Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Please find below my teaching notes for Pt 2 of the series “BE: the Kingdom Here and Now, Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.”  

We began our new series last week, “BE- the Kingdom Here and Now” and talked about what it means to be “blessed and to be a blessing!”  Did you check out the Blessing Initiative website this week?  Click here.  Real and practical ways to both be blessed and to be a blessing- we’ll keep it updated so check it out regularly.

Today, we’re going to look at the first “Beatitude” that Jesus shares in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matt. 5:3 (NIV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Sermon on the Mount is the first opportunity to understand who Jesus was and the kind of life that he imagined for people; the kind of life they would live if they entrusted their lives to him; and how people could experience the Kingdom of God right here and right now!

And everything that Jesus is saying in his teaching goes counterintuitive to what they had thought Jesus or the Kingdom of God, would be, etc.  Consider that his audience that day on that hillside didn’t now yet about the cross or the resurrection.    So they’re trying to understand what Jesus is going to do in the present moment, in their lives, their culture, reshaping this human moment they’re experiencing right there and then.

In one big swoop Jesus eliminates the notion that those who would be privileged or assume they had access to God because they were religious or could keep the rules better than others, or were more talented or gifted, etc. automatically get in!  He basically says that’s not the way it works!

Instead, Jesus elaborates in his teaching on what is the true dimension of a BEING in the Kingdom of God and living the best life possible.  So he starts out talking about being “blessed” and I’m sure that got their attention until he introduces this idea of being “poor”- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“POOR” SEEMS CONTRADICTIVE TO THE KINGDOM!

Illustration: Uganda trip couple of years ago- these rich kids want to go and live among the poor, etc.  Young, white college-age kids in a sea of black…

People who are actually poor don’t understand why you are actually there.  Give them Option A– do you want me to give up my life and become poor and live among you?  Or Option B– do you want me to use my wealth to help you not to be poor?  They’ll choose option B every time!

We tend to romanticize the “poor”- go on a mission trip, spend some time with the poor, minister to them, etc. then come back home!  Most of us really don’t appreciate or understand what it is to be really “poor”, even in this current economy.

Illustration: I really don’t know what it is to be poor so to speak… I have traveled a lot and in hotels you get new shampoo and soap, etc. every day!  If you don’t use it all, they just throw it away!  I used to bring this stuff home- Jo Ann will do it too, and we kind of horde it!

Poverty entrenches a framework in your mind that moves you towards hoarding and holding onto things, controlling, and you end up with these boundaries that push against your life!  You don’t even realize it and that you are no longer free.  Poverty takes over your life and poor just isn’t good!

So, when Jesus begins his discussion on what life can BE here and now by accessing the Kingdom of God that is present and available wherever Jesus is; and when he begins to describe who he is looking for among the masses of humanity to follow him, enter into this Kingdom life, he begins with this idea of being “poor!”

If I would have been Jesus’ marketing director I would have said, “Jesus, you can’t say blessed are the poor!  No one is going to buy into that!  You’re going to lose them in the first 30 seconds before you ever say anything else!”  Ever start to listen to someone and in the first 30 seconds they’ve said or done something that causes you to just tune it out?  Like now, right!  Anyway, that’s the risk Jesus seems to be taking because of what we think of when we hear the terminology “poor!”

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor…” everyone was probably on the verge of tuning him out, because there’s nothing good about being poor; poverty of any kind just isn’t attractive- we run away from any kind of poverty, not to it!

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BELONGS TO THE “POOR IN SPIRIT!”

Let’s put this into perspective!  Jesus has been baptized by John, the Father has pronounced Him favored, He is initiating the Kingdom of God, he is the Word made flesh, he is the proclaimed Messiah, and he has been calling people, especially the 12 disciples, to follow him and they are!

Jesus obviously has this magnetism about him, this essence of hope and life, and people are so attracted to him…  Jesus has taken them from gutting fish to experiencing the blind receiving sight, etc.  Miracle after miracle!  And you can imagine what these guys were going through.  Their lives had been turned upside down- they were on this amazing journey- they are literally walking and talking with the very presence of God!

