November 9th, 2014
“Emmanuel’s Kingdom – Pt 2”
Meditation/Preparation: It is impossible to exaggerate or overstate the magnificence and ecstasy of the consummated Kingdom of Heaven (or God). It is likewise impossible to enter into such a God-honoring place on the basis of human merit or resources. Only those who know they could never do anything to deserve the Kingdom of Heaven are allowed to possess the Kingdom of Heaven.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3
“Beautiful Attitudes” (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 16)
It has been called “The Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine,” “The Magna Charta of the Kingdom,” “The Manifesto of the King.” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 84)
If we are poor in spirit it means we have been liberated from looking to find our blessedness in anything fickle, transient, or perishing; but instead, we look to find it in God alone. — Pastor Keith
- Matthew was the favorite Gospel of the early church throughout much of church history because it was a natural catechetical tool designed to develop wholistic disciples. The basic thrust of each discourse points to that kind of intentional well-roundedness. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 200)
- This Sermon as recorded in Matthew 5-7 is almost certainly a summary of a much longer one. One can read through it in thirty minutes or less. Jesus’ regular practice was to spend extended time teaching and preaching, to the point that on at least two occasions he spent an entire day speaking to the multitudes and ended up miraculously feeding five thousand and four thousand (14:13-21; 15:32-28). But this summary is not just a collection of randomly selected thoughts. The structure of this message is a unified whole. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 190-1)
- No other section of Scripture makes us face ourselves like the Sermon on the Mount. It is violent, but its violence can be our ongoing liberation! It is the antidote to the pretense and sham that plagues Christianity. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 16)
- The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do. To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression “Christian counter-culture.” (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 15)
- The discourse begins with a manifesto on the values of the kingdom of heaven which is carefully constructed for easy memorization and maximum impact. The sharply paradoxical character of most of its recommendations reverses the conventional values of society–it commends those whom the world in general would dismiss as losers and wimps; compare the presentation of disciples as “little ones” in 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; 25:40 (cf. The “little children” of 11:25). (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 159)
- The Sermon on the Mount teaches us what it means to be a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 90)
- The parallels between Jesus and Moses continue in Mt 5:1: “When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” Notice that expression, “He went up on the mountain,” as this very same wording is used in the Greek OT when Moses went up onto the mountain to receive the law (Ex 19:3). Just as Moses went up on the mountain, Matthew is telling us, so Jesus went up on the mountain, and in the same way that Moses spoke with authority, so now Jesus speaks with authority. These parallels also extend to the very structure of Matthew’s Gospel, for just as Moses authored five books–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–so Matthew’s Gospel gives us five speeches of Jesus, or five main blocks of teaching material. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 93)
- Enormous crowds were following Jesus—he was the talk of the town, and everyone wanted to see him. The disciples, who were the closest associates of this popular man, were certainly tempted to feel important, proud, and possessive. Being with Jesus gave them not only prestige, but also opportunity for receiving money and power.
The crowds were gathering once again. But before speaking to them, Jesus pulled his disciples aside and warned them about the temptations they would face as his associates. Don’t expect fame and fortune, Jesus was saying, but mourning, hunger, and persecution. Nevertheless, Jesus assured his disciples, they would be rewarded—but perhaps not in this life. There may be times when following Jesus will bring us great popularity. If we don’t live by Jesus’ words in this sermon, we will find ourselves using God’s message only to promote our personal interests. (NIV Life Application Study Bible, 1651)
- The principles here enunciated are applicable always and to all. The unconverted person should listen in order that he may recognize his total inability to keep these precepts and may flee to Christ for refuge (Mt 11:28-30; Jn 3:16). The believer should take to heart the lessons here taught, in order that in the strength of the Lord and by his grace he may begin to obey them “out of gratitude.” (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 262)
- The first and the eighth beatitudes (5:3, 10) form a sort of bookends, another example of the common Hebrew literary device called an inclusion, because the causal clause of the first beatitude is repeated in the last beatitude–“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (cf. 5:3, 10). The repetition of the present tense clause signals the main theme of the Beatitudes, that the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven is a present possession and operation among those who respond to Jesus’ ministry. However, the second through seventh beatitudes (5:4-9) have a future tense in the causal clause, indicating that the kingdom is also a future expectation and hope. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 205)
- The kind of life to which Jesus points in the SM will be the Spirit-empowered result of those who have already responded to the gospel of the kingdom, not the means by which one enters it. The sermon must be read within the context of Jesus’ overall earthly ministry, which includes the redemptive work of the cross. Jesus’ followers will actualize these ethical and moral ideals, not as a means of entering the kingdom but as an outgrowth of the kingdom life that will be theirs through the empowering of the Spirit. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 195)
- (v. 1) When a Jewish Rabbi was teaching officially he sat to teach. We still speak of a professor’s chair; the Pope still speaks ex cathedra, from his seat. Often a Rabbi gave instruction when he was standing or strolling about; but his really official teaching was done when he had taken his seat. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 86)
- (v. 1) Most scholars agree that Jesus gave these teachings primarily to the disciples, but that the crowds were present and listening (see 7:28). (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 75)
- (v. 2) It seems unnecessary to add that He opened His mouth to teach them, but in fact this was a way of signaling that a teacher, rabbi, or prophet was about to declare a word from God. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 76)
- (v. 3) Penēs describes the working man, the man who has nothing superfluous, the man who is not rich, but who is not destitute either. But, as we have seen, it is not penēs that is used in this beatitude, it is ptōchos, which describes absolute and abject poverty. It is connected with the root ptōssein, which means to crouch or to cower; and it describes the poverty which is beaten to its knees. As it has been said, penēs describes the man who has nothing superfluous; ptōchos describes the man who has nothing at all. So this beatitude becomes even more surprising. Blessed is the man who is abjectly and completely poverty-stricken. Blessed is the man who is absolutely destitute. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 90)
- (v. 3) “Theirs” is emphatic. It means theirs in the sense of theirs alone, barring all others who approach God with a different spirit than that of beggarliness. Again, none but those who are “poor in spirit” will enter the kingdom of heaven. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 22)
