After Jesus had been baptized and blessed by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:13-17), he endured the fierce temptations of the devil (4:1-11), began his ministry (4:12-17) and called his first disciples (4:18-22). Sometime after this, he went throughout the region of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the kingdom of God in cities and towns, and healing every disease and affliction among the people (4:23). Because of this, his fame spread and many more who were sick and afflicted sought him out and experienced his mercy (4:24-25). They were poor in body, but they found Jesus to be rich in power.
When Jesus saw that even greater crowds began to follow him, he went up on a foothill in Galilee and sat down to teach as Rabbis of that day would often do. When his disciples had gathered around him, he opened his mouth and taught them a host of things (5:1-2). Like Moses before him, Jesus taught them about the will and ways of God, and what it means to walk with God. Unlike Moses, Jesus revealed his own glory along the way, for he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Indeed, with his power, Jesus captured the people’s attention, but with his words he captured their hearts, for when he had finished, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). They were poor in understanding, but they found Jesus to be rich in wisdom.
Eager to reveal his glory, Jesus began. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). You may have heard that the word “blessed” means “happy,” and this is true if we understand it in the right way. The idea here is that as God lavishes his favor upon his people, his joy rises up within his people. So, to be blessed of God is to be well-cared for by God and to rejoice in God—in that order.
Therefore, Jesus had to begin his great Sermon on the Mount with these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). Indeed, the only way to enter into the rich blessings of God and experience the ever-increasing joy of God is to realize and acknowledge that we are profoundly poor in ourselves and that we have no hope outside of God. As King David wrote several centuries earlier, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” (Psalm 40:17) Without this disposition toward God, there in no hope in life.
But here’s the thing: it takes a miracle of grace for a person to realize and acknowledge his spiritual poverty. To realize and acknowledge one’s physical poverty is relatively easy because it’s impossible to deny, and to realize and acknowledge one’s lack of understanding is not that hard because it’s usually good to be seen as an eager learner. But again, to see and admit that one is dead in her sins, trapped by the ways of the world, under the control of the devil, and destined for the wrath of God (Ephesians 2:1-3) takes a miracle of grace.
This is why Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit. It’s not that realizing and acknowledging one’s state of soul earns her favor with God, rather, it’s that doing so is evidence that she’s been awakened by and belongs to God. And since she belongs to God, the fullness of his favor and joy belong to her, and she is blessed indeed!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). Let us pray for the grace to understand the words of Jesus, to see the true state of our souls, to confess our spiritual poverty before him, and to receive eternal blessing and joy from him.
Charles Handren is pastor for Adult Ministries at Cross of Glory Baptist Church and an author residing with his wife Kimberly in Wayzata MN. His wife Kimberly (1991) is a Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher, and his daughter, Rachel (1994), owns and operates a dance studio in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Charles enjoys reading, cycling, hiking, and traveling. He holds degrees from California Baptist University (Riverside, California) and the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Berkeley, California), and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.