3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died. In his pocket was found a piece of paper with this statement written on it: “We are beggars; this is true.” These words might have seemed mysterious at first, but those who knew Luther well quickly realized that he was not describing material poverty, but spiritual poverty. In other words, in God’s sight, we are so spiritually weak and needy that we are like beggars before Him. While most of us would agree that Luther is a credible source of great wisdom, we all must agree that Jesus is the one from whose lips we receive divine wisdom itself. And Jesus, too, promotes the truth of our lowly spiritual condition.
Amazingly, Jesus goes even further than Luther. Jesus not only affirms the truth that we are people of great spiritual need, but that is a good and even happy reality. We see this as Jesus begins his most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus’ opening words in this great sermon are commonly known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12), a description of the attributes and attitudes that should characterize us as Christians. Both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive, the Beatitudes present a vision of the good life that is marked by humility, need, and even mistreatment. In the Kingdom of God, those things which the world despises as weak and pitiable, God exalts as strong and enviable. And Jesus begins the Beatitudes with perhaps the most surprising attribute and attitude of all, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3).”
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? To be poor in spirit means having an attitude that reflects our attribute of spiritual poverty. This attitude is not mere pessimism or self-pity; it’s origin is not from our own heart or mind. Rather, it is an attitude of abiding humility that takes root in our souls when we learn the uncomfortable truth of who we are before God. In God’s eyes, we are not merely imperfect, but altogether unrighteous (Romans 3:10). Before His holiness, we are not only guilty, but condemned to the punishment of death (Romans 6:23). To be poor in spirit is to not only see these realities, but to feel in our bones the tragedy and humility of them personally.
Why does Jesus say it is a good and happy thing to be poor in spirit? Because it is only when we see our poverty that we can see and receive the riches of Jesus’ grace by faith. It is only when we feel the weight of hell’s justice that we, in turning to Jesus, can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the upside-down, inside-out nature of the Kingdom of God: abundant provision in Jesus Christ for those who see, feel, and openly acknowledge their need of Him. So while many of us try to keep our deep sense of spiritual weakness, corruption, and need hidden, Jesus calls us to own it and to bring it into the light of His glorious grace.
To possess a genuine attitude of spiritual poverty, we must turn away from our natural inclination to compare ourselves to other people and, instead, compare ourselves to God. Or to put it more accurately, we must stop looking at ourselves with the world’s mirror and look at ourselves with God’s mirror; we must see who we are in God’s holy sight. This is what led to the great expressions of spiritual poverty found in the Bible on the lips of people like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), Mary (Luke 1:46-48), and Paul (Philippians 3:8-9). As the famous English preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,
"The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Look at Him, and keep looking at Him. And then say to Him, 'Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.' Empty, hopeless, naked, vile. But He is the all-sufficient One: 'Yea, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.' (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 52).”
May we who are poor look to Jesus who is rich and feed on Him in our hearts by faith as we anticipate the glories of the Kingdom of Heaven.