This sermon from the series THINGS JESUS TAUGHT US was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday, September 1, 2013 by Pastor Paul Mims.
Matthew 5:3 When Karen Morse of Henniker, New Hampshire graduated from high school in 1984, she revealed a startling thing about herself. She was known as a model student, was in the National Honor Society, and President of the Student Council. She revealed that when she began high school she could not read even on the most basic level. She was a severe dyslexic. She saw everything backwards. She had developed a way of hiding the fact that she could not even read a road sign.
People play the same game with God. We seek to cover that which lurks deep within us, never coming to the admission of that which prevents our rich fellowship with him, until we come face to face with God. For many people this is delayed throughout the years. Karen never had any possibility of learning to read properly until she took the mask off and revealed her need.
This is what the first Beatitude is all about – taking off the mask, stopping the cover-up, and admitting to God what you are really like.
In the Beatitudes it might seem like Jesus is talking to different groups of people. But he was talking about the work of grace in a single person. You will notice that they are progressive beginning with facing up to our need before God right on through to being a servant in the Kingdom. Also, it is clear that none of these are natural tendencies. They express the differences between a Christian and a non-Christian.
This first Beatitude has several parts to it. The first is:
I. REALITY “Blessed”.
The word “Blessed” indicates the blessedness which is of God given only to believers. It speaks of a joyful happiness which occurs when we are finally right with God.
Why would anyone be joyfully happy by being “poor in spirit?” This is foreign to our nature. It is different from things that we want to do in the first place. This is a different standard from that of the world. The world says, “Happy are those who are rich, happy are those who are successful, happy are those who are well-educated, happy are those who have it all together.”
But Jesus is saying, “You don’t find the kind of blessedness that I am talking about through any of the world’s standards. You find this happiness when you come face to face with me. When you do that, then the blessedness begins.” There is a blessedness in the facing of your needs for finally the mask is off. The pretending can come to an end. The search will have found it’s pearl of great price. And you come to Life’s great discovery.
The Beatitudes are not really sentences in the Greek. They are more of an exclamation that sounded like this, “Oh, the bliss of those who are poor in spirit.” “Poor in spirit” is an Hebrew idiom for repentance. Someone has said that these sayings of Jesus are not like little stars that shine quietly in the sky. They are more like lightning bolts that strike with each one giving a characteristic of a Christian.
Perhaps you have noticed the phases of your life. There was a time when you did not know that there was anything better. Then comes a period of dissatisfaction with your life and yourself. It might have even been a time of mental agony which caused you to begin the search for something more. The next phase found you in a new discovery when your heart needs were truly met.
So, the first part is coming to reality to find the blessedness of taking your mask off and facing yourself before God. The second part is:
II. REQUIREMENT – “poor in spirit”.
The requirement to be a Christian is to be “poor in spirit.” What does that mean? It means to see yourself as lost, helpless, and hopeless. You say, “Wait a minute, pastor. That does not sound like bliss and joy to me. That sounds like another name for misery!”
No, it is just the opposite. For you see, when you finally come face to face with God, when you finally have that moment with him, when you finally come to an understanding of who God is and who you are, you can readily admit, “I am lost. I have not yet found my way. I am hopeless unless you save me.”
This is the whole point of this beatitude. There has to be a consciousness of lostness, of need. The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual destitution and their complete dependence upon the grace of God to save them from themselves and their sin. Notice that Jesus says you have to be poor “in spirit.” That means that it is not an act. It’s not something you can fake. It’s got to be truly in your spirit which is that part of you that is capable of knowing God. This sense of need has to be in your spirit. It cannot be a façade or an act.
I think this can be illustrated. Turn to Luke 18:9 which says, “To some who were confident of their won righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That was hard medicine for the Pharisees who were religious, tithed, and gave themselves to the keeping of the law. But some had no sense of need. They thought themselves better than anyone else. Yet, standing in the Temple court was this tax collector, so despised by everyone, who would not even life his eyes to Heaven. But he said, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Don’t you see that in that man there was a release? He got a response from Heaven. The other man just prayed within himself. Heaven did not hear him.
