The Divine Atmosphere of Poverty

Bible Book: Matthew  5 : 3
Subject: Sermon on the Mount; Beatitudes; Humility
Series: The Beatitudes - The Divine Atmosphere

Beatitudes - The Divine Atmosphere of Poverty

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor,

Matthew 5:3

(This is sermon 1 in a series of 8 sermons on The Beatitudes)

We begin a series of sermons this morning from the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are part of the Sermon on the Mount and, in fact, they form the introduction to all that Jesus said in that great sermon. It is believed that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount just outside the town of Capernaum, overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee. The hillside there is made like a natural amphitheater. As Jesus sat to speak, His disciples and followers were seated across the hillside. It was a grand site for a glorious sermon.

As Jesus spoke that day, the disciples surely sensed that this was a special moment in history. They must have felt the wonder of the day as Jesus began to speak to them in what has been called, "The Christian Manifesto." Another has called the Sermon on the Mount, "The Magna Carta of the Christian Faith."

Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount in the beautiful atmosphere overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But more importantly, He spoke of the divine, heavenly atmosphere in which we can and should live as believers in Jesus. So, we begin today a series entitled: Beatitudes - The Divine Atmosphere. We will consider this subject in a series of 8 sermons.

Jesus introduced the Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes actually form a text for the entire sermon. All that Jesus was to say in the sermon is summarized in the opening words. Just as a preacher reads a text from which He preaches, Jesus stated His text and proceeded to detail it. The Beatitudes were the text; the sermon that followed was the body of the message.

We can say that the Beatitudes are the "attitudes" that should be in God's people. Let us resolve, as God speaks to us through the words of Jesus, that we will take these truths to heart and implant them in our attitudes and behavior.

As Jesus began to speak, He used the word Blessed. Matthew Henry points out that the Old Testament ended with a curse, but the Gospel of Jesus began with a blessing. How true and how appropriate. After all, that is why Jesus came - to bless those who believe in Him.

Look at Ephesians 1:3:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Indeed, the fullness of divine blessings are only available in and through Christ. In fact, all blessings to all nations exist only in Him.

Look at Psalm 72:17:

"His name shall endure forever;
His name shall continue as long as the sun.
And men shall be blessed in Him;
All nations shall call Him blessed."

Indeed, His very name is blessed!

It is important to remember that Jesus came to bless us; yes, and to bless all who will trust and follow Him. We are clearly told by Jesus that the Son of God did not come into the world that the world might be condemned but that the world might be blessed and saved through Him (John 3:17- 18).

Do you want to be blessed? Do you want to be happy? Do you want to live a life that counts for something? Do you desire to fulfill your purpose in life? Sure you do, we all do. This is the great pursuit of mankind. Even the preamble to our Constitution contains the words, "...the pursuit of happiness." Well, if you want to be blessed, you want to be truly happy, listen carefully to the words of Jesus over the next few weeks and put these words into your life and practice.

Before we look at the first Beatitude, let me share an important point with you. The Beatitudes are for all believers and all the Beatitudes are for each believer. In other words, there are no believers who can say that these words do not apply to them. Every believer needs to understand that every Christian is meant to practice these Beatitudes in daily living. This is important for us to know, because the Beatitudes will not come to us naturally. They are spiritual in nature and go against our fallen, human nature. We will have to surrender, truly surrender, to the Lord in order to live out these principles. Our lives, hearts, and minds must be committed to Him if we would practice these words and know the joy that comes from them.

Now let's look at Beatitude number one as found in Matthew 5:3:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Now notice that Jesus sat down to speak. This is interesting because today we stand to speak. When a people are to be addressed, whether in politics, education, or in a church, the speaker usually stands to speak. But in the days long ago the speaker would sit. In fact, it was important for him to sit before the group. This was a sign of authority and honor. We use this somewhat in our day. We speak of a senator as having a "seat" in the Senate. We speak of a Congressman or Congresswoman as having a "seat" in the House. We know that seminaries have what is called a "chair of evangelism" or a "chair of church history." This means that someone occupies the leadership in that discipline of study in the seminary or university. Well, Jesus sat down, for He has all authority in the entire universe. Jesus sat and He taught His disciples.

We see Jesus speaking of ...

