Matthew chapter 5 again, as we look at the Sermon of the Mount, at the introductory words of the Sermon of the Mount, where the Lord reveals to all those - His children, and to the world at large - what is called 'The Beatitudes'. The attitudes of the kingdom of God, the attitudes that we as believers, subjects of that kingdom, that we are to follow to live righteously. We spent two weeks in introduction - the first week we thought of the Preacher and His preaching, last Lord's Day morning we thought of the subject of 'blessedness'. What is blessedness? We saw that blessedness is not simply happiness, it's not simply being satisfied in body or soul, but it is the approval of God, the smile of God, the applause of heaven upon your life and upon mine.
Today we're going to look at the very first words that the Lord Jesus spoke in the Sermon of the Mount in verse 3, but we'll read the whole passage - and I hope, week after week as we read the whole passage together and as, I trust, you read it at home, that it may even be committed to memory, but more importantly committed to your heart. "And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was sat down, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".
Incidentally, there are two beatitudes that end with the clause 'theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. It is verse 3, the first beatitude, and verse 10, the eighth beatitude. That is called in language, a 'stylistic device' which indicates what is called 'inclusion'. In other words, everything between verse 3, the first beatitude, and the last beatitude, verse 10, are to be included in the subject of 'what is the kingdom of heaven'. So all eight beatitudes, 1 to 8 (or nine if you like) all of those make up what the kingdom of heaven really is.
"Blessed" - verse 11 - "are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil", or to 'fill up', "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven".
What is it to be poor in spirit? We're thinking of verse 3: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Is it the conviction within one's soul that you are of no worth, no value, that you are nothing? Is it the feeling of absence of self-worth and self-image within your life? Is it a spirit of shyness, backwardness? Is it lacking vitality, a gutlessness? Or could it even be - to be poor in spirit - to be unspiritual, to be lacking in spiritual things?
A young boy was once told by his father that he was worthless, that he meant nothing, that he was foolish, that he was stupid, that he couldn't do anything right. And continually he was told this at home, at school and in every part of his society and life, until as he grew up he believed that he was worthless. There are so many in our land, perhaps even in our Assembly today and they were told they were worthless, they were poor from an early age - is that what poor in spirit means? Is it the person who comes and says, 'Well, I'm not really good at anything. In fact, this thing that I'm doing - I'm not good at it, I only do it because I'm the only one willing to do it' - is it a showy humility? Is it like Charles Dickens' character in David Copperfield, Uriah Heep, who kept reminding everyone what a humble person he was? Is that what to be poor in spirit means?
Well, it's not to be of no value. For if the Lord Jesus Christ says to us today that 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life', you are of utmost value to God. That can't be what it means. Neither can it mean an absence of self-worth, for the same reason, because God says that you are made in the image of God. Not only did Christ die for you, but God created you and put in you, somewhere, somehow, His own stamp and His own image. It can't mean shyness, because there are many people who are shy, who are backward, but they can be the proudest people that have walked upon God's earth - that can't be what it means. Is it lacking vitality, is it [gutlessness] or [lacking] spirituality? And sometimes we as Christians, and even the world at large, can get this idea that graciousness, or humility, or poverty of spirit is to be quiet, to be walked over, to be weak. Does it mean weak, walked over and quiet in this sense of poverty of spirit? Is it financial destitution? Is poverty of spirit having no money in your pocket? Does it mean being materially bankrupt and worthless, poverty? What does it mean? The point is this: it is poverty of spirit, it is poverty in the spirit.
What is it? I want us to look at three things that will describe and explain for us, I hope, from this beatitude what it means to be poor in spirit. First of all we're going to look at the word 'poverty', the word used here for 'poverty'. Then we're going to look at the world and poverty. Then finally we're going to look at wealth, the wealth of poverty.
