And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-3)
Christ’s most famous sermon is the so-called Sermon on the Mount. The word “Mount” comes from the fact that Jesus gave this teaching to His disciples while up on a mountain (Matthew 5:1). It seems clear, though, that He preached either the entire sermon or selected parts of it at least twice. I say this because Luke 6:17-49 gives us the record of a shortened version of the sermon, a version that Jesus preached “on a level place” (N.K.J.V.) (“a plain” K.J.V.) with not only His disciples in attendance but also a great multitude of people.
Furthermore, there are slight differences in the two accounts of the sermon. In the Matthew version, Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven, while in the Luke account He promises the kingdom of God. While it’s true that both descriptions refer to the same kingdom (see Matthew 6:33), it’s also true that the word heaven brings a different image to mind than the word God.
Another example of certain differences in the accounts is found in the sermon’s opening. Whereas the Matthew version quotes Christ as saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the Luke version omits the words “in spirit” and cites the quote as, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
It seems that Jesus changed the wording a bit to accommodate His two different audiences. Up on the mountain, it was just Him and His disciples. But down on the level place they were joined by “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17).
And why had that multitude sought out Jesus? They had come “to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits” (Luke 6:17-18). It doesn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to figure that diseased and demon-possessed people were poor. Diseased people couldn’t work and spent what money they had on doctors (Luke 8:43-44). Demon-possessed people certainly couldn’t hold down jobs either (Luke 8:26-39).
Of course, the fact that Jesus would say to a crowd of such people, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” offers us a glimpse into why He was so popular with the common people of the land. In large part, the Jewish people still lived under the Old Testament mindset that wealth was evidence of the blessing and favor of God. To be poor, then, was to be under God’s judgment, disfavor, or curse. But here was a teacher who flipped that mindset completely on its head. According to him, the kingdom of God belonged to the poor, not the rich. That was mind-blowing news if you were a poor person!
Even before preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had preached a sermon at Nazareth in which He had referenced Isaiah 61:1-2 in saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Later on, He would have word sent to the imprisoned John the Baptist that, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). Clearly, Jesus wanted poor people to realize that the kingdom of God wasn’t just for the rich.
Still, we must understand that the Sermon on the Mount is not the gospel. No one goes to heaven just because they are monetarily poor. One must be spiritually born again by believing in Christ as Savior and thereby becoming indwelt by God the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-18, Romans 3:10-26). Merely standing there listening to Jesus and being poor didn’t provide salvation. Those people had to believe in Him as Savior.
Also, it will help you to better apply the term “poor in spirit” if you will think of it as a deliberate choice rather than a natural personality trait. To be poor in spirit is to make yourself walk in a constant realization of your utter spiritual helplessness without God. It is to abandon any and all attempts at self-righteousness and throw yourself completely upon divine righteousness (Titus 2:5-6, Ephesians 2:8-9). It is to truly grasp the teaching of Isaiah 64:6 – that all your supposed works of righteousness are, in reality, like “filthy rags” in the sight of an infinitely holy God.
Also, to be poor in spirit is to be humble in nature. It is to approach God as a lowly servant (Matthew 8:5-8), a respectful child (Matthew 18:4), or even a pitiful beggar (Matthew 15:21-28). The person who struts toward God and thinks, “He’s lucky to get me” isn’t poor in spirit. Neither is the person who says, “I’m going to allow God into my life, but I’ll be bringing as much to the relationship as He does.” The Greek word translated here as “poor” is ptochos and it refers to abject poverty. The one who is this poor in spirit knows that he brings nothing to God because, frankly, he doesn’t have anything to bring.
So, tell me, is this you? Do you think of yourself as such a spiritual beggar? Or do you pull back from having such a degrading opinion of yourself? Since Jesus (God the Son) thought you were valuable enough to die for, I’m certainly not saying that God sees you as nothing in His eyes. But the truth is, He wants you to see yourself as nothing in comparison to Him.
He doesn’t necessarily want you to be poor in life – even though He doesn’t want everybody to rich either – but He does want you to be poor in spirit. This will allow you to have the attitude and perspective that will make it easy for you to not only experience salvation by believing in Jesus but also to look to Him each day to meet all your needs. After all, that’s what beggars do. They look to someone else to take care of them. Jesus will be that person to you if you will let Him.