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Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

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Matthew 5:3

Notes & Transcripts
The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

“Poor in spirit,” as a virtue, must refer not to a poor quality of faith but to the acknowledgment of one’s spiritual powerlessness and bankruptcy apart from Christ

The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

The Beatitudes form an appropriate introduction to Jesus’ sermon as they remind his disciples that God blesses them before he makes demands on them (the body of the sermon). The same sequence appeared at Sinai. God redeemed his people from Egypt and reminded them of his blessings before giving them his law.

All authority in heaven and on earth

the boast of self-reliance of the wicked who say, “I shall not be moved” (10:6). Stability in life is a good thing. The question is whether God or self will be relied upon for the stability.

Review

During our last time together we looked broadly at Jesus’ sermon on the mount. My aim was to give us a framework, and a context from which to understand Jesus’ teachings contained in chapters 5-7.
We looked at Jesus’ audience, that the text seems to indicate that he intended to sit and teach his close disciples the ethics of this new heavenly kingdom. To teach them what we might call Christianity 101, or how we has Christian ought to live.
We also saw how this sermon on the mount parallels the account of Moses ascending to Mount Sinai and coming down to deliver God’s Law to the Israelites in the wilderness as recorded in the book of Exodus. Yet, while similar, Jesus’ teaching sought not just to deliver God’s law but to explain and point to the intent of the law - to get at the heart of the law. He would say things like, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus was not impressed with the mere lip service of the Pharisees. It’s why he would say later in verse 20 of chapter 5 that, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What he meant was that unless your righteousness exceeds that of a polished legalism you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In fact, these ethics of the kingdom seem to have the intention of driving us to despair of all our own efforts. What I mean is that the standards Jesus sets for the citizens of God’s kingdom are so high that it’s manifestly obvious to any reader that no man will be justified before God by his own merit. God’s holiness is far too high, it’s far too wide and it’s far too deep, and all of our vain attempts to dress a corpse is foolishness.
It’s why many of his followers, even his own disciples, would later exclaim in , “Who then can be saved?”. The question of course is rhetorical, the answer is no one, no one can be saved by the merits of their own lives. However, thanks be to God that in verse 27 Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
And finally, we looked briefly at the beatitudes. We saw that these pronouncements of blessing stand in stark contrast to the value systems of this world. That as sons and daughters of the kingdom we are called to be different, to act differently from the world and to value what God values. And that while there will often be much sorrow and persecution, that there is a guaranteed hope and blessing for the children of God, even now, and so much more in the future.

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

So, today, let’s take a more detailed look at what is promised and expected of us as citizens of God’s kingdom, so if you would read again with me starting in verse 2,

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.

The chief characteristic of any true disciple of Christ, and any citizen of God’s kingdom, is this, humility; which is precisely what’s communicated to us here by our Lord when he speaks of those who are poor in spirit. And the important qualifier here in this first beatitude is “in spirit”. This gives us an indication that the poverty Jesus is speaking of here is not financial lack.
Recognizing your spiritual bankruptcy

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

It’s clear that these two texts on the face of it
Blessing is not promised to all of those who are merely poor financially. This is a promise for the godly. And who are the godly? They are those who are poor in spirit, they are those who humble themselves. You might say they are the ones who recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy before God. They understand that they bring nothing to the table for their salvation. They realize that their citizenship is totally owing to the grace of God. That there is nothing in them that warrants God’s favor.
Those who lack are often the first to embrace the Gospel
Yet, interestingly enough, we find that it’s often the poor, the downtrodden, the despised, the sick, the weak and the less than noble who are first to respond and follow Jesus. They’re the first to respond to the gospel. And why is that? It’s because they’re circumstances have made it manifestly clear to them that they are weak and powerless. You see riches, power, and talents can give us the vain impression that we aren’t in need of anything. These things often puff us up and deceive us into thinking that we don’t need anything from anyone, that we’re altogether self-sufficient.
But the weak person not only realizes his deep lack for the physical and emotional, but he’s also more apt to see his deep need for salvation, you see he’s accustomed lack, and it’s not much of a stretch to see his need for Christ. However, the wealthy, the famous, those who are of good health, find little reason to be concerned with the eternal state of their souls, because their bellies are full.
Those with much often have little concern for the Gospel
It’s like many of those who are young who live as though they’ll live forever, because they’re under the spell that since all is well now, why should I think it won’t be well for me tomorrow. They’ve never experienced loss, they’ve never felt the decay of their bodies, they’ve often never experienced the concern of where their next meal might come from. They feel utterly self-sufficient yet at the same time they are utterly dependent. And it’s the same reason many of us put off following Christ, we simply don’t see the need or the urgency. And for us as professing followers of Christ we are not immune to such thinking. How often do we put off obeying Christ? How often do we delay in taking our faith seriously?
Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthian church,