So let's look first of all at the word for 'poverty' here. In verse 3 the word that is used in the original New Testament Greek is a word that means 'poverty, to cower, to cringe like a beggar'. In classical Greek usage it was used the same way, of someone who crouches, who bends, who is ashamed, who wretchedly begs for money or for worth. It means to live beggarly, it simply describes someone who cannot survive of themselves, someone who cannot be self-sufficient - but someone who does not simply ask, does not work, but begs outside of himself for worth, for money, for wealth. That is what the New Testament word means - it could be literally translated 'beggarly poor', 'Blessed are the beggarly poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. And if you take this meaning of the word and you combine it with 'in spirit', 'poverty in spirit', what it is saying is: those who are poor in spirit are those who are blessed, are those who will have the kingdom of heaven.
You could translate it like this, look at the verse: 'Blessed are those who are so desperately poor in their spiritual resources that they realise that they must have help from outside sources, theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. What does poverty of spirit mean? Can you see it? Do you know what it simply means? It means this: bankruptcy within your soul. Cleaned out, not financially, not materially - although that may be the case, and God might have to bring some people to that extreme to show in a mirror, with the physical to the spiritual, that their soul is like that, it's naked, it's poor - but what the writer here, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is bringing across is that: those who are blessed, those who are approved in the eyes and the sight of God, are those who are bankrupt in their very spirit. I wonder have you ever contemplated that?
John Wesley describes it like this: 'He', or she, 'who has a deep sense of the loathsome leprosy of sin, which he brought from his mothers womb, which overspreads his whole soul and totally corrupts every power and faculty thereof' - someone who realises, in the sight of God and biblically speaking, what they are, and what they are more importantly in the sight of God. It is simply this: it is a recognition of personal, moral and spiritual unworthiness. Spiritually, morally, personally, socially, in every single realm that you can think of of the human life, that you're showing that you are in need of God. An excellent rendering of this verse (and I would advise you to take it down) is this: 'Blessed are those who realise that they have nothing within themselves to commend them to God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'.
Now I don't want to go on any further until we have grasped this thought, because this is deep, this is basic Christianity. These are the first words that the Lord Jesus Christ taught from this mountain, the Sermon on the Mount, but we could stop here and spend the rest of our lives delving into the spiritual depths of this truth: that the only person in this world, the only member in this church that will be blessed of God is the one who realises that they are nothing. Sinners under the wrath of a holy, righteous God - realising that from God, from the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, from the Holy Spirit, that we deserve absolutely nothing but His judgement, that we ought to plead nothing but hell. The idea is, as one of the psalmists who cries out: 'This poor man cried unto the Lord'. This bankrupt man, this loathsome man, this man filled outside, inside, with nothingness, with disdain, with spiritual bankruptcy and poverty cried unto the Lord. That is what to be poor in spirit means: to be bankrupt. To realise that here as you sit in the Iron Hall - whether you are saved or lost today, whether you have been found, whether you're blood-washed and blood-bought, whether you're saved, unsaved, born-again or not - to realise that as you sit spiritually, physically, morally, theologically, politically, socially, you have absolutely nothing to bring you to God!
I wonder has that realisation ever struck you? I wonder has it ever been brought to you how you have nothing, you have nothing that can bring you to God? And there could be someone here that is not saved and is still relying on themselves, or on their works, or on their church, or their national allegiance or something like that - but God is saying to you: 'All those things are good of themselves, but if you begin to equate them with the kingdom of heaven and getting there...no chance!'. You see, it's only those who realise that they can't get there that have any hope of getting there! Those who are poor in spirit.
That is the word for poverty, but I want you to see secondly what the world thinks of poverty. As we read these words, and even as the Lord preached these words in His own day, what was the world at large thinking when He said: 'The poor in spirit, they'll get to heaven'. What did He mean, when He said: 'If you want to be approved of God and accepted by God and have the smile and applause of God, you must be poor, you must be bankrupt'? What did they think in His day? What do they think in our day? Nothing much has changed. In their day and in our day the cry is: 'Assert yourself. Praise yourself. Learn to praise yourself and encourage yourself and build yourself up'. The beatitudes of today - in opposite - are this: 'Blessed are those who are always right. Blessed are those who are strong. Blessed is the man, the woman, the child who is rich. Blessed is the person that is satisfied within themselves. Blessed is the ruler. Blessed is the popular person'.
