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Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Spiritual Poverty and Holy Mourning

This picture sums up what it means to be spiritually poor (pic sourced here)

We begin our series on the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning where Jesus began it. Let us remind ourselves of who it is who is teaching. It is Jesus, the Son of God, it the God the Son who is
giving us this teaching. What is it that he is teaching? He is teaching the way into his kingdom, into the kingdom which we have to enter in this life, in order to be in it in eternity. Who is it that Jesus is teaching? Depending on which translation you read, it is a huge group, it is a crowd, a multitude of people who were following Jesus, and who had come to this mountain. A huge group of people, people like you and me. People like us.

How is he teaching? Well, at the very end of this sermon we will have these words recorded for us: They will say, “this man speaks with authority”. In other words,…… we had better listen. And that surely applies to you and to me as we read the Sermon on the Mount in the 21st century as much as it did to that first crowd of listeners.

Now, in the introduction two weeks ago, we saw that Jesus himself calls this teaching the foundation, the rock on which to build our faith. Today we are going to see that the foundation of true Christian faith, the foundation stone, is ………poverty of Spirit. Jesus’ first words in this sermon are, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Not…. blessed are those who are poor, not….. blessed are those who love poverty, no….. this is a blessedness which can come to anyone. Anyone can feel or be this kind of poor, whether you are rich or whether you are poor. In fact, this is something every one of us has to be. We have to be spiritually poor. Why? Well, notice what is giving to the spiritually poor – the kingdom of heaven is given to them. Jesus came to us 2000 years ago in order to establish the Kingdom of Heaven (God) on earth. Who is given this kingdom……the spiritually poor.

So, who are the poor in spirit? There are five things that we are going to have a look at. More of them might come out in the bible study, but here are five things that the person who is poor in spirit knows:
1.      They know who they are. They see themselves “warts and all”.
2.      They are aware of sin in their life.
3.      They are aware of a deep sense of guilt because of their sin.
4.      They are aware that there is a punishment that they deserve because of their sin.
5.      They know that we cannot make a deal with God. They know that even if they stopped sinning right now, there is a mountain of past sin that they need to take care of and there is nothing they can do to put themselves right with God.

The person who is poor in spirit is aware that there is both inward and outward sin, and that we have no righteousness of our own, nothing that we can bring to God to bargain with. They may think of some of the dreadful characters in history, and I don’t mean to speak evil of anyone in this series, but I am just thinking of recent events. A person who is poor in spirit might think – “me, and the Norwegian bomber and killer – we’re both sinners before God, we’re equals in the eyes of God”. The proud of spirit, like the Pharisees would say something like, “Oh thank you God that I am not as bad as that Norwegian murderer.”

Do you get an idea of what it means to be poor in spirit?

Poverty of spirit is essential, and this is not a once-off experience, it is not something you do when you become a Christian. It is a constant, ongoing awareness that I have nothing of value to bring to God. Nothing that would ever make God say to me, “Ok Cedric, Wow! what I see in your life puts you right with me!” There is nothing I can bring to God that would ever make Him do that.

Now when we are spiritually poor, notice what Jesus says, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven is then in us, in that person who is spiritually poor. This must beg the question, “What is the kingdom of heaven?” What is this kingdom that is given to us, this inward kingdom of heaven?

Romans 14, verse 17 teaches that this kingdom that God plants within us is about righteousness and peace and joy. These three are planted within us when we are born again. That is the kingdom that comes when we offer ourselves to Christ. A kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy…in the midst of the unpeace, unrighteousness, and unjoy (sadness) which surrounds us in the kingdom of this world. Last week we saw that it is not about what you do or say, it is about what is going on in your heart. The spiritually poor heart is the good soil which can receive the kingdom of God.

Spiritual poverty is a continual sense of our total dependence on God. A continual sense that we can do nothing of meaning unless He is with us. The hymn, “I need thee every hour” is the hymn that comes off the lips of the person who is spiritually poor. Except “I need thee every moment” would be truly spiritually poor. “I can do nothing without you”.

The person who is spiritually poor notices a growth in them of the conviction of sin which remains in our heart and which Jesus says is where all sin comes from. The more we grow in grace and the more we become aware of the wickedness in our hearts, the more we should find ourselves uttering the words that Paul does on one occasion,  “Woe is me!” These are the words of someone who is poor in spirit and the closer we move to Jesus, the more we feel that we cannot come close to him. It’s a strange paradox, but that is what happens. The closer you get when you approach God with an attitude of spiritual poverty, the more aware you are that you don’t deserve to come close to this Jesus who invites me to come close to him.

When we are spiritually poor we sense the need to be totally renewed in righteousness and in holiness and, this is the key, we want to be. We want to be renewed until we are totally renewed in the image of God, until we are holy like he is holy.

