Happy are the Humble

Posted: August 1, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 5:1-5, “Happy are the Humble”

We’ve all heard of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – Matthew 5 gives us the beginning to “The Great Sermon Ever Given.”  The Sermon on the Mount is truly the most profound message every delivered – proven if by nothing else, than by the sheer amount of books & sermons delivered on this one single message.  A sermon that was originally delivered by the Lord Jesus in a matter of minutes has inspired millions of pages & hours spoken.

Yet for all that has been said about the Sermon on the Mount, there’s been much misunderstanding.  Some have looked at it as simply the ideal ethic of every person, divorcing it from the need to humbly come to Jesus as Lord (a good way of living, but a Christ-less Christianity).  Others have looked at it as only belonging to the Millennial Kingdom, with no application today.  Still others have looked at it as an impossible ideal, only spoken by Jesus to show our need for Him, but with no current need for action today.  All of these views are wrong – but all of them have a grain of truth.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does indeed tell us how to live – but He assumes that we are completely dependent upon Him for doing so.  Jesus does indeed tell us about the coming glories of the Millennial Kingdom as opposed to this world – but He also tells us about living as citizens of that kingdom today.  Jesus does show us that sinless perfection is absolutely impossible – but He also exhorts us to strive to live righteously through the power of God.

It all begins with the Beatitudes – or as others have summarized: the attitudes of how we ought to “be”.  Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount with a string of apparent contradictions which turn the conventional thinking about what is pleasing to God on its head.  From the get-go, Jesus makes it plain that what the world considers to be virtues are often at odds with the heart of God.  God Himself is the one who provides blessing – and the child of God is going to be dependent upon Him alone for it.

We’re going to look at the Beatitudes in 3 parts.  Part 1 deals with attitude (humility) – part 2 deals with character (godliness) – part 3 deals with persecution.  As we go through the listing in the next few weeks, note how all the Beatitudes will perfectly describe Christ Jesus.  Obviously, these are going to be the traits that every child of God should have – but our perfect model for all of this is the Lord Jesus Christ!  Because Jesus was happy in His humility, we can do the same.

Matthew 5:1–5 (NKJV)
1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.

  • Commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount,” there are many parallels with another teaching from Jesus called “The Sermon on the Plain” found in Luke 6.  There’s a bit of debate whether or not they are in fact the same sermon, or whether they were similar teachings given on different occasions.  Keep in mind that Jesus was an itinerant preacher & He likely preached similar messages each time He went from town to town.  Some believe it’s possible that Luke may have recorded some of the messages chronologically, whereas Matthew compiled all of the teachings into one complete message.  Others believe that they are simply different messages.  Both accounts are given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so both can be trusted; neither contradicts the other, though there are some different emphases found.
  • Where was the mountain? [MAP] Traditionally, the mountain is located right outside of Capernaum (which would make sense for the context coming out of Ch 4).  There’s a Catholic church there today – but there’s no way of knowing for sure if it’s the actual site or not.
    • There’s a parallel to Moses here.  Moses went to Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandment & the Law; Jesus speaks from the Mountain to teach about the heart of the Law.  Moses received the word of God; Jesus IS the word of God.
  • Who came to Him?  Matthew makes it clear that Jesus saw the multitudes, but He sat down with the disciples & taught them.  It’s not likely that Jesus was teaching 5000 people here – but it’s also not likely that Jesus sat only with the 12.  Jesus had many disciples who followed Him at different times.  Many turned away from Him when the teaching became too difficult for them to understand (Jn 6:66).

