10 February 2013
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3 ESV)
This week we begin our trek through the Beatitudes. For the next few weeks we will take each of these one at a time. One could say these are the building blocks of personal holiness. Though presented in brief statements it will take a lifetime to understand truly what and how these are to be in our lives. Second, each of the beatitudes stands alone as a distinct characteristic. The "poor in spirit," "those who mourn," or the "peacemakers," (etc.) are all distinct from one another and need to be treated individually so that the full import of their meaning can be unpacked. Though we are teaching a text at the same time, given the nature of that text, we are teaching a topic. For these two basic (or foundational) reasons we are slowly working through these beatitudes. With that stated, please let your class understand the importance of learning, practicing, and applying each of these beatitudes in their lives.
As we begin, we need to make sure we understand what a beatitude is. The phraseology in the Bible is "Blessed is . . ." In Matthew 5 we find the most famous set, but there are more beatitudes throughout the Bible. For example, Psalm 1, 33, and 41 all have this phrase as well.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers; (Psalm 1:1)
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! (Psalm 33:12)
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; (Psalm 41:1)
As we can see the Lord has in mind certain things he wants for us to do that will bring a "blessing." But what is that "blessing"? In Matthew 5 the word that is used is Markarios. This is translated a variety of ways but "blessed" or "happy is" are the most common English usages. The happiness presented here is connected to joy rather than pleasure. There is another word for happiness in pleasure eudaimonia. So when we come to these beatitudes we must understand a sense of happiness mixed with joy. We could also say it is a happiness that comes only from God: "The one who is truly blessed" or "The one who receives happiness from God is . . ." Thus, we have a connection with a certain personal characteristic Jesus presents in Matthew 5 that, when practiced, receives divine happiness.
As we go through the beatitudes we must remember their nature of happiness as well as their relation to the ethical demands of the Sermon on the Mount. Moreover, these personal characteristics put together in a particular order so that they are built upon one another and it is the whole of the characteristics from the beatitudes that constitute the type of disciple that is able to accomplish what the Sermon on the Mount demands.
This week, we will be looking at the first: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Topically, this relates to humility, so this morning we will look at how the Bible understands that true humility brings one divine happiness as well as the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Poor in Spirit are those who are Humble
As Jesus begins his message he immediately presents the concept of the "poor in spirit." We must wrestle with this phrase if we are understand Jesus as well as if we are to be able to attain the "Kingdom of Heaven" promised for those who are poor in spirit.
So what does it mean? For our usage we often think of the poor in a socioeconomic category. The poor are those who are impoverished, who make less than $XX.XX a year, who are in need of aid all the time. "Poor" can also connote a bankruptcy existent in other realms outside of money, which is what Matthew is doing. The poor in spirit are those who are spiritually bankrupt, those who are in complete need of God. The root word for poor, means to bow in order to beg alms. We have people here who have traveled to very poor places where people are far more desperate than the poor in this country, and begging alms for them is humiliating but it is their only means of support. This is our mental image for this passage. The poor in spirit make to claim to self-righteousness, rather they bow and say "have mercy".
In Luke 18 Jesus tells a parable of two men going to pray. The Pharisee's prayer praised himself, listing his righteous works, and even thanking God that he was not like the other man. That man confessed his sins and ask God for mercy. Jesus said it was the second man who was justified that day, a perfect example of the poor-in-spirit.
Throughout the gospels Jesus is said to eat with tax collectors and sinners, sometimes those "sinners" are defined as prostitutes, the outcasts of society. Constantly people call out to Jesus saying "Son of David, have mercy". Make the connection. The poor-in-spirit came begging Jesus for mercy, because He freely gave it. Jesus said "I've come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13).
It's hard to fake humility. It is like the guy who tells you about his humility award and in boasting of it negates its content. True humility is the emptying of ourselves to be filled with what God wants for us.
So what is a good definition of humility? I think Martin Lloyd Jones has presented a helpful definition:
"It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God."
Now it might sound horrific to think that we are to exist in someway in which we are nothing. This is because of the pride that is in our lives, and that pride, that sin, is what keeps us from truly being in the presence of God or understanding His will for our lives.
The "poor in spirit" are those who are humble.
The Poor in Spirit are exemplified throughout the Bible
Now when Jesus presents us this beginning beatitude He is not presenting new material. The concept of humility has been present from the beginning because it is the necessary characteristic of all those who come before God. The Bible has exemplified this type of humility. So lets take a few moments to see examples of humility.
First, we see humility in Moses.
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, "I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:1-6)
Here we notice how Moses reacts when he is in the presence of God. He hides his face. We may think that perhaps he was just fearful, but it is not in a normal sense. In the presence of God he knew he could not look, he must humbly cast down his face. Already he is told to remove his shoes since he is on holy ground, once he realizes why he knows he must act in humility and cast away his face.
In Judges we find humility in the life of Gideon
And the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?" And he said to him, "Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And the LORD said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man." (Judges 6:14-16)
Gideon becomes the great deliverer of Israel in his time, but he began as one who was humble. Don Carson relates Gideon to the "poor in spirit" well when he says, "Poverty of spirit may end in a Gideon vanquishing the enemy hosts; but it begins with a Gideon who first affirms he is incapable of the task, and insists that if the Lord does not go with him he would much prefer to stay at home and thresh grain."
Isaiah presents us his humility when he is in the presence of the Lord in chapter 6:
And I said: "Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)
Peter, though often impetuous, shows us his great humility when he sees the great power of Jesus, But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)
Paul, who was a Hebrew of Hebrews and who had suffered much from Christ knew the true blessings of humility: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Finally, we can see that even Jesus himself saw the need for humility in his life:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
These are but a few examples, but the truth is that the men and women of faith in the Bible understood that the appropriate response before God was that of humility. They exist for our examples as we should exemplify humility before God for this world, for there is no completing God's will and purpose apart from true humility.
Being Poor in Spirit has Eternal Consequences
Finally, in this beatitude we must see that there is a great purpose behind the humble. We have already seen the need defined and illustrated, but we will miss the absolute need to live humble lives apart from the promise that accompanies it: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Literally the royal place that is covered or hidden. How fitting that the wretched poor who hide their face from God in humiliation will receive this place of royal power, that remains hidden from those who do not repent.
In each of the beatitudes we find a promise, a clause that comes after the attribute needed. Most of them have these promises in the future tense, but this one and the last one have it in the present. This shows that these attributes are not just for the future but are for here and now. In addition both the first and the last beatitude have the same promise, the kingdom of heaven. If we remember correctly the kingdom is the content of Jesus' ministry (see Matt 4:17), so at the beginning of his sermon and at the conclusion of his initial attributes for disciples, Jesus is making it clear that what he wanting of us is connected to His entire ministry and purpose. That is to say: We are to be humble because it has eternal consequences.
True humility comes from those who are truly God's, and those who are truly God's are those who will be with Him for all eternity in His kingdom. With these thoughts in mind we must make the correlation between them that if we are to be beneficiaries of Jesus' life and death work, then we must be humble. True humility is a mark of the Christian, the disciple, the one who follows after Jesus. In the next few weeks we will see many more characteristics that we must do, but none of them are accomplished without this one first. We must be humble if we want to be in the kingdom and being humble means coming to Jesus and claiming our lives as nothing and His life as our all.