With the eight Beatitudes, our Lord began what was probably the greatest sermon a human ear could ever hear. Jesus had a large crowd around Him. This “Sermon on the Mount” was primarily for His disciples but also for those who wanted to be His followers.
Jesus’ first beatitude says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This does not immediately make sense to everyone. Some may wonder, “How can being poor in spirit make someone glad or even happy?” Bruns writes: “Blessed are those who know themselves to be poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” He explains, “We humans are self-confident by nature and proudly go our way. Jesus wants followers who have failed in their own abilities and no longer expect to make it on their own.”
Luke 6:20 says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” We must not think that the wealthy are excluded from the kingdom of God. Likewise, we should not think that eternal hope is unconditionally promised to the poor. Both are wrong. Jesus knew from the beginning that wealth could become an obstacle to receiving salvation. According to Mark 10:23, He explicitly said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.” Yet He did not say that it was impossible! On the other hand, poverty can also keep people out of heaven. It may even be possible for people who do not achieve their desired prosperity to become embittered and deliberately close themselves off to the saving grace of God. Whether poor or rich, the Word applies to everyone. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6), and “Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth!” (Isaiah 45:22) So, no one can avoid humbling themselves before God!
“To be spiritually poor” means to recognize one’s personal impoverished inner life. One should not assume that an uneducated person is more useful in God’s work than an educated one. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,” says James 1:5. This path is open to all. Our text is about being poor in divine things, about inner poverty in contrast to the great riches of God.
Seen this way, all people are spiritually poor. By nature, no one possesses what he needs for his salvation. This poverty must be shown to us by the Spirit of God. Jesus brought us divine wealth, and it can only be found in Him. In John 10:10, He said: “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” It is important for everyone to truly recognize their inner poverty. This is also true of Christians, for each of us can have more and become continually richer in God. Those who think highly of themselves are in reality poor and need wholesome humiliation. “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled,” is the divine message in Matthew 23:12.
The church at Laodicea had the opinion that they were “wealthy and in need of nothing.” But God’s verdict was that they “do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). They lacked constructive self-awareness. So it can be in anyone’s personal life.
He who has a clear knowledge of the riches in Christ will appear small in his own eyes. He will think of himself as he should. What we really possess in our inner life is shown by what we can give. Peter once humbly said to a poor beggar at the temple door, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)
A missionary traveled to Russia before World War I. He was picked up from a port on the Volga River and taken to a farm where many people had already gathered for worship. At his first appearance, some said that such a plain, small, feeble man probably did not have much to offer. But when he began to preach, “He became bigger and bigger in our eyes, and we became smaller and smaller,” someone said.
“He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly” (Proverbs 2:7). Jesus could not give anything to the proud, haughty Pharisees. He sought out the humble, spiritually-poor hearts and blessed them with complete forgiveness and with a new inner life. “For they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus said. They have access to all the treasures of heaven. In view of this wealth, everyone should see themselves as inwardly poor!