3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
As you remember from the previous study, this is the beginning of a long section
of teaching by Jesus. It is found in the 5th chapter of the gospel of Matthew
and it occurs fairly early in Jesus' ministry. Jesus is announcing news
of the kingdom of heaven. He is telling His listeners about God the king, the
ways, and the people of this kingdom. He begins this long discourse with a
series of nine statements, all beginning with the word "blessed." Who
are those that are favored by God in the kingdom of heaven? Well, the list
is actually very surprising...mind-boggling really!
Jesus' first statement to His disciples after He sits down to teach
is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Well,
first of all, how is it possible that one who is in any way poor is blessed?
The words "poor" and "blessed" just don't seem
to belong in the same sentence! Those listening to Jesus would have been as
shocked as we are. There was a deep conviction among Jesus' listeners
that it was the rich person who was clearly favored by God. To be blessed is
to be filled, overflowing with wealth, health, security, and happiness. Today
when someone receives some great fortune or is experiencing a fortunate turn
of events, you might hear that person say that they were blessed.
Certainly we do not look at someone who is lacking and proclaim they are blessed.
In fact, Jesus is not saying here, "Don't worry if you are presently
poor in spirit, because you may will sometime soon turn a corner and be blessed." He
is not saying "In spite of your being poor in spirit, God can still bless
you." No, He is saying that it is the poverty of spirit that is the sign
that you are blessed. It is in your poverty of spirit that you are blessed.
Since one who is poor lacks money, we have to assume that one who is "poor
in spirit" is lacking something internally, related to their very souls.
The poor is spirit recognize their own spiritual poverty, their lack, on their
own, of the spiritual resources that provide them with life, joy, love or confidence.
Such ones admit their emptiness, their spiritual lack. This person is not looking
to him/herself for spiritual richness. Notice that Jesus is not talking merely
about how one feels about oneself, He is speaking of a state of being. This
is not about having a low self-image or being depressed. Being poor in spirit
does not require that you not like yourself or that you feel particularly "down." It
is the truth that you are not and cannot be your own source of life and identity--
for those things need to be received from outside of yourself and from a much
How wonderful and amazing this statement must have sounded to those listening
who upon hearing this word realized Jesus had put His finger exactly on what
was really the matter. They were standing, listening to Jesus, perhaps at first,
only vaguely aware of their lack within themselves spiritually. They may have
mostly been aware of or thought about themselves as spiritual weaklings or
failures who surely deserved God's absence or neglect. Shouldn't
they be full inside if God was working in their lives? With this sense of lack,
I imagine there was a longing to be filled, to be complete, but also a sense
of hopelessness. Now here comes Jesus, saying that they are blessed in their
spiritual poverty because "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Your
awareness of your lack within, is a sign of God's work and favor with
you. That recognition of spiritual emptiness is a sign that God is indeed at
work, creating and illuminating the truth about them/us and so opening the
only possible channel to the kingdom (with all its wealth and fullness). This
good, wonderful news freed those listeners, and frees us today, to not deny,
push aside, or ignore our spiritual poverty. It is in our own lack that we
are blessed because in that way alone do we really turn to receive that great
richness that is found in God Himself and which we can never create, maintain
or even possess on our own.
Rather than thinking that this, or any of the other qualities that Jesus speaks
of in the following verses, are temporary or only appear in our lives at the
beginning of our Christian journey, it would be better to realize that these
are continuing states of being for the Christian. God helps us to know our
deep spiritual poverty within ourselves so that we are more and more able to
continually receive the great riches of His life and love that He is so eager
to share with us. It seems to me that the more we mature in Christ, the more
aware we are of our own spiritual lack and the more we long to fully and continually
receive the kingdom of God. We are more and more aware of the complete inability
of anything or any one in our lives to fill that spiritual void.
And how is it that our lack leads us to pursue such a treasure as the kingdom
of heaven? Isn't that a bit much? Doesn't it seem far too paradoxical
that such a truth leads to such an amazing destination? Perhaps this teaching
indicates that as creatures, on our own, we can only be poor in spirit. And
this is no mistake or shame. God created us to receive our spiritual wealth
from Him--to be truly blessed by Him, not ourselves. We were never meant to
somehow work up and maintain some kind of spiritual fullness to possess on
our own. And so, awareness of our poverty of spirit means recognizing the truth
of our created purpose--to be those who continually receive what our Creator
Father wants to give us--Himself and His kingdom. Only those susceptible to
the Spirit of God would dare acknowledge their spiritual poverty and receive
it as a channel to the Kingdom of God.
Of course, we see how the poor in spirit are blessed most clearly in Christ
Himself as He stands in our place and lives on our behalf. This characteristic,
as are all of the beatitudes, is true, first of Jesus. As one of us, He is
the One who is truly poor in spirit. In Philippians, Paul tells us that Jesus,
though He was God, "did not consider equality with God something to be
grasped, but emptied Himself." (Phil. 2:7). In the Gospel of John, Jesus
tells His listeners that He only does what He sees the Father doing and only
says what He hears the Father saying (John 5:19, 7:16). When speaking with
His disciples while in Samaria Jesus tells them that to do the will of His
Father is His very food (John 4:34). Jesus received the Father's love,
glory, authority, power, word. He does not give Himself any of these things.
