The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

2 – The First Beatitude:  Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3:

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

The first thing we must keep in mind is that this was a sermon to his disciples.  If you will notice verses 1-2 of Matthew 5:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

The second thing that we must keep in mind is that what Christ is requiring of His followers in the Sermon on the Mount is absolutely impossible for us to produce in our own strength.  For example, look at verse 44 of Matthew 5:

But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,....

Tell me, how many of you can do it in your natural strength?  It is an impossibility of our nature, so we must keep in mind that Jesus is not simply saying, “These are the rules that I am giving you.”

In verse 43, He says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you....”

He’s talking to people who have already accepted the gospel, those who have been born again.

The third thing I want to keep in mind is that we do not start with the people to whom He’s addressing.  The people — the disciples who were listening to Him at the Sea of Galilee — were Jews.

There were two problems with them:

  1. They were victims of Judaism; which is legalism.  They were people who were heavy laden with burdens, with no hope and no peace.  And the Pharisees and the Scribes had no time for them, especially the sinners and the publicans.

  2. They were also in bondage politically.  They were under Rome.  They were poor politically and poor spiritually and they had no peace.

Christ begins with the Beatitudes and what He says is completely in contradiction to what they were taught.  I want to begin by showing you a statement that is mentioned about Jesus.  Keep your finger here and turn to Luke 4, because the Sermon on the Mount, at least the Beatitudes, is a fulfillment of this statement we read in Luke 4:18-19.  This is Jesus talking and see what He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me [or ordained me] to preach good news to [to who?] the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

It is in this context that we need to understand the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus came to preach the good news to the poor, to those who had no peace from the Pharisees and scribes.  So, with this in mind, we are going to look at the first Beatitude today.

But let me give you, first of all, a general statement or two about the Beatitudes.  You will notice that each one of these Beatitudes begins with the word “blessed.” Now the Greek word means “happy,” or it can mean “honored,” or it can mean “highly favored.” Remember the angel said to Mary, “Blessed art thou among women” [Luke 1:30, King James Version].  The New International Version reads:

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”

You know how the Catholics interpret that?  They say that it means that Mary was holier than the other women and then they went one step further.  How was she holier than other women?  She was born sinless; they called it the Doctrine of Immaculate Conception.  But the word does not mean “holy.”  It means “happy,” it means “honored,” it means “favored.”  It can also mean one who is to be envied, it also means one who is blessed.  It has quite a strong meaning and that is why most modern translations show it as an inner happiness that comes from God, not from man.  It is a happiness that comes, not from our environment or performance, but from what God says to you.

In other words, the happiness that Christ is talking about here has to do with our vertical relationship — not with our relationship man to man, but our relationship with God.

The second thing I want to say about this blessing is a question:  Is this blessing to come upon present reality, or upon a future test?  Now if you look at all the Beatitudes, verses 3 through 10, you will discover that two of them uses the present tense — the first and the last:

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 sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Look at verse 3:

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

In other words, those who are poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is guaranteed to them.  And verse 10 is also in the present tense:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

But the others are all future tense.  Look at verses 4-9:

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 sons of God.

So verses 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 — they are all in the future tense.  So to answer the question, “Is this blessing present or future?” the answer is both.  It is present in the sense that you have inner peace, you have a hope, you have a guarantee.  It is future in the sense of actual reality.  We are still living in a sinful world; we still have hardships, but we have a future hope.

That is why we should never present the Second Coming as the gospel.  The Second Coming is good news only to the believer.  It is bad news to the unbelievers.  So if you want the Second Coming to be good news to your neighbors, first give them the gospel.  It is only to those who have accepted Christ as their Savior that the Second Coming is good news.  To those that don’t accept Him, it is the Day of Wrath.  So please remember that the blessings of the future are for those who have this prerequisite.  The first one, which is the key one, which is what really opens the door for all the others is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Luke 6:20 says, “Blessed are you who are poor” [only] and some people say “blessed are they who are physically poor, materially poor, then they will be blessed.”  So I need to explain this.

The Jews had twisted the Old Testament teachings.  Therefore, they had interpreted material poverty to mean spiritual poverty.  Let me put it this way:  The Jews were teaching (and sometimes we are guilty of this) that if you are good — if you are doing everything God wants you to do, and if you are paying tithe, and coming to church, and if you are circumcised, etc. — then God will open the windows of heaven and you will be filled with money.  So to the Jew, a rich person, a person who is rich materially, is blessed.  That is Judaism.  And for those who are poor, it is because God is putting His curse upon them because they are not good.

