Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Part 2 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:3

You can listen to this sermon here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3).

The Beatitudes 

Everyone who puts his or faith in Jesus Christ is a citizen of God’s kingdom. And in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus, our King, tells us that he expects his people to be different. 

In verses 2-12, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with what are commonly called the Beatitudes. [1] Each beatitude begins with the word “blessed.” [2] Charles Quarles writes, “The fact that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with such pronouncements of blessing on His disciples before placing demands on them is significant. This order suggests that the righteousness described in the sermon is a result of divine blessing rather than a requirement for divine blessing.” [3]

D. A. Carson call the beatitudes “the norms of the kingdom.” [4] The beatitudes give us a summary of what Jesus expects his people to be. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics.” [5]

Is Christianity a Crutch? 

It’s sometimes said, “Christianity is a crutch for the weak.” [6] But is a crutch a bad thing? No, a crutch is a good thing for person who has a broken leg. Spiritually speaking, we all need a crutch. We are all spiritually lame.

Sometimes when a person has a broken leg, they’re too proud to use a crutch. Christianity is only for those who will acknowledge their spiritual need and cry out to God for salvation.

The Kingdom of God Is for Lame Beggars

In Jesus’ day, a person who was lame would usually need to be a beggar in order to survive (e.g., the lame beggar who was healed in Acts 3). A lame beggar had to completely rely on the generosity of others. “‘Poor in spirit’ means ‘beggarly in spirit,’ and describes someone who is keenly aware that he is spiritually destitute and must rely entirely on the grace of God for salvation.” [6] The kingdom of God is for lame beggars. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

Citizens of God’s kingdom acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy. 

During Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders often complained that Jesus spent time with “tax collectors and sinners.” We find an example of this in Mark 2:13-17.
[Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinner and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) taught the need for poverty of spirit.
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to be a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 
In Isaiah 57:15, God says that he lifts up the poor in spirit and brings them into relationship with himself: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name in Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

What About My Self-Esteem? 

Today, there is an emphasis on self-esteem. Do those who are poor in spirit lack self-esteem? No, the message of the Bible is that we are not without value. Humans were made “in [God’s] image” (Gen. 1:26). Yes, we are sinners in need of salvation, but the fact that Christ died for us tells us that we are anything but insignificant.

The Gospel Gap 

Many Christians think that the gospel only affects their past and their future. They say, “God forgave all my sins, and I will go to heaven when I die.” But what about life right now? There’s a gospel gap in their lives.

In How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp write, “The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a ‘then-now-then gospel.” There is the “then” of the past. (God forgave all my sins.) There is the “then” of the future. (I will go to heaven when I die.) But there’s also the “now” of the present. What difference does the gospel make in my life right “now”?

If we understand the gospel—that salvation is by grace alone—we will be poor in spirit. And when we are poor in spirit, we are free from self-righteousness. How would our lives change if our self-righteousness was removed? We would be less judgmental and more caring. We would have less bitterness and more forgiveness.

[1] “Beatitude” is from the Latin word beatus, which means “blessed.”
[2] Sometimes makarios is translated as “happy,” but this is misleading since happiness is often associated with good circumstances.
[3] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Locations 1039-1040.
[4] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 16.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 26.
[6] The idea for this introduction was found in John Piper’s sermon “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit Who Mourn.”
[7] Quarles, Kindle locations 1045-1046.
[8] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 3.

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