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The Riches of Bankruptcy

October 2, 2016 Pastor: Don Green Series: The Beatitudes

Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Matthew 5:3


Nothing says more about what a man truly is than how he thinks about himself in the presence of God, man, woman or child, and really you can fundamentally diagnose the reality of a man's heart with a simple comparison, a question that you should ask to yourself as you contemplate coming to Scripture here this morning: are you a reasonably good person who is entitled to God's blessing or are you unworthy and in need of grace? There is really only two poles there by which you could consider yourself. On one, a man thinks that God owes him something. He has done the rules; he has followed the ritual; he has been better than others. In another, a man thinks about himself vertically in the presence of God and says it doesn't matter what other men are like, "I myself have fallen short of the glory of God and therefore I am a sinner in need of grace." Well, friends, without fear of contradiction I can say this: whether you approach God with a sense of entitlement, real or only vaguely expressed in your own heart, or with a sense of unworthiness, is going to determine the trajectory of your life and of your eternity. This is fundamental. How do you see yourself in the presence of God, that is the ultimate question that defines a man. A man who thinks he is worthy or a man who thinks he is entitled, a man who has strains of pride in his heart, is a man who does not see his need for grace and Jesus said that he did not come to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance. So this is absolutely fundamental and you can diagnose, you can see a spirit of pride, you can see a sense of entitlement by whether someone walks around considering themselves a victim, somebody who has a long list of grievances that others have done against them, in that is a sense of entitlement that, "I deserve to be treated better than I have been." Or compared to those who approach God with a sense of humility that like the man in Luke 18 said, "Be merciful to me, the sinner."

We're going to have our hearts examined by God's word today in a very brief but powerful passage found in Matthew 5:3 as we enter into more deeply the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount here this morning. So turn in your Bibles, if you would, to Matthew 5:3. This brief text will be the sole consideration of our time together here this morning. Jesus said,

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

Now, as we have pointed out multiple times, this Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 5, 6 and 7, and so it is a very lengthy sermon that Jesus gave on a single occasion as he walked through the meaning of what repentance is, and we've talked about that repeatedly over the past few weeks. I'm not going to review any of that. I'm going to assume, presuppose that we're on the same page with these things. Here's what you need to see for today and as we go through the sermon in the days to come: this verse is the starting point and that might seem like a very obvious point. "Okay, I get it. So you just made a point that the first verse of the sermon is the starting point of the sermon. Wow, they must have really trained you well when you went to seminary." I get that but I do mean something just a little bit more fundamental than that. It's more than just a question of math that we're talking about. Here is what you need to understand, beloved, and this is going to be fundamental. This is basic. This is the foundation upon which everything is built. As you study the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6 and 7, as you go through Jesus' teaching on the law, on anxiety, on prayer, on future judgment, everything is built on this fundamental premise. This is his starting point and this is the starting point of what repentance looks like and as Jesus says, this is the very starting point of the kingdom of God. So we're not simply saying that this is the first verse of the sermon, we're saying that this is the fundamental premise upon which the kingdom of God is built from our perspective. This is absolutely essential. You must understand this. You must enter the gate through this principle that Jesus is speaking of. To miss this principle in Matthew 5:3 is to miss the kingdom of God. To miss Matthew 5:3 is to be placed outside the kingdom in a realm of darkness and pride and sin and death. This is the entry point into everything that Jesus has to say to us in the entire Sermon on the Mount. Everything is built off of this single premise.

And what we're going to do this morning is we'll find the meaning of what Jesus says here in Matthew 5:3 by asking really three questions of the text. So we'll ask three questions and then we'll answer them as we consider these words. Look at them again with me. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." So first question that I want to ask of this text today to kind of bring us into an understanding of what Jesus is saying is this. The first question if you want to write down notes today, this would be the first point in the notes, the question is this: what does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be blessed? You know, you could say, "God bless you." We use that word rather freely but we want to understand and look at it a little bit more closely to understand and enter into exactly what Jesus is saying. It is significant, it is powerful to recognize that this word "blessed" is the opening word of the entire sermon. Jesus starts with a pronouncement of blessing. This is an invitation from the Lord of the kingdom to come into his kingdom and be blessed, to be received, to experience whatever it is that he means by this word. It's the opening word here. And in this sermon, in Matthew 5:3, whether you are an unbeliever who has rejected Christ or whether you are walking now as a Christian, understand that there is a free invitation from the King of the kingdom to enter into blessing through what he has to say. To receive it with a willing and receptive and compliant heart that says, "I will listen. I will be instructed. I will yield. I will bend to whatever you say so that I might have this blessing of which you speak."