2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

  • Remember that Matthew summarized the Galilean ministry of Jesus as “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness & all kinds of disease…” (Mt 4:23).  Teaching has a preeminent role in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, and especially in the gospel of Matthew.  Mark will concentrate much on Jesus’ actions, but Matthew focuses in on His teaching.  (The Sermon on the Mount begins the 1st major doctrinal section in Matthew.)
  • Why is doctrine so important when it comes to Jesus Christ?  Some might complain, “It doesn’t matter so much what you believe, as it is what you do.”  Absolutely false.  Our beliefs have a direct impact on our actions.  Of course, our actions often point to what our true beliefs are.  Someone can claim to love their neighbor all they want, but if they talk bad about them behind their back, or slam the door in their face, what does that truly say about the person’s belief system?  At the same time, if we believe wrongly about what God says about our neighbors, we’re never going to truly start loving them in the 1st place.  If we believe wrongly about what God says regarding sin, then we’re going to act differently when it comes to it (which is why the Lord Jesus spent so much time teaching about the heart of the law).  It’s not that beliefs are opposed to actions; they go hand-in-hand.  Proper doctrine leads to proper practice…but doctrine is always the starting point.
    • Paul directly affirms this point when teaching Timothy about the inspiration of Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16–17, "(16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." []  Don’t leave off that last phrase!  God equips us through His word (His doctrine) for a reason…that we would be ready to perform the good works that God empowers us to do through the Holy Spirit.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  • Blessed”: The word is often described as “Oh, how happy…” – which is accurate, though our concept of “happiness” is somewhat limiting here.  Our cultural view of “happiness” is not something that is long-lasting, or possible in dark circumstances (such as mourning & persecution), but rather an emotional response to external circumstances.  “Happiness” is based upon our happenstances – what happens to us.  That’s not necessarily bad; it’s just the way it is.  The idea of happiness in blessedness is something bigger than that.  JM Boice points out that the best English idea of happiness that is closest to “blessed” is “bliss,” (which has a similar etymology in English).  The Greek word originally referred to a transcendent happiness (of their mythological gods) & later referred to a richness, and inner happiness for people. More often, we describe this idea in English as “joy” – and we who are believers (citizens of the kingdom) can truly be joyful in every circumstance, as Jesus explains in the Beatitudes.  We can be joyful because we have been approved by God as we live in the manner of His calling.
    • Keep in mind that the blessedness of the Beatitudes is something reserved for believers in Christ.  A Buddhist may consider himself poor in spirit, but he will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is the only way, truth, and life & no one will come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).  What Jesus will be describing in the Beatitudes are the marks of the believers in Christ.
  • Who is the first to experience blissful happiness & joy?  “The poor in spirit.”  The word “poor” is exactly what we would expect: poor – someone who is destitute & left a beggar.  If we were left with only the phrase from the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6), we might be tempted to think this is a specific references to finances (and some liberal theologians do exactly that).  Yet Matthew’s gospel shows that Jesus’ intent is far more than financial.  Someone who is poor does not get an automatic ticket-to-heaven; the poverty Jesus spoke of is poverty of spirit.  If someone is financially left to beg, it means they know they have zero monetary worth.  If someone is a spiritual beggar, it means they understand they have zero spiritual worth.  That’s not to say the person is worthless, but rather that outside of the work of God, a person has nothing to offer God.  (Carson) “To be poor in spirit is not to lack courage, but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy.”  In regards to spiritual matters (righteousness, goodness, holiness, etc.), we bring nothing to the table because we have nothing to bring.
    • This is a massive contrast to the legalism of the day taught by the Pharisees!  It would have been unthinkable in their mind that a person who followed the letter of the law would have still been considered “poor in spirit,” and certainly inconceivable that someone who would be a spiritual beggar would have been considered themselves “blessed!”  Yet Jesus turns all of legalism on its head.  Salvation is not a matter of receiving anything we’ve earned because of what we bring to God, because we can bring NOTHING to God.  The only thing we’ve “earned” is death – which is exactly why we need to be saved.
  • Why? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Luke’s gospel says “the kingdom of God” on this point, but the terms are synonymous.  The person who is spiritually impoverished can rejoice in bliss because they receive citizenship into the kingdom of heaven.  The only person who can be saved is someone who understands their need for salvation.  You can’t save a person who doesn’t know he needs to be saved – even if they may desire the end result of salvation.  The person who’s drowning & flailing their arms about will never be able to be dragged to the shore as long as he thinks he can save himself.  He must first surrender himself to the lifeguard, knowing that he can do nothing.  Likewise in our spiritual salvation.  The person who wants to live in heaven has to understand they can do nothing to take themselves there; they need to be given that ability.
    • Think about the 1st step in many of the various gospel presentations:
      • 3 R’s =  Recognize, Repent, Receive
      • ABC = Admit, Believe, Confess
      • Romans road = Rom 3:23, “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God”
      • Anytime we start to think about man’s need to be saved, we begin with our spiritual poverty in comparison with God.  12 words to the gospel: God’s perfect – we’re not – we’re guilty – Jesus died – Jesus rose – Jesus saves.  “We’re not” is the admission of everything we lack.
    • Note that Jesus refers to “heaven” as a kingdom.  Question: Knowing that there is yet a Millennial Kingdom of Christ to begin upon Jesus’ 2nd coming, are we citizens of the kingdom now, or will we be citizens of the kingdom later?  Yes. J  It’s not an either/or scenario; it’s a both/and.  …  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the ideals behind the Beatitudes (and the Sermon on the Mount as a whole) belong solely to the days of the Millennium!  Jesus means for us to live this way right now.  At the same time, beware of the trap of thinking that the ideals of the Beatitudes are going to perfect us in this life alone – they won’t!  We’ll see the utter fulfillment of them when we reign in the Millennial Kingdom with Christ Jesus.  This is the standard by which we now live imperfectly, but will one day experience in absolute perfection with our Lord Jesus.
    • The bottom line?  Those who are poor in spirit truly understand their utter need for Christ – and thus experience the riches of God in Christ Jesus!
  • Jesus’ example: How was Jesus poor in spirit?  It’s an amazing thought to consider that the Son of God would be poor in spirit, yet that’s exactly what He was.  Jesus did not think of Himself more than He ought – He did not boast about Himself.  He understood that even as God of True God that if He testified of Himself, His witness would not be received as true (Jn 5:31).  He only said what the Father told Him to say (Jn 12:49).  He understood His need to completely submit Himself to His Father’s will (“not my will, but Yours”).  Granted, there is a difference between our being spiritually bankrupt, and Jesus demonstrating poverty of spirit (He had no need to be poor, whereas we have no choice), but He demonstrates it in incredible ways.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