So there we have a few characteristics of the person who is spiritually poor:
·        Aware of who we are
·        Aware of sin
·        Sense of guilt
·        Aware of the punishment we deserve
·        Deeply conscious that we can do nothing, that we cannot cut a deal with God.

All of this then leading to a total reliance on him. There’s more to spiritual poverty, but that’s enough for now.

The second beatitude is this: “Blessed are those who mourn.” What does Jesus say about those who mourn? Bless his holy name, he says…. and are there more gentle words than these on the lips of our Lord,…….. “They will be comforted.”

So what is holy mourning? While these words are very often read and preached on at funerals, offering the comfort of Jesus to those who are mourning the death of a loved one, Jesus means a lot more when he says, “Blessed are those who mourn.”

Whenever we sin we lose that righteousness, that peace and that joy which we said earlier is the inward kingdom of heaven which is planted within us. You cannot sin and have a sense within you of righteousness and of peace and of joy. Sin steals those things from us, not for nothing did Jesus say that Satan comes to steal, to destroy and to murder.  When we sin, those things are taken away from us…… and how should that make us feel? It should make us feel…… sad. We should mourn what we see in ourselves when we sin. We should mourn, “Oh my goodness, look what I have lost! Look what sin is causing within me, look at what sin is causing me to lose!”

Now very often new Christians go through this. They have a conversion experience, they give their lives to the Lord, they are born again and they really feel good. Sometime after their conversion they notice that sin is still there, that perhaps old sin is still there. They notice also that Satan torments them. In fact, they notice perhaps that Satan torments them more than ever.  And often that causes them to mourn. So often one finds in new converts that there is a deep awareness of sin and they are really sad when they sin again. What they notice, and what part of holy mourning is, is that they discover (grace upon grace) that God comforts them, He comforts them.

Blessed are those who mourn means more though than just mourning our own sin. Sometimes we look at our world, at what is happening in the world around us and yes, that should cause us to mourn. Recently of course there was the tsunami in Japan which just destroyed so much and so many. But that wasn’t really something that happened because of sin. When we look at the world and see things like recent history, Auschwitz, Norway, the riots and destruction in the UK, when we see what is sometimes called “man’s inhumanity to man”, those who are poor in spirit will mourn when they see these things. It will break our heart to see these things. This is another aspect of holy mourning.

It means even more. We will look at those who are still walking in sin, loved ones perhaps who are on the road to hell and we mourn. We mourn what we see happening in their lives.

“Blessed are those who mourn”, says Jesus, “they will be comforted.”

Many of you, parents especially, experience this comfort as you mourn the wayward life that our children sometimes lead.  And, of course, visa versa is true also, many of us mourn for our parents as we see the road that they walk on.

“Blessed are those who mourn”, says Jesus, “they will be comforted”. You see, the promise is… God will comfort you. It’s a beautiful promise. Many people offer comfort. God and his comfort is comfort supreme.

Do you know this mourning? Do you mourn like this or does the sin of the world, the sin of a loved one, your own sin leave you unaffected? Do you mourn?

As you look into the mirror, which is really what the beatitudes are – they are what we should look like. When you look into the mirror of the beatitudes ……when you read them and learn more about them…… what do you see? Is the person in the mirror poor in spirit? Wonderful! The kingdom of God is given to you and continues to be poured into you. Rejoice!

Is the person in the mirror one who mourns, this holy mourning we have looked at? Blessing upon blessing! You will know God’s comfort as you grow in grace and holiness.

Such a foundation, says Jesus, is a wise foundation and it is rock, rock solid.

But if as you look into the mirror of the beatitudes, you don’t see a person who is poor in spirit, and if you don’t see a person who mourns, then for those of us who are like that I would like to close with a paraphrase of John Wesley’s comments as he concludes on this subject.

“Your eyes now have been enlightened and you do not walk in vain shadows. God and eternity are very real things. Heaven and hell are indeed open before you. You are on the edge of a great gulf. It has already swallowed up more than words can express. It has swallowed up nations and families and peoples. It longs to devour more, whether you see it or not. It reaches out for those who are giddy and miserable. Come, cry out, oh cry out to be spared! Everyone can lift up their voices to God. Both you and your family can be counted worthy to escape the destruction that comes as a whirlwind. Seek his salvation so you may be brought safely through all the waves and storms of life into the haven where God would have you be. Friends, seek him now in poverty of spirit, until God wipes away the tears from your eyes. Weep for the misery which you notice has come upon you, weep for the world until the God of all will put an end to all misery, to sin and to suffering. The time will come when he will wipe away the tears from our faces. Until then, weep.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ  – If you are spiritually poor and you mourn, then you are blessed. And you know it right now. You know that your heart is right with God and you are experiencing those blessings – hallelujah, praise be to the God who blesses us.

If you are not spiritually poor or mourning, repent…. for the kingdom of heaven is near. 

Amen

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