The Front Steps
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3
Matthew 5-7 contains the most influential and substantial sermon on the Christian life ever given by any one person in all of human history. Therefore it should be no surprise to us that this particular sermon was Jesus who spoke this message. In these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel, we see what is expected of those who belong to God by faith in Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount has often been viewed as a “moral checklist” for Christians to follow to ensure their entrance into heaven. But this sermon is not a way to be saved; it is a revelation of who is already saved. It is a kingdom message for kingdom people. As Jesus sat down to teach those who followed him (5:1-2), he spoke in such a way to compel people to consider their own hearts first, before they ever began to evaluate their actions. Jesus is concerned about our character before he is about our deeds. The reason for that is simple: If Jesus has your heart, then your deeds will reflect that spiritual reality. So, Jesus begins with kingdom character (5:3-12) before he gets to kingdom living (5:12-7:27). To say it another way, unless we study, understand, and apply the first part of this message, we will not be obedient to the commands of it. So, Jesus starts with what we call the Beatitudes.
If the Sermon on the Mount could be viewed as a house, then the Beatitudes are the front steps to that house. Without the steps no one can get into the house. It is an elevated, lofty house; one that you can see from a distance (Matthew 5:14). If the Beatitudes are the front steps, then the very 1st Beatitude I would say is of most importance, because it is the first step. In fact, I would say that without it, we cannot even get to the front porch, much less through the front door. Jesus says Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If we desire the blessing of knowing God, then we must start with acknowledging our spiritual condition. There can be no “dwelling in house of the Lord forever” without first knowing and confronting our sinful poverty before the Holy God of the universe. Understanding our spiritual depravity in light of God’s holiness is the first step to obedience (Isaiah 6:1-5).
We will not and cannot be holy as God intends for us unless we face our spiritual depravity, poverty, and weakness. When Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, he is saying the happiest people are those that know they cannot be truly satisfied in their sinful state. The poor in spirit are helpless, weak, hopeless, and without answer for their condition. Every man, in all of history has been spiritually poor (Romans 3:23), yet not everyone has admitted that reality. The poverty of soul is true whether we acknowledge it or not. The difference is that those who come to God admitting they are poor will receive the grace needed to relieve their poverty and make them wealthy in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9).
A poor man can either accept his poverty and deal with it in the right way, or he can deny it and pretend like he is not poor at all. Only those who are willing to acknowledge their need will receive the blessedness of God. The word blessed means “happy”, but it is not used in the same way that we use it today. The word blessed in the Bible had a deeper meaning in relation to someone receiving favor from another person, usually of someone of high social rank or authority. Jesus uses the word blessed because any person who comes before God admitting their spiritual poverty will be happy, or will be shown favor by God. The favor of God flows from God’s grace and our denial of ourselves. To be blessed of God, we say “I am not, but you are. . .” In this, any person can be blessed. What does God do to show us favor?
He glorifies his name in us – Romans 15:9
He loves us unconditionally – Romans 8:31-39
He makes us holy as He is holy – 1 Peter 1:16
He sanctifies our souls to make us like Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
He dwells within us – John 14:26, Acts 1:8, 2 Timothy 1:14
He forgives as much as is necessary – Psalm 103:12
He waits for us – Isaiah 30:18
He is patient with us – Romans 2:4
He gives us good things – Matthew 7:11
He comforts us in our affliction – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
He promises eternity free from pain and death – John 5:24
All these blessings should make us “happy”. The blessings of knowing God are possible because He is gracious, merciful, and kind to those who acknowledge their spiritual poverty. No man can stand before God as he is and not be either changed or destroyed (Isaiah 6:1-8). Let us all admit our impoverished condition and fall on the mercy of God that he might bless us and make us happy in him.