Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Let’s be honest. No one aspires to be poor. No one relishes being poor. No one does a happy dance when they are out of money and go to the mailbox to find one more bill to pay. No one is happy when there are children without enough food to eat. Elders without enough money to cover the cost of their medication or their simple living expenses are not happy elders. Obligations to meet or miss can be overwhelming. However, that’s not the kind of poor Jesus was referring to in this passage. He didn’t say the blessed are the financially challenged, nor did He mean that. Being poor in spirit is a different kind of poor-ness – that isn’t about poverty.
The background for this lesson Jesus taught is found in the verses preceding the passage in Matthew. He tells us that Jesus had been in Galilee, “teaching in their synagogues” and “preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23). Then “his fame went throughout all Syria” (verse 24). Matthew goes on to report that they brought all kinds of people with all kinds of sicknesses and disease and torments and ultimately “he healed them.” No doubt because of these things – His teaching, His miracles – verse 25 tells us “there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” It was then – “seeing the multitudes” (Matthew 5:1) – that Jesus went up into a mountain – and when His disciples came He began teaching them with these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
The poor in spirit . . . He must have encountered them in the days leading up to this lesson. Those poor in spirit people may have been the topic of a conversation or two among the disciples. Or maybe it was about them – these twelve who had forsaken everything to follow Him. Their humility – their submission to His will – their willingness to empty themselves for the sake of His Kingdom. Something compelled Jesus to open this dissertation with them first. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
In the timelessness of His teaching, who are these poor in spirit today? The promise is “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I want that. You want that. So, how do we determine if we are – and if not, how do we become – the poor in spirit?
Rees observed in the Biblical Illustrator,
“By the poor in spirit are meant those who have been convinced of their spiritual poverty. All without Christ are wretched, blind, naked, poor. They are sensible of their wants; the higher their attainments, the deeper their humiliation. Have high thoughts of Christ.” Another writer attributed these four characteristics to the poor in spirit: humility, contentment, submission, and gratitude. H. Alford, a theologian, summed it up this way: “We must be ever looking at the Cross.”
Let us ever look to the cross of Calvary and in its shadow we understand our own brokenness and poverty of spirit. We cannot, kneeling there, bring to mind even one thing we have done or could do that would make us worthy of what He did for us there. Matthew Henry observed that the poor in spirit “. . . see their want, bewail their guilt, and thirst after a Redeemer.” The place you determine whether you are, indeed, poor in spirit is not in classroom or a pulpit, nor even in the harvest field in which you are called to labor. A trip to Calvary . . . a glimpse of His broken body . . . seeing His suffering…realizing His redemptive love for us . . .brings to us, if we let it, an acknowledgement of how lost we are without Him, how poor in spirit we truly are because without Him we are nothing.