Scripture: Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:1-3 ESV
Observation: The Sermon on the Mount, as the early church fathers coined for this first of Jesus’ five sermons that Matthew presents in his Gospel, likely took place on a hillside in Galilee (since there are no mountains in this region). “Disciples” (v.1) refers not to the Twelve since Jesus had only called four to follow him at this point. And it does not refer to devoted followers but the “great crowds” of the closing verse of chapter 4.
Of focus for the following eight Daily Focus devotions, verses 3-10 comprise the “blessed” statements that are known as the Beatitudes (from the Latin beatitudo, which means blessed). But the term “blessed” means much more than happiness: it refers to God graciously invoking his all-encompassing favor on the person. And while verse 11 begins with the blessed, it is an expansion of verse 10. Hence, scholars concur that there are a total of eight.
Being the study of today’s Daily Focus, Jesus’ first blessing addresses the disposition of an impoverished spirit, for those who exude this manner of life gain the kingdom of heaven. Based on Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, which cites the same blessing without mentioning “spirit,” some argue Matthew spiritualized this first blessing. As D.A. Carson contends, “the poor” in the Old Testament has spiritual overtones that point to those under economic or social distress, understanding that they, more likely than a wealthy person, will have confidence in God alone. Thus, it aligns with passages that speak of God’s favor on the lowly and contrite in spirit (e.g., Isaiah 57:15; 66:2).
Takeaway: Jesus’ address to the poor in spirit does not implicitly show a lack of concern for the materially poor. Indeed, as we read on, Christ challenges his followers to give to those in need without question. Still, neither wealth nor poverty ensures a closer relationship with the Lord, bringing spiritual blessings. But genuine spiritual poverty is marked by humility before God. Indeed, much rabbinic commentary praised the virtues of “meekness” and “spiritual poverty” (Felix Bohl, “Die Demut als hochste der Tugenden,” Biblische Zeitschrift 20 : 217–23).
To clarify, one who is poor in spirit does not lack fortitude or courage, but they understand the depth of humankind’s sinful nature and acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy. As D.A. Carson eloquently states, “The kingdom of heaven is not given on the basis of race (cf. 3:9), earned merits, the military zeal and prowess of Zealots, or the wealth of a Zacchaeus. It is given to the poor, the despised publicans, the prostitutes, those who are so “poor” they know they can offer nothing and do not try. They cry for mercy and they alone are heard” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p. 132). In other words, the spiritually poor know that while they are unworthy, they can confidently trust in and rely on the utterly worthy one: Jesus Christ. And thus, their disposition of abject spiritual poverty brings blessings of shalom peace, contentment, and joy here and now, and an inheritance in our Lord and Savior’s kingdom of heaven.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who denied his divine prerogative and assumed the disposition of a man of sorrows, identifying with the poor in spirit. Knowing that we cannot even take the first step alone, would you please invoke your Holy Spirit to lead us to an awareness of our spiritual bankruptcy and the depth of your glorious grace in Christ so that we might live the blessed life of the poor in spirit? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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