And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." - Matthew 5:2-5 ESV
As we look at the beginning of the Jesus' discourse known as the 'Sermon on the Mount' (SOTM), one can't help but take notice of the first three conditions that he places on his followers:
-to be poor in spirit
-to be meek
Yet he called these conditions "blessed". The actual Greek interpretation of the word means "happy", which may leave one even more confounded than at first glance. These are not conditions by which I would begin to look for happiness in my life, yet this is what the savior asks--better yet, commands--of those who seek to follow after him. From a secular perspective, these are seen as weaknesses; traits of which no one who really wishes to seek out fulfillment in life would gladly heap upon themselves. There has to be something more, right? And there is. So much more.
Within these three verses, we are not looking simply at what it takes for kingdom living. After all, first things first; how am I supposed to live in the kingdom, if I'm not yet in it?! This is what Christ lays before them--we must know how to come to God before we can serve him. Salvation must come before any other action can be taken (John 3:3,5).
"Blessed are the poor in spirit..."
The first thing that is required for anyone to come to Christ is that we realize that we bring nothing to the table in a salvific sense. Regardless of what talents and abilities we may possess, they serve us no purpose when it comes to entering the Kingdom of God (Isaiah 57:12, Isaiah 64:6). The act of salvation rests solely with God through Christ alone (Psalm 37:39, John 14:6). Mankind in his natural state is spiritually bankrupt (Romans 3:9-20). To place salvation on anything and anyone other than the grace of God through the person of Jesus Christ amounts to unbelief (John 6:44, Acts 4:11-12). It is only to those who are poor in spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven is promised (Psalm 51:17).
"Blessed are those who mourn..."
As John Calvin states in his Sermons on the Beatitudes,
"Here he affirms more or less what we have already learnt. For if we are poor in spirit, we cannot avoid weeping; we cannot be other than distressed."
One cannot be poor in spirit (that is, made to see his lack of spiritual uprightness) and not mourn his condition. Or to say it better--one can; but this puts him on the same path that Cain went down. Instead of receiving the chastisement of God for his good, he became bitter. He becomes so embittered, in fact, that he receives neither consolation or warning from God. This hardens him to the point that he sinks deeper into the depths of sin (Genesis 4:3-8). As Calvin again says,
"There may be many who indeed chafe at the bit...Although the Lord Jesus Christ keeps them on a tight rein, still they fume and grind their teeth, and their pride bursts forth worse than before. So God, for his part, has to bear down hard on them so to expel the poison which otherwise might kill them. Not that they improve as a result. They grow even worse, rant and rage and flaunt their devilish fury in the face of God...Does this mean, then, that their poverty, their experience of adversity, serves no purpose? Not at all! It makes their guilt all the worse when they appear before the bar of God. They are examples to us all."
May these examples serve us well. We must learn that our poorness of spirit should bring about our mourning--our repentance. There is a right way and a wrong way to grieve a broken spirit (2 Corinthians 7:10-13a). We must understand that the revelation of the wretchedness of our natural state and the subsequent mourning are all a part of God's discipline of grace to bring us to salvation and to furthering our sanctification; to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 5:7-8, Hebrews 12:3-11). God hears our cries and promises that those who are his will indeed be comforted (Psalm 13:1-2; Psalm 56:8; Isaiah 42:3; Revelation 6:9-11).
"Blessed are the meek..."
This third key to true happiness actually serves as the culminating point to the first two beatitudes. If anyone is poor in spirit, not to mention mourning that poorness, how can we be anything but meek? As Martin Luther so eloquently states: "We are beggars". We all know that beggars can't be choosers. For a person to come before God as if he is owed is an unholy insult. It is not by our works that we are saved, but through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We are to be like the tax collector, not the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). We live in a culture today that rewards the braggart; the more that a man makes of himself, the better. Our society tells us that meekness is weakness. This sort of thinking has even begun to effect the Western Church at large. However, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Scriptures, we need to turn this paradigm on its head (Habakkuk 2:4). Any form of arrogance before almighty, holy God is sinful. For what does a beggar have to be proud? The only thing that sinful man has earned is death, but God has, through Christ, given us eternal life (Romans 6:23). If we are to boast anything, it should be that--not ourselves (Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). If there is ever any doubt that should creep in and try to prove us wrong, all we need to do is look to the author and perfecter of our faith himself (Hebrews 12:2) as the truest example of what it looks like to live in meekness and submission to God (Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 26:39).
It is through him alone that we find ourselves before God; the risen Christ is our inheritance. We need nothing more. We can be rest assured and comforted to know that if it is this "weakness" that grants us the power, then we thrive on what is greater than all of the world (Matthew 13:45-46; Luke 17:20-21; John 14:1-3; Genesis 17:4-8; Galatians 3:7-9, 29; 1 John 4:4; Revelation 1:4-6).
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. - James 4:6-10 ESV
Soli Deo Gloria,