I. The Delight of the Poor in Spirit

Whatever being poor in the spirit means, and we will see what it means in a moment, it is delightful. That is what Jesus exclaims. The word Blessed means to be happy or filled with joy. It was a word used to speak of the divine atmosphere - the atmospere in heaven. Heaven is a Blessed place, a place of peace, joy, and happiness on a scale we have never known. Yet, we do not have to wait to enjoy something of the blessedness of that place, for Jesus tells us that the true Christian has the means of knowing the basics of that joy in the here and now. Please, do not miss this. The word in our text is important.

This passage does not say that we will be blessed one day, but that we ARE blessed with this blessedness - right now! Or, at least we can be. He came to bless us and we can be blessed today. If we are not living in fullness of joy, it is not the fault of the Lord - it is our own fault. The blessing is ours for the taking.

To understand what this first Beatitude means, look at ...

II. The Definition of the Poor in Spirit

What does this mean? Surely it goes against modern thinking. We think of blessedness as being rich and having everything we desire. We think of joy as coming from those who are self-confident and aggressive in every way. Yet, this text tells us that the joy we really seek is found in the opposite of that which we would expect.

Before we fully explain what being poor in the spirit means, we must look carefully at what it does not mean. This does not speak of being poor materially.

Maybe you heard about the man who said they were so poor at his house when he was growing up that the mice went out to eat most of the time. Or perhaps you heard about the fellow who went in and told his boss he had to have a raise in pay because three other companies were after him. The boss asked what other companies were after him and the man replied, "The electric company, the gas company and the telephone company." Apparently he needed a raise in pay so he could settle his bills.

Actually there is no premium in material poverty. Poor people are not necessarily better people or happier people. In fact, poverty itself can be the cause of many ills in a society, including an increase in sadness, abuse, crime and disease. So this verse does not speak of financial poverty.

This does not mean to be poor in attitude. It does not mean that you are to go around looking as if you've been baptized in pickle juice. This does not mean that you are to live your Christian life without having fun or enjoying this world. After all, God made this world. He put you in it. He created laughter and good clean fun is healthy for us. The Bible states, "A cheerful heart does good like a medicine." So, God is not speaking here of being poor in attitude, or poor in the spirit of laughter.

One man told another that he had lost a million dollars in one day. His friend asked how that was possible. His answer was that the day before he had felt like a million dollars, but today he didn't feel worth two cents. I expect all of us have felt that way at some point. Just know that being poor in spirit has nothing to do with that attitude either.

What does this statement mean? It means there is a blessing for those of us who realize that before Almighty God we are totally bankrupt. You will never be what you should be - in fact, you can never enter the Kingdom of God until you come to know and admit that you are spiritually backrupt.

There are two Greek words that speak of poverty. One of them means to be so poor that you have to work each day just to live through that day. If you missed a day of work and pay, you would be destitute. That Greek word is not the one used here. There is another Greek word which means to be utterly destitute. It speaks of being without any means of support whatsoever. It means you are hopeless. There is no friend or family member to help you. It means there are no savings, no earthly goods you could sell, absolutely nothing that can help you survive. Dear friend, that word is the one used by Jesus in this text. It is the Greek word "ptosso." This word is used in Luke 16:20 to speak of Lazarus the beggar. It means to be a beggar before God. In the sight and presence of God, you and I are spiritual beggars. We have nothing with which we can redeem ourselves from our spiritual bankruptcy. We are helpless before God. A person must see himself or herself bankrupt before a holy God. A human being has absolutely nothing with which to commend himself to God.

Do you understand this principle? There is no premium in material poverty, but there is a great value in spiritual poverty. That is what Jesus was talking about. He was speaking of spiritual poverty.

Let me explain it like this.

  • With the body I have world-consciousness.
  • With the soul I have self- consciousness
  • With the spirit I have God-consciousness.

In the world I may have many goods, a large home and drive a super car, but that does not mean a thing regarding my life in the presence of God.

In my self-consciousness I may be strong and filled with promise. I may be like the great boxer Ali who said after obtaining the heavyweight boxing title, "I am the greatest in the world." That kind of self-consciousness might help you succeed in your chosen field, but it means nothing before the Holy God of heaven.

In my spirit I must know and admit my spiritual bankruptcy. Before I can know the true divine, heavenly atmosphere of blessedness, I must acknowledge that I bring nothing to the relationship with God. He pays it all, offers it all and gives it all. That is poverty as spoken of in this text. This is the beginning of knowing the atmosphere of heaven while in this world.

