Beatitude #1: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”

Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

We will recall that Matthew 5:2 introduces the famous “Sermon on the Mount” (“SOTM” for short) with the words, “He [Jesus] opened His mouth and taught them…”. He was having a wonderful teaching exercise with His disciples.

But He was also challenging the “multitudes” (v. 1) who were perhaps curiously listening to what this so-called Prophet had to say. Jesus’ words were just as authoritative as when the mouth of the Lord was opened throughout the Old Testament, and the eternal wonderful truths were put to print. I am challenged! Do I treat Jesus’ words as “eternal truths that need my life’s attention”?

This is the “Sermon on the Mount” because, well, “He went up on a mountain.” OK, that’s easy to grasp. But what is the purpose of this sermon, and of these familiar sayings of blessings? The purpose of the SOTM is two-fold. First, it is designed by our Savior to give future direction for the coming “kingdom of heaven.” Throughout the gospel of Matthew, He is offering Himself to the nation of Israel as their promised Messiah. He is showing to them what such a “kingdom” really would be like with Him as their King of kings and Lord of lords.

We know from John 1:9, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Jesus offered Himself to Israel as their promised Prophet, Priest, King, Messiah. Ultimately, they “received Him not” – they rejected Him and willingly allowed Him to be crucified on the cross. “We have no king but Caesar” was their cry. The SOTM is for the future “kingdom of heaven”, the millennial kingdom, so promised and will be so given to Israel.

Until then, the SOTM is for us! It is a guideline, an open view to Jesus’ heart. Remember Charles Sheldon’s book, “In His Steps”? The classic line of that book is the question, “what would Jesus do?”. I wonder if Mr. Sheldon’s estate gets any royalties for the use of “WWJD”? I doubt it. Each beatitude, each portion of the SOTM, gives Jesus’ heart toward how He hopes those who love, worship, and live for Him respond to the daily challenges of life. Do I live with the insight, “what would Jesus do?” Do I?

But why are these often viewed “pithy sayings” in verses 3-12 referred to as “Beatitudes”? The word of introduction to each line is “Blessed”. Its translation in the Latin is, you guessed it, “Beatitude”! In the Greek, the word “blessed” is a most unusual one: “makarios”. “Well,” you say. “That’s Greek to me!” Sure is! But the Greek language is a most beautiful language. It is often a most descriptive one. When we have ONE word to describe something, the Greek has words of imagery painting classical paintings to surround the subject with color!

“Makarios”. Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue? It means, simply, “happy”. But it is BOLDLY DIFFERENT from our English word for “happy”. Our English word contains the 3 letters, “hap”, which in itself means “by chance”. The English word basically means a creation of an attitude caused by the happenstances – or chance – of life! If I were to ask you, “are you happy?”, it might really mean, “by CHANCE is everything going all right in your life?”.”

Should the Christian be governing his life “by chance”? No, no! That’s why God created the wonderful word “makarios”. It is a GOD JOY! It is GOD’S kind of “happiness” which is not dependent upon “happenings”. It is dependent upon…GOD HIMSELF! Perhaps the BEST understanding for us would be JOYFUL! This “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) is a God-thing, as it were, created by Him for His purposes.

And each of those evidences of God’s guaranteed joy is seen in the 9 beatitudes of Matthew 5.

The first beatitude is POOR IN SPIRIT. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We read this beatitude and we understand SOME of it! “Blessed” = God happy! A happiness which is created by knowing the true God and enjoying Him and His sweet fellowship each day. “The kingdom of heaven” = a kingdom to which a believing member of Israel would look forward to; but it is also a kingdom which represents the kind of attitude and people that God wants His children to be. “OK, I understand all that.” But “POOR in spirit?”. Who wants to be poor?

There are at least two different understandings of the word “poor”, aren’t there?

The first refers to someone who AIN’T GOT NOTHING! He’s so poor [“how poor is he?”]. He’s so poor that he is ABSOLUTELY poor! He is physically poor. He has no influence, will make no mark in society. He can’t even carry the load – his is a bankrupted life.

And the second? The second “poor” is someone who is “poor IN SPIRIT”! How is that different from the first poor? The one who is “poor in spirit” may have all the realizations of our first poor character. However, he has come to an amazing conclusion: “I may be poor. I may be bankrupt. I may have NO HOPE IN THIS WORLD. But I have a RICH GOD! I trust the everliving One Whose wounds for me plead.”

So if I’m “poor in spirit”, why am I described as “blessed”? Why am I described as one whose happiness, whose joy is found not by chance or good circumstances? Why am I one whose true joy is found not in myself but in the Lord Himself? Why am I blessed? What do the scriptures say?

“You, O God, provided from Your goodness for the poor.” (Psalm 68:10b)

“He will bring justice to the poor of the people;

He will save the children of the needy,

And will break in pieces the oppressor.” (Psalm 72:4)

“Yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction,

And makes their families like a flock.” (Psalm 107:41)

“I will abundantly bless her provision;

I will satisfy her poor with bread.” (Psalm 132:15)

What unites each of these verses with our first beatitude? Is not not a two-fold fact? First, the poor in spirit is one who is completely dependent upon the One Who alone is worthy of his dependence! And second, the Lord Himself has his everlasting care upon the one who, although may be bankrupt from the world, is a treasure in God’s sight!

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

Ask yourself: from where comes my happiness? My family? My trophy spouse? My good golf game? My sports team winning the Super bowl (go Dolphins?). Or is my true happiness found in the Lord…Himself…Alone!

And ask yourself: am I “poor in spirit”? Is my eternal and daily dependence upon the One Who alone is worthy of my eternal and daily trust, as evident by His dying love for me at Calvary?

Finally, ask yourself: am I living for THIS earthly kingdom? Or am I living for the “kingdom of heaven”?

“This World Is Not My Home”

Written by Albert E. Brumley, 1905-1977

This world is not my home

I’m just passing through

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue

The Angels beckon me

From Heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home

In this world anymore

Chorus: Oh Lord, you know

I have no friend like you

If Heaven’s not my home

Then Lord what will I do

The Angels beckon me

From Heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home

In this world anymore

I have a lovin’ mother

Just hovering up in Gloryland

And I don’t expect to stop

Until I shake her hand

She’s waiting now for me

In Heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home

In this world anymore