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Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 5:1-3

A good friend recently sent me my favorite new story. It seems that a couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida for a long weekend during a particularly icy winter. Their job schedules required the husband to fly down on a Thursday, with his wife to follow the next day.

Upon arriving, the husband checked into the hotel and then sent his wife an e-mail back in Minneapolis. However, he accidentally mistyped her address. Meanwhile, in Houston a widow had just returned from her minister husband’s funeral. She checked her e-mails, read the first message, and fainted. Her son rushed into the room, found her on the floor, and saw this message on her computer screen:

“To my loving wife, from your departed husband: I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything is prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S. Sure is hot down here!”

Surprise is not always a good thing. But sometimes it’s a great thing. Cancer which further tests can’t find; a final exam at school which is cancelled; an investment which exceeds all forecasts. Happiness in surprising places.

“Makarios” is Greek for that happiness which transcends every circumstance of life, a deep inner joy which nothing in life can give or steal. A constant sense of well-being, purpose, and significance. Happiness no matter how hot the summer becomes, or how long your in-laws stay, or what happens in Iraq or Dallas, with the economy or your family. This is to be “blessed.” This is true success. It is found in the most surprising places you can imagine.

Choose Jesus’ world-view

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Before we discover what he meant by this paradox, let’s first learn why he said it.

The world Jesus inhabited was characterized by three big words. They were pluralistic, worshipping a multitude of gods. They were relativistic, with no unified or objective definition for right and wrong. And they were self-actualized, depending upon themselves for survival and success.

Is our world any different?

Are we pluralists? Conventional wisdom now says that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all worship the same God, and that no one religion is right or wrong. The title of Diana Eck’s new book makes the point: A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. Do you truly believe Jesus’ claim, “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6)? Most don’t.

Are we relativists? Since the 1960s we’ve been told that we’re a “mosaic,” coagulated groups rather than united individuals. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right or wrong for you or for me. Do you truly believe that the Bible is the complete truth on abortion, homosexuality, or any other ethical issue? Most don’t.

Are we self-actualized, self-reliant? Nine of ten Americans believe in God, but one in four seek his help in worship each week. For every problem there’s an expert to solve it, from personal physical trainers to specialized counselors to on-line nurses. Americans crowded into churches after September 11, but now we’re back to “normal.” For what problem in your life are you relying completely upon God this morning?

This is not the world Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. As we will discover across these weeks, Jesus was not a pluralist: there is only one God, and only one way to him. He was not a relativist: there is only one way, truth, and life, and he taught it. He was not self-actualized: success and happiness are not human achievements but God’s gifts.

We can be “blessed” only if we choose his world-view, only if we adopt his values and priorities. Only if we learn his rules for living, his keys to true success. The Beatitudes give us those keys.

Seek the “blessing” of God

“When Jesus saw the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them” (v. 1).

This “mountainside” is known today as the “Mount of the Beatitudes,” a beautiful spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus “sat down,” as the Jewish rabbis did, their students standing around them in deference and attention. We still speak of a professor’s “chair” for this reason.

He began to teach “them,” his disciples. These Beatitudes and the Sermon which follows them presume that their hearers are already Jesus’ disciples, his followers. This is not the plan of salvation, or it would be works-righteousness. That’s religion, not relationship. Here we discover not how to be saved but how to live like it, how to live out the personal relationship with Jesus given to us by God’s grace through the cross.

Here are keys to true success, how to be “blessed” by God. And the first is crucial to all the rest. You will be “blessed” so that you are happy beyond all circumstances when you are “poor in spirit.” So what does this mean?

“Poor” here means to be as poor as a beggar. This is not the Greek word for an impoverished person (penes) but the word for absolute and abject poverty (ptochos). This is the person who has absolutely nothing—no food, no clothes, nothing at all.

“In spirit” shows us the kind of poverty Jesus means. John Stott: “To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven” (p. 39).

The New English Bible renders the phrase better than any other translation: “Blessed are those who know their need of God.”

Why? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“The kingdom of heaven” is the place where God rules, where his will is done, where he is King.

Only when we know how much we need God will we make him our King. Our one and only King, refusing pluralism. Living by his rules and morals, refusing relativism. Depending upon him for our success and significance, refusing self-dependence.

If we will not admit how much we need God, we’ll be king and God will not.

