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Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Tom Pennington • Matthew 5:3

  • 2011-10-02 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


Well, I invite you to take your Bibles and open them again to the Sermon on the Mount. We're just beginning our journey through this wonderful sermon, and I'm already having the time of my life, and I'm looking forward to the weeks and months ahead. For the twelve years that I was Managing Director of Grace to You, it was both my job, and my great joy, to travel to most of our international offices across the world. Those trips took me all over. One of them took me to the Philippines, and to Singapore, and ultimately to India. I spent the better part of a couple of weeks in India, and one of the cities that I visited when I was there, was Mumbai, or Bombay as it used to be called. During my stay there in Mumbai, I was taken by my host to a Hindu temple built there on the coast. I don't remember much about the temple itself, but I remember that as we walked the sort of sidewalk or causeway out to the temple, it was lined, literally our way was lined, with beggars. Most or perhaps all of them had been born into that caste. Many of them were terribly deformed. Some of them by birth. Others of them had been intentionally deformed physically by their parents with the idea to make them gain greater sympathy from the people from whom they beg. My host explained that all of their lives these people would spend every day on that causeway begging for a few coins to support that day's needs. They would live and die as beggars. As Americans, who are used to the idea of the American dream, of improving yourself, of improving your circumstances; it's really hard for us to fathom. Living and dying as beggars. But today, we will learn from our Lord, as He begins this sermon, that in fact every single one of us are beggars. We are spiritual beggars, and will be throughout this life.

As we get into this sermon, I want to start by just making sure you have the structure of it, as we begin to look at the beatitudes today–just to give you the overarching feel of it. First of all, we're going to begin—Jesus begins with us by looking at the citizens of the kingdom. Matthew 5:3-16. We begin by looking at the character of those who were already in Jesus' spiritual kingdom, those who belong to Him, those who were true Christians, if you will. And then verses 14 to 16, we look at their influence. They are salt and light. Those who are truly Christ's can be described by the beatitudes and are characterized, in their influence, as salt and light. After that, our Lord goes on to how those citizens of His kingdom should live. The righteousness of the kingdom. That begins in 5:17 and runs all the way through 7:12. Here's how you should live, He tells His disciples in the kingdom into which you've entered.

The final part of this sermon comes at the end of Mathew 7:13-27, and here are the warnings about the kingdom. Jesus tells us there are serious dangers to beware of. Specifically, there's the danger of finding the wrong entrance—of thinking you're entering Jesus' kingdom, when in fact you're entering the wrong gate and you get on the broad way that leads to destruction. He also warns us about false teachers. And that, by the way, is one of the ways you get to the wrong gate and get on the wrong road. And finally, He ends this sermon by warning us of the danger of a false profession–claiming to belong to Jesus, calling Him Lord, and yet it not being, in fact, genuine.

Now Jesus' structure (as you look at that outline, as you contemplate it) Jesus structure was deliberate. And it's absolutely crucial to the right interpretation. Jesus begins with the beatitudes and by identifying those who have already become His true subjects. Everything else He has to say is for them. If you are not already a follower of Jesus; if the beatitudes don't describe who you already are by God's grace, then you cannot live out the moral imperatives of the rest of the sermon. It's impossible. There have been well-intentioned people who have, without accepting Christ as Lord, without coming to Him as He's demanded in repentance–and thought that's a wonderful ethic. I'll try to live out that ethic in my life. It's impossible. You have to first be a subject of His kingdom, and only then can you live as a subject of His kingdom. In this sermon, Jesus is teaching those who are already His disciples. And those who are not yet His disciples need first to respond to the gospel He preached back up in Matthew 4:17. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is here. You can enter God's kingdom. You can enter Jesus' spiritual kingdom today, but you have to be willing to turn from your sin and embrace Him as Lord.

