We started a new series on Sunday called “Red Letter City” and the first thing that I wanted to explain to you guys was that when I say “Red Letter City” I am not referencing our city. I am not referring to Detroit, per-say. Even though I love Detroit and I am praying for it to become a City that lives and functions according to the red letters… which are the words of Jesus in the bible. Most bibles separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the bible by making the letters red. And we are studying a section of the bible that is basically red the entire time, which is the sermon on the mount.
And this sermon is all about the message of the Kingdom of Heaven, which as we said on Sunday, is what we mean when we say “Red Letter City.”
Jesus really began his ministry, after John baptized him, by coming and preaching a message saying “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” it is here, now. and when we say “Red Letter City” we are referring to the Kingdom of heaven, which has come to us right in the midst of the broken city we live in.
We said that it is “a city in a city.”
Well, if the Red Letter City is a city in a city, then this section we are diving into for the next eight weeks here at Equip about the beatitudes would be “a series in a series.”
Each week we are going to dive into one of the beatitudes at a time.
So, typically, when I teach a sermon, I will, at the start, read a passage from the bible, and then basically the message will be me, relating that passage to you, in real life terms. I will try and give you context… I will try and explain where it came from or what was going on in that time, and then we try and always make it applicable to our real lives.
That is essentially what Jesus does with the sermon on the mount. The beatitudes are his text. His begins with all of these radical thoughts that when you first read them, you are blown away by them. and then he takes the rest of this sermon to show us what this looks like in real life… what this looks like in our lives. And we are going to really explore that basically all the way through the summer in our series on the Sermon on the mount… but here, we are going to dive into specifically what he is saying on each of these eight beatitudes, the type of people he is describing… why it matters who he was talking to, and why these things matter in our lives.
On Tuesday at our monthly dinner that we have been hosting at our house, I asked Alyssa if her and Jace were going to make it tonight for this series and she said, “I will BE having a good ATTITUDE at work while I miss it.”
and I laughed… but there is something significant about realizing that these are things that we are all supposed to be. Its not just something that we put on a wall and read sometimes as we think about how other people are blessed. But the thing that is so complicated about the beatitudes is they are things we should be… but once you are actually trying to “Be” them… it is a pretty good sign that you are not.
We have to be them without working to be. We are not trying to attain poor in spirit. We are not trying to attain meekness.
Today we are focusing on the first beatitude. Matthew’s gospel (5:3) records it like this, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
Luke’s gospel (6:20) says it a little differently. He says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Luke leaves out the in spirit part, and there is significance to that.
He also couples the “blessed’s” with a series of woes… and he says (Luke 6:24) “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
We kind of ended the sermon on Sunday on this point… that if you read back just a little ways in Matthew you realize that Jesus is with a giant crowd, and then he goes on the mountain with his disciples and he preaches the sermon, and the disciples have a front row seat but the masses are all within earshot of Jesus… and all of the people who had been following him were the types of people that Jesus was describing. They were the poor, they were the broken, they were the ones who mourned.
So Jesus tells us in Luke “blessed are the poor”
and he tells us in Matthew “blessed are the poor in Spirit.”
and I believe there is significance to that.
Because before you can really understand what it means to be poor in spirit, first you have to understand what it means to be poor.
What does it mean to be poor?
It means that the things the world holds dear, you do not possess.
You don’t have it. You don’t have anything of value.
The things that people in Detroit value… you don’t have those things. Or you have very little of those things. It goes so far beyond just having money in the bank.
But the bible speaks of being poor as an injustice.
A problem that needs to be solved, by God’s people, because it sheds some light onto the injustice that is poverty.
Look at what Solomon says.
Proverbs 19:6-8 says “Many seek the favor of a generous man,
and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
7 All a poor man’s brothers hate him;
how much more do his friends go far from him!
He pursues them with words, but does not have them.
Solomon in all of his wisdom is pointing out to us a never ending cycle of injustice.
another way to translate poor in the old testament is the word “oppressed.”
Because he is poor, people don't want to be around him…
because he has nothing that is of benefit to them they distance themselves from him, and because they distance themselves from him he can never offer them anything. He can never contribute to society in a positive way.
Again, in his brilliant wisdom Solomon says in Proverbs 13:23: “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.”
Because he is poor, what little he does have is taken from him.
Not because it is fair. and not because that is what Jesus wants…
but because The broken systems of our world have set this person up to fail, and we marginalize him even more because of his failure.
If you are poor… poor in the way the bible describes… maybe you have a little, but even what little you do have will be taken from you. At any moment the “powers that be” could strip you of all you have and there is nothing that you can do about it.
Poor in our society is an injustice whether we believe it or not.
I am not saying that if one person refuses to work and has nothing because of it… that is not justice… that makes no sense. The bible has plenty to say about being lazy. It has plenty to say about getting off of your butt and working for a your wage and for taking care of your family.