And now, after traveling throughout Galilee, he is gaining incredible popularity and the crowds are becoming overwhelming (note Mt. 4:23-25)- this thing is getting huge…  and he stops on the side of a mountain and he begins to lay out for them the principles of his kingdom…

In this “narrative” we call the “Beatitudes” Jesus describes for them a life they have never known, a life of BEING BLESSED AND BEING A BLESSING!  Note again Mt. 5:2-12

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus begins to talk about a “kingdom” and the language he uses is strange to them and to us…  Jesus wasn’t describing what they were expecting.  He wasn’t using the terms of all the other kings they had seen… they are expecting him to set up a kingdom like the kingdoms they had seen and experienced…

INSTEAD, Jesus begins by saying, “Let me tell you WHO the kingdom of heaven belongs to…  Blessed are the poor in spirit for THEIRS IS the kingdom of heaven!”  He doesn’t say, “Blessed are the poor for they will be citizens of my kingdom” or “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they will have a place in my kingdom… or they will have some great place or position of responsibility in my kingdom…”

NO- he is saying that the kingdom of heaven BELONGS to the poor in spirit– it is their prize possession! 

AND when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he is NOT talking about a place where we go when we die!  Instead he is very literally talking about a kingdom that is accessible to us NOW!  If he was just describing a place where we go when we die it would so diminish everything he’s saying!

He emphatically, in his teaching, is speaking about “The Kingdom of Heaven” that is accessible HERE and NOW!  He is very much so saying that we can literally access this kingdom in THIS time, in THIS space in history!  We can live and thrive in this kingdom…  we can actually access this kingdom and everything that it is about- all of its power, provision, protection, the life, the blessings it assures us, by understanding how to enter into it…

Remember the prayer he taught?  “Your kingdom come, your will be done (where) on earth, as it is (where) in heaven!”  See, he wants us to very much so see the principles, the pattern and power of God’s kingdom to be experienced in the here and now!  That God’s will be done on the earth!  Remember, this is what we are supposed to pray and more importantly, live in and live out!

The kingdom of heaven on earth is when the very heart, love, expression of God is lived out through us…  the kingdom of heaven is where faith overcomes doubt, compassion overcomes indifference, when love overcomes hate… everywhere where the heart and character of God prevails there is the kingdom of heaven!

And he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for THEIRS IS the kingdom of heaven…”  They are translated out of a very mundane existence and into this extravagant, extraordinary existence and presence of God!

So, if all that is available to those only, WHO ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, then we need to figure out what it means to be “POOR IN SPIRIT.”

We know what it means to be “poor” poor, in all the tangible ways- can’t pay the bills, no food to eat, but what is it to be “poor in spirit?”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “POOR IN SPIRIT?”

We need to work through this somewhat backwards- feel our way through it… because if we don’t know what it means to be poor in spirit, we may know what it means to NOT be poor in spirit!

Illustration: Flight from Atlanta… You get this boarding pass with a boarding zone number on it, and I made sure we got ZONE 1, you know, get on FIRST, and there are all these people that apparently can’t read, because they try to board, cut people off, etc. to get on the plane, or take you seat (Joel??)!!  It occurs to me that there are a lot of people who are like that… it occurs to me that I can be that way…  it’s one thing to ask someone to let you pass, etc., but to just cut you off…  These people who want to know “what zone are you?  What zone are they on?”  I had a guy ask me that!  And you try to hide your boarding pass from them, etc.  What’s with that?  Where does that come from?  I catch myself doing it!  And I DID do it!!  And I often think how silly all this is!  Rushing to get on a plane AND fight over 300 seats and then sit and wait, impatiently while everyone else gets on…  Then they stand in the aisle to put their luggage in the overhead compartment and everyone else has to wait on them…

How many of you know what I mean?  How many of you can be like that?  And I get so upset, and I want to PUNCH them, and I don’t want to be second to that person who is demanding to be first…. And often it’s me! I start to rise up in my own self-importance, my own selfishness to put myself first, before everyone else, that my agenda is all that matters and everyone else’s is secondary to mine…

***And that’s what NOT being poor in spirit looks like!  A sense of entitlement, my rights and privileges, my self-importance…***

We live in a world that tells us we’ll never achieve our greatness, never be successful, never accomplish all that we should until we fight, steal, claw, take all that we can for ourselves… unless we don’t see ourselves as number one no one else will see us that way!