Now, last week I just introduced the beatitudes to you, and took some heat for doing so, I might add. Seth wanted to know if I was going to just introduce the first beatitude today. That's not true. I just want you to know that. But last week, we learned the four guiding principles of interpreting the beatitudes correctly. First of all, you have to understand that the beatitudes describe all true Christians. All Christians manifest all of these qualities—the eight qualities that are here in the beatitudes. Secondly, we learned that the opposite of each beatitude describes every unbeliever. Jesus, Luke tells us, in addition to saying these people have these qualities and are blessed, said these people have the opposite qualities, and He pronounced a woe on them. So Jesus is essentially saying, look there are two kingdoms. There's My kingdom and if you're in My kingdom this is what you look like, and there's Satan's kingdom and if you're in his kingdom you have the opposite qualities. The third guiding principle we learned to interpret the beatitudes correctly, is that the qualities in the beatitudes are received by grace alone. God produces these in the life. You cannot—I cannot produce these on my own, nor can you. It's something God does in us and we'll see that even as we look at the first beatitude today. That means that the rest of this sermon, then, is to be understood in the context of grace. And finally, the fourth guiding principle we learned last week was this. Jesus is the only one who has perfectly lived out these qualities.

Now today I want to begin to study them individually. And you'll notice as you glance down through them, (I read them to you last week) starting in verse 3 each verse begins with the word blessed. Jesus begins each of these beatitudes, each of these statements, all eight of them, with the same word. So it's crucial that we understand what this word blessed means. Now, let me say right at the beginning, that it is not a feeling of happiness. There are some translations that translate the Greek word happy. It's not a feeling of happiness. That's not what this word is describing. In fact, it's not a feeling at all. It's a state, and we'll talk about that. Scholars agree that Jesus, here, was using a concept found often in the Hebrew Old Testament. If you're familiar with the Old Testament, you can think of a number of verses that begin in the same way. For example, Psalm 1. "blessed is the man. . ." Psalm 2 "blessed is the one who takes refuge in the Son" Psalm 32 "blessed is the one to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity". So you see that that's a very frequent Old Testament occurrence. And if you go back to the Old Testament, you discover that there are two different Hebrew words that are translated blessed in our English text. Two different Hebrew words. The first one is barak. It refers to God actively blessing someone. You'll read something like this. "And God blessed Abraham". It means God is doing something in the life of that person. That's not the word that Jesus uses here. The second Hebrew word, and the idea that Jesus bounces off of in the beatitudes, is the Hebrew word eshere. Eshere occurs 45 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is never used to refer to God. It is never something God does. God never uses this word. Instead, this is a human conclusion about another person or circumstance. Let me give you an example. You remember the story in 1 Kings 10 when the Queen of Sheba shows up to see the wisdom of Solomon? And after she hears him and sees what's going on there in his palace we read this. The Queen of Sheba said this to Solomon "How blessed are your men. How blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom" Now, what was going on there? She wasn't saying God blessed these men. She was saying, as I look around your court, Solomon, and I see all of these men around you who have the privilege of benefitting from your wisdom day in and day out, I say, they are blessed. Another human being inspects the life of another, and comes to a conclusion about that life. It's not about how the person feels. For example, what's the second beatitude. "Blessed is he who mourns". That's not happy, okay? So we're not talking about an internal feeling of happiness. Instead, the word means that these people are in a situation that others envy or desire. It could be translated as O to be envied. Or how desirable. It's like pointing to someone and saying, there's a man who's living real life. He's living the good life. He's living real life. The man who is eshere enjoys an objective state of well-being in every area of life. And that objective state of well-being is spiritual. Bruce Waltke writes this. "The exclamation blessed, eshere, is for people who experience life optimally as the creator intended" So, to point to someone and say blessed in this sense, in this word is to say: there's somebody who is in a spiritual state of well-being, spiritual health, spiritual prosperity. So as our Lord begins the Sermon on the Mount, He uses that word. He uses the Greek word that the Septuagint uses for eshere. So, He's essentially assessing the lives of people. Jesus is about to tell us, and we ought to all listen up, because He's about to tell us what constitutes a life of true spiritual health, true spiritual well-being, truly spiritually prosperous—ultimate spiritual prosperity. And His list, by the way, is exactly the opposite of all human lists, and it's antithetical to everything that comes naturally. Jesus describes the spiritually prosperous with eight qualities that we call the beatitudes. Jesus points and says those people are to be envied. Those people are living a truly good life, a life that's enviable. Those people are in a state of spiritual health and spiritual prosperity. Let's see what that looks like.