St. Augustine, in his CONFESSIONS, tells that it was pride that kept him from accepting the gospel for many, many years.
We have in our hymnbook a hymn by Augustus Toplady that expresses this thought:
“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, Savior, or I die.” Charlotte Elliot expressed the same thoughts for us: “Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind, Yea, all I need in thee to find, Oh Lamb of God, I come!”
Needs are met and Heaven responds. Not only does this apply at the beginning of the Christian life, that a person be poor in spirit, but it applies throughout life. This is a not only a requirement to know God, but also to serve God.
For instance, when Moses was called (Exodus 3:11), God said to him, “Go and tell Pharoah to let my people go.” Moses protested, saying that he was unworthy and exclaimed, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?”
You remember that when God called the great prophet Isaiah, he was in the Temple, and saw the Lord, high and lifted up. He even heard the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Isaiah said, “Woe is me, for I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” God said, “That is the kind of man I want – one who sees his need.”
When Jesus was calling his disciples, he borrowed Peter’s boat, moved a little from the shore to teach the people, and afterward said to Peter, “Let’s go fishing.” And Peter said, “Master, we have been out there all night. The fish are in another part of the lake. You can’t catch them now.” Jesus said, “Come, let down your nets for a catch.” They did and their nets were filled. When Peter saw it he said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am unclean.”
In essence Jesus said, “That is the kind of man I want. That is the kind that can catch men.”
God looks for people who see their need to serve him. Let’s see this in the life of the Apostle Paul. He felt his need on the Damascus Road and progressed to seeing in a deeper fashion at the end of his ministry.
The year is A.D. 48. He has just begun his missionary work. The letter to the Galatians was one of his first writings to the churches. He begins by saying, “Paul, an Apostle…” He reaches out and grasps the apostleship ;and lays claim to the highest office in the church.
Several years go by. It is now A.D. 55, seven years later. He writes I Corinthians. In Chapter 15 verse 9, he says, “I am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle.”
Years pass. It is now A.D. 63, another eight years pass and he is now writing Ephesians. He says in chapter 3 and verse 8; “Unto me, who am less than the least of the saints, is grace given.” “Saints” in Paul’s mind meant church members. He said, “I am the least of the church members.”
Now the year is 67 A.D. and another four years have passed. One of his last letters is I Timothy. Her writes in 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I AM CHIEF.”
Here is the principle of what happened to Paul: the closer he moved to the holiness of God – the more he saw his humanity and his sinfulness.
Dr. Robert Naylor was President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and he and Mrs. Naylor led our Seminary Sunday School Department at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. One day he said to us, “I sometimes spend sleepless nights not worrying about what people think of me, but what God thinks of me.” He was a great friend and role model for me. Every time he prayed publically, I had the impression that here was a man truly in contact with God.
The third part of the teaching of this beatitude is:
III. RESULT – “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
All the rights and privileges of the Kingdom belong to the believer who enters the reality of a godly life through genuine repentance. It is a paradox. To feel good about yourself you have to first feel bad about yourself. Then when you face your awayness from God – you can come to him. As a member of the Kingdom growing in faith, our Heavenly offers us the riches of his grace. He makes us heirs of the Kingdom and joint heirs with Christ.
The Eddystone Lighthouse, off the coast of Plymouth, England is comparable to our Statue of Liberty. The first beacon was placed there more than two hundred years ago to warn ships of the dangerous shoals surrounding the area. An architect named Winstanley had built it and was so self-confident was he of its strength that he had a plaque put on it that said, “Blow, Ye Winds, Rise O Ocean, Bring forth, O Ye elements and Try My work.” Foolish words, for less than three years later a raging storm destroyed the lighthouse. But years later, another civil engineer, named John Smeeton, rebuilt it. He found a new sight and dug down until he came to solid rock. He was a sincere Christian and not a braggart. He put a plaque on it that said, “Except the Lord build a house, they labor in vain that build it.”
Jesus said that if you are “poor in spirit” the Kingdom is yours!
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!