Sermon — Matthew 5:1-3

17 Nov

We begin today to take a look at some of the most profound words ever spoken: the Sermon on the Mount. The next three chapters of Matthew which we are planning to study give us the core teaching of the kingdom, what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is at the height of His popularity as He begins the Sermon on the Mount and He takes this opportunity, when people are interested in Him, to teach about His kingdom. Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day. This is a fact, revealed in Scripture, happening in history and planned by God before the foundation of the world. It is the most important event that has ever taken place. But the death and resurrection of Jesus will not be real to you, it will not be precious to you, it will not make one bit of difference in your life unless the first verse in the Sermon on the Mount is true in your life. So let’s look at the beginning of Jesus’ great Sermon together.

We see in verse 1 that crowds are gathering and Jesus goes up on a mountain and His disciples gather to Him and He begins to teach them. And Jesus utters these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Here’s the key. Here’s the key to the whole thing. If you don’t have this, you have nothing, if you have this, you have everything. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why talk about this on Easter? Shouldn’t we be celebrating our risen Savior? Shouting for joy at His triumph over death? Yes. But what I want to say to you today is that many, many people, even some here today, have no excitement about Jesus’ empty tomb. Their lack of excitement is not because their life is hard. It is not because they doubt the truth of the Easter story. It is not even because they have just heard the story so many times before. Many, many people are not excited at all by Easter for one simple reason: they are not poor in spirit. That’s the connection. That’s why I talk about this today, because unless your life aligns with Matthew 5:3 you can’t really appreciate or even hope in the risen Christ. Matthew 5:3 is not only the key to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it is the key to our very life with God. That’s why it is worth talking about on this Easter Sunday. So let’s look at it for a few minutes together.

Blessed. The state of being happily favored by God. The state of joy and contentment that flows from living in the presence of God. This is not a shallow happiness nor is it the result of something good in us. It is a gift of grace, this blessedness. Many professing Christians are without this blessedness because they have ignored Matthew 5:3. There is a condition to this blessedness. Blessedness flows to the “poor in spirit.” If we are going to be blessed, we must be poor in spirit.

Jesus wasn’t the first to say this. We read in Isaiah 66; But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. When God says He will look to this one, He means that He will regard them with favor and blessedness. And who is that one? The one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at the Word of God. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

So Isaiah lets us in on what it means to be poor in spirit. It is not a lack of courage, it is a sense of our utter spiritual bankruptcy and our unending need of God’s grace if we are to know Him and grow in Him. It is the opposite of the proud Pharisee in Jesus’ story in Luke 18 who goes to the Temple to pray to himself, “God I thank you that I am not a sinner.” It is not self-confidence, nor is it a lack of self-confidence. To be poor in spirit means to be confident in God.

The world we live in worships at the altar of self-esteem and self-expression. Anything goes if it’s what I feel. The most important value is sincerity. But the Christian says with Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Now everything around you and in you will fight this. The advertising world and the world of entertainment will hold up beauty and wealth and intelligence as the marks of honor and worth in our world. The pressure to achieve will outstrip all other values in the minds of many, so that if my grades are good enough or my job pays well enough or my volunteerism is noble enough or my children are sweet enough then I will be worthy, a cut above all the losers out there who just can’t quite get it together as well as I can. Or if I don’t think they’re losers, maybe I just pity their lack of enlightenment or ability. And when I fall into that way of thinking, I am walking right beside the Pharisee on the road to destruction, whether I am as religious as the Pharisee or not religious at all. You see, the people in our culture who yell the loudest about how mean all the Christians are so often act more like Pharisees than any Christian I know, because their focus is all on self, filled with pride and self-assurance. We love to boast in our accomplishments, which is why the linebacker does a happy dance when he sacks the quarterback even if his team is down 35-0. Blessed are the poor in spirit. If you get that, you’ve got it all, if you don’t, you’ve got nothing. As soon as you get away from your spiritual bankruptcy, you lose sight of your need of Christ. As soon as you lose sight of Christ, He ceases to be precious to you and you begin to lose the experience His power in your life. This can happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. Sometimes the more you come to know as a Christian, the more you come to rely on what you know rather than relying on Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Now let me be clear. To be poor in spirit does not mean that Christians are a bunch of underachievers who aim for mediocrity. Some of the greatest thinkers and greatest achievers in the world have been and are today strong Christians. Human achievement works on a different level, so that a God-hater may have a great voice or athletic ability, or a sharp mind, just as a God-lover may have these things. So I’m not saying Christians should aim low. We should strive for excellence to the glory of God. But here’s the thing — your excellence or lack of excellence does not define your worth in the sight of God and to hope in excellence or beauty or success or money is a surefire way to spiritual ruin. So do your best, the Bible urges us toward excellent effort in all things. But don’t lean on what you have or how you look or what you can do. Lean on Jesus. The person who is poor in spirit does not think too highly of herself and she does not think too lowly of herself. She really has just stopped thinking of herself much at all. Instead she is looking away from herself and to Jesus. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.” This is the freedom God intends us to have, a place where we can strive for holiness and for excellence without ever thinking of these things as a way to earn favor with God. We are already blessed because we look to God alone for our life and salvation. He is our God, so our track record of good works or our money or our work ethic never becomes our God, because He is our God. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Oh, I want you to get this, because if you get it, you’ll understand the gospel and if you don’t, you’ll miss the gospel. The good news of the gospel is seen in the message of Easter: God brings life from death. As God raised Jesus from the dead so through the death of Jesus God makes us who were dead in our sins alive in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith, it is the gift of God, not what we do but what He has done, not our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit. There is no way into the kingdom of heaven but this. There is no one in the kingdom of heaven who is not poor in spirit. Why? Because you can’t truly encounter God through Jesus Christ and not come away humbled. We see this when the prophet Isaiah saw the glorious vision of God in Isaiah 6 and his response was, “Woe is me! I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king!” What happened to Isaiah when He saw the glory of God? Blessed are the poor in spirit. The same happens to us when we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world dying and rising for sinner’s gain.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way. “The Christian and non-Christian belong to two entirely different realms. My immediate reaction to these Beatitudes proclaims exactly what I am. If I feel they are harsh and hard, if I feel that they are against the grain and depict a character and type of life which I dislike, I am afraid it just means I am not a Christian. If I do not want to be like this, I must be “dead in trespasses and sins”; I can never have received new life. But if I feel that I am unworthy and yet I want to be like that, well, however unworthy I may be, if this is my desire and my ambition, there must be new life in me, I must be a child of God, I must be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and God’s dear Son. Let every man examine himself.”

My question for you this morning is which song are you listening to? Are you listening to the late John Lennon’s song called God, which ends with a long list of things he doesn’t believe in . . .

I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that’s reality

That is one choice. Many people take that road. Jesus calls it a broad road that leads to destruction.

But there is another song out there . . . “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God I come. Yea, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come.” Blessed are the poor in spirit.

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