Reflections on “The Poor in Spirit”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

The sermon on the Mount describes
what human life and human community
looks like when they come under
the gracious rule of King Jesus…

Still today the indispensable condition
of receiving the kingdom of God
is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty…

Thus, to be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty,
indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God…
Right at the beginning of his sermon,
Jesus contradicts all human judgments
and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich;
the feeble, not the mighty;
to little children humble enough to accept it,
not to soldiers who boast
that they can obtain it by their own prowess.
– John Stott

We are beggars. This is true! – Martin Luther

The kingdom of God can only be received by empty hands.
Jesus warns against two things:
Worldly self-sufficiency which leads you
to trust yourself and your own resources
so that you don’t need God;
and religious self-sufficiency
where you trust your religious attitude and moral life
and don’t need Jesus.
– Michael Crosby

He only who is reduced to nothing in himself,
and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.
– John Calvin

Blessed are the spiritual zeros – the spiritually bankrupt,
deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars,
those without a wisp of religion –
when the kingdom of heaven comes upon them.
– Dallas Willard

Psalms of Ascent – What do they teach us about our Lord?

The Lord gladly answers us when we call out to Him in our distress (Psalm 120)

The Lord exercises His watchcare over us when we face physical and spiritual dangers (Psalm 121).

The Lord is worthy of our thankful praise for He extends peace to us (Psalm 122).

The enthroned God of heaven delights to show mercy to us (Psalm 123).

The providential Lord draws near to His suffering people to deliver us (Psalm 124).

Our trustworthy Lord surrounds his people and offers us true security (Psalm 125).

The Lord who weeps promises future joys for tearful sowers (Psalm 126).

Our Lord is the divine architect and builder of our lives, families, and church. Therefore, he sets us free from the blasphemous anxiety of trying to do his work for him (Psalm 127).

Our blessed Lord comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found: in our work, our families, our church, and our community (Psalm 128).

Our suffering Lord enters into the affliction of His people and is afflicted Himself in order to ultimately end all affliction (Psalm 129).

Our gracious Lord delights to forgive sin and redeem us (Psalm 130).

Our high and holy Lord sets his people free from the spiritual cancer of pride (Psalm 131).

Our Lord has chosen the new Zion as your dwelling place, the Church as your place of rest. and have kindled in it a lamp that will burn brightly forever before Jesus Christ, our anointed ing.

Our Lord delights when his people reflect his nature and dwell together in unity (Psalm 133).

Our Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, looks down with delight when His family gathers for worship and graciously pours out His blessing (Psalm 134).

 

Treasuring the Temporal or the Eternal – Luke 16:19-31

Here are three practical implications from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

A.  DANGER: Treasuring the temporal blinds us to the eternal.

  • Money and wealth blind us. We see this danger of wealth in the life of the rich man.
  • He was not sent to hell because of his wealth, he was sent to hell because his obsession with wealth blinded him to two things: His need of a Savior and the needs of others.
  • We tend to go through life like the Pharisees thinking that wealth is a mark of God’s favor and that poverty is a mark of God’s displeasure. This parable pulverizes the wildly popular prosperity gospel… This parable dismantles the belief that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and illness is a sign of His displeasure. The one who is saved in the end lived a life of abject poverty, sickness, disease, and lack of food and provision. The one who is lost in the end lived a life of unusual material prosperity, affluence, and ease.
  • J.C. Ryle writes: “Those whom God justifies and glorifies are seldom the rich of this world. If we would measure men as God measures them, we must value them according to their grace. ‘Let not the rich man boast in his riches. But let him that boasts boast in this, that he knows and understands Me'” (Jeremiah 9:24).

B.  DUTY (vv.24-28): There is a sphere of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee. Both of these spheres and places are the eternal, unchangeable conditions for the saved and for the lost.

  • The Bible insists that there are incredible benefits to trusting and walking with Christ now, but also there are wonderful blessings to trusting Christ in the world to come. There is a place of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee.
  • There is life after death. D.A. Carson declares that “if you are a philosophical materialist and you believe that matter, energy, space and time is all that there is, then you must abandon this philosophical belief to become a Christian.” When a person dies, you do not die like a dog. There is further existence. You are not done after your physical life on this earth.
  • Biblical Christianity is focused on how to flee the place of torment and gain the place of bliss talked about in our passage. New heavens and new earth is a place where there is no more sin, pain, and suffering. We will delight in God and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will love each another without fatigue or delay.
  • Here heaven is described as “Abraham’s side or bosom.” To be in Abraham’s bosom was a phrase used to describe the highest bliss of Paradise. This imagery is that of being the guest of honor at a banquet. See Matthew 13:28-29 for study purposes. Lazarus dines with Abraham at a table of sumptuous feasting.
  • Jesus paints a very graphic picture of hell. It is a place of torment… where the worm does not die… a place of unending weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place without repentance and a place without hope.
  • We don’t take glory in people suffering this fate. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We need people who will ask the Lord to break our hearts over our own city and weep for it like Jesus did Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37ff). We do not believe this because we think we are any better than anybody else, but because we acknowledge that the only hope and help we have in eternity is Jesus.
  • This is why Fernando Ortega sings “and when I come to die… when I come to die… when I come to die… give me Jesus!”

