about money. In fact, he talks more about money than he actually talks about heaven or hell. Why might that be? He knows how personal this issue is. And even more, he knows that matters of money are actually matters of the heart. So later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:21 he will say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What does this mean? While we may want money…it’s really what money is able to buy that we are after. And so Jesus is pointing to the connection between what we treasure and our heart. Whatever you treasure, whatever you value, whatever you want to buy, that’s where you heart is. In other words, how do you know where your heart is? Look at your bank statement. The way you spend your money objectively tells you what you value. This is why Jesus spoke so often about money, because he knew it was the way to uncovering what is in your heart.

And as it turns out, that is the thing that matters the most to God. Everyone is so focussed on externals, where you work, what you drive, where you live…but God cares most about your heart. And the way you spend your money, but even more, your attitude towards money reveals what is in your heart.

Now, here we have this first beatitude which says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As we reflect on this beatitude, let me try to answer three questions:

  1. Who is Blessed?
  2. What is Poverty of Spirit?
  3. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Who is Blessed?

Now, these beatitudes are challenging our values. And all of these beatitudes are really asking the basic question, “Who is blessed?” The word translated ‘blessed’ can be superficially translated as happy. But it has a richer meaning than just “happy.” It means to be supremely happy. It means to live an ideal life, to “live the dream” as they say. So the question is really, “Who is living the dream?” Or we can put it this way: “The one who is blessed, has it best.” So who has it best?

When it comes to money, we would naturally say, well, those who are rich are blessed. You know, if you have lots of money in the bank so you can buy nice things, a nice house, drive nice cars, and even have more than enough so you can be generous and share what you have, then you’re blessed right? That’s how we would normally think. And other passages in the bible would support this view. At the end of the book of Job, if you know the story, Job ended his life being extremely wealthy. And Job 42:10 says, “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” and then it goes on to list everything that he owned; he was extremely wealthy. So to be wealthy is to be blessed.

So why does Jesus make it seem like it is not a blessing to be rich? Jesus is challenging our assumptions, he’s getting us to think about what money is. And I would say that he is reminding us not to place our absolute trust in money. Yes, it’s nice to have money, but money does not equate a blessed, ideal, life. Because you can have lots of money, and yet still be very unhappy. And on the flip side, what Jesus is teaching, is that you can have no money, you can be poor, and still be very happy.

Let’s consider those two positions. How can you have lots of money and still be unhappy?

Proverbs 15:17 says: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” What would you rather eat? Prime rib seasoned with rosemary, or just the rosemary? I don’t know if a meal of rosemary would even count as a meal, but the point is it’s better to eat scraps than to eat the juiciest prime rib meal in the midst of broken relationships. Put it like this, is it better to be poor and to have a really great marriage and a really great family and friendships? Or is it better to be rich and to be divorced and estranged from your children and everyone hates you? Well, someone might ask, “Why can’t we have both?” And yes, better to have both, but you see it is removing the absolute value we might place on wealth. Now of course, you can also be poor and have a broken marriage and family. But the point is, there are some things that are more important than money.

Ok, how about the reverse statement, can you be poor, and still be very happy? Now to answer this question, we need to first explain what poverty of Spirit is and then we’ll get to the Kingdom of Heaven.

What is Poverty of Spirit?

So can you be poor, and still be very happy? This may seem more of a hypothetical statement for some of you. But I think the fact of the matter is that a lot of people worry about their finances. It’s a known fact that money is a pressure point in many families. And while some people don’t have to worry about money, even those with lots of money, still worry about their money. So what if you lost all of your money? Are you blessed then?

Well, the first thing to acknowledge is that it could happen. In the bible, there are three causes of poverty. The first is personal irresponsibility, and that is on you. However, there are two other factors that are out of our control. There is oppression or injustice from people or institutions more powerful than us, and third, there are calamities.