We said a few weeks ago that the beatitudes of the Lord Jesus Christ are the antithesis, the exact opposite, of everything that the world believes. And if you want to walk with Christ, you're going to walk right in the face of the world, you're going to go against the flow, you're going to do everything that seems abnormal to the generation in which we live. And for someone to say that 'Blessed are poor people in their spirits' was foolishness, He was a fool in their eyes for saying such a thing because in those days, and in our day today, all answers to life, all blessedness and approval anywhere is found within self. 'If you want to be blessed, well you're going to have to find something good within yourself to think about, to realise that you have a niche in life, you have something to do, that you're here for a reason - and when you find that, then you'll be happy and then you'll be blessed. You'll be blessed within yourself with love, with sensuousness, with feelings that you can bring on through drug abuse, or through sexual immorality or through something like that from the outside, that you can make yourself within feel a little bit better'. But the doctrine of this world and the doctrine of the world, and even the church of that day - and, sadly, some churches today - is this: that it can be found in self.
This, as in the Lord Jesus Christ's day, is the narcissian age. If you remember, Narcissus, there's a legend told about him: he was in love but a tragedy fell upon him, because one day as he was walking around a beautiful garden he looked into a pond that looked just like a mirror, it was so still. And in that pond he saw a reflection, and at that moment he fell in love with it - of course, he fell in love with himself. The 20th-century, that we are going out of, and the 21st century that we are entering, I believe is the epitome of a narcissian age - men will be lovers of themselves, they will look for happiness, they will look for blessedness, they will look for approval with one another and from within.
You need to be poor in spirit in order to be, first of all: blessed; secondly: saved; and thirdly: matured - the Lord indicates that in other passages within the Scriptures. If we look at the first, in order to be blessed - and we saw last week that 'blessing' means 'approval' - and if you want God's approval you need to be poor in your spirit. I want to use David, King David, as an example of this. If you turn to 1 Samuel, chapter 18 and verse 18 - now this is the reason why David was chosen of God, one of the reasons why he was chosen by God for the kingship. 1 Samuel 18 and verse 18: 'David said unto Saul, Who am I? And what is my life, or my father's family in Israel, that I should be son in law to the king?'. Later we see in reference, in 2 Samuel 7 and 18, in reference to his actual kingship he asked the question: 'Who am I? Who is my family? What is my history? What have I that should commend me to the throne and to the royalty of Israel?' - David asked the question.
If you look at Judges 6 and verse 15 you see Gideon, and you remember that Gideon was raised up of God and he took 300 men alone - he wanted to take more, but God said 'No' - 300 men and they defeated the enemy. But before God raised him up for this victory he said these words in verse 15 of chapter 6: 'He said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house' - 'I come from a poor tribe in Manasseh. I am the least in my father's house, I am the runt of the family'. But God chose to lift the poor one, to lift the weak one, to use him - because it's that way and it's that road that we will have blessing in the church of God and in our personal souls and spirits. Didn't the woman who bore the Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed virgin, did she not rejoice in God her Saviour? She rejoiced, not in her ability to have this child, not in God's grace to shine upon her and to pick her out of all the woman in Judah that she - remember every young woman of her age was just asking, was just praying to have the privilege of delivering Messiah into the world - but when she was told, she didn't run to the press, she didn't shout it from the rooftops, she didn't tell those in her assembly, but unlike us she rejoiced in God her Saviour...because she realised that blessedness comes through poverty of spirit.
