April 27, 2003154
We are beginning the Sermon on the Mount, probably one of the most famous texts of the New Testament in the Bible. Its importance can hardly be overstated. If you were to go into the library, and if I hadn’t snitched most of the commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, you would discover that almost all of the great students of Scripture have devoted a commentary to the Sermon on the Mount alone. Even a number of those who have written commentaries on the Book of Matthew have written a particular commentary on the Sermon on the Mount itself.
Augustine was said to have described the Sermon on the Mount as a perfect standard of the Christian life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer based his classic book The Cost of Discipleship on an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Even unbelievers like Gandhi were greatly impressed and impacted by the message of the Sermon on the Mount. Other unbelievers have also been impacted. I was thinking of the statement Nikita Krushchev made a number of years ago while in the United States, when he said, “I’ll tell you what the difference between Christians and me is, and that is if you slap me on the face, I’ll hit you back so hard your head will fall off.” He was impacted by the Sermon on the Mount. He knew what it said, and he didn’t like it at all. The truth is that the natural man does not like its message. This is not the message one would take to write a best selling book—even a Christian book. The message of the Sermon on the Mount is not one that sells. You only have to look on the shelves at the bookstores to discover that for yourself.
R. Kent Hughes, in his excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, says this is the greatest sermon ever preached:
The Sermon on the Mount is the compacted, congealed theology of Christ and as such is perhaps the most profound section of the entire New Testament and the whole Bible. Every phrase can bare exhaustive exposition and yet never be completely plumbed… . It shows us exactly where we stand in relation to the kingdom and eternal life. As we expose ourselves to the X-rays of Christ’s words, we see whether we truly are believers; and if believers, the degree of the authenticity of our lives. No other section of Scripture makes us face ourselves like the Sermon on the Mount. 155
Let’s just make a couple of introductory comments about the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, and we will deal with some of these issues as time goes on. You remember the occasion for the Sermon on the Mount comes after the commencement of our Lord Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He had departed, withdrawn from Judea, at the news of the arrest of John the Baptist. In His time in Galilee, He had been healing all kinds of diseases and gathering a large following of people—not just from within Galilee, but from without—from Decapolis, from outside, from Judea, from Jerusalem, and from Syria. So you had a very large following, and it says at the end of Matthew 4 that during this time Jesus had been teaching and preaching in the synagogue.
So these people had definitely heard something about Jesus, and they had heard something from Jesus. But it seems to me that when you come to the Sermon on the Mount, you get the whole thing in a summary fashion: “Here’s what Jesus’ message is about.” So the Sermon on the Mount is recorded by Matthew, and there is a similar sermon in Luke 6 that seems to sum up the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in many, many ways. I think it proves to be the basis for our Lord’s future teaching and ministry as He goes about. Those who were there include the disciples and a large crowd that is listening as well; it seems to me you have to say He is speaking to both. Jesus later will say, “Let him, who has ears to hear, hear what I am saying.” There were those amongst the crowd who did have ears to hear, and there were those who did not, but He was speaking to His disciples and to the crowds as well.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven, and in the other Gospels, one reads about the kingdom of God. Some would distinguish between those. There are those who would then say because it is our Lord’s teaching about the kingdom of God, it is teaching about the kingdom of God that is yet to come. Some dispensationalists say that while there is some derivative (a secondary application of this passage of these texts), the primary application is for the kingdom days.
I can remember in seminary, for example, hearing Dr. Charles Ryrie say, “If a businessman today practiced the Sermon on the Mount, he would go broke.” I thought to myself, “That’s exactly right.” And if a church today followed New Testament principles, there are many who would say you couldn’t exist; you couldn’t exist doing the things the New Testament says churches are to do. But that’s exactly what Christianity is about. It’s about God doing the impossible through those who obey Him, and mainly through His Spirit and His grace as He works in us. I am not very inclined to set aside pieces even of this passage and say, “This is the future.” In fact, you will notice that when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, He talks both in future and present terms. Jesus is talking about the character of those who are in the kingdom of God, and He is talking about the character of those who are true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a certain pattern in the Beatitudes. For instance, if you look at verse 3 of chapter 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them,”—present tense. Then, when you come down to verse 10, He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” So you have this present tense—the kingdom is theirs—and in between, in verses 4 through 9, they’re all future tenses:
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
I think, as most commentators would say, that we have to conclude there is a present dimension and a future dimension to what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. There are things yet to come, but there are foretastes (firstfruits) with us that we presently possess as well, and those are dealt with in the Sermon on the Mount.
