And 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, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:1-3
This week, we will begin a new devotional series in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We’ll begin where Christ begins with His opening words, that are referred to as the Beatitudes (which is Latin for “blessed”). The setting that we find this sermon in is the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. We see right away that as Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, He called Peter and Andrew to follow Him as His disciples (Matt. 4:18). We see Christ’s preaching of the gospel of the kingdom, His healing of many people from their diseases, His gaining quite a following. Multitudes followed, having heard and many having been healed by Jesus. These miraculous cures would make way for what He would do next.
Seeing the people, Jesus went up on a mountain. Now, let’s consider this for a moment. Jesus was about to preach marvelous sermon. He was about to give a great exposition of the law. But yet He didn’t take the people to the synagogue and sit on Moses’ seat where other authoritative teachers of the law sat to teach. Christ went up on a mountain. It’s interesting that in Exodus 19, when God came to give the moral law to Moses, He descended, He came down on Mount Sinai in storm and fire, and spoke in thunder and lightning. Here, we find Jesus went up on a mountain and spoke to the people in a gentle voice. When God descended on Sinai, the people were commanded to stay back and keep their distance. Here, Jesus invited them to draw near to Him. What a blessed change!
Matthew goes on to tell us when Jesus sat down, which was customary for teachers to do, His disciples came to Him. Christ had their attention. Notice, He then opened His mouth not to engage in chit-chat or other pleasantries. He opened His mouth to feed and teach them. What did His disciples need? They needed instruction. They needed to grow in knowledge of the gospel of Christ and His kingdom. The same is true for us, isn’t it? Through Christ, we have access to God, not only to speak to Him in prayer, but to hear from Him in His Word, by His Spirit. We, too, need to sit at the feet of Jesus, so to speak, and be taught by Him.
Where does He begin His glorious sermon on the ethics of the kingdom of God? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” See how God pronounces His blessing upon specific people – those who are poor in spirit. Wonderfully, He will make such a pronouncement in each Beatitude. What does “poor in spirit” mean? Elsewhere in Luke 6:20, Jesus says, “blessed are the poor” referring to those who struggle materially in life, and yet God’s blessing is upon them nonetheless as He sustains and provides for them.
Here, Jesus says, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” He is talking about a realm where this poverty is known. Note that it doesn’t necessarily exclude those who have been given wealth. One can be wealthy in property and poor in spirit. One can be poor in property and a proud person. They can be poor and proud, murmuring and complaining, and blaming their lot on God or others. In this first Beatitude, Jesus is spotlighting those who humbly recognize their great spiritual need and depend on Him alone, rather than their own goodness. Blessed are those who humbly flee to the free grace of God and the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
We need to remember that true happiness doesn’t lie in worldly possessions, but being in the favor of God. Jesus says God’s blessing, His approval, is upon the poor in spirit. He looks graciously upon them (James 4:6). Remember also David’s words in Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
Further, see how the divine blessing is coupled with divine declaration. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus declares, in the present tense, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God draws us, as impoverished and bankrupt beggars to Himself, and what do we find? He blesses and fills us with every good thing. In Christ, we are heirs to the kingdom of heaven. God says it’s ours. We already have it, in Him. Praise God for this wonderful blessing! Be comforted and encouraged as you meditate on it.