“No proud man reigns–he is the slave of his boastings, the serf of his own loftiness. The ambitious worldling grasps after a kingdom, but he does not possess one. The humble in heart are content and in that contentment they are made to reign high!” – Charles Spurgeon
Let’s take a moment and look again at the full text of the Beatitudes:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”–Matthew 5:1-11
We are at the beginning, and one thing that strikes me right away is that in the same way, this is how the life of a believer in Christ begins: we become aware of what we really need. The lack of fulfillment, the lack of peace, the lack of righteousness–these are attempts to express in limited words what are needs in the deepest parts of our being. More even than that, someone who is about to take the first step on this journey has come face to face with two facts: 1) There is a God, who made me and made everything, and who has been generous to me in ways that are unspeakably great, and 2) I am guilty of great sin against this God, because I have been eating his food, drinking his drink, breathing his air, and taking every last bit of it for granted, believing that it is mine by all rights. Paul describes this person in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.–Romans 1:18-23
And at the close of the same chapter, he reveals the depths of darkness such hearts descend to:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.–Romans 1:28-32
Reborn to the Deepest Need
But we’re talking about the person who sees this in themselves in a way he’s never seen it before. He perceives that he has spent his life taking from God without gratitude, hating him who made him, blaming him for his pain all the while not taking it to him for healing, and compounding sin upon sin–and his eyes are opened by the grace of God through his Holy Spirit. He sees his true state, and he mourns it. He is in the temple of God beside the tax collector who cries out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Just like that: that is one who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Not because he has done anything or said magic words, not because he has atoned for his sins—he could never hope to atone for such a mountain—but yet here he is, someone who has come face to face with his complete poverty of spirit, with the fact that all the achievements of his life will be like ashes in the wind one day, and that eternity is a vastness which he cannot comprehend, yet he feels its great weight on him. He counts himself at the center of the mass included in Paul’s words from Romans, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God,” and as one who is due to receive a great sum in pay, “For the wages of sin is death.”
This was me, when I had my eyes opened to the reality of my life and my heart. The amazing thing about this, however, is that God never leaves us there. He didn’t leave me sitting with a handful of nothing except promises of judgment, he instead turned me to the next truth, the one that follows from this: in seeing this deep poverty which I am unable to overcome, I can instead look to his promise that instead of striving to fill myself with things that only frustrate and never soothe, I will be inheriting something so great I can hardly conceive of it.
“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Yet, that kingdom is not one of lording authority over another. It is not like an earthly kingdom, but as Jesus said, “The one who would be greatest, must be the servant of all.” So our sense of poverty of spirit drives us back to the beginning, back to humility and to service.
So what if you don’t feel like this? What if you don’t feel that you are poor in spirit, but that you have been deprived, that you have not been given a fair shake? This world is fractured by sin and our lives in it are hard. We enter it in pain and leave it in pain. We only are able to get what we need through great toil, because our first parents did not trust God to be God and instead tried to stand alongside him. So if you are someone who hears this and reacts in anger, and says “Well maybe I wouldn’t need so much from God if he would just give me what I want! My life has been full of pain and hardship, I have lost everything!” And I don’t begrudge such a person their pain, nor do I pretend it isn’t real.
However, just as much I would also point to the fact that such pain serves a purpose even in its darkest times. It is a reminder to me that this world is not ultimate. It’s a blip in time, a glancing look in the grand scope of eternity, and those who trust in Christ, as the Lord himself said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29)
The kingdom of heaven turns the world upside down. Suffering finds its complete healing and fulfillment. Pain and heartbreak end, and what has been broken is restored. We look to the future and the fulfillment of the words of John in Revelation 21:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Lean on him, my friends. If you have tasted that emptiness, that pain and knowledge of your own sin, if you long to know how to soothe the damage done by the evils of the world, look to Jesus! Heed the words of the very next chapter of Revelation, and know that your heart can worship and find real peace.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
As mentioned on the podcast, below is the full video of the discussion I took part in through my church.