Today, I want to examine just the first beatitude, and Jesus intentionally puts it first, as you will see, because it is foundational to the life of a Christian. Look at Matthew 5:3. Here is how Jesus begins this magnificent sermon with that huge crowd spread out before Him. His twelve hand-picked apostles closest, then the rest of His disciples, and then the crowd around them. Here's what He says. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus is telling us that all true Christians are characterized by an awareness of their absolute spiritual poverty–all true Christians.

Now, as we examine this first beatitude, we need to answer two key questions. Let's begin with the most important question, and it's this. What exactly does poor in spirit mean? Let me start by telling you what it doesn't mean. Because there is a lot of confusion—a lot of vague thinking about this. First of all, it does not mean—to be poor in spirit does not mean lacking ambition or drive or courage. It doesn't mean you just have a weak personality or character. There are some people who are naturally wall-flowers—who are always standing in the shadows and the backgrounds. Some of the enemies of Christianity have interpreted this beatitude that way, but that's not what our Lord means. Nor does He mean that you should display a self-deprecating but false humility. Oh, poor me, I'm just poor in spirit—kind of Eeyore Christianity. This is the person who glories and revels in a humility he doesn't really possess—doesn't really feel. It's the kind of humility that's really begging for a compliment. Ever talked to people like this? Ahh, I'm just, I'm just no good. And what are they really asking for? For you to rally around and say Oh no, don't say that about yourself. You're wonderful. You hung the moon. That's not poor in spirit either. A third thing that it's not is being financially poor. There is no virtue in being poor, just as there is no virtue in being rich. There are Christians in scripture, those who truly entered Jesus' kingdom who were wealthy, and there are those who entered Jesus' kingdom who are absolute beggars. That's not the issue. The reason that even raises its head is because, in Luke's version, Luke omits the words in spirit. So he just has Jesus saying blessed are the poor. And so some argued that there must be some virtue in financial hardship. But a basic principle of interpreting the scripture is to let the clear interpret the unclear, and here in Matthew, He couldn't be any clearer what He really means. Jesus' point was not about financial poverty, but spiritual poverty. A fourth misunderstanding about what it means to be poor in spirit that is widely popular in Christendom—particularly in the Roman Catholic church, (this is their interpretation) is taking a vow of poverty. To be poor in spirit means you're willing to take a vow of poverty, and they claim this beatitude and Luke's version of it as their authority for that practice. That's not what it means either. Clearly, Matthew says it's poverty of spirit, not financial poverty.

Now, what does it mean? Well, we have to start by looking at what the word poor means. Very important word, because there are two distinct Greek words for poor. One of the words for poor in the New Testament describes the working poor. Those who work hard, dawn to dusk. They barely eke out a living day to day. They live literally from hand to mouth. They never have any reserves, and they just barely get by, but they work hard with their own hands to pay for their needs. They're the working poor. That's not the word Jesus uses here. The word here describes those who are dependent on others for their support. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, finished a couple of hundred years before Christ) uses this word of those who have to rely on others in order to live. In classical Greek, from the time of Homer throughout the rest of the period in which classical Greek was used, this word was used of beggars. You can see this a number of times in its uses in the New Testament. In fact every time the gospels use this word for poor, it's of those whose only hope is in the generosity of others. Let me show this to you. It's so important to understand this because this sets the framework and sort of atmosphere of Jesus' beatitude. Look at Luke 14. Let's see what kind of poverty we're looking at here. Luke 14:12. Jesus gave the parable of the guests in verses 7 through 11, and in verse 12, He went on to say to the one who had invited Him to dinner:

"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, otherwise (He's not saying you should never do that, He was saying you should have a heart for people that can't reciprocate. You ought to be concerned about others who can't help themselves) otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, (there's our word) the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed (watch this, verse 14—here's how to describe this poverty) since they do not have the means to repay you.

They just don't have the means to respond. Look over in Luke 16. You get another glimpse of what this poverty looks like in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16:19.