And Jesus comes along and says, “Blessed are the POOR IN SPIRIT for THEIRS is the kingdom of heaven…” and it goes against everything we experience in everyday life!  Because we all know YOU have power when you have more, NOT less!

I think what’s really going on here with this the “poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” idea, to have the kingdom to belong to you, means you are going to have to change your mind, your ATTITUDE about how you connect to God.

Illustration: “Negotiations”- we’ve seen it a lot in the sports world lately- All negotiations are about inflating our importance- you have to convince the other person that you are bringing more to the table than them.  And when you come to God you think you have to somehow convince God that you are bringing more to the table than God!  Do you know how difficult that is?

If it’s just about you and me then many of you may have the advantage over me.  More gifted or talented or… And maybe that’s very true in your realm of life; you are just at a greater advantage than so many people that you encounter; in a sense, you’re “richer”…

Well, you just don’t come to God, thinking you are bringing anything to the table to negotiate with!  If you try to come to God thinking you’re bringing everything to the table, all your talent and smarts and giftedness and whatever, and that God should be really glad just to have you, then its really not going to be your best moment!

What Jesus is letting us know, and he is saying it in the context of this religious environment where they have been taught that the outcast, the poor, the down and out, the hurting, the sinful, have no place in God’s kingdom and Jesus is letting them know that they have this all wrong!

There were all these Pharisees and Sadducees and these pompous religious types, with their “holier than thou” attitudes and all their religious pretenses and rings and robes (regrettably there still are!); who were so convinced that they had the keys to the kingdom of heaven… and Jesus is letting us know that the kingdom is not yours because you think you are so smart or so righteous or better than anyone else…. No, the kingdom does not belong to these… who think they have it all already!

*** INSTEAD HE IS saying that no one is going to be left out of the kingdom if they are too broken or too contrite or too humble, because what is required is a “poverty of spirit” attitude- that “God I’m just coming to this table not to demand anything from you or deserve anything or bring anything to impress you, I’m just coming in my need, my poverty of your Spirit.” ***

Paul in Gal. 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”  Paul is saying “I’ve come to the end of me in the place of Jesus’ presence!  I’ve died, but nevertheless I live!  I’ve come in my poverty of spirit and yet God has seen it fit to give to me all that he is when I bring to him all of my nothingness; he gives me everything that he is!”

Here’s the great exchange!  “I AM NOTHING AND HE IS EVERYTHING!”  You can’t come into the kingdom with this idea that you have so much God should be impressed by!  Instead you come with this incredible brokenness and emptiness and spiritual poverty and you say, it’s just me God… and he gives you all that HE IS!

*** That’s the Cross- Jesus emptying himself to be “blessed of the Father!”  That’s the way it works!  “Poor in spirit” is the reality of being transparent and honest and completely surrendered to God; nothing that I am or possess can make his kingdom greater!  But He GIVES ME HIS KINGDOM! ***

When we finally have to find our way through some need or crisis, we often can then SEE just how greatly we need God!  When we think that it is human resources that is so valuable to God and that God will take all this human resource and…

No it’s realizing that God is ALL-SUFFICIENT and ALL-RESOUCEFUL!  Because when you are a part of the kingdom where you have unlimited access to unlimited grace and love and peace and forgiveness and joy then you can live your life richly, blessed, and free!

Jesus is looking to create the best and most blessed life possible for us by giving us his kingdom- “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” It’s acknowledging our need of God!  Becoming poor in spirit! 

When is the last time you acknowledged your need of God?  When was the last time that you recognized you have nothing that really impresses God except your brokenness?

The beginning of a “Blessed and Be a Blessing Life” is when you lay down your life for his life!  You just need to come to him “poor in spirit” and he says, “The kingdom belongs to you!”

 

 

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