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Self-sufficiency is deadly, so let us instead acknowledge our need for Christ, and not just at our initial profession of faith but every morning thereafter, and in increasing measure. Let us esteem him as wise and ourselves fools, let us esteem him as strong and see that we are weak, let us see that he is God and realize that we can do nothing apart from Him. Let us understand that we are altogether dependent upon him, and may we rejoice in this, because blessed are we for he has given us the kingdom.
The dangers of self-esteem
One of the things I used to say about myself was that I was born with self-esteem. Maybe some of you have even heard me say it. And the unfortunately thing is, I was very rarely, if ever, that I can remember, discouraged from saying so, and the reason is because our culture promotes the idea of instilling self esteem in our children. So at a very young age we are taught to esteem ourselves, or to respect and admire ourselves. The world’s solution to our struggles is to esteem ourselves all the more, to think more highly of ourselves, to direct our attention to the self.

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Scripture teaches against self-esteem
Now what’s amazing to me is that the Scriptures teach exactly the opposite. What Jesus is calling us to in verse 3 is not to feel better about ourselves, or to look more fondly upon ourselves in order to do better and have more joy. No, Jesus is saying that salvation, righteousness and blessedness is not found in you but rather it’s found in God. We don’t direct our thoughts and gaze inwardly and worship the creature, no we turn our thoughts and gaze to Christ and worship the creator. You see the world’s solution is always the self, whereas the Scripture’s remedy is alway Christ.
Our worth is found in Christ
We don’t find our value from within, we find our value in Christ. Christ is the source of our worth, and it’s not because there’s anything of worth in us, but it’s because we’re in Christ, united to him by faith. This is why Paul says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord!” Our worth is found in Christ who lives in us, the hope of glory. Our joy is not a joy that’s rooted in any kind or renewed love for ourselves but rather a joy that’s rooted in a love for Christ.
Now the world may say what about
Look to Christ and dependence on Christ
On the flip side If you’re fighting depression the solution is not to think better of yourself, the solution is to look to Christ. Our strength is found not in ourselves, but in Christ, the answer is to look to Christ. I think it’s important for us to understand that humility is not so much thinking less or better of ourselves but thinking more of Christ. Humility in essence is complete dependence upon God, and it’s this dependency that’s not only required of those who seek to enter the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom is the reward for those who are poor in spirit - we will inherit the kingdom of heaven. The proud will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, those who trust in their riches, or their health or their good works, or their own name will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, instead they will be like chaff and thrown into the fire.
Fasting and prayer are outworkings of our reliance upon God
In both the OT and NT we see many examples of fasting and prayer. Why? Why is it that we see these disciplines so often in the pages of Scripture, and why are they so often paired together? It’s because fasting and prayer are biblical forms of discipline that put on display and put into practice the reality of our own dependence upon God. We fast because it manifestly demonstrates our reliance upon God. Abstaining from earthly food is symbolic that we do not live by bread alone, but instead by every word that comes from the mouth of God. It is not ultimately food that sustains us but the power of God that sustains us. We rely upon him. We pray because apart from God we can do nothing. It’s the same reason Moses fasted and prayed, and it’s the same reason Jesus fasted and prayed. These disciplines are a litmus test of our humility before God. So the question for us is this, “How are we doing?” “How are we doing as citizen’s of the kingdom of heaven?” I pray that we would rely upon Christ more today than we did yesterday. That we would relinquish our earthly kingdoms for sake of inheriting an eternal kingdom, a heavenly kingdom.
We pray because apart from God we can do nothing. It’s the same reason Moses fasted and prayed, and it’s the same reason Jesus fasted and prayed. These disciplines are a litmus test of our humility before God. So the question for us is this, “How are we doing?” “How are we doing as citizen’s of the kingdom of heaven?” I pray that we would rely upon Christ more today than we did yesterday. That we would relinquish our earthly kingdoms for sake of inheriting an eternal kingdom, a heavenly kingdom.
Humility is a position of vulnerability
I pray that we would rely upon Christ more today than we did yesterday. That we would relinquish our earthly kingdoms for sake of inheriting an eternal kingdom, a heavenly kingdom.
Humility is also a position of vulnerability. Those who are poor in spirit are vulnerable. We no longer defend ourselves, instead we put our lives in the hands of God. We trust him with our lives, and it’s for this reason that Jesus twice reminds his disciples that when they are persecuted and reviled against, to react not in fear, but to rejoice and be glad, and to remember that their reward is great in heaven.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

