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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” – Matthew 5:3. What does it mean that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit? In the beatitudes, Jesus subverts the wisdom of his our day with the wisdom of his kingdom. Listen in as Michael Horton, Justin Holcomb, Walter Strickland, and Bob Hiller discuss the first of the beatitudes and how, in God’s kingdom, the poor in spirit are considered “blessed.”


ON THIS EPISODE:

  • Michael Horton is White Horse Inn’s founder and co-host. In addition to serving as a J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, he is a minister in the United Reformed Churches. He is the author of more than 30 books.
  • Justin Holcomb is a Senior Fellow with Sola Media’s Theo Global. He is also the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, where he has served as the canon for vocations since 2013. He teaches theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
  • Bob Hiller is the Senior Pastor of Community Lutheran Church in Escondido, California. He is also the author of Finding Christ in the Straw.
  • Walter Strickland is Assistant Professor of Systematic and Contextual Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has contributed to, edited, and authored multiple books in his areas of research interest, which include the African American theological tradition, education theory, and theology of work.

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Transcript

Why Don’t We Believe the Beatitude that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”?

Michael Horton:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3. Part of the beatitudes that we’re going through here in this series of White Horse Inn. You know, how different all this is from the prosperity gospel and the general triumphalism of many Christians today. We look on the outside of things, what Luther called a theology of glory. How things appear to us. We mistake that for the reality. People look righteous on the outside, people look happy on the outside, healthy on the outside. But like the Pharisees, as Jesus said, ‘inside, they’re just dead, full of dead bones.’

You know, ‘this brother or sister is wealthy or prosperous, so they’re blessed.’ Well, maybe. It’s possible somebody who’s blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ is also given temporal blessings by God. But there’s absolutely no correlation between the two. In the old covenant, though, there was. In fact, obedience could bring only temporal blessing. Everlasting salvation was by grace alone, looking forward to Christ alone, for them as for us. But health, wealth, and happiness were dependent on fulfilling the conditions of the Law. Just look at Deuteronomy 28.

You know, if you obey the law, you will get fruitful vineyards and fruitful wombs. If you don’t, everything will shrivel. It will be just like Eden, turning to thorns and thistles. With a man born blind in John 9, the disciples ask, “did he sin or was it his parents, that he was born blind?” “It was not that this man sinned,” Jesus said, “or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” They were looking on the outside. We all do. But see, no longer today is the prosperity of individuals or of Israel or of the church generally dependent on the works of the Law. Jesus has come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance, not the happy, but the mourners, not the powerful, but the weak.

We have our usual cast of suspects here, Bob Hiller, senior pastor of Community Lutheran Church in Escondido and San Marcos and the Content Editor for Craft of Preaching over at 1517.org. We also have Justin Holcomb, Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida, author and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Walter Strickland, author and professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and elder at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m Mike Horton, the founder of Sola Media and I impersonate a professor at Westminster Seminary California. First of all, brothers, why are we not just floored whenever we hear the juxtaposition of things that just don’t seem to make sense in our culture? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Justin Holcomb:

I live in a theology of glory as a default mode. So I think the strong, the best, the beautiful, the successful get all the accolades, rewards and pleasure from God, and they are blessed. God has this upside down kingdom. Luther talked about right handed power versus left handed power. Right handed power would be the theology of glory, and left handed power is just different. So it always stands out because we’re always doing scorekeeping. Put your best foot forward. There’s a different way.

The patterns of this world are different from what’s happening with how God interacts with his people.

Bob Hiller

I don’t think we believe it. Jesus says it. I just don’t think we believe it. If I have someone come to my office and say, “I’m in angst because I don’t know if God still loves me, like, I have no confidence, I’m confused, I’m depressed, I’m frustrated.” I don’t look at that person and say, well, “blessed are you,” right? I look at that person and I think, boy, they’ve really got a struggle going on. But if I have someone in my church who gets hired for a new job or gets a raise or just gets married or has a kid that’s healthy, I think, “oh, that person is very blessed.” And so when Jesus comes and says, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” it’s not just that I don’t believe it, I mean, I believe it, but you know what I mean? 

