In many, maybe even most, ways, Jesus grew up in a pretty typical way. The Bible says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52, ESV) Sounds pretty normal to me. The only story we have between his birth story and the beginning of his ministry is one odd account of him speaking with the teachers at the temple. While the story may be a little odd and shows us that Jesus was special, he was still just a kid. In around 30 years of life, that is the only story of significance that is shared with us from the Bible about Jesus, until he starts his ministry.
He gets a bit of a walking start, teaching here and there in synagogues and to small groups. People hear about him healing the sick, and the curiosity of the supernatural starts bringing in crowds. Matthew chapter 5 is the real launch of Jesus’ large scale ministry. It’s the “Big Show,” the start of crowds, recognition, acclaim, and fame in Israel. From Jesus’ perspective, this is the first opportunity to share God’s Word with a huge group of people. This is a significant time, and it calls for a significant message. What would be the first words that Jesus would share?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)
Well that’s interesting! Someone’s getting the kingdom of heaven; those who are “poor in spirit.” People are probably thinking, “I’m poor in general, so that probably means poor in spirit. Is this me?”
Its one of those statements that you hear or read and sort of roll past. It isn’t complicated wording, there isn’t some sort of graduate-level vocabulary being used, and its not one of those statements that you get the impression the speaker went to the Thesaurus to come up with a complicated word to make him or herself sound sagacious. No, Jesus said some very simple words, words that we can easily roll past but that hold a very profound meaning.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
A simple statement that can be read so easily while hiding a depth of meaning and insight. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Who is poor in spirit? It doesn’t even sound good – would you ever think, “I’d really like to be poor in spirit?” Or would you run into someone and say, “Wow, they’re amazing! They are so poor in spirit!”
The only way I can process “poor in spirit” in my mind is to start with the opposite – rich in spirit. People who are rich in spirit are confident in themselves and their abilities. They can do it on their own; they are strong enough to power through whatever is happening by the strength of their will and their abilities. They are all they need. They are rich in spirit!
We are called to be something different; in fact, we are called to be the complete opposite. We are to understand that we are nothing; we are weak, helpless, without power or strength or ability. In and of ourselves, we can’t do anything at all.
This is the attitude that God wants from us, so much so that when we have it we will be given the Kingdom of Heaven! Why? Because this is the attitude, the heart condition, that God uses – He works through our weakness and inability, not through our strength. He wants and deserves the glory, and when something as poor, helpless and pathetic as we are accomplishes great things through His power, He receives the glory!
Think about the examples we have in the Bible. Gideon was the least of the least of the least, a scrawny little geeky kid. God called him to lead an army, and then slashed the army down to almost nothing before He sent them to defeat an overwhelming occupying force. How about Moses, a stuttering, murdering goat herder who God used to defeat the mightiest army in the world and free His people to go to the Promised Land. Samson was the strongest, most powerful man of his day; think of him as an even more impressive Kevin Sorbo. However, it wasn’t until this powerhouse of a man was reduced to a pathetic, blind slave that God used Samson to defeat His enemies; that is what it took for Samson to make his heart right before God. Pray that we learn to be poor of spirit a little quicker than Samson!
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes:
[Poor in spirit] means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God. That is to be ‘poor in spirit’.
-D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
We have to come to God and pray that He empty us of our spirit, our pride, our belief in ourselves. We recognize that we are nothing except what God has put in us, and we fully rely on His guidance in our lives.