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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 29, 2013
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Mankind has always sought after that positive emotional state that we call “happiness.” The authors of our own country’s Declaration of Independence wrote that the “pursuit of happiness” was one of three “certain inalienable Rights” alongside life and liberty that were endowed to mankind by their “creator.” You will not find that in the Scriptures since godliness places a much higher priority on holiness than happiness, and when it does come to terms of positive emotions, God’s desire for us is blessedness which is stable and not fleeting like happiness. This demonstrates once again the difference between the writings of mere man and the revelation of God. While we should be grateful for all that the founding fathers of this country did, their writings are not God-breathed as is Scripture and therefore fall short of His standards and His purpose for life. The successes they did have were due to the influence of Biblical principles upon them. As Christians, our desire is to be the pursuit of what God says is best, and so in this case, it is the pursuit of blessedness instead of happiness. What then is the difference?
Blessed verses Happy
Webster defines “happy” as: 1: favored by luck or fortune: FORTUNATE 2: notable, well adapted or fitting: FELICITOUS 3 a: enjoying well-being and contentment: JOYOUS b: expressing or suggestive of happiness: PLEASANT c: GLAD, PLEASED d: having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship:
Notice that in these definitions, happiness is largely dependent upon circumstances. Good “luck” and “fortunate” are words that speak of chance and fate dealing out good circumstances. Happiness is present when circumstances are according to what one desires such as prosperity, comfort and ease of life, health, tasty food and being with friends. But what happens to happiness when those things are not around? What about when the party is over? The friends have gone home, the food is all gone and there is a mess to clean up? What about when prosperity ends, a job is lost, health declines, and people turn against you? Can happiness be found then?
Happiness has a fleeting nature which is why it has to be pursued. Happiness is not itself a sin, but the pursuit of it certainly can lead to sin. Why? Scripture states that there is pleasure in sin for a season. Sin can bring temporary happiness. Hebrews 11:25 says of Moses that he chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for season.” Proverbs 9:17 states that “stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Sinful actions can be pleasurable at the time, but what is the end result of such pursuit of sinful pleasures? Proverbs 21:17 states, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man . . .” In the parable of the seeds in Luke 8, the seed that fell among the thorns sprang up but was eventually choked out with cares and riches and pleasures of this life. The pursuit of happiness is sinful whenever it is done at the expense of loving God, which is why Paul warned Timothy of men who were “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).
Does this mean that God is the great cosmic kill-joy who does not want people to be happy or experience pleasure? Certainly not! People think that of God or even that He gains satisfaction in seeing people miserable only because they cannot see past their own sin. They believe that is the source of happiness. The truth is that God neither wants us to sin and experience its terrible consequences nor settle for fleeting happiness which eventually disappoints and can also result in pain and anguish. God desires us to experience something much more profound than happiness. He wants us to know blessedness.
Blessedness is better and beyond happiness because it is not dependent upon circumstances. The Greek word translated in our text as “blessed” (makavrioV / makarios) was originally used solely to describe the state of the gods because they were unaffected by the afflictions assailing mankind such as poverty, disease, weakness, misfortune and death. The word was then later used in connection with wishing others supreme happiness. Supreme because that kind of happiness was dependent upon an inward contentedness that is not affected by circumstances. You might get the sense of this in describing someone as being in a blissful state as opposed to just a happy state. There is more permanence, more contentment, more quality in being blessed than in being just happy. Happiness is more dependent upon circumstances meeting what is desired while blessedness is generated internally by being what God desires. Blessedness is transcendent of circumstances.
Over the next two months we will be examining the section of the Sermon on the Mount which is often referred to as The Beatitudes. The difference between these two concepts is most clearly seen in the contrast between Jesus’ statements about the character of those who are blessed and the quest of the worldly for happiness.
