(Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Sermon on the Mount recorded in the book of Matthew is probably the most famous sermon of all time. Matthew devotes almost three entire chapters of his gospel to this sermon, which took place on a mountain close by the city of Capernaum where he lived, and it is presumed that Matthew was actually there himself, sitting upon the hillside with all the others who were listening to Jesus that day.
Luke’s gospel records a very similar sermon, occurring at a later time and in a different place – not on a mountaintop but in a “level place.” In fact, the two sermons contain so many similarities that many Bible commentators have tried to conflate the two, some even asserting that Luke took liberties by altering the verbiage recorded by Matthew to suit his own intentions. But that theory really doesn’t make much sense. The more likely scenario is that Jesus continuously delivered variations of this sermon as he traveled from town to town preaching “good news to the poor,” just as he said he was going to do.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – The opening words of the Sermon on the Mount have become so familiar to us by now, it’s easy to pass right by them. But to those living in that time and place these words were revolutionary. The poor, the disabled, and the diseased were not considered to be blessed, but rather cursed by God. (Deuteronomy 28:47-48) For such people to be regarded as blessed while in the midst of their poverty, and to be considered as denizens of the kingdom of heaven while living under Roman oppression would be inconceivable if it were not for the fact that it was Jesus himself who told them these things.
Jesus was speaking to them as one who had been sent from heaven and in order to understand the truth of his words, we must attempt to look at them from a heavenly perspective. This is difficult to do from our earthly vantage point, and the more we are entangled within our own worldly ambitions the more difficult it is! But it becomes easier when we find ourselves with nothing to lose on this earth. Whether this means an actual lack of material possessions or simply the feeling that we have nothing of real value in life, when we are “poor in spirit” there is nothing to stand in the way or distract us from seeking those things which are above. (Colossians 3:1-2)
“For theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus puts this in the present tense, the kingdom of heaven is theirs NOW, not just in the life to come. God’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom – it has always been in existence and it always will be – but through rebelliousness and pride, mankind has chosen to be exiled from that kingdom. Jesus was letting them know that God, through his infinite mercy and grace, has made a way for those who are lowly and humble in heart to dwell with him and be a part of his kingdom, even while enduring the hardships of life on earth.
For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.” (Isaiah 57:15 – Christian Standard Bible)