I’ve been writing about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. It’s in a section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s important to remember that when we read this, or any other New Testament scripture, we have the luxury of being able to read it with a broad understanding of what was happening, and what would be happening later. For instance, we know about the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection, so our perspective is vastly different from how the people would have heard Jesus speak that day on the mountainside, who were hearing Him for the very first time.
Let’s keep this in mind when we read the words of Jesus. I’m so used to reading the Beatitudes that the shock and impact of His words don’t affect me like they did for an Israelite of that day. As we look at each Beatitude over the next few weeks, let’s try to think about the way the crowd would have received Jesus’ words.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3 ESV
The word for poor reveals a significant, severe condition. It’s not describing someone who is temporarily down on their luck or going through some sort of short-term challenge. The word is describing beggars, the poorest of the poor, those so poor that they could only survive through the kindness of other people. This group of poor would have been considered despised and miserable, and the very last who anyone would say is part of “the kingdom of heaven”.
In spirit points to where their poverty exists. These people would have had no resources of their own, specifically spiritual resources. In other words, their only hope would be to rely on the kindness of God to provide them with any spiritual blessings.
Contrast these desperately poor people with those who were “spiritually rich”. The Pharisees, scribes, and other religious leaders would have been considered spiritually rich because of their strict following of the law of Moses.
Jesus’ words would have been a punch in the gut to all those whose goodness was related to their own ability to follow the law. In essence, Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are spiritual beggars, not the spiritually wealthy and admired. According to Jesus, relying on your own righteousness and good deeds would no longer cut it… Only relying on God would...
Throughout the Beatitudes, Jesus laid out a continual contrast of the standards of His new Kingdom against the accepted standards of His day (and those of the world today). Are we listening to His message? Or are we self-centered and self-sufficient, like the religious elites? Let’s let this Beatitude speak to us and challenge us to be authentically “poor in spirit”. Our dependence must not be on ourselves, our own righteousness, or our own strength, but on our ever-reliable God in heaven.
Grace & Peace