God’s Blessedness vs. the World’s Happiness
*Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Happy are the proud, for they will gain their own kingdom
*Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted
Happy are the celebrating, for they will laugh
*Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
Happy are the assertive and the mighty, for they will take over the earth
*Blessed are those hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied
Happy are those who hunger & thirst after mammon, for they gain success for themselves
*Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy
Happy are the vengeful, for no one will dare cross them
*Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
Happy are the sly and cunning, for they shall gain profit
*Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
Happy are the trouble-makers, for they will have others do their bidding
*Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Happy are the persecutors, for they will get respect
Context & The Beatitudes (See: Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount)
This morning we are going to examine the first of these statements concerning God’s blessing, but before we do, let me quickly review the context of this passage.
s has already had a significant ministry both in Judea in the south and in the area of Galilee in the north where this sermon takes place. Jesus has been teaching the people with authority. He has performed many miracles including healing the sick and diseased and casting out demons. The religious leaders have developed a lot of animosity toward Jesus even to the point of wanting to murder Him because Jesus was not following their man-made traditions and has publicly rebuked them for their hypocrisy. Multitudes of people have gathered from all the areas Jesus has already ministered and also from some areas dominated by Gentiles. Some are there out of curiosity about Jesus. Some are there because they want to be healed. Many, if not most, are wondering if Jesus is the Messiah, and if so, when will He begin his kingdom and how can I be part of it?
Jesus will answer these questions by demonstrating the true nature of the kingdom of heaven. The theme of the sermon is found in 5:20, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” True righteousness is a matter of the heart and not outward compliance to a list of man-made rules and regulations. Faith is placed in a gracious God and not in one’s own ability to keep a self-imposed standard.
Jesus begins the sermon with a description of the characteristics that demonstrate true righteousness in Matthew 5:3-12. Notice that each of the Beatitudes is presented as a statement of fact, “Blessed are . . .”, and not as a conditional phrase, “if you do _______, you shall be blessed.” The beatitudes do not describe the requirements of how a person earn entrance into the kingdom. They describe the characteristics of someone who has true righteousness and therefore enjoys the blessings of righteousness including being in the kingdom.
Since Christians are members of Christ’s kingdom according to Colossians 1:3, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” and Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” then what is described in the Beatitudes should also be the characteristics and blessings that develop in a Christian. In fact, these character qualities should be distinguishing attributes of Christians.
Some have countered that all of these characteristics refer to natural tendencies claiming there are plenty of non-Christians that are humble, want to do “right,” seem to be gentle and meek, and even try to make peace with other people. They assert it is just a matter of their temperament. That premise is then used for an excuse for behavior that is quite the opposite. They claim they just naturally have a temper, are feisty or aggressive because it is their ethnic heritage. I have two answers to this:
1. Your temperament is genetic in that you inherited a sin nature from your parents which traces all the way back to Adam and Eve. Jesus came to break this bondage of sin and the Holy Spirit empowers those who place their faith in Him so that it is entirely possible and expected of the Christian to develop these character traits. Therefore your ethnic heritage is not an excuse for continued sinful actions.
2. Your natural temperament and upbringing may make some of these characteristics more difficult or easy in comparison to others. However, as we shall see in our study of each individual beatitude in the weeks to come, only the true Christian walking in the power of the Holy Spirit can live out all these characteristics. It is self-deception for non-Christians to think they are doing so.
Today, we will examine the foundational first beatitude. We will examine its nature, its necessity and conclude with its blessing.
The Nature of Poverty of Spirit – Matthew 5:3
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The first thing to note about this blessing is that it is specifically for those that are “poor in spirit.” Too often the word “spirit” is ignored to make this verse like a similar verse in Luke 6:20 which leaves it out – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of Heaven.” This verse is then used to promote the idea that the poor have greater blessings than the rich. Roman Catholic priests, nuns and monks use this to elevate their vows of poverty. However, such an interpretation destroys the proper method of Biblical hermeneutics. To be accurate in the study of Scripture, passages that are explicit or specific are to be used to explain those that are not. In this case, Matthew 5:3 should govern the interpretation of Luke 6:20 if they are referencing the exact same teaching of Jesus.
The tragedy of this mis-interpretation is that it misses the whole point of what Jesus was saying and goes in the opposite direction where it loses the blessing that is being spoken about. The only advantage a poor person may have over a rich person is being able to recognize their need for outside help more easily. Those of humble means are more likely to swallow their pride, humble themselves, and seek assistance from an outside source. The rich are much more vulnerable to pride in relying upon themselves and their own resources as Proverbs 18:11 warns, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination.” The idea that this is about being poor materially allows pride to develop in being poor, and it is pride that Jesus is speaking against, not class structure.
