Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
The snowy weather of the past two months has warmed just a bit, just above freezing enough for some to melt these last few days. So much so that I put aside my black and denim winter clothes and dressed today in lighter colors and tan shoes, things associated with spring and summer. But we are still mid-February and the snow began to fall again this morning, and I take it as a message from God that wishing something so does not make it so.
Jesus described the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as people who live beyond their own wishes, denials, and pretenses, people who admit who they really are – poor in spirit. We may wish to pretend that we are good people, fully fit for the kingdom of heaven without the need of God’s grace, but that is not our reality. Christ said that those who acknowledge this fact are blessed, and the kingdom of heaven is opened for them. Two minutes spent in honest self-examination can change everything about us, both in this life and for eternity.
The poor that Jesus spoke of were not the poor of the developed Western nations today, where even when unemployed they still have some government grant to live on. These were instead like the poor we see in the Third World today, people who are outcasts, who live with no security, who go from hand to mouth, and have no hope that things will improve. If we can adopt this attitude spiritually it is only because the Spirit of God has helped us understand our true condition, but the same Spirit will also lead us to God and assure us of the reward of repentance and faith.
The Beatitudes describe eight attitudes that are to characterize citizens in God’s kingdom. The first four are the journey down; the second four are the journey up. The journey down has to do with our humility and the journey up has to do with the presence of God in our lives transforming our character. They are:
· Poverty of spirit: the admission that we are morally and spiritually bankrupt as individuals before holy God
· Mourning: the admission that the world is fallen from what God created it to be, and to be saddened inwardly by its moral corruption
· Meekness: patience in the reception of our injuries, and it is the opposite of anger and retaliation
· Hunger and thirst for righteousness: this is the turning point in these eight Beatitudes, and is the expression of a strong desire for the things of God. And meekness is so important, for without it we will continue to dwell on the injustices done to us rather than to move on to the spiritual blessings that await us. The fullness of God’s righteous blessings comes only to the one who patiently endures his injustices and longs more for God’s presence than for his own vindication or the retaliation against his enemy.
· Merciful: this is the first result of being filled with the righteousness of God and is the reception of and the sharing of the grace of God with other fallen creatures. It is the basic understanding of God’s purpose in the creation of the human race and to get beyond the annoying and sometimes despicable traits of fallen humanity and see in every person the potential to become a transformed child of the living God. It is to bless your enemy with the grace of Christ and to pray for those who despitefully use you.
· Pure in heart: to have our minds filled with the thoughts of God, to cast out of our minds everything that is impure
· Peacemakers: to prevent conflicts and disharmony between people and to seek to unite individuals, especially the new community found in Christ
· Persecuted for righteousness sake: To be pursued and hounded because of our faith in Christ brings rewards of a spiritual nature, and we cannot expect that the same world that crucified our Lord would treat us much differently. But only those who have been developed (and at best perfected) in the areas of meekness and mercy can expect to endure persecution gracefully.
The citizens of the kingdom are not known by their passports or their participation in certain rites. Even a profession of faith, as important as it is, is not the real proof. The evidence that we are members of the new kingdom of Christ is the change in our attitudes. How do you measure up to these above? What issues has the Spirit of God brought to your mind? The journey down leads to the journey up. These are not milestones that we achieve once and then forget. Though there may be significant moments when we gain victories and seem to reach certain levels of maturity (all by the grace of God), these are actually eight attitudes about which we must exercise constant vigilance in our souls. The one who has been a sincere believer for fifty years or more needs to continue to consider the importance of spiritual poverty as much as the one who only yesterday trusted Christ as his Savior.
Lord, we bow before You in acknowledgement of Your greatness and of our spiritual poverty. Lead us to take on the inner character traits of the citizens of Your kingdom. Amen.