Whose side is God on? Right on the back of the crisis of migrants and asylum seekers, this week’s scandal of tax-dodging and offshore investments is just one more reminder that we live in a world full of great contrasts. There is great wealth but also great poverty. Great riches for some and starvation for others. Safety and security for some but insecurity and fear for many. Great power for the few and complete powerlessness for the many. It seems as though there is one law for the rich and another law for the poor. In this mixed-up world, whose side is God on?
Rich people think God is on their side. Powerful people think God is on their side. Successful people think God is on their side. The rich and the powerful and the successful look down on the poor and the powerless and the weak and the friendless and think that God is set against such people. They think that all the best things in life are for the best people, and as for the rest, well, “it’s all for the best.”
But when God acts as King in His world, bringing His Kingly Rule of peace and deliverance and wholeness and salvation, whose side is God on? This morning we will begin to look at eight sayings collectively known as “the Beatitudes” because they begin with the words, “Blessed are”. Eight profound sayings in which Jesus turns the world upside down. We could talk about the Kingdom of God being the Upside-Down Kingdom. But when you stop and think about things it is the values of the world which are mixed up and upside down! The Beatitudes are actually showing us God’s Right Way Up Kingdom in an Upside-Down World. The Beatitudes show us who is really blessed by God, and who is not. And we start by seeing that in this mixed up world, in God’s reality poor people are actually better off than those who are the rich. In God’s Upside-down kingdom, the poor are the rich!
Matthew 5:1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Just as Moses received the Ten Commandments on the top of Mount Sinai so Jesus has taken his disciples away from the crowds for teaching which is especially for them. And these are the very first words of that Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
Good News Bible – Blessed are those who know they are spiritually poor.
New Living Translation – God blesses those who are poor and realise their need for him.
This saying is those about who are poor in the Holy Spirit, or those who are lacking in courage, or even those who are poor in spiritual awareness. The poor in spirit are those people who know their spiritual poverty – who know that without God they have nothing. We find many such people in the Old Testament. Like King David who prayed in Psalm 40
13 Be pleased, O LORD, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.
14 May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “The LORD be exalted!”
17 Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. We find the same attitude of repentance and humble dependence on God’s mercy in Psalm 51
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
There are many such people in the Old Testament. We could describe as “the godly poor”. Those who know they are spiritually poor. Those who know their need of God. Like the tax collector in Jesus’s parable.
Luke 18 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Spurgeon said, “Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self. To see ourselves as God sees us – in true measure of our slightness and our sinfulness in comparison to His eternal greatness and perfect holiness.
D.L. Moody said, “Unless you humble yourself before God in the dust and confess before Him your iniquities and sins, the gate of heaven, which is open only for sinners saved by grace, must be shut against you forever.”
Before God there is no place for self-reliance or self-confidence or self-righteousness. The “poor in spirit” are those people who accept God’s will and depend on God’s action as their only hope in life. We need to recognise that we are spiritual paupers, failures, miserable sinners, and that God doesn’t expect any more from us than that even now we are Christians. Only then can we discover the blessedness, the true happiness of those who are poor in spirit. It’s the attitude expressed in that old hymn, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me”
Not the labour of my hands Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone: Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly: Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. We find God’s promise of blessing for the poor in spirit, those who know they are spiritually poor, the godly poor, in Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes. But Luke records similar words of Jesus where he is clearly speaking about those who are literally materially poor. In Luke 6 Jesus is talking to his disciples and says,
20 … “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Here God’s promises are for those who are materially poor, who are hungry and who are weeping. Perhaps this is because in many situations those who are materially poor are more likely to depend on God than those who are materially rich. Those who are poor have no wealth or possessions or status to depend on. So they put their trust in God. They have no treasures on earth. Their only hope is of treasure in heaven.
30 years ago now Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard wrote a book called “Bias to the Poor”. Throughout the Bible we find what Catholic scholars first recognised as “God’s preferential option for the poor.” There is a special place in the Kingdom of God for people who are poor and disadvantaged and marginalised. But what is it about the poor which would cause God to single them out for special attention? We can think of a number of reasons.
1. The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption.
2. The poor rest their security not on things but on God.
3. The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance.
4. The poor expect little from competition.
5. The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
6. The poor can wait, because they have a kind of patience born of acknowledged dependence.
7. When the poor have the Gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threat or a scolding.
8. The poor can respond to the call of the Gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.
Through no choice of their own, poor people are more likely than rich people to respond with gratitude to God’s wonderful grace. Their state of neediness, dependence, and dissatisfaction with life helps them to welcome God’s free gift of love. Poor people can be blessed because of this innate advantage they have over people who are more comfortable and self-sufficient. People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may well go through life relying on their natural gifts. On the other hand, people who lack such natural advantages, people who are underqualified for success in the kingdom of this world, just might turn to God in their time of need. Human beings do not readily admit desperation. But when they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.
People can so easily be tempted away from God by the false god of Money. The apostle Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and even describes greed as idolatry. This is why Jesus warned his disciples against covetousness, and invited the rich young ruler to give away all his possessions. This is why in his parable, Jesus called the rich young farmer whose life centred around building bigger and bigger barns, “You fool!” Riches on earth can lure people away from treasures in heaven.
So God’s Kingdom comes to turn this upside down world the right way up again. This was the promise in Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat.
Luke 1 50His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
This is not the false so-called “prosperity gospel.” This is not a promise of health, wealth and success for Christians. This is God’s promise of much greater blessings, blessings which are not physical or material but spiritual and eternal. Treasures in heaven.
The poor in spirit are blessed precisely because theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
The ones who will be blessed in the Kingdom of God are the humble poor who recognise their dependence on God are, When God acts as King bringing salvation, freedom and peace, those blessings are for the poor in spirit. The gospel is good news especially for the poor, as Jesus explained in his first sermon at Nazareth.
Luke 4 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This was the Kingdom that Jesus brought. Remember his reply to the messengers who came from John the Baptist.
Luke 7 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Jesus brought healing, repairing the damage of suffering in the world caused by sin. Jesus brought deliverance, driving out demons and setting people free from the grip of evil. And Jesus proclaimed the good news to the poor – the gospel of salvation. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God!
But what about us? Where do we stand in all of this? It is true that in this country there are many people who are much richer than any of us. But we all have a home to sleep in and food to eat and water that is safe to drink and doctors and medicines if we are ill. By any measures of wealth or possessions, all of us are among the rich of the world rather than among the poor. So is the Kingdom of God for us?
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Those who recognise that they are spiritually poor. Those who acknowledge their need of God and that without God they have nothing at all. Those who seek treasures in heaven before treasures on earth. Despite all outward appearances in this Upside-down world, in God’s right-way-up Kingdom, blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.