Jul 312015
 

poor in spiritBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today we start looking at some absolutely amazing sayings by Jesus on his famous ‘Sermon on the mount’. It all starts with a list of sayings mostly starting with the phrase “Blessed are…” commonly called ‘The beatitudes’

I would love to have been on that mountain when Jesus said these words and looked at the faces of His listeners and said some totally unexpected things. You have to understand the context. Jesus has just started His ministry and there is a huge air of expectation. He has already performed some amazing miracles, demonstrating He is someone quite special and quite a crowd is gathering. He has chosen His disciples, but there are many more following on. “Could this at last be the messiah, the one who is finally going to overthrow the Romans and defeat them with the sword, to raise up a Jewish army which conquers all before it?” In many eyes (including His disciples) this is what Jesus was about to do and this is the expectation. That is why this message would have been such a shock then and it continues to still shock and surprise people today.

So Jesus sits down (which was the custom of a teacher in those days) and starts His sermon by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus was setting out the requirements for those who want to follow Him and He made no apology for it.

These are not just a collection of random sentences. I believe there is a reason why He begun his discourse talking about the poor in spirit, which we will look at in a minute. Let’s first consider what He means by being ‘poor in spirit’. I think it is clear that he is not talking about economic or material poverty but spiritual poverty. The Greek word He uses for poor here is ‘ptochos’ which is not just poor but extremely so. Someone with no resources whatsoever, entirely dependent on others and poverty stricken. It would be someone who was worthless, powerless and would have to resort to begging for their very existence. The word contains the feelings of crouching and cowering, the lowest one could be.

This is very important because that is the condition we need to be in to approach God – in total humility. We are nothing, we have nothing and we can do nothing in our own worth that contributes to our salvation, we are spiritually destitute. Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) We crouch and cower on the floor in desperate need of His mercy.

The second and third verses of the famous hymn ‘rock of ages’ by Augustus Toplady explain our condition very well;

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

It is obvious why this Beatitude is the first, as it is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Without an understanding of his extreme spiritual poverty (i.e., a deep emotional understanding of one’s lack of righteousness,), man in his lost condition doesn’t recognize his great need to turn toward God. But when we do, how blessed (happy, fortunate) we are because in that condition God welcomes us into His kingdom. “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

There are a number of ways we can live out this attitude in our walk with God;

1. Depend on God’s wisdom and not our own

The only way we can continue in this is to keep close to God by praying and reading His word. I would be so bold as to say that if you are not regularly doing these things you are relying on your own wisdom and not His.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.(Proverbs 14:12)

We can be quite convinced we are in the right and everything seems right but God knows all things and we need His wisdom.

Another great proverb in this regard is Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

2. Depend on God’s strength not yours

Our strength is limited, His is unlimited

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.(Psalm 84:5)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

3. Depend on God’s timing and not our own

God’s timing is always just right. A classic example of someone who couldn’t wait for God’s timing was Abraham who fathered an illegitimate child, the consequences of which are still being felt in the middle-east to this day.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

There are many other examples in the bible of this sort of trust, not just; wisdom, strength and timing but God defending you, keeping, saving and providing for you. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a richness beyond anything you could dream of and an inheritance into the kingdom of heaven.

 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 242015
 

The beatitudesThe first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.

But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;

Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.

That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.

The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.

Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.

Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.

The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.

My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.

 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:15 pm The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »