Poor in spirit, Rich in God (Matthew 5:3)

AUDIO: (forthcoming)


The Washington Monument stands 555’ and 5 1/8” tall and towers over our nation’s capital. It is a tribute to our nation’s first president George Washington, for his character, leadership, and service to America. There are many interesting facts about the monument, but one stands out to share today. On the top of the monument facing the east side where the sun shines first are the words “Laus Deo,” which means “Praise The Lord.” These two words placed at the highest peak of the most powerful city in the world remind us the source of our strength and hope.

As we partake of communion elements, let us remember the purpose is to praise the Lord. We praise the Lord in taking communion when we do the following actions

1)    Reflect:  Scripture commands us to take communion seriously (1Cor 11:26-32). Reflection would include personal examination to repent of sin and reconcile offended relationships within the church. Most specifically, reflection to take communion in a proper manner implies the practice is for those who are Christians. We ask non-Christians to respect this practice by observing only and not participating until personal is embraced.

2)    Remember: Serious reflection about the elements meaning and relationship to Christ’s death on the cross are central for this time. Remember the bread represents Christ’s body, which God sent His Son to live and love among humanity. The perfect life of Jesus provides us a standard for how to live in this world. We must also remember the cup represents Christ’s death, which God sent Christ as our sacrifice for the penalty of sin. Jesus’s perfect life and death provides us salvation.

3)    Renew: Communion is the foretaste of a fellowship meal and relationship within the body of Christ. The early church acted to ensure their communion practices affirmed unity and care for one another.  Their unity often involved prayer for one another and worship to God.

Before we partake of communion, if you feel comfortable and as led by the Spirit, allow the church to be a house of prayer by briefly praying with the persons around you to 1) know the depth of God’s love for them in the gospel (Eph 3:14-21) 2) walk in deeper faith and fellowship with Christ’s church (Eph 4:1-7).


Selfies are the rage. A selfie is when a person takes a picture of themselves. Selfies have some vanity, but they can also can present a view of how a person sees themselves or how they perceive others see them. The reality is that selfies are not novel. Artists have created self-portraits for centuries.

One of the most famous artist of self-portraits is Vincent Van Gough (1853-1890).[1] Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) painted more than 40 self-portraits. Some aren’t honest at all. There was one he did when he was fascinated by Japanese art, where he rendered himself with a shaved head and Asian eyes of a Buddhist monk. But one of his self-portraits stands out as brutally honest. It’s called Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. He painted it in January 1889, the same year he painted Starry Night and the year before he killed himself with a bullet to the heart. If you know anything about van Gogh outside of his art, perhaps you know he was a tortured soul. He suffered from depression, paranoia, and public outbursts so disconcerting that in March 1889 (two months after Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear), 30 of his neighbors in his village of Arles, France, petitioned the police to deal with this fou roux (the redheaded madman). The police responded by removing him from his rented flat—The Yellow House made famous in his painting The Bedroom. Shorty after his eviction notice, van Gogh admitted himself into an asylum for the mentally ill: the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Back in those days, most psychological maladies were simply called “madness.” Debilitating depression? Madness. Bipolar? Paranoia? Acute epilepsy? Madness. Treatment for madness often involved asylum. Labeled mad by his own community, the “redheaded madman” checked himself in and remained in Saint-Rémy for a year, from May 1889 to May 1890. What did he do with as a patient at Saint-Rémy? He painted. In fact, van Gogh’s most celebrated works were created on the grounds of an insane asylum: IrisesStarry Night, and Wheat Field with Cypresses. He painted the asylum’s gardensgrounds, and corridors. He painted the fields he could see beyond the asylum walls and the olive groves he’d walk through when he occasionally left. He painted portraits of his caregivers and fellow patients. He painted his own versions of other artists’ work that he loved. And he painted self-portraits. Van Gogh painted more than 140 paintings during his asylum year, one canvas every three days. So much beauty came from that season of life, but so much humiliation and public rejection facilitated it. The self-portrait of when he took a blade to his ear lobe was indeed a low and mental lapse moment in his life. Yet even in the hospital, van Gogh did what he always did: he painted. He painted at least two self-portraits with his bandaged ear, capturing the moment of his greatest shame. For many, it’s hard to render an honest self-portrait because we want to conceal what’s unattractive. We want to hide what’s broken. We want to appear beautiful. But when we do this, we hide what needs redemption—all that we trust Christ to redeem. When we do this, we forget that what’s redeemed is now beautiful. This painting should indict all our hearts. How willing are we to admit that we’ve got a lot of things in us that aren’t right? How willing are we to admit that our wounds need binding, that we desperately need asylum? If we can’t show this honestly, how will anyone see Christ in us? Or worse, what kind of Christ will they see? In the case of van Gogh, we find a sweet bit of irony. Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, in which he willingly captures his own spiritual and relational poverty, is now worth millions. The canvas on which he captures his defining moment of shame and need for rescue has become a work of art no one I know could afford to buy. But isn’t this how God sees his people? We’re fully exposed to him in all our shortcomings, yet at the same time we’re of unimaginable value. This is how we should see others, and it’s how we should be willing to be seen by others—broken, yet of incalculable worth.

