The First Sunday in Lent February 21, 2010
18, 329, 380, 41(4)
And seeing the multitudes, [Jesus] went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Once while He was preaching and teaching in Galilee, Jesus led His disciples onto a hillside and began to teach them. The sermon He preached that day has come to be one of the most famous in all of the Christian world. It is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” The Sermon on the Mount is not, as some people think, a summary of Christian teaching for it does not speak directly of the most important topic: Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners. Some treat it as a list of Jesus’ rules for getting to Heaven and it is not that either.
The Sermon on the Mount is a heart-to-heart talk from Jesus to His followers—to those who already know Him and believe in Him. He is not trying to introduce anyone to Christianity with this discourse. He is not trying to lay out for unbelievers a “way of life” that will get them to eternal life, but He is seeking to show those who are already Christians how they can live their lives to God’s glory. It is also His way of showing His believers that those who are weak and lowly in the eyes of the world are not forgotten in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This year during these Sundays in Lent, we will be taking a look at the beginning of Jesus Sermon on the Mount—the part known as the “Beatitudes” in which the Lord revealed the joy to be found in the Christian faith and in the Christian way of life. We will see our own sins in the light of Jesus’ words, but we will also see how our Savior fulfilled the Law in our place and offered His own life into death on our behalf.
Jesus began by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The tone is set by the very first word: blessed. The word as it is used here especially means “happy.” In fact, there are some Bibles that translate this line: “Happy are the poor in spirit.” So the Lord is leading us to see that those who are “poor in spirit” are those who have found real happiness.
Whom do you think Jesus is talking about when He mentions the poor in spirit? Is He referring to those who don’t have much money? No, because He adds that phrase “in spirit.” The kind of poverty Jesus means is a matter of the heart and of the mind. It is a matter of attitude and manner.
You will understand what it means to be poor in spirit if you remember when Jesus taught the same thing using the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13).
The Pharisee thought that he had much to offer to God. He thought of himself as rich in spirit. As he saw it, his riches were his holy life—or at least a life holier than some of the other “sinners” who were around him. On the other hand, the tax collector realized that he really had nothing to offer God. He had sinned and was not worthy to come before the throne. He was poor in spirit.
We are poor in spirit when we come to God realizing that we have nothing to offer Him for the things we have done wrong. Our pockets are empty. As the hymn says: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” (TLH 376:3).
Now you might be thinking, “It’s not so hard to be poor in spirit! Of course I can’t offer God anything for my sins! I know I’m broke!” But even though we know that and believe it, the world and our own flesh work against that faith.
People around us who do not trust in Jesus do not think of themselves as “poor in spirit.” Rather they think that they have done plenty to please God, or at least that they haven’t gone so far as to displease Him very much. They think that if they’ve kept a few commandments and done things mostly right most of the time they will get by. And if we’re not careful, some of that philosophy can rub off on us. Maybe we tell a small lie and think later, “Well, that really wasn’t so bad.” Maybe we misuse the Lord’s name when we get angry and later are tempted to think, “Well, everybody does it. What difference does it make?” Excusing our sins in our own minds is the same as telling God, “Hey, I’ve done pretty good. I’ve done well enough for you.” Then when God comes to us and says, “You have sinned,” our natural reaction is to back up and say, “Hold on a minute! I’m not really that bad, am I? Look at me!” but in reality, we have nothing to offer.
The poor in spirit do not act as though they can satisfy God on the basis of their own righteousness and strength. They know that even their best works are like filthy rags, tainted with pride and other evil. When they sin they do not try to act as though they have actually done “well enough” for God.
The poor in spirit also do not consider themselves better than others. If you are humble before God you will also be humble before those around you.
I once read an interesting piece regarding presidential politics. The author of the article commented that there have not been very many truly humble men who have ever held the office. In order to win the presidency in America, he said, you really have to have a tremendous amount of ego. You have to think and truly believe to your very core that you are far better than everyone else. You have to place yourself on a pedestal in your own mind and always be ready to look down on your opponents or you will have a hard time winning in the world of politics.
Some think that having a healthy ego is actually a good quality! They think a person is strong and mature when he thinks highly of himself or when he believes that he can do everything by his own strength. But it isn’t really being strong to go around thinking that you’re better than everyone else. A big ego will begin to show after awhile and it will hurt you and others.
It is far better to be poor in spirit, to think of others as higher and more important than yourself. It is far better to put your own needs and wants into the background and focus on the needs of others.
We’ve learned that being poor in spirit means realizing that you cannot offer God anything for your sins and that you ought not to think too highly of yourself. Does that describe us? By the grace of God, it does. It is true that we are weak and we have this quality in a limited way, but we still have it. Every Christian is “poor in spirit.” Every Christian trusts Jesus for salvation and not his own works. And the Holy Spirit works in us so that we strive to maintain a humble attitude toward one another. This quality within us is not complete because we still have our sinful nature clinging to us, yet to each believer God does give the gift of poverty in the spirit.
It is a gift, as we have said before, that makes us happy. Blessed are the poor in spirit. How can we be happy to be broke before God? Because while we have nothing to offer to God that doesn’t mean an offering has not been made. We can rest our hearts on Jesus who did have riches to offer. He had the riches of a perfect life—not the fake riches of the Pharisees—but He actually lived without sin from beginning to end. He was able to give God a life that was holy, pure, and acceptable. He did not have to make excuses for sin because He had none, and the life He lived, He lived for us, giving His perfection in place of our imperfection. That makes us happy. Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We are poor in spirit, yes, but we are rich in treasures—treasures like forgiveness, peace, and the assurance of heaven.
You see, Christ was poor in spirit for you! He lived that life of spiritual poverty for you! Think about when He was poor in spirit before God: In the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him. Instead of demanding that He was the holy Son who did not deserve to be put to death, He accepted the Father’s plan and continued toward the cross saying, “Not my will, but yours be done” (cf. Matthew 26:36ff). Can’t you hear too the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Think about when Jesus was poor in spirit before others: How He constantly considered others before Himself. Although He would get tired from long hours of teaching, preaching, and healing, He would keep going because He had compassion on the people, realizing that they were like sheep without a shepherd. He did what needed to be done for others before He turned to His own needs. Certainly laying down His life on the cross is the greatest example of putting the needs of others before His own. He did all this for us.
May God, who has made us poor in spirit keep us in that poverty until eternal life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.