Summary: Part 1. God's approval, his blessing, rests upon those who are poor, contrite in spirit, aware they are spiritually bankrupt before God.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (5:3). The Good News Bible says, ‘Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor’ but that doesn’t properly capture what Jesus means.
Although it seems old fashioned now, when a father gives his blessing to his daughter getting married, he is giving his approval. I think many dads hope that one day a chivalrous young man will ask, “May I have your blessing to marry your daughter?” Many Dads hope to be able to say, “Yes, I approve of your marriage. You have my blessing.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit. God’s approval rests upon men, women and children who are poor in spirit. They belong in the kingdom of heaven.
If we want to have God’s approval – God’s blessing – then we must be ‘poor in spirit’. What does it mean?
To be poor in spirit is to know I’m skint in God’s presence; spiritually bankrupt. See my wallet. Pretend it will be full if I’ve always done, thought and said good things (show an empty wallet). It’s empty; but there is a credit card – and I owe lots and lots of money. I owe God everything. In Monopoly terms I have nothing left. It’s Game Over. Isaiah 64:6, ‘All our righteous acts are like filthy rags’. Romans 3:23: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.
In Isaiah 57:15 God says, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Later God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isa 66:2).
The Bible teacher Don Carson says the blessings of Matthew 5 are ‘the norms of the kingdom’. So it is normal for Christians to have a humble, contrite spirit.
I’ve lost count of people I’ve spoken to who’ve said, “I think I’m a good person. I give to charity. I help people. I don’t go to church but I keep the 10 commandments”; and I think to ask myself, “Wow, how do you do that? What’s the secret? I’ve never managed to keep all 10.” Not a week goes by without the Vicar falling foul of at least one if not more of the 10 commandments; but simply standing before you and acknowledging I’m a sinner is not enough. Humility before men and women does not equal humility before God; but humility before God will produce humility before other people.
Jesus told a story about two men (Luke 18:9-14). One prayed about himself: ‘God I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evil doers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector’; and the tax collector, not able to look up to heaven prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner’. Jesus said, ‘This man rather than the other [was] justified before God’.
Have you heard of the Jesus prayer? Lord Jesus Christ, son of God; have mercy on me, a sinner. It’s a prayer that says Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is God. It’s a prayer for mercy because we sin every day. Can I encourage you to pray it this week? Lord Jesus Christ, son of God; have mercy on me, a sinner.
On the cross Jesus paid the debt I owed. He paid the debt I could not repay. He cut up my credit card and paid for it on the cross. Thank you Lord!
Karl Barth wrote a huge 13 volume work called Church Dogmatics. I saw these 13 side by side on the shelves of the library at my Theological College. They were both impressive and overbearing to look at; but Karl Barth wrote this: ‘When once the day comes that I have to appear before my Lord; then I will not come with my deeds, with the volumes of my Dogmatics on my back. All the angels there would have to laugh. But then I shall also not say, “I have always meant well; I had good faith.” No, then I will only say one thing: “Lord, be merciful to me, a poor sinner!”’