5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“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 satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [1]

From the beginning of his gospel account, Matthew sets out two basic human problems: the guilt of our sin, and our bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus immediately sets out to deal with these problems. In Matthew 3, Jesus steps into the Jordon River and he is symbolically baptized into our sins. The symbol is such that Jesus steps into the dirty bathwater in which so many before had come to wash away their sins in repentance, and that dirty water is then then poured over Jesus.

It is a type and shadow of the baptism he will undergo for us on the cross of Calvary as he who knew no sin becomes sin for his people to set us free from the declaration of guilt that has hung over humanity since the Adams’ fall, and to grant us a relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Jesus also came to deal with our bondage. So, Matthew tells us that right after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the great serpent-dragon. You may recall his temptation to worship Satan, the great serpent-dragon. If Jesus would bow down before him, Satan promised to give him all the kingdoms of the world. That was, after all, why Jesus had come into the world and what he actually gained through his death and resurrection.

Matthew closes out his gospel account with Jesus’ statement in 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.[2] Jesus refused to be diverted from the one true way he could recover the world – his blood-shedding death and resurrection that overcame the evil one, the bringer of death. Baptism showed he had come to deal with our guilt. His overcoming temptation showed he would deal with our bondage. In Matthew’s account, Jesus is bringing new powers of his Kingdom into the world.[3]

You likely know that Matthew’s gospel contains five teaching blocks. The five sections all deal with the arrival of Jesus’ Kingdom and explain how his Kingdom works, how the Kingdom comes, and how the people of the Kingdom live within it. The first teaching block begins with the Sermon on the Mount. We could call this first teaching block “Kingdom 101,” an introduction to the fundamental principles of life in Christ and his government.

You might notice that this first section of the sermon on the mount, that has come to be known as The Beatitudes, does not begin by telling people what they are to do as Christians. There is not one command in these first 11 verses. It does not even begin by telling us what we are to be as Christians. It begins by stating the blessedness of what we already are in Christ. In the Christian life, being is the foundation for doing – not the other way around.

Since we are all natural-born Pharisees, we want to try and read commands into our text. We love to be told what to do so we can measure our success and take pride in our relative morality. But Jesus is actually saying, “If you are in my Kingdom, this is what you are, and this is the blessed life you already have.” His teachings are descriptions of people we encounter in the Old Testament, so these are not new concepts. These Kingdom blessings are found scattered throughout biblical history prior to Jesus’ birth.

Jesus is simply announcing the fulfillment of those promises through his person and work. Recall he says this in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.[4] That is a summation of what he describes in The Beatitudes. But you may have also noticed that these new Kingdom powers are couched in a series of strange contrasts to the way we normally think.


In Christ’s Kingdom, you need to be emptied before you can be filled. The gospel doesn’t add something to what you already have. First, you must be emptied of all you naturally are in order to be filled with all that Jesus is. You will be deconstructed to be reconstructed. You will experience more and more death to self to experience more and more life in Christ. You may have noticed as we read through them that the statements of blessing are radically countercultural.

Not one of these descriptions of what Jesus decrees to be “blessings” sounds at all like something most of us would consider a blessing. These values are completely upside-down from anything we would normally call a blessing. When we hear people talking about the “hashtag blessed life,” we hear it in response to worldly beatitudes: health, money, adoring fans, booming business, athletic performance, social influencing, etc. Those are many of the ingredients of what we could call “right-handed power” – open, obvious, head-on power.

God uses right-handed power from time to time. Flushing the world of sinful humanity in a great flood was direct, head-on, right-handed power. Opening the ground and swallowing up Korah and all his family and barbecuing the rest of the priests rebelling against Moses and Aaron was a display of God’s right-handed power. Jesus Messianic miracles of healing people the Pharisees considered unworthy to approach the Temple was right-handed power. But that is not how Messiah Jesus describes his Kingdom and its citizens.

Left-handed power looks like weakness and inaction to fallen humans. Choosing a childless pagan named Abram and promising to make of him a great world-wide kingdom, promising him a new land and new home while making him wander homeless all his days is left-handed power.

Forcing the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute and raise illegitimate children is left-handed power. God does a great many things we would naturally think of as “ungodly.” He chooses to forget our sins. More than that, he chooses to become sin for us! This is utterly upside down to our human way of thinking – left-handed.

A seemingly-illegitimate and uneducated day-laborer living in a tiny Hicksville of a backwater country of the mighty Roman Empire appears on the scene of history and claims to be both God and THE King of Everyone Everywhere. Three years later, he is executed as a criminal after his few remaining followers have deserted him. He rises out of the grave yet doesn’t show himself to anyone but a few hundred unimportant followers. He then disappears with a promise to return at some unspecified time. Indirect, unexpected, left-handed power is at work – the very kind Jesus commends in The Beatitudes.

The Gospels are about the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom. The old age of sin and death, including the old covenant theocracy of Israel, has passed away. The typology is fulfilled. The reality is standing before these 1st-century Israelites. Christ is the Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the sacrifice—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In fact, he is the Temple; he personally forgives sins without animal sacrifice; he is both man and God, AND the sacrificial Lamb! The kingdom has come! It is not here in its consummated form, but it is present wherever the King is present in judgment and grace.

The religious leaders, who had cast themselves as the defenders of God’s righteous reign, are rewritten now as the opponents of God and his saving purposes. The tables have turned. Right-handed human religious power is giving way to left-handed spiritual power. And that power is characterized by human weakness – left-handed power described in these statements of blessing.


Generally speaking the first four Beatitudes describe our relationship to God and the second four describe our relationship to other people. Each of the eight builds on one another. They are intended to be heard as one unit because the first and last Beatitude end with the same phrase, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew sets the scene for us in verse 1, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” Jesus has been traveling around Galilee teaching in the synagogues. Large crowds are coming to him for healing from every kind of disease and disorder. News about him has reached as far as Syria. Great crowds were following him out into the wilderness beyond the Jordan.

Here, he travels into the hill country with his disciples and the crowds follow. As any rabbi of his day would have done, Jesus sat down to teach. But Matthew makes it clear Jesus is speaking to his disciples whom he has called into the Kingdom and not directly to the crowd listening in. The form of Jesus statements would not be foreign to those who knew scripture. The book of Psalms opens with the beatitude: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Ps.1:1).

Blessing and its biblical opposite, curse, are words related to God’s covenant with this people. Deuteronomy 28 spells out the blessings and curses associated with God’s covenant at Sinai. The blessings boil down to God’s promise of divine intimacy: I will be your God. You will be my people. I will dwell (tabernacle) with you.Blessed” is shorthand for an intimate relationship with the Triune God. Jesus is taking a theme found particularly in the Psalms and Isaiah and applying it to members of his Kingdom.

To describe the new powers of the Kingdom of Christ, Jesus begins with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Whatever Jesus was saying, this was nothing like the right-handed religious power of Israel’s teachers who thrived off of public performances that showed off their self-made morality.

So, what does Jesus mean by “poor in spirit”? First, it’s helpful to know what poverty of spirit is not. It does not mean a person has no value whatsoever. Christ’s death for us teaches that we are of great value (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). It does not mean shyness. Many introverts are quite proud. It does not mean “showy humility” that seeks to make one appear meek and humble – that, too, is right-handed religious power at work.[5] Humans are all quite capable of managing our flesh to mimic characteristics our hearts do not possess. That’s why we tend to gravitate toward sermons that tell us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on becoming “poor in spirit.”

The Greek word translated “poor” originally carried the idea of cowering and cringing like a beggar. In the New Testament the word still conjures that imagery and carries the idea of poverty so deep that one must obtain their living by begging, someone completely dependent on the kindness of strangers. R. Kent Hughes, in his commentary, defines it as “beggarly poor.”[6] If we take that meaning and combine it with “in spirit” we have the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy.

It is the constant awareness and admission that we are completely sinful and bankrupt of the moral virtues necessary to commend us to God. It is the recognition of our personal moral and spiritual unworthiness. Those who are poor in spirit see themselves as spiritually needy. We could amplify this verse to read: “Blessed are those who know they have nothing within themselves to commend them to God, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.


Poverty of spirit is upside-down from the proud selfishness and self-sufficiency of our western culture. The world would say, “Blessed is the man who always gets his way. Blessed is the person who is strong. Blessed is the one with power to rule. Blessed is the person who is self-satisfied. Blessed is the person who is popular. Blessed is the one who cuts toxic people out of their life.

Ever since Adam’s great rebellion, humans have been born with the false notion that all the answers of life are found in self. Because sin has hardwired us to boot up like that every morning, we often carry that idea into church with us. Christian narcissism winds up being promoted as biblical self-love. Jesus’ Kingdom morphs into the imperial self. Theology turns into therapy. Spiritual poverty is the replaced by a search for happiness, holiness replaced with wholeness, truth replaced by feeling, ethics replaced by self-care.[7]

Christ’s Kingdom displays a left-handed, upside-down power – the very power exercised by King Jesus. Paul explained to the little congregation of Philippi this way:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [8]

When Jesus began his public ministry, he opened the scroll in the synagogue and read Isaiah 61:1, “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk. 4:18). Jesus did not come to make our smiles brighter, our teeth whiter, and our loads lighter. He came to give us an entirely new, upside-down power that looks to all the world like being a complete loser. He came to call the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead into divine fellowship. And our very first step into his Kingdom is the Holy-Spirit-wrought realization that we bring absolutely nothing to the table that is in any way impressive to our Holy Triune God.

The Apostle Paul had a devil of a time trying to convince the Church of Corinth of the upside-down, left-handed nature of the Kingdom. In their own eyes, they were anything but spiritually poor. He wrote in 1 Corinthians:

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? …For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake…. We are weak…. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. [9]

Trusting into the perfect righteousness and blood-shedding sacrificial death of the risen and ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ first involves recognizing your spiritual lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and deadness. Psalm 34:18 declares, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Salvation, a right relationship with God, is by trust into Christ’s person and work alone (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 11:6), but poverty of spirit is the posture of saving faith. Only the poor in spirit are open to their need for God’s one- way love. Only God the Holy Spirit can infuse a person with the power of Christ’s Kingdom that opens their heart to see that poverty.

We never outgrow the first Beatitude. To outgrow spiritual poverty would be to outgrow our faith, to become post-Christian just as the Corinthians were in danger of doing by rejecting Paul as a loser. It was what the congregation of Laodicea was close to doing. Jesus said to them, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” [10]

What’s the remedy when we begin to be self-satisfied and self-sufficient? Ask God to show you more of your sin and poverty. Dance the Christian two-step: repentance and faith, repentance and faith. Trust Christ in you, the hope of glory, to live out his life of spiritual poverty more and more within you. It’s his kingdom power, not yours.

Fortunately for us, Christ is ever ready to point out our self-sufficient pride and fill us with fresh poverty of spirit. He promises the self-satisfied Laodiceans:

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ [11]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:1–12.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:18.

[3] Sinclair Ferguson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOvdz2pU4ro&ab_channel=LigonierMinistries

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 10:10.

[5] Hughes, R. Kent. The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[6] Id.

[7] Id., quoting David Wells.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:5–11.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 4:7–13.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 3:17–18.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 3:19–22.