You need it to be blessed, you need it to be saved. You see, you will never be saved, you can't be saved without it! The Lord Jesus made that so clear on so many occasions, and there are so many people across our land at this very moment and they believe that they are being commended to God for some other reason within themselves. Very few have blessed emptiness, empty within, realising that they have nothing to bring them or to commend them to God. And - oh yes - faith saves them as Ephesians 2:8 and 9 say, that: '...by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves' - of course faith saves them, but poverty of spirit is the posture of faith. You'll not go to the doctor - it's very simple but it's true - you'll not go to the doctor if you don't realise there's something wrong, if you don't realise that you are lacking in some way, that you're out of breath a little, or you've a limp, or you've a pain or a sore head - if you don't have that, you won't go. And in the same way if you don't realise your sin and your neediness before God, of having God in your life, you will never go to Christ for salvation - you're too proud to do it!
You need it to be blessed, you need it to be saved and you need it to be mature. You see the first beatitude, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit', if you ever outgrow that first beatitude you've outgrown Christianity. You don't get past it and you qualify, and you're promoted to number two beatitude - it doesn't work like that, you have to carry it with you. You see, you - if you want to grow, if you want to mature on the Christian pathway - you must be led along the rest of the way in humility, in poverty of spirit and in a knowledge and acknowledgement of spiritual bankruptcy before God. Look at Revelation chapter 3, we see in the book of Revelation the two differences, the two different approaches to this subject. We have in Revelation 3 and verse 17 the Laodicean church, and the Lord is speaking to the churches, He's talking to His own churches, describing what He thinks of them - imagine that! What would He think of us today? What would He think of you, if He was personally describing you? He says in verse 17: 'Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see' - 'See thyself as thou art!'. They thought they were rich, it was the ones who thought they were rich who were poor. Chapter 2 and verse 9, the other extreme - and this is the blessed extreme - to the church at Smyrna He says, 'I'm describing you, church of Smyrna: I know thy works, and tribulation', the trial, 'and poverty, but thou art rich'. They had poverty, but their poverty made them rich.
The world thinks it idiotic, but who cares? - Because the world never got it right yet! But we know that it is blessed wisdom. We've seen the word for poverty, we've seen what the world thinks of poverty, but I want to finally look at the wealth of poverty. 'Blessed', that means 'rich', rich in the sense of 'approved by God', to have God's smile and approval upon your life - you will have it when you're poor in your spirit, and then you will enter the kingdom of God. Now I want you to notice that this is an emphatic phrase, that simply means that it means that there is no one upon the earth or out of earth that can have it - only a poor person in spirit, it's emphatic. Only the poor in spirit, only them - all other extremes, all others excepted, all other religions or faiths or beliefs - what He is saying here is that it's only those who realise their bankruptcy and their nothingness before God that will be commended to God. And if you're here today, right now, and you know that there's something that you believe within yourself can bring you to God, you can't get there. You'll never get there and you'll never be in heaven. You see, it's our weakness that is the reservoir for God's power. It is our inadequacy that is the place for His adequacy, our poverty that is exchanged for His riches. It is our timidness that gives way for His confidence and His authority, and ultimately it is our emptiness and nothingness that gives way for His fullness.
Is that not what Paul said? For God said to him, and he said to God three times: 'Will You take this thorn away from me? This thorn in my flesh, this thing that has come as a messenger of Satan to buffet me, take it away!' - and God said: 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness'. I wonder is God saying that to someone here today? You've gone through something, you're about to go through something and you're terrified, you feel weak, you feel nothing - realise that that feeling that you have of poverty and emptiness before God, covet it, hold it, and realise that you're blessed of God because of it only if you rely upon Him in it. This is the message of the Sermon on the Mount - we're going to repeat it eight, nine times perhaps, but I want it to get into my head and into yours - that no-one can be saved or approved by God in their life if they believe that something within them, or something without of them, can bring them to God.
