Part 1- At The End of Your Rope (Matt. 5:3)
1. A New Way Of Living
One of the most amazing things of Jesus’ ministry, was the kind of resonance his teaching had among his peers. It was like the times were tailor- made for the message he brought.
Times were desperate and most people were desperately poor. The brutal occupation by Rome had taken its toll with people reduced to serfs (forced laborer) with only a bleak future ahead of them.
Many, were literally at the end of their ropes, desperate for any shred of good news. What made it worse, is that most understood that this was misery of their own making. That because of their own disobedience, they had come to this place of spiritual exile and misery.
Very similar to the remarkable scene of the classic 'It’s A Wonderful Life' where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair: “God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God".
Similarly at this place of 'at the end of their rope', Jesus arrives with an offer to a new way of life.
So Jesus spends the first chapters in Mathew's Gospel, announcing that a 'New Kingdom' was going to dawn, a new way of living, and that repentance, or turning away from one’s sins, and turning toward God; would allow this new way of living to emerge.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matt. 4:17
He begins to invite people, who knew only spiritual wretchedness and misery, to experience this new way of living with astounding results:
“ Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases... Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matt. 4:23-25
With such a response, it became quickly obvious, that all these 'new lifers' or 'followers of the way' as they would become known, would need to understand what living in this newly dawned kingdom, would look like for them.
So he gives them the ABC’s of this new way of living, in what we now call, the Sermon on the Mount. It ends up as this incredible manifesto of what characterizes life in this new kingdom, when He talks about:
This is what this new way of living would be all about.
'In what has been described as the manifesto of His kingdom, Jesus unveils the foundations and character of life in that kingdom. Here He teaches the ethical guidelines for life in His kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterizes life in the kingdom' Alan Ross from Beeson Divinity School
2. A Happy State of Mind
And what a delightful reality this place is. Notice the frequency of the word “blessed”.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”
There is a delightfulness to the word “blessed” that simply eludes us.
The word “blessed” has fallen away in our modern use of language and thus, for most it creates a puzzling reaction, with some veiled hint of an ancient saint-like status, that most do not relate to.
Some have suggested that “happy” might be a more modern equivalent; and though happiness is implied, it’s more than that:
'This term is an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. Happiness may indeed be a part of it; but it is a happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us, a happiness that comes to the soul from being favored by God'. Alan Ross
Which would explain, how this happy state of mind can be associated with, what would appear to be some rather negative aspects in these attributes, including the very first one, references to the 'poor in spirit'.
Those, in the kingdom, are among the most contended, fulfilled and serene people in the world; characterized by a way of life that is endearing to most.
By the way, while this is not the intend, but a delightful side affect; this way of living will serve as a huge attraction to others, who also want to experience this incredible quality of life and live their lives this way.
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a fulfilled life of peace, serenity and blissful existence AND have it be absolutely independent of life’s circumstances?
In an age of dictators, egomaniacs and despots (tyrants), who can resist an offer for the kind of life suggested in these verses?
3. The Poor in Spirit
So who are these people and what is their way of life? The surprising thing is that it appears that they are 'the poor in spirit'.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
'The poor in spirit' – are you kidding me? Who are the poor in spirit?
While some of the poor of this world may be among them, the 'poor in spirit' is not just the poor, but includes many others.
While there is economic poverty in this world (which many of you older ones have experienced firsthand), there is another kind of poverty that cuts through all kinds of socio-economic lines.
This is a spiritual kind of bankruptcy, that many of great means have, along with many of those who have nothing.
While it's true that those who have precious little may be quicker to connect the dots to their spiritual poverty, since wealth tends to mask poverty of any kind; but to assume that 'the poor in spirit' refers to the poor of this world is naïve at best.
I have known some desperately poor people, who have never seen their spiritual poverty, who carry with them a sense of entitlement and display attitude and are embittered & crass.
I have also known some incredibly wealthy people who were more than aware of how empty and bankrupt their spiritual lives were.
However, by and large, wealth tends to numb us to the deeper poverty beyond the material, which definitely gives an edge to the poor among us. Besides, the God of heaven is on the side of the dispossessed, the weak and the powerless.