I will give you an example of this.  Keep your finger here and turn to Matthew 19.  You can see what Jesus was saying was completely radical to what they were being taught.  In Matthew 19 you have an illustration, a good example of this.  We will not be able to read the whole thing.  I will just give you an outline because I am sure you are familiar with it.  In verse 16 a young man comes to Jesus:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

In other words, “What must I do that I may have happiness, eternal life?”

Now please remember that this young man did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  He did not address Him as the Messiah.  He addressed Him as good Master, or good Teacher.  So he addressed Him as a human being, but one who had a reputation now of teaching some good things.  And the first thing that Jesus tried to remind him was that there is nobody good but God.  Now, Jesus was talking as the Son of Man, as a human being.  And He says, “We human beings are not good.”  Only Who is good?  Verse 17:

“Why do you ask me about what is good?”  Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

Why did He say that?  Because, you see, in order for you to do something good, you have to be good.  And this man’s foundation was wrong.  He was not poor in spirit.  And so Jesus says, “Why do you call me good?”  Then He goes on to say, “If you think you can go to heaven by being good, here is what the law says.  What does the law require?  Keep the law.”  Verses 18-19:

“Which ones?”  the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

In other words, if you want to go to heaven by being good, keep the commandments.  And, of course, the young man replied, “Which one?”  “Which commandment are You talking about?”  And Jesus gave the commandments which referred to our relationship with our fellow man:  Do not murder, do not commit adultery, etc.  And He ended up with this:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now have you ever analyzed that?

  1. Number one, we love ourselves spontaneously.  We never try to love ourselves; it is automatic.  Love your neighbor automatically.

  2. Number two, we love ourself irrespective of whether we are good or bad.  That’s why when we do something wrong, we say, “Please forgive me,” because we want to escape punishment.  Why do we want to escape punishment?  Because we love ourselves.  You must love your neighbor whether he is good to you or bad to you.

The young man did not realize the depth of this requirement, so he said to Jesus in verse 20:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said.  “What do I still lack?”

“All these things have I kept from my youth.  I have been good.  What do I lack?”  And you know what he was hoping for?  A pat on the back.

So the young man wanted a pat on the back, but did Jesus give him a pat on the back?  No.  He said if you want to be perfect in your goodness, here it is.  If you love your neighbor as yourself, take all your wealth and give it to the poor, and follow Me and I will give you my wealth.  Now, that was a tremendous bargain, if he only knew the wealth of Christ.  Did the man do it?  No.  He went home sorrowfully.  Verses 21-22:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Now all of this is background.  What I want you to see is what Jesus said to the disciples after he left, verse 23 onward.  Jesus said it is very hard for a rich man to go to the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, He says in verse 24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, [which was very ridiculous, but that is how impossible it is for a rich man to go] than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Verses 23-24:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I want you to notice how the disciples, who were all Jews, responded to this statement of Jesus Christ.  Look in verse 25:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Why were the disciples amazed?  Because they were raised up with the idea that a rich man was a good man.  And when Jesus said, “It is very hard for a rich man to go to heaven,” to them it meant that it is very hard for a good man.  And if a good man can’t make it, what hope is there for a poor sinner?

And I want you to notice the answer Jesus gave.  Look at the next statement, Matthew 19:26:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

“You fellows still haven’t understood the gospel.” He looked at them in pity and said, “With men this is impossible; [you can never make your way to heaven] but with God all things are possible.”

Now going back to Matthew 5:3, Jesus said,

Blessed are the poor in spirit....

What is He saying?  “Blessed are they who have no confidence in themselves.”

So the first and main prerequisite to being blessed by God is to recognize that you are spiritually, totally bankrupt.  You may have a lot of money, you may have a lot of virtues and natural abilities, but you must recognize that when you stand before God, you are a sinner.

You remember that when those two came to pray, one was a Pharisee and one was a publican, or tax collector.  And what did the publican pray to God?  He didn’t even lift up his face; he was too ashamed of himself.  “Please forgive me.”  He was poor in spirit and he went home justified.  Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now, we have to learn this and this is hard.  If you will notice what Jesus is saying here in verse 3 is that we have to be first emptied of self before we can be filled with God’s blessings.  Which comes back to our fundamental formula of the gospel applied:  “Not I, but Christ.”  And the “Not I” is the hardest part.

