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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Text:Matthew 5:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 1:1,2,3                                                                                                       

Reading – Psalm 34:1-10; Matthew 4:23 - 5:12

Ps 34:1,2,4

Sermon – Matthew 5:3

Hy 17:1,2,3,5

Ps 86:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, there are few parts of Scripture better known than the Sermon on the Mount. For centuries, Christians have turned to these words for wisdom and hope. Now, as far as sermons go, Christ’s sermon is pretty short. Just three chapters—they say it takes only about eighteen minutes to read out loud. Yet these words have made a huge impact on millions of lives. Such is the power of God’s Word.

When Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7, He didn’t have a theme and three points like we’ve come to expect from a good sermon. Yet there’s no question that his sermon had a clear purpose and focus. All of Jesus’ words here are focused on the LORD God: how to know him, how to please him, how to draw closer to him.

This was in keeping with the whole aim of Jesus’ ministry: to open up the road that leads back to God the Father. And in Matthew 5 He does that by teaching: “Seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated his disciples came to him. Then He opened his mouth and taught them” (vv 1-2). He is going to tell them what the followers of Christ need to know in order to live and die in the joy of salvation.

Today we’re going to focus on the powerful opening of Jesus’ sermon, and listen to one the eight beatitudes. You might like to know that the word “beatitude” is from the Latin word beatus, which means “happy” or “blessed.” Jesus says, “Blessed are…” For He is going to show how the perfect happiness that we had in Paradise—how that blessedness which was lost—can be found again through Christ. I preach God’s Word to you from Matthew 5:3,

Blessed are the poor in spirit:

  1. who the poor are
  2. what the poor receive


1) who the poor are: Before getting into the meaning of the first beatitude, let’s make a few general comments about these eight statements.

First, it’s good to know what kind of statements these are. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” or “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” what is that? Is that a prediction, maybe a prophecy for the future? Is Jesus saying something along these lines: “If you’re humble, and you live at peace with other people, then one day you’ll see that it was worth it, when He rewards you.”

The beatitudes are not predictions, nor wishful hopes. Rather, the beatitudes are bold statements of present reality. They exclaim that this is how it is! In Christ we have already entered our joy. The blessedness which belongs to a child of God is not postponed to some future world of glory, but it exists here and now. You are blessed, and you certainly do enjoy God’s favour—today!—when your heart and soul and all your life are directed and shaped by his will.

This is something that a child of God learns as he or she grows in the faith. We learn that there is a real joy in walking with God even through all the ordinary days of our life. When we’re younger, we sometimes have this idea that trusting God and being good are all about getting into heaven—it’s all about investing in our future. Yet when we believe in him, God gives so much goodness in the present. You are blessed in Christ! The beatitudes are a resounding declaration of the goodness of belonging to the Lord.

As a second general point, we see that Jesus’ words here are firmly rooted in the Old Testament. This is true for so much of what He says in his ministry, and it’s true in the beatitudes as well. For Jesus constantly borrowed the language and themes of the Scriptures.

So when Jesus pronounces, “Blessed are…” we hear a strong echo of what the Old Testament writers once said. Listen, for instance, to the beatitude in a passage like Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly” (v 1). Those who avoid evil and those who delight in the law of the Lord get to enjoy God’s favour and grace. Or it says in the following Psalm, “Blessed are all those who put their trust in him” (2:12). Another beatitude!

The LORD has always encouraged his people to count the benefits of belonging to him. The Christian life certainly knows its struggles—there’s a cross to bear, and sacrifices to make. Yet in Christ, the burden is light. The LORD is a good and gracious God, for that’s his character, and his promise when we live in submission to him. Blessed are we to know the LORD!

One more general comment, about the meaning of that word “blessed.” These days we use the word loosely, anytime things are going our way: “Feeling blessed today.” Or maybe we add the hashtag “blessed” to our posts on social media. If it’s pretty, it’s #blessed.

But in Scripture’s view, blessedness is about much more than being in a happy mood. Blessedness speaks of the enduring gift we possess in Christ; it’s the unchanging status of being safe within God’s favour. It’s not about having the things we want, but knowing that God is always near to shine his face upon us, even when life is hard and disappointing.

And this true blessedness is something that mankind once had, but now has lost. We used to be happy and at rest in the days when we lived in Paradise. But that all ended at the moment we rebelled against God—and being expelled from the garden put the final nail in the coffin.

Since then, the world has been busy trying to find their way back, trying to locate the one key to a happy life. Every year there are a thousand surveys and scientific studies about what really makes people happy: they say it’s meaningful relationships, or it’s a fulfilling job or hobby, or it’s the opportunity to help others.

It’s even one of the founding truths of the United States, that all people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We all act like this is true, that I have the right to be happy, and the right to pursue it however I please.

