August 12, 2014 Broadcast

Blessed Are The Poor

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Does this mean that the Kingdom of Heaven is open only to those who are poverty stricken? In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explains that this phrase would have resonated with Christ’s audience, and teaches us what it means to be poor in spirit today.

From the series: The Beatitudes

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    The Blessed Rich in Spirit

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    Thy Kingdom Come

  3. devotional

    The Poor in Spirit

The Blessed Rich in Spirit

R.C. Sproul Jr.

There is real poverty in the world, more than we would care to admit. Jesus, after all, told us that the poor would always be with us. But just as all Israel are not Israel, so all the poor are not truly poor. The true poor are those who on a given day face the real prospect of not being able to produce more calories than they consume. They are the truly hungry, the truly naked, the truly thirsty. They are not, on the other hand, those who buy store brand cereal, purchase their clothes at the local Goodwill store, or who can’t afford a daily sugar and bitter beans concoction from the local Starbucks.

The faux poor are those who merely feel poor. This feeling creeps upon us when we find a gap not between how many calories we consume and how many we burn, but between the lifestyle we believe is our due and the lifestyle our production allows. Or to put it more simply, feeling poor is the result of wanting more than we have more often than wanting more than we need. It matters not whether we measure our wages in thousands or billions. What matters is the gap.

The Christian, of course, ought never to go through this hardship. First, we are called to daily ask God for our bread. We are to ask confident that our Father will not give us a stone. We know that we have what we have not because of chance, but because our God reigns. More important still, even if we are not given sufficient calories to make it to the next day, we have been given the pearl of great price. Christians are the richest of all.

Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount to consider the lilies of the field. We are not to be anxious about what we will eat, what we will drink, or what we will wear. The Gentiles, Jesus tells us, seek after these things. But we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things will be added to us. The point here isn’t that the Gentiles get all the good stuff, while we have to learn to be satisfied with abstract things like the kingdom of God. Jesus is instead expressing the answer to Augustine’s problem: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.” Jesus is telling us to store treasure in heaven, which is the only treasure that satisfies.

In light of this, we ought not be surprised at the depression that weighs down the world around us. They are spiritually poor, rather than poor in spirit. That is, they have nothing of value. Their accumulated stuff amounts to striving after the wind. They miss that they deserve nothing. They miss that all that they have has been given through the common grace of God. (We simply have to find better language for this reality. It is true enough that this grace is given to all men, that He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. It is true in turn that this grace isn’t as astonishing as the grace He gives to His elect. But it is still amazing grace. God is shockingly, not commonly, good to His enemies.) They look at the world as a random collision of time, space, and energy, and so see what they do have as an accident. They can no more give thanks for the food on their table than they can for the rain that falls. The bankruptcy of naturalism isn’t that it displaces the dignity of man, but that it destroys our ability to give thanks. Remember how Paul sums up the universal problem of the sinfulness of man: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21).

What separates the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent isn’t that the former receive the grace of God while the latter do not. The difference is that the former have been given this grace — the ability to give thanks to God for all that He has provided. This in turn directs us toward the cure for our own spiritual depression. We do not need to have our circumstances changed. We do not need another lecture on sound thinking. What we need is to give thanks. 

This in turn is how we wage war against the seed of the serpent. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. Is there anything more spiritual than a heart filled with gratitude to God? Is there anything more potent than joy? Is there anything greater than love? This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. As we do so we will change our souls. As we do so we will change our families. As we do so we will change our churches. As we do so we will change the world. If we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, the good news isn’t that all these things will be added to us. The good news is that we will find the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And having found this, we have found joy at His right hand forevermore. 

Thy Kingdom Come

Archie Parrish

Henry was an ornery agnostic. His wife, Eunice, was a devout Christian. They lived in a farming community, where a yearlong drought was devastating the local economy. At the request of many of the farmers, the pastor of a local church called the community together to pray for rain. As Eunice was leaving to go to the church, Henry challenged, “Do you really believe that it will rain if you ask for it?”

Eunice opened her Bible and read to Henry: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16–18). Eunice continued: “Praying for the drought to end is a big prayer, but I believe there is nothing too hard for God. If I didn’t believe that God can answer our prayer and break the drought, I would not go to this prayer meeting.”

Henry mocked, “If you really believe that God will answer this ‘big prayer’ and give rain, where is your umbrella?”

Eunice picked up her umbrella and went to the prayer meeting. She returned home without having to use the umbrella, but that night it rained and the drought was broken.

What makes a “big” prayer? A multitude of words doesn’t do it. Only prayers that are consistent with God’s character and focus on advancing God’s kingdom can truly be called “big.”

The Bible provides many examples of such prayers. In response to big prayers, God delivered His people from the dreaded Assyrians (2 Kings 19:14–37). The restoration of the people of God from the Babylonian captivity was an answer to big prayers (see Jer. 29:10–14; 50:4–5; Dan. 9; Ezra 8:21; Neh. 1:4–11; 4:4–5; 9:1–38). Samson, in his weakness, received strength to pull down Dagon’s temple through big prayer (Judg. 16:28–30). In answer to big prayers, God gave the greatest outpouring of the Spirit on the church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

Jesus prayed big prayers. Some would say that our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 was His biggest prayer. In this prayer, He asked that His people would be kept from the evil one (v. 15), that they might become one (v. 21), and that they might be with Him and behold His glory (v. 24). As the hour drew near when He would die, Jesus prayed that the work of redemption would be accomplished, even at the cost of His life (Matt. 26:39, 42). Now at the right hand of the Father, He lives forever to pray big prayers of intercession, pleading the power of His sacrifice to counter the accusations of the adversary against His people (Heb. 7:25).