I don’t have categories to fathom what he’s getting at here. How can you say that that person, who is clearly, to my eyes, not in any position to be called blessed, how could anybody call them blessed? It’s very hard to wrap your head around this.

Michael Horton

I had a friend, an old time parishioner from way back, call, kind of despondent last week and said, “I don’t believe I’m saved. How do I know, really know, that I’m saved? Because I just don’t feel it enough. I don’t.” And he’s just going on, that’s what I think about when we come to a verse like this. “Of course, you’re a Christian,” I told him. This call proves it.

Bob Hiller:

Yeah.

Walter Strickland:

Yeah.

Michael Horton:

That’s what Jesus is saying. Right? Blessed are those who are really troubled about whether they’re saved because I’m blessing them. I’m saying they’re blessed, not because they feel blessed.

Walter Strickland:

Yeah. I’ve had similar calls, and they said, ‘I’m not sure if the Lord has accepted me, but I really want to submit and to serve and to love God, but I just don’t know.’ I said, that’s evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Justin was asking, why do we not get this? I think it’s because the world sets the score for what success is. 

Michael Horton:

And we follow. 

Walter Strickland:

Exactly. And so the world should not look at the church and say, man, we wanna be just like those people, or they’re just killing it. Like, by their standard, they should look over at the church and be enamored by, ‘these people are struck down, but they’re not destroyed. You know, these people are in exile. This is not their home, but they are here, and they’re contributing to this life that we have together and working for the flourishing of all of us. But however, they’re just, there’s something that’s weird about them.’ 

So I think that we look at something like, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and as you were saying, Bob, it just doesn’t calculate because the world sets the score.

Michael Horton:

When you think of powerful personalities in our time or in previous generations who are moguls, people who really made it and wrote books with titles like “see you at the top.”

Bob Hiller:

That’s not about the sermon on the mount?

Michael Horton:

It’s not about that. They surely must look at this and say, with Ted Turner, Christianity is a religion for losers.

Bob Hiller:

That’s Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity is like, it enforces weakness. It leaves you empty handed. And that’s the problem. And Jesus says, that’s the blessedness. It’s really something.

Michael Horton:

It’s only crushed people who get to the hospital. It’s only wounded people who get treated. It’s only sinners who get justified.

Bob Hiller:

Can you imagine, well, I don’t want to get in trouble with everyone in the room, but an ecclesiastical authority, like a denominational head, putting out a document saying, we’re gonna now gauge the success of our churches based off of the Sermon on the Mount, based off the beatitudes. So you large churches out there, with all the people showing up and all the people happy in the pews and all the successful programs, you need to start modeling yourselves after the poor in spirit-churches.

Who would say that? It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what, Justin, what you would do in that position (I’m giving you a hard time). But I just, I read the beatitudes, and I think about the church material that I get. This is what successful churches are doing, this is what successful pastors look like. And this stuff, it’s very crushing for people who are sitting in the church clergy watching their churches die and wonder where the people are going and why is no one coming.

Michael Horton

We haven’t reached the benchmarks.

Bob Hiller

And nobody’s asking the question, what does Jesus see when he looks at the church? These churches who are struggling and confused and having a hard time, to hear the Lord say, blessed are you? Why? Because I say so. Because I’ve chosen you. You are still my people, and I am still your God. “Blessed are you.”

Walter Strickland:

Yeah I think this has all sorts of implications for the church growth movement, the proliferation of megachurches and what have you, because if we’re trying to get people in our churches because we want them to look at us and think, “wow, look at them,” you know, to sort of underscore the conversation to this point, that we want people who are not regenerate looking at us and thinking, “man, they’re killing it by the world’s standards.”

Bob Hiller:

Whose standards?

Michael Horton:

Power and glory.

Walter Strickland:

Because who do we laud? I mean, who’s getting the Grammys? Who’s getting the Academy Awards? People who are despicable, but they’re crushing it on the world’s scale. I mean, how many times have we heard about Taylor Swift this month?