Job is the epitome of the third. He was blindsided unexpectedly by calamity after calamity and then he lost his health. I know of very wealthy people, who because of health issues, whose wealth has been depleted to pay for the healthcare costs. What happens in a situation like that? Can you still say you are blessed? If you are barely making ends meet and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, can you say you’re blessed?

Now, this is where it’s important to note that the text doesn’t say just the poor are blessed, but the poor in spirit. And this gets us to the heart of the issue. Because with God, the heart of the issue is the heart. God doesn’t really care if you’re rich or if you’re poor or if you’re middle class. What God cares about is the orientation of your heart.

And what this beatitude is really targeting is self-sufficiency. It is the attitude that finds its security in money, thinking if I have enough money and possessions, then I’m good. This was the attitude we see in the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3. That city was very wealthy at the time, and so the people there were thinking “We’re rich, we’ve done well in life, and we don’t need anything.” Maybe that is the way a lot of your friends may be thinking. And I think this is the challenge in dealing with people who don’t go to church or who have left the church. They may think they’re good. They’re satisfied with their life. Or they’re just too busy to notice. They might say they believe in God, and maybe they think they should focus on that a little more, but it is not an urgency for them.

But to be truly blessed, you first have to realize you have nothing. This is poverty of spirit. While you may have sufficient funds in your bank account, you are spiritually bankrupt. And so this is Jesus’ word to the church at Laodicea, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, poor. blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). He’s talking about their spiritual condition. And it seems to me that most people are satisfied with their spiritual condition. They know it could use a little work, but they seem to think their relationship with God is fine because they believe in him, and so God is pleased with them.

But this is where the gospel comes in. The only way that God will be pleased with you, is through the Son of God. Apart from him, this is how God sees us: we are wretched, poor, blind, and naked. You can think of all the people that Jesus healed miraculously. They were miserable, they were blind, naked, and probably poor because of those factors. And there was nothing they could do to reverse their situation. So when Jesus came on the scene healing people like that, you can understand the excitement and urgency with which they sought him out.

They did everything they could to speak with Jesus saying, “Lord have mercy on me!” This is what it means to be poor in spirit. You realize that your condition is totally desperate, you are spiritually bankrupt, you have nothing to offer God, and if it were not for the healing touch of Christ, you would be lost forever.

But there is a strange paradox. Usually we want to try to hype ourselves up. But the way the gospel works is the reverse. In the gospel, the way up, is down. So the bible says those who humble themselves, God will lift up and exalt (Matthew 23:12).

And this is the very thing we see in the life of Christ. He humbled himself, even to the point of a humiliating death on the cross, and then…God lifted him up, literally, in resurrection and ascension so that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father in glory.

But here’s the difference between Christ and us. Christ began spiritually rich. He was perfectly righteous and pleasing to God, and yet he allowed himself to be treated like the most sinful person on earth. Us…we’re sinners. All the things we do that we think are pleasing to God, are filthy rags. Even our best thoughts are tainted with mixed motives.

The difference between Christ and us is Christ is God, and so everything belongs to him, because he created it all. With us, we don’t really own anything. The laws of capitalism may say we own this or that, but it really all belongs to God, and it’s on loan to us. But Christ owned everything, every single square inch of the universe, and yet, he came into this world naked, born into a poor family, and he died naked.

Why? He became poor, to make us rich. 2Cor 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

This is the amazing love of Christ. He loved us so much that he laid aside all of his divine privilege and wealth, in order to give us the riches of the kingdom of heaven.

And so this is how the beatitude works. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Which really means blessed are you who recognize your spiritual poverty. That you have nothing to offer God. You are naked, poor, and blind. You are spiritually bankrupt. And all you have to do is ask Christ to be a co-signer to your account. And he will gladly do it, and take all of your debt, and pay for it himself.

And so if you ask Jesus to co-sign for you, though you are spiritually bankrupt, he gives you the kingdom of heaven.

