Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:1-3
The crowds gathered around from all over. From as far away as Damascus, a wealthy trading post along the Fertile Crescent, outside of contemporary Israel. Others came from Galilee, a bustling fishing port on the Sea of Galilee, that was susceptible to sudden storms. Still others from the Decapolis, ten cities spread throughout the western Jordanian province of the eastern Roman Empire that was beyond the Jordan River. Many came from all over, bringing the sick, the oppressed, and the paralyzed in the hopes that the rumors of this miracle worker were true. And He healed them, THEN He spoke.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Can you imagine the look of confusion that may have spread across the faces of the crowd that likely included a mix of the impoverished and the wealthy? “Blessed” is often interpreted to mean “happy” or “joyful”. What joy is there in poverty? What happiness can be found in not being able to afford to see a doctor for your ailments? What glee can be found in not knowing where your next meal comes from? What hope is there for the oppressed living under the heavy thumb of the despotic Roman Empire? How can one skip through the streets whistling and singing when they can’t even stand up and walk? Such WAS the reality of many of those in the audience that day. And yet here is Jesus saying that their poverty was a reason for celebration.
Imagine the thoughts going through the minds of the wealthy audience members as Jesus encouraged the impoverished. Imagine the snickers of the proud who scoff at the mere thought of walking away from the wealth they treasured so dear and placed their faith in – the work of their own hands. Perhaps a few would dare to lower their eyes to see their less wealthy neighbor and offer them encouragement, hope, or even a job that would help supplement their meager existence. Is Jesus suggesting that the wealth is insufficient to save their souls? That entrance to the kingdom of Heaven cannot be bought and sold on the market like a commodity? Absolutely and emphatically, yes! But money may buy medicine and doctors and therapists, but it doesn’t buy healing. Only God Almighty can give healing in accordance with His sovereign will by the power of the Holy Spirit in order that the Son is glorified. Not the doctor. Not the rich man paying for the privilege of health. Only God has that power. But is Jesus saying that the wealthy are incapable of entering into Heaven? By no means!
The word “blessed” throughout the next few verses of these Beatitudes, actually carries a more significant meaning than mere emotional happiness. The Greek word “makarios” implies “possessing the characteristics of deity.”1 In the Christian context, this indicates the state of the believer who has faith in Christ. A “blessed” person, in this case, is one whom God makes fully satisfied because of His indwelling in His children. It is a mark of acceptance and approval, and in certain contexts, authority.
What Jesus is saying here is very simply this: “Satisfied are those who are so aware of their spiritual poverty apart from faith in God, because those are the ones whom God accepts, approves, and grants authority in His kingdom.” It is only when we come to understand the depths of our depravity apart from God that we understand our need for a Savior. It is only when we realize that Jesus paid the price to forgive our sin that we can stand before the throne of grace in full confidence, knowing that we are bought with a price that no mere human could ever pay.
Jesus’ words here create an equal playing field for the rich and the poor. The healthy and the sick. The intelligent and the dumb. He demonstrates that our position on earth does not dictate our position in the eyes of God. Our status in society has no bearing on our status before the throne of the Almighty God. Our earthly nationality means nothing in terms of our citizenship in His kingdom. It’s not where we come from, what we have experienced, what we are afflicted with, who we know, or what we look like that matters. What matters is who knows us. What matters is that God knows us. What matters is if Jesus knows you.
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23) When He says He never “knew” you, He is saying that He never experienced a intimate relationship with you. To know someone in this sense is to have an intimate knowledge of a person to the point that nothing is hidden. It doesn’t matter if you know who Jesus is. Do you know Him? Do you have an intimate knowledge of Him? All of your knowledge of Him is meaningless unless you know Him personally. And even that is meaningless unless He knows you. His intimate knowledge of you that is based on your willingness to be openly, unashamed of Him is what grants your citizenship in the His kingdom.
It is His knowledge of us that exposes us for who were really are in light of His word. In that great vision of Isaiah, as he stood before God’s throne and observed the majesty and wonder that is our Lord, Isaiah fell on his face in recognition of his place: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) That humble recognition of the authority of God brought him to his knees in confession. But the story didn’t end there.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. and he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”Isaiah 6:6-7
The angel took a burning stone from the altar and cleansed Isaiah’s lips, signifying the forgiveness of his sin. In the same way, the blood of Christ split on the altar of Calvary atones for our sin and takes away our guilt. And then we are marked as approved, accepted, and authorized by God as a citizen of His kingdom. There is no greater joy that one can experience in this world than the joy of eternal forgiveness and acceptance in the hands of a holy, righteous, and mercifully gracious God who loves you with all of His heart. He takes our spiritual poverty and grants us the authority that comes as His ambassadors and His children in His kingdom. What’s not to celebrate?
1 Hebrek-Greek Key Study Bible (NASV), edited by Zodhiates, Spiros; Baker, Warren; Kletzing, Joel. AMG Publishers, (c) 1984, 1990