This is the foundational issue to all genuine success, joy, peace, happiness in life. Who is king, you or God? Are you poor in spirit, or not?

When we are king, church is a Rotary Club with a Bible study, part of the culture but nothing more. We attend church in the same way that we attend other civic or charitable functions. We are religious in the same way that we are Republicans or Democrats—our faith is a compartment of the lives we control. But we are king.

Then Christianity exists to help us succeed. To give us peace and happiness; to help us with our problems; to help us accomplish our goals and fulfill our ambitions. But we are king.

But when we are poor in spirit, we trade in religion for relationship with gratitude. We worship God not so he will bless us but because he has. We read Scripture and pray not to impress God but because we do. We give our time and money not to pay our debt to God but because Jesus already has.

When we are poor in spirit, we admit that we don’t know how to live our lives and make our decisions, so we always pray first. We ask God first. We put God in charge of our problems and ambitions, our struggles and our dreams. We become subjects of the King, seeking every day to do his bidding and fulfill his will.

When we are poor in spirit, we recognize every day that it’s not about us. What matters is building the Kingdom of God, leading other people to make Jesus their King, helping people follow Jesus. Everything we do is a means to this end, when God is our King.

So here’s the question: are you “poor in spirit”? When last did you admit to God that you don’t know how to live your life, and put him at the controls? What’s the last important decision you gave to him first? The last problem you trusted to him in prayer? The last time you did what he said, even though you didn’t understand? Would an objective observer say that God is your King or you are?

Conclusion

Our Beatitudes series is entitled “keys to true success.” Material success requires excellent investments. In an unpredictable, changing world, investing with the best is crucial. Since September 11, for instance, investments in most airlines, hotels and restaurants, and insurance companies have been difficult. Investments in defense companies and security-technology firms have been extremely profitable.

May I urge you to invest your life with the best? Decide today that you want God to be your Lord, your boss, master, ruler. Choose to be “poor in spirit,” admitting how much you need him. Refuse the pluralistic, relativistic, self-reliant culture which surrounds you, and choose to live with him as your King.

What’s in front of you today? What decision? What problem, what issue, worry or burden? Would you be poor in spirit about it today? Would you, before you leave this place today, yield your life in absolute and utter dependence upon God? If you will, you’ll be in the kingdom, you’ll walk in the kingdom and you will experience the kind of makarios, the kind of blessing God yearns to give. But can’t give unless you’ll depend on him. Would you be blessed by God today? Would you be poor in spirit today?

Jesus was. In fact, of all the individuals who have lived in all of human history, has anybody been more dependant upon God than Jesus of Nazareth? Dependent upon God for his miraculous birth. Dependent upon God for his preservation from the wicked clutches of King Herod? Dependent upon God all across his ministry for every meal he ate, every day he lived, the clothes he wore, the places he slept. Absolutely, totally yielded to God for the words he spoke, the ministry he performed, the life he lived. So unconditionally yielded to God that in the Garden of Gethsemane, he could say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Totally dependent upon God.

Now the world didn’t call him blessed, did it? In fact in the words of the well-known hymn, the writer says, “He was born in an obscure village the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was 30 years of age. Then for three years he was an itinerate preacher. He never owned a home. Never held an office. Never wrote a book. Never traveled more than 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials, but his own.

“While he was still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned away from him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to the cruelty of his enemies. Put through the mockery of a trial. Crucified between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his cloak, the only piece of property which was his on the earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave to the pity of a friend.”

Makarios? Blessed? Only in every way. Blessed by God with a miraculous birth. Blessed by God with divine providential protection from the time of his birth to the time that his life had come to its end.

Blessed by God with words he would teach which would stand the test of time and resonate across the halls of mankind for 20 centuries. Blessed by God with miraculous power to perform feats which still amaze us today. Blessed by God with the courage to stand before hypocritical accusers and forgive his crucifier. Blessed by God to be able to shout in joyous victory at the moment of his death.

Blessed by God to be raised from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Blessed by God across 20 centuries to watch his followers grow from 12 to 2 billion. Blessed by God to be the leader of the column of progress across all of human history so that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings put together that ever reigned have not influenced the life of man on this earth as has that one, solitary life.

Blessed, because he was poor in spirit.

Would you like to be blessed today?

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