************ Sermon on Matthew 5:3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 27, 1999
"Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit"
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." That word "blessed" is somewhat bland in our English language. In the Greek the term is much more descriptive. A better translation would be, "Oh, the happiness, many, many times over ..."
"Blessed are the poor in spirit," says Jesus. This morning, Jesus tells us the stuff of happiness. So let me ask you, what does it take to make you happy? What do you need? You adults in the congregation, is happiness a big raise in pay, a full freezer, a large bank account, a new home, good crops, great prices for milk and oranges and nuts and hay and cotton, an oceanside condominium? Boys and girls, what makes you happy: a Nintendo game cartridge, a new baseball glove, a 21-speed mountain bike, an excellent report card? Young people and adult singles, what do you need for happiness: a flashy sports car, a friend of the opposite sex, a surround-sound entertainment system, a scholarship to the college of your choice, an up and coming career? Again I ask, what does it take to make you happy; what do you need?
I Who are the Poor?
A "Blessed are the poor in spirit" says Jesus. Who are these blessed ones? Who are these people that Jesus pronounces happy many, many times over.
The "poor in spirit" are people who do something. There are two verbs in the Greek meaning "to bless." One is eulogetos and the other is makarios. Matthew uses makarios. What's the difference? Eulogetos is always used of God or by God; it is something God does or is; it is God Who pronounces man eulogetos or is Himself pronounced eulogetos by man; it is a benediction, an act of grace. On the other hand, makarios is always used of and for man; the man who is said to be makarios has done something to deserve the word being applied to him; it is a kind of congratulation for doing something wholesome or positive.
What is it that the "poor in spirit" do to be pronounced blessed? Why is it that Jesus pronounces them happy many times over? The answer is found in the Old Testament.
"The poor in spirit" is an Old Testament expression. Those who are called this have a real and sincere faith. They worship God, pray to Him, read His Word, study His Law, and obey His commandments. They put their trust in God alone. He is their refuge, their comfort, their hope. We can't forget that the Sermon on the Mount is instruction from Jesus to those who are Christian, who believe in Him and trust Him and love Him.
B "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The "poor in spirit" aren't just holy, pious people who put their trust in God. In the Old Testament they are also the blessed poor; they are people who suffer from poverty. All of these people trust in God while struggling through the trials and tribulations of life.
People can be poor in many ways: poor in material goods, poor in health, poor in knowledge, poor in love. A person who wants to be married can be poor because he or she can't find the right man or woman. Couples who want children can be poor because they are unable to have children. Those who are disabled – whether it be physical, mental, or emotional – lead impoverished lives. Exiles, slaves, aliens, prisoners, those in bondage are part of the blessed poor. Those with addictions are poor. If these all believe in God while struggling through the trials and tribulations of life, they too are part of the blessed poor.
C "Blessed are the poor in spirit." We meet some of these blessed ones in the Gospels. Zechariah and Elizabeth are "poor in spirit". Scripture tells us,
(Lk 1:6) Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.But there was a great poverty in their life: they had no children.
Another one is Mary, the mother of Jesus. "I am the Lord's servant" (Lk 1:38), she says. She too was impoverished: a single woman, engaged to a lowly carpenter, and living in the backwater of Nazareth.
I think of others too: the shepherds of Christmas Day, Simeon, and Anna.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed are those who trust in God while struggling through the trials and tribulations of life. Bernie May of the Wycliffe Bible Translators wrote this in January 1990:
Topic: ConsecrationI would say that this young couple stand in partnership with Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Mary and the shepherds. They too are one of the blessed poor.
I recently returned from visiting with a young Wycliffe family in a Muslim nation. They've been there three years, working among a tribal group of 100,000 people who have no knowledge of Jesus. They are beginning their translation work. They are experiencing good success, but at the same time there are hardships. They have three small children under five years old. The baby was covered with pox marks -- many of them looked infected. I asked the mother if he had chicken pox. "No, those are ant bites," she said. "We cannot keep the ants off him -- even at night. Eventually he will become immune to them."
In a moment of honesty, she confessed she felt guilty because she was suffering from stress. Stress! She and her young husband came there from the midwest. Now they live in a place where the temperature is above 100 degrees most of the year. The children are covered with bites; a war is going on close by; their helpers are in danger for being their friends; many in the villages are suffering from hunger and disease; they can't even let their supporters know what they are doing so they can pray for them since they are in a "critical" area -- and she feels guilty because she's under stress. I told her she had every right to feel stressful. I had only been there three days and I was already beginning to come unglued. Yet this dedicated young couple are laughing and joking and filled with the joy of the Lord. They know they are in the will of God. They know they are where God wants them. And they are praising Him for the victories -- not complaining about the circumstances.
Ken & Sally Vander Wall, our missionaries in Honduras, work with what we can call the blessed poor. In spite of the people's material poverty – and there is a lot of it in Honduras – they still put their hope and trust and faith in God.
Are the blessed poor to be found in Trinity too? Do we have people who trust in God while struggling through the trials and tribulations of life?