The word for poor in Matthew 5:3 (ptwcovV / ptochos) is a very strong word. It would actually be better translated “impoverished,” or “destitute.” The term does not mean simply poor, but begging poor. For example, it is used in Luke 16:20 to describe the “beggar” Lazarus. It is the condition in which a person has no resources in themselves and must seek outside assistance. We gain the sense how strong this word is from the three different words used in Luke 21:1-4 in Jesus’ lesson about giving. Verse 1 notes that Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury in the Temple. In verse 2, He sees a “poor” woman come and put in two small copper coins (2 lepta = 1/32 of a day’s wages). The word poor here (penicrovV /penichros) describes a person who must earn their living because they have no property. In verse 3 & 4, Jesus comments to his disciples about her specifically calling her a “poor” widow. The word poor here (ptwcovV / ptochos) is the same as in Matthew 5:3. Jesus then continues on to say that her offering surpassed all the rich people because “she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” The word for poverty here (uJstevrhma / huster ma) refers to being without what is essential. It is used for those who have no resources left, the destitute. This poor widow was destitute, but still gave all she had.
Our text in Matthew 5:3 states that this poverty is one of spirit. This beatitude then is descriptive of those who recognizes that in themselves they are completely destitute. They have no hope in any thing they have or in anything they can do. They have nothing to offer in trade or service. Their only hope is that there would be a kind benefactor that would be gracious to them and supply their need. The person must resort to begging. There is no room for pride for a person in this state.
That is the description of the spiritual state of those that are truly righteous. They realize their utter spiritual bankruptcy. They know without a shadow of a doubt that no good thing dwells in them. They have no spiritual merit and they can earn no spiritual reward. There is absolutely nothing they can do to earn their way to heaven. The righteous comprehend the
fact that they have no basis upon which to make bargains with God. They can do nothing to establish a relationship with God except by God’s mercy according to God’s terms. This demands complete humility and nothing less. Pride is gone, self assurance is gone, and all hope is gone except hope in the nature and character of God. The righteous come humbly before God with empty hands begging for His mercy and grace. This is the nature of those that are truly righteous. This is the description of the attitude of the righteous toward themselves. This is what is meant by being “poor in spirit.”
But take warning, the person that makes a show or who takes glory in his claimed humility, his supposed poverty of spirit, only proves that he is in fact not humble and he is not “poor in spirit.” This cannot be something that is just a show or an act to behave like a spiritual beggar. It is the recognition of what you really are which results in true humility.
This surprises some people, but Jesus is not bringing any new teaching in this. We find this same call in Isaiah 57:15 where the Lord says, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit, in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” In Isaiah 66:2 the Lord says, “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being declares the LORD. But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
We also have example after example of godly men who were “poor in spirit.” We find it in Moses who felt deeply unworthy and inadequate for the task given to Him (Exodus 3 & 4). We see it in David who said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me thus far?” (2 Sam. 7:18). This spirit is in Isaiah when he saw a vision of God in heaven and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Peter expresses this spirit when after seeing one of Jesus’ miracles says to Him, “depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). We even see it in Jesus Himself who said He could do nothing of Himself or His own initiative but only did what the Father did and came to seek the will of the Father and not His own (John 5:19, 30).
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes this poverty of spirit this way, “It [poor in spirit] means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God.”
The Necessity of Poverty of Spirit
The necessity of being “poor in spirit” is absolute. You can only come to God on His terms and He requires this. As our text describes it, the kingdom of heaven is for the poor in spirit.
Jesus illustrates this principle well in the parable of Luke 18:9-14 about those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.” The prayer of the Pharisee in verses 11-12 is nothing but boasting about his self-proclaimed righteousness. This was contrasted by the tax-gatherer who was standing within sight who prayed in complete humility. Tax-gatherers were despised in Jewish society and this one would not even lift up his eyes to heaven when he prayed. Instead, “he was beating his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'” Jesus states in verse 14 that it was the tax-gatherer that was justified and not the Pharisee. What a danger this is to the church because it is so easy to set our own standards of righteousness and then puff ourselves up because we keep those standards better than other people. What God demanded from us instead is the humility of the tax-gatherer. Psalm 51, which is David’s confession of sin, makes it very clear what God wants is the sacrifice of a “broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart.”