Today’s we view the words of Jesus for how we are most blessed when we are broken.

EXAMINE           Matthew 5:3   Poor in Spirit, Rich in God

What is a beatitude?
◊      “Blessed” in most translations; “beatitude” originated in Latin Vulgate translation for the name to stick.
◊      Happiness or confidence in God’s purposes and promises. supremely blessed, fortunate, well-off, happy.[2]
◊      One congratulated, envied, truly happy.[3]
◊      One having God’s approval.[4]
◊      Blissful, not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance but a deep supernatural experience of contentedness based on that fact that one’s life is right with God.[5]
◊      Honored… “How honorable are…” [6]
◊      “Lucky” or “holy luck”.[7]
◊      Bizarro Beatitudes because they seem illogical and antithetical to our contemporary mindset.[8]

Rogue Living sermon logo 1In understanding the meaning of a beatitude, we are to view it and the Christian lifestyle as “Rogue Living.” Going rogue is a description of a person who has left the status quo to live uniquely counter-cultural. The rogue Christian lives not for earthly goals or governments, but for the kingdom values of God.

Jesus’ teachings are meant to give us pause. He intends for His words and Holy Spirit to probe our heart priorities. The SOM is filled with profound gospel truth. The more we read it, the greater we come away convicted, challenged, and compelled to a life of greater purpose. As shared last message about SOM

–   Christianity engages crowds – kingdom view not escaping earth but merging w/ heaven (future & present relevance).

–   Christianity cannot exclude Jesus – new birth results in new life under Jesus’s Lordship.

–   Christianity cannot be earned but only embraced – no imperatives but indicative statements. So, the Beatitudes reveal character traits what should already be in a believer’s life rather than reflect a road map of commands to apply. Therefore, the SOM is an invitation to God-inspired, grace-infused, Spirit-empowered, kingdom purpose that transforms our understanding for human flourishing in this life and the one to come.

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

According to Jesus, poverty of spirit is the entry door to the kingdom of heaven. The first beatitude is foundational for all the others to communicate the Christian faith and what it means to follow Jesus. To enter God’s kingdom is to turn away from sin and selfishness, and turn toward the Savior. Jesus uses a word for poor meaning “begging poor” (ptochoi), and not just poor with few resources (penichros). Jesus is not showing preference for a social status or poverty itself, but one’s spiritual status of humility before a holy and great God.

Unfortunately, we often view humility as a hindrance. We don’t think humility gets us further or faster, and so we avoid poverty of spirit and attempt strength of self. Yet, when we overflow with self we are not able to be filled with the Holy Spirit; which is why God frequently warns us against the preeminent sin of pride.[9]

Psalm 138:6 “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”

Proverbs 29:23 “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”

Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 1:52 “God has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”

Further, we might be tempted to think poverty of spirit describes a person who is simply shy, insecure with   feelings of inadequacy. Yet, being poor in spirit is more positive and profound. Poor in spirit describes a person dependent on God’s resources. Jesus is blessing those who recognize they need God.