Bob Hiller: 

Not enough for my money. Not enough!

Walter Strickland:

Haha and that’s not a slam on Taylor Swift. My ten year old was at dinner, and she’s making bracelets for everybody. So I have 17 of them right now. I only brought two on the trip. Cause she said I had to bring two to remember her by. But she had one on her wrist that said ts. I was like, “what’s ts stand for?” She’s like, “Taylor Swift.” I’m like, that’s weird.

Justin Holcomb:

Where’s the bracelet? 

Walter Strickland:

They’re in my toiletry bag at the hotel. But the reality is that we as a society laud all these people who are the opposite of what Jesus is saying here. So if we are trying to build churches to attract people who are lost because we want them to say that we’re crushing it on their sort of corporate, you know, standard about what success looks like, then we’re not doing this well.

Michael Horton:

Yeah, to kind of put it in concrete terms, pastors visiting a hospital instead of accepting an award. I mean, this is what Jesus’ upside down kingdom looks like. These are the amazing people are, you know, the Corrie Ten Booms who were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp because they’re hiding jews in their attic. These are not people who were winners by the world’s standards, but they’re not pretending they are. See, that’s the thing. Jesus is really getting at the pretense. Those who pretend that they’re righteous don’t get justified.

Those who pretend they’ve got it all lose everything. Those who pretend that they are shiny happy people don’t get fed. They don’t find fulfillment. You only eat if you’re hungry. And you only get a dinner if you go to the restaurant. I think of R. E. M. there. “Shiny happy people, shiny happy people laughing, meet me in the crowd people, people throw your love around, love me, love me, take it into town, happy happy put it on the ground where the flowers grow, gold and silver shine, shiny happy people holding hands, shiny happy people holding hands, shiny happy people laughing, there’s no time to cry, happy happy, put it in your heart where tomorrow shines, gold and silver shine.

Bob Hiller:

The irony there, and if I know R. E. M. a little bit, that song is very ironic.

Justin Holcomb:

Yes.

Bob Hiller:

And what’s remarkable about it is, I don’t know R. E. M.’s spirituality.

Michael Horton:

They were raised in the church.

Bob Hiller:

Oh, interesting. Okay. But a lot of people who read that, that is a parody of the way the church likes to present itself. And in fact, what Christ is saying here is you who see that and are crushed because of everyone else’s happiness, who are on social media, looking at the joy in everyone else’s life and wonder why you don’t have that, you may not have that, but you do have the smile of the Father upon you. You do have the Lord Jesus looking at you saying, “you are mine and I will not let you go. I’m giving you a kingdom.”

Michael Horton:

What the world needs most from the church is not help passing laws and policies and waving flags and doing all kinds of stuff to get attention. What the world needs most from the church is to see people on their knees confessing their sins to a merciful God.

Walter Strickland:

I was just sitting with a shut-in saint from my church in the living room because that’s as far as she can go from her bedroom to her living room. And because of the sort of vitriolic, shiny, happy people-vision of what it means to be a Christian, there was this wondering, “am I doing the faith right?” But what Jesus is saying here is that when you recognize your lack of spiritual resources, then you’re dependent upon God. And that’s what, to introduce another song, you know, the third stanza of Rock of Ages. It’s nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy 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. Like, “wash me, or else I’m nothing.” And so when we can acknowledge, like, acknowledging that as the state of where we are is not defeat.

Michael Horton:

It’s honesty.

Walter Strickland:

And that’s where the glory comes.

What does “Blessed are the poor in spirit” Mean?

Justin Holcomb:

We’ve talked a little bit about how the culture does this, and Bob started talking about churches, but there’s a traditional religious way of doing this, you know, opposite of being honest, which is, “hey, you’ve got your marriage, got your kids, you got your job, you’re hitting your peak earning years, and you’re doing great, you’re tithing, 2.4%,” which is, I think, the average. So the church needs the church also to do this and not just the world. So again, I’m saying the obvious, but there’s a way that people who don’t feel like they’re doing it right also feel the sting of this. 

