If you had a group of people looking to you for instruction, where would you begin? What would you teach them?
Jesus had just begun His public ministry, and invited a group of people to follow Him. There were many others who were tagging along, hoping for some type of help from Jesus, but the group of twelve were His main focus, whom He issued a personal invitation to do life with Him.
His first formal lesson? The Beatitudes, also known as The Sermon on the Mount (mountain).
His first words?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3 NIV)
So much packed into a mere thirteen simple words.
Jesus didn’t talk about the outward condition of His disciples – their financial status, their physical health, their friends or family. Instead, He chose to talk about who His disciples were on the inside – the innermost part of who they are, who we are.
Let’s take a look at each phrase:
“Blessed are…” – enjoying God’s favor; feeling loved, as when a father smiles and laughs in delight as he spends time with his children.
“… the poor …” – literally, in abject poverty, with no hope for improvement, crouched down with head bowed, in fear of mistreatment or abuse, begging for anything, holding your hands up, not even able to look your potential benefactors in the eye.
“… in spirit …” – the innermost part of who we are, where we perceive, feel, think, and desire.
“… for theirs …” – denotes ownership and belonging
“… is …” – present tense, indicating the here and now
“… the kingdom …” – the power associated with royalty, to rule over a kingdom (not to be confused with the rule over an actual physical kingdom)
“… of heaven.” – literally, the universe, the sky
Remember Jesus’ simple message that He was preaching and teaching just a few verses before?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17b NIV)
In this first beatitude, Jesus offers Himself, the very essence of heaven – right here, right now, and not by any intrinsic good of our own, or our ability to pay for it or earn it, but by His grace.
Contrary to the religious leaders of His day, Jesus did not weigh down His disciples with more rules to follow to “earn” their way into heaven – instead, He made Heaven approachable, accessible, and available to all. That includes you and me.
Jesus offers the kingdom of heaven, not to those who believe they can afford it through wealth, or superior moral character, but to those who come with nothing to offer but their own poverty of soul and deficiency of character.
That sad condition describes all of us. The question is, will we come before God and humbly admit it openly before Him?
He invites us to join Him, and waits lovingly and patiently for us, with open arms.