In Matthew Jesus reminds them of their reward and in Luke he comforts them with God’s providence. I pray that in every thing you do and decision that you make you would always remember your reward, your great inheritance, and secondly that you would remember that God cares for you no matter the tribulation you face and that nothing is outside of his good and perfect will.
Humility is a position of submission
It was his riches that hindered his entrance into the kingdom of God. And what it is about riches that impeded him?
Humility is a position of submission. Those who are poor in spirit submit to Christ. We relinquish control over our lives, and we are no longer our own. Our will and our affections belong to another. Whereas pride is the very essence of rebellion. Pride goes its own way and does its own thing and resists its Maker. This is why repentance requires great humility. Repentance is the turning away from one’s rebellion and the turning of one’s self toward God. It was because of pride that the Pharisees did not repent, it was because they refused to humble themselves. They loved the praise of man far too much to acknowledge their own sinfulness.
And finally, Christ

The humility of Christ

And to be poor in spirit is to be like Christ. Jesus in says this,
Cannot enter the kingdom by pride
And it is to these whom God promises to bless, to bless them with citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, to give them the kingdom. It is not the arrogant or the boastful who inherit the kingdom of heaven, no, it’s the poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom. The kingdom is not promised to those who seek to enter it by their boasting, but rather it’s promised to those who see their deep need for Christ.
We see this point so often illustrated in own lives. There are times when I’ll give gifst to my children and
"So deeply is pride rooted in the hearts of men, that they think wrong is done them, and complain, if God does not comply with every thing that they consider to be right." -John Calvin
Pride is the pleasure of having more than the next person. -CS Lewis
Not many wise according to worldly standards.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The story is told of a carpenter who was nailing shingles on the roof of a house. He lost his footing and started to slide off. As he was sliding he began praying, “Lord, oh, Lord, help me.” Still he kept sliding. Again the man prayed, “Lord, oh, Lord, help me.” He kept sliding until he got to the edge and a nail sticking up caught hold of his pants. After he came to a stop he said, “Never mind, Lord. The nail’s got hold of me now.”

There’s a difference between a self-reliance that relies only upon self and a self-reliance that has full assurance of what God has given him. This man’s trust is in the Lord, and so he stands.
The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

the gospel has spread fastest among those who have had the fewest possessions to stand in the way of whole-hearted commitment to God.

The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

both Matthew and Luke picture “those who because of sustained economic privation and social distress have confidence only in God.” This interpretation coincides with Paul’s observation in Corinth that most who were becoming Christians came from the poorer classes of society (1 Cor 1:26–29).

The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

“Poor in spirit,” as a virtue, must refer not to a poor quality of faith but to the acknowledgment of one’s spiritual powerlessness and bankruptcy apart from Christ

The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

The Beatitudes form an appropriate introduction to Jesus’ sermon as they remind his disciples that God blesses them before he makes demands on them (the body of the sermon). The same sequence appeared at Sinai. God redeemed his people from Egypt and reminded them of his blessings before giving them his law.

All authority in heaven and on earth
All authority in heaven and on earth
The temptation to have the kingdoms of this earth given to him if he were to bow down and worship Satan versus after his accomplished work on the cross he’s given all authority in heaven and on earth.

