Look back on your life for a moment. Imagine you are sitting with your grandchildren or your children and they are asking you what was the most exciting or even most important event in your life? What if you were writing a book about your life, what event would you want to lead with so that you could draw others into your story? Truthfully there could be a huge variety of things we might consider. It might be some important person we met at some point. It might be a place we traveled to or even something we participated in along the way that affected our whole life. What if they asked you, “if there was one thing or one event you could have gone to that you never had the opportunity of doing, what would that be?” Again, I suspect there would be a huge number of answers that might arise. I think if I could be at one event in all of history, I would choose to be in the crowd the day Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. I can imagine how those who were privileged to hear this, the greatest of all sermons, would have been changed from that day forward. It would have gone far beyond just the things they learned that they had never thought of before. It would have been the one teaching and the heart of his message.
When Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down to teach the people, there was a huge crowd of people gathered around him. Most of them were not the religious leaders of the day. They were ordinary people, struggling with life, with poverty, wondering how they were going to feed and take care of their family. Probably most of them were so occupied with the day to day struggles of life to the degree they hadn’t spent much time focusing on their spiritual lives or on where they would spend eternity. But there was something about this new teacher among them that drew people to him. He was different from any other teacher. He didn’t try to stay as an elite one who was separate from the people but involved himself in their lives. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He spoke with authority and not like the scribes.
Imagine gathering around Jesus to hear what he said. With no fancy introduction or welcome for the people who gathered around him, he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Usually, we have looked at that verse and the ones that follow immediately and thought that Jesus was telling people that in order for them to have the blessing of the kingdom of heaven they must become poor in spirit. I don’t think that was his point. He wasn’t challenging the people to be humble or to realize their poverty spiritually. Instead, he looked out on a crowd of hurting, struggling, poverty-stricken people who so often felt they were the outcast of society and pronounced on them a blessing. He wasn’t trying to get them to become something different at that point. He was simply looking at their hurts, pains, difficulties and telling them the blessing of the kingdom of heaven was available to them. These were people who normally looked at others and thought of them as the ones who were blessed.
The word Jesus used for “blessed” is somewhat difficult to put into English. Some have translated it as “happy” and there is definitely an element of happiness in the word, but that really isn’t a good translation of the word. Happiness has to do with circumstances, with what happens. The word translated “blessed” isn’t tied to circumstances. It is a state of well-being that isn’t based on our situation but on our relationship with God. It has an element of “success” in it as well. It carries with it the idea of fullness, completeness and has some of the same thoughts behind it as Jesus statement later that “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
The huge point in these beatitudes that is vital is that the blessing involved is what is stated at the end of each beatitude. Here the blessing for those who are poor in spirit is that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The blessing for those who mourn is that they will be comforted. So, Jesus points to these people who were hurting, struggling members of their society and shouts the message the kingdom I have come to establish is for people just like you. Just imagine for a moment what this would have felt like to these people. They had felt rejected all their lives. They were the misfits that were avoided by most of the people. The word Jesus used here for the poor was the same word used by Jeremiah the prophet as he described the poorest of the poor who were left behind in Jerusalem and Judah when the Babylonians captured the city, burned the temple and destroyed the mansions there. They took the multitudes into captivity carrying them back to Babylon where they would live out by the river Chebar. But they left behind the poorest of the poor to live off the land. Jeremiah would stay among that group of people. Jesus took that very word for the poorest of the poor and said to them, “You are blessed in my kingdom.” Instead of being the outcast, Jesus promises them a place of honor in his kingdom.
When Jesus used the word “kingdom” throughout his ministry on earth it was about the people over which he would reign as king. It was a spiritual kingdom, not of this world. He told them later in Luke 17:20-21 that they wouldn’t find the kingdom by searching here and there, that the kingdom was among them or in them. It is the realm we enter by the new birth. It is the kingdom we are to seek first along with his righteousness and he will supply for us the needs of this life.
Our Lord’s kingdom is for all kinds of people, no matter how poor, hurting and challenged in life. He invites everyone to lay aside the kingdom of darkness over which Satan reigns as the god of this world and enter the kingdom of light where Jesus reigns as king, sitting on David’s throne. He will continue this reign until he comes again and delivers the kingdom over to God the Father, for he must reign until all his enemies are made his footstool and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Corinthians 15:24-28). Praise the Lord that kingdom is available for even the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich and everything in between.