“God’s Person in an Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series #1 “The Poor in Spirit”

21 Sep

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Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5 where we’ll camp for the rest of our time together. We’re going to see what Jesus says about happiness. I’ll tell you right now that he says your happiness doesn’t depend on your circumstances, it depends on your attitudes.

In Matthew 5 we have the opening lines of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and that sermon begins with eight positive statements about happiness that we’ve come to call the Beatitudes.poor-in-spirit-3

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most misunderstood messages that Jesus ever gave. One group says it is God’s plan of salvation, that if we ever hope to go to heaven we must obey these rules. Another group calls it a “charter for world peace” and begs the nations of the earth to accept it.

I have always felt that Matthew 5:20 was the key to this important sermon: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The main theme is true righteousness.

The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law. But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character.

Now it’s interesting to me that of all the subjects that Jesus could have picked to start the greatest, most famous sermon of all time, he chose to speak on, “How to Be Happy.”

Isn’t that fascinating? Do you know why? Because he knew that is what everybody wants and what so few people find. So for the next eight weeks we’re going to look at those eight beatitudes in our series, “How to Really Be Happy.”

Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was an external thing, a matter of obeying rules and regulations. Righteousness could be measured by praying, giving, fasting, etc. In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.

Here’s what it says:

  1. “Happy are the poor in Spirit.”
  2. “Happy are those who mourn.”
  3. “Happy are the meek.”
  4. “Happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
  5. “Happy are the merciful.”
  6. “Happy are the pure in heart.”
  7. “Happy are the peacemakers.”
  8. “Happy are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”

Now tell the truth. As I went down that list, that sounded like a whole series of contradictions, didn’t it? I mean tell the truth. “HAPPY are the poor in spirit?” “HAPPY are those who mourn?” “HAPPY are those who are persecuted?”

WHAT? It doesn’t sound like happiness to me. Let’s spend eight weeks on it and see if you don’t have a different outlook. But, I’ll tell you, even from that one casual reading we just made of the eight beatitudes, one thing ought to be abundantly clear to you. Jesus didn’t make the mistake Solomon made. He says clearly, you can be happy in spite of your circumstances.

  •          If you’re going to have to have all your problems solved before you’re going to be happy, will you ever be happy? NO.
  •          If you’re going to have to have everything perfect in your life before you’re going to be happy, will you ever be happy? NO.
  •          So Jesus says I want to teach you that happiness doesn’t depend on having the right circumstances, it depends on having the right attitudes.
  •          In other words, “My happiness is not determined by what’s happening to me, but what’s happening in me.” Do you get that? “My happiness is not determined by what’s happening to me, but by what’s happening in me.”
  •          Jesus says it’s not how much we have that makes us happy, it’s what we are that makes us happy.
  •          It doesn’t depend upon the circumstances outside, it depends upon the attitude inside.
  •          What Jesus is getting at then is that happiness is a choice. You choose it as you choose the right attitudes.

Mark Twain over 100 years ago had a great statement. He said, “Do you know what happens to most people over life?…About the same things.”

Now think about that. Isn’t that good? That’s true. If you live long enough, do you know what happens to most people over life? About the same things.

We all cry, we all laugh, we all smile, we all frown, we all hurt, we all have pleasure. You know if you live long enough about the same things happen. And Mark Twain concluded, he says then most people are about as happy as they choose to be. And he’s right, but that line wasn’t unique to him. He borrowed it from Jesus 1,900 years earlier.

  •          This series is not to sugar-coat anything.
  •          Hear me, life is tough. I mean it can be a bear.
  •          Preachers even go through “Bear” periods during life. It can be hard.
  •          There are a lot of things that don’t go your way.
  •          You hurt and you cry, does that mean you cannot be happy? Absolutely not.
  •          Your happiness depends upon the right attitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What is poverty of spirit? It is the opposite of that haughty, self-assertive, and self-sufficient disposition that the world so much admires and praises. It is the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude that refuses to bow to God, that determines to brave things out, and that says with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” (Ex. 5:2).

To be poor in spirit is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things. Poverty of spirit is evident in a person when he is brought into the dust before God to acknowledge his utter helplessness. It is the first experiential evidence of a Divine work of grace within the soul, and corresponds to the initial awakening of the prodigal in the far country when he “began to be in want” (Luke 15:14).

To be poor in spirit means to be humble, to have a correct estimate of oneself (Rom. 12:3). It does not mean to be “poor spirited” and have no backbone at all! “Poor in spirit” is the opposite of the world’s attitudes of self-praise and self-assertion. It is not a false humility that says, “I am not worth anything, I can’t do anything!” It is honesty with ourselves: we know ourselves, accept ourselves, and try to be ourselves to the glory of God.