Now, wouldn't you want to know the blessing of Christ on your life? Wouldn't that just be the preeminent thing of all the universe to know that you were dwelling in the realm of blessing that Christ has pronounced? Well, Christ invites you to that with these words. He says, "Blessing awaits. Come and hear." This is the entryway into the kingdom. Beloved, Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, the preexistent Son of God, the one who will reign throughout all of eternity and be the object of the praises of angels and redeemed men throughout all of eternity, Jesus Christ, as it were, puts his hand on the doorknob to the kingdom of God and opens it up and invites you to come in. Wouldn't you want that? Under what pretense would anyone say, "That's not for me"? No. No. We would all want the blessing of God on our lives, the blessing of Christ, and Jesus here lays it out and says, "I'm not going to hide it from you. You don't have to wonder about this. I'm going to make it plain what the principle of blessing in the kingdom of God is." This is a magnificent word from Christ.

So realizing the magnitude of what he lays out before us, we say, "What is this blessing? What exactly is he saying when he says blessed are the poor in spirit? What is this opening word? What does it mean?" Well, over the years many have said that Jesus means that he's talking about you can be happy this way and that this word means happy. In some contexts, it might mean that referring to an inner feeling of satisfaction and a buoyant spirit. "Oh, I'm so happy today!" And sometimes his disciples do feel happy but when you think of the word "happy" do you think of anything that's really significant? Does the word "happy" to you convey a sense of deep meaning? As we use the word "happy" it's a superficial term. It's something that comes and goes. "Oh, I'm happy because my team won last night or I'm happy because I found a dollar bill," or whatever you might say. "Oh, this is happy."

Beloved, I want to take your mind out of that room in this sense, that superficial sense by which you and I use the word "happy" cannot possibly be what Jesus is talking about here today. It is not possibly the intent of what he is saying and this is actually very very obvious. When you think about the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, remember that what we've said that Jesus is explaining what it means to repent: it's a call to righteousness, it's a call to blessing with an eye to the fact that there is judgment coming for every man, woman and child, that we will one day stand before God in judgment and he will evaluate our lives based on whether we've responded to the words of Christ or not. When you remember in the context of the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3 through 10, that Jesus is talking about significant matters of spiritual character, you realize that he's not possibly talking in a superficial term by the way that in our modern day usage we use the word "happy." Happy is for Disneyland. Happy is for things like that. No, Jesus is talking about something more significant here. Jesus has to be speaking about something more than transitory emotions. He's not describing the way that people feel when he opens the sermon. That is too superficial of a view.

A standard lexicon, Greek lexicon defines this term "blessed" in this way and, beloved, this is what you want to grasp onto; this is what you want to lay hold of. What does Jesus mean when he says that people like this are blessed? Jesus is referring to the fact, this word means that people like this, like he is going to describe – write this down, remember this – people like this are the privileged recipient of divine favor. These people are blessed in the sense that God has bestowed favor on them. They are in a position of privilege, of opportunity, of benefit that not everyone has. So they are the privileged recipient of divine favor.

That's what Jesus is describing here and here's what you need to see. This is all so fundamental. It's so important. It's so basic to your eternal well-being. Jesus is not describing a subjective internal feeling that a person has inside and the way that they feel about life or circumstance. That's not what he's talking about here. That's too shifting. It's too changing. It's too variable. That's not it. What Jesus is doing here is he is declaring an objective fact that is true about people like this independent of their feelings about themselves. Jesus is saying, "As an objective matter whether they perceive it or not, whether others agree or not, as an objective matter from the perspective of God, this person is in a realm of divine favor, of blessing, of benefit," is what Jesus is saying.

So whatever else this verse means, Jesus is saying this: people who are poor in spirit have received God's favor. No matter how they feel at the moment, they are in a good position because God is favorably disposed toward them. So they are in an area where there is God's favor, God's goodness, God's mercy is upon people like this. That's really essential. So what Jesus is doing here in this opening verse, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," what Jesus is saying is, "I'm going to tell you right now where the realm of God's blessing operates. This is where God's favor is discovered. This is where it is found. Nowhere else but here in this realm, this is where God's favor is operative, is at work."

