“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
We come to the very first Beatitude of the series and we see Jesus breaking open his sermon with such a peculiar opening statement!
What does he mean when he says “blessed” or “happy” are the poor in spirit…?
The poor in spirit are those who recognise their spiritually impoverished state before the face of God. Their poverty of spirit puts themselves in the right perspective that they are nothing, and can do absolutely nothing about their own depravity. They come before the holy presence of God with the acknowledgment of their ongoing sinfulness against Him.
A prime example of who exhibits this mark is the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. In contrast to the proud Pharisee, who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” the tax collector stood at a distance, understanding his proper place before God, and cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These are the words that flow from a humble and contrite spirit. The tax collector recognises his spiritual bankruptcy and pleads with God to grant him the forgiveness he needs to find peace for his destitute soul.
It is not those with a self-sufficient and self-righteous attitude who enter the kingdom, but those who humbly receive it as a child (Mark 10:15). It was given to tax collectors and prostitutes, who were the scum of Jewish society (Matthew 21:31). It is only on this condition, on the condition of our humble recognition of our depravity and our childlike dependence on God to save us from ourselves, that we receive the kingdom of heaven.
It is right here at the onset of this remarkable sermon that the kingdom of God operates on a paradigm that stands in contrast to the world’s. This beatitude runs in direct contrast to the principles of an affluent society that favours the strong, the self-assertive, the wealthy, the intellectual. Only in the kingdom of heaven will you find that the most blessed and happiest of souls in all of creation are the lowly, the feeble, the despised, the broken, the poor in spirit.
But the poor in spirit do not realise their depravity by their own prowess. The Holy Spirit must heal their spiritual blindness to see the wickedness that resides in their own fallen hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-31). The work of regeneration is a necessary requirement for one’s consciousness to awaken from spiritual slumber and to begin reducing themselves to nothing, bowing down at the feet of the Most High King. The Spirit must convict the person of their guilt before the Judge and readily admit that their divinely-imposed sentence to eternal judgment is just.
Let’s pray, then, for a new spiritual heart that enables us to realise our spiritual poverty. Changing our dispositions is a work that isn’t humanly possible, and so we must plead to God with tears of remorse, begging Him in genuine repentance with the words that carry the same spirit of a true abiding citizen of the kingdom, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”