“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”” (Matthew 5:1–3, NASB95)
In Matthew 5 we have the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the simple words from which the things He had to say got their famous name. We read that when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain. Today we are accustomed to people speaking from stages with podiums and amplification of their voices. But when Jesus saw the people He simply went to a visible place from where He could speak to them. He went up the mountain, sat down, and waited on His disciples to come to Him. I imagine the setting with his brand new disciples gathered tightly around him to listen to Him, and behind them the rest of the crowds moved in to hear more from Him. Even at this point in His ministry Jesus was already known and had a large following, for we read in chapter 4 that He had already been doing a large number of healings and, according to Matthew 4:25, “Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:25, NASB95)
So the scene was set, the people were gathered, and Jesus began to speak. The first words we have recorded are what we call the Beatitudes. “Beatitude” is a Latin word which is used to describe a condition of blessedness, which is exactly what they begin with—“Blessed are…,for….” In the next nine verses of Matthew 5, Jesus pronounces nine of these “blessed are for” statements, which are not descriptive of nine different groups of people, but are a description of what is applicable of all of us, though maybe not all of them at the same time.
The first “blessed are for” statement in found in verse 3, where we read “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed” is a common theme in Scripture. Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man who…,” and in the footnotes of the MacArthur Study Bible we read, “From the perspective of the individual, this is a deep-seated joy and contentment in God; from the perspective of the believing community, it refers to redemptive favor.” As Psalm 1 continues we read, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, NASB95) The blessed ones are those who find the vast riches of God grace extended to them as they follow after Him and set their hearts on Him and His word. As such there is no single English word which can really summarize what it means to be “blessed,” and so we find Jesus giving this longer listing of how we know how blessed we are by God in the various aspects and attitudes of our lives.
In verse 3, we read that the first blessed ones are those who are “poor in spirit.” This refers to recognizing our full dependence on God and not big in ourselves. The poor in spirit find their life, their strength, and their hope in God alone. Isaiah wrote in chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;” (Isaiah 61:1, NASB95) Then in chapter 66 he added, “For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:2, NASB95) From Isaiah we read that God had called him to proclaim help and hope to those who recognized their need, and that the God who created everything would indeed look to those who were humble, afflicted in their spirit, and fearfully considerate of His word, and He would strengthen them.
Jesus said that these people would indeed be given the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had come to give life and soon was to complete that purpose on the cross. The Spirit of God has been given the task of convicting the hearts of man. We read in Scripture that it is by grace that we are saved, not as a result of works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). There was no way we could earn God’s pleasure, but He is well pleased to show us His grace and as a result we believe and are saved. In James 4:6 we read, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” (James 4:6, NASB95)
In response to this gift of heaven Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9, NASB95)
Beatitude facet number 1: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”