Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

February 6, 2005 / No. 3240

Dear Radio Friends,

Today we begin a series of messages on the description of the true Christian and the blessedness that belongs to them.  The series of messages is going to be taken from Matthew 5:1-9.  These verses are commonly referred to as the Beatitudes.  They form part of the Lord’s most beautiful sermon, recorded in Matthew 5-7, a sermon on the kingdom of heaven.  They are referred to as the Beatitudes, for they were the Lord’s words by which He pronounced a blessing upon the children of His kingdom.  He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit … those that mourn … the meek … etc.”  He began His sermon on the kingdom by describing those who were the members of His kingdom and the blessedness that belonged to them — a blessedness that was exclusive, a blessedness that was resting upon them alone as the citizens of His kingdom.

The Beatitudes.

These Beatitudes were given while our Lord was in Galilee during the first year and a half of His ministry.  He was experiencing at that time a great popularity.  The people have flocked to hear Him and He sees, according to the first verse in chapter 5, that the multitudes are all around Him.  So He resorts to a very unconventional manner of teaching.  He ascends part way up a mountain slope.  He sits down on this hill, and He opens His mouth and begins to teach them.  The Son of God, of whom the psalmist says in Psalm 45 that grace is poured into His lips — the Son of God will now teach the multitudes about the kingdom of His Father, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven.  And, as I said, He will begin His sermon with these Beatitudes, with these descriptions of who are the members of His kingdom and the blessing that comes to them.

Let us remember (or store away in our minds) a few things about the Beatitudes as a whole.  They are, first of all, a description of every Christian.  The Lord is not referring just to the “elite,” to some notable saints, but to every child of God, to the work that He will perform in each one of them.  Every child of God, you and I, are to show forth these characteristics.  It is not that some Christians possess them and others do not, but everyone in His kingdom possesses these gifts.  They are made poor in spirit; they mourn; they are meek; they are hungry and thirsty; they are merciful, pure in heart, etc.

Let us also remember concerning these Beatitudes that they are all gifts of grace.  The Lord is not speaking of natural tendencies, personalities, or qualities.  He is speaking of a spiritual blessing.  He is speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit, of dethroning sin, and making us after His own image.

We consider, first of all today, the first Beatitude:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The first question is this:  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Our Lord, there, is talking about how every true child of God is given, by God’s grace, to view himself as he stands in the presence of God.  He is referring to an inward knowledge of oneself before God.  As I stand before God, as a child of God, I am given to know that I am nothing; I have nothing; I can do nothing; I deserve no good.  He is referring, then, to that which is the very opposite of what we are by nature.  We are, by nature, according to the Bible, proud.  In pride we are filled with self-glory.  That self-glory rules in every son of Adam.  It expresses itself in a proud and haughty spirit, self-assertiveness, self-sufficiency, the desire to be admired and praised by the world.  The whole principle out of which we live according to our sinful flesh is that we must express ourselves; we must be self-reliant; we must be self-confident.  And at bottom, it is pride, a refusal to acknowledge and to bow before God.

To be poor in spirit is to be brought to the dust before God.  It is to know our own utter helplessness before God.  It is the first work of grace in our souls.  Until one is made to know that he is nothing, God will make nothing out of him.  We are poor, bankrupt, nothing to give, no resources, poor before the living God.  We deserve nothing.  We have nothing.

Let us understand.  Poor in spirit is something God makes you to be, not something you make yourself to be.  Our flesh tries to mimic this grace of being of poor spirit, to make ourselves out to be of poor spirit.  I can remember in my ministry being picked up once at an airport by a man from the church who, after a brief introduction, wanted me to know that he was just a nobody in the church.  He was not one of the big-wigs.  He had only been sent to carry the minister’s bags.  He was just a humble, poor soul.  He seemed to be very anxious for me to believe how humble he was.  He, in every instance, tried to prove that he was humble.  In fact, I believe that he would have been angry at me if I did not think that he was humble.  But it was false modesty.  It was a defense of himself.  The Lord is not referring to things like that.  Poor in spirit is not to be identified as self-mutilating.  Poor in spirit is not to be identified with that voice that says to us, “I’m no good.”  Making ourselves out to be humble, or even hating ourselves, is also in reality our pride — pride against God.  It is rooted in self.

Poor in spirit is not that.  It is something that God makes you to be, not that you make yourself to be.  It is God’s grace introducing us to ourselves.  It is giving us to see that we are vile and full of sin and devoid of any currency in good.  It is when God makes us know that we are sinners.  In one word:  it is the grace of humility.  It is a right understanding of myself before the living God.

Listen as it is described for us in Isaiah 57:15:  “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”  Of course.  Can God dwell with pride?  Only those who are made humble can know Him — no one else.

The poor in spirit is one who has been shown his pride — a pride that reveals itself in self-assurance, self-promotion, self-congratulation, self-approval, gloating, glee over the fall of others, conceit, arrogancy.  To be made poor in spirit is to see that within yourself.

And now, standing before God, it is the knowledge that I am nothing, I have done nothing, I can do nothing.  It is to be emptied of self-justification.

Do you know that?  Do you know that about yourself experientially?  How do you really feel about yourself in terms of God and the presence of God?  What are the things that you think of with regard to yourself as you stand before God?  Do you boast?  Do you take credit?  Do you think that God must also see that somehow you are different, you are distinguished from others, you are a bit better?

We must see that in this first Beatitude the Lord is putting His finger upon the very first work of the grace of God and the citizens of the kingdom.  They are given to see themselves as wretched sinners, humbled before God.  He has to say that first.  It has to be the very first Beatitude because if we do not know that, we will not go on to mourn, the second Beatitude.  We will not be meek — that is the third Beatitude.  And, most importantly, we will not hunger and thirst after righteousness — that is the fourth Beatitude.  We will  not hunger and thirst after a righteousness that God alone can give to us unless we first know ourselves as empty and bankrupt — as poor in spirit.

