Now that they are chosen, Jesus must teach them what it means to be His followers, what it means to live their lives as Christians and what message that they are to teach others later. This is the first among the five discourses of Jesus, or sermons listed in Mathew. The Sermon on the Mount is foundational to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It exhorts us to apply His teachings to our lives, so that we can be rooted more deeply into our Foundation—God.
Now to be a disciple meant that you were committed to a particular teachers’ understanding of the Word of God—you goal was to be just like your teacher. To be a disciple meant to pattern your life after your teacher. And this relationship of Jesus’ disciples with Him is what provides the pattern, the way of life that Jesus calls us to, and challenges us to in the Sermon on the Mount.
2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
Verse 2 starts out with the phrase “Jesus opened His mouth”. It’s a very Hebrew way of telling us to stop and pay attention to what’s about to be said.
The second thing to notice in verse 2 is that he is teaching the disciples, instructing them.
The target audience for this lesson, this Sermon on the Mount are those who have committed their lives to a discipleship-relationship with Jesus. Back in Mathew 4:17 Jesus had called those who would be His disciples to Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Now, Jesus is telling these penitent disciples that there is a whole new way of life that has opened up for them. That this repentance and coming to Jesus was only the first step in their new life, and that this life is full of contentedness and blessings.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We get the word beatitude by the way from the Latin word for blessed which is Beatus. The word used in the Bible for Blessed here is the the Greek work Makarioi (Maka’-rio-i). It means supremely blessed, fortunate, well off, Happy. Throughout the New Testament, this word Blessed refers to the joy that comes from salvation. Happiness depends on circumstances, Happenstance, but the Joy of the Lord in being “completely satisfied” in Him in no way depends on favorable circumstances-it depends only on salvation and that justification, that state of being right with God that it brings.
It’s important to understand that this sermon was preached to disciples, because no person can live out the sermon on the Mount unaided by the Holy Spirit. These strange words “Blessed are the poor in spirit” begin to make sense only when we understand that the source of this blessedness is Salvation, a right relationship with God. Some say that the “demands” of the Sermon on the Mount make it unattainable by human capabilities, and therefore not to be taken literally, I believe that a central point of the sermon on the mount is that it is unreachable by human effort. It should be taken just as God wrote it precisely because only God could call us to this kind of life, and only God can empower us to live it. People always try to wrestle away from hard passages, and twist and turn them because they don’t want to be wholly dependent on God.
Life as a Citizen of Heaven depends on an inner righteousness not achievable by human effort. It’s not about outer works, but the inner attitude of the heart, which will tend to overflow into outward acts of righteousness. Jesus is teaching us what true righteousness, looks like.
poor in spirit
The word used here is ptochoi – it means poor destitute, and unable to help oneself. As Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, then this is a perfect place to start.
Psalm 51:17 says The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise. In other words the true sacrifices that God regards are a broken, crushed spirit, and a broken heart, and one that has been crushed can come to Him—and He will not despise the person who comes to Him like this.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as helpless—in this case it’s appropriate—since the best way to do God’s work on earth as we’re supposed to do is get ourselves out of the way. A person who is poor in spirit isn’t someone with a self-esteem problem. On the contrary it’s someone who is really being honest with themselves, and realizing that their dignity and worth comes from being made in the image of God.
It is the attitude of those who have recognized their spiritual proverty, indeed their spiritual state of bankruptcy, that without coming to a saving faith in Jesus they were spiritually dead, and that they must continually die to themselves: As Jesus said in John 12:24-25 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.
A man who is poor in spirit is someone who makes room for God to work in their life and dies to themselves, so that there is room for the Holy Spirit to work in them and through them. Humility brings a willingness to do the will of God, and an openness to God’s Word and His plan for your life that nothing else does. And that’s why it’s so critical, and that’s why it’s mentioned first!
Phillipians 2:5-7a: 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
So, this poverty of spirit was not something that we experience once, when we finally realize our need for Jesus, but something that the Holy Spirit seeks to cultivate in us. In 1 Cor 15, the resurrection chapter, in verses 30 and 31 Paul says 30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I affirm, brothers and sisters, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, that I die daily. And he goes onto say that it’s because this dying to self is motivated by God, and not by human motivation, that it is profitable to Him. This is what taking up our cross is all about—Romans 8:17 if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. And this makes us heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . Jesus links this inner poverty of spirit and submission to the Will of God, with this blessing, and with us being able to lay hold of the Kingdom of Heaven. He says:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. By having this inner life of one who is poor in spirit, you open the door, and step out of the way for God to help because you’re not trying to do it yourself all of the time. And so Jesus is teaching us that this continual inner-self attitude of poverty of spirit, of knowing that we can do nothing for ourselves is what opens the door, not only for realizing our need for God, but for God showing Himself mighty on our behalf.