The Sermon on the Mount, in my humble opinion, is the most important teaching that we have from Jesus and is the first lengthy sermon that we have from Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount has done more to shape and make me as a Christian from my infancy stage to my current stage, toddler. Ha-ha. It refreshes my soul and points me to the heart of what being a Christian should look like minus the church and the religion. It’s simple.
So, let’s explore the first beatitude found in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s start with this first word “Blessed.” What does “blessed” actually mean? The debate over this topic is varied, but I think we can generally assume it simply means happy. I don’t think it means momentary happiness. I believe what Jesus is aiming at here is long term, lasting happiness, the kind of happiness where you know all you are doing and being is worth it.
Now, for the command “poor in spirit.” For the longest time, like longer than a decade, this phrase left me confused. I have talked to all sorts of different pastors and people seeking an explanation but always walked away unsatisfied. I was left feeling like their definition was somehow incomplete. I had heard it defined as humility or those who humbly trusted God, but “poor in spirit” didn’t really seem to portray those thoughts. Finally, I heard it defined as spiritual brokenness, and this finally made sense. But what does that really mean, right? This story may help.
When I was twenty years old, my sister and I swapped vehicles because I was doing a lot of driving and had a truck with terrible gas mileage. My little sister wasn’t driving a lot, and she wanted to drive my truck because, well, it was really awesome. It was jacked up with a wicked exhaust system. Basically, it was every teenage boy/country girl’s dream truck. One super early Saturday morning, my dad woke me up saying, “There is something wrong with your truck,” and hands me his cell phone with my sister on the line. He then left the room and probably went back to bed.
Much to my surprise on the other end was my now “frantic and scared for her life” sister. She explained to me how the truck had just stopped moving. Even though the engine was still running. Now this probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a normal situation, but it wasn’t. The truck broke down during the middle of morning traffic on one of the few bridges that stretches for miles across the Hudson River with no shoulder or pull off at all. Even this would have been fine if it had been bumper to bumper traffic which is typical in New York City, but it wasn’t. Traffic was moving well, really well actually, and cars were flying past her at 60+ mph. She was stuck in the right hand lane of traffic literally praying to God that they would miss the truck.
In this moment, she was experiencing the hopelessness of my truck’s brokenness with danger coming fast directly behind her. It is the same way with spiritual brokenness. Without God, we are spiritually broken and helpless. The honest truth is that we are in danger and that without God and Christ, our “trucks” are not moving on the middle of a highway and if we were to stay there would end in our deaths.
We adopt this attitude of being “poor in spirit” when we realize how much we need God, His Son’s sacrifice, and how broken we are without Him. We acknowledge God’s holiness and that we don’t deserve His grace or His love. We realize there was/is nothing we can do to earn any of what He has done for us. This isn’t condemnation for the sake of making ourselves feel ashamed or worthless, rather it is acknowledgement of how much we need Him and all that He has done for us. You can look at your sin and say “I stink,” or you can look at your sin and say “I have a great, merciful God who loves me more than I understand.”
This is summarized well in the quote “Those who feel their spiritual need” by Goodspeed. The idea of poor in spirit defined this way is sourced from New American Commentary on Matthew.
So, let’s adopt this attitude of brokenness and helplessness before God because not only will we be happy, but we will have the Kingdom of God as well.