- Embodied in the Sermon on the Mount is a summation of Jesus’ basic ethical teaching of the life of a born-again person. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a way of salvation, neither is it only a message to those under the law, for it obviously goes beyond the law. It is a presentation of Christian discipleship that can be wrought in the soul of an individual only by the power of God. (Edward Hindson and James Borland, Matthew: The King is Coming, 49)
Interpreting the Sermon on the Mount:
- Martin Luther recognized that the SM cannot be an articulation of the means of entering the kingdom of God because it is impossible for humans apart from God’s grace to carry out its stringent demands. Therefore, he understood the SM to be similar to Paul’s statement of the role of the law (Rom 3-4; Gal 3). It gives God’s perfect expression of his moral will, which is impossible for humans to maintain, and therefore forces us to recognize our sinfulness and cry out for God’s grace in repentance. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 195)
- Some suggest that Jesus gave these instructions to his disciples as a rigorous emergency ethic to prepare them for the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God with Jesus’ return. But since Jesus didn’t return, the rigorous ethic of the SM is inappropriate for the present age (Albert Schweitzer). In a completely different direction, others suggest that since Jesus did not establish the literal kingdom of God to Israel at his first advent, the literal application of the SM awaits a future time when the kingdom of heaven will be established on the earth during the millennial reign of Christ (e.g., C. I. Scofield). Both of these views find principles within the SM that present-day believers must heed, but the primary application is for another age. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 196)
- Throughout his teaching, Jesus contrasts the way of the world (especially the religious world, but including the “worldly” world as well) with the way of God’s kingdom. We are often told not to be negative (notice the negative!). But that is bad counsel for those who would follow Christ. In his kingdom, being positive implies also being negative. Belonging to his kingdom means rejecting all the claims and the characteristics of this world’s kingdoms. It means having a feeling of not belonging because you are “strangers [aliens] in the world” (1 Pt 1:1). (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 9)
- A subtle shift occurs in the SM, so that the relatively positive note at its beginning gets increasingly harsher. In chapter 5 Jesus calls for a higher form of righteousness that exhibited by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (e.g., 5:20), in chapter 6 the hypocrites are “outside” (addressed as “them”), but in chapter 7 the hypocrites are addressed directly (addressed as “you”), taking on the adversaries directly who are leading the people astray. So at virtually every point in the SM we must determine how Jesus confronts an erroneous interpretation or a hypocritical application of the OT that is being advanced by the Jewish leaders. Jesus shows the intended meaning of God’s will by bringing the OT to its fulfillment, and he does so by addressing the religious life of the common people as they have seen it speciously interpreted and modeled by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees (5:17-20). (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 198)
- The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.
No one is actually being told that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, and so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top “after the revolution.” They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope. (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 106)
- The Beatitudes simply cannot be “good news” if they are understood as a set of “how-tos” for achieving blessedness. They would then only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom–anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door–as well as some very gratifying new possibilities for the human engineering of righteousness. (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 106)
- Jesus interprets the unchanging principles of God’s divine will already embodied in the Law and the Prophets for those who live in the already-not yet kingdom of God. The emphasis in the SM will be on inside-out transformation. Jesus will continually go to inner motivation, not external performance. The inner life will naturally transform the outer life. The heart that treasures the kingdom of heaven above all else will be the starting point for transformation of the entire life. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 199)
- The SM, or the Kingdom-Life Discourse, unpacks what it means for Jesus’ disciples to live out a radical kingdom life in their everyday world (Mt 5-7). (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 200)
- Other Israelites, however, took another approach to the law. Knowing they could not fulfill its demands, they simply brought the law down to a level that was more manageable and acceptable. They piled interpretation upon interpretation, creating man-made traditions that were possible to keep in the flesh. Those traditions came to be known as the Talmud, a commentary on the law that leading rabbis developed over many centuries and that eventually superseded the law in the minds of most Jews. They exchanged the Torah (God’s revealed law) for the Talmud (man’s modification of the law). In the name of interpreting and protecting the law they contradicted and weakened it. They brought God’s standards down to men’s standards–which they could keep without God’s help. They then taught as doctrine those precepts of men (Mt 15:9). They made the fatal error of thinking that God was less holy than He is and that they were more holy than they were. The result was the illusion that they were sufficiently righteous to please God. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 147)
- The first beatitude reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The last one says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). To begin and end with the same expression is a stylistic device called an “inclusio.” This means that everything bracketed between the two can really be included under the one theme, in this case, the kingdom of heaven. That is why I have called the beatitudes, collectively, “The Norms of the Kingdom.” (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 17)
- The antithesis of worldly behavior, and the cure for conformity to the world, is set forth particularly in the “upside-down kingdom” of the Sermon on the Mount. The lifestyle of the kingdom is not proud but poor in spirit, not self-confident but meek and sensitive to conviction of sin, not self-righteous but repentant, not praise-seeking but God-obeying even to the point of suffering persecution, not vengeful but forgiving, not ostentatious or laborious in piety but secretive and simple, not anxious or acquisitive but content in serving God, not judgmental but merciful. If these patterns can be nurtured in the church, they will affect the moral structure of the rest of humanity.” (Richard Lovelace; Renewal as a Way of Life, 97)
Makarios (blessed) Defined:
- The Greek word for blessed is makarios, and it is used to describe a person who is especially favored by God and who is therefore in some sense happy or fortunate because of it. Our use of the word happy has to do with how we feel about something, and that is not the idea here at all. Besides, happy is based on the old Anglo Saxon word hap, which means chance, as in “whatever happens” or “happenstance.” Happiness is circumstantial; therefore, it is uncertain, temporary, and insecure. The blessedness of the Christian is not temporary or uncertain. It is unshakable. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 74)
