Blessed are the Poor… (Matthew 5:3-5)

A sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 30 Jan 2011


4:25. And many crowds followed Him

            from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.

5:1 And when He saw the crowds, He went up to the mountain,

      and when He sat down, his disciples came up to Him.

5:2 And when He opened His mouth, He began teaching them, saying,

5:3 “Blessed are the ones who are lowly in spirit,

            because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

5:4 “Blessed are the ones who mourn,

            because it is they who will be comforted.

5:5 “Blessed are the meek,

            because it is they who will inherit the earth.”


(Other scripture citations below are from the NASB)

Intro – Parable of the prodigal son

Luke 15:11ff  And He said, "A man had two sons.  12  "The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.  13  "And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.  14  "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.  15  "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  16  "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.  17  "But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  18  'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;  19  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' 

1. Blessed are the lowly (πτωχοι) in spirit (v.3)

A)    Definitions:

1)      Vincent’s word study: “The word used in this verse is therefore the current word for ‘poor,’ occurring 34 times (in the NT), and covering every gradation of want... Nevertheless, there is a distinction, recognized by both classical and ecclesiastical writers. While ὁ πένης is of narrow means, one who “earns a scanty pittance,” πρωχός is allied to the verb πτώσσειν, to crouch or cringe, and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, which abjectly solicits and lives by alms. Hence it is applied to Lazarus (Luk 16:20-22), and rendered “beggar.” Thus distinguished, it is very graphic and appropriate here, as denoting the utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one's own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.”

2)      Thayer Definition: From ptosso (to crouch)… 1) reduced to beggary… asking alms
2) destitute of wealth, influence, position… lowly, afflicted… helpless, powerless… poor, needy…

3)      My summary: Lowly/poor

B)    Ptwkos in 87 OT LXX passages + 27 NT:

  1. Many exhortations to the rich and powerful in the OT & NT to treat the poor with kindness, justice, and generosity.
  2. But what kind of blessings are there for those who are poor?

-          Job 36:6 "He does not keep the wicked alive, But gives justice to the afflicted.”

-          Hannah, the childless woman confessed: 1Sa 2:8 "He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, And He set the world on them.” (cf. Psa 113:7)

-          David, after being hunted as an outlaw confessed: 2Sa 22:28 "You save an afflicted people; But Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase.

-          Psa 9:18 For the needy will not always be forgotten, Nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.

-          Psa 10:14 …You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand. The poor commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan.

-          Psa 12:5 "Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise," says the LORD; "I will set him in the safety for which he longs." (cf. Psa 14:6b …the LORD is his refuge.)

-          Psa 34:6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him And saved him out of all his troubles.

-          Psa 22:24 He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

-          Psa 25:16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, [WHY?] For I am lonely and afflicted.

-          Psa 86:1 Incline Your ear, O LORD, and answer me; [WHY?] For I am afflicted and needy.

-          Psa 40:17 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.

-          Psa 35:10 …"LORD, who is like You, Who delivers the afflicted from him who is too strong for him, And the afflicted and the needy from him who robs him?"

-          Psa 69:32 The humble have seen it and are glad; You who seek God, let your heart revive.

-          Psa 72:12-13 For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, And the lives of the needy he will save.

-          Psa 132:15b "…I will satisfy her needy with bread.

-          Psa 140:12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor.

-          Isaiah also weighs in on the blessings experienced by the poor: Isa 41:17 "The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.

-          Isa 29:19 The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the LORD, And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

  1. It seems that the theme of scripture concerning the poor is that they are in the right place

-          to ask God for deliverance

-          and to experience His marvelous provision,

-          His tyranny-demolishing justice,

-          and His merciful salvation.

  1. In the New Testament, we see these same themes:

-          Jesus proves the authenticity of His ministry to John’s disciples by underscoring that He healed the sick and preached the gospel to the poor Mat 11:5 in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy Isa 61:1 (cf. Luke 4:18, 7:22)

-          We also have Luke’s beatitude (6:20) "Blessed are you [disciples] who are poor*, for yours is the kingdom of God.

-          And it is the poor who get the invitation to the wedding feast in Jesus’ parable in Luke 14:21

-          Luke also reminds us that it was poor Lazarus, not the rich man in Jesus’ parable that went to heaven (16:20-22)

-          Jesus warned us through John the Revelator that material wealth can blind us to our spiritual poverty. “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor* and blind and naked…” (Rev 3:17)

-          Jesus did not say that wealth necessarily caused people to go away from God, just that it was an extra-strong temptation for the wealthy.(Mt. 19:23-26) “God never made a soul so small that the whole world will satisfy it” (Hendriksen)

-          James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor* of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? Poverty tends to encourage faith in God, which is the goal of God’s work in our lives..

-          Paul wrote in 2Cor 6:10 a close parallel to the first 3 beatitudes of Christ, saying that he was, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing… poor* yet making many rich… having nothing yet possessing all things.” Even while in poverty, we can make others rich by giving them the riches of God’s truth.

C)    Qualification: “in spirit”

1)      Not all poor people, but only those poor “in spirit.”

2)      Not qualified by “spirit” anywhere else in Bible besides Sermon on the Mt.

3)      I take this as recognizing spiritual poverty and being humble before God, and the third beatitude as having more to do with humility in regard to other people.

4)      CAL: “in spirit” means not railing against God during misery;
 not proudly stoic or comparing self with lesser men,
but internally submitted to God, humble, and prostrate.

D)    This is first of all a characteristic of our Lord:

1)      2Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor*, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

2)      Philippians 2:5-8 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

3)      We are called to take on the attitude of our Lord

“Because the kingdom of heaven is theirs”

A)    Meaning of genitive: “theirs” = possession

B)    What it means to possess the kingdom of heaven

1)      ATR: KOH=reign of God in the heart and life

2)      CAL: KOH is the hope of eternal life

3)      JFB=the fullness of Christ which is the kingdom in substance

4)      HEND: “salvation, the sum-total of blessings that result when God is acknowledged as King over heart and life.”

C)    Notice that this is in the present tense – already in force.

1)      CAL: Happiness must not be judged in terms of our present state… presence or absence of poverty and trouble does not define blessedness. We experience happiness and blessing amidst misery.

2)      There is a sense in which it is ours now, but also a sense in which it is future.

3)      JFB “When he says, ‘Come you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.’ He will invite them merely to the full enjoyment of an already-possessed inheritance.”


Conclusion: The Father welcomes the prodigal who is poor in spirit

Luke 15:20  "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  21  "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  22  "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;  23  and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;  24  for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.  25  "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  26  "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.  27  "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'  28  "But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.  29  "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;  30  but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'  31  "And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.  32  'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"