Proverbs 16:5 states that, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” Until a man’s pride is subjugated, he cannot come to Christ because He cannot recognize that Christ died in His place. The scriptures are unequivocal that “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10), and that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” before Him (Isaiah 64:6), but pride keeps a man from acknowledging that these truths apply to him personally. Proud people are happy to acknowledge other people are sinners, but not themselves, and if they do admit to sin, they excuse it or consider it of little importance. You cannot exalt Christ while exalting yourself. Christ cannot be on the throne of your life if you are sitting in it. Without becoming poor in spirit you will not receive king Jesus and so you will not be part of His kingdom.
The Blessing of Poverty of Spirit
It is the poor in spirit that receive the blessing of being in the kingdom of God with all its blessings. The proud man rejects salvation by grace through faith in order to try to earn it himself but will end up in hell. The humble man accepts the gracious gift of God of being justified and cleansed from sin by the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ and he enters God’s kingdom.
Another of the blessings of being in God’s kingdom is being under the King’s jurisdiction which means you are under His power and protection. He takes responsibility for you and will care for you and provide for you. You do not need to fret and worry about the things of this world, you only need to put His kingdom and His righteousness first in your life (Matthew 6).
God equips all those who belong to Him with gifts by which they can serve Him and bring glory to His name. He creates abilities in you which you did not have and empowers you to use them. Abraham became mighty because He believed and acted upon the promises of God. Moses had previously fled from Pharaoh, but God changed him over forty years of watching sheep in the desert, then sent him back to set his people free from their bondage. David was a humble shepherd boy that God made into a king. Isaiah was a man of unclean lips, but the Lord sent the Seraph to cleanse him with a coal from the altar of God and removed his iniquity and he became a prophet. Proud Peter was afraid of a little servant girl at the trial of Jesus, but humble Peter stood before all to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ without compromise. Being part of God’s kingdom also means that He has a plan and a purpose for your life for both this present life and for eternity.
Becoming Poor in Spirit
How does a person become poor in spirit? It does not happen by looking at yourself and then trying to do things through self-effort. That is what the proud do. They may be successful in changing their behavior to some degree, but they remain proud and separated from God. Becoming poor in spirit begins by getting your eyes off yourself and onto God. Reading His Word and seeking Him with all your heart is what leads to poverty in spirit. Why?
First, the Bible will confront you with the character and attributes of God. The greater your understanding of God, the greater your sense of awe of him and disdain for yourself. The infinite majesty of the creator has a profound humbling effect on humans that are honest enough to recognize it. That is why Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6) and the psalmist wondered that God would even take thought of man much less care for him (Psalm 8).
Second, the Bible will convict you of your sin through God’s holy law. Even a cursory examination of the 10 Commandments brings utter condemnation as those who have coveted, lied, stolen and dishonored parents. Je
sus’ standard of examining the heart adds hatred and lust. Then there are the two great commandments of loving God with all your heart, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. The Bible is described as being like a two edged sword able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). It exposes us for what we really are which is wretched sinners who have transgressed God’s laws and greatly offended him. We have nothing to offer, nothing to bargain with, and no means by which to cleanse ourselves. The Bible makes us aware of our utter sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness. That is why it produces poverty of spirit, for our only recourse is to come to Him in complete humility begging for His mercy. Praise Him that though God resists the proud, His promise is to give grace to the humble.
If you want to be poor in spirit, go to the Scriptures and seek the Lord with all your heart. Mourn and weep over your sin and then ask God just as David did in Psalm 51 to create in you a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within you. God is gracious and He will answer that prayer – not because of anything in you or which you have done, but because of His own character. Paul expressed this in Titus 3:5 saying, 5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” That is a relief because that makes salvation dependent upon a loving and dependable God and what He has done for us in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and not the fickleness of any human’s heart.
The Christian should become more humble through their years of their walking with God. A proud Christian is a contradiction in terms and evidence of distance from God. Walking with God is like walking toward a light, the closer you get the brighter its glory, and the better you can see the filth that is upon you. Things you would not have even considered sinful when you were first saved are exposed. Attitudes and inner thought life that are often kept hidden from other people are exposed for the wretched sins that they are. That keeps the believer humble – poor in Spirit – before the Lord because we know that our continued existence and ability to serve Him is also based on the Lord’s continued longsuffering patience, grace and mercy to us.
