Sermon: How to Inherit God’s Kingdom
Scripture: Matthew 5:3
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to be poor in spirit.
Theme: First Principles
But just as this beatitude is not talking about material riches or poverty, neither is it talking about the “poor in spirit” in the sense of being poor-spirited. A poor-spirited person is a person who lacks all drive and all enthusiasm for life. There are many Christians who seem to be like this, but this is not endorsed by Christ’s teaching either. After all, David was the one man in the Bible who was called a man after God’s own heart, and there was not a more ambitious or successful man in all of Israel’s history. David was a man who entered vigorously into the affairs of his day. He forged a nation out of diverse and mutually jealous tribes, and he united them successfully enough to be able to drive off all of the surrounding nations that desired to conquer Israel. David was not poor-spirited. And yet, he epitomized, perhaps far more than any other character in history, what Jesus meant when he said that his followers were to be poor in spirit before God.
What exactly did Jesus mean? We can see the answer to this question when we recognize that being poor in spirit is the opposite of being rich in pride. In fact, you might say that being poor in spirit is to be spiritually bankrupt before God. It is the mental state of the man who has recognized something of the righteousness and holiness of God, who has seen into the sin and corruption of his own heart, and has acknowledged his own deep and permanent inability to please God. Such a person alone is poor in spirit. And it is to such a person, the Lord says, that the kingdom of heaven belongs. Seen in this way, the first of the eight Beatitudes is one of the strongest statements in the Bible of the great doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. For it is a statement of a person’s total inability to please God by any human efforts.
This first great teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is one that can be spelled out more clearly in a number of related propositions. The first is this: we must recognize that we cannot fulfill the standards of the Sermon on the Mount by ourselves. The Sermon on the Mount was not given so that a man could say to himself, “Come on, old chap, I guess we’ll just have to try harder to pull you up by your bootstraps.” This cannot be done. Paradoxically, Jesus teaches that the Sermon on the Mount is only for those who know that they cannot live by it.
Have you ever recognized that this is precisely what the law of God given in the Old Testament is all about? It was not given by God so that a person might fulfill some of it and then congratulate himself on how well he is doing. It was given to drive a man to God for God’s mercy. This is clearly demonstrated in the first giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The people of Israel had asked for the law, and God had called Moses up into the mountain to receive it. He was told that there were to be no other gods before the one true God of Israel. There were to be no idols. There was to be no greed, no adultery, no murder, no breaking of the Sabbath day, and so on. But while the precepts of the law were being given to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, the people who had come with him out of Egypt were down in the valley doing the very things that God was forbidding. And so, right at the beginning of Israel’s history we have a demonstration that the standards of God’s righteousness cannot be achieved by fallen human beings.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
What is the first great teaching of the Sermon on the Mount?
Reflection: Do you tend to view your obedience to be on the basis of God’s mercy and grace, or on your own efforts?