- The Greek word makarios, which is translated “blessed,” is difficult to translate into English. It incorporates the meaning of wholeness, of joy, of well-being, of a holistic peace expressed by the Hebrew word shalom. The word describes a condition of inner satisfaction expressed by Jesus in Jn 14:27: “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (KJV). (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 63)
- “Blessed” means more than happiness; it means singularly favored, graciously approved by God. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 75)
- If by happiness we mean serenity, confidence, contentment, peace, joy and soul-satisfaction, then Jesus was supremely “happy.” We never read of His laughing, though I am sure He did. He was not given to pleasure-seeking, hilariousness, jokes or poking fun at others…His happiness [was not] dependent on outward circumstances. He did not have to have an outward stimulus to make Him happy. He had learned a secret that allowed Him to live above the circumstances of life and fear of the future. He moved with calmness, certainty and serenity through the most trying circumstances–even death!…Certainly if anyone had genuine happiness and blessedness, it was Jesus. (Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness, 3)
- Both Homer and Hesiod spoke of the Greek gods as being happy (makarios) within themselves, because they were unaffected by the world of men–who were subject to poverty, disease, weakness, misfortune, and death. The fullest meaning of the term, therefore, had to do with an inward contentedness that is not affected by circumstances. That is the kind of happiness God desires for His children, a state of joy and well-being that does not depend on physical, temporary circumstances (cf. Phil 4:11-13). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 142)
- Blessedness is a characteristic of God, and it can be a characteristic of men only as they share in the nature of God. There is no blessedness, no perfect contentedness and joy of the sort of which Jesus speaks here, except that which comes from a personal relationship to Him, through whose “magnificent promises” we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 142)
- To be blessed is not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance, but a deep supernatural experience of contentedness based on the fact that one’s life is right with God. Blessedness is based on objective reality, realized in the miracle of transformation to a new and divine nature. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 142)
- Makarios is a state of existence in relationship to God in which a person is “blessed” from God’s perspective even when he or she doesn’t feel happy or isn’t presently experiencing good fortune. This does not mean a conferral of blessing or an exhortation to live a life worthy of blessing; rather, it is an acknowledgment that the ones indicated are blessed. Negative feelings, absence of feelings, or adverse conditions cannot take away the blessedness of those who exist in relationship with God. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 204)
The question to be answered is . . . Who are allowed to take possession of the Kingdom of Heaven?
Answer: Only those who know that they have nothing to offer. They look to Jesus plus nothing to merit for them the Kingdom of Heaven.
As one commentator has observed, it is much as if Jesus went into the great display window of life and changed all the price tags. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 142)
You read the old records of the activities of God’s greatest workers, the great evangelists and others, and you observe how self-effacing they were. But, today, we are experiencing something that is almost a complete reversal of this. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 37)
The Word for the Day is . . . Bankrupt
What is Jesus telling us from the Sermon on the Mount?:
I- God wants us to be blessed. (Mt 5:3a; see also: Gn chps 1-2; Dt 7:13-15; Ezra 8:22; Ps 1:1-2; ch 23; 103:2-5; Prv 10:22; Eccl 5:19; Mt 7:11; Lk 11:13; 12:32; Jn 1:16; 10:10; Rom 10:12; 11:33; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 9:8-10; Gal 6:7; Eph 3:20-21; Phil 4:19; Col 2:9-10; 1 Tm 1:14; Jas 1:17; 2 Pt 1:3-4; Rv chps 20-22)
Jesus would never have called blessed a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat, and where health rots because conditions are all against it. That kind of poverty it is the aim of the Christian gospel to remove. The poverty which is blessed is the poverty of spirit, when a man realizes his own utter lack of resources to meet life, and finds his help and strength in God. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 92)
The one who would have God’s power must lead a life of self-denial. There are many things which are not sinful in the ordinary understanding of the word sin, but which hinder spirituality and rob men of power. I do not believe that any man can lead a luxurious life, overindulge his natural appetites, indulge extensively in dainties, and enjoy the fullness of God’s power. The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal 5:17). Paul wrote: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor 9:27; see ASV, Greek; note also Eph 5:18). (R. A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, 75-6)
The individual characteristics of the Beatitudes are not self-produced, nor can we simply learn or emulate them in an attempt to bring them about in our lives. They are products of a life energized by the Spirit of God. They are, like the listing Paul gives in Gal 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit. They are a wholistic view of what the Spirit will produce in the life of a disciple of Jesus who is walking in his ways and is being transformed into his image. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 223)
What the Speaker is doing is nothing less than this: he is stating that though everybody may consider his followers to be most wretched and unfortunate and though they themselves are by no means always filled with optimism regarding their own condition, in the sight of heaven and by the standards of its kingdom they are happy indeed; yes, “happy” in the most exalted sense of the term; hence, superlatively blessed. Not only is this true because of the blessings in store for them in the future–that, too, is implied; see especially 5:12: “your reward in heaven is great”–but even because of their present state. Already heaven’s favor is resting upon them. Right at this moment the light of their future bliss is beginning to engulf them. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 265)
The Beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be; they are not glowing, but nebulous prophecies of some future bliss; they are congratulations on what is. The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter; it is something into which he has entered. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 88)
The beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing in life or death can take away. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 89)
The only life that God blesses is the one marked by his values. They are the hallmarks of those who belong to the kingdom of God. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 14)
The advantages of being God’s people can then be expected to accrue already in this life, even though the full consummation of their blessedness remains for the future. The tension between “now” and “not yet,” so familiar from much of the rest of the NT, may appropriately be seen as running also through the promises of Mt 5:3-10. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 164)
The consequence of blessedness is not something he merits or earns; it flows from his devotion to the Word of God. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 75)
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. They will never take the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Jonathan Edwards tied it to the Word of Christ: “Jesus knew that all mankind were in the pursuit of happiness. He has directed them in the true way to it, and He tells them what they must become in order to be blessed and happy.”