One of the key words we must deal with is the word “blessed” because it occurs over and over and over again. You will find that in a number of translations, the word is rendered “happy,” and there is a sense in which that is probably true. But, I think you have to say that the word “happy,” just because of the meaning we give to it today, is probably not the best word. In fact, you would have to say that those who mourn are not really happy. It’s hard to be both, so I reject as a preference making the emphasis on happiness, although there certainly is that. If you want to be more “Piperian,”156 you would say that there is a sense in which there is always joy and delight—that’s always there, and I would certainly be willing to see that in this text. I’m with Hughes in his commentary when he says that probably the primary sense of the word “blessed” here is the sense of approval. It is saying that God has expressed His approval on these people. To be blessed is to be approved by God, and I think that probably fits my view as well.
Now, let’s consider the expression “poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (verse 3). I think the word “poor” here is one that seems to speak of abject poverty. The word, as a number of scholars have pointed out, seems to almost indicate a cringing or a stooping down. It is a sort of beggarly kind of poverty. Now, there are lots of people who consider themselves poor in this world who wouldn’t qualify for this kind of poor. There are those who, by government standards, have an income that is lower than a certain amount, but I would say a very high percentage of those people who qualify as poor probably have televisions and a number of other things that would not exactly, in our minds, be in the category of the trappings of the poor.
I remember a story one of the men on the staff at the seminary told me years ago. It was one of those good-old-days stories. He was talking about the days when Howard Hendricks and some of the other guys were there as students and had trailers and all those kinds of things. One of the students began to talk to his fellow students: “Boy, it’s just over. We’re just flat broke; we’re just poor. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” And a fellow student began to think about what he could do. He had very little means, and the other people there didn’t either, so they started thinking about taking up a collection of some canned goods and whatever. They were just about ready to present this idea when this first fellow said, “Boy, it’s so hard; I’m afraid I may have to cash in my last CD.” All of a sudden you say, “This guy’s definition of poverty just doesn’t quite make it.”
The poverty Matthew is talking about is abject poverty, and it is poverty in spirit. Now I understand that Luke’s Gospel says “poor” and leaves it at that. Let’s stay with the terms Matthew uses, and that is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Let me just say one thing about material poverty and its relationship. We want to be very careful that we do not equate poverty with piety. There are the righteous poor who some talk about in the Old Testament. I was thinking about poverty as seen in Iraq. There are the poor and the oppressed. Take the lid off the can, and all of sudden these poor people are stealing everything in sight—computer monitors, hard drives, whatever they can get their hands on, things they couldn’t even use. We need to be careful that we don’t impute to the poor some kind of righteousness based upon their negative bank account. Proverbs talks a lot about poverty and wealth, and oftentimes it talks about the poor as those who are sluggardly or foolish. It is not pious at all. In fact in Proverbs, those who are prosperous are often those who have worked hard and wisely. Proverbs 30: 8-9 says:
“Remove falsehood and lies far from me. Do not give me poverty or riches. Feed me with my allotted bread lest I become satisfied and act deceptively and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I become poor and steal and harm in the name of my God.”
This text tells us that both poverty and wealth have their own Achilles heels. They have their own flaws, their own temptations, their own problems, so that the rich, as Paul warns in 1 Timothy 6, must be warned not to place their trust in the uncertainty of riches. But the poor need to be careful that they do not set aside God’s standards of righteousness and justice to steal and try to solve their poverty problems in a wrong way. You cannot say that it is just wealth or just poverty. I love the way Max Lucado puts it in his sort-of commentary on the Sermon on the Mount when he says it isn’t the big bucks of the rich that get him in trouble; it’s the big heads of the rich.157 I think that’s the point. It is not money; it is one’s sense of assurance and confidence that may go with it that could be a problem.