  • The 2nd blissful happiness?  “Those who mourn.”  This seems like an oxymoron. [What’s an oxymoron?  Something that sounds like it contradicts itself: jumbo shrimp, virtual reality, pretty ugly, united nations, etc.]  By definition, it seems that the person who mourns would NOT be happy! … What is the mourning that Jesus is referring to here?  This is an intense, grievous sadness – a “loud wailing.”  IOW, this isn’t a reference to someone who is kind of bummed about something; this refers to the state of virtual despondent helplessness.  Question: Lots of people mourn – is there something specific Jesus is referring to here?  Yes! Although Christians who mourn will find their comfort in the Lord Jesus, the context Jesus is teaching about here implies something greater.  Those who were “poor in spirit” understood themselves to be spiritually bankrupt.  Those who mourn would be mourning for that same reason – they grieve & mourn over their sin.  In the 1st beatitude, people acknowledge that although God is perfect, they are not.  In the 2nd beatitude, people recognize that their sin brings guilt & that’s a reason to mourn.
    • Keep the cultural context in mind.  Jesus was preaching to the Jews of Roman-controlled Judea.  Ever since they had been returned to the land of promise (after the Babylonian exile), they had been ruled by Gentile kings.  They had mourned over this state & longed for the Messiah.  Yet every single Jew understood that the reason this happened was due to their sin & apostasy away from God.  Thus when Jesus said that those who mourned would be blessed, the people would have understood Him to be speaking of mourning over their sin in repentance.
    • The problem for us is that so few people actually mourn over sin!  In our culture, we find that everyone wants to go to heaven, but few people want to give up their sin.  Until we come to the point that we see our sin as God sees it, we will never truly mourn over it because we’ll never see it for what it actually is: the evil rebellion that caused the beloved Son of God to be nailed to the cross.  Never forget that’s what sin is!  It’s not “one more drink,”  “one more look,” or “one more time” – it’s one more reason the hammer was brought down on the nail that ripped through Jesus’ flesh.  Whatever the sin is, Jesus died for THAT sin, too.  That realization ought to cause us to weep & mourn over sin & move us to repentance!
  • Why can they be happy? “For they shall be comforted.”  The word for “comfort” is the same word used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit as someone who comes alongside us in consolation & counsel.  God offers true comfort to the person who mourns over sin in that God offers the forgiveness & grace found in Jesus.  1 John 1:8–9, "(8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." [] Contextually for John’s letter, this speaks directly of the person who is already a believer in Jesus Christ – yet this is how God forgives all of us.  We’ve got to admit our need for forgiveness (poor in spirit), and then repent & turn to Christ for that forgiveness.  What’s the promise?  Forgiveness & cleansing…comfort!  When we mourn over our sin because we’ve finally seen it as truly sinful (which is one of the purposes of the Law of God – Rom 7:13), that’s what causes us to fall to our knees & cry out for the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus’ glorious promise is that He will give it.  Those who mourn their sin find their comfort in the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus. 
    • Is the promise only for those who mourn over sin?  Yes.  But the principle is true for Christians in general.  God doesn’t merely comfort His children one time & then leave us to ourselves in our sufferings.  Those who belong to Jesus & mourn their circumstances can find their strength in God at all times.
  • How did Jesus mourn?  Not over His sin (because He had none), but He wept over the sin of others.  Jesus never once treated sin flippantly, as if it wasn’t a big deal – He truly mourned over sin.  When chastising the Pharisees, He lamented over Jerusalem’s unwillingness to receive the word of God (Mt 23:37).  When Jesus came to the city prior to His crucifixion, He wept over it, knowing the destruction that would be coming because of their sin & rejection of the Messiah (Lk 19:41).  Even His shedding tears at Lazarus’ tomb was His mourning over sin as much as it was sharing in the grief of Mary & Martha.