Edward Carnell generalizes the point: “The Christian ethic, let us remember, is premised on the self’s love for the self. Nothing motivates us unless it appeals to our interests.” (John Piper; Desiring God, 177)
Blessed is a positive judgment by God on the individual that means “to be approved” or “to find approval.” So when God blesses us, He approves us. (R. Kent Hughes; Are Evangelicals Born Again, 22)
If I cry out against God because of a great loss, I have just revealed my idol; that thing or person he blessed me with, rather than He who blesses me. — Buddy Briggs
The Bible says that the rich young ruler went away feeling sorrowful. But Jesus was even more sorrowful because he knew what divine joy and divine purpose the young man was forfeiting.
His ultimate problem was not that he had riches. His problem was that he trusted in his riches. That affected what he did with his money. Because he put his faith in money instead of in God to see him through, he was not able to use his gifts the way Jesus called him to use them. And he missed out on the security and satisfaction and freedom that come from putting his faith where it really belongs. (Pete Wilson, Empty Promises, 104-5)
II- To possess the Kingdom of God all you need is need. (Mt 5:3b; see also: Ps ch 23; 51:17; Prv 22:4; Isa 57:15; 66:2; Jer 30:15; Mt 6:33; 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 1:53; 6:20-24; 9:23; 14:27; 2 Cor 3:5; 8:9; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:2-11; Rv 2:9)
Blessed are those who feel poor in spiritual things, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them. (Charles B Williams, Williams New Testament)
How happy are those who know their need for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs! (J. B. Phillipsm The New Testament in Modern English)
Blessed–happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous [that is, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions]— are the poor in spirt (the humble, rating themselves as insignificant), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! (Amplified Bible)
The spiritually humble are God’s people, for they are citizens of his new order. (Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John)
Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule. (Eugene Peterson, The Message)
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. —Epictetus
The Lord Jesus calls “blessed” those who are poor in spirit (v. 3). He means the humble, and lowly-minded, and self-abased; he means those who are deeply convinced of their own sinfulness in God’s sight: these are people who are not “wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isa 5:21). They are not “rich” and have not “acquired wealth”; they do not fancy they “do not need a thing”; they regard themselves as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rv 3:17). Blessed are all such! Humility is the very first letter in the alphabet of Christianity. We must begin low, if we want to build high. (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 24-5)
Poverty of spirit is foundational because a continual sense of spiritual need is the basis for ongoing spiritual blessing. A perpetual awareness of our spiritual insufficiency opens us to continually receiving spiritual riches. Poverty of spirit is something we never outgrow. In fact, the more spiritually mature we become, the more profound will be our sense of poverty. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 22)
The kingdom of God belongs to those who know they have no resources, material or spiritual, to help themselves before God. These are the “poor” to whom Jesus has come to announce “good news” (11:5) and to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. This first beatitude undercuts the predominant worldview that assumes that material blessings are a sign of God’s approval in one’s life and that they automatically flow from one’s spiritual blessings. Instead, Jesus teaches that the norm of the kingdom of heaven is spiritual bankruptcy, unlike the spiritual self-sufficiency that was characteristic of the religious leaders. Jesus’ disciples will experience their most complete personal fulfillment as they draw on the resources of the kingdom of heaven to guide their lives. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 206)
In the first beatitude Jesus graciously pronounces that the kingdom belongs to those who see themselves as having no spiritual resources worthy of the kingdom. But at the same time he pronounces condemnation on the religious elite who are full of pride in their religious accomplishments. Indeed, the religiously wealthy must humble themselves before God to recognize that they have no spiritual resources that warrant entrance to the kingdom of God. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 218)
The changeless truth is, no one can come to Christ without poverty of spirit. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 21)
Poverty of spirit is evident in a person when he is brought into the dust before God to acknowledge his utter helplessness. It is the first experiential evidence of a Divine work of grace within the soul, and corresponds to the initial awakening of the prodigal in the far country when he “began to be in want” (Lk 15:14). (Arthur W. Pink, The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, 16)
The Lord affirms that the truly joyous person is one who is bankrupt in spirit and dependent on the grace and bounty of God. Conscious of his need and inadequacy, he looks for help outside himself. Jesus evinced this quality when He said, “I can of myself do nothing.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 26)
The “poor” are those who have encountered unfortunate circumstances from an economic point of view (19:21; 26:11), but also persons who are spiritually and emotionally oppressed, disillusioned, and in need of God’s help. Those who have experienced the harsh side of life in which deprivation and hunger are their regular lot have no resources of their own to make anything of their lives. This also includes those who recognize that they can produce no spiritual or religious self-help before God. They are spiritually bankrupt. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 205)
