When the Son of God came into the world, He came with a very distinct purpose. It was the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ to bear our sins on the cross in order that God, by His grace, might provide a way of salvation for us. This He did effectively and, through faith, all who truly repent of their sins and turn to Him for salvation are guaranteed eternal life.
However, Jesus did not simply die on a cross. His mission was more involved than that single, albeit monumental, event. Jesus came to bring us the full revelation of the truth. Christ Himself said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:44-46). Jesus Christ came to make known to us our heavenly Father (John 14:6-9). He came to explain the reality of life to us — the truth.
As Matthew recounts the life of Christ to us, he spends much of his narrative on the teachings of our Lord. Chapter four explains some of Jesus’ preliminary ministry but, as we move into chapter five, we are now exposed to His specific teachings. Jesus was a preacher, teacher, and worker of miracles (4:23-25). He boldly proclaimed the kingdom of God, clearly conveyed its truths, and authenticated His message by the miraculous works He performed. All that He said and did points us to God. If we want to know the God who created us and offers us salvation from sin, then we need to look no further than Jesus.
In Matthew 5:1-2, we find Jesus as He begins to publicly explain the truths of the kingdom of heaven. It is the backdrop for what we commonly call our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount — one of five key sermons recorded by Matthew. It is thus named because Jesus gave its message from a “mountain” (Gr. – oros). In this case, it was likely a level place on the side of a large hill along the N shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 6:17).
Though we do not know the actual location with certainty, there is a traditional site near Capernaum that fits this description. This place was, for quite some time, commonly known as the Mount of Beatitudes, which refers to the opening statements of the sermon.
A “beatitude” (L. beatus) is simply a statement that explains “blessedness.” In other words, Jesus came preaching the true blessing of the fullness of eternal life — to know God and dwell in His presence forever. This life is available to those who enter the kingdom of heaven. In the first 12 verses, we find the promise of eternal bliss for those whom our Lord here describes.
It was the Lord’s commission and great pleasure to declare that God graciously offers peace and fellowship with Him. While this sermon also teaches the true meaning of God’s law and places its standards far beyond our reach as sinners, there is found this hope for the Christian that, once saved from sin by the grace of God through faith in Christ, we can actually know this blessedness of which Jesus speaks. In this passage, we want to consider the first of the beatitudes, which is humility.
Blessed Are the Humble (v. 3)
Matthew tells us that Jesus’ sermon was prompted by the presence of “the multitudes” of people who were following Him. Verse 25 of chapter four stated that great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and the regions beyond. Throughout His ministry, Jesus was often moved to respond to the throngs of people who traveled with Him. Although He knew full well that most did not truly believe in Him as the Savior (John 2:24-25; 6:26-27), our Lord nonetheless genuinely cared for people and attracted those from all classes of society.
Matthew 9:35-36 says, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Like the heavenly Father, the Son of God cares for people and reaches out to them. He demonstrated this time and again, not only by healing the sick and raising the dead, but by His desire to shed the light of God’s Word on darkened minds.
With the exception of nearly all the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus was regarded as a prophet and a rabbi (John 1:38; 3:2; 6:25). So His “disciples” (i.e. those who learned from Him) were always eager to hear His teaching. The twelve apostles were certainly among these.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that the apostles were chosen from among the disciples after the Lord had spent all night at the mountain in prayer just prior to the day of the sermon (Luke 6:12-19). He then called all His disciples who were nearby and chose the twelve. They all then came down the mountain with Him and “stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17) where the multitudes gathered. Matthew simply tells us that Christ “went up on [the] mountain (probably further up the plateau so that He was at one end), and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.” It was the custom of rabbis to sit when they taught, and all knew that Jesus was about to speak. Luke also tells us that our Lord lifted His eyes towards His disciples (Luke 6:17) as “He opened His mouth and taught them” (Matt. 5:2).
The very first word of the Lord’s kingdom message is that of blessedness. And as we have learned already, Jesus is referring to full experience of eternal life for those in the kingdom of heaven. But one cannot enter the kingdom unless he or she has true faith in its King! So when Jesus looked at His disciples who professed faith in Him and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3; cf. Luke 6:20), it is obvious that He was directing His words to true believers. He was not addressing those who merely followed Him out of fascination, but He was proclaiming to everyone present (and to all who have ever heard His words) the very real promise eternal life for those who trust Him.
It is a promise of more than just emotion. The world defines happiness by favorable circumstances, but Jesus is not talking about a fluctuating emotional happiness based on changing events. Rather, with each beatitude, our Lord is presenting the very opposite. He declares the permanent, eternal condition of peace with God and fulfillment in His eternal kingdom found only as we forsake all else to follow Him into the presence of God!
That is to say, Jesus is explaining what it means to have true, saving faith in Him as the Savior and King.
The initial step in faith, therefore, is given here in verse three. It is to be “poor in spirit.” It speaks of the absence of pride and self-sufficiency. The word “poor” (Gr. – ptochos) literally refers to one who is destitute. If you know this kind of spiritual poverty, then you have been reduced to one who begs God for mercy (Lk. 18:13). You see yourself as unholy, afflicted by sin, and in desperate need of salvation. When you have nothing, you cannot boast in your abilities to provide for yourself, and that is the idea behind this statement. From the world’s perspective, being a beggar is not a desirable position, but from a heavenly perspective, spiritual poverty is a requirement.
To be destitute in “spirit” means you realize your lowly condition before God. You understand that you are a sinner under the condemnation of His Law, which Jesus clarifies in this sermon. Someone has said that it is to realize your spiritual bankruptcy. So if you are “poor in spirit,” you are very much aware that, apart from God’s mercy and grace, you have no hope of eternal life. Unless God offers you salvation, and you accept it on His terms, you have no possible chance of heaven.
Thankfully, God does offer salvation through His Son Jesus Christ! And when you come to the end of yourself and realize you stand before God a sinner, then you are ready to enter “the kingdom of heaven” — you are ready to enter God’s salvation. You are humbled and ready for the Lord Jesus Christ to be your Savior and King, and God will accept you into His kingdom (Ps. 51:17).
This humility is the hallmark of genuine faith in Christ. It is not a one-time experience but, rather, a life-long attitude. King David expressed this poverty of spirit well when he wrote, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Ps. 51:1-3). David knew the grace of God as a man who trusted the Lord by faith, and he often expressed such an attitude of humility.
The Bible commends true humility in God’s people and condemns pride as the badge of the ungodly person. Proverbs 16:5 says that, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 16:18-19 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
But humility is the work of God in the heart of the believer. It is the result of God bringing them to salvation, not a work of our own that is somehow required to earn salvation. Nothing that we can do on our own will produce humility. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:20-23, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations…according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgences of the flesh.” You cannot simply produce humility, since it is not a fruit of our nature as sinners. God’s work in your heart, however, is the source.
God does command humility in the believer. Jesus later says in Matthew 18:4 that, “Whoever humbles himself as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 23:12 He says, “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Obviously God must provide His grace for us to be humble. James 4:10 says, “God gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:6 also says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
When God opens our understanding to realize our spiritual condition as sinners, humility is the natural response. Only then do we see the foolishness of our self-reliance and turn to Him for help. Only then are we willing to deny the fleshly desire of pride. Only then do we enter the kingdom of heaven and enjoy its blessing.
Are you poor in spirit? Have you been humbled by God, and do you humble yourself before Him? You are not saved from your sins if you are still depending on yourself for your salvation. You will never know the blessedness of God’s kingdom unless you are poor in spirit.
Will you listen to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ today? Do you know the spiritual poverty of which He speaks?
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