At the time that Jesus was saying this, I mean, when he was healing people who were blind, when he was healing people who were lepers and had issues of blood, like this was God getting back to them. They kind of deserved this. So when Jesus was healing people who were sick, that was not just a recreation and like a hint of what’s happening, but he was undoing some assumptions about God’s blessing. “Because they were good, they were blessed.” And if you’re not blessed, then that’s noteworthy.

So I’m putting that on the table. We can pursue it if we want to, but all of these beatitudes start with “blessed.” We’ve unpacked that we’re going to be going through the poor in spirit and meek and mourn and merciful. But the last part of the sentence is also noteworthy. This one says, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” Luke says poor, “for theirs is,” a point you made last episode about, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I just get a kick out of that because poor people usually don’t inherit kingdoms. That’s what princes and children born into royalty get, which there’s a nice preaching moment there, but that stands out too. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What’s going on with the kingdom of heaven language being given to these people?

Bob Hiller:

Well, Jesus has just shown up on the scene at the end of Matthew 4, and he says something to the effect of “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And so Jesus is introducing now what the nature of that kingdom is and who the citizens are going to be. And so, again, what’s so shocking to me in this is who he’s saying, “here’s who’s sitting at the front of the table with the king. You guys always have the first up front in this kingdom. The last will be up front. You guys always have the powerful lording themselves over others. In this kingdom, the poor are going to be receiving the blessings of the Lord.” And so he’s turning the nature of this kingdom entirely on its head.

Bob Hiller:

What’s more, because it’s not a power, glory based kind of a kingdom, it’s not gonna be a political kind of a kingdom. It’s gonna have an entirely different nature than that.

Justin Holcomb:

The kingdom’s given to them.

Bob Hiller:

It’s received. It’s not earned or taken.

Michael Horton:

And this blessing is received. I know we keep underscoring it, but it can’t be said often enough that this blessing is not a description of conditions. This is not a description of how people are, how people feel, how people act. This is what Jesus is saying about his people, regardless of what they think about themselves or feel in themselves or what other people say about them. Jesus, the king of the kingdom, is declaring them “blessed.”We are grateful for your continued support of Sola’s mission. Building a community passionate about knowing God and making Him known is at the heart of what we do, and it’s wonderful to have you as part of it.

A Biblical Theology of “Blessing”

Bob Hiller:

It’s descriptive, it’s not prescriptive. Right? He’s declaring what it’s going to be now. It is probably worth noting. Just real quick, we keep coming on this word “blessed,” diving a little deeper into what that word means because we do have to deprogram all of the ways we understand blessing. “Too blessed to be stressed,” financial, family, whatever. In Matthew’s gospel, the “blessed” is used, obviously here in the beatitudes, but every other time it’s used, it’s more like about being saved. So Jesus will say, “blessed is the one who’s not offended by him” to John’s disciples, when they come trying to figure out if he’s truly the messiah, “blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for they hear.” Jesus says to his own disciples, “blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears hear what the prophets and many more long to see. But you’re seeing it now. So blessed are you because you have the reign of God right in your midst in my presence.” And Jesus is saying the same thing to John’s disciples. “You’re blessed because I’m here for you. I’m God in the flesh, in your presence.” And then finally he says to Peter, when Peter says, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God” in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “blessed are you because you didn’t figure that out on your own. God showed it to you. It was revealed to you. You’ve received this as a gift from him.” And then finally he says, these are sort of present tense blessings. But then there’s the “blessed” in the future. Blessed is the servant who the master will find doing his will when he comes. Jesus speaking of the faithful response to his word that he’ll find when he returns.

The idea here is simply to say, blessed doesn’t merely mean happy or fortunate. Blessed means you have been seen by Jesus and been given the gifts of the kingdom of heaven. And so it’s just to have Christ in your presence and in your life. That is where true blessedness is found.

Michael Horton:

Isn’t that the magnificat also?

Justin Holcomb:

It’s amazing.

