Happy to Be Blessed: “Poor in Spirit –> Kingdom of Heaven”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.
How many of you knew a guy in high school, or at work, or from down the street, who thought he could just do anything better than, maybe, anyone else? At least in his stories (please note that I am purposefully using masculine pronouns because it is almost always men/boys for whom this is true), he could throw the ball farther, shoot straighter, has read more, was more musical, was better at math, better with girls, better at making money, etc, etc, etc, better than every one else!
I just started watching Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing TV sit-com. His character portrays this characteristic to a T.
The problem with this self-perception is that, ultimately it cannot be correct – and nearly every episode of Last Man Standing proves this point. At some moment in everyone’s life, we discover that we are not the best and that we cannot be independent and completely self-reliant – we need others, we need each other, we need Someone Better.
We are beginning a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few weeks. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.
So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably, wrongly. Sometimes this word for “Blessed”, Makarios, is translated as “Happy”. Either way, look at what Jesus called “blessed” or “happy”. The first is “poor in spirit”. Blessed? Really?
Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)
These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. Last week I introduced you to the idea of the “indicative-imperative” clause. The Beatitudes exemplify this kind of clause. Jesus indicates a truth and then commands a compliant response. First, they describe something of Jesus Himself; and then as His disciples, His followers, His Church (the Body of Christ), they describe something, in perhaps a more longed-for dream than an actual reality yet, of us.
So, let’s decipher this phrase so we might claim a better understanding of what it describes.
The Greek word Jesus uses for being “blessed”, Makarios, suggests our being SATISFIED and SECURE because of our faith in God through Jesus Christ and empowered by the HOLY SPIRIT.
The place we start, the entryway into these Beatitudes, begs the question about our satisfaction and security in Christ! How does one even find satisfaction and security?
Jesus indicates that we are POOR in SPIRIT, and then He tells us that our compliant response to that truth is simply to RECOGNIZE our spiritual poverty! The truth is that we ARE poor in spirit; the command is to BE poor in spirit!
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? (Btw, in Luke’s Gospel the author records this sermon slightly differently. There Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” [Luke 6:20]). What is it about “poverty” or “spiritual poverty” that makes us blessed?
Many of us think of “poverty” as having a lack of resources – not enough money or knowledge or skill to get by. But, even with that understanding, the crux of poverty, of being poor, is a lack of power or authority. Being short of cash to pay the doctor bill means we don’t go to the doctor; not knowing how to fix a flat or repair our laptop means we walk or resort to an encyclopedia; not having the ability to sing or play or work means going without….. But all that can be handled if we have power to change the circumstances.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, because:
- We cannot do it on our own! Our salvation is not dependent on our wealth, our accumulation of knowledge or degrees, our skills and abilities. No one here – or in any church sanctuary or standing behind any pulpit any where has a spirit so well in tune that we can “do it” on our own! And,
- We don’t have to be self-reliant, independent. Jesus says, in John’s Gospel, that God so loves the world that He gives His only begotten Son, so that any/all who believe in Him shall not perish but gain everlasting, unending, eternal life with Him in heaven (3:16)!
How does God resource those in “poverty”? Not simply by providing stuff, but by providing a means by which we might have authority. Again, in John’s Gospel, He says that all who receive Him and believe Him have the right, the authority, the power to be called children of God (1:12). Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus meets with some of His disciples and says to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (20:22-24) Talk about authority! Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth, or loose on earth, will be bound or loosed in heaven.” (18:18)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! God resources our spiritual poverty with authority as Children of God, sons and daughters of God Almighty!
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah recognizes his spiritual poverty, his lack of resources/authority to do anything on behalf of God without the power of God anointing him – and in Luke 4 we watch Jesus use Isaiah’s words to describe even His own condition – “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Isa. 61:1; Lk 4:18)
This is what it means to “have” the “Kingdom of Heaven”: It’s not an “ownership” deal; it’s a relationship. We are no longer merely servants of God, we are children of God.
One of our former Presbytery Execs used to chide pastors for talking about the churches they serve as “their” churches; ie, “My church is having a Spaghetti Dinner on Father’s Day Eve…” And he would properly remind us that it is not “your” church, it is God’s Church.
And, while I get that point, and agree with him, in the same way, my alma mater is not MY alma mater – I do not own my high school or college or grad school – it is still “mine” in the sense that I belong to it. We are relationally connected.
That is just as true when speaking of our families: “my parents” does not mean that I own my parents, “my spouse” does not mean that Jennifer is my property, etc – but that we belong together. By relationship, she is mine and I am hers.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – means, because of our spiritual poverty, our death to self, we are filled with God, filled with Jesus Christ His only Son, filled with His Holy Spirit. Our bankrupt spirit is filled with Holy Spirit potential in a way that says we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven! We have authority, as children of God.
Our ultimate SATISFACTION is found in God’s heart, and our ultimate SECURITY is bound in God’s presence!
I wonder if one of the reasons I am enjoying Tim Allen in Last Man Standing is because of how clearly I see myself in his character. Am I the guy who thinks I can do it all on my own? Lord, let me hear Jesus’ words as spoken directly to me: “Blessed are you, Wheels, poor in spirit as you are, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours, too.”
Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.
“Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.
Smith, D. Blair; “Blessed Are the poor in Spirit”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 14-15.