Are beggars in paradise?
By Don Ruhl
The introduction to the world’s greatest sermon begins like this,
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 filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain 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 they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt. 5:3–12).
From the beginning Jesus sets a spiritual tone. He jolts us from our comfort, beginning His sermon with a series of eight paradoxes, statements that on the surface do not seem right, because they appear to be self-contradictory. His ultimate paradox was the last one. The first seven prepare us for the eight.
Shortly after I graduated from the Southern California School of Evangelism in Buena Park, California, the school asked one of my fellow-students, Steve Lloyd to return and teach a night class on the Sermon on the Mount. This was Steve’s favorite part of the Bible, and I knew that of the Sermon, the introduction, that is, the Beatitudes, was something that he cherished.
As my wife and I sat through his class I discovered why Steve is such a likeable man. He lives the Beatitutdes. Moreover, why are we attracted to Jesus? He lived the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes Show the Character of a Kingdom Citizen
Therefore, they run contrary to most of what we hear on how to be successful and happy. The Beatitudes turn upside down what the world says brings happiness. What the world slights, Jesus praises. What Jesus praises, the world slights. Our world is crazed with the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. People try everything under the sun to find fulfillment, but it is not working. Millions in our nation are on psychotropic medications. Yet, right here in the Scriptures in the Greatest Sermon ever preached, the Son of God shows us in His introduction a happiness that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Steve Lloyd says: “The beatitudes give us a whole new perspective on life.” He then lists the following,
To be rich—we must become poor
To be comforted—we must mourn
To conquer the earth—we must become meek
To become filled—we must hunger and thirst
To obtain mercy—we must be merciful
To see God—we must have a pure heart
To be a son of God—we must be peacemakers
To be happy—we must be persecuted.
The Beatitudes Are About Happiness
That is what the Greek word for “blessed” means. The Beatitudes teach that happiness does not depend upon our outward circumstances.
It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, but what happens in you that matters. Because if what happens in you is right, then what happens to you doesn’t matter (Nat Cooper).
“Blessed!” intoned again and again, sounds like bells of heaven, ringing down into this unblessed world from the cathedral spires of the kingdom inviting all men to enter (Lenski).
The Arrangement of the Beatitudes Is Interesting
The first one is foundational to the rest. If you have the first one, you will achieve the others. You cannot achieve the others until you have achieved the first one. “Note…that the blessing which follows each of these beatitudes are designed to fill us, with the exception of the first. We cannot be filled until we are first empty” (Steve Lloyd). The first and the last Beatitudes are framed with the Kingdom of Heaven as the blessing.
The first Beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit?
What picture do you have of someone as working-poor? as a beggar? The beggar knows that he is poor. Others may be just as destitute, but they either will not or cannot work, and they will not beg.
This Beatitude is not picturing that person, but the one who has nothing and cannot do anything to remedy his situation, except to beg. The Greek word means beggar, being derived from another Greek word that means cringing or crouching.
What does it take to be a beggar? Could you beg from others? That is hard, is it not? What happens to you on the inside? Take pride and throw it away. On the other hand, do you not believe that a man or woman is blessed who is humble?
A late Queen of England visited a hospital ward one day and paused for a moment at the bed of a little girl. She asked the child where she lived and the child said in Battersea, a poor district in London. “Where do you live?” the girl asked, unaware of the rank of her visitor. “Oh, just behind Gorringe’s department store,” the Queen replied.
If we had royalty in America, would you not want a queen like that? “An able and yet humble man is a jewel worth a kingdom” (Penn). Do you not agree with Penn? What kind of man do you want working for you?
Alex Haley, the author of Roots, has a picture in his office, showing a turtle sitting atop a fence. It is there to remind him of a lesson he learned long ago: “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help.” Says Alex, “Any time I start thinking, Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done! I look at that picture and remember how this turtle—me—got up on that post.”
“The casting down of our spirits in true humility is but like throwing a ball to the ground, which makes it rebound the higher toward heaven” (J. Mason).
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels” (Augustine).
We are poor in spirit when we see our utter desperation without God; our inadequacy and worthlessness without Him. “As long as a person delights in his sin, he does not feel it a burden and will not get rid of it. He will not seek the Saviour, as he dos not feel the need of Him” (V. P. Black). One poor in spirit God will accept, as is testified by the Scriptures,
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise (Ps. 51:17).
For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).
“For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist,” Says the LORD. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2).
The Poor Inherit a Kingdom
How can this be? It should not surprise us that the poor in spirit are rich and thus worthy of a kingdom.
We had a pear tree at the first house we owned that grew almost straight up, making it impossible to harvest much of the fruit. But on a trip to Washington we passed by pear orchards where the branches were bowing and bending so low that boards were used to hold them. Do you know what the difference was between those trees and ours? Ours had little fruit in comparison and so is of little use, but the trees in Washington were loaded with giant juicy pears, making the trees of great use to others. So people most useful are likewise lowly.
A city boy visiting on a farm for the first time saw a field of ripening wheat. He noticed that some of the yellowing stems stood up tall and straight while others gracefully bent their heads. “Those stalks that stand up so tall and straight must be the best,” he remarked to the farm boy who was his friend. “They look as if they were proud of what they were doing.” The country boy laughed. “That’s because you don’t know much about wheat,” he explained. He plucked a head of each and rubbing them in his hands showed that the tall, straight stalks held very little grain, while the bending heads were filled with the promise of a rich harvest. One of the surest evidences of greatness is a humble spirit. “The Christian is like the ripening corn; the riper he grows the more lowly he bends his head” (Guthrie).
God delights in reversing the fortunes of people. Why should He give a Kingdom to those who are not poor in spirit, for they think they can do it themselves? Would they be happy with the Kingdom He offers? “Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility” (Jonathan Edwards) and so much in God’s reach as humility. “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches” (Prov. 13:7).