'The words that describe the poor in the Bible include these aspects, for the poor in Jesus’ day had few possessions, were usually oppressed, had little power and less hope. They had no resources to fall back on; they had to depend on others for survival. Isaiah brought the people of his day good news--they would be delivered from bondage. But Jesus fulfilled that promise of bringing good news by proclaiming the gospel, the “good news” of God. He did not make them rich in earthly possessions and power; but he fulfilled their greatest need.' Ross
Repentance and spiritual poverty go hand in hand. One causes the other. Spiritual poverty causes repentance and repentance unmasks and stirs up the true state of our poverty. Not sure which comes first – the chicken or the egg – but both go hand in hand.
'Blissful oblivion' means that things are masked. Most of us are near spiritual bankruptcy, but most don't realize it. Wealth masks it, as does the illusion of power, popularity and ease of life.
Yet, at our core, we are wretchedly empty, pitiful beings, just like George Bailey in 'It’s a Wonderful Life' or Ebenezer Scrooge in 'The Christmas Carol'.
4. The Turning Point
So here is a question for us this morning: have you ever come to the end of your rope? Ever come to a place where you know you are a scoundrel and that little good dwells in you? The place where you no longer have any excuses, options, plan B’s or escape routes?
This is usually the place of the turning point for most. Addicts will tell you, that unless they come to the end of themselves and see how wretchedly poor they are, they will not cry out for help and intervention.
Coming to the end of your rope is absolutely key, since everything from God is a gift; nothing can be bought, influenced, leveraged or obtained by any other means. There are no excuses, no justifications and no defenses!
“They have afflicted their souls, meaning that they have humbled themselves and repented with deep contrition; and they have come to the king as helpless and hopeless sinners. There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God. Everyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must be 'spiritually poor', for salvation is a gift from God.” Ross
Coming to that place in life is absolutely critical. Some come to this place of recognizing their spiritual poverty rather naturally and easily, while for others it’s a struggle and sometimes requires a major intervention-type of life event, such as bankruptcy, divorce, disaster or being found out.
These are the turning points of life that literally turn someone around, 180 degrees away from pride, haughtiness, self sufficiency and toward the place of self emptiness and spiritual poverty.
Coming to the place where no one can boast or be a braggart; the place of “not by works, so that no one can boast”.
'It is the poor in spirit, those who have humbled themselves and become dependent on God--they have the kingdom of heaven. In fact, everyone who is in the kingdom had to become poor in spirit. They all come with a broken heart and a contrite spirit seeking the Savior.'
5. WHERE HEAVEN MEETS EARTH
This is precisely the place where divine grace meets human need and opens up the riches of the Kingdom of God!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8-9
Hear me this morning: I am not advocating camping in the wasteland of spiritual poverty; it may be a necessary place to come to, but not a place to make your home to call your own.
Instead, it is the place where divine grace meets human need and is the gateway, to the untold riches of the Kingdom life.
For it is at that place where everything that is in the Kingdom of God becomes yours. Salvation, blessings, divine favor, assurance – you name it, all the spiritual blessings – the content of the Kingdom of God becomes yours. It is THE place you need to come to in life!
The place is the kingdom of God. The gate into it is “not by works”, (not by money, not by charm, not by influence, not by power, not by pulling strings, not by calling in favors) but by having nothing.
6. THE KINGDOM OF GOD
As we close this morning, please realize that spiritual poverty is not where we camp, but the place where we find the door to the blessings of the Kingdom!
If all you ever see is your poverty and near bankruptcy, then you have missed the point. If so, you are as guilty of missing out on the riches and blessings of the Kingdom, as much as those who are arrogant and have need of nothing.
Poverty of spirit can no more be your final destination and choice, then being a braggart and full of pride can be. The theme needs to be, that the Kingdom of God is mine!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”
So where are you this morning?
Some of you may still be in the place of self-importance; you will never enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom in that place!
Others of you may be in the place of self-emptiness; and while that is the gate into the Kingdom it is only the gate. Don’t stay at the place of self-emptiness
The place you and I need to be is the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God!
Find your way to the place where the blessings of the Kingdom of God become yours.
How do you find you way there? By laying aside entitlement, pride and power so as to see your poverty and in your poverty reach out to Jesus so that instead of poverty and emptiness you realize the infilling of all the Kingdom of God has to give to you.
Find your way to the foot of the cross today!
Scott Street MB Church invites you to write your reflections and thoughts about the weekly messages shared by lead Pastor Jurgen Rausch.