And what do we say about it? What do we take from what Jesus has said? Let's go to our second question this morning. What does it mean to be blessed? The first question, it means to be the privileged recipient of divine favor which, by the way, implies that not everyone is under divine favor; not everyone is a child of God. The second question that we want to answer for you here this morning: what does it mean to be poor in spirit? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? That's our second question that we want to answer here this morning. Think about it with me. If Jesus is the King of the kingdom, and he is, if Jesus is the source of all divine blessing, and he is, and if the realm of God's favor operates among those who are poor in spirit, then surely we want to know what it means to be poor in spirit so that we can enjoy his blessing. Jesus here is making an exclusive statement. He says, "The poor in spirit are the ones who are blessed. The poor in spirit are the ones who have God's favor." Well, that should be creating a thirst in your heart, a hunger in your heart that says, "I want that! I want that for myself! I long for that!" It should be creating within you a sense that says, "I want to know what that is so that I could be blessed, so that I could be under the favor of God. I've had enough of the sin and awfulness of this world."

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, let me take you to another passage where this word "poor" is used to kind of introduce you to the thought that is going on here. In Luke 16, turn over to Luke 16 with me, if you will, or scroll down on your device to Luke 16. This is a passage that will be familiar to you but don't jump to conclusions as we read it. We're just going to illustrate the meaning of the word "poor" here. You say, "Well, I know what poor is but, okay, let's just take a look and take our time." In Luke 16:19, Jesus speaks and he says, "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried." Twice Jesus uses the word "poor" in this story to describe the beggar, Lazarus.

Now, here we're talking about a material poverty in Luke 16 but here's what I want you to see, very simple, very basic, very essential to the well-being of your eternal soul. What can you say about Lazarus? He was a man in utter bankruptcy. He had no resources of his own to such an extent that as a poor man, he would have been satisfied, he was longing simply to eat the crumbs that were falling off this rich man's table. Watch this, think about it, what does it mean to be poor in that context? Lazarus – watch this, this is essential – Lazarus had no resources of his own. He had no wealth, he had nothing to his account, he had nothing by which he could provide for himself in a material sense, so that he was dependent on crumbs falling off the table in order to have something to satisfy the hunger and poverty of his belly. He was utterly dependent. He had nothing of his own. That's what Jesus meant when he said this poor man, utterly without resources of his own. You get the picture. Poor. No resources.

Keep that in mind as you turn back now to Matthew 5. Lazarus was a poor man which meant that he had no resources of his own. Oh, is this ever vital to everything in the kingdom of God; in everything that flows from the Sermon on the Mount, you must understand this fundamental premise or your soul will be lost in hell forever. It is that fundamental and critical. What does it mean to be poor in spirit as Jesus describes it in Matthew 5:3? Watch this, beloved: when Jesus speaks about being poor in spirit, he's using the word "poor" which indicates no resources but he is not talking about poverty in a material sense. He's not talking about somebody who simply lives in material poverty without material resources of his own. No, Jesus is talking about something different. There is a poverty but it's a poverty in a different realm. Look at Matthew 5:3 with me again. Keep your eyes close on the text where Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Jesus is not talking about material poverty here. He's not saying that there is intrinsic spiritual blessing on every person who has nothing material to their name. It's not about something external like that at all. This is a poverty of spirit.

Look at Matthew 5:6, just three verses down and you can see this illustrated by the context in which Jesus speaks where Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." What is he saying? What is he describing? Remember that we said last week that the Beatitudes are a single unit; that they are describing different aspects of the same person so the Beatitudes together help us interpret individual Beatitudes. Beloved, here it is: Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes generally and here in Matthew 5:3, he is describing to someone – oh, watch this, this is so important – Jesus is referring to someone who hungers for a righteousness that he does not have. Lazarus was hungry for food which he did not have and so he wanted food that was falling from someone else's table. Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with an important salvo against human pride saying the people who are blessed, the people who are under God's favor, understand that they lack righteousness; that they do not have a righteousness of their own and therefore they understand that they are spiritually bankrupt.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Oh, we're going to spend some time on this because this is essential to your spiritual well-being. Let's talk about it from two different perspectives. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Well, it's talking about how someone views himself in the presence of God and the way that you think about God and the way that you think about self is fundamental to your existence, and to think rightly about God and yourself is to see this, first of all: you realize that God is transcendent, that God is eternal, that God is holy, that God is majestic, that he is beyond the bounds of time, that he has always existed and he will always exist, and he reigns over the universe and over the earth and over your life in unparalleled supremacy and authority. That's who God is and you look up and you see his majesty and the way that he has revealed himself in creation and you say, "There is a splendor and a greatness that far transcends who I am." You think about God that way.