But has even more to say about about the people who have, not taking care of the poor.
and its not just saying the rich should do it. Its not just a Robin Hood message. Jesus says to all of us, “to give to those who ask.”
Deuteronomy tells us that there will never cease to be poor people in the land… and that we should constantly be giving to them open handedly until their needs are met.
Its one thing to do something… to give a little and contribute to being a part of a solution, and it is a different thing entirely to straight up just be the solution.
Taking care of the poor… It is something that we have to do. It is not really listed as an option. Its something that we have to do. and I wonder if maybe it has something to do with that fact that as we become compassionate toward other peoples brokenness, we begin to realize that their brokenness is not really all that different from our brokenness.
Maybe to them it looks like dollars and cents, and maybe it doesn’t look like that to you… but when you put yourself in someone else's world and you begin to live your life in a compassionate way, its easy to see that the stories you are helping to make better are not all that much different from your own story.
So the bible commands us… it commands us, all the way back to the very beginning, with the Torah, to be the solution to this problem. But of course, that task is so much bigger than our brokenness…
so the prophets started coming along and they start prophesying of a Messiah who was coming. Isaiah calls him “the suffering servant.” and he tells us over and over and over again how this suffering servant is going to bring the justice that we have failed to bring in our world.
And in one of the most known prophecies in all of the bible, Isaiah declares that this suffering servant is coming and will bring good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61)
and of course we know Jesus came, and unlike some of the prophecies that he kind of, “quietly fulfilled” - he made it obvious that he was the fulfilling of the suffering servant prophecy in Isaiah 61 because in Luke 4 he reads it. He reads the portion of the prophecy that he had fulfilled, he rolled the scroll back up, and he sat down.
and then he said “Today, I fulfilled this.”
Jesus has come, and with Him has come an upside down Kingdom. there is good news for the poor… and what is the good news he brings to the poor?
they are blessed.
In fact, they are so blessed, that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
The least expectant people on the planet to ever be called blessed because everything that the world considered to be valuable they possessed non of.
and the crowds he was drawing, they grew and they grew… because this guy was bringing hope to people who honestly and genuinely believed that they had none.
Guys, the reason that the gospel tends to be received so well by the poor as opposed to the rich is because the poor doesn’t have the merit.
They know enough to know that whatever they do have, it was a gift.
The bible tells us it is harder for the wealthy to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, in fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a person who is rich to enter into the Kingdom of heaven… but why?
It all comes down to grace and works.
Religious people love works because they think they have earned something. But if we live our lives thinking we can earn heaven, or earn the favor of God in our lives, then we will adopt a mindset that God owes us those things, or he owes us something else. because of how we performed.
But because in all reality the bible tells us that apart from Jesus there is none righteous, not even one… SO we have to rely on grace.
And because we are only saved by grace, it is flipped.
God owes us nothing, but we owe him everything.
And no, we are not saved by our performance or even necessarily by our obedience to giving God what we owe him… but because salvation is a gift of grace, it is us we owe God.
and God wants our lives. He wants people who will serve him, who will love him. Who will be his vessels. Who will seek the gifts of the Spirit and make his name evident in our world through them… who will live their lives with an outflow of the fruit of the spirit….
There is an expectation that God can put on your life because of grace.
Its a free gift. He didn’t owe us, we owe him!
Don’t cheapen the grace of God in your life simply because you paid nothing for it.
Being poor in Spirit means that we have nothing. And we owe God everything.
We have nothing that is valuable… we have to rely on his riches, and his glory, and most importantly his grace.
Being poor in Spirit is not just realizing how much you need God… if the whole deal was humility, then you would work to be more humble. And it can become the same type of snare. the closest way to describe what it is in one sentence would be something like that… something like
“You are completely dependent on Jesus. You know how much you need him.”
but even that sentence if you are not careful, you can fall into this trap of being the kind of person who knows how much they depend on God for everything. and even that can become “works.”
Jesus wants our lives.
If a person is poor… monetarily poor… they are 3rd generation homeless… whatever the extreme circumstance may be… where whatever cycle they are a part of did not start with them but was dealt to them and they are having a really hard time getting out of it… because people just keep taking from them… taking their home.
taking their money.
taking their opportunities.
that person knows they are poor. They know that most likely they will die without beating the cycle that they so desperately want to change. But if someone else comes and does something radical that completely pulls that person would of that cycle and puts them in a world where they can take care of their family, and they can eat healthy food…
would that person not be so thankful for what they were given that they would be willing to do anything for the person who did it for them?
As Americans we are blessed and we have it all… but I think about for my family, and the student loans that we have that it feels like they will just hang over our head for our entire lives… if someone made that go away, I would owe them.
Maybe they would be the kind of person who wouldn’t make me do a thing for them, but I would be willing to do just about anything. Because of my gratitude because they brought me out of a mess that I can’t see a way out of on my own.