The kingdom of heaven is available to the oppressed in the land, to those who doubt themselves or are declared to be unworthy of the kingdom. The statement of blessing in the first half of each beatitude responds to the character qualities of those in the OT who have sought God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is Jesus’ eschatological reply to the cry of the psalmist, “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps 34:6). Not the rich, not the powerful, not the high and the mighty, but the poor in spirit are those who seek God. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 217)
Jesus consistently pictures the sinner as being at the outset dead by nature (Mt 8:33; Lk 9:60; 15:24, 32; Jn 6:53; 11:25, 26), utterly lost (Mt 10:6; 15:24; 18:11; Lk 15:4, 6, 9, 24, 32; 19:10), and in need not merely of reform but of rebirth (Jn 3:3, 5). He must repent (Mt 4:17; Lk 13:3, 5), in the sense already explained. Is it then strange that the first three beatitudes are those in which that man is pronounced blessed who recognizes his own poverty and lack; as did, for example, the prodigal in the parable popularly known as that of The Prodigal Son (see Lk 15, especially verse 17)? (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 267-8)
They have been made conscious of their misery and want. Their old pride has been broken. They have begun to cry out, “O God, be thou merciful to me, the sinner” (Lk 18:13). They are of a contrite spirit and tremble at God’s word (Isa 66:2; cf. 57:15). They realize their own utter helplessness (Rom 7:24), expect nothing from self, everything from God. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 269)
The bold NEB translation of this verse, “How blest are those who know their need of God,” while it may have been too specific (and was abandoned by REB), well reflects this background of thought. “Poverty in spirit” is not speaking of weakness of character (“mean-spiritedness”) but rather of a person’s relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant. To say that it is to such people that the kingdom of heaven belongs means (not, of course, that they themselves hold royal authority but) that they are the ones who gladly accept God’s rule and who therefore enjoy the benefits which come to his subjects. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 165)
They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward. Their pride is gone, their self-assurance is gone, and they stand empty-handed before God. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 146)
Some Christians have given away all their possessions on the basis of this beatitude, but a man can possess nothing and still lack this spirit. Neither is poverty of spirit a bad self-image, in which low self-esteem, introversion and morbidity predominate. Again, a man can be marked by all of these characteristics and yet know nothing of what Jesus meant. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 15)
We are urged today to develop almost every other kind of spirit except poverty of spirit. But the lack of this spirit can lead to spiritual ruin, as Jesus warned the Laodicean church: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rv 3:17). We are in danger of being spewed out of Christ’s mouth as if we were neither hot nor cold. There is much teaching on how to be filled with the Spirit, but where can we learn what it means to be spiritually emptied–emptied of self-confidence, self-importance, and self-righteousness? (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 17)
There is no sadder commentary on our lack of this spiritual poverty than the readiness so many of us have to let others know what we think. But the man who is poor in spirit is the man who has been silenced by God, and seeks only to speak what he has learned in humility from him. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 17)
The OT distinguishes among four different types of poor people. The first are those who are poor as a result of their sloth. They are poor because they are too lazy to sow their seed or to be engaged in meaningful and productive industry, and this group of the poor comes sharply under the judgment of God. This indicates that biblically there is no inherent virtue in poverty.
The second group includes those who are poor as a result of calamity through no fault of their own. They are not poor because they are lazy but because a farmer experienced a drought or a storm that destroyed his crops, or a person had a serious accident that left him in such a crippled fashion that he was unable to engage in productive labor. There is no judgment upon that group of the poor; rather, there is a mandate to make sure that this class of poor is helped by God’s people.
The third group is made up of those who are poor as a result of the exploitation of the rich and powerful, which, in biblical terms, was hardly ever the wealthy business people but the rulers who drained their people of all of their wealth. We see an example of this with Ahab, who confiscated unjustly Naboth’s vineyard.
The fourth category are those who are poor for righteousness’ sake, that is, those who willingly choose a vocation that leaves them destitute. Those in this category are concerned about things other than what the market produces. To them is promised the kindness of God, who notices their personal sacrifice. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 77)
To be poor in spirit in biblical terms means that someone has a poverty of arrogance. Such people are the polar opposite of the scribes and Pharisees, who boasted of their riches in virtue, their personal righteousness. Such people do not enter the kingdom of God. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 77-8)
The first step to joy is a plea for help, an acknowledgment of moral destitution, an admission of inward paucity. Those who taste God’s presence have declared spiritual bankruptcy and are aware of their spiritual crisis. Their cupboards are bare. Their pockets are empty. Their options are gone. They have long since stopped demanding justice; they are pleading for mercy.