Then you think about yourself and in the spirit of Psalm 8, you say, "Who am I that you pay attention to me? I'm a finite creature. I have nothing to offer to you. You are self-existent. You have everything that you need. You are beyond time and here I am, a frail, mortal creature in the bounds of time with 70 years, give or take, to live, to breathe and to die. I have no power to compare to yours. I have no majesty to compare to yours. Who am I that the Lord of heaven should notice me?" There is something essentially different about God. Do you see that? There is something transcendent about him that you do not tap into, that you do not own, that you do not possess and you realize there is nothing about me to cause God to notice me. I am completely humbled by his majesty.

That's one aspect of it. There's a second aspect of it. You realize that this is a God of absolute pristine holiness, separated from sin, exalted above the heavens. The God who is the giver of the law. The God will be the judge of his own law. And who are you? Well, Scripture describes you, doesn't it? There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks for God. The testimony of Scripture about you, about men in general, is not only that they are a finite creature in the presence of an infinite Creator, that would make you poor in spirit and recognize your poverty before God, that you have no resources of your own in the presence of God; that would be enough but then when you compound that and recognize the immense holiness of God and realize that you are a sinner in thought, word and deed, that this supreme God, this being of unparalleled excellencies, of eternal majesties, someone who is deserving of your complete and undivided loyalty and love with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, and you realize you haven't loved him like that. You're indifferent to his word. Your heart is cold in praise. For some of you who don't know Christ, you actively reject the Gospel and you actively reject his Son. Do you realize that these twin failures of being in man, a finite creature, a sinful creature at that, do you realize that that leaves you with nothing in the presence of God to commend yourself to him? This is essential to spiritual life. This is foundational to everything else.

So let me say it again: when you think rightly about God and yourself, you see that a transcendent God has no reason to notice you because there is nothing that you can give to him that he doesn't already have, and as a sinful creature, you are unfit for his presence. You say, "This is humbling." Precisely! If you say this is humbling and this lowers me and this sobers me, precisely. That's the point. The question is: who is God and who are you? It starts right there.

We could say, if you wanted to tie scriptures to it in particular, God is transcendent and what are you? You are a flowering grass that passes away, James 1. God is the God of all wisdom and all majesty and all might and who is man? Not righteous, not understanding, not seeking for God, Romans 3. God is the self-existent holy Creator. You are a sinful creature. Beloved, let that sink in for a bit. Let that sink into your pride. Let that be like spiritual weedkiller that you spray on the plant, the weeds of your pride and let it just sink into the roots so that it shrivels up and dies. We have been fed, have we not, for so very very long how important we are by the world around us. "You deserve a break today. You need to have greater self-esteem. You're someone special." And the world feeds that pride and our wicked hearts like to embrace that and say, "Yeah, that's right, and I deserve something better." And the whole politics of grievances built on a denial of what Jesus is talking about here. Well, let this sink in and think vertically and realize this: you cannot approach this self-existent transcendent God without simultaneously realizing that you have to deny yourself in humility. When you are plopped into the presence of God, you realize, "Oh, he's beyond me and I'm nothing by comparison." That's the sense of the poverty of spirit.

God says in his word what he thinks about humility and about pride. I'm going to read a few passages of Scripture here without turning to them with you. James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5. "God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble." Psalm 5:5, "The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity." Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." One more, Isaiah 57:15, God says, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit." Who is God with? Who does God bestow his favor upon? Where can God's presence be found among men? It's not with the boastful. It's not with the proud. Scripture says it's with those who are broken, those who are contrite of spirit, those who are humble, those who quickly magnify the greatness of God and quickly deny self in the process. What did Jesus say? "If any man wants to come after Me, let him take up his cross and," what? "Deny himself." There is a self-denial that is intrinsic in being poor in spirit. In your fundamental assessment of self, you say, "God is great and I am not." And Jesus says it's in that realm that the kingdom of God operates and apart from that spirit, a man has no share in his kingdom.

