August 11, 2011 by Chris French
This and subsequent lessons from the Sermon on the Mount are from our Wednesday night class at Bethel. Click here to download the student handout that goes with this lesson.
The first set of people Jesus says are blessed are the “poor in spirit”. In the past I’ve said that it would be okay to replace “blessed” with “happy” and no harm will have been done to the text. After further study “happy” is not an adequate translation for what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes. Happy indicates how I FEEL, blessed really has nothing to do with how I feel. Instead “blessed” speaks to how others VIEW me. Other people look at me and can say that I am blessed. So it’s an external perception instead of an internal feeling.
Jesus also says emphatically that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are “poor in spirit”. So without a doubt, make no mistakes, Heaven absolutely belongs to these kind of people. So all of a sudden it becomes pretty important that we understand what the “poor in spirit” Jesus speaks of is all about. We understand poor. That’s pretty easy. Go downtown and you see the poor. Many of them sit on street corners and beg for food because they don’t have any other access to food other than the passersby generosity. The word Jesus uses for “poor” (ptokos) indicates someone who “cowers like a beggar”. 1st century beggars were so ashamed of their condition that they would conceal their identity. In fact this exact word is used of Lazarus in Luke 16.20. He was completely dependant on other people for his every need. He didn’t have the money to buy food even!
That’s the idea Jesus is expressing when He talks about the “poor in spirit”. These people are spiritual beggars! They understand that there is no way they can help themselves. They realize that they must rely on God for everything they have. This is not a new thought from Scripture. God has always demanded this trait in His people (Isaiah 57.15, 66.2). While He is certainly concerned about the physical beggars, the people who can’t buy literal food to keep themselves alive and made laws to protect them under both covenants (Leviticus 19.9-10, I John 3.17-18), wealth is not the answer (Matthew 19.23-24)!
The answer is to be “poor in spirit”. We need to remember that we are poor, destitute and helpless spiritually. There’s nothing we can do to get ourselves out of this situation! This is something God gives absolutely free (Ephesians 2.8-9). Obviously we sacrifice ourselves and stay away from temptation and mold our hearts to look like Jesus’, but I couldn’t live a good enough life to be worthy of Heaven without God. If He had not reached down and saved me there’s nothing I could have done to help myself. Just like a beggar in any city realizes that he is completely dependant on others I need to realize that I am completely dependant on God, not just for my salvation, but for everything! We live in a society that says I can do anything. That’s the American dream! You pull yourself up by the bootstraps and figure out a way to make it work. Newsflash: That’s not God’s way! When you need help He doesn’t tell you to figure it out for yourself. He doesn’t advise you to go find a self-help book on the subject. He says, “Come to Me”. He’s the answer!
We find a great example of how a spiritual beggar acts in Luke 18.9-14. The tax collector in this parable didn’t even feel worthy to look toward Heaven, where God dwells. His only prayer was for mercy! He realized his weakness and knew there was nothing he could do to fix his problem, so he went to Heaven’s gate and beat on it pleading for help. Are you a spiritual beggar? Do you rely on God like a physical beggar would rely on other’s generosity? Jesus says this is a necessity if you want to go to Heaven!
Here are some ways you can know whether you’re a spiritual beggar or not, a sort of dependence barometer if you will. (1) My self-centeredness will disappear. I’ll only think about what brings glory to Christ, not myself. (2) I’ll stop complaining. I don’t have a right to anything I’m given and I don’t deserve anything from God, so everything I’m given is a blessing. What do I have to complain about? (3) I’ll see the good in others. I match them up to me and see myself falling short. I’m well aware of my weaknesses and how far I’ve fallen from God’s standards. (4) My prayer life will soar. A beggar is always knocking on Heaven’s gate pleading for help. (5) I’ll take Christ on His terms. It won’t matter what I have to sacrifice to be a part of Him, I’ll happily give up and do whatever He demands. (6) My praise life will soar. If you were a physical beggar and someone took you into their house and paid for your college, and gave you all you wanted to eat what would you feel toward them? That’s what God has done for us!
Be a spiritual beggar. Depend fully on Him. He’ll provide!