The Kings Sermon. Matthew 5:1-3

Happy are the Humble: The Really Affluent Poor.


“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said,Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-3)


What kind of joy is this? What is this cheerfulness that dares to wink at adversity?  What is the source of this peace that defies pain?   What is this sacred delight?  It is the sacred delight when they accused Jesus of having too much fun, attending too many parties, spending too much time with the happy hour crowd.  The sacred delight of the day's wage paid to workers who'd only been in the fields an hour... the joy of the father scrubbing the smell of pigs off his son's back...  the joy of the widow throwing a party with food baked for her son's funeral wake.

This sacred delight is the discovered pearl, a multiplied talent, a criminal scraping into heaven in his dying seconds, just in time for eternity. The sacred delight of Peter plunging into the cold Lake to get close again to the one he had cursed. Sacred delight is good news coming through the back door of your heart. Its what you'd dreamed of but never expected. It’s the too-good-to-be-true coming true. Its having the Lord God almighty, the king of the universe as your own father, personal organiser, lawyer, counsellor, comforter, financial advisor, protector and best friend. Having God on your side, in your heart, out in front, and covering your back 24 hours a day. Sacred delight. There is no other way of describing it. Jesus summed it up in that one word, "Blessed." So rich, so important is this word that we are going to take the next 4 months unpacking its treasures as we work our way through Jesus first, longest and most important sermon delivered on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

1. This Blessedness is Divine in Origin

Makarios (blessed) means happy, fortunate, blissful.


It is an inward contentedness that is not affected by circumstances. It is a sacred delight, a sacred delight to be blessed by God. So delightful, it takes your breath away. So sacred it cannot be stolen. This is the kind of happiness God desires for His children, a state of joy and well-being that does not depend on physical, temporary circumstances. The word "blessed" is often used of God Himself. Solomon sang, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders” (Ps. 72:18).
Paul also spoke of Jesus Christ “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (6:15). This blessedness which Jesus speaks of here, comes exclusively through a personal relationship to Him. Is it not incredible that the first sermon of Jesus begins with the resounding and repeated theme of happiness, a fitting start for the New Testament's “good news.”

1.1 These Blessings seem Paradoxical.

The conditions and their corresponding blessings do not seem to match. By normal human standards such things as humility, mourning, desire for righteousness, mercy, and persecution are not the stuff of which happiness is made. To the natural man, and to the immature Christian, such happiness sounds like misery with another name.

It is as if Jesus went into the great display window of life and changed all the price tags.  In a way, happiness is misery with another name; Jesus has changed the price tags.  He teaches that misery endured for the right purpose and in the right way is the key to happiness.

The world says, “Happy are the rich, the noble, the successful, the macho, the glamorous, the popular, the famous, the aggressive.”   What usually follows when someone says "The Lord has blessed me...."?

Material blessings like wealth? Psychological blessings like happiness?  Social blessings like respect and friends? Tragically, some preachers, teachers, and writers today whom Paul tells us "must be silenced” (Titus 1:11) are passing off worldly philosophy in the name of Christianity—claiming that faithfulness to Christ guarantees health, wealth, success, prestige, and prosperity. Jesus taught no such thing.  If anything, Jesus taught the opposite. Jesus warned that physical, worldly advantages most often limit true happiness. 

Jesus administers electric shock treatment to this kind of "me centred" cosy religious pietism. No, this sacred joy, this blessing that Jesus promises is not to be confused with happiness. This is not a gimmick to give you goose pimples. Its not a positive mental attitude to be psyched up once a year at Word Alive. To be blessed is not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance, but a deep supernatural experience of contentedness based on the fact that your life is right with God. These blessings are paradoxical.

1.2 These Blessings are Pronouncements

It is important to remember that the Beatitudes are pronouncements of fact, not of probabilities or wishful possibilities. They are not optional extras for the enthusiastic. The Beatitudes contain both divine promises of blessing and also divine warnings of cursing. 

In Luke's account of this sermon Jesus matches each blessing with a curse. In Luke’s account, when the word “woe” is used, it is an interjection that connotes pain or calamity. And Jesus here pronounces both, for the opposite of the blessed life is the cursed life. 

Jesus used positives and negatives to teach the same truths. - "this is the way to live - this is not the way to live"  What Jesus is saying is this, “If you set your heart on these things, if you spend all your energy to obtain these things which the world values so highly, you will get them.... but that's all you'll ever get. You've had it...  But if on the other hand you set your heart and mind and will to be loyal to God you will indeed be blessed - Blessed with all kinds of trouble, because people will mistake you for me, they will slander you, misrepresent you, caricature you. But when that day comes, smile, because great is your reward in heaven" These blessings are both paradoxical and they are pronouncements.

1.3 These Blessings are Progressive

As we shall see in the coming weeks, these blessings are not in a random or haphazard order. Each leads to the other in logical succession. Jesus describes a radical process of reconstruction that occurs in the heart, the mind and the will. Observe the sequence. First we must recognise we are in need (poor in spirit). Next, we repent of our self sufficiency (mourning). Then we quit running the world our way and surrender control to God (meekness). So grateful are we for his presence that we yearn for more of him (hunger and thirst).