There are advantages or insights to learn from being poor[10]

–        The poor know they are in urgent need of rescue.

o   The rich think they have it all together and are spiritually complacent.

–        The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people, but also their interdependence with one another.

o   The rich have little need of help from anyone, specifically God.

–        The poor rest their security not on possessions but on people.

o   The rich are only happy if surrounded by the noises of material possessions.

–        The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance or need of privacy.

o   The rich have little value for community and connection with those outside their own family.

–        The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.

o   The rich force and fight their way to be first.

–        The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.

o   The rich are never content but overconsume with expenses and appetite.

–        The poor can wait, because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence.

–        The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated, bc they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.

o   The rich are rocked when things don’t go according to their desire or plans.

–        When the poor have the gospel preach to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threat or a scolding.

o   The rich hear the gospel either as a means for personal prosperity or as Jesus to be pitied.

–        The poor can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality bc they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

o   The rich hold on to their treasures as idols and debate the minimum level of obedience to the call of following Jesus.

–        The poor have a posture that befits the grace of God: neediness, dependence, dissatisfaction with life, eagerness to welcome God’s free gift of grace.

o   The rich have a posture that hinders them from God: arrogance, anger, greed, gluttony, sloth, and selfishness.

Again, when Jesus speaks on poverty of spirit, He is referencing a heart posture towards God. God wants you to be blessed and you are blessed when you are broken over self and sin.

è Pursuit of Happiness (temporal) vs Discovery of Blessedness (eternal) starts with poverty of spirit

è Brokenness is blessedness… your readiness vs God’s readiness

è Poverty of spirit starts each day by clothing self in humility to confess your need and dependence upon God.

è Poverty of spirit in relationships is transformative and world-changing: put others first / self in their shoes – empathy!

The blessing to the poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven. The Bible describes God’s kingdom as the place where all His promises and power are on display. Our kingdom of earth is broken by sin and burdened with its effects. Life outside of Eden has been poisoned with defects, disease, darkness, destruction, and death.  Creation no longer exists as it was intended. Our humanity is hardened by its rejection of God. Yet, for those who are willing to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to trust through being poor in spirit, they can be reconciled as a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17).

God’s new kingdom in Jesus brings healing to defect and disease (Matthew 4:23; 11:4-5). In Jesus, demons and darkness are dispelled (Matthew 12:27-28). Jesus provides peace, light, and hope in the midst of life’s darkest days (John 8:12; 9:5). And only in Jesus is there a solution for death (John 11:25-26). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the kingdom of heaven becomes a present reality that can instill our life with confidence in any circumstance.

For the believer, earth is as close to hell we will ever face; but for the unbeliever, earth is as close to heaven they will ever face. Jesus is the King and is offering us citizenship in His kingdom.

Our problem is that we have a low view of God’s kingdom. We see heaven as a place of pink clouds with song humming and striking harps. Or worse, we consider eternity as processing through the DMV moving from one pointless activity to the next.

Reading the Beatitudes is like taking a walk by a bakery smelling fresh bread and baked treats. The smell and taste of Jesus’s life and teachings entice us for living eternally in God’s kingdom.


è Until earthly pride dies in us, nothing of heaven can grow inside us.

è Jesus IS poverty of spirit… He was humble to consider others before self and to serve.

è By grace, poverty of spirit is loving God, living Jesus, and leading generations.


[1] Briefly adapted from Russ Ramsey, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-you-can-learn-from-van-goghs-bloody-eared-self-portrait

[2] Strong’s Concordance.

[3] Martin Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon On The Mount, 1984; p.24.

[4] D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World – Exposition of Matthew 5-10, 1987, p.16-17

[5] John MacArthur, NTC Matthew 1-7, 1985, p.142

[6] Ed Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts The Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection, 2012, p.141

[7] Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, 2002, p.113 /or Eugene Peterson in poem series “Holy Luck” published in Theology Today 44, April 1987, pp.95-102

[8] R.W. Glen, Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes, 2013, p.14

[9] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2016/03/14/se7en-deadly-sins-the-problem-of-pride-proverbs/

[10] Adapted from Monkia Hellwig, in Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p.115.

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