Martin Lloyd Jones says this about being poor in spirit and I quote, he says that, "It means a complete absence of pride, self-assurance and self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. We are nothing and we have nothing. We look to God in utter submission and in utter dependence upon his grace and mercy." To be poor in spirit means that you have to completely reject everything the world has tried to feed you about yourself and the way that the world has flattered you and tried to make you somebody great. You have to reject the self-flattery of your own heart, of your own pride. Watch this, that where you compare yourself to others and say, "I'm doing better than them." You have to reject all of that because in that spirit is an assertion of self-righteousness that says, "This distinguishes me from somebody else." In other words you're saying, "I have spiritual resources, merit of my own that distinguishes me from other men at least." And all of that, beloved, is a sinful demonic preoccupation with self that is completely contrary to the spirit of which Jesus speaks. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

So being poor in spirit, a man does not want to look and compare himself to others. Going back to Luke 18, the penitent sinner didn't even look over at the proud Pharisee who was praying, "God, I thank you that I'm not like that man." It says he just looked up to heaven, beating his chest saying, "O God, be merciful to me, the sinner." What is he expressing there other than a complete poverty of spirit? A denial of self that looks to God for grace saying, "I have no spiritual resources of my own."

Beloved, we kind of have to work this out in its details. Let's try to work it out in a couple of details if I can keep track with my own train of thought here. You know, it's one thing for a man to say, "I don't deserve to go to heaven." We're just kind of illustrating and marking out reference points to help you think. It's one thing to say, "I don't deserve to go to heaven," it's another thing to take that next step and say, "Do you know what? I deserve to go to hell. I deserve to be judged eternally for my sin." That's poverty of spirit to the extent that a man wants to stop short of saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm not that bad." Do you see the intrinsic sin and pride when a man hits the brakes before he goes to that next realm of thought? To say, "I don't deserve to be judged in hell," is to say, "There is something about me that exempts me from the judgment of God." That's not acceptable. That's not poverty of spirit. Again, that's saying that there's something that distinguishes me that exempts me in the searching holiness and eternal judgment of God.

Stated differently, it's one thing and I hate the false modesty of this, of what I'm about to describe, it's one thing to say, "Oh, I'm not perfect." Yeah, no kidding. You're not. Do we really even need to establish that premise? It's another thing to say that, "I'm a broken sinner with no merit before God whatsoever. I have offended God and there is no excuse for me." To say, "I am the common denominator in all of my problem relationships. Every bad relationship I have, I'm part of them." You see, and so what we're talking about here is we are excluding the possibility, for those of you that like basketball, of a little head fake in the direction of self-denial. "Oh, I'm not perfect. Oh, I don't deserve to go to heaven." But it's just a fake. That means nothing if you're not willing to actively say, "I deserve God's judgment. I am better than no one else. There is nothing distinguishing about me." And in a realm, in an area, in a region where most of us live in middle class or upper middle-class prosperity, we need to examine our hearts to see what we really think and whether without qualification, without condition, you say, "I agree with the judgment of the word of God on my soul. There is none righteous, not even one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and do you know what? That's me. I agree with the prosecution. I don't need someone and I won't be one who will try to vindicate myself. I am broken. I am bankrupt. I come to God as a humble beggar just like Lazarus came as a beggar to the table of the rich man."

You say, "Wow, you're kind of really just expanding on this and talking about it from so many different angles." Yeah, do you know why? Because the pride in your heart is so deeply wound around your self-assessment that it has to be addressed and it has to be pulled out and rooted out from the very very root. You are prone to think highly of yourself. Your pride flatters you. And all of that hidden deep pride needs to be exposed by different questions, different illustrations, different things like that in a way so that you see what Jesus is talking about: a complete absence of pride, of self-assurance and self-reliance. That's the realm where God blesses.

Now, point 3. We've answered the question: what does it mean to be blessed? It means that you are a privileged recipient of divine favor. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means that you acknowledge that you are spiritually bankrupt before a holy God and that you don't condition that with these qualifiers and head fakes. You say, "I accept it. I agree." Now, point 3, now we get to the good part. You kind of have to go through the valley in order to reach up into the mountain top of what Jesus is speaking here. Remember this before I get to my third point here, remember this, beloved: remember that Jesus introduces this as a means of blessing; that this is the entry way into divine favor. The word of God breaks us, yes, but it breaks us not just simply to leave us in a broken condition, it breaks us in order to put us in a position of receiving the favor of God. The whole point of this is that until you pull the weeds of pride out of your heart, you're not positioned for the blessing of God. Christ would have you blessed therefore he deals with your pride by the roots so that the ground has been cleared for the seeds of the blessing of God to take root deep in your soul. Christ designed your good when he declares you bankrupt in spirit.