Jesus talks about the poverty of spirit. He’s talking spiritual bankruptcy. The problem with the word “bankruptcy” and the concept of bankruptcy is that you’re not really broke at all. Currently, American Airlines is losing money, but the reason they talk about filing for bankruptcy is to protect their assets. That’s not spiritual bankruptcy. When we declare spiritual bankruptcy, there is nothing left in the bank. There are no airplanes on the field; there are no pilots; there is no retirement fund; there is nothing. When we recognize our spiritual poverty, there is nothing there to protect or preserve. It’s gone, and indeed to be more accurate, there would be a huge debt. There would be this monumental debt with no resources to repay. This is the kind of poverty we have. Theologically, we’re talking about the doctrine of the depravity of man. Man has nothing to offer God that will equal, earn, or merit God’s righteousness. We read in Romans 3:9,
“There is no one righteous, not even one,
3:11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
3:12 All have turned away,
together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
3:13 “Their throats are open graves,
they deceive with their tongues,
the poison of asps is under their lips.”
3:14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
3:15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
3:16 ruin and misery are in their paths,
3:17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
Here are people who have lived (essentially most all of them are Jewish) under the Jewish law, under Jewish teaching, and things are even worse for them than what they could have been. Remember in Matthew 23, Jesus talks about the Pharisees and their hypocrisy. He says they load huge burdens on the backs of the people, and they don’t do so much as lift a finger to help them carry it. So whatever burden the Law placed upon men, and it was a big one, Pharisaism added more. It added extra qualifications, and so people were under this tremendous burden of all these requirements they could not meet. They were flat broke. What Jesus comes to say is, “The good news is for you. The Law has done its work. If it has shown you you’re broke, the Law has done its job. Now you’re at the place where God’s blessings can come upon you.” The doctrine of total depravity says, “Everyone is flat broke. There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who seeks after God, not one. Everyone is spiritually bankrupt—spiritually broke.”
When Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, He’s talking about a select group, a subset of all those who are totally depraved, and that subset (that smaller group) is the group who knows it. It’s one thing to be broke; it’s one thing to be depraved; it’s one thing to have a load of sin and to be under God’s wrath. But is is quite another thing to recognize that we, apart from God’s grace and His mercy, are hopelessly lost in our sins and spiritual debt. These are the people who are not only spiritually bankrupt, but well aware of it.
I want to give you a couple of examples in Scripture. The first comes from 2 Kings 5 in the healing of Naaman, the Syrian. Jesus refers to it in Luke. Chapter 4 talks about the Gentile who came into the kingdom of God. I want you to notice the process by which God took this man, who was arrogant and opposed to God, turned him around, and brought him to the point of utter desperation where he had no hope apart from the grace of God.
Think about it; here is a man who is a Syrian. He is not an Israelite, so he is one who in a sense was outside the band width of the covenant of God and certainly of his knowledge of God. He worships other gods as we see, and certainly with his master, he did. He’s an enemy of Israel. He’s not just apart from Israel; he is opposed to Israel. In fact, he is the commander of the Syrian Army, which means not only is he opposed to Israel, he is the one who is taking Israelite lives. Here is a man who is outside of any hope at all it would seem. Notice, he has to be told about deliverance that comes from Israel by a little Israelite girl—a little slave girl–and God graced this man with leprosy. Here’s a man who is at the top, as it were, of his field—a right-hand man for the king —and now he’s a leper. It couldn’t get much worse than that—hopeless you would think. But God informs him through the little slave girl that there is a prophet in Israel who can give deliverance, who is able to bring the cure.
In the natural flow of things, how would one go about getting deliverance? Politics, power, and influence—all of those things we need to declare ourselves bankrupt of—he is going to use. So Naaman goes to the king of Syria, the king of Syria writes a letter, and now he arrives in Samaria with the letter and presents it to the king of Israel. The essence is: “Here’s my right-hand man; you’d better fix him, or else.” The king of Israel realizes he’s in big trouble and says, “What am I supposed to do?” The fact was, he could do nothing, and so word reaches Elisha, and Elisha sends the message, “Tell him that there is a God in Israel and that God can heal him.”