Michael Horton:

It’s where Mary says, “I am blessed. Everyone from now on is going to call me blessed.” That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to hail her and make all these statues of her, put them on the dash of their car. It means, again, “I have received blessing from the Lord because he has acknowledged my lowly estate. From now on, all generations will call me blessed.” She is acknowledging that this is typically the way the Lord works. He usually calls not the noble, not the mighty, not the powerful, but the weak. “He has put down the strong,” she says, “and raised up the weak.”

Well, that’s exactly what is happening here. Her blessing doesn’t come from her circumstances. It doesn’t come from the family she has, the town she’s grown up in or her status. It comes from the Lord. I have received this blessing. He has looked upon my lowly estate. He has had mercy on me.

Walter Strickland:

I really like that lowly estate language because there’s a lot of interplay with, like, what’s going on economically here, but also spiritually. And I mean, she is the one, you know, “everyone will call me blessed. He’s looked upon my lowly estate.” They brought the birds, as opposed to the sort of larger, more sort of economically affluent. I was thinking pigeons, but I was like, they’re not in New York. So they brought the doves.

Bob Hiller:

Pigeons are not clean animals.

Walter Strickland:

Haha yeah, they brought the doves and not the larger animal that sort of bespoke more economic affluence would render. But still, they’re blessed, as you were saying, not because they’re blessed economically, but because they have received now this kingdom. Folks often in circles where I’ve come from, they’re trying to figure out how these two things are interwoven. Those who were receiving this word are still in economic dire straits, but they’ve received, they’ve inherited something that makes them rich, spiritually speaking. It is theirs now. I think that’s really helpful to sort of delineate those two things.

The Poor in Spirit are Blessed Because They Are in Christ

Justin Holcomb:

The point about blessing that, Bob, you got this conversation thread started, I think is so helpful because you started out, Mike, talking about, like, “why don’t we believe this in general,” but specifically on blessing. When you were describing, I was thinking, yeah, I don’t. I default to my wife, my kids, my job. Like, I default to that as the markers of God’s blessing. And I think what’s so helpful is, yes, those are blessings and gifts. But below that is the well being of the relationship with God that he initiated and accepts you. The things that you think are markers, that God hates you and is against you are actually the exact opposite. That he comes near you. That needs to be repeated because I have amnesia on blessing. And so that point is just really helpful. Like listeners, for us too, your sins are forgiven. That’s the blessing. You come with sins and you get forgiveness. You come with filth and you get righteousness. You come being excluded, you get adoption. You come being dominated by an enemy and the enemy’s head gets crushed. You come with knowing you’re going to die and don’t deserve eternal life with Jesus and you get eternal life with Jesus and the family of God adopted. That’s the stuff I need to hear of blessing. As CS Lewis says, we’re too far too easily pleased. I’ll take the mud pies and the slums.

I’ll get a lot of those. It’s like the vacation at the beach is offered to us. And so I think we trade in way too quickly our simplistic understanding of blessing for the opposite of what it really is.

Walter Strickland:

And that’s so good, because when we then understand the fact that we are blessed in Christ, period, looking back at what is true of us on the cross because we’ve received that gift, then this doesn’t have to crush our aspirations. We can now aspire to do things and not worry about those things being that which defines us.

Bob Hiller:

Yeah. My blessedness is not dependent upon how successful I am. That’s good.

Walter Strickland:

So I’m blessed now because of what has happened in the past. I can then therefore look forward and aspire to do things for the kingdom’s sake. And no matter what happens with those things, it’s fine. If it succeeds, I’m already blessed. If I fail, I’m already blessed. And because of that, our value and our worth is not bound up in those things. And so I think this is something that we really need to figure out because, again, we look back at the cross, really at the empty tomb, and we can say that’s where blessing comes from, not from me being able to thank God. So I’ll put it this way. Our thanksgiving and gratitude come from what has happened in the past, not necessarily what we can achieve in the future.

Michael Horton:

Done, not do.

Walter Strickland:

Exactly, you know, because some people would say, “well, is this supposed to lead us towards some posture of not doing anything, just being complacent in life and not aspiring to, you know, achieve great things for the Lord?” No. It actually frees you to do them in such a way where you’re not crushed if you don’t achieve that goal, cause we’re already blessed.

