“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
This quote rings true from one of the greatest sermons of all time. It was preached in the early first century and is still being memorized and expounded upon to this day. What could make one sermon so memorable? Isn’t poverty a bad thing? What exactly is a beatitude anyway?
These questions naturally flood to mind, whether you have been in the church for years or have never opened a Bible a day in your life. The Bible can be confusing at times, especially considering the cultural differences and historical context, but the true author wants nothing more than to be known and to make His heart clear to us.
This particular passage is one of the longest sermons recorded and is the beginning of Jesus’ well-known teaching called the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. Jesus speaks with authority to crowds of people who have gathered to hear about the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus begins this teaching with the beatitudes, which simply means “the blessings.” He names eight specific blessings that those who believe in Him should not only have, but should aspire to be. They are not a chore list of things that we must master or become through our own strength; rather, they are made available to us through Christ.
Although these beatitudes can only be attained through the Lord alone, we should not ignore or dismiss them, but earnestly pursue them through Jesus. The word “blessing” in this context from its Greek origins means “happiness.” In Jesus’ time and culture, happiness was not considered merely contentment or enjoyment, but rather the truest, purest form of joy that one can experience.
But now His words seem to be a contradiction: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Poverty is not something to aspire to, right? When Jesus was speaking, the word “poor” was not meant to refer to anything of monetary or physical value, nor is it implying that a man or woman should be of low value. Rather, this kind of poverty is a lack of spiritual assets. In the Greek language, this form of the word “poor” refers to a state of begging, where one had to completely depend on the generosity of others for their livelihood. For us, this kind of poverty reminds us that when we come to the Lord, we come with nothing to offer Him – knowing we can never measure up in comparison to His righteousness, yet He still wants us!
Jesus gave another example of this poverty of spirit in a parable from Luke 18:9-14, which compares the prayer of a Pharisee, one of Jerusalem’s elite biblical scholars, to that of a Roman tax collector, known for cheating and working for a corrupt government. The Pharisee walked up to the temple and prayed aloud, thanking God that he was not like other sinful men, while listing the spiritual assets and works he believed he had. Verse 13 is profound in its description of the tax collector: “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’’’
And in Jesus’ words in verse 14 said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
We can now see Jesus’ teaching of blessings and spiritual poverty a little clearer. It is an attitude of coming to the Lord completely humbled, destitute and aware that He is all you will ever need. This beatitude sets the foundation for the following seven blessings and characteristics, as none of them will be understood unless we recognize that God is Lord, and we are merely human.
Rejoice in this! The kingdom of heaven, eternity with our loving Savior, is being preserved for those who are poor in spirit and come to Him humbly, with nothing to offer except a heart to receive His goodness!
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