Happiness is… Blessed is the Poor in Spirit (Matthew 5:3)

By: Donnell Wyche – September 15, 2019

Preamble
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Surrounded by a mass of humanity with people from everywhere, with every conceivable belief and understanding of God, Jesus sits down on a mountain side to announce the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. (Matthew 4:23–5:2)

And this mountain side, scholars believe, was a hotbed of political activity. It was a hotbed of terrorism; it was the gathering place of known insurrectionists, who gathered to discuss their plans to overthrow the government, to overthrow the occupiers. To take up arms to take back their country and land from those who had turned their backs on God. It’s from this known hotbed that Jesus declares …

Blessed are the spiritual zeroes, the spiritual bankrupt, the deprived, the deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion.

Or so the Beatitudes go.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3–12)

A Moment of Show & Tell
Everyone was eager for the Kingdom of God to be realized, for God’s rule over Israel to be fulfilled. Instead of gathering likeminded people to start a movement to overthrown the Roman occupation to inaugurate the Kingdom, Jesus gives us this list.

In giving us this list, Jesus wasn’t saying…

Good news, you have to be poor to be blessed!
Good news, you have to be hungry to get fed!
Good news, you have to mourn to be comforted!
Good news, you have to be pure in heart in order to see God!
Good news, if you are popular no one will persecute you!
Good news, don’t fight and God will adopt you!
What is Jesus trying to say to us?
What is he inviting us to see, to understand?

As someone who likes to wrestle with scripture, I want to say that Jesus isn’t doing what we assume he is. He isn’t giving us a new list of moral virtues that mark the person who is welcomed in the Kingdom. He isn’t laying out new boundaries markers of who’s in and who’s out.

If all that is needed to be blessed in the Kingdom is figuring out the right level of poverty, learning how to be meek in all situations, how to mourn, how to suffer, how to be persecuted, then let’s get to work church. If this is what Jesus is instructing us to do, then let’s not miss him, let’s not miss our blessing!

We can do this, church!
I believe in you!

Because standing in the crowd were people with no spiritual qualifications or abilities at all. These aren’t the type of people you would call on to do “spiritual work” in your community, yet the Kingdom was breaking out in their midst.

Standing in the crowd are people who don’t know their Bible, people who don’t know how to exegete a text, people who don’t know how to pray with power and authority, and yet these people, Jesus says, are blessed and the Kingdom is also theirs.
Jesus was giving us a picture of community.

Because community is our primary witness to God’s character and our primary experience of God’s love and loyalty.

It’s not “Good News” If It’s a list of “How-Tos”
The Beatitudes simply cannot be “good news” if they are understood as a set of “how-tos” for achieving blessedness. That wouldn’t be good news at all! This would just focus our attention on how we miss out and how we mess up.

Instead, I believe that Jesus was announcing something that already was.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:3–5)

What if we replaced blessed with happy.

The Presbyterian Biblical scholar Frederick Dale Brunner says, “To understand blessed is to understand it is a sort of divine, ‘I am with you.’ It is God’s way of saying, ‘I am on your side.’ ”

Think of it this way… Happy is my child because in our house there is candy. My child isn’t going to be happy when they receive candy; rather this is a statement that they are already in a fortunate or blessed state because, being who they are, the candy is surely theirs.

Happy are the poor because they belong to a kingdom of people who trust God with their resources and will ensure that they will be cared for, loved, and cherished. In a world that says you can be overlooked, ignored, and exploited, there are people see you, love you, are willing to partner with you in your liberation.

“Blesssed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Let’s unpack this.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” according to Matthew. (Matthew 5:3)
“Blessed are you who are poor” says Luke. (Luke 6:20)

If Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61 using the Hebrew Bible, this isn’t a typo. The word in Hebrew for “poor” includes both those who are economically poor and those spiritually inept.

Either way, Jesus just lost most of his audience because the really really righteous believed (as many of us today do) that God blesses those who are good and righteous and do the right thing. This is like hearing a political candidate who’s pandering, but to the wrong group. There’s nothing praiseworthy, noble, good, honorable, or positive about being “poor in spirit.”

“Happy are the poor. The kingdom of heaven is theirs.” It’s available to them. It’s falling on them. It’s crashing into the Earth where they are, right now, right here.

Watch this.

Whether it’s being poor or being poor in spirit, neither is a good thing. This is not a condition to which we are encouraged by Jesus to try and attain. You can imagine those hearing Jesus, thinking, “What? What does it mean to become poor in spirit, if I could just figure this out, then I would get the Kingdom.” Sometimes this passage get translated into something like, “Blessed are those who know how much they need God.” It sounds good, we like it, it makes sense, though that’s not what Jesus is saying or conveying. If that were true then it would follow that God’s blessings are only for people who have attained a particular state of poverty.
He’s announcing something that already is, it is already the case that the poor in spirit are blessed and theirs is the kingdom of God.

Sit with that for a moment.

Doesn’t that tweak you a bit? Are you like me and wonder what they did that was “good” that allowed them to receive such an inheritance from God? If you will permit, that internal response you are having might be “the religious spirit” at work. Religion says that in order to receive blessing from God, we have to perform something good. Something that allows us to earn his blessing.

“Happy are the poor. The kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

The Upside Down World of the Kingdom
What Jesus was announcing was God’s blessing is already available. If we miss Jesus, we are at risk of constructing something Jesus didn’t want or intend, a religious system for winners.
But listen to Jesus more closely this time,

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

A harsher way of translating Jesus here is to say, “Blessed are the losers, those who couldn’t figure it out, theirs is the kingdom of God.” “Blessed are the spiritual zeros, those who have no clue, theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Friends, the moment that we look down on somebody because they aren’t as disciplined, hard working, upright, smart, responsible, moral, God fearing, Bible believing and Jesus trusting as we are… because they made stupid, idiotic, immoral and bad choices, often again, again, and again, at that moment we stop being poor in spirit, and find ourselves rich. We are “rich in spirit” and Jesus is not announcing anything to us.

This is the scandal of the Gospel, and I think we need to understand it as such, one of the scandals of the Gospel was Jesus was inviting all the wrong people in the kingdom. We want people to acknowledge their wickedness, their depravity, their brokenness and then we are okay with them entering the kingdom, but it seems to me that Jesus was saying,

Blessed… for yours is the kingdom of God.

For those of us who are “rich in spirit” I have some reflections for us,

How do we cultivate relationships across socio-economic lines to stop the natural development of “insulation” that wealth creates?
How do we cultivate dependency on Jesus rather than avoid it?

Prayer Senses

Salvation. Jesus loves you and He wants a relationship with you. Don’t be afraid to let go of control and trust Him with your life. 

Peace. 

Perseverance. The Lord is refining your character. Don’t give up. He’s with you and He will keep you. 

Support in Parenting. The Lord is releasing hope and strength. He loves your children. He has unique plans for your family. Trust in Him. Let Him calm your heart. 

Courage for those going through tough times. The Lord is releasing clarity, hope, and courage. Don’t be afraid to trust Him. He’s never going to let you down. 

Encouragement for those struggling in relationships. 

Scriptures
Psalm 27:13, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 6:33