I look out from this pulpit and I see needs, hurts, pains, fears in every pew; I see things like:
-victims of physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse
-children and adults with mental, emotional, or physical disabilities
-men and women, their parents, and their children, who have gone through the trauma of divorce or separation
-school children who get picked on and ignored
-elderly suffering from the ravages of age
-alcoholics and drug-abusers
-teenagers and adult singles who live promiscuous lives
-members who struggle to make ends meet, to pay for Christian education
-cancer and heart-attack patients
-singles who want to get married
-those who have lost loved ones through death
-those with children & grandchildren who don't serve the Lord
Yes, I look out from this pulpit and I see many people suffering from many kinds of poverty. But are they the blessed poor? Do they – regardless of the situation – put their hope and trust in God?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." In the last church I served there was a delightful elderly couple who were well into their 70s when they joined the church. They were childless and considered the church to be their family. Shortly after joining the church he went through brain surgery, chemotherapy, seizures, and a long hospital stay. She went through abdominal cancer and pain. Within a year and a half they both were dead; they died within 2 months of each other. During all of this time they kept their hope and faith and trust in God. Yes, they had struggles. It wasn't easy. Yet, they keep on praising the Lord. They too are the blessed poor!
D "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Jesus reminds us this morning that it is possible to be happy – many, many times over – even if or when we suffer through many kinds of poverty.
Unfortunately, not all Christians are happy people. As a matter of fact, there are many unhappy Christians. They walk around with frowns and long and gloomy faces because of all their struggles and trials, their heavy burdens and problems. And some do nothing but gripe and complain about every little thing instead of rejoicing in the Lord. All of these should be happy many, many times over. Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Where, then, is happiness? What does it take to make you happy? What do you need?
Title: Where is Happiness?
Not money - Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had an enormous fortune. When dying, he said, "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth."
Not pleasure - Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure and ease. He wrote: "The worm, the canker and grief are mine alone."
Not military glory - Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Then he wept, "There are no more worlds to conquer."
Not political power - William Tweed became the brilliant boss of Tammany Hall and ruled New York City. He said: "My life has been a failure in everything."
Not unbelief - Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote: "I wish I had never been born."
Not position and fame - Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: "Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age a regret."
Where, then, is happiness in the midst of life's trials and tribulations? What does it take to make you happy? What do you need? Jesus tells us: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Happy – many, many times over – are those who trust in God and hope in Him even in the midst of life's trials.
II Theirs is the Kingdom
A "Blessed are the poor in spirit," says Jesus, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Liberation theologians use this text to say that the poor and downtrodden have a place in God's Kingdom just because they are poor and downtrodden. Is that true? Is this what Jesus is saying here?
Of course not! The "poor in spirit" inherit the Kingdom in only one way: by grace and through faith. They don't earn their way into it. Their poverty, their trials, and their heartaches are not the currency of the Kingdom. Rather, the coin of the realm is the blood of Christ.
B "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What a reversal of fortune! The blessed poor are wealthy beyond compare for the riches of the Kingdom are theirs.
At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and their scribes looked down on the blessed poor for their lack of education, learning, and knowledge of the Law, the Torah. The educated Greeks looked down on the blessed poor for their lack of culture and sophistication. The rich looked down on the blessed poor for their lack of material wealth. The strong and healthy looked down on the blessed poor for their lack of physical, mental, or emotional wholeness. And yet, in the eyes of Christ, they were all wealthy beyond compare – for theirs, by grace through faith, is the riches of the Kingdom. I think here of what James writes:
(James 2:5) Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
We are being taught here about the upside down values of the Kingdom. What the world prizes is not what counts in the Kingdom. Often, those whom the world despises and persecutes are those whom the Lord pronounces blessed.
C "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We are being told here not only about true riches but also about true poverty.
Topic: RichesThe real poor are those without treasure in heaven. The real poor are those who don't inherit a place in the Kingdom.
In 1923, nine of the world's most successful financiers met at Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel. Financially, they literally "held the world by the tail" -- anything that money could buy was within their grasp -- they were rich -- rich -- rich! Hear their names and the high position each held:
1. Charles Schwab, the president of the largest steel company.
2. Samuel Insull, the president of the largest electric utility company.
3. Howard Hopson, the president of the largest gas company.
4. Arthur Cutten, the great wheat speculator.
5. Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange.
6. Albert Fall, the Secretary of Interior in President Harding's Cabinet.
7. Jesse Livermore, the greatest "bear" on Wall Street.
8. Ivar Kreuger, head of the world's greatest monopoly.
9. Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements.
A tremendously impressive group -- right? Would you like to change positions with one of them? Before you decide, let's look at the picture 25 years later -- in 1948:
1. Charles Schwab was forced into bankruptcy and lived the last five years before his death on borrowed money.
2. Samuel Insull not only died in a foreign land, a fugitive from justice, but was penniless.
3. Howard Hopson was insane.
4. Arthur Cutten became insolvent and had died abroad.
5. Richard Whitney had just been released from Sing Sing prison.
6. Albert Fall had been pardoned from prison so he could die at home--broke.
7. Jesse Livermore had died a suicide.
8. Ivar Kreuger took his own life.
9. Leon Fraser also committed suicide.
Now, are you still impressed with this group? A vast amount of talent and potential went down the drain with these men. What happened? Their lives were out of balance! They sought riches on earth rather than in heaven.
D In Visalia, Honduras, and across the world are thousands of people who pursue treasure on earth rather than in heaven. They may not realize it, but they are poor rather than rich. In fact, theirs is a desperate poverty.
I like to remind you of our mission, our purpose, to these poor, lost people. In Christ you are rich; without Christ they are poor. Your mission is to share the wealth. One way we do this is through our missionaries. Another way to do this is to pick someone you know who doesn't know Jesus – and tell them about Jesus; day after day, week after week, month after month, show them Jesus in word and in deed. And then, by grace through faith, they also can go from poverty to riches; from the poverty of sin to the riches of the Kingdom.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Are you one of the blessed poor? In the midst of life's trials, do you still keep your hope and faith and trust in God? Are you one of those whose treasure is in heaven? And if you are, do you share the wealth of the kingdom with others?
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