So now we say, "Okay, what's the blessing? What's the goodness here? What is it that makes this so great?" Point 3, we answer this question: why are they blessed? Why are they blessed? Now, if somebody had just walked in off the street, maybe some of you did, maybe someone did, just walked in off the street. It's amazing to me that a number of people have found our church and have come to our church simply because of the street sign that we have and that's humbling in itself for other reasons, but just to say, "Oh, I see a new sign here. I think I'll check this church out." It's not because they knew anything about us or about the pastor. They just said, "Hey, I see a sign. I'll stop in." Well, if you're one of those people who just happened to stop in today and you come with all of the presuppositions of worldly thinking, it might seem to you that to say that men of all kinds and of all stripes are guilty sinners before God who deserve judgment, you'd say, "You're just trying to break people down, son. Why are you talking so mean, son? Why are you doing that?" And there could be because the whole world is geared to talking about how great we are, to deny that would be to deny the very purpose of existence. Well, what we say and what Scripture says is that, "No, no, we don't say this simply to break people down, it's so that we can introduce them to the blessing of God; to introduce them into eternal, untold spiritual riches that are found for people only like that, that are poor in spirit."

So look at Matthew 5:3 again to answer the question why? "Blessed are," present tense, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for," because; this is why they are blessed; this is why they are in a position of divine favor. Why? "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Now, I said last time and I'm going to have to say it at least eight more times because it's true of every verse in the Beatitudes, when Jesus says "theirs is the kingdom of heaven," he's talking about something exclusive. This blessing belongs to them and to them alone. It's emphatic. The pronoun is emphatic. The placement in the sentence in the original language is emphatic. "Theirs and theirs alone, only to these people belong the blessing of which I speak."

So why are you blessed to be poor in spirit? Here's the thing, beloved, and this opens up the whole meaning of the kingdom of God. You see, it's like this. I want to state this as simply as I possibly can: God does not receive people who think that they are good enough to be with him. Let me say that again. You need to get this. Maybe this hits you for the first time after sitting under Bible teaching for many many years. God does not welcome, he does not receive people who think they are good. He does not receive people who think that God owes them something. It's not like that. That's not how his kingdom works at all. You say, "Who's left?" Here's who's left, brothers and sisters in Christ: God – oh, watch this. I can't help it. I'm sorry but this is really important – God receives people who know that they do not deserve his blessing and that's the only ones that he receives. "God, I don't deserve your blessing. How could I, a finite sinful creature like me? Who am I that the Lord of all the earth would take note of me? Why would you do that? There's no reason." That's the point.

Jesus said he's like a doctor. A doctor doesn't treat well people. It's not those who are well who need a physician, it's those who are sick. Jesus said, "I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." In other words, Christ sends out an invitation freely to sinners, those who recognize their poverty of spirit, and says, "Come to me. I want people like you for my kingdom."

If we were going to state it theologically, then the kingdom of God as it pertains to people entering into the kingdom and being in the realm of the kingdom – so fundamental – the kingdom of God is not about your merit. It's not about you deserving it at all. That has nothing to do with it. That's excluded. The operative principle in God's kingdom is grace. It's that God shows favor to people who know they don't deserve it. That it pleases God to shower his goodness on people who come to him saying, "God, I don't deserve anything. I'm a beggar. Give me a few crumbs off the table, O God. Give me bits of grace, Father, because I know I have no claim on your favor." In some ways, the starting point of a conversion is for somebody to realize that the law of God has convicted him, that he is broken, that he has no answer to the judgment of God and therefore, as it were, he throws himself on the mercy of the court. No excuses. No assertions of righteousness. Honestly, beloved, just a humble sinner coming, bowing down, head on the ground saying, "O God, in the presence of your holiness, I am not worthy of you. I have sinned and fallen short of your glory. God, be merciful to me, the sinner. God, I ask you for grace. It must come from you because I have nothing of my own to offer. I can't buy a ticket into your heaven, Lord. You need to give it to me freely or I will not receive it at all." So when Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God," why are you blessed? Why are you in a privileged position of favor? It's because now you are in a position to realize that the operative principle of God's kingdom is grace. You are freed from your assertions of merit to say, "God, I need your favor."