The truth is that no person can strut in God's sight. No one can boast in His presence. When you come before God, you do not come as if you have VERY LITTLE, you must come realizing you have NOTHING. Jesus once said, "Without me, you can do nothing." He did not say that without Him we could do very little. He said that without Him we could do NOTHING!

In Romans 7 Paul addressed this very idea. Look at Romans 7:18, "I know that NOTHING good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." [emphasis mine] Paul said that in his flesh their dwells NOTHING GOOD.

Now, let's look at ....

III. The Details of the Poor in Spirit

In order to see what this means to us, we need to understand some of the details in the characteristic of being poor in spirit. There are three specific details or signs for you to look for in your own life to see if you possess this Beatitude in your life.

First we see that  ...

A. There Is Awareness
  • We must be aware of just how poor we are - poor in the spirit.
  • We must realize just how short we come to being what God expects us to be.
  • We must realize how lost we are. If we live before God depending on our own works, goodness and character to commend us to Him, we are in a hopeless situation.

Look at Matthew 5:20-24:

20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount that the human problem is one of internal character and not just external conduct. This was a huge problem for the Jewish leaders in Jesus' day. Many of them struted around in pride, professing to be keepers of all the Laws of God. In truth, they were everything but perfect - they were sinners just like all of us are. Yes, this is a big problem for us today as well. It is not just what we do, or how we appear, but what we are in our hearts that creates our dilemma. Every honest man and woman knows that he or she is totally bankrupt without the grace, love and forgiveness of the loving Savior.

Our problem is one of attitude. That is why the Beatitudes are said to be the attitudes that ought to be in every person.

Look at Matthew 5:41: "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two..."

Here we see that the Christian life is not one of legalism but one of love. Legalism would say that I am only required to go one mile when it is demanded. You see, in the days of Jesus, Israel was occupied by Rome. If a Roman soldier was travelling, he could demand that a citizen carry his load for a mile. After that, the Roman soldier had to find someone else to carry the load or pick it up himself. Jesus said that just obeying a law is not enough. We must go beyond the law and act in love. If demanded to go a mile, we must be willing to volunteer the second mile.

You see how this principle is presented? Our religion is not one of external conduct alone but one of internal attitude. Our religion is not one of law but one of love.

We can see the principle I'm talking about in yet another way. Look at Matthew 5:48 and note an astounding verse:

"Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

Wow! Now, that is a some statement. I've met some people who thought they were perfect but thankfully they were in institutions for safe keeping.

Jesus pointed out that just doing good deeds is not enough. He is revealing that God is looking at our hearts and not just our actions. He has shown that just obeying laws will not suffice. We must act beyond that standard. Now He raises the bar to the highest level and leaves us in the dust of our spiritual poverty with a comparison that defies possibility. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus states that we must be perfect, even as the Father in heaven is perfect. Now that is a profound statement. Overwhelming, isn't it? Incredible, don't you think? Yet, there it is in black and white, just the way Jesus said it. My religion is not just a matter of performance, it is a matter of perfection.

Bow down my friend. Bow down on your face. You and I are bankrupt before a holy, pure, sovereign God. We have nothing with which to present ourselves before His excellency, King Jesus. No wonder the people said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus did not teach them as other men, but that He taught was one having authority (Matthew 7:28-29).

Have you gotten the picture of this poverty? We are poor, but only those who are aware of this poverty can do anything about it. We must first be aware.

But then we see that ...

B. There Is Acknowledgement

A beggar has to be honest about his condition. The only way a beggar can have his need met is to admit his need and ask for help. Imagine a man who is poor but wants you to think he is rich. So, he borrows a limousine, a nice suit and goes to a party. There he asks someone for help. Do you think that anyone would give him anything? Absolutely not. He appears to need nothing and he will receive nothing.

But, imagine a man who comes to a wealthy person and admits fully his need without trying to cover up his condition at all. He admits that he has nothing. He appears in his rags. He does not try to cover up his poverty. That man will receive something from the hand of a kind and caring person.