So he comes to Israel seeking help, doesn’t get it from the king, and now he arrives at the door of Elisha’s house. You can imagine this entourage as they come up to the prophet’s door. Remember they’ve got all of this load of goods, and instead of the red carpet being rolled out of the prophetic door and Elisha coming out to deal with him as a man of stature and standing, Elisha sends his servant out. His servant says, “Go jump in the Jordan seven times.”
People here in the South have never known the rivers of the Northwest; rivers there are actually clear. For example, remember the story when the axe head falls into the Jordan River? In the Northwest, we would reach down and pick it up because we could see it! But these are the muddy waters of the Jordan, and this guy says, “Look, you’re telling me to go jump in this muddy, mucky creek? I don’t want to get in there. It won’t make me clean; it will make me dirty. He’s angry because he says, “If I wanted to get into the water, I have lots of water better than this. This is below my standards of cleanliness and healing.” Some of his servants say to him, “You know, if he’d asked you some great thing, you’d have done it. He’s not asking you to do anything other than to get in that river. What can you lose?” So the king gets in the Jordan River, setting aside, I suspect, not only his clothes, but his dignity. His skin, it says, is like a baby’s skin as he comes out.
He’s on his way, but he’s not quite there yet. He really does not grasp what grace is. So he comes back to the house of Elisha. Notice this time that Elisha comes out, and he says to Elisha, “Am I obliged to you? I need to make payment for the services you performed.” He wants to leave all of the loot he’s given him, and Elisha says, “No way,” because he could contribute nothing to the work of God or the grace of God in his life before or after. He doesn’t want him to leave thinking he has played a part. He must see his spiritual bankruptcy, and so he says to Elisha, “If you won’t take what I’ve got, could I have something of yours?” Get this—a load of Israel’s dirt. Can you imagine that? He’s going to have a couple of donkey loads of Israel’s dirt because he has now come to understand that God has somehow identified himself with this place, just as we could say God has identified himself with Christ. He’s identified himself with this place, and when he worships now, he’s going to worship on Israeli soil. He’s finally come to the point where he has recognized he has nothing to give; he can only receive. That is spiritual poverty. God was gracious to bring him to it.
Luke 18 is the classic New Testament text that demonstrates spiritual poverty. It is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Beginning at verse 9:
18:9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
I say to you, the tax collector was spiritually broke, and he was blessed because he went away justified.
A text in Matthew 11 may relate to what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Remember, the first part of Matthew 11 has to do with John the Baptist. Some of His disciples come to Jesus and ask whether Jesus is really the one who is to come or not. Jesus deals with that, and then He makes this statement in verses 11 and 12:
“I tell you the truth, among these born among women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it” (Matthew 5:11-12).
I must confess that I have never really felt like I’ve had a handle on what that means. But is it not the spiritually rich who think it is their right, their birthright if you would, to possess the kingdom of God? Is there not a sense in which these people literally try to take it by force? Picture the tax collector, who recognizes he has no claim on God, that he is a miserable sinner who is under God’s curse, and all he can do is plead for mercy. He’s not storming the gates of heaven trying to force his way in. People do try to storm their way into the kingdom, with the sense that “I deserve this. This is mine; all I have to do is reach out and take it.” That is the exact opposite of what Jesus is talking about. It is not that kind of spiritual affluence; it is spiritual absolute, abject poverty that must simply cling to God for grace, mercy, and salvation. In Matthew 11, Jesus says that it is like little children.
“To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another. ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance. We wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep. You didn’t dance to our tune’” (Matthew 11:16-17).
Isn’t that a picture of Judaism’s response to Jesus? Isn’t this a picture of those who are spiritually rich who say, in effect, “You have come proclaiming yourself to be the Messiah. If you’re Messiah, You will dance to our tune. You will talk about things the way we want them to be heard”? “That’s not the way it is at all,” Jesus says. He comes, and He doesn’t fit, and neither did John the Baptist.
Last of all in verses 25 and following:
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and you have revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-27).
