The First Word of the Greatest Sermon Ever

Early in Jesus’ ministry, when he saw great crowds following him, he went up to the mountain. And when he sat down, his disciples approached him. Then he opened his mouth and began teaching them. What did he say?

Matthew records Jesus’ words on the mountain that day in his Gospel (Matthew 5-7). Most students of Scripture call this the Sermon on the Mount. It is surely the best sermon ever preached and the most famous sermon of all time.

One of the great things about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the very first word that he speaks: “Blessed. . . .” Jesus began this monumental message with an affirmation that God wants people to be blessed. What great news!

Jesus has much to say about who is blessed and how. Who is blessed? “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he states. It is certainly true that God has a heart for those who struggle with poverty in this world. In fact, the Lord instructs us to be especially mindful of the needs of poor folks.

But Jesus is not saying that it is a blessing to be without money, food, clothing, housing, and so forth. Poverty can be body-breaking and soul-crushing. No, Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit.

Spiritual poverty is different from physical poverty. Those who are spiritually poor are aware of their great spiritual need. That awareness inspires them to be humble. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

What is the blessing that God gives to those who are poor in spirit? “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus continues. These people who are poor in spirit, who are aware of their real need, they have ownership in something called the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is a vital part of Jesus’ teaching. He and John the Baptist both warned their listeners to repent because the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). To repent means to turn away from anything that distracts us from God, but also to turn to God by worshiping and obeying him whole-heartedly. But what is the kingdom of heaven?

By using the word “kingdom” Jesus is not referring to a particular geographical location. He is not saying that the poor in spirit have a deed on file that guarantees them ownership in a specific plot of ground somewhere. By “kingdom” Jesus means “rule,” the active reign of a king.

God is the King and his desire is to rule in our lives so that we can enjoy his love and abundance, so that we can be blessed. Those who refuse to allow God to rule in their lives are choosing to make God their adversary. They place themselves in opposition to God’s rule, thus trading his blessings for a curse.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray that God’s kingdom may come, that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The kingdom of heaven is God’s will in action. And God’s will is to bless those who humbly and obediently follow Jesus.

Notice that Jesus says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” not will be or might be or could be. Those who are poor in spirit have ownership in the kingdom of heaven now. It is true that God has a marvelous eternal future for his people. But he also provides the blessing of his benevolent rule in the here and now.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us and will bless us again,

Brother Richard Foster

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