God is the high priority in the model prayer given by our Lord. The best Greek manuscripts omit the closing sentence: “ ‘For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ ” (Matt. 6:13). There is abundant evidence, however, that these words were used almost universally in the worship of the early church. Some believe congregations recited these words in unison after each petition. If they did, then focus on the kingdom of God is underscored. I infer from this that all prayer should focus on God’s kingdom. What is kingdom-focused prayer? It is not mere instinctive prayer, but it is Spirit-enabled. It is not man-centered, but God-centered. It is not self-serving or sentimental, but Scriptural—in both principle and content. It is not timid, but bold! It is not passive resignation, but proactive cooperation. It is both solo and concerted. In summary, kingdom-focused prayer is the Spirit-enabled cry of God’s adopted children seeking their Father’s glory by persistently asking Him for the nations, their promised inheritance.

The Reformers prayed big prayers. The Protestant Reformation was initiated, achieved, and maintained by big prayers. Among the enemies of the Reformation were the Muslims, the emperor, and the papists. Martin Luther believed in praying big prayers. He taught, “The Lord is great and high, and therefore He wants great things to be sought from Him and is willing to bestow them so that His almighty power might be shown forth.” Thus, Luther prayed: “Dear Lord, I know that You have still more, You have much more than You can ever bestow; in You I shall never want, for if there were need, the heavens would rain guilders [dollars]. Be my treasury, my cellar, my storehouse; in You have I all riches; if I have You, I have enough.”

God indicates there is nothing too hard for Him (see Jer. 32:27), and so He challenges us to pray big prayers: “ ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know’ ” (Jer. 33:3).

Praying big prayers requires childlike faith. Patrick Johnston tells a story about his wife, Jill. For a long time she was burdened to help children pray big prayers for world evangelization. She began to write a book to this end in 1990. She lived at the headquarters of the Dorothea Mission in London. As Jill completed each chapter, a group of praying children used the information to intercede for each country. Albania was one of the first countries in her project. It was a communist hermit state, which proudly claimed to be the first atheistic country in the world. All religious expression was illegal. The Gospel was banned and there were no known believers in the entire country. The children began praying for the needs of the children in Albania. They prayed for religious freedom to come to that land. A few months later, the communist government fell, and freedom for worship and witness came. Jill had to rewrite the Albania chapter in her book. When these children heard this, they were delighted. One of them shouted, “We have changed Albania!” Today there is a Gospel witness in virtually every Albanian town and city. May God give us the faith of these little children.

Evaluate your prayer life by answering the following questions. More than 40 percent of the earth’s surface is in a state of drought—are you praying for rain? Like Hezekiah, are you praying for deliverance from terrorists throughout the world? Have you thanked the Lord for His intercession for you? Like our Lord, are you praying “ ‘not as I will, but as You will,’ ” even if it costs your life? Are your prayers “kingdomfocused”? Are your prayers big enough to honor God? Are you praying for enemies of the cross to be converted? If they will not be converted, are you asking God to restrain them so they cannot disturb the growth of His church? Like the children who prayed for Albania, do you pray for God to change the world? Are your big prayers becoming bigger prayers?

The Poor in Spirit

Having finished our study of Philippians 2, we can look back on the chapter and see that Paul mentions different blessings God bestowed upon him and that the Lord continues to give to the church. We are blessed to “shine as lights in the world” (v. 15). Paul was blessed to have Timothy and Epaphroditus as trusted fellow workers (vv. 19–26). The Apostle, Epaphroditus, and the entire Philippian church were blessed to see Epaphroditus recover from illness by the hand of God (v. 27). All Christians are blessed beyond description in that the Son of God humbled Himself in the incarnation to reconcile His people to the Father (vv. 5–11).

Indeed, the hope of life under God’s blessing is found not only in Philippians 2 but throughout the entire canon of Scripture. For the next week and a half, we will consider how we receive the blessing of the Lord and what this blessing means for our lives with the help of The Beatitudes, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Understanding the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1–12 requires us to comprehend the meaning of the term blessed. Many people think the word means “happy,” but that view is inadequate. Happiness, in an ultimate sense, is certainly a part of being blessed by God, but divine blessing goes far beyond mere happiness. It involves God’s favor, His willingness to come near and dwell among His people. This is the chief meaning of the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:22–27. The hope of Israel was that God would shine His face on the people, that there would be close, intimate fellowship between the Creator and His creatures. The New Testament expands on this, revealing that our ultimate hope is the Beatific Vision — face-to-face communion with God and His glory in eternity (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2).

How do we enjoy the Lord’s favor and experience a taste of His presence now, and then, for all eternity, the fullness of His glory? The answer is found in the very first beatitude. Jesus tells us that only the “poor in Spirit” will receive the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). Poverty in spirit is an emptying of our self-reliance and any claim we (falsely) believe to have on God. It is a recognition that we are utterly dependent on divine grace and undeserving of His favor. It is repentance for setting ourselves up as “gods” and then a resting in the Lord’s promise of salvation.

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