Are you poor in spirit? You need to be. 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6,10 say the same thing, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble . . . Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit enter into God’s kingdom. The proud remain in their own little kingdom within the domain of darkness and are excluded from God’s kingdom. Whose kingdom do you want to live in?
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times the words “humble” or “humility” is said. Talk with your parents about what it means to be poor in spirit.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why does happiness have to be pursued? What is the danger of pursing happiness? What is the difference between happiness and blessedness? How does God’s blessedness contrast with the world’s happiness as seen in the Beatitudes? What is the context of the Sermon on the Mount? What is its theme? Do the beatitudes describe natural tendencies – why or why not? Why is it critical that it is the poor in spirit and not the materially poor that receive the kingdom of heaven? What advantage do the materially poor have over the rich? What is the word for “poor” in Matthew 5:3? What insight does Luke 21:1-4 give us to the meaning of this word? Describe poor in spirit in your own words. What do the Hebrew Scriptures teach about the importance of humility? Why is poverty of spirit necessary to enter God’s kingdom – see Luke 18:9-14. Why is pride an abomination to God? What are the blessings of being poor in spirit? How does a person become poor in spirit? How does the Bible bring this about? Why should a Christian become more humble as they mature in Christ? Are you poor in spirit?
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit – December 29, 2013
The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence, but is not in the ______
The successes of our American forefathers was due to influence of ______________principles upon them
Blessed verses Happy
Happy: Fortunate, Felicitous, joyous, pleasant, glad, pleased – these require ____________circumstances
Happiness must be pursued because it is _______________- and that pursuit can lead to sin
The pursuit of happiness is _____________when it is done at the expense of loving God – 2 Timothy 3:4
God wants us to avoid sin and having something ______________than happiness
Blessed = makavrioV / makarios – the state of the gods, __________generated, transcendent of circumstances
Context & The Beatitudes
Jesus has already had significant ministry in teaching, healing and casting our demons – drawing _________
The religious leaders already see Jesus as a threat and are ____________________toward Him
Many, if not most, are wondering if Jesus is the _________________- and when would His kingdom begin?
Theme: Your righteousness must _________that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven
Each beatitude is a statement of ____________, not a conditional phrase
Christians are part of Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:3; Phil. 3:20), so these should be characteristics of ________
All people inherit a sin nature, but Jesus came to break sin’s ___________enabling them to live righteously
Your natural temperament makes some things easy and others difficult, but _____are righteous on their own
The Nature of Poverty of Spirit – Matthew 5:3
The only advantage of the poor is being able to more easily recognize their _________and seek help
Poor = ptwcovV / ptochos – destitute, ____________ poor – Luke 16:20
Luke 21:1-4, vs. 2 “poor widow” = penicrovV /penichros – has no property and must earn a living by ______
vs. 3-4, “poor widow” = ptwcovV / ptochos – who is in poverty = uJstevrhma / huster ma – _______________
Poor = ____________, nothing to offer in trade or service, only hope is to beg for mercy and grace
No hope except in the character of ____________to come to Him humbly and beg for mercy and grace
The Necessity of Poverty of Spirit
Luke 18:9-14 – The Pharisee boasted in his ____________righteousness
The publican humbly begged God to be _______________to him, the sinner – and was justified
Psalm 51 – God wants us to come to Him with a broken spirit and a _____________ heart
Prov. 16:5 – pride is an _________________for the proud will not admit their sin and yield to Christ
The Blessing of Poverty of Spirit
The _______________ accept God’s gift of salvation on God’s terms and enter God’s kingdom
Being under the King’s jurisdiction, by His power He cares and ________________- Matt. 6:33
God _______with spiritual gifts and empowers you to serve Him – a plan and purpose for life now & forever
Becoming Poor in Spirit
Get your eyes off of yourself and ______________by reading His word and seeking Him with all your heart
The Bible confronts you with God’s character & attributes – resulting in ____of Him and disdain for yourself
The Bible ____________you of sin through God’s holy law – which all fail at keeping
Those who recognize the wretchedness of their sin mourn and weep over it and humbly seek God’s _______
Psalm 51 – seek the Lord with all your heart asking Him to create in you a ____________and steadfast spirit
The Christian should become more _________because they know better the depth of their sin & God’s grace
The proud remain in their own kingdom within the domain of darkness and _________from God’s kingdom
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