There are many ways that you could speak about the kingdom of heaven. Look at Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Let's make it simple today. The kingdom of heaven is the realm where Christ reigns as King over those who have repented and believed. The kingdom of heaven is the realm in which Christ reigns over those who have repented and believed. One day there will be a manifestation of the kingdom on earth when Christ reigns on earth, it will still be over his people. Scripture says that today now as believers we have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son. Why are you blessed to be poor in spirit? It's simple really: the poor in spirit are blessed because they – oh, watch this, I beg you to watch this – the poor in spirit are blessed because they are positioned to receive the benevolent reign of Christ over their lives, because God bestows his blessing only on those who are poor in spirit, because a recognition of a lack of righteousness on your part makes you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that you don't have and therefore you come to Christ saying, "Save me! Clothe me with your righteousness! Cover me! Give me that which I don't have and which I don't deserve!" Now you're dealing in the currency of the kingdom.

To switch metaphors on you yet once again, you see, to try to go to God on the grounds of your own righteousness is like trying to pay for a new car with monopoly money. "I don't take that. That's just worthless paper. You say that I should let you into my heaven because you're good enough? That doesn't pay here." And when you have abandoned your false currency of righteousness, then you're in a position to traffic, as it were, in the riches of Christ and say, "Christ, just be merciful to me, the sinner. Receive me on the basis of your grace because I have nothing of my own to offer to you."

You see, beloved, both as a sinner in need of salvation and now as Christians coming to him in prayer, we approach God in a spirit of asking for undeserved grace rather than with a spirit of entitlement that says, "God, you owe me." Someone who says, "God, you owe me. God why this has happened to me?" is somebody who is not poor in spirit. So you're blessed to be poor in spirit because now you are introduced into the realm in which God operates. This is where God bestows his blessing. God receives sinners who confess to him like that, "God, be merciful to me." God receives his people and deals with them abundantly when they say, "O Father, be gracious to me."

And what's that grace like in this life? Well, Jesus describes the blessings in the Sermon on the Mount. As you walk through the Sermon on the Mount, you see that he is providing blessing that God receives you when you pray; that God sees when you give and pray and fast in secret; that God is abundantly willing to remove that weight of anxiety from your soul. On that final day of judgment, Christ will receive you and you will go through safely the fires of judgment, the flood of judgment. You'll go through all of that safely. Even while countless others perish under the hand of the judgment of God, you'll go through safely. Why? Because you have received Christ on the principle of grace rather than demanding favor on the basis of merit. I would say, wouldn't you, that that's a good place to be. That that's a place of favor. That that's a place where God is showering his goodness. All with a final culmination of being in the internal presence of Christ, in the eternal infinite riches of heaven for ever and ever and ever, amen.

Now, friends, now, brothers and sisters in Christ, step back and say in light of all of that, blessed in this life, under the reign of a benevolent God now and perfected in Christ and with him forever and ever. Don't you see that to be in that realm is to be abundantly favored by God? That's why we say we're blessed. We have the reign of a good Christ over us now and it only gets better into eternity. Wow. That's a position of favor. Now we see why Jesus says, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Pastor Kent Hughes sums it up this way and I quote, he says, "The supreme lesson of Matthew 5:3 is that without poverty of spirit, no one enters the kingdom of heaven. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with this statement," I'm still quoting, "to declare for all time that no one is saved who believes that there is something in him that will make God prefer or accept him." A true Christian, this is one way that you can test yourself to see if you really know Christ or not, a true Christian understands, knows, freely confesses in his mind and verbally to men without qualification and without condition, "There was nothing about me that made God save me. There was nothing about me that distinguished me from someone else, that brought me into the kingdom while they are still out. No, I am the privileged recipient of divine favor. God has graciously out of his own love and purpose known only to him, shown favor to me that I did not deserve and of which I was no more deserving than any other man who has ever lived. I have just been blessed by God to be saved."

So, friends, what do you say about yourself? On what basis should God be good to you, should God be good to you? Is it because you are good or is it because God is good? Answer carefully, my friends, because the kingdom of heaven hangs in the balance.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we humble ourselves and bow before you. We ask you to bless your word to all who have heard. Teach us by your Spirit to embrace this poverty of spirit that leads to the kingdom of heaven. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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