For the next few days, we will be examining the beatitudes which Jesus outlines at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. In what has been described as the greatest sermon ever preached Jesus outlines the counter cultural values of his kingdom and instructs us how we are to swim against the current of our culture. Salmon are fish born in freshwater, usually in cool fast-flowing water. They live in the river for about two years before making their way out to sea. For the next two years they grow considerably in size before returning to the same river where they were born. I am sure you have seen footage of them battling upstream and even leaping over small waterfalls to get to their spawning areas. Salmon swim against the flow. In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus expounds eight distinguishing traits of his children. Each of them are totally counter cultural and when we see them in a believer we are looking at someone who is swimming against the current.
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT
Quite clearly Jesus is not pronouncing a blessing on those who are materially poor. There are many examples of wealthy individuals in the bible who are commended by God. Abraham according to Genesis 13:2 was wealthy in livestock and silver and gold and yet in Isaiah 41:8 God refers to him as “my friend.” David was fabulously wealthy and is commended as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Just think about it, if Jesus was saying poor people are blessed then the worst thing in the world would be to give to them because that would deprive them of a great blessing. The poverty that Jesus is describing is in a man’s spirit not his wallet. What does poverty of spirit look like? There are a number of Greek words that are used to describe a poor person. There is the word penes which literally refers to a person who is so poor that their salary just enables a family to scrape together an existence. The word used in Matthew 5:3 is ptochos which refers to someone who is worse off. They are utterly helpless. This is the word that is used in Luke 16 to describe Lazarus covered with sores begging at the rich man’s gate. Such a person is totally dependent on the gifts of others. This is the person that Jesus has in mind. A person who is poor in spirit is acutely aware that in God’s presence we have nothing to boast about. A person who is poor in spirit knows that there is nothing in himself that qualifies him to enter heaven. They know that they are spiritually bankrupt and that they are totally dependent on God’s grace. In Luke 5 we read about how after a night of poor fishing Jesus instructed Peter to push his boat out into deeper water and let down the nets. The result was a bumper catch that threatened to sink the boat. How did Peter respond? “Yippee – nou gaan ons braai!” No! He realises that he was in the presence of majesty and in vrs 8 we read; when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! When you truly see God for who He is you see yourself for who you are.
Another example of poverty of spirit is found in Isaiah 6. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. What was Isaiah’s response to this vision of the thrice holy God? “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” The person who is poor in spirit acknowledges that by nature we are guilty, vile, godless wretches – utterly without merit and deserving God’s righteous anger and judgment? The natural response to such poverty is to mourn over our sinful hearts. Before William Carey died, he gave instructions as to what should be written on his gravestone; “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.” That is poverty of spirit.
FOR THEIR’S IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
The tense of the verb in this first beatitude, “theirs is the kingdom of God” is in the present tense. When you walk through a cemetery you will come across a headstone which gives the dates of birth and then the words; “entered into eternal life” and the date of death. That is wrong! Eternal life does not start for the Christian on the day we die but on the day we commit our lives as beggars into Jesus’ hands. In John 3:36 Jesus says, whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. This is repeated in John 5:24, I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. Jesus assures the child of God that the moment we exercise faith in Christ we have eternal life (present tense). Augustus Toplady wrote the hymn, Rock of ages. One of the verses epitomises poverty of spirit.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!