Jesus starts his Beatitudes with a startling statement:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”
Allow me to rephrase so you may receive the full thrust of Jesus’ statement:
“You enter the Kingdom now, immediately, – i.e., you are born again – when you realize your abject spirit poverty apart from Jesus – and therefore cry out to him to save your wretched self.”
We are spending extra time on this because if you miss this you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That would be an eternal tragedy. But if you are born again and have therefore already entered the Kingdom, and yet you miss this, you will never be able to stay in the flow of the Kingdom.
Your idiot pride will prevent you from experiencing such a rich life to the full, in the flow of the Kingdom.
There are two stories about the proud-in-spirit and the poor-in-spirit in the Gospel of Luke that highlight this. A warning in advance: Do not assume you are not the Pharisees in these stories. Because we all are, to some degree or another.
The first is found in Luke 7:36. Jesus has been invited to lunch with a Pharisee named Simon, and unexpectedly a “woman who has led a sinful life” comes in and proceeds to cause a scene.
As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
Simon thinks to himself,
“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Allow me to complete Simon’s thought: “ – that she is a sinner … and I am clearly not.”
Jesus calls him out with a story about how this woman obviously knows she is a sinner, and therefore is so grateful to Jesus for his grace. “But you, Simon, are sure you are not a sinner, and therefore you have no gratitude, because you do not need my gift of grace.”
Simon did not need Jesus’ gift of grace because he had earned it already. Just look at his resume of good behavior and high performance!
The second story is a parable found at Luke 18:9.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The sinful woman and the tax collector understood their abject spiritual poverty. Of course they did. It was on display for all to see. But Simon and the other Pharisee could not possibly see their spiritual poverty. And therefore their desperate need for a Savior. Are you kidding? Desperate? How could they? Just look at their resumes.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness …
But there will be no resumes on Judgment Day. If you reach for a resume as you are standing before Jesus he will say,
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:23)
Will that be what you hear, or,
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
“Click.” The narrow gate just opened.