Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Don’t be dismayed that this entire chapter is devoted to just one verse. Some verses are so loaded with exciting truth that they deserve a chapter’s worth of commentary.
A good tongue–in–cheek illustration of pride—which is the opposite of the attitude of one who is poor in spirit—was provided several years ago by the noted radio pastor C. Donald Cole of the Moody Bible Institute when he prefaced some remarks with this statement: “For the next few moments I’m going to say some truly remarkable things about pride.”
Of course, the truly proud person rarely sees himself as such, for if he did, he would readily see that his life–style is antithetical to Jesus’ new message in the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is offering blessing and happiness based on a new kind of living, a righteous ideal, a selfless standard. This greatest sermon ever preached focuses on just that kind of happiness, one that comes to the selfless.
I believe this message is for all of us. Historically some evangelicals have objected to the Sermon on the Mount on the grounds that it is too hard. For instance, when Christ said in Matthew 5:48, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” they say that that’s too hard and pass it off to the Millennium. They say the sermon must be principles for life in the future kingdom. But frankly, there are many problems with that view.
First, the text does not say this is for the Millennium. Second, Jesus preached it to people who were not living in the Millennium. (That seems to be the strongest argument of all.) Third, it becomes confusing if you push it into the Millennium because it says you are blessed when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and when men revile you and persecute you and say evil things against you falsely. Who is going to get away with that in the kingdom?
Jesus’ words “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) would become meaningless. Anyway, as we shall see, every principle in the Sermon on the Mount is also found somewhere else in the New Testament. We cannot relegate the whole thing to some super saints in the future form of the kingdom.
This is for us. It is the distinctive lifestyle of a believer of any age. It calls upon us to come to a new standard of living. Jesus was saying, “Look, this is the way you must live if you are to know happiness.” Isn’t it wonderful that God is not a cosmic killjoy, as the world would like us to believe? That He is not intent upon raining on your parade?
God wants us to be happy. God wants us to be blessed. And He gives us the principles by which we can be.
John MacArthur, The Beatitudes: The Only Way to Happiness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998).
We have just completed a Bible study on the Greatest Sermon Ever–the Sermon on the Mount. It consists of 13 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.