I was getting off the interstate a while back when I saw a man at the bottom of the exit ramp holding a “NEED FOOD” sign. I’m always stirred by different feelings when I see this—compassion, a bit of guilt, curiosity, shame. Why doesn’t he have food? Should I give him money?
But it’s also interesting to recognize that this is the image Jesus used to start the most famous sermon ever preached. Most people in his nation thought the Messiah would come riding on the back of a white stallion at the front of an army of liberation. He would be strong, proud, and powerful, and he would restore them to their former glory.
But his first words were nothing like what they expected.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Coming to God’s kingdom, Jesus said, involves, first of all, admitting that we’re spiritually poverty-stricken. We’re powerless to attain salvation, completely dependent on God for everything that’s good.
Beggars. That’s what we are. We come to Jesus without “a righteousness of our own” and receive “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). “In him,” Paul writes, we “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What all this means is that being in the Lord’s kingdom involves emptying ourselves of pride, achievement, and accomplishment. We don’t bring our goodness to the table and exchange it for forgiveness. We don’t bring our impeccable morality and integrity to the Lord and hope it’s enough to be saved.
“Poor in spirit” means recognizing that there is “none righteous, no, not one” . . . including me.
It means admitting that “no one understands; no one seeks for God,” that “no one does good, not even one” . . . including me.
That’s hard for most of us. I’m tempted to point toward a few of the good things I’ve done. I want to compare myself to some of society’s dregs and take a little pride in, “Well, at least I’m not like that.”
That’s why pride has always been the biggest obstacle between us and salvation. Pride takes our eyes off of God and puts them on us.
You can’t be a part of the kingdom until you recognize that you’re utterly, completely, totally, hopelessly dependent on God for righteousness.
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die. . . . When I soar to worlds unknown, See Thee on Thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee (Augustus Toplady).