C.  DELIGHT (vv.29-31): Let us find our delight in God’s Book because we find there a God who helps the spiritual bankrupt and destitute. 

  • Who are the ones whom God helps? God doesn’t help those who help themselves. He helps those who are utterly powerless and who willingly acknowledge their own helplessness.
  • What really justifies a man before God? The rich man was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. The issue was whether or not these men were rich or poor, but whether or not these men believed the Scriptures and trusted in the Redeemer to which they testify.
  • How are you doing at stewarding your opportunities to hear, read, study, meditate and memorize the Word of God? What a treasure it is to have Moses and the Prophets. This parable highlights how easy it is to take for granted that we possess the written word of God.
  • May the Lord lead you to embrace the passion and commitment of John Wesley to the Word: “I am a spirit come from God and returning to God… I want to know one thing. The way to heaven… God Himself has condescended to teach me the way… He has written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone. Only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to Heaven.”
  • In Moses (the Pentateuch), what are some of the things that we learn about our promised Redeemer who was to come?
  • God will provide for Himself the lamb (Gen. 22:8a). …When I see the blood [of the lamb] I will pass over you (Exodus 12:13b; 1 Corinthians 5:7). …It shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it [the serpent lifted up], he will live (Numbers 21:8b;John 3:14). The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
  • Jesus died of thirst so that you could have living water.  He died in torment so that you could have the cool water of God’s favor. He was laid in the dust of death so that your thirst could be satisfied.

Prayer of Preparation for Reformation Sunday

Prayer to prepare your heart based on Psalm 46:

Lord God, our refuge and strength,
when the restless powers of this world
and the waters of hell rise up against your holy city,
watch over it and keep it safe.
By the river that flows from the throne of the Lamb,
purify us, your new Jerusalem,
as your chosen dwelling,
for You are with us, our stronghold now and forever. AMEN.

Proclaiming the Gospel to Ourselves in Corporate Worship

One of our main purposes of gathering corporately for worship is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We aspire to do this throughout our whole worship service by cultivating in all who gather three things:

  • A dawning realization of the greatness of your God,
  • A growing awareness of your own sinfulness
  • But also a fresh and continual discovery of the pardoning grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (This last phrase is adapted from Jack Miller and his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church.)

This is why we regularly confess our sins corporately and personally to the Lord. After our time of personal confession, we hear one of our pastors speak to us God’s assurance of pardon from the Scriptures. How can we be so bold to assure people of God’s forgiveness? God’s Word contains countless promises where He assures His people of His forgiveness.

One of the high moments of our worship service occurs when we hear right after the assurance of pardon: “…if your faith is in Jesus Christ this morning, then I assure you, based on the sure promise of the Word, that your sins are forgiven….”

Oh what a blessing to know that you are completely forgiven, totally accepted and profoundly loved by our Lord! Why not reflect on the wonderful and assuring promise of the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity… who delights in mercy… You will subdue our iniquities; and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19)?

The Marks of a Redeemed Community – Worship Reflections

The below reflections come from studying Isaiah 56:1-8.

God wants his gathered people to seek him for Himself, not merely for His blessings, great though they are. He wants us “to minister to Him, and to love His name, and to be His servants” (Isaiah 56:6). Then, he promises to “make us joyful” in his house of prayer for all nations. He’s the one who is calling the nations to Himself. He wants us to know that we are never stronger than when we are most aware of our weakness, and therefore most dependent on Him.
– David Jackman

God values a heart for Christ. That’s how he defines spiritual authenticity… We draw lines of exclusion that God wants to erase. He throws the doors wide-open to all alike who will take Christ as their legitimacy.

What matters in church is what matters to God, especially the gathering in of outsiders (John 10:16), and nothing else matters. When we accept that and implement the implications in our churches, we move toward revival.
–  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Try and make ourselves kings and we find only shame;
bow to become his slaves for love and we find ourselves wearing crowns.
– John Oswalt

Welcoming the King on Palm Sunday

There is something exciting about being in a crowd. A crowd came from Jerusalem to greet him… to welcome him into the great city of David as the long anticipated Messiah… the deliverer for whom they had hoped.

But Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a manner that shatters the expectations of his people of their coming Messiah. The term Messiah means anointed one. In the OT, there were three different ministries for which people were anointed… king, priest, and prophet. On Palm Sunday, Jesus comes as the ultimate King of Zechariah’s prophecy. He comes into the temple as the great priest. He speaks to his people with the authority of the great prophet.

This is the simple message of Palm Sunday. The Lord Jesus Christ comes in a manner very different than our preconceived notions. He comes to do things in our lives that we do not anticipate or expect.

