Jesus was a master orator, regardless whether He meant to use a "grabber" (as He did) in His opening remarks on the Sermon on the Mount. With a just few short words, He was about to turn all the Pharisaical teaching of the last 400 years on its ear by blowing the minds of His audience. Christ did not say "Blessed are those with impressive knowledge of the Law of Moses, because they are the ones who will be heralded into Paradise". No, He spoke diametrically to everything the common people had heard up to this point regarding what it meant to be right with God. Jesus stated in a matter of fact way that one must be poor or poverty-stricken in spirit. And, if this was the case, then they would be ensured entrance into the heavenly realms. This was a mind-boggling proposition to the masses that crowded about to hear the teachings of this itinerant preacher from Galilee! Jesus was saying that the arrogance and pride of the religious order of the day not only hindered them entry to heaven but that it would ultimately disqualify them. Jesus' saying must have spoken to many of their hearts with the razor sharpness of a surgeon's scalpel. Those with ears to hear understood that those who were crushed under the realization of their own sin and their inability to justify themselves before a holy and just God -- this is the very thing that provided an open door to the heavenly realm. However, not everyone was willing to embrace Christ's teaching of humility of soul. To many, this was a subservient attitude that many sought to relinquish in their oppressed lives.
Poverty in spirit in Jesus' day had a bad connotation with many in first-century Palestine. The land of Israel had known its share of oppressors throughout its history -- from the slavery of Pharaoh and the Egyptians to their present occupier, Rome. To some gathered that day listening to Jesus on the Mount, the implication that one must be "poor in spirit" must have smacked of anti-Semitism and downright betrayal of everything it meant to be a Jew. However, Jesus was not interested in tickling the ears of the radical zealots and Zionists of his day by telling them to be resistant against the oppressors, past and present. The Lord was concerned with redeeming a people for His own possession that were not suited for the kingdoms of this earth, but for the heavenly realms. Jesus taught that to be totally emptied of the spiritual pride that was so symptomatic of the religious ruling class of His day was the admission price for Glory. Not only did Jesus preach this radical message, but He also lived it out with perfect humility. Christ, by word and deed, established the impossible standard for mortal humans to live up to in order to be accepted by the Father. Paul stated in Philippians 2:5-11 (please read these scriptures for context) the metamorphosis that Jesus underwent in order to redeem humankind and to empower us to live as He lived while on this earth. The apostle tells us to "Have this attitude in ourselves which was also in Christ ...", which was a poverty of spirit bereft of anything except the Father's will. Paul's command to us would be nothing short of insanity if we did not have the power to complete it. The inability for humankind to live as Jesus Christ lived was resolved by the cross. The Lord's death, burial, and resurrection resulted in closing the huge chasm of separation caused by sin. By the Lord's sacrifice, we all could finally live as poverty-stricken creatures regarding the things of this earth. Ironically, this ALWAYS produces a joy of living that is lived out in this life, preparing us for the one to come.
Pure joy is the benchmark of this emptied life as typified by Christ. David wrote in Psalm 16:11: You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Beloved, God the Father and the Lord Jesus' desire for us is to yield to the Holy Spirit as He empties our lives of all pride, selfishness, and all sin which ultimately keeps us from living a life of overcoming victory. God through His Holy Spirit is a joyful Being that desires to express Himself through us in this remarkable way. Do you seek to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might? Allow yourself to be emptied of the world, and He will be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! Or, to be so filled with His presence that His joy becomes something so wonderful that words can't describe it (I Peter 1:8)? To the degree that we relinquish our own desires and wants and walk in His Spirit daily confessing -- Your will be done -- to that degree will we live in a place of eternal joy both now and for eternity.
As in Jesus' day, there are many who would say that the Lord requires too much of us in this beatitude. To empty our lives before Him, becoming destitute of who we are is a frightening prospect to many. Just as those in ancient Palestine had the breath knocked out of them by Jesus' sayings, so it is true in our present world. There are those today who are so mired in the selfishness of their own lives, whether it be wealth or prestige or merely thinking of themselves as the god of their own destiny. However, Jesus Christ's promise to all is to fill us to overflowing with His "streams of rejoicing" if we will but yield to Him (Psalm 36:8). This is not a ruse that He has concocted to try to get us to live some burdensome life filled with perpetual moans of "woe is me"! On the contrary, this is the life set free from worry, doubt, fear, and depression because Christ has first of all fill granted the willing heart the love and desire to obey Him, and secondly His fullness of joy as we live continually in His presence. To be a pauper in God's economy means that we are far richer than any that might seek to put their faith in their own "richness of spirit". The latter will never know true wealth, either in this lifetime or the one to come. Only as we become poor in spirit will we be filled to overflowing with the riches from above!
Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus and how He gave His life for us so that we too might walk as paupers in the eyes of this world. Through His wonderful gift, we can truly live as heirs of Your kingdom, far richer than anything we could ask or think. We rejoice in our poverty of spirit because by this we experience the indwelling of You through Your Spirit. Thank you O Holy God. In Jesus' Name, Amen!
Your Barefoot Servant,