Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit 

6 min read

The book of Matthew contains one of the most pivotal parts of scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. And, part of this incredible teaching from Jesus includes the Beatitudes. 

‘Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ is the first of the Beatitudes and, in just 14 words, it changed so much about how Jesus’ followers thought about salvation and faith. 

Join us as we take a look at the context of this provocative teaching and discover how it not only shaped the first disciples, Jesus followers and the early church. But, also, how it can shape your life today. 

The Sermon On The Mount

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ was just one of the inspired teachings Jesus delivered as part of what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. This remarkable event happened early in Jesus’ ministry on Earth. Huge crowds were starting to follow Jesus as news of His incredible miracles spread. Jesus retreated to a mountain for a day and night to pray and be with God. When He returned, He sat down to teach His disciples, with the eager crowd listening in. 

To understand the significance of the Sermon of the Mount, you have to try and put yourself in those dusty sandals, on that mountain top, hearing Jesus speak about your life and religion in a way you’ve never heard before. It’s believed Jesus was speaking primarily to his disciples when He taught, but the invitation was there for the crowd to listen too. 

The crowd that day would have been a real mix of people. From those raised as Jews who would have known the Hebrew Bible like the back of their hands, to those who wouldn’t have known much at all about the history of God’s people, only that they weren’t included. 

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the times that Jesus managed to break down entrenched, historical barriers simply with the power of His words. 

A New Beginning 

What Jesus did on the Sermon on the Mount was reveal one of his most radical messages. 

In the Beatitudes, He outlines a life of faith that would have felt foreign, new and perhaps a little wild to everybody present that day. 

Here are the Beatitudes, in full, from Matthew 5:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

A New View Of Blessing

One of the reasons the whole list of beatitudes would have been so striking is because of the demographic of the crowd present. While some would have been wealthy, or Jews with a religious background, lots would have been the most marginalised and poor of people. This crowd formed after Jesus performed a string of incredible healing miracles and so scholars suggest that the crowd would have been made up of the most vulnerable, sick and needy in society. All would have been hoping for their own miracle. 

This makes the phrasing of the beatitudes seriously powerful. Jesus used words like ‘mourning’, ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ and connected them to blessing. He did this during a time when the lowest members of society would have been viewed as anything but blessed. 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit For Theirs Is The Kingdom Of God

Jesus’ opening statement, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of God’ is so radical because it deconstructs a long held understanding, threaded throughout the Hebrew Bible, that we are saved by our behaviour. In modern church settings, we frequently hear about salvation by grace, but for listeners in the first century, that would have been a paradigm-shifting message.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ encourages us to recognise how poor we are without God, how impoverished our spirits are. Without God, we are nothing. It’s our adopting of this humble posture that allows us to receive the fullness of our inheritance: the Kingdom of God. 

An Old Challenge And A Current Problem

Jesus unpacked and demonstrated the truth that God saves us because He loves us. Not because of who we are or what we do. 

By the time Jesus was born, there were thousands of years worth of Hebrew history that had led to the Jews feeling like their salvation, and ultimately their day-to-day experience of God, was based on their identity as Jews and on their behaviour. Jesus arrived and, through His life and His message, inaugurated a new way of thinking. 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were the marker moments for a new world to arrive. The kingdom of heaven touches earth. The gospel announced this new world, declaring the truth that anyone can be saved simply by following Jesus. 

For some of us, this is old news, you may have been brought up going to Sunday school and know Jesus’ message inside out. But, has the truth really sunk into you, today? Do you ever find yourself still trying to ‘work’ to get yourself into God’s good books? Do you serve, in order to be saved? 

For others, this message will be as new as it was to those who sat with Jesus on the mountain, a welcome invitation into salvation from a gracious, loving God. 

Whatever your background, whatever your religious history, the message is the same: humble yourself and follow Jesus and you will inherit eternal life. 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit: We Are Saved By Grace

The idea of being poor in spirit can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around. We’re not used to thinking about our spirits in those terms. How can you apply concepts of riches, or poverty, to something so intangible as our spirits? 

The crucial message of this teaching is to steer us away from leading a life independent of God. A life where we work to elevate and purify ourselves towards godliness. Instead, this beatitude draws us towards complete reliance and dependance on God. It prompts us to take stock of our own failings and to recognise that we are nothing without God. This is not because God created us to be useless and empty without Him. It’s because He designed us to find fullness in Him. 

We were all made to live in unity with God, with His Holy Spirit abiding in us. Having a humble spirit makes sure you don’t trip yourself up, or let other things get in the way of this. 

Humility In The Bible

Humility is a key theme in the Bible. From direct teaching about it, to stories and parables emphasising the message. 

James 4:10 says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

You can find a similar teaching in Luke 14:11.

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The invitation and encouragement throughout the Bible to live a humble life are liberating. It takes the pressure off us to be the masters of our lives, the winners of our salvation. 

Embracing humility comes with the yielded posture of knowing that it’s God who is sovereign. Because of His great love for us, He invited us to live and rule alongside Him in unity. We are never alone, and we never carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. 

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