And maybe we find happiness for a while, but earthly joy never lasts. Our state of happiness evaporates with a change in our health, with the failure of a plan, or with a new disappointment. Even when we’re feeling pretty happy, there’s often a layer of sadness or frustration just below the surface.

In a groaning world, with our ever-changing hearts, the beatitudes are road signs that point us to real peace. Jesus teaches that we can find happiness only by following his pathway to God. Christ alone can give us what is unattainable, and He gives a joy which endures despite every pain, sorrow and loss.

So what is the first road sign to blessedness? “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Now, that’s a surprising way to introduce happiness—to talk about poverty! And many of the beatitudes do this. Do we really think that those who mourn are happy? Do we really expect the meek and lowly to inherit the earth? Is it a blessing to be persecuted? Like Jesus often does, He turns things upside down. The way to blessedness is opposite to the path which people normally follow.

To get into God’s kingdom, Christ says, you’ve got to be poor—and not just short a few dollars. In the New Testament there are two Greek words for being poor. One described the kind of man who had to work for his living every day; he never had anything extra, but neither was he penniless. The other word for poor meant poverty-stricken, bankrupt, without a single asset—and that’s the word Jesus uses: “Blessed is the person who is utterly destitute in spirit.” It’s the same word for the miserable beggar Lazarus in Luke 16.

There’s always been beggars around, and in some countries they are countless. But very few people are spiritual beggars. Few people have a deep longing for God’s grace because of their guilt and emptiness. Yet this must be our attitude: “poor in spirit.”

We said that Jesus loved the Old Testament. So when He declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” we’re meant to hear other Scriptures too, passages like Psalm 34. There David says, “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (v 6).

In what sense was David poor? When he wrote this Psalm, he was in deep trouble and helpless against his enemy. He realized that he had no resources in himself, so if God didn’t come to his rescue, he was lost. Such is a person “poor in spirit.” It’s when we know that all we can do is depend on the LORD.

And it’s such people whom Christ came to deliver. The prophets always said that the Christ would come and preach good tidings to the poor, that He would heal the broken-hearted and free the prisoners (Isa 61:1-2). In Matthew’s Gospel this is what Christ has already been doing, like at the end of chapter 4, where we see him healing diseases and driving out demons. These were the “poor” in Israel, and his heart went out to them.

But it’s not only the physically sick and troubled who need help. Jesus’ miracles were meant to teach a deeper lesson about his mission. He came for those who are truly needy, who are conscious that we have nothing and can do nothing. We have to admit that apart from a right relationship with God, we’re destitute. The door of the kingdom is closed unless God brings us in by his own free grace.

The problem is that this kind of need isn’t easy to acknowledge. By nature, we’re all proud and want to be self-sufficient. We hate to be the needy person, and reckon that it’s other people who need help, not us. So we keep thinking that we can get by, we can manage and cope. And what happens? We don’t go to God.

We don’t forget God entirely, of course. But He’s more of a backup than a Saviour, more of “a helper on standby” than our living Lord. Behind everything else we’ve built up for ourselves, it’s good to have some insurance called “faith” or “religion.”

This has always been the deadly danger of riches. How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God! And not just material riches, where you have a top-tier home and full bank accounts. None of us want to admit our poverty, so we keep insisting that we’re rich in one way or another: “My knowledge makes me rich. My talents or my influence make me rich. I’m rich with opportunities, and I’m rich with friends and grandchildren. And all this makes me happy.”

But are you really happy? Will you keep being happy with your earthly things? Could our satisfaction in life continue, even when we lose our job, or lose our health, or lose our family? Maybe that’ll never happen. But we will all die. And will we still have our sense of security on that day? Christ teaches us to take a second look at every earthly gift and position. There is not one of them that cannot be lost—and what then? Jesus puts it this way, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

Man-made wealth and position and success are fading, and only when we see that are we moved to seek God. That’s a truth common in so much of life—first recognize the problem! Before we go to the doctor for treatment, we have to see that we’re ill. Before you go to Christ Jesus with your whole heart, you have to confess that you’re poor.

So being poor in spirit is about having a right view of ourselves. Do you confess that you’re a sinner? Do you acknowledge that you have no righteousness of your own? Do you know that the earthly security and confidence and wealth you’ve built up will only come to nothing? Are you holding loosely all things here below, and holding tightly to Christ? Then in our poverty we’ll receive the treasure of the kingdom of heaven, a treasure that will never fade!


2) what the poor receive: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We need to spend a bit of time on this phrase. Sometimes when people hear “the kingdom of heaven,” they think it’s just the same thing as heaven. “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for they get to go to heaven when they die.”

But in Matthew’s Gospel, “the kingdom of heaven” is another way of saying something else that Jesus mentioned a lot during his ministry: the kingdom of God. We know that, for example, from the version of the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (6:20).

So the kingdom of heaven is the same as the kingdom of God. But we also need to think carefully about what the kingdom of God is. Even a child knows that a kingdom is the territory ruled by a king. The kingdom of God, then, is his dominion over those who belong to him. God’s kingdom is the place where God has the upper hand; it’s the place where his authority is fully acknowledged and his commands are joyfully obeyed.

In Jesus’ time, the people of God were expecting a kingdom. Ages ago, the Messiah was promised, someone to come with great power and restore everything—even a new Paradise. The prophets told everyone to wait for another king like David, for a new and prosperous kingdom, when God would reign over an obedient Israel and the whole world would submit to God’s glory. Israel sang Psalms like Psalm 145 in great expectation: “Your kingdom, O God, is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”

And when Jesus came and began preaching, what was his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). Just imagine the people’s excitement when they heard that: the kingdom is near! It would’ve been hard for them not to think about a good clash with the Romans. By this time, the Caesar and his legions had been occupying Palestine for more than a hundred years: a hundred years of heavy taxes, a hundred years of humiliation, without a real king, an army, or freedom.

So there was great disappointment with Jesus when He failed to restore David’s throne, when He in fact surrendered to the Romans. Turned out He wasn’t much of a king, and his kingdom looked pretty lame.

And even today, there are times when it hardly seems like Christ is ruling over all things from his throne. The rulers of the nations and the empires of mankind appear to do whatever they please, while the church is shoved to one side. So where is this great kingdom?

Here is still the challenge in understanding the kingdom of God. Scripture speaks of his kingdom in a complex way. It is present, but it is also future. It is not of this world, yet it will include all creation. It has arrived, but not fully. From this we learn that the kingdom comes in stages, not all at once.

As Jesus announced, the kingdom came very near when He appeared. Because when Christ came, He did wage war—not against an earthly kingdom, but against the spiritual forces of the evil one. And Christ conquered them entirely! By his death and resurrection, Jesus showed the power of God’s kingdom. He is Lord and King, with all authority in heaven and on earth!

The kingdom of God has already been established, but without all the outward glory and obvious power. Right now the kingdom is still advancing, and it will continue to advance until Christ comes again. On that day God’s kingdom will finally appear with full majesty, and at last his victory will be perfectly obvious to all.

And about that final outcome there is absolutely no doubt at all. Christ’s victory is totally sure. As Jesus said just before He went to the cross, “Now the ruler of the world will be cast out” (John 12:31). Satan will be cast out, and he was cast out. At the cross, Satan’s kingdom was finished, and today Christ sits on his throne.

As we wait for Christ’s final show of power over his enemies, you could say that the future has invaded the present—that’s how sure it is. The future has begun, for already we are righteous. Already we are being transformed into glory. Already we have a place with Christ in the heavenly realms. Already we get to enjoy the beautiful fruits of Christ’s triumph. As Jesus declares: The poor in spirit are blessed!

All that is a long way of saying that the poor in spirit receive the kingdom—that is, we obtain every blessing of salvation through Christ’s victory and rule. The poor in spirit get to enjoy real freedom from sin and guilt. The poor in spirit get to experience the renewing work of Christ through his Spirit. The poor in spirit get to devote our lives to a new purpose and a new calling, the service of our glorious Master. The poor in spirit are joined to a glorious communion, a fellowship in love, which is the Body of Christ.

If you look ahead in the coming verses, you’ll see that this is what the second line of each beatitude does: it gives a description of God’s sure blessing on those who believe in him through his Son. In fact, each of those second lines can be taken as filling out and expanding what Jesus means with “the kingdom of heaven.”

For example, the kingdom of heaven is a place where those who mourn are truly comforted (v 4). It is where those who are humble shall receive their true inheritance, even the recreated heavens and earth (v 5). By entering the kingdom of heaven, those who hunger and thirst will find lasting satisfaction (v 6). And it is when we come into the kingdom of heaven that we shall be allowed to see God (v 8).

It’s not what you expect, but the poor get a kingdom! Those who are high and mighty in this world obtain the kingdoms of the earth. The powerful and aggressive and self-sufficient tend to acquire for themselves great things. They build up mini-kingdoms for themselves, with themselves seated on the throne. We’re all pulled into kingdom-making here on earth, exactly because we don’t want to be poor. We hate to be needy. But Jesus says that the proud and independent will only achieve kingdoms and glory which are going to fade and crumble.

Meanwhile, those who are humble and faithful in the eyes of God obtain the sure glories of the kingdom of heaven. When we know that we have nothing and that we are nothing, and when we find our everything in Christ, then we are truly blessed. For the poor in spirit are brought into the joy of restored fellowship with God. They get to know and love the Saviour, and the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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