"There was a rich man, habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus (there's our word) who was laid at his gate, covered with sores, longing (craving) to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now, the poor man died"

Here is the kind of poverty we're talking about. We're talking about a word that describes the absolute worst economic condition. Absolutely nothing. Here is a beggar, lying at the gate of a rich man, and all he can do is depend on the generosity of that rich man, who isn't very generous, as it turns out, for his help. He just wants some crumbs from his table. Turn over to Luke 21, you get a final glimpse of this in Luke 21. You remember the story of the widow who comes with her two small copper coins—the widow's mite. We'll talk about that when we get in Mark's gospel. I don't agree with the normal interpretation of this passage, but regardless, what I want you to see is her poverty. Verse 3. Jesus said, after He saw her put in her two small copper coins, "Truly, I say to you, this poor (there's our word) widow put in more than all the rest of them, for they all, out of their surplus put in to the offering; (out of their abundance put into the offering) but she, out of her poverty put in, (what?) all that she had to live on." She put those two small copper coins. We don't know how she got them, probably in that culture, from begging, or from the generosity of a concerned neighbor, and she puts them into the offering, and that was all she had. She goes home with nothing. She's absolutely broke. That's the poverty we're talking about. So, universally, in the New Testament this word poor, that Jesus uses here, refers to those who have nothing of their own. They either have to be supported by others, or they have to become beggars.

Now, let's go back to Matthew 5 and apply what we've just learned to what Jesus says. Blessed are the beggars in spirit. In spirit, here, is used like an adverb. It means the spiritually poor. To be poor in the realm of the spirit. It describes a person's attitude toward himself in the presence of God. I have nothing, and I have instead to depend on Him. I have to beg for Him to intervene. Now, in the context of this first beatitude, to be spiritually poor, I think, really consists of three separate realities. First of all it means to actually be spiritually bankrupt—to be a spiritual beggar. And that's true, by the way, of every single human being. That's true of you, from God's perspective. That's true of me. Romans 3:10, Paul says "As it is written, there is NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;" And you're not the exception to that, and nor am I. Paul says "ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY'VE BECOME USELESS (From God's perspective,)THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." So, all of us are spiritually bankrupt. Every living human is spiritually bankrupt, but that doesn't mean that Jesus is saying blessed on all of those people. There's another component to this. Besides just being spiritually bankrupt, you also have to know that you're spiritually bankrupt. This is really important. This is crucial, because every human being is poor in spirit, that is utterly without any spiritual resources. But what marks a true Christian is an awareness of that poverty. John Wesley described it like this. I love how he describes the person who is poor in spirit. He says, "He has a deep sense of the loathsome leprosy of sin which he brought from his mother's womb, which overspreads his whole soul and totally corrupts every power and faculty."

Wow. He has a sense, a deep sense of the loathsome leprosy which has permeated his entire being. Like Paul in 1 Timothy 1, those who are poor in spirit see themselves as the absolute worst of sinners.

There's another reality that's also a part of being poor in spirit. Not only to be spiritually bankrupt, to know that you're spiritually bankrupt. There are a lot of people who really understand a lot about their spiritual bankruptcy, but never turn that bankruptcy into a plea for help. And so the third reality is, to be poor in spirit means to beg God to show you grace. In other words, you become aware and convinced of how desperately you need God. You see, most people live through their lives, even if they believe in God, and most Americans apparently do believe there's a God. They live through their lives with apathy toward God, indifference. They do what they want. Yeah, He's there, but you know, I leave Him alone, He'll leave me alone, and I'll just do what I want. He's irrelevant to my life. But a person who's poor in spirit, that's not where they are. They have come to understand they desperately need God. Let me show you what this looks like. Turn over to Luke 15. Jesus tells the story here of two sons. We often call this the parable of the prodigal son, and he obviously gets more verses than the other son, but it's really, as John reminded us when he was here, a tale of two sons. And these two sons depict two kinds of sinners. The prodigal son represents the worst of sinners, the one who displays his depravity in the most graphic and disgusting ways. The other son, the one who stays home, depicts the self-righteous sinner who's basically morally good, and thinks that goodness is something God ought to accept. Both of them, apart from repentance will die and go to hell. But the story is to illustrate that truth. So the prodigal son, (you remember the story) the younger son, who didn't deserve the first cut of the inheritance, goes to his father, and says

"give me the share of the estate that falls to me. So he divides the wealth. Not many days after that, the younger son gathered everything together, went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. (Now watch what happens) When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country and he began to be impoverished."

