“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
The Old Testament (OT) Levitical priests had the responsibility of representing the Jewish people before God. The OT prophets has the responsibility of representing God before the people. It is the task of the prophet that bears our consideration when studying the Sermon on the Mount.
In doing so, the prophets delivered a message called an oracle. It was God’s message to the people. It was the prophet’s task to herald God’s message. The prophets neither composed the oracle nor were they to change it. Their task was to accurately proclaim God’s message. The prophets were to be obedience driven and not audience driven.
There were two types of oracles. There was an oracle of doom or wrath. It was an oracle of woe. The Prophet Habakkuk delivered such an oracle to the Judean (Hab. 3). Jesus delivered such an oracle to the Pharisees (Matt. 23). There was also an oracle of blessing prefaced by the word “blessed.” These two types or oracles are foundationally found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 & 28.
Jesus delivered an oracle of blessing to the people during the Sermon on the Mount. This is complicitous in Matt. 5:3-12 in the section known as the Beatitudes. The word “blessed” means happy, fortunate, or blissful.
“Jesus was describing the divinely bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful. The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness. The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things. The real truth is the very opposite. The Beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith,” explains Dr. John MacArthur
Today’s text contains the first Beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
Notice the state of being verb “are” that immediately follows the word blessed. The individuals to whom Jesus addresses are those who exist in a recognized condition of spiritual poverty. This is the opposite of self-sufficiency. This is the sinner’s recognition of their spiritual bankruptcy apart from God’s redeeming grace. This speaks of our lostness and hopelessness apart from grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
“Spiritually empty is what it means to be “poor in spirit.” We often get tripped up on the word “poor” because we so quickly associate it with material lack. But in Scripture, including in the Old Testament, poor does not necessarily mean physical poverty. It is often a technical term for those who realize that, at bottom, they need God for everything physical and spiritual. This is what Isaiah meant when he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Isa. 61:1),” explains Dr. R. C. Sproul.
“Being poor in spirit is about God giving us a proper attitude toward ourselves and toward Him. We need to see ourselves as carrying a debt of sin and, consequently, as bankrupt before God. Knowing this about ourselves, we cry for mercy to the only One who can wipe out our debt and be our supply in our bankruptcy—we cry out to God,” continues Dr. Sproul.
The result of being poor in the spirit is entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The Lord’s rule and reign in our lives is by divine grace alone. No amount of self-help can accomplish this miracle.
The fundamental posture of this beatitude is found in the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14. The Pharisee in this parable trusted in himself and his works before God. In contrast, the tax collector said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The promise follows: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” If we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven and be satisfied there in Christ, we must first be “poor in spirit,” concludes Dr. Sproul.
Soli deo Gloria!