Michael Horton:

Your point, Walter, about being in Christ, I think is so important here. All the references to being blessed that we’ve been talking about here are all in reference to Christ. Why is Mary blessed? “From now on, all generations will call me blessed.” Why? Because she got a new car or a fantastic job or, you know, she was able to send her kids to college or whatever? No, all generations will call her blessed because she’s the mother of God. God incarnate, Jesus Christ. That’s her son. It’s all in reference to Christ. And now he’s standing on this mount giving his blessings, but they’re all in him. As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1, “blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the beloved, his son. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ. In him we’ve obtained an inheritance,” and so on and so forth. In other words, if you have any blessing, then it’s because of Christ.

Bob Hiller:

It’s interesting, Mike, you said some earlier about in the old covenant that material blessings were an indication of God’s favor. You said that even then it was still just kind of temporal kind of blessings and favor. You think of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus, and if you look at anybody in the New Testament, or at least in early first century Judaism, that’s the guy who looks blessed to the rest of the world. He comes to Jesus and says, “what must I do to be saved?” And Jesus says, “you know the law. Keep it. Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery. All this stuff.” And the guy’s like, “oh, yeah, then I’m good. I’ve been doing all that my whole life. I’m in. That’s why I have all these financial blessings. That’s why I look so good to the rest of the world.” And then Jesus says, “great, good. Finally, a law abiding citizen. Now sell all you have to the poor and come follow me.” And the man leaves sad because he has great possessions. And the disciples are baffled like this.

Like, “if he can’t get in, who can?” Jesus says, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for that guy to get in.” And the disciples can’t figure it out because he, by their standards, is the most blessed person they could possibly imagine. But you know what he lacks is Jesus. Jesus says, “I’m gonna give you myself. Get rid of all that stuff. Kill your idols. Follow me, just like these other guys over here. I’ll give myself to you, and you can have the riches of the kingdom because it’s me.” And he says, “I don’t want you. I want my salvation and my money besides.” And so he walks away. So that man ends up being the poorest in the kingdom of heaven.

Michael Horton:

Went away sad because he had many possessions.

Bob Hiller:

Many possessions and no Jesus. So blessedness is to have Christ.

Justin Holcomb:

I want to put something else in the conversation, which is, I can’t help but read these beatitudes in Matthew 5. And also hear Matthew 23 with the seven woes against the Pharisees. It seems to be right in theme.

Michael Horton:

Blessings versus woes.

Justin Holcomb:

Yeah, I mean, the blessings of those who are honest. And that’s what confession is. Because confession is just saying, “okay, what God said is right. And I’m aware that it’s right that I don’t bring anything to the table, that I’m poor and don’t have righteousness. And all these I have reasons to mourn.” But the Pharisees have the opposite posture of confidence in their righteousness. They pretend as if they’re bringing their righteousness to the table. So the woes feel kind of like a backdrop to these blessings. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Bob Hiller:

I think a lot of what you see here with the beatitudes. These are sort of, again, the doorway into the Sermon on the Mount. But then when you start working through the sermon on the mount, you start to see Jesus describing sort of the opposite. So “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So therefore, don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Well, who lays up for themselves treasures on earth? Woe to you, you pharisees, who love to be praised by people when you walk into the room, who love to have your flowing robes, who love the accolades and the power and the pride that you get from all of your accomplishments. Jesus is saying, “the most righteous looking people that you guys think you see are lacking faith, and so they’re lacking the favor of God. But those who are poor in spirit and who are sort of cowering in the corner, the old lady who shows up with two coins and drops them into the plate, that’s the one the father smiles upon.” Because she’s poor in spirit, she’s financially poor. She doesn’t have a lot going for in society. But her only treasure she’s got is Jesus. And that’s the hope, and that’s her place in the kingdom of heaven.