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Now, what is the kingdom of heaven? People have various conceptions of heaven. And there is a reason why the bible doesn’t really give us very clear descriptions of it. Because heaven is so unlike earth, earthly language cannot fully describe it.

And so when Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven he says “It’s like….” So in Matthew 13:44, this is what he says, “The kingdom of heaven is like….treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.” At that time before good banks, people would bury their inheritance for safe-keeping. And so here is a man who is walking along a field, and then hears something under his feet. He digs it up and discovers there is buried treasure. Now, he can’t just take the treasure, because the land doesn’t belong to him. So what does he do? “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is saying, the kingdom of heaven is like this. It is something so valuable, that it is logically reasonable to sell everything you have in order to get it. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is worth more than all the money in the world. And so blessed are the poor in spirit, also makes sense of how the physically poor are also blessed. If you have nothing in this world, but if you are poor in spirit, you have the kingdom of heaven, which is infinitely more than this world could offer.

So this is how you can be very happy even if you are very poor. First of all, you recognize that you don’t deserve anything from God anyway. Second, you see the love of God in Christ who gave up everything for you. In other words, you are supremely loved by God. Third, you co-sign with Christ, and then he gives you the kingdom of heaven which is more valuable than all the money in the world. And the wonderful thing about the kingdom of heaven is it can never be taken from you. Whatever wealth you accumulate in the kingdom of earth, you lose it when you die. But the wealth of the kingdom of heaven is with you forever even though you die.

And so what that means is there is nothing in this life, no calamity, that take this inheritance away. And it is in this way, that you are truly blessed. That is ideal, isn’t it? To have more wealth than the whole world can offer, AND it can never be taken away from you. That is true security.

Doesn’t that sound like a great deal? When we share the gospel, this is the first goal. It is to describe the good news as good news. To describe the gospel in such a way that an unbeliever says, “I wish that were true.” They might not believe it, but they should want to believe it.

Obviously, this requires faith. And for that the key issue, is Jesus. Specifically, the death and resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus was just a man who died like the rest of us, then this is a pipe dream. But…if Jesus really did rise, then he really did become poor in order to make us rich and he really can give us the kingdom of heaven. And so that’s how we can share the gospel. Talk about it’s goodness so they wish it were true. And then you can talk about the evidence for the resurrection.

Conclusion

But for us today, in conclusion, ask yourself, “Are you poor in Spirit?” Has that been the attitude of your heart these days? Have you been regularly coming before God and recognizing your spiritual poverty? That apart from Christ you have nothing to offer God? That apart from Christ you are miserable, poor, blind, and naked? And so you have been completely dependent on the grace of Christ moment by moment?

Or have you been “rich in spirit”? That is, self-sufficient. Maybe instead of coming helpless before God, you simply ask God for help here and there? But mostly relying on yourself?

Whatever the case, now is the time to come helpless, poor and needy. And then to receive the riches of Christ, and the blessed assurance of the riches of the kingdom of heaven that can never be taken from you.

And then there’s one more thing that happens. When you know you have the security of the kingdom of heaven, you should become more generous. Here’s how. If someone asked me for a penny, I’d gladly give it to them. Because what’s a penny? It’s basically nothing. And what is a million dollars compared to riches of the kingdom of heaven? It’s basically nothing. That should be our attitude with this life. We have an inheritance in heaven that makes all the money in the world seem like nothing. And so we should gladly give it away.

And so let’s take this time to pray now: 1) Ask God’s help to see our spiritual poverty apart from Christ, 2) To fill us with the hope and security of the kingdom of heaven, 3) So much so that we become as generous as Christ who gladly became poor in order to make many rich.

Prayer: Our Father in Heaven, we ask your help to see things as you do. To see our need for you. That we are poor and helpless apart from you. Help us to see the love of Christ who gave up so much to give us more than we could ever think or imagine. And help us now to share in the generosity of Christ. That we would gladly become poor to make others rich as well, knowing we have a kingdom in heaven that can never be taken from us. For the glory of your name, we pray. Amen.

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