5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.

  • The 3rd blissful happiness? “The meek.”  Speaking of those who are gentle, (AMP) “the mild, patient, long-suffering.” It’s a reference to a mildness or pleasantness of spirit – a humility that is not overbearing upon others.  Again, there’s a bit of an oxymoron here.  Usually, those who we would think of inheriting the earth might be mighty warriors – soldiers who conquer on a field of battle.  Yet for Jesus, it’s those who are humble in their relationship with God & gentle in their relationships with one another.  It goes to the heart of the greatest commandments to love God & to love our neighbor.
  • Question: is there a difference between meekness & being poor in spirit?  Yes.  Notice how this changes direction from an inward attitude to an outward one.  To be poor in spirit & mournful deal with our own inadequacies when it comes to sin; to be meek deals with how we address those who sin against us. (Carson) “We may acknowledge our own bankruptcy and mourn.  But to respond with meekness when others tell us of our bankruptcy is far harder.”  [Moses vs. Aaron/Miriam – Num 12] 
    • Keep in mind that meekness <> weakness.  To be gentle & meek is not to have zero strength; meekness is strength under control.  Anybody can push back against someone else who has offended them; it takes a stronger person to resist the impulse to retaliate against them & to extend forgiveness.
  • The reason? “For they shall inherit the earth.”  Again, this may not seem to make sense.  If those who are meek are gentle with those around them, how could they ever inherit the earth?  By definition, it would seem that they don’t inherit anything.  And they wouldn’t…if it were not provided for them by Someone else.  An inheritance is given; not taken & God promises an inheritance to those who trust Him.  [BIBLE: Psalm 37:3-11]  Jesus seems to have made a specific reference to the Psalm which speaks about the person who relies upon the Lord to provide their needs & protect them, as David did.  Those who are meek “wait on the Lord” – they trust Him for everything, both in our lives now & in life eternal.  Those who are meek in their flesh rely upon the victory of God.  We cannot earn our way into the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can be born into it by humbly surrendering our lives to Christ Jesus.  We cannot take the earth for ourselves, but we can inherit it through the work of Christ as we become His joint-heirs in eternity.
  • How was Jesus meek?  There’s no greater example of strength under control & a person completely dependent upon God than the Lord Jesus Christ!  Does He have strength?  Most definitely!  Jesus was not afraid to assert Himself in the Temple when necessary, or when confronting the spiritual pride of the Pharisees & Sadducees.  Yet He is extraordinarily gentle with those who come to Him! Matthew 11:28–30, "(28) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." []  The Lord Jesus is indeed Lord, but He is not a harsh task-master; He is a gentle servant & friend of sinners.  He would not break a bruised reed (Isa 42:3), and has come not to condemn, but to save (Jn 3:17).

How did Jesus begin the beatitudes?  With the proclamation of the gospel! Isaiah 61:1–3, "(1) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (2) To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (3) To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified." []  Isaiah 61 goes on to proclaim in verse 7 that instead of shame, the would have double honor & possess double of their land & everlasting joy. … This is what Jesus was anointed to proclaim – and this is what He promises to all who humble themselves in faith towards Him!

How happy are those who humble themselves in the sight of the Lord!  Those who admit their poverty, mourn over their sin, and cast themselves upon God find themselves approved by God & given bliss even in a life filled with hardship.  Our example is Christ & Jesus perfectly humbled Himself & experienced the blessedness of God.  He humbled Himself & God gave Him the name which is above every name. (Phil 2:9)  So ought we do the same as His disciples!  Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord & let God exalt you in His due time.

  • The poor rely upon the riches of God as they understand their need.
  • The mourners rely upon the strength of God as they understand their guilt.
  • The meek rely upon the victory of God as they understand God’s sufficiency.


If you’ve never humbled yourself before God to be saved, today is your opportunity to do so.  The Bible says that today is the day of salvation – don’t wait to respond to the good news!  Admit your own spiritual bankruptcy & come to see your sin as truly sinful & deserving of judgment.  Mourn over that sin & then meekly cast yourself upon the mercy of Christ Jesus.  He is truly God in the flesh who went to the cross for your sin & rose from the grave for your forgiveness.  Know that: God’s perfect – you’re not – you’re guilty – Jesus died – Jesus rose – Jesus saves.  Turn to Jesus today for that salvation!


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