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’s gospel - 5 teaching blocks
Nearly all of these aspects of humility that we’ve looked at here today are exhibited and modeled for us in the life of Christ.
Entrusted his life to his Father
Jesus, the Son of God, humbles himself by becoming a man, “being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Jesus entrusted his life to his Father, says,
Jesus, the Son of God, humbles himself by becoming a man, “being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Jesus entrusted his life to his Father, says,
The sermon on the mount begins by telling us the blessedness of who we are as Christians.

23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

The beatitudes tell us that being is the foundation for doing.
The Son of God, permitted himself to die a cursed death on a cross. The Son of God, in a human sense, made himself vulnerable and entrusted his life to his Father in heaven.
These are the descriptions of God’s people.
Jesus submitted to his Father’s will
Jesus is promising the fulfillment of his kingdom
Jesus also submitted to his Father’s will. When pressed by his disciples in John 4:34,
Hunger and thirst for righteousness

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

We cannot have a Christ without a cross, and nor can we have Christ with our cross. Just as Peter would later say in his epistle to no think it strange that fiery trials have come upon us. God’s kingdom is in direct conflict with the kingdoms of this world. Jesus prepares us for opposition.
Jesus
Jesus fasted and prayed
Being a citizen of the kingdom means we belong to Christ.
Fasting and prayer marked Jesus’ ministry. He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights when led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus regularly got up early and stayed up late to pray alone, in secret, to his heavenly Father. Jesus relied upon his Father through ordinary disciplines of fasting and prayer.
The beatitudes ultimately describe Christ in whose image we’re to be conformed to. Jesus was meek, he was lowly in spirit, and persecuted for righteousness sake. The beatitudes are telling us what it really means to become like Jesus Christ.
And while Jesus had every reason and opportunity to manifest his own glory as God incarnate he didn’t. He was not wealthy, he was not of noble birth, and we hated by many. He had nowhere to call home and nowhere to lay his head. He made himself of no reputation and humbled himself to the point of death - even death on a cross, so that those who repent of their sin and believe in his name will have eternal life.
Poor in Spirit

Prayer

In order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become poor in spirit. We must rightly understand our own lack before God. We must see our deep need for Christ. Our pride must be demolished. This is what it means to be poor in spirit. No one has ever entered God’s kingdom by their pride.
Heavenly Father, we’re so grateful for your Son. We draw near to you now because of his sacrifice. Hallowed your name. We ask today that you would humble us under your mighty hand. That we would turn from secret and public sin, that we would rejoice in your mercy and grace toward us. That we would find our self-worth in your Son and that we would hold fast to the hope of your promised kingdom. I pray that we would be quick to remember this great reward when persecutions come. We humble ourselves and pray that you would weed out roots of pride in our lives, that we would no longer be rebellious, that we would build your kingdom and not our own. We ask these things in your Son’s name.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Amen.
In the new birth we begin to have to tastes new ambitions, we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. No longer are we satisfied with the things of this world but now we find only satisfaction in Christ, we delight in the law of the Lord.
Merciful
We learn to be merciful as we experience God’s great mercy toward us.
Pure in heart
When we begin live as Christ we, by faith, begin to see God. His beauty is revealed to us as we’re conformed to the image of His Son.
Peace
In our conversion we experience peace with God and so we being to desire that others would also experience that same peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We become proclaimers of this peace, not some pagan world peace as idealized by the world but a real, and lasting peace, first with God and second by extension peace with our neighbor. You can’t have peace with one another without first peace with God. Such a notion is a fantasy and even downright evil.
Do you remember when we read from Luke chapter 2 when a multitude of angels appear to shepherds at night and say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”? Jesus is the great peacemaker, he’s the one who’s being announced, and with him comes a way for mankind to have peace with God. And as believers we become ambassadors for Christ, delivering his message of peace.
Reviled and persecuted on my account
And paradoxically we’re persecuted for our message of peace. We’re reviled for our allegiance to Christ, and just as Jesus would say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” While this message of peace being peace to those who embrace Christ by faith it divides whole households as many in the world revile the message.
Rejoice and be glad
Do not revile them in return, but instead rejoice and be glad, because remember you will inherit the kingdom of heaven
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