“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.”
Our Lord Jesus first preached the Beatitudes about himself. Once we understand what he says about himself, we will be able to learn what he says to us who by faith are one with him. Of all the Beatitudes, the first seems to be the most difficult. To understand the first is to find the key to understanding all the others, as well as his entire Sermon and, for that matter, the entire gospel.
The poor in
Jesus was poor in spirit. He was willing to empty himself of all claims to superiority and power. He became the poorest of the poor. He entered the world as a member of a despised and politically powerless people in one of mighty Rome’s smallest provinces. He became a Jew, a member of the tribe of Judah and the family of David. As a Jew, he traced his ancestry back forty-two generations to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17).
Abraham’s story is preserved in the book of Genesis (12-25). It is the remarkable story, not of a poor man, but of an extremely wealthy nomad who left his homeland at the age of seventy-five because he believed God planned to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5). For years, he clung to his vision that God would make him the father of a multitude. He clung to it even though he was still childless nearly twenty-five years later at the age of ninety-nine (Genesis 17:1).
Abraham believed in what was humanly impossible, because he believed that with God nothing is impossible. And so God credited Abraham with righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Because of Abraham’s humble faith God renewed and strengthened his promises to him (Genesis 17:3-5). To indicate the renewal of his promise God changed Abraham’s name from Father-Exalted (Ab-ram) to Father-of-Many (Ab-raham). Not only would Abraham be the father of a multitude as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), but these people would also possess the entire land through which Abraham traveled (Genesis 17:8). This land would stretch all the way from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River far to the northeast. It would be the land of the mightiest kingdom on the face of the earth (Genesis 15:18-19). And beyond that, God would bless all peoples on earth through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:2-3).
Abraham never saw with his physical eyes the fulfillment of his vision. However, he did see it by faith, believing that what God said would come to pass in his descendants.
What follows is the story of Abraham’s descendants, first his son Isaac, then Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau. The story then focuses upon Jacob and his twelve sons by his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and their maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. Ultimately these twelve sons and their families end up in Egypt in the midst of a drought at the invitation of Pharaoh’s Prime Minister, their long lost brother Joseph (Genesis 39-50).
Four hundred years later these people had become slaves of the Egyptians. Under Moses’ leadership God freed them, brought them to the land long ago promised to Abraham and blessed them through the years with peace, prosperity and power (Exodus – Judges). A thousand years before Christ’s birth their second and greatest king, David, brought them to the pinnacle of their earthly power. They did indeed become the mightiest nation on earth (I – II Samuel). Sadly, their history after David was one of internal division and decline. Ultimately they were reduced to a small group known as the Jews (I-II Kings).
Jesus was born into these people, the son of a young virgin and a direct descendant of King David. Jesus came as the poorest among the poor to fulfill all the promises given to Abraham and his descendants. He repeated the history of God’s people. He and his parents fled for their lives to Egypt. Then he came out of Egypt, just as the prophet Hosea had written (Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1).
He grew up as the child of poor parents. He lived humbly before his heavenly Father, waiting for the proper time to begin his ministry. He began his public ministry when John baptized him in the Jordan River. In that act, he identified himself with all men. As he began his to preach and to heal, he said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart,” (Matthew 11:29). Yet, he was the king who would one day extend his rule over the entire world and bring blessings to all people, just as God had promised to Abraham. As he rode into Jerusalem a few days before his crucifixion, the crowds proclaimed him the promised Messianic king. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).
But Jesus knew he would be rejected. He often spoke of this as he made his way to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19). So on Thursday of that same week Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane at the bottom of the Mount of Olives opposite Jerusalem. There he submitted completely to the plan and will of his Father. Poor in spirit, he prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). In that prayer, we see the Son of God absolutely obedient to His Father’s will. He was ready to be the servant and slave by offering his life for all men (Matthew 20:25-28). At his baptism the Father had said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Now the Father is pleased because his Son is submitting himself to his Father’s plan. Thus, the Father’s blessings rest upon Him.
The same blessing rests upon all of us who are in Christ Jesus. We, who share by faith in his suffering, death and resurrection, share also in the blessing spoken by the Father upon him. He is well pleased with us also. We are now reconciled to him. We are born into the Father’s family. Because of this new birth, we now share in the righteousness of Jesus. We are the sons and daughters of the Father, loved by him. Of us the Apostle John writes,
“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).
rebirth compares to our natural birth. Consider with me some lessons I have
learned from my natural birth.
I know I had nothing to do with my being born into my particular family at a particular time in human history. I had nothing to do neither with my genetic makeup, my racial identity nor with my citizenship in this country. All this was given to me. All this I inherited without any act of will on my part.
Nor did I concern myself with such matters when I was born. I was concerned only with my basic needs. My parents attended to these. They changed my diapers and fed me with milk. They kept me warm and protected me until I was able to walk and talk on my own. From the very beginning I knew I was loved and of great value to them. That knowledge gave me the security and courage to begin the journey of growing and developing into the person that I am today. That was a great blessing indeed, a blessing not shared by every child on this earth.
For theirs is the Kingdom of the
Now I take my human experience and compare it to the spiritual rebirth that Jesus speaks about in the first Beatitude. To be born of God is to be born of God’s will. It is all his doing. He is the one who sent his Spirit into my heart. He is the one who worked faith in my heart. He is the one who nourishes and protects that faith by means of his Word. He guards me so that I might grow in faith and become the man of faith that I am this day.
Now that I have done some growing he calls upon me consciously and daily to adopt the mind and the attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11). The Spirit of Jesus living in me is teaching me and empowering me to pray, “Father, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 11:1-13). United with Jesus, comforted by his love, empowered by his Spirit, I am also learning to be “poor in spirit”. Day by day, as I live and walk with Jesus as his disciple by his living Word he is reshaping and reforming me into his image (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
The Kingdom of the heavens
We poor in spirit are blessed with the ever-present reality of the Kingdom of the heavens. In our language, the term ‘kingdom’ implies a territorial unit ruled by a king. In this Beatitude, the term implies more than a territory. It includes the people over whom the king reigns. Jesus speaks of this kingdom as the kingdom of the heavens, because the Old Testament Hebrew word (Shamayīm) translated into New Testament Greek (ouranōn) is a grammatical plural noun, heavens. That plural distinguished a number of heavens. For instance, the Apostle Paul spoke about being taken up to paradise, to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). Now that Jesus has completed the work assigned to him by his Father Jesus has been given rule over all the heavens and over all in the heavens as well as all on the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). Although he is not confined to it, the kingdom of the heavens belongs to him. He is the King and all who have been reborn by the power of the Spirit are members of his kingdom.
We who by faith are in Christ are the poor in spirit. We possess the kingdom. We are blessed with the ever-present reality of Jesus’ kingdom of the heavens. That is to say, we are constantly guided, protected and led by our Lord. He is our King, with us all day, every day until the work of this present period in his eternal plan is completed.
Because we are in Christ, we are also the sons and daughters of the Father. The Father delights to give only the best to us his children. We need only ask and it will be given, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-11). We have nothing to fear. We are highly valued by our Father. All of our earthly needs are provided. Knowing this we simply focus upon the events of the day. Our Father already has provided for tomorrow's needs (Matthew 6:11, 25-33). In Christ, we are the most blessed of all the children of men.
With this good news, Jesus begins his Beatitudes, his Sermon and all of his teaching of the Covenant with the Father renewed through him, the one and only Son of the Father.
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