1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to 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.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)
This morning we are going to look primarily at verse 3, which reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Last week, if you weren’t here and have not heard the message or read it online, we spent our time discussing what the word “blessed” means in the beatitudes, from a language study and contextual perspective. I’m not going to go through all that again today. That material is available to you. But I will simply say that “blessed” here means a deep seated, undergirding, rock solid happiness that is based on our position in Christ, and not on any other external circumstances. And I think we just need to get a hold of that. Blessed means happiness in its most genuine sense of intentional and internal joy. This is then a happiness that is only found in one who is in Christ. It is not a worldly happiness based on things or events around us, it is not a fleeting happiness that comes and goes when selfish desires are met or not. No, it is a genuine internal happiness, the real thing that all people are searching for, and it’s found in a deep seated, contented joy in Christ.
So when I say “happiness” I don’t mean a giddy, frivolous, always laughing and treating all things lightly sort of happiness. You may say, “Why don’t you get off of this and move to something else?” Because I got a lot of feedback last week, and I’m trying to be very clear on what I mean by this happiness, from a biblical perspective. I mean, and this word blessed means, something much richer and fulfilling than what we find in the world regarding happiness. It’s not fickle, it’s not fleeting, but is based on – for the believer – what cannot be taken away from us, now or in the future. That’s why it’s rock solid. It is based on what is as sure and firm as our position in Christ, our place in the family of God. And so no matter what is happening – please understand I am preaching to myself here too – no matter what is happening circumstantially, we can, even if hurting or grieving, we can maintain a concurrent state of happiness and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I know we’re all wondering: “Really? Is that really possible?” It may be hard for us to grasp when it comes to Monday morning living. It’s hard to grasp because we know the power in our lives of disappointment, fear, worry, anger, and unmet expectations. We know experientially that those emotions are real and strong, and they can knock us down at times. I’m not denying that or discounting difficulties you or I may be having in our lives. I am simply saying that during those times, and especially during those times, we can and should remember who we are in Christ and how He views us, and be deeply moved in our minds and emotions by His past and present work in us.
Maybe we need to rethink happiness and take it from the trivial, and think of it with a little bit of depth. In Matthew 5 we see it presented with some depth. We see a rock solid happiness that does not come and go according to our desires of the moment. I want us to see this kind of happiness the way Christ does.
Some picture God in heaven as an obligated giver to people. Obligated to give us what we think is best or what we want within our hearts, obligated to fulfill those wants and desires. Some would say that would make Him a kind and loving God. But let me say, God does not enter our dream world of what we imagine will satisfy us and start supernaturally bringing all those dreams of happiness to fruition. He is not like that. He is not like a parent you may have come across, or may have been, or maybe are, a parent who may spoil her child by giving that child everything they want. You’ve seen children like that, haven’t you? “Oh, you want this? Well then you should have it! Here you go. Oh, you are tired of that now? Let me then give you this to make you happy. Oh, don’t cry, why are you crying? How can I make it better by providing you with something else?” That sort of parenting approach, that is letting the child define what is best and giving that child whatever that is, this is a really short-term view of happiness, and teaching the child to live moment by moment based on ever changing circumstances. This child will grow up expecting happiness to be dependent on things, and how people provide those things for him or her. I want to show you how this type of thinking, and how much of the world views happiness, are different than how we should view happiness. I don’t mean differently in the sense of the good emotion of happiness, but more in the nature of happiness, how it comes to us.
There are major contrasts in the world and in God’s Word. Do I need to tell you that? The Bible is different than the teaching we get in the world. To illustrate that for you this morning, a recent article I read in Psychology Today can help us understand a worldly perspective on happiness. This is not from the Bible, it is from a secular psychological magazine.
In this particular article, the author argues that happiness cannot be lasting. The reason? Because circumstances change so often. The lesson? Happiness is based on external circumstances. That’s not what God says, it’s not what the Bible teaches us. What is God’s view? True happiness, godly joy is based on what cannot change, that is, our relationship with Christ.
