“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3 ESV)
Today we study the first of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are part of a larger discourse delivered by Jesus called The Sermon on the Mount.
Each of the Beatitudes follows the same pattern: Blessed are _________ for _________. The word “blessed” in the Greek is μακαριοσ (pronounced: mak-ar’-ee-os) which actually means “blessed or happy”. In our English dictionaries the word “blessed” is defined as “bringing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune”.
From this information we can see that the Beatitudes identify certain conditions as a blessing because they bring a specific result that is pleasurable and makes those with the condition happy. As we read through the eight Beatitudes we’ll see that the conditions mentioned are hardly ones that we would naturally think of as blessings.
Keeping the context of these verses in mind reminds us that Jesus is speaking to His disciples – those who have chosen to follow Him. Each of these conditions equates to a characteristic of a true follower of Christ. Multiple characteristics make up someone’s character. As we’ll see, the character that Jesus says is rewarded is in complete opposition to the character that the world promotes. That is what makes the Beatitudes so eye-opening and humbling.
The first condition Jesus mentions is being poor in spirit. Again the original Greek helps us here as there are two words for “poor” in Greek. The word Jesus uses here is the more severe of the two: πτοχηοσ (pronounced: pto-khos’) which means “completely destitute; having nothing; reduced to begging and relying on the mercy of others”.
Jesus is referring here to people who have recognized their sinful nature and their complete inability to offer up anything to God on their own behalf. They have surrendered their future to God and His mercy. The result of having this attitude is that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Notice the present tense of this result. This first Beatitude is the only one whose result is in the present. People who know they are in spiritual poverty are citizens of heaven right now. Paul wrote about this very thing in Ephesians, which we studied last year [Ephesians 2:19].
It’s no coincidence that Jesus begins with this condition. None of the other conditions He will mention can truly exist in someone until they have admitted their spiritual poverty. That is, until they repent (i.e. change their mind) and renounce their pride.
Later in His ministry Jesus also told a parable regarding a Pharisee and a tax collector that drives this point home [Luke 18:9-14]. In this parable the Pharisee is full of spiritual pride while the tax collector recognizes himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy. As a result, Jesus tells us, the tax collector was justified as of that moment but the Pharisee would be humbled upon his death.
Heaven is not available to the proud. Those who think they belong there will be disappointed to find out they’re not going. But those who have admitted and repented of their sin and have trusted in the mercy of God as their only avenue to heaven [John 14:6] will spend eternity there.
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