Dear friend, Jesus is saying that those who come to God admitting that they are bankrupt in their spirit will receive from the Heavenly Father all that they need andmore. He is saying that the blessed atmosphere of heaven will be given to such a person. He is saying that joy unspeakable and full of glory is waiting for that person. In fact, He is saying that this is the only way to be saved. You must come as a bankrupt sinner, aware of you need and admitting your need. Then, God will hear you and will answer you. It is like the hymn writer penned it:

"In my hand no price I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling!"

Somewhere I read the story of Cesar Milan, a famous minister from Geneva. He met a young woman one day and asked about her spiritual condition. She was annoyed by the question and plainly told him that she did not wish to discuss the matter. He said that he would pray for her salvation. Later, when they saw each other again, she asked how she might come to know the Lord. He told her to come just as she was. She turned her life over to Christ and then wrote the great hymn, which expresses the message of the first Beatitude. A couple verses of the hymn make the point.

"Just as I am, without one plea,

 But that thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou biddest me come to thee,

O, Lamb of God, I Come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind,

Yea, all I need in thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come."

The person who does not know his spiritual poverty is in great danger. I heard some time ago about a man who was able to buy an old garbage dumpsite for a small amount of money. He had the land covered over and began to develop it into a housing development. He put in sidewalks and streets. He planted grass and plants everywhere. He built a beautiful entrance to it. People began to buy the houses and move into the community. The land developer made a lot of money on the project, but then something terrible happened. One day a sidewalk caved in. Within days a part of one street collapsed. Soon the housing began to sink into the ground. In a short time, the entire area was condemned and the people had to move out of the houses they had purchased. The entire project collapsed.

You need to understand that if you are building your life on the garbage of your own works, even if it looks good right now, one day it will collapse around you. In order to build properly, you must build upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 7:24)

Notice thirdly ...

C. There Is The Appeal

A true beggar will live up to his nature, he will beg. He will appeal for help. You must appeal to the Lord as a poverty stricken person before you can know all the joy God wants you to know, before you can be used the way God wants to use you, before you can see His mighty hand the way you desire to see it.

I believe that Paul was such a great servant because he understood this principle. Look at Ephesians 3:4b. Paul had many earthly works with which to present himself to God. But what did he think of it? Look at Ephesians 3:7-8. He counted it all as rubbish, as nothing. No wonder Paul was such a wonder! He practiced the principle of being poor in spirit. He called himself the chief of sinners.

Look at Simon Peter. He was always so filled with himself. He boasted about what he would do in a crisis. Yet, he denied the Lord when the Lord needed him most. Then when Jesus had risen from the dead He appeared to Peter. Peter fell down and said, "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man." Then and there he was ready to be used. Jesus would use him to preach at Pentecost where 5,000 precious souls were saved and the church was born.

Lastly, let's look at ...

IV. The Door to Becoming Poor in Spirit

How can I possibly become poor in spirit? How can I do this without it being hypocritical? How can I slay my pride and surrender my selfish will?

Come simply and honestly into the presence of Jesus. Look at His perfect life. Compare yourself to Him. He was tempted just like you yet without sin. Our pride will melt in His presence. It is difficult for you to live 1 hour without some sinful thought or attitude present; but, Jesus lived 33 years on this earth and never sinned once - not once! That is the greatest miracle in the Bible. A man, living in the flesh, lived without a sinful thought, deed, action, or word for 33 years - His entire life. Then, he was willing to go to the cross and take your sins and might into Himself that we might have the opportunity to be saved.

You see, humans think that a change in circumstances can change them. What a monumental mistake. The only way for a person to be changed is for a work to be done on the inside of his heart. That is God's work. You cannot do that yourself. You are helpless without His help.

God loves you. He will help you. Come to Him as your are. Tell Him the truth about your sin, your weaknesses, your faults, your anxieties - even the false pride you project at times. Yes, we all do that. As one friend of mine says, "Fake it till you make it." Some people do that all the time. Get rid of all pretense and come to Christ with a humble, honest heart.

When Jesus was on this earth, he encountered the Pharisees. They had problems with sin but they wanted everyone to think they were holy and perfect. They cleaned up the outside of their lives, but the inside was unchanged. You can put a pig in the living room, but he is still just a pig. To fit in the living room of a home, his nature would have to be changed. That is God's work. He can cleanse us. He can change us.

I pray the lost will come to Him today and be gloriously changed. And, I pray many of us who have known the Lord as our Savior for many years will come to Him afresh, admitting that He is still the only One who can change us daily into the image of Christ.