Sermon on the Mount – Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn

Matthew 5:3-6

The beatitudes are broken up, like a lot of things in the Bible, into you relating to God and then you relating to people. The first four – the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – are how we relate to God.  The second clause is how He relates back to us – theirs is the kingdom, will be comforted, shall inherit the earth, will be filled. We will hit two of these this week and the other two next week.

V3

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? The best descriptor I can across was ‘spiritual bankruptcy’. However the focus isn’t necessarily on ‘poor’ in the sense that you aren’t very good at being spiritual, it is more in realizing that you are ‘bankrupt’. It is how Isaiah feels before the thrown of God when he says ‘woe to me, I am a man of unclean lips’. That is what knowing you are poor in spirit sounds like.

What about the opposite, what is rich in spirit? First of all, you can’t be rich, because of our fallen nature. We are too sinful to be rich in spirit, which is why Paul says I keep doing what I don’t want to do. Basically, I know I shouldn’t sin, but I just keep on sinning anyway. Self-righteousness is what happens when you think you are rich. That is the message to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:17 – For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

I have this quote in my notes, but forgot to attribute it, I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that you must empty yourself before you can be fill by God. Being poor in spirit means you realize what you have isn’t worth much, especially compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, so you are willing to give that up and look to God for fulfilment.

V4

Who are those that mourn? Reading through the commentaries and studies on this, there didn’t seem to be much in the way on consensus. There were four main ideas of what we are mourning, but the support for each seemed fairly well spread out. Those who mourn may be mourning:

  1. Their own sin
  2. The humiliation/destruction of Israel
  3. Their persecution
  4. A broken and sinful world

I am least inclined to agree with number 3, for one, it is early enough on in Christ’s ministry, that there are not any ‘Christians’ yet, and so it would have to mean some future persecution that those who are beginning to follow would have to be aware of now. Mostly, though, I don’t think it fits in this section of the beatitudes. Persecution is discussed, but it comes later; and working in the framework of the first four beatitudes being about our reaction to God, persecution doesn’t fit.

I’m also less inclined to go with number two, but mostly because it is difficult to understand (for today). DA Carson makes the argument that the mourning is the current low position of Israel and the coming destruction of the temple. As Matthew is the most Jewish focused of the Gospels, this seems to make sense. He points to the weeping remnant that mourns and that there is an eschatological hope for future comfort. This is pretty clean academically, but I struggle with the focus being so narrow. There aren’t any more first century Jews around. I’m two thousand years later, living on the other side of the world. Doesn’t mean it is the wrong interpretation, but it moves it from a broader point about life, to a specific time and place; which I’m not convinced fits in the Sermon.

Number four is related to this, in a way, but is still able to have a more broad meaning. It carries the same eschatological sense, but can be applied for today and for any Christian throughout the world. We can look around and mourn the sinfulness and brokenness of this world, but be comforted by the fact that Christ will come again. That is the ‘will be comforted’ part, that the world will be restored in the new Earth after his coming. This interpretation is probably the easiest to fit and understand, and I think is the best way to go.

Relatedly, but without the future earth and kingdom restoration connotations, is mourning our own sin. The comfort then is less about restoration, but more individualized, with the comfort being deliverance from God’s penalty. So, we mourn our own sinfulness, but we will be comforted because the penalty has been paid for us and we do not incur the wrath of God.

That is it for this week, check back next Monday for my thoughts on the Meek and Those Who Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness.

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

Intro to Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5-7

This passage is one of the most well-known, while at the same time, it isn’t known very well. That is to say, if you mention Sermon on the Mount to most (church) people, they will know what you are talking about, but following up with any question – when/where/why, or what is in it, what is he saying, and I don’t think you’d get much of a reaction. There are number of ‘famous’ passages within it – the beatitudes (blessed are…) and the Lord’s Prayer probably being the most known, but there are other passages such as His words on Lust/Adultery and Hate/Murder. Really, the simplest way to state it is that the Sermon is a collection of all of the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew, which are not parables.

What exactly was the Sermon? I’m torn on whether I want to get into some of the deeper academic disputes. Was he actually on a mountain? If so, which one? Where there any in the area? Some commentators break this down a bit and say well, it was probably just a hillside, and in kind of a red-neck way, say that the translation could read the sermon up in the hills. Some people were also concerned that it doesn’t align with Luke’s sermon on the plain, and wonder if the Mount is really more of a plateau, but I think all that is beyond what I want to look at and discuss.

For me, there are a few things that matter, one is Jesus probably gave this sermon or message a number of times. It wasn’t uncommon for itinerate teachers (Rabbis) to go around to different towns and villages repeating their message. Luke focused on only a few ‘blesseds’ whereas Matthew had more and left off the ‘woes’. I also think that is why he puts it at the beginning of the his Gospel.

Finally, there is significance to placing it at the Mount (whether it was actually the first instance or not). Matthew is written for a mostly Jewish audience, and they would have seen the connection between Jesus giving the sermon (expanding and explaining the law) and Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the original Law (the 10 commandments). If that wasn’t clear, Jesus Himself draws the connection when He later explains lust and adultery, and hate and murder.

The entire intro Matthew gives us is just two verses (5:1-2), which basically says, people were around, so Jesus started His sermon.

Next week I’ll start going through the beatitudes, but for now, what is exactly are beatitudes? We get with word from the Latin word Beatus which means blessed, which is obviously taken form the start of each verse – ‘blessed are…’. So, what does blessed mean? There are two words typically used in the Greek – Makarious and Ealogetos. The latter is word used when someone is blessed by God that most people think of when they hear bless. The word used is actually the former, it means more something of along the lines of happiness, fortunate, or even congratulate (as the tense is accusative).

This is one reason for wide array of translations for the word, but it makes the sense of the phrase confusing in the English. He isn’t saying that God will bless those who are poor in spirit, He is saying something more along the lines of consider fortunate those who are poor in spirit (on famous sermon even used the translation ‘congratulate those…).

I hope that helps as a basic introduction, next week I’ll started on the Beatitudes and hopefully continue you on through the whole sermon.

 

Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary

May Biblical Studies Carnival

Jeff Carter has the Carnival up, though he is calling it Biblioblog Carnival. Maybe the name changed. Try searching biblioblog if you are having trouble finding it, or just click the link above. When I searched Biblical Studies Carnival, I only came up with Zwinglius Dedivivus’s post. I may have to check in with the godfather of the carnival to see if things have changed. Anyway, enjoy.

 

Updates

Alright everybody, I have finally had some time to write again. I just finished my classes last week. The past month was crazy with final exams, final case studies, and final papers. It ended up being a lot more work than I thought. I’ll have an up date and review of the courses/CCEF in general up soon, as well as where I cam going from here.

Tomorrow I am will have a short post up about generational theory in preparation for my review of Meet Generation Z that will be up on Wednesday. I’ve been fall really behind in reviews, and will hopefully have at least one a week up for the next two or three months. Here are the books that just Baker Books has sent to me review over the past 3 months. The stack on the left is the books I need to read, the stack in the middle is books I’ve finished reading, and the stack on the right is what I’ve reviewed. So, falling behind. I’ll try to do better next time.

In the mean time, it is Biblical Studies Carnival time for April already. Go check it out over at Theologians, Inc.