Michael Horton:

That’s the only hope any of us have. Any blessing that you get from God is going to be found in Christ. You don’t get any blessing in life at all apart from Christ. This is a great quote from John Calvin, “If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him. If we seek any other gifts of the spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion. If purity, in his virginal conception. If gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion. If acquittal, in his condemnation. If remission of the curse in his cross. If satisfaction in his sacrifice. If purification in his blood. If reconciliation, in his descent into hell. If mortification of the flesh, in his tomb. If newness of life, in his resurrection. If immortality, in the same. If inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, in his entrance into heaven. If protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his kingdom. If untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of goods abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.”

The Beatitudes and the Christian Life

Walter Strickland:

I think, as we kind of come to the end-ish, as I’m thinking about this in my own life, I think I have had a tendency to assess if I’m blessed or not based upon the wrong metrics outside of Christ. And when we do that, we begin to despise the things that God says is good in his plan. So, for example, if ministry, success, or things that I produce with my own sort of work is to be blessed, then anything that is not that, I begin to be frustrated with. So, for example, taking the time to love my wife, taking the time to raise my children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. If I’m trying to be blessed by my own achievements and work, anything that gets in the way of that becomes a burden. Rather, if we’re blessed by Christ, I’m free then not to have to work to be blessed by my work.

Michael Horton:

And you can receive others as a gift.

Walter Strickland:

Exactly.

Michael Horton:

Instead of a threat.

Walter Strickland:

So now my wife and my kids are not a parachute, distracting me from being blessed in my work. It now becomes an opportunity to really honor the Lord in the ways that he said is good, because I’m not trying to earn, I’m not trying to be blessed through my work. Does that make sense?

Bob Hiller:

This is really great. I mean, I was thinking the biggest thing that gets involved in the way of me being a blessed parent is the disobedience of my kids. And so if I could just remove the kids from the conversation, I’d be a great parent.

If they just did what I said. So if I’m trying to define my blessedness by my kids and their obedience, then I’m gonna keep seeing them as the problem, and they need to get in line with me. And suddenly I’m now the standard, and I’ve begun to use them as opposed to love them, as the blessings that they truly are to me. And so if my blessedness is found in Christ, I’m no longer placing that burden on my children. I’m now loving my children and suffering for their sakes. It changes the dynamic of why you’re working.

Walter Strickland:

Yeah. If I also see myself as blessed and not see the fact that I have to invest time and attention and love into my wife and my children, and that’s not a distraction from ministry. It is what God is doing, because I’m already blessed, and I’m not trying to sort of be out there and doing things and writing books in order to be blessed. This becomes like an outflow, an opportunity for me to even be formed by obedience to God. That’s one thing that I’ve had to really understand as time has gone on. I used to sort of think about, and this is just honesty here, family, and, you know, it’s a good thing to have a wife, it’s a great thing to have kids. But like, but why do they seem such like an anchor, sort of not allowing me to pursue the areas where blessing comes from? But that’s completely misconstrued because I was seeing blessings in the wrong thing.

Walter Strickland:

But now if our blessing comes from the Lord because of what Christ has done, then I’m free to be able to do those things, but I’m also richer of a man for having done those things. The Lord knows, and our plan is not the best. His is for our good.

Michael Horton:

And think of Job, not that God’s going to do this in every case.

Bob Hiller:

Thank goodness.

Michael Horton:

Thank goodness. I can’t imagine what boils I would have. Job could only say,” well, I’m not blessed.” And his friends could only say, “yeah, you’re right about that. You are definitely not blessed. And just figure out well, the sin in your life and cough it up, man. And God will bless you more than he ever has in the past. You’ll be so blessed, you’ll be living large. It’ll be so great.” Thank God. He kept pushing. He kept taking away stuff that Job had placed his blessing in until there was nothing left. “But I know my redeemer lives and one day he will stand upon this earth. I will see him with my own eyes in this rotting flesh. Not another body, this rotting flesh. I will behold him face to face. Oh, how my heart rejoices within me.” That’s blessing.

More from this Series: Citizens of the Kingdom: The Beatitudes

  1. The Mountains of Scripture Listen Now ›
  2. A Kingdom for the Poor in Spirit Listen Now ›
  3. Comfort for the Mourning Listen Now ›