This is an image similar to spiritual poverty only what you see is that children are powerless. They don’t have strength; they don’t have force; they can’t compel anything. And Jesus says, “You revealed it to them,” as though they were spiritually poor. He then makes it clear at the end of verse 27 that it’s only those to whom He reveals Himself who will know.
Now we come to another text I’ve always loved, but do not think I have ever had a handle on it:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from Me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and My load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:16-17).
Is this not the same theme we see in the Sermon on the Mount? Aren’t those who are spiritually broke the ones under the burden of Judaism and all of its legalism who are simply crushed by them? Jesus says, “Come to Me, come to Me.” I think He’s talking to the same group of people, not to a specific group of hard-pressed people. He’s talking to all of those who are spiritually poor, using other imagery that says the same thing.
Let’s talk about the implications of this for the gospel. As many commentators have noted, Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is the foundation for all that is said in the Beatitudes. It is the foundation because spiritual poverty is the prerequisite for eternal life. Nobody gets into heaven who thinks they have cause to be there, other than Christ. Your hands have to be empty before they can be filled by Him. There must be nothing there. This is not something that we do in and of ourselves. We do not empty ourselves; we do not make ourselves poor. We don’t even, in and of ourselves, recognize our poverty. That too is a work of God’s grace. It is evidence of God’s work in us that we see ourselves for who we are and therefore are willing to turn to Him because He has turned our hearts toward Him. We have nothing to bring to Him. We have nothing to lay claim to Him. We have nothing to cause God to act graciously in our behalf. It is all of His mercy; it is all of His grace.
What does God use to bring that to pass? How does it happen? We talked about Naaman in 2 Kings 5. God uses a variety of ways. If we had the time, we could go about, and each of you could tell the time when God pulled the rug out from under you, and all of a sudden, you came to realize you had nothing to bring to God. Somehow, God has done that in your life. He does that through the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Sometimes He does it through a sin in your life that becomes glaringly apparent for some reason, through a tragedy in your life, through a crisis in your family or somewhere else, through sickness, through economic loss. Whatever it is, God uses those events to bring us to Himself.
Think about depression. I wonder if what happens at that crucial moment when depression comes is that this is the time you realize the emptiness of everything but God? I was thinking about David saying, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?”158 A little self talk says, “Man, why are you so depressed? Look to God; look to God!” One of the dangers is that we must reach this point of utter brokenness, of utter emptiness, before we turn to Christ. For some of us as parents or friends or neighbors, the risk is that sometimes we’re out there reupholstering the pigpen, putting in cable TV, and spicing up the pods to help people because we don’t want them to hit bottom, when in reality it is God’s gracious work. Now, there has to be a lot of discernment here because the danger for most of us is that it is very easy to use that as an excuse for never ministering to the poor at all. Why would I interfere with God’s working in their lives? But we must be careful to recognize that God may be bringing someone to the end of themselves; it may be that God is bringing them to Himself so that we ought to be careful in how we respond to what God may be doing in that life.
What are the implications for evangelism? It seems to me we ought to look very carefully at the gospel we proclaim. Years ago, I offended somebody, and a Christian brother whom I respected said, “If you’re going to win him to Christ (this man is a very proud man), you must appeal to his pride.” I don’t think so. We need to be very careful in our presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we do not appeal to the very things that God is telling men to let go of. Don’t appeal to their greed. Don’t tell them that if they come to Christ, their life is going to become prosperous, and everything is going to get better. It may not. Christ offers forgiveness for sins and the gift of eternal life. We must be careful with the gospel that we proclaim.
I have said that acknowledging our spiritual bankruptcy is a prerequisite for salvation, but I also need to say that it is a prerequisite to Christian living. We need to be very careful that we don’t say to ourselves, “All right, I’m already saved. I’ve already acknowledged my bankruptcy, my deficit, so it’s all over for me in that sense.” It’s not. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God says to the Israelites, “When you come into the land [having been slaves], now all of a sudden, you who own no land now own the hacienda.” Isn’t there a sense in which you say to yourself, “Whoa, this is really cool?” The problem with that, God says, is that after a while, when you’re eating the fruits of those orchards you didn’t plant, and you’re eating the crops you really had nothing to do with—all of these things given to you as an act of grace—there will come a point where you say to yourself, “You know, it was because of my righteousness that God did this. It was really me.” All of a sudden you look at things differently.