Another point from that article. Not only did the article say that happiness must be based on external circumstances, but another point was that 40% of your happiness is genetically determined. In other words, you were born to be happy or not. Try to find some hope in that. Or at least as far as 40% of the happiness equation goes. There’s this equation, and they call it science. The author does say that another 40% is based on intentional activity, what you do for yourself, but you start out with a predetermined gene regarding happiness. God’s view? To start with, Jesus says, “You must be born again,” and, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Jesus says, “Come unto me.” He is inviting people into His kingdom, into His family, which leads to this unspeakable joy, blessedness, happiness. Again, Jesus is inviting us into a realm of happiness and hope. But the world says, “No, it is in your genes.”
The same article also argues that what we think on has nothing at all to do with happiness. Being grateful does nothing regarding happiness. They say that this is what the science shows. So it doesn’t really matter what you set your mind on. But God commands our thinking.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
This peace which Paul speaks of here is certainly a component of happiness and joy! Try living in joy and happiness without peace. Without peace, the peace of God, we will not experience nor live in happiness.
Here is my point. We have to sometimes, often empty our minds of much of what we hear about happiness from philosophies of the world, philosophies on how to get it, how to keep it, how to desire it. Empty our minds of much of what we are taught from secular sources, and embrace biblical definitions and biblical means of happiness, joy, peace, and so on.
And so today I ask, “Do you want to be truly happy?” Do you want a godly happiness and peace? Do you want the real thing – lasting, consistent happiness? If so, what does the road look like that leads to a godly happiness? Jesus helps us with that! Aren’t you glad about that? We don’t have to turn to secular journals to find out the root, the meaning, the way of blessing, happiness.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
I love the way God through His Word is always trying to right our thinking, and sometimes in the most unusual of ways. I love how God’s Word is about honesty, truthfulness. God tells us how it is, how life is, and helps us to see who we are. He discloses for us what we need to know about ourselves and our world and His involvement in it all. Verse 3 is such a verse.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” There is a sense in which Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who really understand who they are as His created beings.” Or, “Blessed is the one who does not live in fantasy concerning himself.” “Blessed are those who are not creating an imaginary world in which to live.” “Happy are those who live in truth about themselves.” The truth is that we are lowly, but some refuse to believe and embrace this truth. For some it is disgusting to admit such a thing. Many fight against the idea that they are needy in spirit.
The verse says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We need to know what it means to be poor, but not materially poor, but poor in spirit. There is nothing righteous about being poor physically or materially. If there were, then we should stop helping the poor, stop benevolence, stop giving to meet people’s needs, and in fact sell all that we have so that we can all be poor. Jesus is not talking about begin materially poor, but poor in spirit.
Our spirit is our inner man. Jesus is starting here with our inner man, our inner self with this first beatitude. He is talking about how we are to understand and view ourselves. How do you view yourself? How should we view ourselves?
The Greek word for “poor” used here, in a strict sense, is for those who are beggars. This word, if used of outward, material poverty, would be those who have absolutely nothing at all. The only way they can survive is through begging. It’s the poorest of the poor, the most helpless of the poor. They cannot work to earn money or to purchase even the barest of necessities. “Poor” here is not speaking of someone who has a house, clothes, and a car, but is just a little short this month. No, poor here is really poor, begging poor, third world poor. It is a poverty that we probably have no experience with.
Now, when we add the word “spirit” to “poor,” meaning the inward man, then poor in spirit are those who are brought face to face with their own inability, with the weightiness of their own sin, seeing no goodness in themselves at all, they despair in themselves, and seeing who they truly are, that they must run to or cling to the mercy of God. They are helpless, hopeless in spirit, and their only hope is in Christ. Poverty of spirit, being poor in spirit is a kind of self-annihilation. John Calvin said, “The poor in spirit are they who see nothing in themselves, but fly to mercy for sanctuary.” In other words, it is one who desperately runs to the Savior because of a right understanding that without Him they are helpless, hopeless, doomed, and will die in their despair.
It’s one who has come to a place where there is no longer this idea of pulling oneself up by his boot straps. No more of, “I can do this, I can make it on my own.” No more creating one’s own reality, saying, “Well I’m a good person, surely God will see that in me in the end. Surely He will agree with me at the day of judgment.” No more, “My deeds are good and pure.” But instead facing the reality that our works are as filthy rags before a holy God.