Okay, he is spiritually bankrupt. Here's the picture of a sinner who has all of these wonderful gifts, this inheritance if you will, from God. The gift of life itself, and all of the joys of this life and all of the gifts of talent and ability, and on and on the list could go. And he squanders it. He perverts it. He prostitutes it. And he ends up having wasted all of those gifts. He ends up at the very bottom of society. Verse 15. "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country. (He becomes an indentured servant) and that man sends him into the fields to feed swine." Now, remember, this is a good Jewish boy. He's now at the bottom. And in fact it gets worse, because he doesn't have enough even from that indentured position to adequately feed himself. " He would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him." He is at the bottom, and he is spiritually bankrupt. That's the picture Jesus wants us to get. But notice where the spiritual bankruptcy takes him. Verse 17.

"He came to his senses, and he said, how many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger. (He realizes how desperately he needs the Father. He's come to the end of himself and his own resources) I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."

What's he doing? He's begging the father to show mercy and grace. He realizes he doesn't deserve anything. There's the picture. That's spiritual poverty. And God responds to those who manifest that kind of spirit toward Him. He always responds to those who manifest that kind of spirit toward Him. I love the way the prophet Isaiah puts it in Isaiah 57:15. He says "For thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, whose name is Holy. I dwell on a high and holy place (you ready for this?). . . with the contrite and lowly of spirit." You're poor in spirit, God says, you can live with Me. It's the proud, and the arrogant, and the self-reliant, and the self-dependent that'll never get near me. In Isaiah 66:2 God says "to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, (who's poor in spirit) and who trembles at My word." God says, you come to me like that, and I'll receive you. I'll always receive you.

So what's the opposite of poor in spirit? What is the attitude of those who are not in Jesus' kingdom, but are still in Satan's kingdom. Well, look at Luke 6 because Luke tells us what Jesus said. Luke 6. You'll notice in verse 20, there's the first beatitude. ."Blessed are you who are poor" Again, poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of God. and then, he gives the opposite down in verse 24. "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full."

Jesus says, blessed are those who understand their spiritual poverty, but woe to those who think they're spiritually rich. Listen, if you think you're spiritually rich; if you think you have something to offer God, Jesus says in this woe, you'd better enjoy this life, because that's all the comfort you're getting. All unbelievers mistakenly think that they are spiritually rich. Now, I don't mean by that they don't acknowledge that they're sinners in some way. You ask most unbelievers, they will admit to acts of sin. But what an unbeliever—listen very carefully, this is a very important distinction—what an unbeliever will never admit, is to absolute spiritual bankruptcy, that even his best and most righteous acts are filthy and unclean to God. That's where he'll never go. He will never come to the point where he says I am totally depraved and deserving of God's wrath. I've done nothing good that would make be received by God. I have nothing to offer Him. There's nothing I have He wants, and there's nothing I have that He would accept. That's where an unbeliever will never go. You see a picture of this in Revelation 3. You remember the church in Laodicea, the church where Jesus is on the outside—and by the way, the door Jesus is knocking on there is not the door of the human heart, it's the door of the church—tap,tap,tap, can I come in. Nobody there who knew him. And he says to them, you say I am rich and have become wealthy. They're talking about their spiritual prosperity here. He says to the church in Laodicea, "you say I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." That's how unbelievers think. I'm spiritually rich. Unbelievers are filled with moral pride. You ask the average unbeliever how they are, and they'll say, well you know, I'm not too bad. I'm a basically a good person. I do the best I can. They are self-reliant, they are self-confident, they are self-sufficient, they are self-righteous. I know that, and you know that if you're a Christian, because you used to be all those things. But the true Christian realizes I am nothing, I have nothing, and I can do nothing that pleases God. The true Christian realizes he can never in a million years meet God's standard. This beatitude makes a crucial and vital point. The only way—listen carefully—the only way we can ever get into the kingdom of heaven is for God to give us that entrance as a gift without merit. That's the only way. That's why we come as beggars. And by the way, that's what the New Testament teaches is what happens. Listen to Matthew 25:34. At the judgment "the King will say to those on His right, come . . . .inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Luke 12:32. Jesus says "Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom." Colossians 1:13, "God transferred us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son," James 2:5. "God chose us to be heirs of the kingdom." In other words, the first beatitude underscores that we can never get into God's kingdom by our own efforts. The only way we can get into Christ's kingdom is by grace alone, through faith alone. It begins by recognizing our need—our utter spiritual bankruptcy. Isn't that what Jesus said? You remember He said it in several gospels, but in Mark 2 He says "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick;" Imagine how difficult it is for a doctor to care for someone who is convinced they are perfectly well. Jesus says, not going to happen. I can't help you if you think you're well. I can only help you if you understand you are desperately terminally ill. He goes on to explain it. " I did not come to call the righteous, (those who think they're righteous but aren't) but sinners". I can only help, Jesus says, those who are poor in spirit, those who have come to realize what they really are. Jesus will never save those who think they are spiritually healthy and righteous.