That’s the way it can be for the Christian, who begins to say, “It’s because of my righteousness.” God says, “No, it isn’t. It is because of your sin. You were more wicked, and I tossed you out.” There is a way in which we begin to take the gifts God has given and begin to claim the glory for ourselves. This is where worship is very, very important. Worship continually brings us back and tells us how we got the blessings we received from God.
The same thing happens with spiritual gifts. This has been a struggle for me because I’ve always wrestled with the conflict between the fact that spiritual gifts are God-given strengths, and the fact that Paul says that when we are weak, then we are strong. How do you reconcile those? I think one must say that when we acknowledge we are spiritually bankrupt as Christians, to live the Christian life, to win other people to Christ, to live a victorious life—that we are inadequate, then we must trust in Him and His provision. When we cease to recall our poverty and begin to feel rich, then we take a “Don’t call me; I’ll call You” approach to God. It seems that what God says to Israel, He says to us. He said to Israel, “Let Me just remind you of one thing (Leviticus makes this very clear). The land is not yours.” When the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, God didn’t give them a title deed and say, “Okay, it’s your land now.” He says, “It’s My land. You’ll live on this land as long as you follow My rules, and when you cease to do that, you’re out. It’s My land.”
When we come to spiritual gifts in the New Testament, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you have not received?” Everything you have in which you may boast (as the Corinthians did) is a gift of God’s grace. The key term here is stewardship. A steward recognizes that what he has has been given to him; it has been placed in his care, but he doesn’t own it. Our spiritual gifts, our spiritual inheritance, all of the blessings God has given to us, He has put into our hands as a stewardship. They still belong to Him, not to us, and, therefore, we cannot boast in them. We must boast, rather, in God.
What does this say about self-esteem? I’ve heard even Christians say, “The problem in our prisons is poor self-esteem.” I’ve got to tell you, folks, we must assess this kind of thinking by the Word of God. The Word of God does not say, “Blessed are those with healthy self-esteem.” I do not remember where in John Piper’s writings I heard him say this, but paraphrased, he essentially said when speaking to a group at a Sunday school conference, “We don’t need to produce self-esteem. Our kids have plenty of that. It’s called ego; they’ve got lots of it—self-will, lots of it. They’re born with it.” “But,” he said, “when we train our children, we need to teach them about God. We need to talk to them about the holiness of God, and they need to understand who they are in relationship to God.” You see, there are many things in which we may trust – our appearance, our success, our associations—the reality is that we often find our value in these things. Why do you think Paul has to tell us to associate with the lowly? It is because there is no status in that, and yet, these are the ones Jesus sought out. If the poor in spirit are the ones who are blessed, then those are the ones to whom we ought to be going with the good news of the gospel.
All of these things in which we may place our trust—athletic abilities, popularity, all of these kinds of things, are the things we need to set aside. They are also the things that appear to work in life. You look, for example, at the statistics about executives of companies. Oftentimes, they tend to be tall and handsome. Why? Because those kinds of people make that kind of impression on men. We have to be careful that we don’t live out our lives before God on the same principles that appear to work in our relationships with men. We must reassess everything we do in the light of what our Lord has said in His Word.
We have come to our time of worship. It is a time where we remember where all that we have comes from, who God is, and who we are. It is no wonder we need to do that every week as a body. It is no wonder we need to do that every day as Christians. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I must say one last thing. There may be someone who is at the very bottom of their life, and they wonder if it is worth going on. The good news is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” If God has brought you to the point of seeing that there is nothing in yourself that is good or that you can give to God, then you are at the best place you have ever been, and I simply urge you to trust in Christ, and Him alone, for salvation.
153 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
154 This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 10 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 27, 2003.
155 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Books, 2001), p. 16.
156 A reference to one of the prominent themes of John Piper’s writings (see Desiring God Ministries http://www.desiringgod.org) http://desiringgod.org/library/sermons/86/021686.html
157 Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, (Dallas, Texas, Word Publishing, 1990) p. 31.