Sunday Service – 7/7/2024

YouTube Link

Luke 18:10-14  10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

Matthew 5:1-10  Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  2 and he began to teach them, saying:  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

What I just read is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus preached to his disciples and the crowds that followed Him.  The sermon goes on for the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew’s gospel.  Through the summer we are going to consider the beatitudes, those statements in the first ten verses that all start with blessed are the… We are embarking on a journey this summer, a journey that will, with God’s help, lead each of us into closer relationship with God.  Today we start our sermon series on the beatitudes.  One writer said, “Matthew chapter five is not a list of proverbs or a compilation of independent sayings, but rather a step-by-step description of how God rebuilds the believer’s heart.”  In the beatitudes Jesus promises blessings to all who come after Him—to all who decide to live their lives each day by His example. 

If we are going to get anyplace with the Beatitudes we need to start with understanding what it means to be blessed.  The Greek word we translate as blessed has more nuances than our English word.  My Greek dictionary says it describes persons characterized by transcendent happiness or religious joy.  It is a state of true well-being. It includes wholeness, joy, well-being, the true peace of shalom, an inner condition of satisfaction.  Christian author Max Lucado wrote about the beatitudes in his book, “The Applause of Heaven.”  He described blessed as sacred delight.  He said, “It is sacred because only God can grant it.  It is delight because it thrills.” When we are blessed we will usually feel happy but it is a special type of happiness far beyond the normal happiness we generally experience in life.   “Blessed is a positive judgment by God on the individual that means “to be approved” or “to find approval” so when God blesses us He approves of us.”  Blessedness indicates the smile of God.  

The first beatitude says, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Eugene Peterson translated it this way in The Message, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.”

The English pastor, Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “This beatitude is the key to all that follows.”  He sees a spiritual sequence to them and poor in spirit is first.  There is no entry into the kingdom of heaven, into the kingdom of God without it.  It is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and all the other beatitudes are a result of this.  It means an emptying, while the other beatitudes are a filling.  Think of it this way, we cannot be filled until we first are empty.  It is an essential part of the gospel that conviction must always precede conversion.  We become aware of our sin which leads us to Jesus. This is a perfect statement of the doctrine of justification by faith only.  We cannot save ourselves, only God can.  It is a very searching test for each one of us.  

Theologian William Barclay has called this beatitude the supreme blessedness.  The poor in spirit are those who are solely dependent upon God.  They have no confidence in their own success or achievements, for they enjoy the gift of God’s acceptance and fellowship.  Being poor of spirit is about our attitude towards ourselves.  Today there is a great emphasis on “finding ourselves, being fulfilled.”  Everything revolves around us, who we are and what we want is most important.  I once read a Christian book titled “and the Shofar Blew” by Francine Rivers.  The story isn’t important but at one point the author was talking about the world today and I was struck by the truth of what she said.  “What used to be called self-indulgence is now called self-fulfillment.  What was once called moral irresponsibility is now considered freedom to find oneself…  Discipline is considered repression; depravity is now creative self-expression…What was wrong is called right, and what was right is called wrong!”  

Our world and especially our country emphasizes self-reliance, self-confidence and self-expression.  After all, our country has always been a place where people could come and improve their circumstances.  The frontier is long gone but the mentality lingers on.  

I was once at a Carlisle Presbytery meeting that was held at the Presbyterian Church in McConnellsburg.  This is a town in south-central Pennsylvania. Evan Smith was the pastor there and he told us the history of the church.  At one time it was the furthest west Presbyterian Church in our country; it was on the frontier.  Self-reliance was necessary for people in those days when neighbors were miles away but self-reliance has never been something to have towards God.  Much of our world today promotes ideas such as express yourself, believe in yourself, realize your own potential; all focused on us.  

Our beatitude today is a complete contrast to this.  It is about humility, the proper attitude to have before God.  To be poor in spirit does not mean to be anxious, shy, self-effacing or weak.  It actually takes a great deal of courage to look inside ourselves and face who we are, not in comparison to others but in comparison to our holy God.  The best picture in scripture of God’s holiness I think is found in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah has a vision of the throne room of heaven with the seraphs calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”   It says the hem of God’s robe filled the temple.  When we truly look at God, when we realize how utterly holy God is, we will say with Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”  

There is a wonderful example of ‘poor in spirit’ later in Isaiah 57:15; “For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  This is the quality of spirit we are to have.  There are many examples to be found in the Old Testament.  Gideon in the Book of Judges, who, when the angel told him he was to deliver Israel from the hand of Midain said, “No, no, this is impossible; I belong to the lowest tribe and to the lowest family of that tribe.”  Gideon really believed what he said and shrank from the very thought of greatness and honor, and couldn’t believe this could happen.  It is the spirit of Moses who felt deeply inadequate when God told him to rescue the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and kept trying to convince God that he wasn’t the right man.  David, who became king of Israel said, “Lord, who am I that you should come to me?”

In the New Testament we can see it in Peter, brash, bold, impulsive Peter who when he realizes who Jesus truly is says, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  We see it in Paul who had every reason to boast in the flesh, who said of himself “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phi 3:4-8)  Paul regarded all of that he was as nothing, less than nothing (dung) compared to knowing Jesus.  Paul was poor in spirit.  

Our first reading from Luke 18 gives an example of what being poor in spirit looks like and what it’s opposite, pride of self looks like.  The Pharisee is puffed up with his own importance.  It is the tax collector who was humble and poor in spirit, who cried out to God for mercy.  Jesus said it was the tax collector who was justified and who will be exalted.

Let’s also look at Jesus; amazingly enough He was poor in spirit.  In John 14:10 Jesus said, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”  Basically, Jesus said, “I can do nothing, I am utterly dependent on God, my Father.”  If we look at His prayer life, if we look at the hours He spent in prayer then we will see His poverty of spirit and His total reliance on God.

To be poor in spirit is a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and self-reliance.  It is to be aware that we are nothing in the presence of God.  It is nothing we can do, nothing we can produce.  To be poor in spirit is a tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face-to-face with our holy God.  We cannot rely on our morality or our behavior, we cannot rely on our wealth or power or talents, not on what school we went to or who we know, not on anything within ourselves.  To be poor in spirit is to feel that we are nothing, that we have nothing and then we look to God in utter submission to Him and in utter dependence upon Him and His grace and mercy. 

It is a wonderful thing to come to the end of ourselves and to find it isn’t up to us, it is all up to God.  We empty ourselves, we bow before our King in humble reliance and trust.  As it says in the third stanza of Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”  What is wonderful about this place is that when we get there it is a place where we can fully know how much we are loved by our heavenly Father. 

Mark Hall wrote the contemporary Christian song, “Who Am I?”  It asks the question, “who am I that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?”  It then answers that question by saying that God cares not because of who I am, not because of what I’ve done but because of what God has done and who God is.  This is a perfect example of what it means to be poor in spirit.  Implied in the question who am I is the idea that I am nobody, the song says, “I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind.”  When we are all honest we will realize that we have no value on our own. The elements that make up a human body are worth less than five dollars.  Our value comes from our God who loves us.  We are indeed blessed when we are poor in spirit. As the refrain of the hymn we will now sing says, “Rejoice and be glad! Blessed are you; holy are you. Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom of God!”