When a person gives in to alcohol in such a way that it begins to control their entire lives, and it begins to ruin their families, their marriage, their relationships their kids… it gets them fired…
usually, not always, but usually, it takes a kind of, “I’ve hit the bottom” circumstance to really address it.
But when someone signs up for Alcoholics Anonymous… the first step that they are given on the path to recovery is this confession:
STEP ONE: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Its the first thing. The first thing they do… when they come to the end of themselves they make this confession, that the problem in their life is one that they can not solve on their own.
Their first step is also Jesus’ first step.
Its the first step in the beatitudes.
It is an end of yourself. A realization that you are powerless over your flesh, over your circumstances, over your world. You are poor. Without Jesus you have nothing. Nothing of value. Nothing worth anything at all.
and it is when you come to Jesus like that, that he gives you the whole Kingdom of Heaven.
I want to read you one more story from the gospel of Luke that really emphasizes this. and its found in Luke chapter 14, verse 12-24.
First we will read until verse 14. Then we will go on.
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
The red letters here in Luke say, don’t invite the ones who can pay you back or the ones who have your back… invite the ones who will never repay you. Invite the poor, the lame and the blind.
and you will be blessed. We always hear this. We see it as an “outreach text”
and then something happens that I think we kind of overlook. Because the context doesn’t happen in red.
15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
This follower of Jesus… this person who was with Jesus all that time says this… he is saying, THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN! He tries to play the role of Jesus and tries to make up his own beatitude and he basically says “blessed are the people who are religious.. who do the things that they are supposed to do… who play by the book and who read the book.
but then Jesus replies to the follower and he corrects him… and says this: (verse 16)
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”
Not everyone that was invited showed up. In fact, it says NONE of those men who were invited got to taste the banquet.
Its so fascinating because Jesus is saying that everyone that you would expect to see at the banquet, they didn’t show up. They didn’t get in.
But its not because they weren't invited!
Jesus has prepared a way for everyone. He prepared it for all of those in the story… it was their excuses that kept them from the banquet. It was their activities. It was their busyness.
It was the things that they did to fulfill themselves in this life.
It was the things that made them rich.
But its the poor who enter the Kingdom.
You can’t make up your own beatitudes.
Because nothing about our minds and nothing about our earthly Kingdom makes sense according to the way that Jesus does things.
So Jesus responds to this follower by telling a story with the same conclusion that he has been giving the whole time… blessed are the poor in Spirit… for theirs is the Kingdom on heaven.
This is the gospel. It is the message. The kingdom of heaven is here and its for everyone who stops trying to get it on their own and instead just loves Jesus.
The sermon on the mount is recorded in Matthew, and a similar sermon is recorded in Luke, but they are different. One sermon Jesus is standing on a mountain, another he is standing on a plain.
But the messages are so similar.
And woven through every parable in the bible… the same message. The radical gospel of a world on its head. Its the most constant message Jesus preached.
Blessed are the poor.
So then the question is HOW?
How do I actually know that I am poor in Spirit?
Because its not really something that you strive for… its something that you should just be becoming. and like meekness, I think in a lot of ways, if a person thinks that they are poor in spirit, its probably a good clue that they aren’t.
How can you be humble and know you are humble?
as if you have “attained” humbleness. Or you have reached it. How do you reach “poorness” - NO! its just something that you are.
So in that way, I guess you never really know you are there.
But maybe that is okay.
Because to say “I am this.” that means that someone else is that.
Because that would put you here… while others are here (someplace different.)
When really, you just are. You are poor. But its when you stop doing what you do for what it will get you… thats a good place to be.
and you have to stop thinking that anything about your life sets you apart.
Comparison must die if you want to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
That is the how.
Guys, we know what the bible says. We know… I know, without a doubt, there is one way to heaven and one way alone and that is Jesus Christ. It is the grace and the power that is only found in Christ… but the moment that I start comparing where I am going to where other people are, that is when it should be obvious… I am not poor in Spirit.
Let God handle that stuff. As for you, you are broken. You are a broken person living in a broken world with problems that are much bigger than yourself… a person who God has every right to cast you away… to send you wherever he wants to send you because you are just that broken.
That is poor in Spirit.
Its the realization, like we said Sunday… that we are all sick.
You are not better than anyone else.
That would make you rich in Spirit. To be better than someone else. To have something that is valuable. Comparison is an attribute of the rich in spirit. If you think that you are in and someone else is out then warning warning warning.
and honestly, that may have been true, BEFORE YOU STARTED THINKING IT… but if that is the way you think, you are not poor in Spirit.
What makes the gospel so upside down is all the people who thought they were in are out.. until they can come to the realization that they are out… then suddenly, Jesus has something to work with.
Its a broken world with broken people.
And so Jesus shows up in the middle of all of that brokenness and he makes his incredible announcement of hope to a group of people who had no idea what hope even looked like before this moment… he says:
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”