We see illustrations of this in Scripture in many places. Demonstrations of this kind of spiritual poverty when people realize who they are apart from God.
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-13)
The one man, the Pharisee, knew nothing of what it meant to be poor in spirit. He was basically thanking God that he was such a good man, a just man. What did he know about being poor in spirit? He was religious, he called out to God, but he was proud, proud of his works, proud of his position, proud that he was not like all of those other people out there! He was a man who did not yet understand who he really was. This is a guy who was living in a fantasy world concerning his own heart. He was creating a world, including his place in it, from his own imagination. He was proud, arrogant, self-serving, a foolish man who thought he deserved good things, and even that he had attained good things. “Thank you God that I am not just a regular man, but that I am a deserved man.” That was his prayer.
But there was another. A despised tax collector who had discovered who he really was, discovered his desperate need of something, someone outside of himself. He communicates his desperate state. He could not even lift us his head. All he could say was, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
We see another example of one who was poor in spirit. The apostle Paul, who said…
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:8-9)
Paul acknowledged that he was not righteous on his own.
Being poor in spirit is a requirement for Christianity. It is the whole theme of justification. How can one cry out to God for salvation if he does not understand his poor position, if he does not understand his desperate need for a Savior?
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)
If we do not cry out to God, recognize our poverty in spirit, our inability to see God, if we are not brokenhearted over sin and desperately reaching out to Christ, we will not be a part of His Kingdom.
”Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Notice too that it does not read, “Blessed are those who werepoor in spirit,” or, “Blessed are those who were once poor in spirit.” No, it says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In other words, even once we are saved, once we are in the family of God through Christ, once we have recognized our need and mourned, repented of our sins, we remain poor in sprit. We continue to recognize our daily, minute by minute, desperate need for a Savior. Not just for entry into heaven, but for day by day living. It is to live with an attitude of 1 Corinthians 4:7, which says, “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” We remain dependent on God. There is no place for a puffed up, proud Christian. All that we have, all that we are, all is from Him and for Him.
Now you’re probably thinking, “I thought we were talking about being happy.” We are. How exactly does this tie in with blessedness or happiness? Let me illustrate one way from Matthew 11:28-30. Listen carefully to these familiar words, listen to what Jesus says:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus is giving an invitation here. He is calling out to whom? He is calling out to those who labor and are heavy laden. Jesus is calling out to those who are toiling, burdened, weighted down by a false religious system, by a world system that cannot bring peace. He is calling out to those who are wearied of life itself. He is calling to those who have no more energy left and who are desperate for help. Those who have come to an end of themselves, and cannot go it alone. The poor in spirit. And what does Jesus say? “If you are there, come to me, and I will give you rest.” Not like a good night’s sleep, but rest for your soul, for your inner man. From a restless, weary soul to a restful soul under an easy yoke and a light burden.
Think about that for a minute. Think about going from one place to the next. Wearied of life, weary even of living, so weighted down, from that to a place of true rest for your soul. What would you call that? What emotion would you tie to that transition? What emotion would you feel as you transition from the most difficult state ever, under a burden you cannot bear, to a place of utter, Christlike peace and rest for your soul?
How about happy? How about blessed?
Blessed are those who recognize their poverty of spirit, their weakness and desperation, and find Christ who gives them rest, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
There comes a dependence on Christ, living then in Him, in peace, in joy, in happiness today and for all eternity.
Does God want you to be happy? Yes, as you find your rest in Him, as you recall truth from Him, as you understand your place, and His place in your life!
The Christian knows what Paul states in Ephesians 2:4-5 – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” The Christian knows the truth told us in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
And these truths point us to our place, with an understanding of our poverty in spirit, being poor in spirit, and our place of an undeserved child of our loving God.
Are you happy in Christ? Are you fully depending on Him for your salvation and for daily living? Are you poor, humble in spirit as His son, as His daughter? Are you depending fully on Him in your life? If not, then you may experience some fleeting, worldly happiness, but you will not experience what Christ Jesus gives to those who love Him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)