Now, I want to bring to your attention two texts.  One is Philippians 3:3-9, where Paul had to learn this very thing and he could say, after he learned it, “We are those who rejoice in Christ and have no confidence in self”:

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

But the other one I would like to read because it applies to us.  Turn to Revelation 3, and remember what Jesus said to the last Church on this earth:  the Laodicean Church.  He said, “You have a problem, and the problem is that you have not understood the first Beatitude.”  Look at verse 17.  There are two people evaluating us — One is Christ and one is ourself:

You say [Laodicea saying to herself], “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” [Doesn’t that sound like the Pharisee who prayed?] But [Christ, the True Witness is saying] you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

So the first prerequisite is that we understand that we are poor in spirit.  We have to come to the position that Paul came to in Romans 7:24:

What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

To such people the Pharisees gave no hope, but to such people Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, the gospel of salvation contradicts the philosophy of the world.  The philosophy of the world is you must have confidence in yourself.  People who have confidence in themselves will make it.  Christ says, “You must empty yourself of self before I can give you happiness.”

In other words, the gospel principle is Jesus saying that, “You must die first before you can have life.  You must be emptied first before I can fill you.  You must pull down what is confident in yourself that I may lift you up.”

Now I want to remind you of what Simeon said.  When Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby, Simeon took Him into his arms and he made a statement.  Do you remember that statement?  Turn to Luke 2 and listen to what this godly man said about Christ, verse 34:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:  “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,....”

First comes the falling, and then the rising.  And for those who refuse to fall on the Rock and be broken, there would be no rising.

In other words, Christ did not come to pat the Pharisees on the back, He came to make them nothing that in Christ they might be everything.  And that is why Sister Ellen G. White says that the work of justification by faith is to take the glory of man and put it in the dust.  It is very painful.  You have to recognize your poverty before God can lift you up.

I want to give you an Old Testament text.  Turn to Isaiah 57, the gospel prophet of the Old Testament.  Look at verse 15:

For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy:  “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.  I will dwell in you and I will give you hope and I will give you peace.”

Are you discouraged?  Have you lost confidence in yourself?  Do you feel that you are hopeless when it comes to being good?  Then there is hope for you.  “Blessed, happy is the one who has no confidence in himself, I’ll give you the kingdom of God.”

Now in the Old Testament there were many great men of God who were like this.  When God came to Gideon and said, “I am going to do something wonderful through you,” do you know what Gideon said?  “I belong to the lowest tribe and my family belongs to the lowest of the lowest tribe.  How can you use me?”  And God said, “That’s the kind of people I can use.”  And He used him mightily.

God came to Moses after he was humble; it took Him 40 years for God to destroy Moses’ self-confidence.  Then, when he was totally poor in spirit, God came to Moses and said, “I am going to use you.”  Do you know what Moses said?  “I am only a child.  How can you use me?  I can hardly speak.”  And God used him.

You look at David.  Do you know what David said when God approached him?  “Lord, who am I, that You should come to me?”  We human beings in the world look at people who have natural ability and we say, “He will make a fine minister, he has a wonderful gift of speaking and he has tremendous charisma,” but, I’ll tell you, God doesn’t call such people.

He said to Samuel, “Man looks at the outside.  I look at the confidence in yourself, if you feel that you are no good.” If you go to the psychologist, he will try to build up your self-confidence.  But if you go to Christ, He will say, “Happy you are.  That is the kind of people I can use and I will give you peace.”

Look at Peter.  Peter was very confident in himself.  He was always outspoken, and Jesus had to humble him.  After Peter denied Him, He humbled him at the Sea of Galilee (in John 21).  Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”  — He used the word agape — and Peter said, “Yes, Lord, You know I phileo you — this love is all I have, this human affection that shamed you.”  But Jesus was not disappointed.  He said, “Feed my sheep.”

This is what Jesus meant at the Lord’s Supper when He said, “when you are converted,” He meant, “when you have lost all confidence in yourself, then I will use you to help the other believers.”

Our relationship to God must always be a relationship of humility.  Now, I must warn you that there are some people who say, “I’m no good, I cannot do anything, therefore, I will sit down and do nothing.”  That is not what Jesus meant.  Jesus said, “I want you in your relationship with Me to have a humble spirit and I will bless you, I will fill you with My Spirit and I will use you mightily.”

Look at Gideon.  Did he sit back and do nothing?  No.  Look at Moses, look at David — these are great men of God.  But what was their relationship, their attitude toward God?  It was poor in spirit.  But what was their outward performance?  Mighty.  And that is why Jesus said, “If you are poor in spirit, heaven is yours, but while you are waiting for that (that is why the next few verses are future) while you are mourning, I will comfort you in the future; while you are being persecuted, I will give you peace; but while you are doing that, I will use you mightily, while you are waiting.”

I want to close with the best example:  Jesus Christ.  When Jesus Christ became a Man and was one with us, do you know what He said?  John 5:19 and 30:

Jesus gave them this answer:  “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  ...By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

John 6:57

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

If the Son of God — He who created this world — can say, “By myself I can do nothing” or “I live because of the Father,” then only can we realize how little we can do by ourselves.  If the Son of God can say this of Himself!