They don’t brag; they beg. (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 29-30)
Bertrand Russell once said, “It is preoccupation with possession more than anything else that prevents man from living freely and nobly.” If the object of your life is a great getting–of prestige, wealth, power–you are the victim of an ever-increasing appetite which can never be satisfied. (Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Luke, 275)
. . . the center of Christianity is always migrating away from power and wealth. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 125)
If you are hoping and trusting in the Lord, and suddenly your health, wealth or future are taken from you and your hope is gone. Then, you need to confess that it was not the Lord you were hoping in. It was what you have just lost. Hope in the Lord NEVER disappoints. Romans 5:4-5?
You’ll never know if Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. When Jesus is all you have, then you will know that Jesus is all you need.” (Ray Pritchard, He’s God and We’re Not, 55)
Philip Yancy writes of a spiritual seeker who interrupted his busy, acquisitive life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed him to his simple cell. “If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it.” (John Ortberg, When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, 199)
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: Why do we resist becoming poor in spirit?: (Ez 28:1-5; Mt 13:1-23; 19:16-30; Mk 4:10-25; 10:17-31; Lk 8:9-10; 18:9-14; 1 Tm 6:6-10, 17-19)
A- Pride (Ps 10:4; Hosea 12:8; Ob 1:3; Mt 18:4; Jas 4:10)
Pride has no part in Christ’s kingdom, and until a person surrenders pride he cannot enter the kingdom. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 148)
The essence of the fleshly nature is pride, and to starve the flesh is to remove and avoid those things that promote pride. Rather than looking for praise, compliments, and popularity, we should be wary of them. Yet because our human sinfulness has a way of turning even the best intentions to its advantage, we need to be careful not to make an issue of avoiding praise and recognition. The evil is not in being given praise but in seeking it and glorying in it. When, without having sought it, we are praised or honored, to ungraciously reject the recognition may be an act of pride rather than of humility. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 149)
Humility rests on self-knowledge; pride reflects self-ignorance. Humility expresses itself in self-distrust and conscious dependence on God; pride is self-confident and, though it may go through the motions of humility with some skill (for pride is a great actor), it is self-important, opinionated, tyrannical, pushy, and self-willed. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prv 16:18). (J.I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 149-150)
B- Ego (Mt 23:12; Rom 2:8; 6:6; 12:10; 1 Cor 13:5; Gal 5:20; Eph 4:22; Phil 2:3)
Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be. Where self is king, Christ cannot be. Until the proud in spirit become poor in spirit, they cannot receive the King or inherit His kingdom. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 149)
Think how much our society is characterized by “machoism” or pushing oneself to be number one. The mark of intelligence in our society is expertise in putting others down and, consequently, in proving oneself to be the best of all. (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12, 173)
Two great enemies obtained dominion over man when Adam sinned–the world and self. Of the world Christ says, “The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (Jn 14:17). Worldliness is the great hindrance that keeps believers from living a spiritual life. Of self Christ said, “Let him deny himself” (Mk 8:34). Self, in all its forms–self-will, self-pleasing, self-confidence–renders life in the power of the Spirit impossible. (Andrew Murray, Receiving Power from God, 27)
C- Control (Prv 3:5-6; Isa 55:8-9)
Nobody has articulated the damage caused by that discontent better than Cynthia Heimel, who used to write for the Village Voice. She wrote an article that I’ve never forgotten. Over the years she had known a number of people who were struggling actors and actresses, working in restaurants and punching tickets at theaters to pay their bills, and then they became famous. When they were struggling like all of us, they said, “If only I could make it in the business, if only I had this or that, I’d be happy.” They were like so many other people: stressed, driven, easily upset. But when they actually got the fame they had been longing for, Heimel said, they became insufferable: unstable, angry, and manic. Not just arrogant, as you might expect–worse than that. They were now unhappier than they used to be. She said,
I pity [celebrities]. No, I do. [Celebrities] were once perfectly pleasant human beings…but now…their wrath is awful…More than any of us, they wanted fame. They worked, they pushed…The morning after…each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose…because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and…happiness, had happened. And nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.
