Matthew tells us in the introduction to the sermon on the Mount that Jesus, “seeing the crowds,“ went up into the mountains around the Sea of Galilee, sat down and began to teach his disciples. The very first thing Jesus said that Matthew recorded were the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3 So, the logical first question for us is what does it mean to be poor of spirit? It is not referring to being poor financially or to think little of your value or worth mentally and emotionally. There is something greater behind this simple statement.
The word translated poor means to be absolutely destitute, bankrupt. To be poor in Spirit is to realize that you are absolutely destitute or bankrupt when it comes to saving yourself. It has the connotation of being reduced to being a beggar. To be poor in sprit is to confess your utter helplessness before God and your total dependence upon Him for salvation.
Mark records a marvelous story of Jesus sitting and eating with sinners and tax collectors. The Pharisees spying upon Jesus ask the disciples a simple question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2: 16) But Jesus heard the remark by the self- important religious leaders and answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (2:17) To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge we are morally sick and in need of a Savior to make us whole. The Pharisees thought they were righteous and not in need of a Savior so they put themselves outside the grace of God. This is especially true because Scripture tells us that no one is righteous, no not one of us.
To be poor of spirit is a change of attitude and understanding. This is the problem in the church of Laodicea in Revelation. The congregation thought they were rich, had prospered, and were in need of nothing. So many denominations and church groups think that way even to this day. They believe they have all known truth regarding the Bible, that they have absolute truth and cannot learn anything from anyone else spiritually. They believe because their church is growing and the collection plates are full they need nothing. But the reality is quite the opposite. In Revelation 3: 17 Jesus says of these churches do you not know “that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
How we see our success and ourselves is not always how God sees us. The Pharisees were proud of their traditions, law keeping, ceremonies and pious living, but they were bankrupt and spiritual beggars. Their problem was they just didn’t know it, while the tax collectors and sinners knew just where they stood in the scheme of life. They understood they needed to be close to Jesus while the Pharisees watched and whispered from afar, frightened to confront Jesus and only willing to speak to His disciples.
The advice Jesus would give us today is the same as He gave to the Laodiceans, “Therefore, I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.” Revelation 3: 18 The only way to be rich in grace is to become poor in spirit. To receive the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven we must be willing to let God be our blessing. And how is this wonder to be accomplished? Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and He with Me.” Revelation 3: 20 While Jesus ate with the sinners and tax collectors the Pharisees stood outside watching them eat. Jesus invitation is simple, if you would be poor of spirit, humble yourself and your pride in yourself and come in and eat with Him. Anyone who comes with their heart open to grace will have it filled with the fullness of the Spirit and the joy of grace. No wonder the poor of spirit are blessed and shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
One, last thing that you have probably picked up on in this verse is that it lays the foundation for all the rest of the beatitudes, because without the proper attitude towards self and God, nothing else will fall into place.