In Luke 18 verses 10 to 14 we read an account of the publican and the Pharisee, and you know it well. The Pharisee went up to the temple and so did the publican, and the publican was a scoundrel in his day. A holy man and a sinful man, they both go up to the temple and the Pharisee stands up before God and he cries: 'I thank thee, that I am not as other men' - and he went through a whole list of how he fasted, how he went to the temple to pray, how he did his alms, and dear knows what else the writer has left out that he did say! And this poor soul got up and bowed his head in shame before God and said: 'God be merciful unto me a sinner' - and he was the one who was justified. Could we be saying today: 'Two men went into the church to pray. One was a regular member and one was an outsider. The member stood and prayed, 'I thank Thee that I am not as other denominations, as other vile sinners. I go to the Bible study, I go to the prayer meeting, I give my offering faithfully, I am a fundamental Ulster evangelical dispensational protestant' - do we say that? These things are not wrong, don't get me wrong today - we must believe and we must have our beliefs, and believe them boldly - but do we take pride in them? Or do we have that blessed poverty of spirit that we realise, as Spurgeon said, that the way to rise in the kingdom of God is to sink within ourselves and before others?
When I started Bible College a friend of mine said this to me - and I have failed living it, I'll admit it - but he said this: 'David, never climb up the ladder, climb down'. Don't climb up! Don't seek for that glory, but seek for the poverty! Realise, can you say as a believer or as an unbeliever that 'The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness, not my merit but my misery, not my standing but my falling'? Can you say: 'Nothing in my hand I bring, nothing. Simply to Thy cross I cling - not even my doctrine, but just the cross. Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee in grace. Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Saviour or I die'?
I want us quickly - and I know I've gone over our time a little, but look at this: 1 Corinthians 4 and verse 13 - and if you're missing your lunch, don't worry about it, this can be your lunch now! 1 Corinthians chapter 4 and verse 13, I want you to see this, Paul the apostle - he says this is the secret: 'Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day' - who's he talking about? The filth of the world - if someone came up to you, or was in the prayer meeting and you heard them praying 'the filth of the world' you'd think they were describing the sin of the world, or perhaps the sinners of the world. But Paul uses this word and that's not what he's describing as filth of the world, or offscouring, he's describing himself! He reckons himself as the filth of the world - if I can say it, the scum of the world - why? Because he is willing to be reckoned a fool for Christ, because he reckons himself nothing, because he's poor in spirit.
Leonard Ravenhill said: 'This is a man who has no ambitions, and therefore he has nothing to be jealous about. This is a man who has no reputation, like the Lord Jesus Christ himself - bless His name - therefore he has nothing to fight about. This man has no possessions, so he has nothing to worry about. He has no rights, therefore he suffers any wrongs. He's already dead, therefore no-one can kill him'. My friend, this is beautiful: he is the scum of the world for Christ. How do you get it? How do you get it? How do you obtain this blessed poverty? W.P. Nicholson tells the story of how he was freed from public opinion. He said that it was down in his home town of Bangor and there was the Salvation Army, they were walking down the street - only four of them - he was newly saved and, horror of horrors, they asked him to join them. There was one man - he was the nitwit, he called him, of the town - he was dressed in a red jumper that stood out, and it had written on it 'Freed from public opinion'. And at that moment in time when he joined that band, he didn't care what men thought of him, only what Christ thought of him. He was free, he was poor in spirit.
How do you get it? Here's an exercise: the way you get it - think about this - go out onto a street on a Friday night, pick up a drunk man, take him to your home, wash him down, give him a meal, tell him of Christ - that's poverty of spirit. You need to accept God's estimation of you. You need to yield to Him daily. You need to look at Christ and not yourself. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Our Father, help us to say like Paul 'God forbid that we should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world'. Lord, help us to follow in His footsteps. We've only looked at the first beatitude, we need go no further because it just destroys us, it shows us for what we are. Help us to see that, and help us to acknowledge our bankruptcy, but Lord help us also to look to Christ and see what we can be in Him. Bless Thy word to our hearts we pray, and bless us as we go, in Jesus name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third tape in his Beatitudes series, titled "Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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