Turn to Philippians 2, because it is dealing with this issue of “poor in spirit.”  I want to start with verse 1 (through verse 4):

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

That is being poor in spirit.  Then in verses 5-8:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

He’s now using Christ as an example of what we should be as Christians.  Then in verses 6 through 8 he says, “Look, this is the kind of mind Christ had.  He was equal with God (verse 6) but He did not claim that equality but He emptied Himself.  Now if the Son of God could humble Himself and make Himself ‘poor in spirit’ so should we.”

But I want you to notice what God does to such people.  Verse 9:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name....

So Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit.”  This is the kind of people who we will find in heaven.  There will be no bragging in heaven.  There will be no ’glory for me’ in heaven.  We will take our crowns and drop them at the feet of Jesus and we’ll give Him the glory.  And I think that is hope for us.  The kingdom of heaven is not for those who have high opinions of themselves. 

I remember when I was in London at the New Gallery where Jean was working, a young man came and he wanted one of the workers to take him around and show him London.  The workers were kind of busy and they said, “Can you wait?”  And he said, “I want you to know [and he kind of put his thumbs in his jacket lapels] that I am from the G.C.” [the General Conference, the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church].  In other words, “I want preferential treatment.”  And one of the workers was bright enough to ask him, “What do you do at the G.C.?”  He was a custodian.  He was ashamed to tell us that and finally he used a very highly technical word, and the worker was very pushy and he asked, “What do you mean by this?”  and he said, “I am in the custodial department.”  But he did not want us to know that; he just wanted us to know that he was from the G.C.:  “You’d better give me special treatment.”

Jesus said to the disciples, “In the kingdom of this world he that is high is the one to be served, his servants serve him and do all that, but in My kingdom, he that is the greatest serves.  The Son of Man came not to be ministered to but to minister.”

Christ has set the example.  God does not want you to have a high opinion of yourself.  He wants you to realize that you are poor in spirit.

In concluding, let me put it this way.  When Adam sinned, he did not die physically straight away, but he died spiritually, and you and I are born spiritually bankrupt.  Ephesians 2:1 and 3 says we are born spiritually dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

But the flesh doesn’t want to recognize that.  The flesh thinks that it can do what God is asking it to do.  So let us face the fact that we are spiritually bankrupt by birth.  David says in Psalms 51:5:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

But the flesh is proud and doesn’t want to recognize it.  But the moment you recognize that between you and God it is impossible for you to meet His requirements, then you realize — if you are poor in spirit — He says you are happy that heaven is yours.  That is the kind of people who will inherit the kingdom of God.  And so that is the hope for us poor miserable sinners.  I hope that you will feel like Gideon or Moses felt when God comes to you.

Never, ever let us pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like those Philistines who keep Sunday.”  We are sinners saved by grace.  And if you are poor in spirit, it is such people that God will dwell, in such hearts.  He will walk in you, not only dwell in you.  And all that Christ is requiring on the Sermon on the Mount He will fulfill in you.  But first He says, “You must be poor in spirit, otherwise you are not part of My kingdom.”

That is the message of the first Beatitude.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is hope for us?

Is it clear?  Are you seeing what it means to be a true Christian?  Can you see Jesus giving comfort to those who are heavy laden?

What about folks with low self-esteem?  You see, on the one hand, I must say, “I am nothing.”  On the other hand I must say, “I can do all things through Christ.”  So if somebody comes to you with very poor self-confidence, he may be on the right road, but the thing is, you are not to help him by building up his self-confidence.  You are to build his confidence in Christ.  In myself I am nothing, in Christ I am everything.  In myself I am a sinner, 100%.  In Christ I am righteous.  In myself I am nobody in this world, in Christ I am a child of God and of the Kingdom.

The gospel is a paradox.  Our self-esteem must be based not on our performance, not on our inheritance, but on what we are in Christ.  I am a child of God.  So I must not have a low esteem of myself as a Christian in Christ.  I am a child of God.  John says it does not matter what you appear, but when He comes you will be like Him.

So we should be happy, we should be confident, not in ourselves, but in Christ.  This low self-esteem is a product of capitalism.  In capitalism only those who are strong-willed, those who are powerful, make it to the top; the rest are failures.  But in God’s Kingdom everyone is a success, even though, in their own thinking, they don’t come with confidence, they come poor in spirit.

That is the first Beatitude.  Next study will be the second:  “Blessed are they who mourn.”  And this is not talking about those who mourn when somebody is dead.  It is talking about those who mourn because they have so much failure; they are groaning because they are not making it.

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