The first step to happiness, very simple, be humble. Verse 3 in Matthew 5 says, “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

  • Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean to have low self-esteem.
  • It doesn’t mean to walk around having some kind of inferiority complex.
  • You know walking around saying, “Oh, I’m no good. I’m just lousy. I’m just junk. I’m just trash.”
  • Jesus didn’t die for junk. God didn’t make trash in his own image.
  • You are infinitely valuable to God because you’re made in his image, and Jesus died on that cross redeeming you with his precious blood.
  • You weren’t paid for by silly stuff like silver and gold.

It simply means to depend on God. It means to be humble. It means admitting daily, I don’t have it altogether, because you don’t.

I know you come here in a suit and tie and a nice dress, but you don’t have it altogether. It means admitting that I haven’t arrived, that I’ve got more to learn, that God didn’t build the universe to revolve around me.

I think maybe the best way to get a picture of what being poor in Spirit is, is to tell you what the opposite is. It is the opposite of being arrogant. It’s the opposite of being prideful and egotistical. Jesus says if you’re full of pride, if you’re full of ego and arrogance, you’re never going to be really happy.

But the more you depend upon the God and the more that you’re humble, the more you open the door to happiness. I will tell you right now that humility and happiness are twins. They’re like bread and butter. They go together, you can’t have one without the other. If you want genuine happiness, you start by humbling yourself before God.

Three ways that humility will bring you happiness:

On the Mount in the section about worry that begins in Matthew 6:25, where he basically says, why do you fret about over what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to wear, and how long you’re going to live, and how many hairs you have? He says, why do you worry about all that when you’ve got a God who’s bigger than everything you can worry about?

Do you know how humility makes you happier? Here’s how.

  • When I’m humble, I don’t have to have all the answers.
  • When I’m humble, I realize I can resign as general manager of the universe.
  • When I’m humble, I don’t have to know the answer to every question.
  • When I’m humble, I don’t have to fake.
  • When I’m humble, I don’t have to pretend I’m perfect because I’m not, I’m just human.
  • When I’m humble, I can live in the tension between the ideal and the real.

Do you know what I’m talking about there? You know what I’m talking about because you have to do it.

I’ve got an ideal for all parts of my life, don’t you?

  • I mean I’ve got an ideal picture of how I’d like to do my job and all the things about me.
  • I’ve got an ideal picture about all of my habits that I wish I had.
  • I’ve got an ideal picture for my marriage, I mean you know just perfect, never a cross word.
  • I’ve got an ideal picture about my family and my children.
  • I’ve got ideal pictures about all those things, and then I’ve got the real.
  • And guess what? The real is never the ideal.
  • And the problem most people have is they think they’ll only be happy when the ideal comes along.
  • And it never, ever gets here.

Humility accepts the fact that things aren’t ideal, and yet I can still be happy because I’m depending upon an ideal God. He’s going to make everything all right. It’s not perfect until we get to heaven, but he’s going to make it all right. Humility reduces my stress because I don’t have to take myself that seriously.

Do you know what I think one of the biggest problems in the world is? This is my opinion, but I think one of the biggest problems in the world is that we take ourselves too seriously, and we don’t take God seriously enough. I think that’s the crux of the human problem.

We’re out there trying to do it all, impress people with who we are, and because we know who we really are underneath, there’s all this stress. But when I walk humbly, dependent upon God, the stress goes down and happiness goes up. That will make you happy.

Here’s the second way humility will make you happy, it will improve your relationships.

It will improve your relationships. Let me ask you a question. How many of you love to be around big-headed, egotistical people? How many of you love to do that? How many of you wake up on a Monday morning and say, “Man, I hope I can take an irritating, conceited jerk out to lunch today.” How many of you do that?

You know the fact is, prideful people are a pain to be around. Somebody says that pride is the only human disease that makes everybody else sick, that’s true, isn’t it? I mean egotists, they are irritating, and they wreck relationships. Do you know why they wreck relationships? Because self-centered people are never happy. And because they aren’t happy when they come into a relationship, they tend to drag everybody in that relationship down.

On the other hand, how many of you like to be around humble people? Don’t you just love that. Because they’re always lifting you up. Don’t you love to be around somebody who when you tell a little story, they don’t have to top it? “You mean your fish was how big, well let me tell you about this one.”

When you are humble, you get along better with others, not because you think less of yourself, but because you’re thinking more about others. And folks, this is a key to good, happy social living.