Let me show you what this looks like. Turn over to Luke 18. Jesus tells a parable that illustrates this exactly. Luke 18:9. "And Jesus also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous" In other words, they saw themselves as spiritually rich. I've got the resources. God'll have to take me because I'm a pretty good guy. And of course, in context here, it's the Pharisees. They viewed others, verse 9 says, with contempt. By the way those two go together. When you find people who think they are spiritually rich, they will always view those who don't measure up to their standards with contempt, because they think they've arrived at a standard of spirituality and others have not. Whereas if you find someone who understands they are a beggar, and are only in the kingdom by grace, they're eager to extend grace to others because they've experienced it. They know they deserve nothing either. He goes on to tell the story of two men. Verse 10. "Two men went up into the temple to pray". This happened—if you lived in the city of Jerusalem this happened twice a day. It happened at the time of the morning sacrifice, and the time of the evening sacrifice. Midmorning, midafternoon, you took a break in your day and the trumpet sounded and you went to the temple. And the temple was primarily a place of prayer. Those courts were for people to gather to pray. Jesus called it a house of prayer. That's because the holy of holies was like a representation of God's throne. God was the king of Israel, and so you came as it were to His throne room to let your needs be known. So people came to pray at the time of the sacrifice. And so these two men, along with the rest of the crowd, go up either at the morning sacrifice or the afternoon sacrifice to pray. One of them was a Pharisee. Now, I wish, in a sense, you had never heard this story and you'd never been introduced to the Pharisees, because if you're standing in the first century hearing Jesus teach this, you're not thinking what you're thinking right now when you hear Pharisee. You're not thinking, oh, those guys. What a bunch of losers. No, you're thinking, oh, Pharisees. Wow Those are really spiritual people. They're really serious about their faith. And the other one was a tax collector. Now, you'd be thinking about the same thing in the first century you're thinking now, when you hear that. Except it would only be worse, because in that day there wasn't the restraints of law and justice, even on those who ran the tax service. Essentially, they were franchised out by the Roman government, and you could use just about any means you wanted to collect those taxes. And you could collect just about as much as you wanted, and you could skim off the top. Typically these guys were criminals surrounded by thugs who would go enforce the collection. They were the ancient version of 'the family', the mafia. This would have been the worst. You didn't get any lower than this in Israel. Think terrorists, okay. And so these two men go up to pray. The Pharisee stood, and there's nothing wrong with that. Often people stood to pray. Jesus stood to pray. But the problem was his prayer and what it showed. He was praying this to himself. Now, some people make a lot of to himself, that his prayers weren't to God, and that's possible. Or it may just mean he was praying in his heart. We don't know. But here was his prayer. This was the real problem.

"God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (here praying next to me.)I fast twice a week; (The Old Testament law only required one fast a year, so this guy's really spiritual.) And I pay tithes of all that I get."

That also was more than the tithe laws of the Old Testament required. He's really committed, outwardly. And he's sincere. But the problem is, what is the basis of his confidence before God? It's himself. What he is, what he's done. God's got to be pretty pleased with me because of who I am and what I do. I'm a pretty good guy. But the tax collector standing some distance away was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven. By the way, there would have been nothing wrong with his lifting his eyes to heaven. In fact, my favorite way to pray is to lift my eyes, and that happens often in scripture. It wasn't that it was wrong to do that. It was that he had such a deep sense of his own unworthiness to be talking to God, a sense of how wicked he was, that he didn't even want to look up. But he was beating his chest. He is just completely overwhelmed with a sense of his guilt before God. And he was saying, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner:"

You see that word merciful. You look in your margin, you see the reference in the margin? Be propitious. In other words, God, be propitiated to me. You know what he was actually saying? At the moment he was praying this prayer, the sacrifice was going on, on the altar. He was saying, God, let a sacrifice satisfy Your wrath against my sin, because I'm the sinner. I'm the worst. Look at Jesus' diagnosis. "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other." In other words, in a moment's time, when this man acknowledged his poverty in spirit, he was declared right with God. Not on the basis of who he was, obviously. But on the basis of God's grace and mercy. But the other did not leave justified, because he was still rich in spirit, and the tax collector was poor in spirit. He was a beggar before God. He knew he had nothing God wanted, and he just cried out for God's mercy.

