(Synopsis of message preached at Ebenezer Fellowship on 3 Oct 2015)

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

The Sermon on the Mount begins with what is commonly known as the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12), each beginning with the term “blessed”. These eight beatitudes teach us eight major characteristics of those who are truly blessed by God. The hearer is thus to examine himself to see if he is characterised by these eight characteristics, for true blessedness only belongs to those who fit the descriptions found in the Beatitudes.

The term “blessedness” (markarios) talks about “super happiness”. In the Bible, this term is never used in relation to unbelievers. Only true believers in the Lord can be described as blessed. This blessedness comes about because of the relationship the Christian has with God. He is no longer an enemy of God but a child of God. Therefore, the Beatitudes are the description of a true believer of Christ. We are not to adopt a “buffet” mentality to these Beatitudes. A Christian must have all eight major characteristics. Not one of them is to be missing!

In the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3), we see that true believers are described as being “poor in spirit”. The adjective “poor” does not describe a poverty of material goods, for a poor man is no nearer to heaven than a rich man if he is unrepentant and has not trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither does the poverty in the beatitude refer to weakness in character.  Jesus is referring to a poverty of spirit, where one acknowledges that he is spiritually bankrupt and is entirely lost in sin. He knows that he is totally depraved and cannot bring himself to heaven. The only way to find salvation is thus to humble himself before God and turn to Him for mercy and deliverance. Thus one who is truly blessed by God will admit that his salvation is purely by the grace of God. He is unworthy to enter heaven by his own merit. He can only do so by the merit of Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) As such, his life is characterised by a constant humility before God, and is consistently dependent upon Christ.

In contrast, a man who is not “poor in spirit” is proud, self-assured, self-confident and self-righteous. He may appear religious, but have never humbled himself before Christ and embraced Him as his Saviour. Such a man is doomed for the eternal judgement in the lake of fire.

The Beatitude is best illustrated by the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14. Both the Pharisee and the publican are but mere men. They are all sinners in need of the saving grace of God. However, society views the two men very differently. The Pharisee is regarded as the epitome of holiness and righteousness. In the eyes of men, he would be the first to go to heaven. On the other hand, a publican is often hated by society because he worked for the enemy Roman government. They are regarded as great sinners because they often imposed unreasonable taxes on the people using power vested to them by the empire. They were regarded as great sinners and were hated by the people.

In this parable, both men appeared very religious for they both went up to the temple to pray. We first see the Pharisee standing and praying. Now note that prayer in those days was often made aloud. Therefore, others would have been able to hear the Pharisee’s prayer. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:11-12) His focus was on who he was, and what “good” he had done, rather than on who God is. He even had the gumption to compare himself with the publican before God! The message of his words was thus to declare how he was worthy to stand before God. His pride was on his external legalisms, thus qualifying to enter into the presence of God in prayer.

The attitude of the publican was very different. He understood what a great sinner he was, and felt unworthy to go near to the presence of God, not daring to lift his eyes up to heaven. His prayer was one of great humility – “God be merciful to me a sinner.” There was no boastful words, but a sincere confession of how helpless he was before God, and how only God can save him from his sin. This is what it means to be bankrupt in the spirit.

Now the frightening conclusion is that while both men went to pray, and appeared religious before others on that day, yet only one of them was justified before God. Similarly, there could be some who come to church every Sunday, attend prayer meetings, and participate in fellowship group meetings who may find themselves not belonging to the kingdom of heaven! Do not be deceived by self-righteousness!

The Beatitude concludes by telling us why the poor in spirit are so blessed – “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. By this, Christ meant that Christians not only have a place in heaven, but will also reign together with him. However, this a blessing which can only be experienced by the poor in spirit. Are you therefore poor in spirit?

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew