Thursday, October 13, 2011

Matthew 10: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:3-4

Introductory Comments
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
In order to understand these verses, we need to answer a few questions. First, who, exactly, are the “poor in spirit” and “those who mourn?” Second, what happens when Jesus blesses in this way? Third, what do these verses have to do with us today, in our church, existing in our culture?

Who Are the Poor in Spirit?

So who are these that are identified by Jesus as “the poor in spirit” and “those who mourn?’

This question is important, because we can make a mistake when reading these beatitudes. The individuals receiving these blessings are not receiving them on the basis that being poor in spirit or in mourning are somehow virtuous. Jesus is not saying here: “Look how wonderful it is to feel crushed or to be mourning!” Theses beatitudes are not virtues, but are blessings granted to particular people in particular circumstances.

Jesus goes to those who don’t have it all together, but have fallen apart. In this way, he’s fulfilling all that was promised in the Old Testament. To whom does God grant blessings? Let’s look at just a few examples:

Isaiah 57:15 - “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Isaiah 66:2 - “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Psalm 149:4 - “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation”

Proverbs 3:34 - “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

To be “poor in spirit” likely means to be abjectly poor, really destitute, and desperate for rescue. Such poor actually feel their poverty and are crushed as a result. Nothing is working out for these folks, and they are routinely overlooked, ridiculed, and avoided by others. These are the people in our communities who we would prefer to imagine aren’t here (they are). Some fo these folks may be sitting near you right now.

Jesus blesses people who really are poor, who feel it, who are experiencing the crushing burden of their poverty. It is to these people that Jesus looks first. That says something very important about Jesus, which means it also says something about the way the church should approach economic, spiritual, and psychological poverty.

What is says about Jesus is that he has particular care and concern for these individuals, because these are the individuals who are looking for rescue, who are the end of their ropes, and need salvation. It is to these people that Jesus says, “I bless you! I am for you! Look to me and be strengthened.”

What this says to the church is that, as the body of Christ, we are to have the same concern for the poor, and we are to share in the rich abundance of God’s blessing to the saints with the same people Jesus is looking out for. As saints in the church, we ought to have eyes and ears tuned for just these people, because they are the objects of Jesus’ magnificent blessing. That should take us right into the soup kitchens, the food shelves, and similar ministries. The first beatitude also humbles those in the church who might presume a spiritual sophistication or advancement that is inappropriate and full of pride. When we get to the moral and ethical commands of Jesus which follow these blessings, what we will see is that our lives pale in comparison to what Jesus demands of us, so much so that without these opening blessings we might be led to despair. Instead, we are led back in poverty of spirit to the foot of the cross, where we are renewed by the costly sacrifice of Jesus.

What Is the Blessing?

What do those who feel the crushing spiritual effects of poverty receive from Jesus? They receive the very kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Notice the present tense verb is. Those who receive this blessing have the joy of an abundant inheritance is experienced now because it’s guaranteed to come. In fact, this hope is so certain that this inheritance is already theirs, as Jesus says – “theirs is” the kingdom of God.

For those psychological, spiritually, and physically crushed and impoverished, Jesus particularly blesses you and grants to you even now the inheritance of the coming kingdom of God.

Who Are Those Who Mourn?

Those who are in mourning are brokenhearted. These are the ones who pray with David in Psalm 25:16-17
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses…
This beatitude is for those [plural ] who are [present-tense] in mourning. For such people, Jesus grants gracious blessing with the promise that they will be comforted. This is not an individual lament over one’s own loss that looks to the self, but a godly grief that produces a sense of deep sorrow that only God can relieve.1 Here’s what Paul says about such grief, in 2 Corinthians 7:10
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Saints of the church, Jesus on the side of those individuals who are in mourning now. Jesus blesses those who are presently feeling this deep sadness. And the promise for those who experience such sadness is comfort, a comfort so secure and abiding that it yields as the blessing joy in Christ, so that they may sing:
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. [Ps 30:5]
Twice in a row now, Jesus has placed himself on the side of people many would rather avoid. This will be his pattern throughout his ministry. And his ministry will be seen most fully in its glory when Jesus pours out his life for the spiritually destitute on the cross, becoming the source of ridicule and scorn in order to give the blessing of salvation to his people.

What happens when Jesus blesses this way?

When Jesus blessed someone this way, what is communicated verbally is actually conveyed to the recipient. Something really happens to the person whom Jesus is blessing. I think the same thing can happen here, in your hearing of these works, if it would please the Holy Spirit to do so.

To show what I mean by this, suppose you are watching a baseball game. What happens if you’re a batter and swing and miss on a third strike pitch? The umpire declares strike three, and you’re out. Something is declared which changes your circumstances and the circumstances of the game permanently. Now, for the batter, this isn’t necessarily a blessing, especially if you’re name is Alex Rodriguez, and you have a chance to keep the playoff season alive for the New York Yankees, as happened Thursday night in their final division playoff game against Detroit. You get the meaning, though. The umpire’s declaration in this case meant game over and season over the Yankees. As Mark Driscoll said just at a conference just the other night, that the New York Yankees loss to Detroit is proof that God is sovereign and that he loves us.

This illustration is just meant to show how something spoken can change circumstances forever. “I love you” has the same effect. Something changes when those words are spoken and heard. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” an actual blessing from the incarnate God is granted to the recipient described in the blessing. This is in accord with Jesus’ earlier speech that resulted in immediate changes. When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John, there is no negotiation. Jesus’ calling of his disciples also creates his disciples, and so they pick up and follow him. When Jesus blesses a particular group of people, they are actually blessed. Jesus isn’t just delivering platitudes, like we do in order to manage our anxiety over the pains of others. These aren’t just pick-me-ups. Jesus is conferring something tangible to people who really are destitute financially, spiritually, and emotionally. What is he conferring upon these people? He is giving them Himself and all the benefits of knowing Him. It is to those people who are in the spiritual condition necessary for salvation that Jesus comes and presents Himself as their salvation. Blessed are you poor in spirit, because in me you are a fellow heir of the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who mourn, because I will grant you an everlasting comfort by taking you to myself.


First: Jesus conferrs his blessing to those, who are like those sung about by musician Steve Taylor, “Just as I am, needy and dry; Jesus is for losers; the self-made need not apply.” He blesses those who spiritual, financial, and emotional situation is critical. To those in such a condition, Jesus declares, with power and effect, you are blessed.

Second: He grants to those who are poor in spirit the very inheritance of the kingdom of God. If you lack now, Jesus says, you are blessed, because you have received the very kingdom of God. So there can be joy now, because you have been written into the will and testament of almighty God by virtue of your blessing from the glorious Christ. To those who mourn, he grants joy of his sure promise of comfort and peace.


These blessings show how false our wordly-gospels of “successism” and “properity” really are. Successism says to those with much, “Blessed are the rich!” Also false is the notion that if you’re rich in spirit, you are also blessed. No, in the bible, Jesus’ blessings come to those who have nothing and are nothing and feeling like they’re nothing and mourn as a result.

As a result, these blessings from Jesus are a huge stumbling block for many people today. With just the first beatitude alone, Jesus totally demolishes the underlying assumptions of much contemporary life, beginning right in grade school, that preaches the worldly doctrine of self-esteem. Loved ones, the bible doesn’t have much of anything good to say about our contemporary, modern, secular, worldly movement to build up self-esteem. But the bible has much that is blessing for those who experience actual poverty and sadness. Jesus says to those folks, you have me.

I like how John Piper puts it:
The biblical answer to the paralysis of low self-esteem is not high self-esteem; it is sovereign grace. You can test whether you agree with this by whether you can gladly repeat the words of Isaiah 41:13, "Fear not, you worm Jacob . . . I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel." In other words, God's way of freeing and mobilizing people who see themselves as worms is not to tell them that they are beautiful butterflies but rather to say, "I will help you. I am your redeemer . . . Go to Egypt now, and I will be with you."
God does not particularly care about our sense of self-esteem. What God does care greatly about is His own glory, which means he cares about how much we esteem Him and glorify His holy name. In order to be maximally glorified in this way, he goes to the poor and brokenhearted, to those who do not have it all together, and who are in a place where they are most likely to recognize and feel their deep need for God, and Jesus blesses them. He says to those impoverished and utterly depressed, “You have the very kingdom. It’s yours. And your comfort in me will be lasting, eternal joy.”2

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.


1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. The Christbook. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 165.
2John Piper. "Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit Who Mourn." Feb 2, 1986.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
October 9, 2011
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Matthew 09: The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus Preaches the Sermon on the Mount - Gustave Doré
Scripture Text: Matthew 5:1-11

Introductory Comments

For the next several weeks, we are going to look very closely at the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the section commonly referred to as the beatitudes. My goal today is to give you a broad overview of the beatitudes. In the weeks to come, we’ll take a closer look each one. I think it appropriate to move through them this way, because there are deep, deep lush, treasure troves of Christ-glorifying truth in each of them.