As we grow closer to him, we become more like him.  No longer insecure we learn to forgive others (the merciful). We increasingly see things his way (the pure in heart).  We love others (the peacemakers), and we endure injustice (the persecuted).  This is no casual shift of attitude.  It is nothing less than a total demolition job of the old structure of our attitudes, and the rebuilding of our way of life on His foundation. Indeed, the challenge of God's blessing runs counter to everything the world holds dear. Jesus promised his followers three things. They will be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.  This evening I want us to spend just a few moments considering the first of those blessings, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3)


1. The Meaning of Being Poor in Spirit

The word for poor here is from a verb meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held out one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognised. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. It is used in Luke 16:20 to describe the beggar Lazarus.  The word commonly describing ordinary poverty is used of the widow Jesus saw giving an offering in the Temple. She had very little, but she did have “two small copper coins” (Luke 21:2). She was poor but not a beggar.   But that's not the word Jesus uses here. The word Jesus uses is the word for one who is completely dependent on others for sustenance. With absolutely no means of self–support. That is how he describes His disciples.

To be poor in spirit then is to recognise our spiritual poverty apart from God. It is to see ourselves as we really are: lost, hopeless, helpless. That is the point of the first beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognise their destitution, their complete and total dependence on God. Their pride is gone, their self–assurance is gone, and they stand empty–handed before God. Why does Jesus put this beatitude first? Because humility is the foundation of all other graces, a basic element in becoming a Christian (Matt. 18:3–4). Pride has no part in Christ's kingdom, and until we surrender pride we cannot enter the kingdom. 

The door into His kingdom is low, and no one who stands tall will ever go through it.  Being poor in spirit is the first beatitude because humility must precede everything else. The meaning of being spiritually poor.


2. The Way to Becoming Poor in Spirit

How, then, do we become poor in spirit? What are the signs of this humility?


2.1 Humility weans us from ourselves

The poor in spirit lose their self–preoccupation. Self is nothing, and Christ is everything. Paul’s humility is nowhere more beautifully expressed than in his saying,

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20, Phil. 1:21).


2.2 Humility is lost in the wonder of Christ

with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, …being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).


2.3 Humility accepts suffering for the sake of Christ

When suffering comes we will not say, “Why me, Lord?” When our suffering is for Christ's sake we not only will not complain or feel ashamed but will glorify God for it (1 Peter 4:16), knowing that we will “also be glorified with Him” realising “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:17–18).


2.4 Humility sees only the virtues of others 

With “humility of mind” we will “regard one another as more important than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3) and “give preference to one another...” (Rom. 12:10).


2.5 Humility always thanks God for His grace

Nothing more characterises the humble believer than gratitude to his Lord and Saviour. He knows that he has no blessings and no happiness but that which the Father gives in love and grace. (1 Tim. 1:14). The meaning of being poor in Spirit. They way to becoming poor in spirit.


3. The Result of Being Poor in Spirit

Those who come to the King in this humility inherit His kingdom, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God has gladly chosen to give the kingdom to those who humbly come to Him and trust Him (Luke 12:32).

Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts.  God wants us to recognise our poverty so that He can make us rich.  “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord,” James says, “and He will exalt you” (James 4:10).  In giving up our own kingdom, we inherit His. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

God does not save us because of what we've done. Only a puny God could be bought with tithes. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders. And, only a great God does for His children what they cannot do for themselves. That is the message of the first beatitude.  The jewel of joy is given to the impoverished spirits, not the affluent. God's delight is received upon surrender, not awarded upon conquest.

The first step to joy is a plea for help. Those who taste God's presence know their spiritual bankruptcy. Their cupboards are bare. Their pockets are empty.

Their options are gone.  They have long since stopped demanding justice, they are pleading for mercy. They don't brag, they beg.  They ask God to do for them what they can't do without him. They have seen how holy God is, and how sinful they are. They have agreed with Jesus statement, humanly, "Salvation is impossible."  Oh the irony of God's delight - born in the parched soil of destitution rather than the fertile ground of achievement.   

Its a different path, a path we're not accustomed to taking.  Never forget, what we have here is not a list of proverbs or a collection of quaint sayings, but rather a step-by-step description of how God progressively rebuilds the believer's broken heart and puts the world, His world at our feet as we learn submission to His majesty.

The blessing of God is pure sacred joy and delight.   Because it's God's joy what can cloud it? What can quench it? What can kill it? No. His is a joy which consequences cannot quench. His is a peace that circumstances cannot steal. Because this is a sacred blessedness that comes from God. Paradoxical maybe, but pronounced by Jesus upon you and me and all who would dare follow Him.  A holy joy, a sacred delight. A blessedness. And it is within your reach today.

Lets pray.


With grateful thanks to Max Lucado and John Stott for much of the inspiration and content of this sermon.