“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.”
“For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit,
and who trembles at My word.”
When you look through the want ads, you read descriptions of jobs available, as well as descriptions of people wanted. When an employer is looking for people, they rarely are just looking for any warm body, though in desperate times that may seem the case. When I worked as a supervisor at a grocery store we often had jobs to fill in our department. There were times we were desperate and we hired just to fill the spot. Inevitably we regretted doing that. Why? Because we needed more than just any person, we needed a person with a good work ethic. We needed someone who was dependable and would shop up for scheduled shifts. We were looking for certain character traits, and as we look at the Beatitudes we find the focus on attitudes and spiritual traits.
Some people have said the Beatitudes show a progression of faith, of spiritual maturity. There may be some truth to that, but I would like to focus on each one as it stands alone.
Blessed – the root word in the Greek refers to something being expansive. It seems the best translation may even be “happy” because it is connected to purpose of life, to what we are all about. Jesus is basically giving us a recipe for happiness! Notice also that there is an understood sense of plurality. Jesus is talking to us as a community, as a group of people. In that sense Jesus is saying these should be the characteristics of the church! So, as we read these verses over the next couple of months, understand that there is a call both to you as an individual before God, as well as us as a group, as the church. The church is not this building, but the people who are part of this gathering, whether they are here every Sunday or not.
Poor – This word means what you think it does. It is someone who has nothing, someone destitute, in need. Someone in need of help. Someone in need of another to come alongside and assist. Some people are poor and don’t know it. They go through life doing everything on their own, living life with rarely a thought for another. They may not even know that they don’t know what they are missing. It is not about stuff. It is about relationships, about people. I believe we were created to function in community, playing a role of some kind. I believe each of us is special, and can offer something unique. What that means is we are missing gifts, right now, that belong to people who are not here. They don’t even know that God has created them let alone that God has gifted them to be a part of this community. We are poorer ourselves without their involvement. And they don’t realize what they are missing – not because we are anything special, but because God has made us special.
It is also about the individual. You cannot meet God unless you are poor in spirit. The only way to understand Jesus is to understand you blew it. What are you going to do with your sin – those things you did that somehow you knew and know are wrong. It’s like the spots of blood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and trying to wash her hands clean of the blood of the murdered King Duncan in Act 5 Scene 1. She echoes what Macbeth himself said in Act 2, Scene 2: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” “No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red”. Without Jesus, what does one do about sin?
Spirit – This is the same word for wind, as well as in the term “Holy Spirit”. We understand that this trait then, is not about being short of money, or stuff, but something related to the breathing part of us, the intangible. What makes you and I unique? What makes up your personality? One writer in describing it to a child called it the “breathing” part in you. There’s the physical body, but then there’s the part that causes the breath, the life force.
Kingdom – The British Commonwealth has a queen. At one time they said the sun never set on the British Empire because they controlled so many colonies around the world. The law was made in Britain, and it applied in all the commonwealth states. Rome, in the time of Jesus, had the same setup. They controlled most of the “known” world, their kingdom. Simply put, the kingdom refers to sovereignty, royal power, and dominion.
Heaven – As I went to look up the words my first thought was that this verse talked about the kingdom of God. It doesn’t; it refers to the kingdom of heaven! As I thought about it, I understand that heaven is a choice opposite earth. Jesus did not say the kingdom of earth. He intimates quite strongly again that the things He refers to as success and things to pursue, and how to evaluate is all done on the spiritual level. Read Ephesians 1 if you want to go further with this.
Take It Home:
Recognize your guilt as a sinner, and that you are dependent upon God. Happy is the poor in spirit. You want to be happy? The first step is to give up. You can’t do it. You can pursue money, sex, and power, and be successful in those pursuits, but they will not get you lasting happiness. John tells us that those are things of this world. They are not related to the spiritual in a positive way.
1 John 2:15-17, 25 “15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.”
God is not commanding us all to sell everything we have and give it to the poor – He’s definitely not saying sell everything and give it to the church (anyone who claims that is not of God). God may ask an individual here or there to follow that path, but that is a personal path between you and God. What God is saying is be poor in spirit – recognize that all your attempts to please Him on your own are filthy rags. Don’t try to go to God thinking you are doing Him a favour. For those who were here Thursday at the Puppet Quest, do you remember the story about the phone call? God calls up the lady and says, “I am coming to visit soon!” She gets busy cleaning and baking and getting ready. Some needy guy comes asking for water and food and a shirt, but she was too busy to help. It turns out that guy was God, and she turned Him away because she was trying to please Him on her terms, not God’s.
Look to the south of us for another example. Let your life and will be foreclosed on – give up your mortgage and deed to your life – let go of what your holding onto, because God has something better in store.
The paradox – Giving up your life leads to entry into the greatest kingdom! Want happiness and control of your life? Give it up. Do you understand that pursuing all this stuff of earth is a dead end? Do you understand that all this stuff of earth is empty? The things we are promised never hold out. Even the rich die. Jesus talked about the man who has so much stuff, that he decides to build another warehouse to hold it. He doesn’t know that his appointed time is upon him and he will not see tomorrow. He spent all his life getting stuff, but he will stand before God empty handed.
The promise is that you will be successful in all things spiritual – this includes eternal life. When you are part of the kingdom of heaven, you are finally aware of and understand that we are in a spiritual war. We are not in a war against the kids who put graffiti on our fence. We are not at war with our cranky neighbours, or the family member who ridicules us for our faith. Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Look at these verses from Matthew 6 that talk about giving up striving for stuff, and instead strive to know God:
20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust destroys,
and where thieves do not break in or steal;
21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
25 ” For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life,
as to what you will eat or what you will drink;
nor for your body, as to what you will put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 “Look at the birds of the air,
that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they?
27 “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
28 “And why are you worried about clothing?
Observe how the lilies of the field grow;
they do not toil nor do they spin,
29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory
clothed himself like one of these.
30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,
will He not much more clothe you?
You of little faith! 31 “Do not worry then, saying,
‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or
‘What will we wear for clothing?’
32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things;
for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.”