Let’s back up a bit to describe how we got here. Until now, Matthew, the inspired gospel writer whose portrait of Jesus we are studying verse by verse, has not had Jesus say many words. Jesus has spoken once briefly with his cousin John. He has a short back and forth (with eternal gospel consequences for us) with the devil in the wilderness. In Chapter four, which shows us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of preaching, making disciples, and healing, we only get a few more sentences, beginning with this one: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

But things are about to change dramatically. In Chapter 4:23, Matthew records, “And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” If you skip ahead to chapter 9:35, we read this: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

The language is almost identical to 4:23, and I think that is deliberate. Matthew, like any other writer, is using the very structure of what he writes to highlight and show us important truths about our Lord. You can therefore think of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 as “bookends” within which are two major sections, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), which consist of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples and the crowds, and a series of stories in chapters 8 and 9 about Jesus’ ministry of healing.

So one of the first things we learn is something we uncovered during our last time together, and which is shown in detail in these chapters, is that Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministries are inseparable from his healing ministries, which are demonstrations of his power. You can’t have one without the other.

So what does the beatitudes, taken as a single unit, teach us about the Kingdom of God. Dale Bruner writes this, “To read the Sermon on the Mount is to discover what it means to be Jesus’ disciples; to read it with faith is to receive power to be Jesus’ disciples.” What does he mean? Let’s start with 5:1-2, the brief introduction to the beatitudes:
[5:1] Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

[2] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
… And then what follows are the beatitudes themselves.

At the end of Chapter 4, great crowds from throughout the region have started to follow Jesus. Jesus, seeing the crowds, Jesus breaks away from his healing ministry in order to present kingdom teaching. Notice the “he’s” in the verse. He saw the crowds. He went up into the mountain. He sat down. His disciples came up to him. He opened his mouth. He was teaching them. Jesus is setting the agenda in this text for his followers 2,000+ years ago, and I believe, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is setting the agenda for us through his teaching to you and to me today. Why is this important to us? I think there are three reasons:

First, for those who are Jesus’ disciples, who believe in Christ for their eternal salvation and joy, who hold Jesus as their treasure, the beatitudes reminders of the great gospel blessings those individuals have received and will receive by God’s beneficent, unmerited grace.

Second, beatitudes contain within them a reminder of the kind of people Jesus’ disciples have been blessed to be. God’s blessing are receive by grace, and they have a purpose, to bring dead sinners to eternal life and to radically transform them into vessels bearing the love of God in the Word for the purpose of magnifying the glory of the great God who saves.

Third, beatitudes are a great reality check of what commonly happens to disciples when they live in obedience to Christ in a world that prefers the far too often prefers demonic to the holy majesty of God. For Christian disciples struggling to live obediently, the result will be, more often than not, rejection and persecution by the world. But that is not all. There will also be joy.

So those are the three reasons the beatitude are so critical to the Christian. They are much-needed reminders of God’s grace, of our call by God to bear image bearers of His grace in the world, and of the world’s pushback against the inbreaking kingdom of God. In a few minutes, I hope to show you how this comes from the text.

But before I do that, there is another thing I really want you to notice, especially if there is anyone present here today or who may be listening on the television who is not already a disciple of Jesus. One of the things I’ve tried to show over the past few weeks I this: In the relative smattering of Jesus’ speech in the chapters that precede this one, one things is very clear – when Jesus says something, the thing he speaks comes to pass. His words carry great power. In the account of the baptism in Chapter three, John did not want to baptize Jesus. He thought Jesus should have baptized him. But when Jesus said, in 3:15 “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” John baptized Jesus. After the baptism and the 40-day and 40-night fast in the wilderness, Jesus combats the temptations of the devil. The temptations conclude with Jesus saying “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ What happens, “Then the devil left him.” In Chapter 4:23-25, Jesus calls his core group of disciples. In both cases, with Peter and Andrew, and again with James and John the sons of Zebedee, Jesus calls and they respond “immediately.” When Jesus speaks, things happens. In Genesis 1, God speaks and says, “Let there by light.” And there was light. Jesus says, “Follow me” and another disciple is brought into the kingdom. This is what is known as the effectual call of God. God’s word creates what it commands. His Word creates galaxies and planets and stars and animals and trees and human beings from nothing. And His word rescues sinners from their eternal destruction and suffering of hell and grants them eternal life and Joy in Him.

I’m making much of this because of something that is apparent by the time you get to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Here at the beginning, with the beatitudes, Jesus is speaking to his disciples: “[5:1] Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” But at the end of the Sermon, at Chapter 7:28-29, we read:
[28] And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, [29] for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
He starts preaching to his disciples, but by the end of the sermon, the crowds were astonished. They were astonished because his teaching was not a mere recitation of facts and information. Jesus words carry “authority.” What can we conclude from this? I think Jesus’ teaching is aimed primarily for those who are his disciples, but because his spoken words carry great power and authority, they also invite and create new disciples for the kingdom of God. And I believe, if the Holy Sprit wills it, that this Jesus’ power and authority can do that exact same thing here, right now, in the hearing of His powerful words. Sermons are created first for the faithful, but also for the crowds, that they might hear Jesus’ gracious call to sinners. If you are in that group today, the “crowds,” my prayer for you is that you’ll heed the call of Jesus.

So what do the beatitudes show us? Three things, as I’ve said. They are much-needed reminders of God’s grace, of our call by God to be image bearers of His grace in the world, and of the world’s pushback against the inbreaking kingdom of God. In a few minutes, I hope to show you how this comes from the text.

They Show Us God’s Grace
[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
[4] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
[5] “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
These three blessings show us that Jesus blesses broken people. These are the people the world overlooks. They are the poor in a way that leaves them not simply bereft of dollars but bereft of hope. God’s grace comes to those who fear they will never measure up. People in this condition are desperate for grace, for rescue, and it is precisely to these people, the one’s who the world have declared don’t have their act together, the ones who are at the end of their respective ropes, that Jesus blesses with mercy and with grace.

This first grouping of blessings illustrate how the kingdom of God is a grand reversal of the sinful power structures of the fallen world. In the kingdom of God, the high will be brought low, and the low lifted up an exalted. The kingdom comes especially to those who recognize their deep need of God. It doesn’t come to those who think they have it all together, that everything is in order, and that life is good, so I must be okay.

Blessing to Those In the Kingdom Who Serve
[6] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
[7] “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
[8] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
[9] “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The next four blessings are for those of the kingdom who live in response to the great grace they have received by showing grace to others. They reveal the core character of a genuine disciple of Jesus.

I love these blessing because they show that those who have been blessed by the gospel of grace overflow with obedience by serving others in grace, which service itself becomes a blessing! Jesus offers his blessing for those in the kingdom who, having been blessed once by His grace, bless others with their compassionate work. Note the order: Grace, then works flowing from that grace. It is not, do good work, and then God will bless you. That’s the way the world works. That’s not the way the gospel of God works.

At a recent conference I attended on global missions, Sara and I heard a talk where this point was really brought home. Lots of folks, when blessed by God with material wealth, hoard it up. Churches do this too, which is why we should get very uncomfortable when a church is blessed with material wealth and just lets it accumulate. For those granted eyes open to the truth of how God has blessed them, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to become a blessing to others. In these beatitude, Jesus says, “You are blessed when blessing others giving.”

Hope and Joy Amid Persecution and Oppression
[10] “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[11] “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The final beatitude is broken into two parts but is really one blessing with an example attached to it. Jesus reminds the church here that it will, when living the gospel life, meet resistance, and some of it will be grave and unpleasant. As I preach this, there is a young pastor of a church in Iran named Yousef Nadarkhani who stands condemned to death for the crime of being a follower of Jesus Christ and refusing to recant his faith. Four times he has refused to recant, and he now sits in jail under a death sentence, which we pray will not be carried out. He is a married and the father of two children. What does Jesus say to those people? You are blessed. And because you are blessed, you have joy reason for gladness, because your very persecution demonstrates that you are mine forever.

For those in the church, this last set of beatitudes reminds us of the great cost borne by Jesus on the Cross, where he poured out his life for people like Pastor Nadarkhani and like you, so that you have an eternal hope that transcends this temporal life of struggle, pain and persecution.

What is the basis for this rejoicing in suffering? It is the cross of Christ. Hebrew 12:1-2:
[12:1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Those who endure the persecution of the world have joy because they have they been richly blessed by the Christ who endured the ultimate shame of the cross to purchase forgiveness for sin and assurance of pardon from God’s justified wrath for sin.

This is what the beatitudes teach and do, by the power of the Holy Spirit. They are spiritual food reminding us of the depth of God’s grace for those who feel they are nothing. They are reminders of the call by Jesus to be image bearers of His grace in the world. And they are reminders of the joy that awaits us when the world’s pushes back in a vain attempt to stall the inbreaking kingdom of God. And they are an invitation to those who long for rescue. They are the very picture of God’s gracious character in Christ. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
October 2, 2011
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew