The first time it was recorded that Jesus spoke in front of a crowd, it was immediately following a night that he spent in prayer to God, apparently praying over which of his estimated 120 believers (Acts 1:15), called disciples, would be chosen to be the apostles that would help Jesus spread his message to the world after he died. In the morning, Jesus declared God’s decision on the 12 apostles and then all the disciples, the apostles, and a great number of people from all over Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon followed him, seeking healing from diseases and to hear what he had to say (Luke 6:12-19).
Jesus lead them to a mountainside, sat down and began speaking in his first recorded sermon. He is quoted in the Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 5) and Luke (Luke 6), but not Mark and John. I can just see Matthew and Luke scribbling frantically, while Mark and John choose to listen and try to absorb as much as possible. Interestingly, Matthew only recorded Jesus’ blessings while Luke recorded both his blessings and corresponding “woes.”
The collection of Matthew’s recorded blessings from God are called the “Beatitudes,” from the Latin “beatus,” meaning “blessed,” “happy” or “fortunate.” In the Old Testament, “blessings” is written in Hebrew בָּרַך and transliterated “barak” or “baruk” (pronounced baw-rak’), more specifically meaning to be “blessed by God.” In the New Testament, it is written in Greek μακάριος and transliterated “makarios” (pronounced mak-ar’-ee-os). The first blessing that Matthew recorded was:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As we have seen in prior studies on this website, when Jesus speaks he nearly always refers back to the words of Moses and the prophets. Here he references Isaiah, who was speaking to the Israelites, letting them know what God told him about who he finds pleasing.
These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word (Isaiah 66:2).
So we are to understand from these passages that “poor in spirit” means being humble, which is God’s requirement for us to be saved and enter into the kingdom of heaven.
It is my observation that the human race’s biggest sin is in each person believing him or herself better than all others. It can be seen in those who have wealth, all the way down to those who are homeless believing that they have something over on those of us schlepping to jobs and maintaining car and housing payments. It can be seen in those who believe that the lack of melatonin in their skin makes them better than those who have lots of it. It can be seen in those who think they have the Bible figured out (without studying it); that it’s all a myth and that they are better than the “fools” who believe it. It can be even be seen in self-righteous Christians who practice legalism (meaning, dependence on moral law rather than faith), who can be often found publically damning others and warning of God’s wrath instead of sharing God’s love. It can be seen in Jews who believe that Jesus wasn’t their Messiah and they are better than “foolish” Christians. It can be seen in men believing that they are better than women, in the young who think themselves better than the old, and vice versa. Pride is a global sickness, and God told us in no uncertain terms that only the humble are going to heaven.
God called pride having an “uncircumcised heart,” making people hostile towards him (Leviticus 26:41). Those who choose to continue a life in pride have been warned repeatedly by God what will happen to them.
I will break down your stubborn pride…in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and will punish you for your sins seven times over… I will abhor you. (Leviticus 26:19,24,30).
Those who oppose the Lord will be broken (1 Samuel 2:9).
[God will] bring low those whose eyes are haughty (Psalm 18:27).
The Lord… casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:6).
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Matthew 23:12).
The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low… The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted, and they will be humbled (Isaiah 2:11-12)
[God] mocks proud mockers (Proverbs 3:24). The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming (Psalm 37:13).
So people will be brought low and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled (Isaiah 5:15).
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless (Isaiah 13:11).
The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5).
And for those who obtain their pride through their wealth, Jesus declared his woe upon them in particular.
Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort (Luke 6:24).
However, the blessings promised from God overflow in the lives of those who choose to humble themselves. When we ask for the spirit of God to come into our life, he begins a work in us to humble and test us, to know what is in our heart, whether or not we will keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:2).
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10).
If they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors… then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin… I will remember my covenant (Leviticus 26:40-42).
The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor (1 Samuel 2:7-8).
[God] saves the humble (2 Samuel 22:28). The Lord sustains the humble (Psalm 147:6).
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out (2 Chronicles 12:7).
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God… and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you (2 Chronicles 34:27).
The Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory (Psalm 149:4).
[God] shows favor to the humble and oppressed (Proverbs 3:24).
The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity (Psalm 37:11).
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment… Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:3,10).