How does this happen? How do we come to recognize our spiritual poverty? What produces this awareness in our hearts? Briefly, let me just mention them to you. We won't spend any time here. But the law of God produces this in our hearts. We see the ten commandments. We see the law of God and we hold that up against ourselves, and we see in the word of God a reflection of ourselves in the scripture, and we realize, wow, I never have measured up to God's standard. We'll do that as we go through the Sermon on the Mount. When you really come to understand God's law, you realize you don't measure up. You realize your spiritual poverty. It's one thing to say, well, God, I've never committed adultery. It's another thing to say God, I've never lusted. It's one thing to say God, I've never murdered anybody. It's another thing to say, God, I've never been angry in my heart with anyone. I've never lashed out with vindictive words at anyone. When you see the real standard, you recognize your utter spiritual poverty. Another way we see that, is how Jesus summarized the moral law. He said, okay, you want to know what God requires of you? Here it is. Just two, that's all you have to remember. You do these things, and God will be perfectly pleased with you. Number one. Love God with all of your being every single moment of your life. And the second one is like it, and that's love your neighbor as yourself every single moment of your life. Now, if you're halfway honest with yourself, you realize, as I do, I have never met that standard a single moment of my life. When you see God's law, you realize what a beggar you really are.

Another place you can see it is in the gospel. Look at Jesus. Look at his life. You want to see how bad you are? Read the gospels. See what He was like. Or, better yet, look at Jesus hanging on the cross and realize that God decided the only way He could forgive you was by doing that to his Son. That's how bad our situation really is. But, you know, the law and the gospel, to produce this awareness in us of spiritual poverty, has to be combined with one other cause, and that's the Holy Spirit. He has to take that law and that gospel and burn it into our hearts. He has to convict us, as Jesus uses the language. You remember, in John 16:8 He says, the Spirit, when He comes will convict men of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. And when that happens, when you see yourself in the law, when you see yourself reflected in the life of Christ, when you see yourself at the cross, and what God had to do to make you right with Him, and the Spirit makes your mind alive to that, then it produces poverty in spirit. You are a spiritual beggar, you know you're a spiritual beggar, and you turn that into pleading with God. You actually beg God for His grace.

So there's the answer to the first question. What does the poor in spirit mean? That invites a second question, briefly. Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Why are they blessed? With each of the beatitudes, Jesus pronounces that there are certain people who are in an objective state of spiritual well-being, of health, of spiritual prosperity. And then He completes the statement by giving us His reasoning for saying that. Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Why are they in a state of spiritual prosperity? Well, notice verse 3. " Blessed are the poor in spirit for (that is because, here's why I say they are in that state of well-being, they are in an enviable position) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Now, I pointed out to you last time that six of the beatitudes speak of the promise of a future blessing. "Blessed are those who mourn for (what?) they shall be comforted". "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be (future blessing) filled." But two of the eight beatitudes, this one and the last one, are not promises of future blessings, but rather they are declarations by Christ, that those who display these qualities are already in His spiritual kingdom. Look at verse 3. "For theirs is (not shall be, is) the kingdom of heaven". In the Greek language the pronoun is emphatic. Kind of screams at you in the Greek text, the way Greek works. You could translate it something like this. "For theirs and theirs only is the kingdom of heaven." Citizenship in the kingdom of heaven only belongs to the poor in spirit. Now, but what is the kingdom of heaven? First of all, (very important to note) the kingdom of heaven is exactly the same thing as the kingdom of God. You can see this even with this first beatitude. If I were to take you to Luke's version, Luke says blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God, and here, Matthew says for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are identical, same thing. Another important fact to understand about the kingdom of heaven is that there are two aspects, two distinct aspects, of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. One is a future aspect. There is an aspect of the kingdom that's still in the future. For example, you remember at the last supper, Jesus is sitting there with them and after He finishes the last supper—you can read this in Mark 14:25—He says never again am I going to eat or drink the fruit of the vine with you until the day, that day, when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. He looks forward to the future. That's the literal kingdom of Christ on earth, a physical kingdom. So there's a future aspect. But there's also a present aspect of the kingdom. You can be in Jesus' kingdom right now, today, but it's a spiritual kingdom and not a physical kingdom. In fact in Matthew 19, and I won't take time to turn there with you, but you can read about it. In Matthew 19 Jesus says entering the kingdom of heaven is like entering eternal life. It's like being saved. That's what it means. The present aspect of the kingdom is to be rescued from your sin and to enter eternal life, to come under the reign of Jesus today. That's what Jesus is saying. If you are poor in spirit, then right now today, you are already in His spiritual kingdom. Jesus says they are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Wow.