She was sorry for them. They had the thing they had thought would make everything okay–and it didn’t. Then Hiemel added a statement that took my breath away: “I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants your deepest wish.” (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 28-9)
D- Money (Mt 6:24; 13:1-23; Mk 4:10-25; Lk 16:13; 1 Tm 6:6-10, 17-19)
You see, it wasn’t the money that hindered the rich man; it was the self-sufficiency. It wasn’t the possessions; it was the pomp. It wasn’t the big bucks; it was the big head. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” It’s not just the rich who have difficulty. So do the educated, the strong, the good-looking, the popular, the religious. So do you if you think your piety or power qualifies you as a kingdom candidate. (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 28)
“Only half of USA households earning $100,000.00 or more can say, “I can afford to buy everything I really need.” This is the confession of 50% of the people living in the richest nation f the world and the poll was taken among some of the richest people living in the richest nation the world has ever seen. (Juliet Schor, The Overspent American)
What can we do to move us to become poor in spirit?:
1- See God’s standards of righteousness, holiness and purity. Then look in the mirror. (Psa ch 15; 24:3-6; 119:1-2; Mt chps 5-7; Rev 3:15-22)
Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good–above all, that we are better than someone else–I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 96-7)
We are not looking at men confronting one another, but we are looking at men face-to-face with God. And if one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him. That is the meaning of this Beatitude. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 36)
How does one therefore become “poor in spirit”? The answer is that you do not look at yourself or begin by trying to do things to yourself. That was the whole error of monasticism. Those poor men in their desire to do this said, “I must go out of society, I must scarify my flesh and suffer hardship, I must mutilate my body.” No, no, the more you do that the more conscious will you be of yourself, and the less “poor in spirit.” The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Read this Book about Him, read His law, look at what He expects from us, contemplate standing before Him. It is also to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and to view Him as we see Him in the Gospels. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 41-2)
When God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses pleaded his unworthiness, and God was able to use him mightily. Peter was still aggressive, self-assertive, and proud, but when Jesus miraculously provided the great catch of fish, Peter was so overawed that he confessed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Lk 5:8). Even after he became an apostle, Paul recognized that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18), that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tm 1:15), and that the best things he could do in himself were rubbish (Phil 3:8). (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 147)
The first thing that we need to come to terms with, in order for us to be saved, in order to us to grow in Christ, in order for us to mature, in order for us to be effective in the Kingdom of God, is for us to understand that WE ARE THE PROBLEM! And if we are the problem, we are not going to be the solution. We must forget about “doing” or “being” something on our own to solve our own problems and to save us from our sins. It is our sinful nature, our deceitfully wicked hearts that trick us into believing we are OK and that everything will be OK if we simply do our best. That is where we go wrong. And it is only when we come to repent of our sinful self, that we will ever have a chance of becoming all that God desires for us to be. — Pastor Keith
2- Look at what Jesus had to do to merit the Kingdom of Heaven for us. (2 Cor 5:17-21; Eph 1:3-10; Col 1:15-23; Heb 12:1-2; Rv 5:12)
In him my bankruptcy has been the opening for his riches. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 24)
3- Realize how marvelous the Kingdom of Heaven is and the lunacy of your thinking you have anything to offer to merit your possession of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Psa 72:18; Isa 64:6; Zech 4:6; Rom 3:9-23; 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 8:9; 12:9-10; Eph 1:3-10; Phil 3:2-11)
All your life you’ve been rewarded according to your performance. You get grades according to your study. You get commendations according to your success. You get money in response to your work.
That’s why the rich young ruler thought heaven was just a payment away. It only made sense. You work hard, you pay your dues, and “zap”–your account is credited as paid in full. Jesus says, “No way.” What you want costs far more than what you can pay. You don’t need a system, you need a Savior. You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer. For “what is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 28) [bold, purple emphasis Pastor Keith]
Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate? (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 31)
Blessed are those, then, who hold their earthly possessions in open palms. Blessed are those who, if everything they own were taken from them, would be, at most, inconvenienced, because their true wealth is elsewhere. Blessed are those who are totally dependent upon Jesus for their joy. (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 94)
If a man has realized his own utter helplessness, and has put his whole trust in God, there will enter into his life two things which are opposite sides of the same thing. He will become completely detached from things, for he will know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or security; and he will become completely attached to God, for he will know that God alone can bring him help, and hope, and strength. The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 91-2)
The spiritually proud and self-sufficient, those who actually think there is something within them that will make God accept them–these people are lost. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 21)
God wants us to recognize our poverty so that He can make us rich. He wants us to recognize our lowliness so that He can raise us up. “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord,” James says, “and He will exalt you” (Jas 4:10).
In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit inherit God’s. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 151)
It is a popular conception that if only we had wealth, experienced no sorrow, had every appetite gratified and were kindly treated by everyone, this would be the height of bliss. But Jesus rudely shattered such a conception. Bliss travels an unexpected route, and the experiences we are usually the most anxious to avoid, are in fact those most conducive to our joy. So the qualities of character indicated by the King in today’s study are not those most coveted in our generation. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 25)
We can understand the Beatitudes by looking at them from their opposites. Some, Jesus implied, will not be blessed. Their condition could be described in this way:
Wretched are the spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of hell.
Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of their sinfulness, for they will be troubled.
Wretched are the self-centered, for they will be empty.
Wretched are those who ceaselessly justify themselves, for their efforts will be in vain.
Wretched are the merciless, for no mercy will be shown to them.
Wretched are those with impure hearts, for they will not see God.
Wretched are those who reject peace, for they will earn the title “sons of Satan.”
Wretched are the uncommitted for convenience’s sake, for their destination is hell. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 76)
A peasant shut up in his village only partially knows his wretchedness, but let him see rich palaces, a superb court, and he will realize all the poverty of his village. He cannot endure its hovels after a sight of so much magnificence. It is thus that we see our ugliness and worthlessness in the beauty and infinite grandeur of God. (Fenelon, Christian Perfection, 145-6)
Worship Point: Begin to realize what God has called you to possess in the Kingdom of Heaven. God has paid for all of it.
Christianity today is man-cenetered, not God-centered. God is made to wait patiently, even respectfully, on the whims of men. The image of God currently popular is that of a distracted Father, struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Savior of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest. To persuade these self-sufficient souls to respond to His generous offers God will do almost anything, even using salesmanship methods and talking down to them in the chummiest way imaginable. This view of things is, of course, a kind of religious romanticism which, while it often uses flattering and sometimes embarrassing terms in praise of God, manages nevertheless to make man the star of the show. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 27)
The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and in our worship of Him we should find unspeakable pleasure. (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 28)
Gospel Application: The Kingdom of Heaven is possessed by all of those who recognize they have nothing on their own by which to possess the Kingdom of Heaven.