He receives them all. In fact, He resists all temptation to accomplish for
Himself what He is to receive from the Father alone. The kingdom is about receiving
all the blessings of the King and Jesus receives all the blessings of His Father.
Our poverty of spirit is a reflection of and a participation in His own poverty
I think that Jesus goes on to fill out more fully what spiritual poverty looks
like. He is not describing different, separate groups of people. The people
who are blessed, and so favored by God are showing signs of all these qualities.
But we don't just discover the truth of our spiritual poverty in all
its various manifestations. For being blessed involves more than recognition
of our own lack. What exactly are the riches that we are to receive? Jesus
tells us. In the second half of each of these statements, Jesus goes on to
relate to us what the kingdom of God is like. We will be comforted, inherit
the earth, be satisfied, etc. The gifts of the kingdom we are to receive have
a certain character that reflect perfectly the King. And that too, is essential
to our being blessed.
So now we turn to the second line: "Blessed are those who mourn, for
they shall be comforted. Mourning is not a fun place to be. I don't think
anyone chooses to be in a state of mourning. It is painful and heart wrenching.
To mourn is to sorrow over a loss. Usually, we think of mourning in the context
of the death of a loved one. But we also mourn over lost relationships or opportunities.
We can mourn over sin and the consequences of our sin. When we look at the
news or listen to others' stories of the pain of past or present relationships,
or consider our own lives, we can be filled with sorrow at the loss that exists
in this very broken, sinful and suffering world.
I don't like to feel this way. It is easy to wonder where God is when
we are mourning. Certainly this does not seem like a state of blessing! We
would tend to believe that someone who is blessed by God is enjoying the state
of having no reason to mourn, someone who is not experiencing loss. When we
are mourning, we sense God at a distance from us. We may even wonder if He
has abandoned us. We are tempted to believe our mourning is a sign of His disfavor,
or simply lack of concern and presence in our lives. Or maybe, as a sign of
the power of sin in our lives to alienate God from us to the extent that He
has totally given up on us.
What does mourning have to do with being blessed? Jesus says in the second
half of this statement that those who are mourning are blessed, "for
they shall be comforted." As with the poor in spirit, mourning is a lack
or a longing in one's life. When we mourn we feel empty, needy, aching
for comfort. Life is not right any more, there is a hole in it that we ourselves
cannot fill. We cannot restore the loss ourselves. When I am mourning, I feel
like I am in a state of waiting, waiting somehow for life to be set right again.
This is why mourning is so uncomfortable, why it is a place we wish to avoid
if at all possible. In mourning, we are very aware of our poverty or lack of
Yet, here comes Jesus with His astonishing word to us. You are blessed when
you mourn. Your sorrow over the losses that come in this sinful world are a
sign of God's work in and favor upon you. This word from Jesus frees
us to mourn, to see that there is something good and right about mourning over
the things that should be mourned over. Yes, there is loss in the world, everything
is not right here, and we are not living in the place that is our true and
final home. To mourn is to recognize all those things that are truly not according
to God's will in this fallen world.
Jesus Himself shows us the mourning of God's own heart. The Triune God
mourns over the sin, destruction and death in His creation. Matthew records
a lament that Jesus speaks over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing
the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have
gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you would not!"(Mt.23:37). God mourns over the losses we have as
a consequence of living in a fallen world--even more than we do! He knows more
deeply the pain, sorrow and destruction that we cause each other and ourselves.
God hates sin because He hates what it does to His good creation.
But we haven't yet dealt with the 2nd half of this statement. Jesus
says that those who mourn are blessed "for they shall be comforted." The
loss we sorrow over now is not the end of the story. This word is stated in
the future tense. The kingdom is both a present and future reality. We receive
it now and yet we await fully receiving all God has for us. And, what we wait
for is astonishing. We "shall be comforted"! Our sorrow will truly
end, and not just a little, but fully and completely. Is that possible? Will
God be able to take up all the loss and sorrow in our lives and give us comfort?
Absolutely! Because God has not merely mourned over the state of His creation,
He is redeeming it. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians that God,
through Christ, is reconciling all things to Himself (Col. 1:20). Jesus is
our Redeemer, the One who has united Himself with our wounded and sinful humanity
in order to forgive and heal us from the inside out. He will have us whole,
well, and fully comforted. This is God's good pleasure.
In Hebrews, chapter 12, the author tells us that Jesus endured the cross "for
the joy that was set before him."(12:2). So Jesus is telling us here
that if we find that we are mourning over the brokenness, the deaths and losses
of this earthly life, this is actually evidence that God is working in our
lives and that we are responding to His Spirit. And, we are blessed in our
recognition of and sorrow over evil and its consequences because these are
the very things God is doing away with. The greatest comfort we have is that
Jesus has conquered sin and death and He will do away with it once and for
all, first in us and then everywhere else. What a great comfort awaits us--to
fully see, know and live in God's redemption!
So today, we are free to live in our poverty, our longing and our mourning.
God is making us more like Himself--what a grace this is. And, we can be at
peace with our longing because we trust in and hope for the full comfort that
we will someday experience in the kingdom that even now fully belongs to us
through Jesus Christ.
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