So what are we supposed to do in response to this profound statement of our Lord. Let me just give you a couple of quick ideas. Number one. Test yourself to see if you're in Jesus' spiritual kingdom. Jesus says you're in if you manifest this quality of a beggar in spirit. So ask yourself, do you think you're good enough for God? Do you think you've done enough good deeds that they make you acceptable to God? Do you believe that your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds and that's going get you in? Do you believe that any thing you are or have done or ever will do, has earned God's favor. One day when you stand before God, and you will, as I will—the Bible promises that, Jesus made that very clear. You will stand before God your creator, and on that day, when God says to you, why should I let you into my heaven, will there be anything in your response about you? If so, Jesus says woe to you because you're getting all the comfort you're ever going to get right here in this life. If you're not a beggar in spirit, if you're not in Jesus' spiritual kingdom, you're not a true Christian. You're just a part of the crowd attached to Jesus today like that huge crowd was when He taught this sermon.

There's a second response. If that's you, if you're not a Christian, or, frankly if you've been caused to wonder, in light of what Jesus has taught us this morning in this sermon, what do you do? You acknowledge your spiritual bankruptcy. You become a beggar before God. You acknowledge your total absence of personal righteousness, and you beg God to give you the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Respond like the tax collector did. God, be merciful to me the sinner. God, may Your wrath against me be satisfied in the sacrifice of Your Son. And all I can do is plead that You'd show me mercy. I'm a beggar. Jesus said that man left the temple that morning justified, and if you will do that today, if you will turn from your sin, if you will become a beggar before God, acknowledge your spiritual poverty, you have nothing to offer Him and your only hope is for His mercy, you can leave this place and return to your home justified—right with God. There's a great hymn that unfortunately has been often abused in the history of the church through the invitational system. But it's message really summarizes what it means to be poor in spirit. You remember this "Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind, but sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come." That's what it means to be poor in spirit.

But what about those here who are believers? You've already acknowledged, and you continue to acknowledge every day, you're a spiritual beggar. How do you respond to this? Listen, your response is, to be encouraged. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, belongs to you. There are a lot of Christians who lack assurance of salvation. Here's Jesus' words of assurance to you. If you are painfully aware of your utter spiritual bankruptcy, if you know that you have absolutely nothing to offer God to make Him accept you, and if you have come to Him as a beggar, pleading for His forgiveness and for Him to change you like that tax collector did, if that's true of you then you are in Jesus' kingdom. Be encouraged. All the goodness He requires is to feel your need of Him, the song says. No wonder Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit, the beggars in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for the time we've had together this morning. Thank You for this amazing beatitude from our Lord's mouth. Lord, may we think about it this week. May we measure ourselves against it. Lord, don't let anyone in this church, don't let any, particularly of—my heart is for the youth who've grown up in Christian homes. Don't let them live under the Christianity of their parents, but Father, help them to see their spiritual bankruptcy and to cry out to You. Father, I pray for others here as well. Do Your work in their hearts. Lord, bring them to where you've brought us, to be aware of who they really are before You. Father, I pray for us who acknowledge our utter bankruptcy before You, who acknowledge that we have nothing, and when we stand before You some day and You ask us why You should let us into heaven, Father, our only response would be Jesus Christ. His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection. Father encourage our hearts. Thank You that our Lord pronounced all of those who are poor in spirit as belonging to the kingdom of heaven. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen

The Sermon on the Mount