The man who is seriously convinced that he deserves to go to hell is not likely to go there, while the man who believes that he is worthy of heaven will certainly never enter that blessed place. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 15)
Christian living, therefore, must be founded upon self-abhorrence and self-distrust because of indwelling sin’s presence and power. Self-confidence and self-satisfaction argue self-ignorance. The only healthy Christian is the humble, broken-hearted Christian. (J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 196)
Faith is transferring your trust from your own efforts to the efforts of Christ.
You were relying on other things to make you acceptable, but now you consciously begin relying on what Jesus did for your acceptance with God. All you need is nothing. If you think, “God owes me something for all my efforts,” you are still on the outside. — Tim Keller (green, bold, italic Pastor Keith)
Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people—for beggars. We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there. (R.C. Sproul; “Suffering and Merit” Tabletalk magazine Vol. 13, No. 1; February 1989, 5)
“In sports you have to be good enough in your athletic skill to make the team. In business you have to perform according to agreed-upon standards in order to keep your job. In society you have to be a winner in order to merit recognition. In Jesus Christ, you do not have to be good enough, you do not have to perform, you do not have to be a winner. Ironically, to be in Christ means exactly the opposite—it is to admit that you are not good enough, that you cannot perform, that because of sin’s grip on your life you are a loser—and to admit, for that very reason, that you need a Savior, a Savior whose unconditional love transforms you life.” (Patrick Morley; Ten Secrets for the Man in the Mirror, 176)
How can the kingdom be here, and yet lie in the future? That may seem to be an abstruse, scholastic question, fit for discussion in the theologian’s ivory tower, but irrelevant to life in the everyday world. Actually, it is one of the most practical questions any Christian could ask. It points us to the heart of the Christian life. It gives us a perspective that brings us to the secret of life in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God has come, in Jesus. Through faith in him we enter the kingdom. It belongs to us. But we live in “the kingdom of the world” (Rv 11:15), although we do not belong to it. We belong to a new order of things, a new age altogether, a new humanity in Christ. But that new life has to be lived out within the context of the old. The new lifestyle of the kingdom (the life described in the sermon) is to be expressed in a context in which it is opposed by the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 Jn 2:15-17). This is why the battle in which the Christian finds himself is far fiercer than anything he knew before he became a Christian. (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 7-8)
Study after study shows the shockingly low correlation between wealth and happiness. One of the most fascinating in this regard is a study of lottery winners done by Dr. Ronnie Janoff Bulman and her colleagues. They compared 22 winners of major lotteries to 22 average people and also to 29 victims of sudden paralysis. Over time the lottery winners reverted to their pre-lottery levels of happiness (or depression) and, in fact, wound up no happier than 22 control subjects. They even lost much of their ability to extract joy from small pleasures.
The paralysis victims, on the other hand, were not nearly as unhappy as might be expected. Once they got over the shock of their misfortune, they were actually more capable of experiencing joy from small pleasures than the lottery winners. And although it’s hard to believe, they were actually more optimistic about their prospects for future happiness than the lottery winners. (John Ortberg, When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box, 195)
What is the difference between a person who relies only on himself and a person who has learned to turn to God for help? It’s not that one will do bad things while the other will do good things. The self-reliant atheist may be a fine, upstanding person. The difference is the atheist is like a bush growing in the desert. If he has only himself to rely on, when he exhausts his internal resources he runs the risk of running dry and withering.
But the man or woman who turns to God is like a tree planted by a stream. What they share with the world is replenished from a source beyond themselves, so they never run dry. (Reader’s Digest, 11/96, 90)
Some years ago I met a woman who began coming to Redeemer, the church where I am a minister. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, “That is a scary idea! Oh, it’s good scary, but still scary.”
I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace at God’s infinite cost then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 120-1)
Self-reliance is not the way to holiness, but the negation of it. Self-confidence in the face of temptation and conflicting pressures is a sure guarantee that some sort of moral failure will follow. (J.I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 92)
Yes. True strength does not come out of bravado. Until we are broken, our life will be self-centered; our strength will be our own. So long as you think you are really something in and of yourself, what will you need God for? I don’t trust a man who hasn’t faced his wound. Think of the posers you know – are they the kind of man you would call at 2:00 A.M., when life is collapsing around you? Not me. I don’t want cliches; I want deep soulful truth, and that only comes when a man has walked the road I’ve been talking about. (John Eldredge; Wild at Heart, 137)
Spiritual Challenge: Look to Jesus to possess the Kingdom of Heaven. It is Jesus + nothing. Jesus is all you need. All you need is need.
Faith is not about everything turning out ok–Faith is about being ok no matter how things turn out. — Carole Jacobus
We’re too blessed to be depressed.
Too Blessed to Complain — Bumper sticker in Chicago
“My prayer for you who do not know what it means to be poor in spirit is that you might come to the end of your rope before you come to the end of your life. —Steve Brown
Quotes to Note:
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, “Come and assert yourself for Christ.” To the egoist it says, “Come and do your boasting in the Lord.” To the thrill seeker it says, “Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.” The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.
The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.
The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-bye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more. (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 43-4)
The opposite view, that we can prosper spiritually on our own–apart from the public ordinances of the church and the public gatherings of the saints–is foolhardy. No, it is worse than that. It is worldliness–worldly individualism, worldly pride, worldly self-sufficiency. (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 330)
We are not rich by what we possess
but by what we can do without.
— Immanuel Kant
Poor in Spirit