Jesus pronounces, “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus says that they are blessed, they are happy.  Now that is the very opposite of the world, is it not?  The world would say, “That’s the trouble with Christianity.  It gives you a bad self-image.  We need to assert,” says the world, “the fundamental goodness of man, the value of the human being.  Blessed are the poor in spirit?  Happy are the poor in spirit?  How can you say that?  That’s absurd!” says the world.

But God says, “Blessed.”  And blessed not because being poor in spirit earns God’s favor.  That is pride again.  But blessed because when God shows our emptiness, when God cuts down, when God humbles to the dust, it is in order that He might lift up and fill us with Himself.  Blessed are you, because for you Christ has been given; for you who have nothing, Christ has been given to be everything.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Once again, the idea is not that we become poor in spirit and now we have earned the right to the kingdom, that humility pays our entrance-fee and secures a place for us in the kingdom of heaven.  No.  But it means this:  that in the way of being aware of our own nothingness, being made poor in spirit, we are given to rejoice in the wonders of God’s grace, such a grace that we are made citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

You say to me, “What is the kingdom of heaven?”  The kingdom of heaven, according to the Bible, is the reign or the rule of God’s grace in the hearts of His children.  It is not an earthly kingdom, but it is a kingdom that, as Jesus says in John 17, is within you.  It is a kingdom of His grace.  The kingdom of heaven is the exercise of the mighty authority of God’s grace over the hearts of His children.  It is, therefore, a spiritual kingdom.  It is not a material kingdom.  It is not of this earth, but it is spiritual, it is heavenly, it is glorious.  It consists of the fellowship of the living God.

The poor in spirit are blessed because they are the ones who are now made subject to the Lord and granted entrance into the glories of the kingdom of God.  They are the ones who have come under the rule of grace.  Of course.  No one is going to renounce his pride or own up to his pride or say “I’m nothing,” unless the scepter of the King, the King of kings, has so now ruled in his heart that he recognizes his own poverty and sees the riches of God’s kingdom.

The poor in spirit possess the kingdom in a perfect sense.  They possess it now by promise.  But they possess it also perfectly at the return of Jesus Christ, the day when the kingdom will have come in all of its power and glory, when everything else has passed away.  Then we shall enter perfectly into that kingdom and we shall be rich, eternally blessed, full, and satisfied.  Blessed are ye poor of spirit, ye who have been made to know your own bankruptcy spiritually before God, ye who know yourself to be empty and void of the currency of good, for you shall be filled with the splendor of My Father’s kingdom.

Is that true of you?  Do you desire to be ruled only by Christ?  Do you confess Him that He is your Lord and King?  Then that means that the mighty grace of God has dethroned in your heart that awful, stinking pride.  And now Christ, Christ alone, fills you.  He is your peace, your fullness.  Now I am given the knowledge that I am a child of the King — His child and forever I am!  I am a citizen of the kingdom of God through Christ.

This is what it means to be poor in spirit.  It is to know that we are nothing.  And this is what is promised to us:  the kingdom of heaven.

But we might ask, “Is this true of me?  Do I know that I am nothing in the presence of God?  Is all of my boast in His grace and in His kingdom?”  Do you know your sin?  Do you know this, as you stand before God, that you are a guilty sinner and, should God eternally condemn you, He would be doing no injustice to you?  Do you know that?  Then, beloved in Christ, hear the word of Jesus:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  They are the ones emptied of themselves, filled with the perfect and enduring grace of God.

Then it is also true that in our lives we will not rely on anything — not on anything in ourselves.  We will not boast of our natural birth.  We will not pride ourselves in our temperaments, in our looks.  We will not boast in our achievements, our knowledge, our deeds, or our powers.  We will not rely upon money that we have, the school that we attended.  We will not bring before God the life that we believe is better than others and makes us worthy of Him.  But we will look to God in utter dependence.  And we will come before Him as a pauper, as a beggar.  We will approach Him in the knowledge of our sinfulness and vileness and say to Him, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.  Foul I to the fountain fly.  Cleanse me, Jesus, or I die.”

But more.  If you are poor in spirit, you will look away from yourself to God.  You will look away from yourself to God in Christ.  And you will see that, by grace alone, you have been made rich in Christ.  By grace alone your sins are forgiven.  By grace alone you are accounted righteous in the work of Jesus.  By grace alone you are given to be an adopted son or daughter of God.  By grace alone you belong to the King and He will rule over you in His kingdom and bring you to perfection.  Keep looking at Him!  Have nothing to do with any trust or any boast in yourself or in man.  But before Him, standing empty and naked with nothing, see Him as all-sufficient and behold the wonder of wonders.

Blessed — for yours is the kingdom of heaven!

Hear Him say to you, as the Savior speaks, as the multitudes come to Him and He speaks faithfully from God:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

May God bless this word to our hearts today.

Let us pray.

Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy word.  We do confess that of ourselves we are proud.  Of ourselves, as we stand before God, before Thy very face, we would rise up and we would shake our fist in Thy presence if Thou would say to us that we are nothing.  This is our pride.  Forgive us of our sins.  Humble us low.  Give us to know the depth of our sin and our poverty.  And give us to know the riches of Thy grace.  Lift us up in Christ.  Continue to bless us as we hear more messages in the coming weeks on the Beatitudes.  Watch over our souls.  Hear us now, Father of all mercies, through Jesus Christ Thy Son, in whose name we pray, Amen.