As we jump into the Beatitudes let us remember we are looking for life, not laws. These Beatitudes are descriptions, not prescriptions. Descriptions of what life in the Kingdom looks like, not prescriptions for how to try to act to be blessed.
But Jesus starts his descriptions with an odd observation, one that differs in context from the following Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”
Notice, “theirs … is … the kingdom.” Not, “theirs will be the kingdom,” which we see in the next several Beatitudes:
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
6 “…hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
7 “…the merciful … will be shown mercy.”
8 “…the pure in heart … will see God.”
9 “…the peacemakers …will be called children of God.”
What could Jesus mean? And what does “poor in spirit” mean?
Think of the first Beatitude as the Prologue. It sets up the remaining. The immediate result of being poor in spirit is entering the Kingdom. In essence, this first statement is how one enters the Kingdom. When we are truly poor in spirit, we enter the Kingdom, not after we die, but now. Here, now, not there, later, in Heaven.
Theirs is the Kingdom … now.
Okay, if this is entry into the Kingdom, and without it I cannot enter, then I want to know what in the world “poor in spirit” means. So allow me to rephrase this Beatitude to make it more clear:
“You enter the Kingdom by realizing your abject spirit poverty apart from Jesus.”
When the eyes of my heart are enlightened, and I see myself for who I am, a rebel and a sinner in desperate need of a Savior, my heart is cut to the quick and I cry out, “Help me Jesus!” We describe this as, “Desperate and surrender.”
Write that on your foreheads if necessary: Poor in spirit = desperate and surrender.
Because until you are desperate you will not surrender. And surrender is the only way into the Kingdom. We surrender “my claim to my right to myself.”2
You see, until you see yourself for who you are apart from Jesus, you have no need to surrender. Why would you? You’re not all that bad. Surely not as bad as those other really bad sinners. Actually, you’re pretty good. Not perfect, mind you. So surrender? What? Why?
But when you see that you are lost without Jesus, that you are most certainly not “okay,” that you are a wretch and spiritually bankrupt apart from Jesus, then you see with vivid clarity your desperate condition, and you cry out for his saving grace.
This, my friend, is the only way into the Kingdom. You do not ‘receive’ Jesus. You do not ‘make a commitment’ to him, or ‘make a decision’ for him. No. Faced with your full recognition of your abject spiritual poverty apart from him, you fall on your face, and cry out, “Jesus help me. I am screwed without you.” (Apologies for the vernacular, but it seems appropriate.)
This is why John Newton wrote these famous words,
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
Next week: Poor in Spirit does not mean “beat up, mealy-mouthed, or in the gutter.”