When you become more interested in others, you become more interesting to others. When you become more interested in others, you become more interesting to others. So you have better relationships when you’re humble. You’re not afraid to say, “Hey, I’m sorry. I messed up, I didn’t mean to. Forgive me, I’ll do better.”

If you walk humbly before the Lord, you’re almost immune to insults. It doesn’t mean that you don’t accept criticism, it’s just that you don’t take it so personally that you get all upset. Humility will improve your relationships. It will make you happy.

And then third as we close, and this is the best of all. How am I happy through humility? Humility unleashes God’s power.

This is the best one. It’s humility that unleashes God’s power. The Bible says the secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before God. Let me read to you about three verses. Isaiah 66:2, God says through Isaiah, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

James 4:6, James says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”

Same chapter, verse 10, James says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I want to tell you this morning that if you are not humble before God, you’re cutting the cord through which he’s going to channel all of his power. When I read Luke 18 about that proud Pharisee who stood in the temple and prayed, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like other men. I give all these tithes and I pray and I do this. And there’s this old sinner, this old publican down there,” and you can see between the lines. Umph, umph, like him?

That poor old sinner, that old publican was down on his knees and he wouldn’t lift his head, and he smote his breast, and all he said was, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” And Jesus said, “I want to make sure you know which man walked out of there justified.”

And if you don’t get the point of that simple parable, it is simply this: If you’re not humble, your prayers are not answered. They’re not even heard. Is anybody going through a barren period with your prayer life? Check your humility before God. You won’t be forgiven if you’re not humble.

The man didn’t leave justified because he was full of arrogance. But that old publican who committed every sin in the book, he followed beatitude number one, and he was poor in spirit, and he said, “Lord, please be merciful to me, I’m a sinner.” And God said, “He walked out of there with his sins washed away.”

The secret of strength is admitting weakness. Paul said in II Corinthians 12:9, “Therefore I boast all the more gladly in my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The King’s Denunciation — Matthew 23

This was our Lord’s last public message. It is a scathing denunciation of false religion that paraded under the guise of truth. Some of the common people no doubt were shocked at His words, for they considered the Pharisees to be righteous.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites. There were about 6,000 Pharisees in that day, with many more who were “followers” but not full members of the group. Most of the Pharisees were middle-class businessmen and no doubt they were sincere in their quest for truth and holiness. The name “Pharisees” came from a word that means “to separate.” The Pharisees were separated from the Gentiles, the “unclean” Jews who did not practice the Law (“publicans and sinners,” Luke 15:1-2), and from any who opposed the tradition that governed their lives.

Among the Pharisees were a few members who sought for true spiritual religion. Nicodemus (John 3; 7:50-53), Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38ff), and the unnamed man mentioned in Mark 12:32-34, come to mind. Even Gamaliel showed a great deal of tolerance toward the newly formed church (Acts 5:34ff). But for the most part, the Pharisees used their religion to promote themselves and their material gain. No wonder Jesus denounced them.

They had a false concept of righteousness (vv. 2-3).

To begin with, they had assumed an authority not their own. “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in Moses’ seat” is the literal translation. There is no record in the Scriptures that God assigned any authority to this group. Their only authority was the Word of God. Therefore, the people were to obey whatever the Pharisees taught from the Word. But the people were not to obey the traditions and the man-made rules of the Pharisees.


To the Pharisee, righteousness meant outward conformity to the Law of God. They ignored the inward condition of the heart. Religion consisted in obeying numerous rules that governed every detail of life, including what you did with the spices in your cupboard (Matt. 23:23-24). The Pharisees were careful to say the right words and follow the right ceremonies, but they did not inwardly obey the Law. God desired truth in the inward parts (Ps. 51:6). To preach one thing and practice another is only hypocrisy

We must not read this series of denunciations with the idea that Jesus lost His temper and was bitterly angry. Certainly He was angry at their sins, and what those sins were doing to the people. But His attitude was one of painful sorrow that the Pharisees were blinded to God’s truth and to their own sins. Perhaps the best way to deal with these eight “woes” is to contrast them with the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord described true righteousness; here He described a false righteousness.

Entering the kingdom Vs. shutting up the kingdom

Matthew 23:13 (NIV)
13  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matthew 5:3 (NIV)
3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The poor in spirit enter the kingdom, but the proud in spirit keep themselves out and even keep others out. The Greek verb indicates people trying to get in who cannot. It is bad enough to keep yourself out of the kingdom, but worse when you stand in the way of others. By teaching man-made traditions instead of God’s truth, they “took away the key of knowledge” and closed the door to salvation (Luke 11:52).

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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Sermon


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