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Sermon 3, Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

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Blessed are the poor in spirit …     The Affluent Poor

I. Intro –

A. The words poor in spirit are in themselves kind of hard to define.  I think most of us think of shrinking, painfully shy people who walk with their heads down and avoid people and eye contact. 

1. But that is not what it is to be poor in spirit.

B. It might be best to illustrate it by seeing examples of what it is to be poor in spirit.  And There are a lot of places in the bible that do that. 

1. Peter for example is a fisherman, a good fisherman who makes a living for himself and family. One day Jesus comes along when the fishing was terrible, and tells him to drop his nets on the other side of the boat, close to shore no less.  Peter does it, out of respect for the rabbi who tells him to and the nets fill up, they begin to tear, he has to call for help so his boat does not sink with all these fish.  Peter, after seeing this leaves everything behind to follow Jesus.  He has seen other rabbi’s he has listened to others teach, but this man commands the fish – I need to follow him, I need him.   

i. That is part of what it is to be poor in spirit.

2. In Genesis, the story about how a very old woman, Sarai, who later becomes Sarah, has not had any children but believes as the angel says she is going to have one.  There is no possible earthly way she is having a child, but she believes, that is an example of being poor in spirit. 

II. Body

A. But maybe the best way to illustrate being poor in spirit is with the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. 

1. He’s rich. (let’s put him in today world) Italian shoes. Tailored suit. His money is invested. His plastic is golden. He lives like he flies—first class.

2. He’s young. He pumps away fatigue at the gym and slam-dunks old age on the court. His belly is flat, his eyes sharp. Energy is his trademark, and death is an eternity away.

3. He’s powerful. If you don’t think so, just ask him. You got questions? He’s got answers. You got problems? He’s got solutions. You got dilemmas? He’s got opinions. He knows where he’s going, and he’ll be there tomorrow. He’s the new generation. So the old had better pick up the pace or pack their bags.

4. He’s the rich … young … ruler.

B. Today he has a question. A casual concern or a genuine fear? We don’t know. We do know he has come for some advice.

1. For one so used to calling the shots, calling on this carpenter’s son for help must be awkward. For a man of his pedigree to seek the counsel of a country man is not standard procedure. But this is no standard question.

2. “Teacher,” he asks Jesus, “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

i. The wording of his question betrays his misunderstanding.

ii. He thinks he can get eternal life as he gets everything else—by his own strength.

C. “What must I do?”

i. What are the requirements, Jesus? What’s the break-even point? No need for chitchat; go straight to the bottom line. How much do I need to invest to be certain of my return?

2. Jesus’ answer is intended to make him wince. “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

i. A man with half a conscience would have thrown up his hands at that point. “Keep the commandments? Keep the commandments! Do you know how many commandments there are? Have you read the Law lately? I’ve tried—honestly, I’ve tried—but I can’t.”

ii. That is what the ruler should say, but confession is the farthest thing from his mind. Instead of asking for help, he grabs a pencil and paper and asks for the list.

iii. “Which ones?”

iv. Jesus indulges him. “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

v. “Great!” thinks the rich man as he finishes the notes. Let’s see if I pass.

vi. “Murder? Of course not. Adultery? No, not in the way I define it. Stealing? A little extortion, but all justifiable. False testimony? Hmmmm … Might have to stop talking about people. Honor your father and mother? Sure, I see them on holidays. Love your neighbor as yourself, whatever that means. 

vii. “Hey,” he grins, “a piece of cake. I’ve done all of these. In fact, I’ve done them since I was a kid.” He swells up, he’s got this made.  “Got any other commandments you want to run past me?”

3. How Jesus keeps from laughing—or crying—is beyond me. The question that was intended to show the ruler how he falls short only convinces him that he stands tall.

i. He’s a child dripping water on the floor while telling his mom he hasn’t been in the rain.

D. Jesus gets to the point. “If you want to be perfect, then go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

1. The statement leaves the young man distraught and the disciples bewildered.

2. Their question could be ours: “Who then can be saved?”

3. Jesus’ answer shell-shocks the listeners, “With man this is impossible ….”

i. Impossible.

4. He doesn’t say improbable. He doesn’t say unlikely. He doesn’t even say it will be tough. He says it is “impossible.”

i. No chance. No way. No loopholes. No hope. Impossible. It’s impossible to swim the Pacific.

ii. It’s impossible to go to the moon in your honda.

iii. You can’t climb Mount Everest with a picnic basket and a walking stick.

iv. And unless somebody does something, you don’t have a chance of going to heaven.

5. Does that strike you as cold? All your life you’ve been rewarded according to your performance. You get grades according to your study. You get commendations according to your success. You get money in response to your work.

E. That’s why the rich young ruler thought heaven was just a payment away. It only made sense. You work hard, you pay your dues, and “zap”—your account is credited as paid in full.

1. Jesus says, “No way.” What you want costs far more than what you can pay.

i. You don’t need a system, you need a Savior.

ii. You don’t need a resume, you need a Redeemer.

iii. For “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”

F. Don’t miss the thrust of this verse: You cannot save yourself. Not through the right rituals. Not through the right doctrine. Not through the right devotion. Not through the right goose bumps. Jesus’ point is crystal clear. It is impossible for human beings to save themselves.

1. It wasn’t the money that hindered the rich man; it was the self-sufficiency.

2. It wasn’t the possessions; it was the showiness.

3. It wasn’t the big bucks; it was the big head.

4. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 

5. It’s not just the rich who have difficulty.

i. So do the educated, and the uneducated, the strong, the weak, the good-looking, the not so good looking, the popular, the less than popular, the religious.

6. So do you if you think your piety or power qualifies you as a kingdom candidate.

G. And if you have trouble digesting what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, then his description of the judgment day will stick in your throat.

1. It’s a prophetic picture of the final day: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ ”

2. Astounding. These people are standing before the throne of God and bragging about themselves.

3. The great trumpet has sounded, and they are still tooting their own horns. Rather than sing his praises, they sing their own.

4. Rather than worship God, they read their résumés. When they should be speechless, they speak. In the very presence of the King they boast of self.

5. What is worse—their arrogance or their blindness?

6. You don’t impress the officials at NASA with a paper airplane. You don’t boast about your crayon sketches in the presence of Picasso. You don’t claim equality with Einstein because you can write “H2O.”

7. And you don’t boast about your goodness in the presence of the Perfect.

8. “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’ ”

H. God does not save us because of what we’ve done.

1. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes.

2. Only an egotistical god would be impressed with our pain.

3. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by sacrifices.

4. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders.

5. And only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.

III. Conclusion

A. That is the message of the apostle Paul: “For what the law was powerless to do … God did.”

B. And that is the message of the first beatitude.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit ….”

2. Joy is given to the impoverished spirits, not the affluent.

3. God’s delight is received upon our surrender, not when we do all the right things.  

4. The first step to joy is a plea for help, an acknowledgment of our own moral poverty

5. Those who taste God’s presence have declared spiritual bankruptcy and are aware of their spiritual crisis.

6. Their pockets are empty. Their options are gone. They have long since stopped demanding justice for their good deeds; they are pleading for mercy.

7. They don’t brag; they beg.

8. They ask God to do for them what they can’t do without him. They have seen how holy God is and how sinful they are and have agreed with Jesus’ statement, “Salvation is impossible.”

9. It’s a different path, a path we’re not accustomed to taking. We don’t often declare our weakness. Admission of failure is not usually admission into joy. Complete confession is not commonly followed by total pardon. But then again, God has never been governed by what is common.

C. … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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