Why are we to welcome Him into our lives? The text of Matthew 21:1-17 suggests at least three reasons…

First of all, Jesus comes as a humble king to liberate us from sin’s oppression and bondage. When the King comes, He delivers us from the dominion of sin (Zechariah 9:9), not from temporal oppression. He comes not to disarm political enemies (i.e. the Romans), but to disarm all the spiritual enemies of his people that oppress them.

Why does he do this? Matthew tells us why in verses 4-5, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet.” Thus, Jesus fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy who wrote 500 years before the birth of Jesus. By riding a donkey, Jesus declares what type of kingship He comes to institute. This means, yes, I am king, for that’s what the prophet says it means: “Behold your king.” “But,” he is saying, “I am gentle and lowly. I am not, in my first coming, on a white war-horse with a sword and a rod of iron. I am not coming to slay you. I am coming to save you.

How important was this for our Lord? The only personal characteristic that our Lord calls attention to in Himself is his humility, meekness, and lowliness of heart (Matthew 11:28-30). He wouldn’t lift up his voice in the street. He wouldn’t be domineering. Bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks… He comes not in wrath to take vengeance, but in mercy to work salvation. The wonder of his kingship is that it saves sinners.

How are you to welcome Him? Appeal to Him to save you. Petition Him to deliver you. The word hosanna means, literally, “O save us.”

This salvation is not merely a one-time decision, but a life-long battle against sin, temptation, and unbelief (Hebrews 10:39 – But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.).

How does he save us? The king comes to ascend a throne. It is not a throne of glory and power, but one of shame and humiliation. The eternal Son of God suffers in your place – the great sacrifice for sin is offered up – the great Passover lamb is slain. He is meek to suffer the greatest injuries and indignities for us, meek to endure the hostility and brutality of sinners against him. He comes at this point not to conquer but to die as the Savior of sinners in humiliation and indignity. He is a Savior marked by a gracious kindness and humility. Thus, He is precisely the kind of King you and I need.

(The King comes in deep humility and meekness, but his meekness is not a sign of weakness. Look at what happens next.)

Secondly, Jesus comes as the great priest to cleanse His house. He comes into the temple with cleansing power.

In verses 12-13, Jesus drives out the moneychangers showing forth His authoritative presence.  He evacuates the whole court of the Gentile claiming: ‘My father intended this place to be a house of prayer.’ This court will be devoted to worship.

Recently, the Barna Group reported on the spiritual involvement of twenty-somethings. The findings: only 20 percent of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29.

The children who have been brought up in the church are abandoning the faith. Rather than lament this, let resolve to pray fervently that they would come to a place in their own journey where they will cry out “Hosanna – save me Jesus.”

Here’s an interesting question: If Jesus came into the temple of my life, what tables would he overturn? Jesus never ignores sin and bondage in our lives. We are made to worship Him, yet we all too often have our own den of thieves – distractions and inordinate desires for other things that we seek to satisfy our longings rather than God’s glory. We need to be cleansed. Jesus did this to the Temple.  Would you ask him to do it to your own heart today? Could you says today that your life is a house of prayer?

How about you personally? Have you ever appealed to Jesus to cleanse you? Confess your need for His cleansing (Matthew 21:12-13). Have you ever welcomed him into your life?

Thirdly, Jesus comes as the great prophet who unmasks religious hypocrisy (vv.14-17) He comes to blow the whistle on the awful layers of hypocrisy that linger in our own lives. Outwardly and formally religious

The priests and the scribes were indignant to see needy people brought to Jesus and being healed and restored.  Religious people were indignant that ceremonially unclean and blemished people were coming into God’s church. They were indignant at children singing exuberant praise to Jesus.

Would you ask Him to unmask your own hypocrisy and free you to worship Him with the same enthusiam of the children long ago in Jerusalem? Praise Him with no pretense. If you’re like me, we at times struggle with a crippling self-consciousness that hinders our worship (Matthew 21:15-16).

Important application: God will see to it that the Son is praised and worshipped. Christ quotes Psalm 8:2 in order to demonstrate this reality. He gladly receives the worship of little children much to the indignation of religious people (Psalm 8).

The way we welcome Jesus into our lives—and into our church—is through praise and worship. He asserts that the stones would cry out if the children stopped.

C.S. Lewis reminds us what praise is? It is “inner health made audible…I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment:  It is its appointed consummation.”[1]

Is Jesus as fervently praised and as greatly rejoiced in among us as he was by the children long ago in Jerusalem? Oh the joy of Christ’s presence with his people. Oh, that we might have it in greater measure!

Let me close this post with two quick points of application on welcoming the King into your life. At the end of this story, the crowd did not want Jesus to rule over them. Thus, their praises rang hollow. “Those who take Christ for their King must lay their all underneath his feet.” What is it that the Lord is calling you to lay down at His feet this day in submissive surrender?

Also remember you too are coming to a great King today. Do your prayers express honorable views of the love, riches, and bounty of your King? John Newton summed it up best in this verse of his hymn “Come My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare:”

Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring;

For his grace and pow’r are such, None can ever ask too much.

What large petitions are you bringing to King Jesus today?


[1] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, (New York, NY:  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1958), 96-97.