Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 1: Poor in Spirit

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:1-3 NIV).
These words open the message that has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, which spans three entire chapters of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus spells out what it means to live as his disciple.

Jesus made a point throughout his earthly ministry of meeting people where they were...he traveled to Samaria to speak to a social outcast, he dined with tax collectors, he taught while sitting in a fishing boat. Yet in this episode of his life
, he did something different.  When he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  Matthew goes on to say that his disciples came to him.  This, then, is not a message for unbelievers; this is not an appeal to come to Jesus for healing, comfort, and forgiveness; this is what Jesus had to say to those who showed that they were committed to following being his disciples.  (See "Church Talk 101: What Is a Disciple?")

The first part of this sermon is called the Beatitudes because it lists a series of eight blessings (sometimes translated "happy are..." rather than "blessed are...") that result from living as a disciple.  Note that the blessings are conditional.  The word "for" shows a cause-and-effect relationship.  God gives us salvation as a free gift, but blessings come as the result of a certain amount of effort on our part.

Although some may see these eight blessings as separate and individual, closer study shows that they actually build from one to the other words, it matters what order you take them in.  The Beatitudes are not so much a list of blessings as they are a process for becoming blessed.  The first step in the process is to become poor in spirit.

While this phrase means different things to different people, it's important to reflect on the meaning of the word "poor" in our society.  Ultimately, "poor" is a matter of opinion.  "I make ten dollars a week" is a fact, but "I am poor" is an opinion.  (According to TIME magazine, 40% of American millionaires do not consider themselves to be wealthy.)  So to decide whether we are "poor in spirit," we have to agree on a standard of comparison.  For the Christ-follower, the only standard should be Christ himself.  So, how are you doing?  Feeling as spiritual as Jesus?  Close?  Halfway there?  Or totally bankrupt?

For your sake, I hope you are feeling spiritually bankrupt.  Until then, you will keep trying to become a better person.  Note the word "trying."  You cannot make yourself a better person.  You aren't can't MAKE a person at all, let alone improve upon one that God made.  (Think about that for a minute.)

Jesus is clear: if you want to be part of his kingdom, you will have to admit that you have absolutely NOTHING to offer him.  How counter-intuitive is that?  To join anything else in this world, you have to pay up: dues, service, loyalty, time...  But to enter God's kingdom, you have to be broke.

to be continued...


  1. Absolutely brilliant, and so well written. My favorite: "You cannot make yourself a better person. You aren't can't MAKE a person at all, let alone improve upon one that God made." In that case, color me broke, and hallelujah! I'm quoting you on Facebook.

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